Eli Painted Crow at 10 Women Truthtellers awards night

She walked up to the microphone, the red bandana and red shawl making her instantly distinct even before she spoke. And though her voice was neither loud nor deep, it conveyed her presence clearly. Unlike some of the Truthteller award winners before her that evening, Eli Painted Crow had no rehearsed sales pitch, no artifice. She spoke from pain etched and burned into her heart from being a 22-year veteran of the U.S. military – most recent deployment being Iraq – and from having two sons who emerged alive, but broken, from Iraq. She spoke from the pain of many betrayals: the countless hours writing letters and make telephone calls so that her sons could get their Veterans Administation disability benefits, the general disregard for women in military service who report rape, the rampant racism within an institution that claims to be protecting democracy.

 

“I’m tired of fighting.” Of all that Eli said that night, this is the phrase that sticks in my brain. She refered to how the clashing egos and personalities within Code Pink and Veterans for Peace were undermining their own work to end the Iraq War, of how it fatigued her (and implicitly others) to organize within a culture that focused on fighting the political enemy while lacking a common vision of what peace actually looked like and what achieving peace would mean for how we related to each other.

 

Eli reminded us of how we were a few days from Veterans Day, but that for veterans, every day is Veterans Day, not because veterans feel honored every day, but because veterans have to live with the shock and brutality of war lividly pulsing within their thoughts Every Day. What those starched education psychology professionals call “post-traumatic stress disorder.” Those various but similar memories that lead many veterans to commit acts of violence in civilian life, sometimes killing themselves.

 

There is no way for me to fully convey the power of Eli’s presence through e-mail, but i will tell you this. She ended by playing taps on a harmonica. Everybody stood up. And though the hundred-or-so number of us had our bodies in a lighted, sheltered-from-the-rain dance studio, i felt a chill. I felt my heart peering into a gaping expanse of darkness punctuated by the notes of that sad, slow rendition of “Amazing Grace.” And somewhere between those notes were the remnants of stars, but not like the ones you see on a clear night while holding onto the warmth a loved one. These were smashed and fragmented shards, like porcelain dropped from a third-story window.

 

After her harmonica had stopped, we all sat down. But me, my mind kept drifting back to Amazing Grace. My eyes were dry, but i felt the heaviness of rainclouds, the echoes of all the broken pieces of myself i’m carrying, a survivor of war waged within the walls of a house. That song occupied my mind in every moment of silence for the next hour.

 

Oh amazing grace

how sweet the sound

to reach a one as me

I once was lost

but now am found

Once was blind

But now I see.

 

 

Eli Painted Crow is a Native woman of the Yaqui nation. She has toured the country, having spoken at and organized within Code Pink and Veterans for Peace. She has now started another organization: the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN). To find out more about her work, please send an e-mail to supportwomenvets@gmail.com.  You can also find out more at www.elipaintedcrow.org

Movie Review: Take My Eyes/To Doy Mis Ojos

te-doy-mis-ojos2.jpg Director: Icíar Bollaín

Spanish release: 2003

U.S. release: 2006 w/ limited distribution

I was really afraid of watching this movie. Because of its very serious subject matter, i had not asked any of my friends to watch it with me, expecting replies of “No.” I was afraid of it. A mass of nerves, i rented it on Netflix and held onto it for over a 4 weeks before forcing myself to go through with it.

(Deep inhale and exhale)

Te Doy Mis Ojos is a drama focused on the struggles of two working class people of Toledo, Spain, but the setting could be easily changed with the story still essentially intact. Pilar fights against those voices that keep her tied to her husband, Antonio: her mother’s sense that all women must have a man, her own emotional pattern of accepting Antonio’s beatings and yelling, and society’s definition that women < men. Antonio struggles with a sense of his own worthlessness as a salesperson in a department store, and more importantly, as the less appreciated son in an emotionally callous family.

We witness how Antonio’s inability to understand and express his fear and pain are the cause for his possessiveness of Pilar, and how this leads to his attempts to maintain control of her through violence.te-doy-mis-ojos1.jpg

To a different degree, we also witness Pilar’s journey. While in the midst of preparing for her sister’s wedding, Pilar recollects how she met Antonio, how he proposed to her, and her own expectation of happiness. And we see her finding meaning and building relationships beyond the walls of her house as she learns to become a guide at an art museum.

… continue reading this entry.

Why i write…

I am realizing that part of why i write is for the same reason that i am engaged in social change work.  I am trying to save a life – my own.

Report back from visiting Family

I felt frequently frustrated visiting my family last weekend for my grandmother/popo‘s funeral. My relatives typically talk about inanely boring things and this was barely any exception. It’s strange having to put on my masculine face for hours and hours on end. I felt like snapping at my brother numerous times (and did not always restrain myself) during the viewing ceremony of popo‘s body. It disturbed me to play the role of “grandson” of a woman that i did not know very well.

Another part of what grated on my mind was the inherent sexism of the ceremony. We sometimes stood and sometimes kneeled in a particular order before the two altars in the funeral home based on gender and relationship to my popo, the mother of my mother.

Sons

D aughters-in-Law (lined up beside their respective husbands)

Daughters

Grandsons (by sons)

Grandsons (by daughters)

Granddaughters (by sons)

Granddaughters (by daughters)

There was also something sexist about the bowing. All people who had come to pay their respects had to bow to the altar three times, bow once to the men, walk around to where the body is (behind the main altar) and then bow once to the women and once more to the men.

This was mostly frustrating for me because my brother was clearly lost about the order of things taking place and i felt that i had to play the role of the responsible, oldest son when in fact i was neither the oldest nor the son. I felt an obligation to family to help things move along smoothly. Which basically meant that i did what i was told. The one upshot of my brother not being mentally organized is that because he didn’t quite know where to stand, we and my cousin who is a woman and daughter of a one of my grandmother’s sons messed up the order a bit, which gave me some bit of satisfaction. Unfortunately, nobody cared enough about where the three of us were to start anything since we were all in the back anyway (my mother is the only daughter to have children).

… continue reading this entry.

Anime Review: My Neighbors the Yamadas

Director: Isao TakahataYamada family portrait, kind of

based on comic strip by Hisaishi Ishii

Japanese release: 1999

U.S. release: 2005

I am torn in attempting to review this film. I have no complaints about the actual execution and stylistic choices of the animators and Japanese voice actors, which is predictably excellent coming from a pro like Takahata; but thinking about its choice of subject matter – the family – and its predictable treatment of that institution disappoints me.

My Neighbors the Yamadas is about a typical middle-class Japanese family living in the suburbs: there’s the overworked father, the somewhat lazy stay-at-home mother, the slacker son, the cutesy innocent daughter, and the wise-cracking, cantankerous grandmother. Oh, and a dog. Lacking any pretension of having a central plot, the director chose to instead put a lot of short stories together around the theme of “family.” While this makes sense when one considers that this film is based on a newspaper comic strip (thus its very minimalist complexion), it also prevents any maturation of the characters. Or, as one of the side characters remarks about the grandmother as she draws a line in the sand to separate her trash pick-up from his, “She’s still the same 60 years later” (in this case, 60 minutes later).

Despite this Is this Your marriage?movie’s seemingly low production values, it’s more like a cross between the Simpsons and a BBC comedy than a Saturday morning cartoon. The characters throw accurate punchlines – aimed at the middle-aged.

… continue reading this entry.

Death, Elders, Karma

I’m going to visit my family for a few days. Will be off my high-speed internet fix and my blog during that time.

My grandmother died last Saturday at the hospital. She was recovering from surgery as well as pneumonia. In her 80s. I was a little surprised to hear it, and my mother never even told me that my grandmother had gotten sick until my brother mentioned it. I thought that was weird. But my mother doesn’t tell me much of anything unless it directly concerns me. Her calls are usually to ask whether i’m sleeping enough, whether i’m wearing the clothing she bought me, whether i am making enough money at my job.

This reminds me of some thoughts i had last weekend at the end of the digital storytelling training program. I had just spend all day at the office building in downtown San Francisco, mostly helping people with a digital film editing program, stressed, tired. Though it didn’t surprise me, i realized that even though i was, in theory, similar to these women in that i had a male body and was transitioning to a gender of “woman,” i felt very different. Not only because of my age (i was definitely younger than any of them) and educational attainment, but also because i got the impression that i was the only one who passed as a straight guy during my teens.

It got me thinking about something i was troubled by during my initial coming out period in Santa Barbara. And which still bothers me somewhat today. Where are the elders?? Where are the people i’m supposed to be able to look up to for wisdom, for guidance? Not my biological mother or Her mother. Nor did i really even know my grandparents from my father’s side.

A generation or two ago, people with my gender inclination and attraction to women living in a society as homophobic and transphobic as the United States probably would not have come out until they were in their 40s or 50s, married to a cisgender (XX chromosome) woman, had 2.5 kids and a house.

… continue reading this entry.

CA Worker’s Comp recognizes Acupuncture

As of June 15 of this year, the CA Division of Worker’s Compensation has started covering acupuncture if it is used to treat work-related injury.

You can get information by calling (415) 703-5020, (510) 622-2861, or (213) 820-2045.

Please see this article for more information.

Book review: The Other Wind

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Publisher: Ace Books, 2003

Every Earthsea novel has its principal protagonist (not necessarily the s/hero); the one through whose eyes we see into the world of the isles (Earthsea is made up of hundreds of islands and isles with various regions, cultures, languages, beliefs, folklore).

The Other Wind spreads itself out over several characters. I think this weakened the strength of the story a little, there not being enough development of the newly introduced characters to get us to care particularly for what they experience. This story follows Alder, Tenar, and Lebannen at a point of great change in Earthsea.

Alder is the reluctant herald of this change. A village sorcerror with a talent for mending objects, he has no great powers of wizardry. But he regularly has frightening dreams about the souls of the dead who call out to him from across the wall that he sees in his dreams; a wall that divides the land of the dead from the land of the living.

… continue reading this entry.

Digital Storytelling Program – Basic editing finished

I spent most of Sunday in San Francisco helping others to complete a digital media project, the same one i had posted that i’m fundraising for. Mostly, i was helping people use computers – most of the transwomen receiving training in digital storytelling had little experience with internet and no experience with film editing applications. I was surprised how quickly i picked up the basic functions of the editing software – i had taken a course using the same program about 5 years ago, but not used it since.

Towards mid-day, a few people became very vocal and cranky and a loud argument with personal insults took place in the training room. I tried futilely to calm them down and was myself really too tired to put much focus on that situation. Those involved apologized and forgave each other after a break period. I got there at 11:00 am and did not leave until almost 8:00 pm.

One of the rewards of volunteering on that day was being able to see the rough cuts of the various stories. It was positive to witness folks’ experiences, as the arc of all the stories ended on some kind of positive note.

Bridging another Digital divide!

If you have read the Alexis Giraldo story in San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter or the Bay Area Guardian article last year about extremely high rates of transwomen being incarcerated ( 1 in 3 according to the SF Dept of Public Health), then you have some idea of what transgender people endure in prison…and in leaving prison still retain the memories of cruelties. But very few people are even aware that the vast majority of transgender women go to prison for nonviolent crimes such as drug possession and prostitution. Even fewer people have the opportunity to hear from a transgender former prisoner herself.

To expand society’s views and definitions of “transgender issues” and to push for serious changes in how the so-called criminal justice system impacts transgender women, the Tran/Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project has initiated a digital media program that provides former prisoners who are transgender people of color the training and

… continue reading this entry.

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