What Are You Looking For? Part 5/5

Buenos Aires, Argentina: 2013


In the summer of 2013, I embarked on a month-long trip to South America. I flew all the way down to Ushuaia, Argentina. Located at the bottom of the Patagonia region of the continent, Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the entire world.(32)


After spending a restorative week getting to know this far-flung place and some of its incredible hiking trails, I moved on to my next destination. A three-and-a-half-hour flight north brought me out of the tranquil stillness of Ushuaia and into the tumultuous bustle of Buenos Aires.


Buenos Aires is a massive, electric city. Alongside Lisbon and Berlin, it displayed one of the most impressive political graffiti scenes I’d ever witnessed. After settling into my new hostel in Buenos Aires, I spent my first few days in the city immersing myself in Argentina’s recent political history. I visited several museums, a cemetery, and joined several guided walking tours around the city.


More than anything else, I was fascinated by the widespread Guerras Sucias in South America which had occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In Argentina alone during this period, a right-wing dictatorship kidnapped and murdered over 30,000 of their own civilian, political opponents. To this day, these victims, many of them young students and journalists, are referred to as “Los Deseparecidos.”(33)


After a few solid days of history, I turned my attention towards the present.


I decided I wanted to see for myself what the poor neighborhoods of a major South American metropolis such as Buenos Aires were like.


So, one evening, I approached a man behind the counter at my hostel and bluntly asked him, “Cual es el barrio mas peligroso de Buenos Aires?”


“La Boca.” The local responded flatly and without hesitation.


Perfect, I decided. I’m going.


Over the following day or two, I started asking other people I came across about La Boca; other foreign travelers, local cab drivers, local bartenders and such. Unanimously and unambiguously, I was told to steer clear of La Boca.


“Just don’t go there!” - “If you do go, don’t go at night!” - “If you go, stay only around the tourist shops.” - “If you go, don’t go alone.”


One taxi driver straight up told me he would not even take me there.


So, I went on foot.


In my defense, I did make myself as visually inconspicuous as possible. I dressed in drab, graphic-free clothing. I found a hardware store and bought some duct tape and a black sharpie maker. I put the tape over the blue charter school logo on my backpack, and I colored over it with the sharpie. My biggest internal dilemma was whether or not to bring my camera. In the end I decided to bring it, but that I would only take it out of the backpack if it seemed safe to do so.


I walked to La Boca around midday. I found the touristy shop area, just a few blocks long, and found a restaurant to have a long lunch in while I read my paperback copy of Don Quijote. Afterwards, I briefly looked in one of the shops, where I found a nice little painting and bought it as a gift for my mom. I put the painting in my backpack.


Then, I decided, screw it. I’m going in. I walked out of the tourist shop zone, and onto one of the main neighborhood streets. Almost no one was around. I walked a mile or two down the street, and saw many things that fascinated me. I was itching to take the camera out, but my gut told me it was probably not a good idea.


But, I rationalized...when would I ever be here again? Likely never.


I took the camera out and started taking shots as I walked back in the direction I had come in from. Dilapidated housing units, Evita murals, more political graffiti. But at the same time, I was also trying to be hyper aware. I was looking over my shoulder constantly. I was walking fast, trying not to linger.


Then at last, I made it back to the tourist shop area and felt a wave of relief wash over me. I was back in the safe zone. It was starting to get dark by this point, but at least I was now in an area surrounded by many other people. I left my camera out, hanging around my neck.


I decided I’d check out just a few more blocks of La Boca, then head back to the hostel.


Halfway down my final block, I saw another beautiful mural. I raised my camera to take the shot, then heard and felt a flurry of motion around me. Commanding me to freeze in Spanish, suddenly a man appeared in my face and pressed a knife to my throat. At the same time from behind me, another man appeared and started removing my backpack, and the winter hat off my head. The man in front removed the glasses I was wearing straight off of my face. Then they got into my pockets, swiftly removing my cellphone. In their haste, somehow they missed my wallet.


It was over in a matter of seconds. The two men took off running.


It happened so fast, I was more stunned, confused even, rather than scared. My first thought was, “Did that seriously just happen?” But it was getting dark, now I had to figure out how to get back to the hostel without my glasses. My natural eye site is terrible. I can see large objects or outlines, but not specific details. I started walking back toward the way I had come in.


Then, half a block later, I see what appeared to be two police officers. Oh, thank God, I thought!


As I approached, I had to wait, as they were in the middle of an argument with a local. As I listened, I realized the local had just seen what had happened to me, and he was berating the cops for not doing anything about it.


“That could have happened to me or my son!” The officers were not moved.


I interrupted, “Excuse me, but that was me over there. Two men put a knife to my throat and stole all my stuff, they went running that way!” I pointed.


What I was unable to make out in their exact facial expressions, I was able to sense in their chillingly unaltered body language.


“You can go to the office and file a report.” One said in a mocking monotone.


“Wait, you’re police officers, right?” I asked, frustrated.


They were displeased with this insolence. “Of course, so what?”


“So, you’re not going to, I don’t know, go after the criminals?”


“You can go to the office and file a report.”


Holy shit. This was the moment when I actually started feeling a bit afraid.


I spent the next few days painstakingly trying to procure a new pair of spectacles in a foreign country.


I spent the next few nights drinking lots of Argentinian wine and isolating in my hostel room.


I missed the boat trip to Uruguay I had booked for the day following my Quixotic decision to explore La Boca alone.


I never ended up filing a police report over the armed robbery.





Spanish Harlem, New York: 2013-2014


After having been a public school teacher in New Jersey for four years, my next job would be as a community organizer in New York City. I was hired by a fairly new non-profit called StudentsFirstNY (SFNY).(34) SFNY primarily served as a lobbying entity which strove to improve education policy at the city and state level in many different parts of the country. But in New York, on top of the lobbying work, SFNY was deeply engaged in ground-level community work as well. Myself and a dozen or so other organizers were each assigned to the take on some of the highest-poverty neighborhoods in New York City, as these are generally the neighborhoods stuck with the lowest performing public schools. Our task as organizers was to find and meet residents in our assigned area, develop relationships with them, ideally if they were active parents of children in failing schools, and then organize them, eventually with the goal of getting them involved on a political level in their neighborhood to advocate for further educational reform.


I was placed in Spanish Harlem, a neighborhood which has the highest concentration of people living in public housing in all of New York City.(35) The simple fact of living in these buildings is a health hazard.(36) The East River Houses, where I primarily focused my organizing around, were constructed in the middle of World War II. From the building’s appearance alone, they haven’t been adequately maintained or updated much since then.


Also, recall that this was New York City in 2013. Nearly every day that I got off the train in Harlem, I witnessed Stop-and-Frisk in action. I would walk up the stairs out of the station, and walk past the dozens of haunted souls waiting to get into the Methadone clinic. On the several block walk over to our small office, I would often smell something that another organizer who was from the area identified for me as crack smoke. The East River Houses themselves, served and continues to serve as a major hub for the illicit crack market.(37)


Spanish Harlem is a huge geographic area. Pouring over the map at the beginning of my assignment, I picked the East River Houses as my focal point because they were flanked by several of the neighborhood’s lowest performing public schools. The East River Houses consists of ten buildings, at either six, ten, or eleven stories tall. Walking into my first building my first day out to organize, I was first hit by the smell. Approximately, the smell is a combination of uncollected garbage, combined with cannabis smoke, plus urine. The garbage is the city’s fault for not collecting promptly. The urine, and sometimes human feces that can be found in the stairwells, is because homeless people often enter the buildings to relieve themselves there.

Over the course of several months, I eventually knocked on every single door in every building of the East River Houses. I found many, many people who were interested in getting involved in improving the quality of education in their community. Some were parents of children currently trapped in one of the terrible neighborhood schools. Some didn’t have kids, but went to these schools themselves years ago and knew how bad they really were.

The bulk of my time as an organizer was spent conducting home visits with residents who were interested in supporting our cause. Over the course of the year I held this job, I spent an untold number of hours just sitting with ordinary people in their apartments, building a relationships with them through simple conversation. Some people I would meet with just once, for perhaps half an hour. Others I would see at least once a week, sometimes for up to three to four hours at a time. The purpose of all this, of course, was to further the cause of improving educational opportunities for children in the neighborhood. But education does not occur in a vacuum. I myself received an education from the residents I came to know around what life was like, holistically, in Spanish Harlem.

Interactions with aggressive, sometimes blatantly racist police officers were part of growing up in this community. One of the regulars I hung out with was a Puerto Rican man in his mid-sixties. He was charming, entertaining, always smiling, and always ready with a good story. He would serve me iced tea when I would come by. One day, he told me that back when he was a teenager in the 1970’s, cops would often enforce the boundaries between racially segregated neighborhoods.


Spanish Harlem is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City. But of course, it shares a border with the Upper East Side, one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. As of 2021, the median household income in Spanish Harlem is $33,720.(38) The median household income in the Upper East Side is $131,996.(39) Spanish Harlem is mostly Puerto Rican, the Upper East Side is mostly White. This man told me what when he was a teenager, walking around with his Puerto Rican friends, cops would literally stop them if they tried to walk south of 96th St. They would instruct them to turn around and stay in their own neighborhood.


Another elderly Puerto Rican man I spent time with in the East River Houses told me stories about his involvement with the Young Lords movement back in the 1960s.(40) Like many military veterans feel, this man, now very late in life, still seemed to consider his role in the movement during the 1960s his source of greatest pride.


One day, when I went to meet him, he was pretty upset. He apologized, but he’d have to cancel on me. He had a court date, as a cop had caught him smoking a joint outside of his own apartment building. The absurdity of this situation, the unnecessary waste of time and public money used to adjudicate this non-event struck me as profound.

I also met a Black woman who served as a leader in an East River Houses resident’s board. She always seemed busy, accordingly I only met with her two or three times. On one of these visits, she told me about something that had happened to her teenage son not long ago. Speaking quickly as she paced around her apartment in between pulls on a cigarette, she described an event that took place the previous winter. Her son, around sixteen-years-old, had gone outside of their building to meet up with some friends.


Moments later, an onslaught of NYPD pounced on them, forcefully moving them to the ground and cuffing them. The kid had no idea why he was being arrested. His mom came outside, as did other residents, to see what was going on. The police offered no explanation, to the boys or to their mothers, as to the reason why they were being detained.


The boy’s mom rushed back inside and came out with the boy’s coat. The police won’t let him take it.


Piled into a police van, the boys were taken to one of the most legitimately terrifying places in America, Riker’s Island.(41)


The boy spent several days and nights in this overcrowded and sadistically violent adult jail.


Even when he was released, all the police said was that it was a case of mistaken identity.


Not so much as an attempt at an apology was made.





San Jose, California: 2014-2017


After five years in the East Coast Concrete Jungle, I was ready for a change. I decided to return to the classroom, but this time, in 300+ days-of-sunshine-per-year San Jose, California.


The largest city in the Bay Area, San Jose is mostly known as a pillar of Silicon Valley’s globally elite tech industry.


But on the East Side of San Jose, specifically, you’ll find a community of largely working-class people living in stark juxtaposition to the extraordinarily unprecedented levels of wealth being generated by the some of the most powerful corporations in the world just a handful of miles down the road.


San Jose is home to blockbuster technology companies such as Adobe, Cisco, eBay and PayPal. But from the vantage point of San Jose’s East Side, looking around, a new comer would be hard pressed to guess they were currently in the middle of one of the most coveted strips of real estate on Earth.


The East Side of San Jose is comprised mostly of families with roots in Mexico, Central America, and Vietnam. Some of these families have been in San Jose for generations, others have immigrated more recently. It was here, on San Jose’s East Side, that I would soon be teaching 7th Grade English and World History at another charter school.


When I came out to interview for the job, I was stunned by the surrounding natural landscape. Never before had I seen a school in a poor neighborhood surrounded by such scenic beauty. The neighborhood surrounding the school was extremely different than what I was used to in urban New Jersey. The first jarring difference I noticed in my San Jose school neighborhood was the absence of any identifiable abandoned properties. The homes and apartments were generally modest and often older model, but it didn’t actually “look” like a low-income community in the manner in which I was personally acquainted with at that time.


No old, brick, high-rise public housing buildings either. Occasionally, our school and the apartments surrounding it would see gang graffiti, but again, it was simply nothing like the lawless intensity of Newark. In San Jose, I saw no open-air drug markets anywhere. Ever.


Another thing that confused me...there were almost never any police around. Or at least not any who were making a public presence. This felt like an almost opposite approach from the neighborhoods I came to know on the East Coast. In Newark and in Spanish Harlem in particular, you see cops everywhere, all day, all the time. They maintain a heavy, aggressive, forward presence in those communities.


But here on the East Side of San Jose, my new school appeared to be located in what looked like a calm, low-key residential neighborhood. And largely, it was. For a city as large as San Jose, about one million residents, the overall violent crime rate was very low.(42)


In my first two years teaching in San Jose, I recall having only one minor experience related to crime. During my second year teaching 7th grade, my classroom was what was referred to as a “portable” (basically a trailer, not a fixed part of a permanent building.) One morning, I entered my room and discovered that the lights were not working. With students arriving shortly, I informed my administrators, and we soon discovered that that someone, in the middle of the night, had come onto the school’s grounds, opened a circuit box in the ground adjacent to my classroom portable, and stripped out the wiring underneath.


This left my classroom and several others without light or electricity for a full school week.


Thankfully, my classroom had large windows in the front and back, and this ended up being good enough for the time being. That first day in the dark though, I was kind of pissed at whoever did this to us. I don’t even recall if the administration reported this to the police or not. So I ended up writing a snarky, sarcastic letter to the thief during my break. Later on, I read it to my students, then I had them all write letters to the thief as well.


This was English class after all. And while this was certainly not the planned lesson of the day, we found ourselves literally in the dark, so we improvised one single day’s writing exercise. The essential assignment was to write a letter to the thief, mocking him as intelligently as possible for being a loser who sneaks around in the night robbing kids of their ability to learn at middle school. We actually printed off the best of some of the student’s letters, and then we taped them on the fence right next to the circuit box that was thrashed apart. Of course, we have no idea if the thief returned or ever saw the letters...probably not. But it made us feel a little better about the situation regardless.


---


Another major aspect of policing and community interaction in lower-income communities that I noticed was extremely different in San Jose and somewhere like Newark, is the way authorities have decided to handle the criminalization of personal health decisions such as the use of substances such as cannabis.


The more time I lived in and hung around different parts of the Bay, the more I saw just how socially acceptable cannabis was, even in public settings. The first time I went to Dolores Park in San Francisco with some friends, I was amazed by what I saw. Keep in mind, cannabis was medically legal in California at this time, but this was still several years before it became recreationally legal.


Nevertheless, here we are on a beautiful day in San Francisco, and Dolores Park was packed. My roommate pointed out a long line of people waiting to be served by some kind of makeshift cart. This man was selling cannabis chocolate truffles, in broad daylight, in a super visible part of a park with hundreds of people in it. How is he not getting arrested? I wondered. My friends laughed at my naiveté. This is California!


I’m from Wisconsin. For the majority of my life, I’ve been acculturated and also genetically wired for alcohol.


But Cannabis was profoundly and unflinchingly stigmatized in the culture in which I was raised. The conservative community I was raised by thrived on black and white moralism. And with respect to this larger topic, they ultimately needed to hear very little in order to accept and maintain permanent lifelong taboos against entire categories of the human experience that they in fact understand next to nothing about.


Just being told that cannabis is “a drug” by government authority figures was enough. In the minds of the elders of my youth, this translated downstream into “cannabis is extremely dangerous and will likely ruin your life.”


To seal the deal, being told by those same government authority figures that cannabis is “illegal” is what truly seems to have put the nail in the coffin. In the minds of the elders in my youth, this translated simply as “that means it’s morally wrong to do.”

One lovely Friday evening, after an exhausting work week, a group of teachers from my school and I went out for dinner and drinks. Walking along the sidewalk in downtown San Jose, the topic of smoking came up. I mentioned, to the general shock of the group, that at age 27, I had still never actually tried cannabis myself at that point. Within an hour or so, I was initiated.


By the time I had lived in San Jose for a full year, I went through the hilarious process of acquiring a legal California medical cannabis card of my own.


Once secured, this allowed me to enter the amazing world of fancy, legal cannabis dispensaries. Soon enough, smoking cannabis became a part of my nightly routine. It made food taste better. It made music more transcendent. It often seemed to help me think deeper or more creatively. I mostly smoked inside my own apartment. But eventually, I started taking joints with me for walks around my San Jose neighborhood, or out skateboarding in San Francisco, or on hikes around the Santa Cruz mountains.


The ability to “get away with” smoking cannabis in public never ceased to feel surreal to me. I grew up in a state that to this day, bases its cannabis policy not on scientific data, not on public health best practice, but on Medieval, race-based stereotypes about a substance that is factually far less of a threat to individual users and society as a whole than either cigarettes or alcohol.


For doing the exact same thing I did for years in California, smoking a joint in public, in Wisconsin, you can go to big boy jail for that. And of course, although Black and White Americans use cannabis at nearly identical rates, guess which group is more likely to end up behind bars over it?(43)





Vancouver, Canada: 2017


June 21st is international “Go Skateboarding Day.” Having started in America, it has now become a global phenomenon. In the cities that host the event, thousands of skaters gather at a central meeting point. They then skate a long distance through the city streets together in a roaring mob of fast-paced, collective, skater energy.

I attended Go Skateboarding Day in Vancouver, Canada in the summer of 2017. It was an absolutely epic experience. Part of what made the day so successful, was the proactive cooperation between the local skaters and the local police.


As skaters, we are generally culturally accustomed to viewing the police as adversaries. But in Vancouver, the cops couldn’t have been more on our side. As thousands of skaters thrashed through the streets of downtown Vancouver, the police were out ahead of us on motorcycles, clearing traffic for our procession. Along the sides of us, the cops held back side traffic that might have unsafely tried to cut through us.


We stopped at several street spots along the way (ex. staircases to jump down, handrails to grind on). These were all to be found on private property of one degree or another. But the cops were right there with us, clearing the way for the crowd to watch as the best among us hurled themselves down the obstacles.


Also, had police in US states like Wisconsin been patrolling this very same crowd, many of us would have been arrested for mere possession of small, personal amounts of cannabis.


But Canada, unlike the US, bases its cannabis policy on facts and common sense.(44) Many of us skaters were smoking throughout the day. And happily for everyone involved, including the taxpayers of Canada, Vancouver law enforcement handled the situation exactly as they should have, which is to say, they simply let it be.





New Delhi & Thekkady, India: 2017


In July of 2017, my then girlfriend and I traveled in India for three weeks. The night we arrived outside our New Delhi hotel, we were stopped by armed security well outside the gates so that our taxi could be swept for explosives prior to entering. While this was a bit unexpected initially, we quickly grew accustomed to the procedure.


While spending our first week in New Delhi, I started reading the local newspapers every morning. This immediately proved to be a rather ominous way to begin the day. I read of people in New Delhi being kidnapped by ride share drivers of some of the same services we ourselves would heavily rely on to get around.(45) I read of successful incursions that ISIS had just made into Jammu and Kashmir, a region about 380 miles north of where we were staying.(46)

Oh, and then I read about the vigilante cow mobs.


Cows are considered sacred in much of India. In New Delhi, they freely roam the city’s busiest streets and regularly block traffic, unmolested. In certain parts of rural India, however, the phenomenon of cow worship has grown dangerously out of proportion. In certain areas, if a passing car accidentally hits and kills a cow, there is going to be trouble. The same is to be said for people who have slaughtered cows for food, or even transported them for sale. For many people in India “caught” in the middle of these actions, and for many people even accused of these actions, they can expect to be promptly surrounded by a violent mob of extremist Hindus. If the offenders are in a vehicle, the mob will often drag the driver and passengers out, and beat them to death on the spot. This remains a regular occurrence in India.(47)

While we opened our trip in one of the largest, most spastic and sprawling cities on the planet, we ended it somewhere decidedly more serene. We spent our final week in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala, famous for its tea fields, tranquil river canals and general scenic beauty.


When we arrived in Kerala, we first stayed with a local family who rents out an extra room to travelers. Driving into their beautiful home, nestled into the slope of a lush mountain, we saw an extensive series of red, Communist party flags alongside the roadway. As our host gave us a tour of his garden, the most prolific and majestic garden we’d ever witnessed, we heard muffled voices on what seemed to be a near-by loud speaker. Oh, that’s just the Communists, our host explained, nothing to worry about.

Next, we drove to the city of Thekkady, near the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. We had come planning to take a day-long, guided hike through the park, which among other things, serves as a protected area for some forty wild, endangered tigers. The evening we arrived in Thekkady, the city was bustling. Locals lined both sides of the town’s main road, many shopping in the dense business district.


Kerala has some of the most confusing and frequently changing alcohol laws in India. That evening, we took a rickshaw to a state sanctioned, outdoor liquor kiosk.


It was packed. We were the only non-locals on the scene, and many people in line stared at us with looks of confusion. We made it to the counter top, and learned that exactly zero of the beer or liquor for sale was refrigerated. Cool. I bought a small bottle of whiskey, and we left.


Soon we were back in the rickshaw, cruising through dense traffic in the dark, drinking warm, shitty whiskey out of the bottle, and feeling like absolute champions.

The following morning, we were up early for our hike in the tiger preserve.


When we got in the back seat of our taxi, our driver asked us, “Did you see the news?” We had not. He went onto explain that last night, some members of the local Communist party attacked and burnt down an office of the largest and most powerful political party in India, the BJP. Not only that, but they used machetes to hack one of the BJP party members to death.(48)


“Surely,” he stated with sincere detached calm, “they (the BJP) will kill someone today.”

He proceeded to explain that today, the BJP in Kerala would call a “strike.” In this case, the term “strike” was a euphemism. What he meant was that the BJP would enforce a mafia-style shutdown of public life in the entire state.


There would be blockades at every highway on ramp in Kerala that day, as all highways were to be closed. All businesses in the state were forced to close as well. Of course, not all people in Kerala are members of the BJP, which is just one single political party. But if anyone in the state had the audacity to challenge this order to “strike,” the implication was that mob violence would be directed towards non-compliers.


Our driver was explaining all of this as he drove us towards our nature preserve. Along the way, the same exact vibrant street we had passed through some twelve hours earlier was now completely shuttered. Not a single visible business was open. Not a soul was out on the street.

We compartmentalized all this jarring news to the best of our ability, and tried to focus on the hike, which very fortunately was still a go. Along with some fellow travelers, Indians, Brits and Australians, we made our way into the Indian wild. We had a main guide who led the group and pointed out and explained different wildlife we encountered along the way. A second park employee accompanied us as well. His sole purpose was to be eyes and ears ready to use the shotgun he carried to protect the group, in the unlikely event it might become necessary. This man never said a word all day.


Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is a massive park. And unfortunately, as was expected, we did not actually get to see a live tiger. They’re nocturnal anyway. However, we did find a large, fresh tiger paw print in the mud. Even that was thrilling. At another point, in extremely dense forest, we heard the trumpet blast of an elephant at very close range. The forest was too thick to get an eye on it though, and we quickly moved along. The whole experience was beautiful and extremely worthwhile.

Back in the taxi on the return trip to our Thekkady hotel, we began to pass again through the city’s eerily empty streets. Then, coming around a curve, I noticed a lone police car parked on the side of the road. A single officer sat in the driver seat.


Then, without warning, our car came to an abrupt halt. There were five or six cars that had come to a stop directly ahead of us at a large intersection.


Blocking and surrounding the intersection, was an angry mob of several hundred people, many of them waving BJP flags. This didn’t look good.


I asked the driver if he knew what was going on. “It’s no problem,” he said, unfazed. “You just tell them you agree with them and you have no problem.”


Ok, so here we go. Several very long minutes later, a political flag-waving vigilante approached our driver side window. The men spoke in one of the many Indian languages we couldn’t understand. Several minutes later, we were allowed to pass through.

As Americans whose skin color probably clarified we were not involved in local Indian politics, we may never have been in any real danger from this vigilante mob that had appointed itself entitled to stop traffic and question random civilians. But this was a shocking and frightening scene to witness nonetheless.


What possibly could have been the purpose of blocking a large intersection and questioning all drivers who pass through? It seems completely possible that if this revved-up BJP mob had gotten their hands on someone even perceived to be affiliated with the Communist party, their fate could have been dangerously different than was ours.

Again, there was a police officer, sitting in his car doing nothing, immediately at the edge of this unruly mob. I don’t know what to make of this. Were the local police condoning or intentionally enabling this vigilante justice? Or were they overwhelmed, ill-equipped and simply unable to stop it even if they wanted to?

Recently, I tried to find some more information about this incident online. Turns out that between 2016 and July of 2017, the month we were there, Indian police report there having been four members of the Communist party murdered in this area. During that same time frame, ten members of the BJP party were murdered. From 2006 to present, fifty Communist party members were murdered, as were forty-four BJP members. The cycle of vigilante, political violence is both long and deep in the otherwise beautiful state of Kerala.(49)





San Jose, California: 2018


I spent my final year as a public school teacher in San Jose. That year, I lived on the city’s East Side, about one mile from the charter school where I taught 8th grade English and American History. The neighborhood was a wonderful composition of both Spanish and Vietnamese speaking communities. It was my first experience living in a neighborhood where I was in the clear racial minority.


Early one Monday morning, on my way out to work, I noticed something weird about my car. I discovered it had been broken into overnight. The thieves had stolen two complete skateboards out of my trunk, one of which was an antique fishtail board I bought in Vancouver, Canada. They stole some clothes as well, but that was about it. I was surprised and a bit pissed off, but I had to get to school and focus on preparing for the day and had little time to dwell on the matter.


When class started soon afterwards, I told my students about what had just happened to me. Thinking out loud, I told them the truth, that I was feeling angry about the theft. However, I also told them that in a moment like this, I try to remind myself that I have a choice.


I can be frustrated, pissed off, and fantasize about harm or misfortune coming to the people who stole from me. This would be completely understandable. But in the end, it doesn’t get me anywhere at all. No matter how mad I am at these people, my anger will never reach them. Surely, I will never find out who they actually are.


Or, on the other hand, I can acknowledge my anger, and choose to drop it.


Holding onto this seemingly righteous anger, in the end, only ends up hurting...me.


And I don’t want to walk through my life angry and pissed off all the time.


So, although it’s definitely easier said than done, I’m going to make a decision to just try to drop it.


It happened, it’s over.


I’m grateful I have a good job that will allow me to go out and buy a new skateboard right away.


However difficult, this mindset can be yours too, if you wish.


Soon after the break in, I filed a police report. They sent me a “thank you for playing” email in response. This kind of stuff happens so often here of course that the police don’t even bother trying to intervene.





Sources Cited


32. Ushuaia, Argentina; southernmost city in the world

https://www.britannica.com/place/Ushuaia-Argentina


33. Government of Argentina in 1970s-80s kidnapped and murdered 30,000 of its citizens: Los Deceparecidos

https://www.history.com/news/mothers-plaza-de-mayo-disappeared-children-dirty-war-argentina


34. StudentsFirstNY

https://www.studentsfirstny.org/


35. Spanish Harlem has highest concentration of public housing in all of New York City

http://www.cityneighborhoods.nyc/east-harlem


36. Health hazards of living in Spanish Harlem public housing

https://www.pix11.com/2019/11/09/east-river-houses-in-east-harlem-without-heat-hot-water-residents


37. East River Houses public housing serves as hub for illicit crack dealing

https://www.villagevoice.com/2014/10/13/harlems-east-river-houses-not-quite-the-increasingly-violent-place-d-a-calls-it/


38. 2021 median income in Spanish Harlem is $33,720

https://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/NY/Manhattan/East-Harlem-Demographics.html


39. 2021 median income in Upper East Side is $131,996

https://www.areavibes.com/new+york-ny/upper+east+side/employment/


40. Young Lords in Spanish Harlem

https://www.thoughtco.com/young-lords-history-4165954


41. One of America’s most shameful experiments in incarceration, New York City’s Riker’s Island

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50114468


42. San Jose, California is one of the safest big cities in America

https://www.cbsnews.com/media/the-9-safest-cities-in-america/


43. Black and White Americans use cannabis at equal rates, but Blacks are far more likely to be arrested/imprisoned over it, as documented by the ACLU

https://www.aclu.org/report/report-war-marijuana-black-and-white


44. Canada’s common sense approach to legal cannabis

https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/cannabis/


45. Ride-share kidnappings in New Delhi

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/ola-cab-driver-kidnapped-doctor-for-5-crores-ransom-arrested-1726996


46. ISIS makes incursions into Indian territory in 2017

https://www.refworld.org/docid/5bcf1fa3a.html


47. Vigilante mobs kill human beings for killing cows in India

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/27/india-cow-protection-spurs-vigilante-violence


48. BJP political party member hacked to death with machete by Communists in Indian state of Kerala, July 2017

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-27/political-murders-tarnish-image-of-kerala-india/8815710


49. Years of cyclical political violence in Kerala, India

https://www.ndtv.com/kerala-news/after-peace-talks-arun-jaitley-to-meet-murdered-kerala-rss-worker-rajesh-edavakodes-family-1734054