Why March?

I’m as surprised as anybody that I’ve begun marching in support of causes I care about. I have never been an activist. For years, I was quietly passionate about my politics and causes – emphasis on quietly. I spoke about them among friends, sent letters and checks, but that was it.

Signs at Women’s March – MN

My upbringing discouraged political activism.

I was 12 in 1967 when race rioting began in Detroit and Toledo, my hometown. My father was a fire chief and reported that rioters were throwing rocks and bottles at firefighters. He was angry and I was scared. Although I didn’t agree with the violence, looting and burning, the civil rights movement made me aware that blacks were often treated unfairly, which might prompt them to anger and rioting. Despite that insight, at 12 years old, I was more worried about my father’s safety than anything else.

I was 15 on May 4, 1970, when, after days of Vietnam War protests, four students were killed and nine were wounded by National Guardsmen at Kent State University several hours from my home. As a WWII veteran, my father disagreed with the war protests, and at dinner on the evening of the shootings, he denounced the campus lawlessness. My mother staunchly agreed with him. My college-age brother and younger sister didn’t comment. I was in sympathy with the protesters, but kept silent.

My primary impression of protests and marches was that they could easily turn violent—something I wanted no part of.

So why at 62, did I join 100,000 like-minded people at the Women’s March in St. Paul in January? And 10,000 people for the March for Science -MN on Earth Day?

Because I can’t bear to see 40-50 years of progress—on civil rights (race, gender, religion, and country of origin), women’s rights, and environmental protections—disappear.

This just can’t be my generation’s legacy.

I know full well that marching by itself doesn’t change anything. It’s just gesture, and that gesture has to be followed up with a sustained effort to create change. I’m prepared to do that, too.

I believe that seeing the sheer numbers of marchers puts politicians on notice—we are a force to be reckoned with, and they serve us, not the other way around.

A sea of marchers on at the Women’s March – MN on 1/21/17, including my son who was on crutches









Earth Day March for Science – St. Paul








I hope that other people who share my views and values will be heartened and moved to take action too.

Marching makes me feel less powerless, more hopeful.

Traveling with Hispanics

Guatemala City, Guatemala. Heading home with Juan Jose’.

It started when Juan was eight months old. I was sure that at any moment, gun wielding policemen would climb aboard the airplane and snatch our baby from Jody’s arms. We were on the flight home from Guatemala. Everyone on the plane could tell Juan wasn’t our baby. We were white and he was brown. I was in terror that Juan could be taken away from us, even though he was legally ours.

This fear has continued, though it hasn’t stopped our family from traveling. Internationally, we have traveled four times to Guatemala and once to Mexico. In a week, we will be boarding a plane for our third trip to Florida.

Peten, Guatemala Juan Jose’ age 7

The fear starts about the time we book our flights, whether international or domestic. I start thinking of all the documents to bring: passports, adoption paperwork, name change documents, birth certificates, citizenship papers, and photos of us as a family. All the paperwork that will prove that Juan and Crystel are our children.

We have not been questioned or stopped at airport security. That hasn’t ended my heart from beating furiously as our passports are studied, then we’re looked over, and finally the returned gaze back to our passports.

Cozumel, Mexico Crystel age 10

Even Juan and Crystel have questioned their citizenship. The first time they asked, I was driving them home from grade school. “Are we citizens?” Crystel asked casually. She is usually the one who brings these types of things up. Juan just sits quietly next to her, listening intently all the same. Once we were home, I opened our lock box. Showed them their Certificate of Citizenship documents and the welcome letter from President Bush. I described to them how I had laid out a train of documents on the floor, ten in all, sent them in, to make sure that they would receive their citizenship.

Even though we’ve been on 7 flights, I’m still afraid. My latest fear is that Juan and Crystel could be separated from us and questioned. That would be traumatic for them. For all of us. And, isn’t it our job as parents to raise our kids with the least trauma possible?

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Crystel Age 11

I was thinking about this with our upcoming flight to Florida. It came to me that there are two additional things that I could do. I could apply for TSA precheck and Global entry. That would be proof to security that Juan and Crystel have already been vetted and have proved their citizenship. I immediately applied online, received our appointments, and took them out of school to meet with the agency. As of this writing, I’ve been approved. Juan and Crystel have not yet even though we applied at the same time and were at the same appointment. Jody has been approved even though she filed several days after us.

Florida, Age 3

When the renewal comes up in 5 years, I hope that we can simply complete a renewal form and pay a fee.

I finished applying for Global entry for us this morning.

I don’t ever think that it will be easy for Juan and Crystel to travel our world for the simple reason that they are Hispanic. As their parent, I’ll do what I can for as long as I can to make it not traumatic. That’s my job.

Living in a Parallel Universe

Usually we avoid politics in this blog, but today I feel I must speak.

I woke up to life in a country I didn’t recognize. One in which half of the citizens view what our country needs and how to achieve it very differently than I do. Guided by liberal news media and pundits, I expected Hillary to win. I am shocked and saddened that she lost. Apparently I’ve been living in a parallel universe—I thought most of the country shared my values.

Although I’m worried about our country’s future, I believe Trump supporters were just as worried. We all love our country, but we differ in our assessment of what our biggest problems are and what the solutions should be. I am profoundly disappointed, but I will continue to fight to create the world I want to see.

As Hillary says, “Fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it.”

Renewing Passports for Children? Be Aware!


I woke up startled. Filled with dread.

“Jody, I didn’t make a copy of the kids’ citizenship papers.”

I sank into our mattress. “Remember, we never did get Crystel’s green card back.”

Antonio and Crystel’s citizenship papers were issued February 19, 2008. They were six years old.

When Crystel was nine she asked me if I wished I were white or brown, or Mexican or American or Guatemalan. I knew then that it was time that she saw her citizenship papers.

“You’re an American,” I told her. “You have a Welcome letter from President Bush.”

“Do I have a green card?”

2012 Lake Amatitlan, Guatemala

2012 Lake Amatitlan, Guatemala

“Well,” I said.

Climbing Volcano Pacaya in Guatemala was easier than gathering the 20 documents that were required for her citizenship. Her green card was among them.

I had laid the trail of documents on the floor because the table wasn’t large enough. I methodically checked off each requirement before placing the paperwork into the envelope to be mailed.

Antonio’s train of documents was next to hers.

Seems like losing government documents is not unheard of, maybe not even uncommon. When I explained to the Chicago Passport Agency that I didn’t receive Crystel’s green card back – which was a requirement for her passport – they must have believed me because they issued her a passport anyway for our first trip to Guatemala when she was 7.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala 2014

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala 2014

Now, it would be logical to think that once you received a passport for your children that when it came up for renewal you could just show the about to be expired passport.

It’s never that easy.

Antonio, Crystel, and I arrived at the government office. Waited for our turn. An hour later, I learned that I needed Jody there as well as birth certificates, citizenship papers, etc….

While we were leaving one of the kids asked me why we needed Mama Jody. “So, they know that I’m not stealing you,” I told them.

Getting two parents and two teenagers together at one time can be challenging.

More challenging though and what will keep you up at night is if you don’t ask for a copy of everything that you turn over.

It might not come back.

Celebrating the Gift of American Citizenship

Sometimes I get discouraged about trends in American culture and politics. But recently, I was privileged to be a part of a U.S. citizenship celebration that pierced my cynical armor and helped me remember that it is good to be an American.

Arwa, a middle-aged Jordanian immigrant, brought a feast to the adult English language learners’ (ELL) class where I tutor. She had just passed her American citizenship test, and she wanted to celebrate with her classmates and teachers.Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 10.53.18 AM

Learning English is hard. Every time students open their mouths, they’re likely to mispronounce a word, mix up the tense of a verb (I has a cold), mangle an idiomatic expression (We make party for my son), or be misunderstood because their accents are so heavy. They’re subject to constant corrections. To succeed, students have to be thick-skinned and persistent.

Steve, who teaches the class where I volunteer, sets a supportive tone. He leads the students in cheering and clapping for each other. They understand each other’s embarrassment, so they are encouraging and kind—no mocking.

We are teaching American culture as well as language, so we try to foster acceptance of other people’s customs, too. Steve sets up teams so African, Central American, Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European students must interact with each other and take part in playful competitions.

So when Arwa passed her citizenship test, it was natural for her to celebrate with her classmates. The other students know how hard it is to persist. Everyone is far from home and misses their family, their food and customs from home, and the ready access to people who understand their worldview. They understand what it means to let go of allegiance to a homeland and embrace a new country.

Sharing food is the language we all understand, so Arwa brought chicken shawarma, homemade hummus, lemon yogurt from scratch, little buns with a Middle Eastern version of pesto, salad, brown bread, and banana chocolate chip bread. She also had chunks of ham, salami and bologna as well corn chips, snack crackers, flour tortillas and soda.

I worried briefly about how her classmates would respond to the food. Some eat meat, some don’t. Some eat pork, some don’t. The only hiccup was that we didn’t have forks. I watched Arwa spoon yogurt onto the bread so I put a dollop of yogurt onto a piece of tortilla. Soon the other students caught on and did the same. The North Africans (from Liberia, Somalia, Kenya, Egypt) recognized and relished the food. The Thai and Hmong students sampled more carefully, but were complimentary. The Hispanic students (from Mexico, Cuba, and Ecuador) spooned food into the tortillas and rolled them up. Everyone complimented Arwa on the food and thanked her. We all clapped and cheered for her because she is a citizen now.

Throughout the spontaneous party, Arwa beamed. She is so proud to be an American citizen. I don’t know whether economic opportunity, war, love, or religious freedom (Islam is the majority religion in Jordan and she wears a necklace with a silver cross) brought her here with her husband and two children. It’s not the sort of thing we ask about in class.

One time I helped her study for the citizenship test. I’m sure many native-born Americans would struggle with the test, and at times, I wasn’t always sure of the answers. She told me that she’d been studying for three years—that’s almost enough for a college degree. How many native-born Americans would work that hard to belong here?

Arwa is so pleased and grateful to be an American. Perhaps she values it more because she worked to hard to achieve it. In the face of her accomplishment and pride, my cynicism about America’s shortcomings fell away, and my faith in the American dream was renewed.