Monday, February 5, 2018

"Those things don't happen here." Seriously???

Hello, everyone,
After so many years of living in the United States, it's time for me to apologize to everyone I know for having lied about where I come from originally. I'm very proud of my pure Italian background, which, and I must apologize again for even saying it, goes back to very old coats-of-arms from a country that is one of the main cradles of the Western civilization. Talking about old things, I may be a little too old to say that if I ever disobeyed my parents in anything, it was in talking about a much more privileged, much more illustrious family past. By word and deed, they had always taught me about equality, social sensitivity, and social justice. They had always emphasized that it's the very same red blood that runs through everyone's veins. Every time I opened my mouth and mentioned a much more prominent background, I did so against my parents and grandparents' will. Still, I came up with a way to avoid totally disregarding their teachings in humility and consideration for others--and that's how I started dismissing my own personal merit and abilities as a way to soften or muffle, my forbidden references to a much more illustrious family past.

I'm getting off topic--and away from this my public confession to having lied for so long. I was not born in Europe but in America. No, I was not born in the United States.  America is much more than just the U.S.  I was born in a wonderful, awesome, amazing country with a very sophisticated lifestyle, the most advanced medical care, and a very strong commitment to social justice.  I'm talking about Argentina, the country that gave to the world a Catholic leader that embodies the love and concern for the poor, the marginalized, the immigrant, and the oppressed that the Catholic faith is all about.

Why did I keep it as a secret? Because for about ten years, since I was a teen, I had been kind of bothered from the distance by an unknown person or group of people whose name or names were never known to me.  I clearly realize that most of you will think that it's not that I don't know but that I don't want to say. That's not the case. I don't know. I never knew, and never will.  I was never even really concerned about it. On the contrary, all that used to make me feel like the main character of a movie or the protagonist of a novel. It made me feel important. The counterpart, though, was that after having been an extremely overprotected child, my parents' terror that one day that unknown individual or group might decide to come out of the shadows and do something more drastic turned me into an even more overprotected teen and young adult.

Keeping things as quietly as possible was only part of the reason why I never told anyone. I was not lying that much anyway. My background is still pure Italian--and Argentina is a very Italian, very European country in America after all. The main reason why I didn't want anyone to know was even more compelling to me that any safety considerations could ever be.  I didn't want to hear one more time what several U.S. citizens by birth had replied when at the very beginning I had summarized my story for them. Yeah, they'd say something like, "Those things don't happen here." They'd say, "Here we don't have those kinds of problems." They'd say,  "Here the police would have protected you."  Seriously???  Even leaving aside the intrinsic rudeness of those comments, history proved those gratuitous statements to be totally, completely, entirely untrue.  Even though without knowing their identity, there are two "things" that over the years had become apparent about whoever was harassing me. The person, or, eventually, people, doing it had lots of money and, most likely, right-wing connections as well.  So, who dares tell me now that "those things" don't happen in the U.S.?  It's a coincidence that someone with exactly the same attributes managed not just to force one family to leave the country--but to run the whole country "from sea to shining sea".

Moreover, things were done in such a clever, well-thought-out way that, individually considered, every single instance appeared to be only coincidental. I myself sometimes arrived to believe that all boiled down to my family's extreme concern for my safety in combination to my own need to add some movie-like adventure to my then inordinately easy, comfortable, problem-free life. That was not the case, though. The string of "coincidences" kept on building up. There were a few instances that couldn't have been purely coincidental. Yet, nothing amounted to a crime. Nothing was evident enough to go to the police. Of course you can get police intervention, and protection, if someone breaks into your home and vandalizes it.  The police will listen to you if everything is left in a mess, if valuables are missing, if a threatening note was posted on your door, or if a gruesome item was dropped off as a clear warning of impending harm.  Yet, no police officer anywhere across the globe is going to take you seriously if you told them that someone broke into your home and neither took nor destroyed anything but just moved something out of place.  You can get police intervention, and protection, if someone is making phone calls and threatening you over the phone. But you cannot expect the same if what you get are seemingly 'wrong number' calls that, once again, if individually taken, would lack in any significance. It's only by putting those calls together over months and even years that you see a pattern. And the message is not that they want to kill you either but only that they're there, following you from the distance. Then you may also encounter a few random real-life people in public places who will tell you something that sounds weird, or extremely coincidental, but, once again, it could be still a coincidence. I never found it scary, but my parents would find it terrifying--because it was about me.

I hope you all understand why I never wanted to say anything to anyone. I didn't want to hear one more time that "those things don't happen here". Because they do. WhatI've never heard of is that someone could kind of persecute someone else in such a sophisticated, clever, well-thought-out way. I didn't want to enter into ugly arguments. People are rude. They are inconsiderate.  They make inconsiderate statements which quite often are even far from being true. Many people appear to think they have the right to speak their mind no matter whom they may hurt and even independently of the objective truth or falsity of what they are about to say. 

That's why I lied. Well, I didn't exactly lie. I told "the truth and nothing but the truth." Yet, I failed to tell "the whole truth".  After all, it's entirely accurate that I'm pure Italian with the jus sanguinis right to Italian citizenship. I'm Italian on every single side of my family.  I was not born in Europe, though, and neither were my parents.  We were born and raised in a beautiful country that is very European in lifestyle, simultaneously family-oriented and progressive.

I'm going to give a few examples of what is entirely the same in terms of everyday life in Argentina and in the U.S., and also a brief overview of what I found to be slightly different. I won't be talking about my family or myself, but about life in general--about the public opinion, about what you hear and see not only from those near you but also from people from all walks of life.

Above I said that Argentina is simultaneously family-oriented and progressive. I'll rephrase that in a much better way. It is precisely because it's family oriented that it can afford to be progressive. I apologize for saying that when new to the U.S. it surprised, and struck me to see how widespread the spousal abuse and domestic violence problems were.  It's very rare to find an Argentinean woman ready to tolerate being physically abused or even systematically shouted at by her husband, fiance, boyfriend, or domestic partner. Even if not followed by any battery, a few instances of verbal abuse may suffice for a girlfriend to break up the relationship or for a wife to get their kids and go back to her parents' house.  Now, if we come to think about it, in Argentina most women can afford to react that way because their parental home remains always open to her and all the grandkids. And if the woman's parents are no longer on this earth, in all likelihood there will be a sister, brother, aunt, uncle, or cousin willing to do the same--at least until she can go back on her feet. So, and, once again, I'm talking about how things, in general, were over thirty years ago, on one hand it was more common for young women to keep on living at home until they got married. On the other hand, though, it was less common for any woman of any age to put up with mistreatment of any kind. Most of them didn't need to stay with an abuser for lack of a better place where to go--as not everyone is ready or willing to end up in a "safe house" or shelter.  Therefore, tighter family ties tend to make abuse less widespread.

Recently, through the social media, I regained contact with many of my former classmates from high school. I thought I'd have a hard time finding most of them because they'd be on Facebook under their married names. I was surprised that almost all of them still went by their maiden name. A few had added their married name without giving up their maiden one. Only one of them went just by her husband's name. Coincidentally, that one is living in Europe. The specific country is irrelevant--but she is not living in Argentina. Personally, I'm not at all a feminist--except when it comes to the family name.  Moreover, thinking about my childhood and young adult years, I never ever perceived myself or any other girl or woman as weaker or less powerful than a boy or man. And, once again, I'm not talking about yesterday but about more years ago than I want to admit. Even if in the process of confessing to having kept a secret, my confession won't go as far as including my age.

It is the same with social justice.  Unbeknownst to many, labor law in Argentina is amongst the most advanced, most progressive, most leaning towards the weak than you can find. Argentineans are much more likely to sue their employers than any native U.S. citizens are. The reason is that, independently of the position held at their workplace, any employee or former employee claiming to have sustained any work-related injury, or to have been harassed, discriminated against, or wrongfully terminated by their present or past employer is given an automatic fee waiver throughout the entire process and is provided at no charge with any expert witnesses, medical or medically-related tests, on-site examinations, accounting reports, and any other studies that the employee might need to prove their case.  Once, long ago, an attorney said that his firm typically lost all the time all the legal matters they handled. Then he clarified, "Because we represent management."

Honestly, being a lawyer, when I first arrived in the U.S. I felt shocked to see how difficult it is here for workers to take their bosses to court.   When it comes to racism, I used to think that people in the U.S. were more open. . . until now. Until things changed here in early 2017.  Moreover, even from before Trump's times, I don't really know where skin tone was less present in people's minds.  I thought that people were more racially conscious in Argentina--but I apologize for saying that now I believe I was mistaken. It was not until I was in my thirties and had been living for some years in the U.S. that for the very first time during a trip back to Argentina I noticed how blue my Aunt Amelia's eyes were.  Ironically, that was also the last time I saw her. God would call her a couple of years later.  I never denied that I tend to be a very absent-minded person, always much more absorbed into my own thoughts than aware of my surroundings. Yet, I used to see my Aunt Amelia at least once if not several times per week--but had never paid attention to how blue her eyes were--because eye color was not present in my thoughts until the change of environment drew my attention to it.

Changing topics, let's say that you lose your cell phone. I will concede that chances to get it back at a Lost and Found may be higher in the U.S. Yet, chances that your information could be misused are also higher in the U.S.  In Argentina someone may misuse your financial information--but it's much less likely that your photos might get misused. In all likelihood, if not willing to return it, the finder may wipe out all your data and give it to their youngest kid who wants a cell phone the same as his older siblings have. If unable to pay for one more phone, the finder may not return it. I won't claim that nobody will use your photos for online pornography--but chances are not that high.

Talking about crime, on principle in Argentina people tend to be more concerned about being deprived of their property--and most of the crime is only for a financial motivation.  Yet, on principle, there are fewer instances of crime due to revenge, passion, lascivity, or just for kicks.  For instance, someone who is about to testify in court against a killer s in danger anywhere.  Yet, even a murderer or their accomplices may not "risk it" to go after someone who already testified in court.  If two drivers get into a collision, they have enough with the crash and the problems resulting from it.  Why make things even worse for themselves by hitting each other over the head with a baseball bat or whatever improvised weapon they can get hold of?

When I was a child, there were two different instances when members of my extended family were victims of crime. In one case they were coming back from a wedding. The two ladies were wearing very valuable antique jewelry,  Their vehicle was stopped. The assailants only wanted their documents--not their jewelry or their wallets. One of the robbers demanded from one of the gentlemen his Rolex-most likely not for the gold but for the chronometer. The attackers didn't put a hand on any our relatives. They didn't want their vehicle either. Only their documents and Rolex. That's what they wanted and that's what they got.  In the other instance, as a second-degree uncle of mine was about to get to his car, he was demanded at gunpoint to surrender the key to his vehicle. The two robbers told him, "We need it for a job. You're going to get it back." They didn't touch or hit him either. They only wanted his car.  He didn't oppose them and didn't get hurt. Well, he'd never be able to drive that car again, though. The robbers' "job" would end up with a police chase and a collision, and the car would be totaled. Please, by no means I'm trying to say that Argentinean criminals are not dangerous. All I'm saying is that they're more geared towards a specific purpose. If able to get what they're going for, that's all they want. The fictional example of the mugger who shot Batman's parents even after having their valuables iin his hands s not that common in Argentina.

On average, in the U.S., students' and workers' loyalties tend to be more with their educational institutions and employers. In Argentina, they are primarily with their classmates and co-workers.

I remember a U.S. public service announcement where the principal of a school said, "When the bell rings, your child becomes a little my child as well." For good or for bad, schools tend to take more intervention in a multitude of issues regarding their students than most parents in Argentina would be comfortable with or agreeable to. The counterpart to that, though, is that the U.S. offers parents and kids alike one awesome, amazing alternative that neither Argentina nor most other countries across the globe do: homeschooling. 

Another issue that used to surpirse me at the beginning was how people love all sorts of DIY projects. Typically, in Argentina, unless they are technicians in that particular field, homeowners don't play electrician, carpenter, or plumber. If they have any need for repairs, they call a professional. Conversely, if a pet dies, even parents without much schooling tend to feel confident that they thoroughly know their kids and that their words can be more comforting than any book on losing a pet. They may resort to a book--but mostly just to show their children that other kids have been through similar experiences as well.  They are likely to resort to counseling to help their children deal with their grief--but they won't leave it up to the psychologist to use their professional judgment. Any mom or dad will have something to say to the therapist about what works best or not at all with their kids.

I want to close this post with a reference to Fr. Pedro, an Argentinean priest whom not everyone knows about and yet who devoted all his adult life to the people of Madagascar--people who were living in a dump and now have homes, decent medical care, and jobs.  Fr. Pedro Opeka is giving daily, live, vibrant testimony of what the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church is all about.

By the same token, it is also a priest from Argentina the one who from the Holy See embodies that reaching out, compassion, love for the poor and the oppressed that are the hallmark of what Jesus expects from us. Pope Francis calls on us, whether from the clergy or from the laity, in our own lives and our own ways to do Jesus' job on this earth. with the openness to embrace others from all religions, all backgrounds, all nationalities, and all walks of life, and the courage to oppose Muslim bans and border walls.

Those two men from Argentina are literally changing the world for the better, denouncing evil, redeeming souls, and saving lives of all faiths or even no faith, reaching out to others no matter who they are. That is what priesthood is all about. They're both priests from Argentina--and they're both priests for the world.

God bless.

These are my three adult children, my biological ones. My five younger ones were adopted internationally, two from Haiti and three from Bulgaria. My daughter, who is my oldest child and my only girl, was born in Argentina. My twin sons were born in California, but they're both deeply interested in everything from Argentina, and one of them intends to take the Argentine citizenship in addition to his U.S. one. The pics that follow are from San Diego, CA, from the International Houses at Balboa Park, and from Christmas 2017 at our home in RI.  Yet, as I'm posting this, two of them are visiting Argentina.  I so much wish I could have traveled with them!!!

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