Friday, September 9, 2016

On Love, Showing Up and Peter.

When I was in kindergarten, my dad was driving me to school. Without warning, he quickly pulled in the parking lot of a gas station and when I looked at him, he was having a seizure. I was very afraid, and I'll never forget him looking over at me, reaching out for me, trying to reassure me that he was ok.

I went into the gas station and asked to use the phone. Thankfully, my mom had taught me our phone number and I was able to call for help. Needless to say, I didn't go to school that day and my dad spent the day resting at home.

That was the first time I heard the word "epilepsy." I didn't understand it, but I knew that it was what made my dad tremble and shake.  From that day forward, I always watched for another seizure, and while he had many other health issues, he never had another seizure.

My dad passed away in 2014 and while I talk about his other illnesses, I never talk about his epilepsy, mainly because it didn't interrupt his daily life very often. Epilepsy was just a part of life and while his heart attack, stroke and eventual lung cancer were life-altering, epilepsy never really stopped him.

Unfortunately, this after-thought illness skipped a generation and when she was three years old, my niece Raquel was diagnosed with epilepsy.

Raquel cried a lot as a baby, more than most babies. No one ever really knew why, and she didn't have language to explain it either.  As she got older she stopped crying so much, but it was noticeable that something was wrong.  Her diagnosis was a brief reprieve; my dad's epilepsy was easy to control with medication and everyone was sure that was all Raquel needed. Unfortunately, Raquel's epilepsy wasn't like my dad's, and for most of her life, Raquel has endured seizures daily, sometimes several times a day.

On so many levels, Raquel isn't defined by having epilepsy.  She is creative, an artist and likes movies and music.  Raquel played soccer for years and is a fierce competitor.  She is fully aware of her epilepsy, knows when seizures are coming on and is often angered by it.  She has bad days and good days and days when she's wiped out from having seizures. She's spent a lot of time in the hospital and has been studied over and over again.  It seems that no one can find the right combination of treatment for her.  At best, her epilepsy is managed.  Because other kids oftentimes suck, it's hard for Raquel to make friends. School hasn't been the best experience for her.

Baxter, UNMH Service Dog 
Raquel and I don't always have much to talk about. Sometimes, I think that I am awkward because I don't know what to say, and I don't want to upset her.  Other times, we talk about the little outfits she sews for her other dog, her art projects or her schoolwork. My awkwardness isn't Raquel's fault; I don't always know how to relate to people when they are ill. Any time my dad was in the hospital, I would stay there all day, but I would float between the waiting room, his room, the cafeteria and the gift shop. In all reality, it's a combination of helplessness and fear that make me so awkward, and I don't know how to reconcile those feelings.

What I do know how to do is organize and act.

The last time Raquel was in the hospital, a very friendly volunteer came to visit named Baxter. He is a white, shaggy dog who visits all the children in the hospital.  Raquel brightened up when Baxter came to visit. My brother-in-law said "watch, we're going to get her a service dog." A few months passed and he, my sister, Raquel and her older sister began looking for a dog.  After meeting a few dogs, Raquel met Peter and they were fast friends.

Peter is a Boxer mix and a rescue from the Albuquerque Animal shelter.  "Wonderful!" I thought, "they have a service dog!" What I didn't realize is that training for Peter comes with a price tag of about $2500.00.  The price is worth it; Raquel has already shown signs of improvement from having Peter around and he will also be her Epilepsy Response Dog, meaning he will stay by her side when she is having seizures and alert others if needed.

After working as a school secretary for years, my sister decided to go back to school to be a teacher. Ten years of going to school part-time and working full time, she is finally ready to student teach, which means she has taken a huge pay cut. My brother-in-law works full time as well, but, as is the case with most families in the US, there isn't extra money to train a service dog.  Going public and asking family and community to pull together isn't easy, but it's vital.

Remember I said I know how to organize and act?  It isn't a skill I developed on my own.  My family is one that knows how to pull together a party, a dinner, a wedding, a baby shower or a funeral reception with very little notice or supplies. We aren't just there for each other, we show up, so when my sister told us how much it would cost to train Peter, we began making plans. An enchilada dinner! A spaghetti dinner! A silent auction! A raffle! We decided to start with an online fundraiser.

My dad didn't always know how to show his love and affection for us, but in my darkest times, like when I didn't even have a bed frame, my dad took me to buy one. He showed up for me.

I inherited many of his personality traits, and I don't always know how to show my love for my family. When there is an opportunity to do for them, I take it.  If a service dog will make a difference in Raquel's life, why wouldn't we do everything we can to make it happen? I can't make friends for her or take away her seizures, but I can work to raise money to train Peter.

So can you.

If you keep up with me, you know that I am always writing about some sort of politics or injustice and urging readers to take action. I am now urging you to donate to Peter's training fund.  While large donations are definitely welcomed, even $5 makes a difference.

Perhaps you'll never meet Raquel or Peter, but I can guarantee that you will be a part of changing their lives.

I don't always know how to connect with Raquel, but I love her fiercely, all the time. Thankfully, Peter does as well.

Click here to donate to Peter's Training Fund. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Prayer for a Broken Little City

Aye Burque, we are a broken little city existing in a broken little state. We are a tiny little light being consumed by darkness.

Too many babies, too many tiny lives have been cut short and I can't wrap my head around any of it.

Shit like this happens in other cities, but this is home, and home is supposed to be safe.  Babies are supposed to be safe. Mothers are supposed to keep their babies safe.

Mothers are supposed to keep their babies safe.

Mothers are supposed to keep their babies safe.

I don't know where we went wrong. I don't know when the darkness crept in and consumed our light.

The stewards of our city and state will use these tiny little lives to play politics, and in our anger, frustration and fear, we'll play right into their greedy hands.

Amen, I say to you:


Calling for more death isn't justice.  Letting inmates rot on death row while their cases are appealed over and over for 40 or more years isn't justice. Playing politics with human lives is not justice.


Victoria was not born to be a sacrifice. Nor was Ashlynne; or Lilly; or Ty; or Omaree; or Breanna; or Miranda. None of these babies were born only to die in the most brutal manners possible.

We do not honor them when we plunge into darkness, screaming for more blood.


Their memories are at risk of being nothing more than media ratings and political speeches. We forget as quickly as we can because it is too painful and these babies faces are used to sell papers and politicians and we look away because it hurts.


Say their names. Look their deaths in the eye and be forever altered by your grief. Let your grief spur you to action. Take care of the children of our city.  Take care of the children of our state.  Our city is broken and plunged in despair. It's tempting to give up, to ignore, to call for more death.


We must resist the darkness.

We are light. Those babies are light.  Our city deserves the light.

Resist the darkness; embrace the light.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Shame On Sue

Last week, CHI St. Joseph's Children unveiled New Mexico Truth, a campaign that sheds light on the dismal condition of children and families in New Mexico. The site is a spoof on the state tourism department's New Mexico True campaign, which predictably led to Governor Susana Martinez's press secretary calling the ads petty.

A few days later, New Mexico Voices released findings of the Kids Count report, which ranks New Mexico as first in child poverty. Again. Martinez and her ilk had the perfect opportunity to lay out a plan to pull New Mexico out of its dismal poverty and unemployment (also first in the nation). They had the opportunity to overturn corporate tax breaks, advocate for funding for Early Childhood Education and strengthen the Public Education Department. At the very least, the governor could have laid out budget priorities to alleviate poverty, given this year is a short session which is a budget session. 

Instead, Martinez laid out a "tough on crime" farce that sounded more like a campaign speech rather than a plan to pull our state out of poverty. Rather than focus on programs that will lift up our state, the Governor advocated for youth curfew and incarceration with the same tough on crime schtick that ran out of steam a long time ago. Predictably, Martinez also reintroduced her plan to go after drivers licenses for Undocumented Immigrants. 


For the sixth year in a row. 

Martinez's tired rhetoric shows she is out of touch with the needs of New Mexicans. A new poll shows that the majority of New Mexicans support drivers licenses for undocumented people.  While Martinez should be focused on creating jobs, she is determined to bully her way to a hollow victory. 

Martinez's speech infuriated me, and apparently I wasn't the only one. For a brief, glorious moment, someone shouted "shame on you!" as Martinez spouted her typical racist, anti-Immigrant rhetoric. We later found out the shouter was Representative Christine Trujillo (D, Albuquerque) and she did what I have been itching to do  - she called the governor out, and she did it right to her face. 

Martinez was already walking into session as a punchline - her infamous pizza party is still fresh on everyone's minds. A group of Senators wore socks with pizza and cokes printed on them and a group of protestors gave away free pizza outside the Roundhouse. During her speech, however, Representative Trujillo took dissent to a new level and interrupted the governor. 

Immediately, Republicans blasted Trujillo's action as disrespectful and called for decorum. Speaker of the House Don Tripp called her action inappropriate and a spokesperson for the governor called Trujillo's action petty.  


Recycling the same tired argument over drivers licenses for political gain is petty. Using the same scare tactics to argue over licenses while our state keeps slipping further down the sinkhole of the Martinez administration's making is irresponsible and using racist, xenophobic language and scapegoating is reprehensible, Sue.  

While the Department of Homeland Security had to go so far as to write a letter to the editor of the Albuquerque Journal to clarify the Real ID Act (something our mainstream media outlets fail to do over and over again), Martinez uses fear in order to try and drum up one more sputter of support for taking away drivers licenses from Immigrants. 

Immigrant Day of Action, Santa Fe. Photo by the author 
As if that wasn't petty enough, Martinez and her cronies are pushing "tough on crime" bills which, at first glance, seem like they can reduce crime, but are really meant to catch Democrats between a rock and a hard place: while they will vote against these bills because they are ineffective, they will seem soft on crime and, come election time, they will be portrayed as such. While draconian laws don't reduce crime, Martinez uses her tried and true tactic of making speeches and pounding the podium, but won't put any type of real investment in solving New Mexico's crime problem. 

It's worth noting that the GEO Group and Corrections Corporations of America (both private prisons) have made $38,000 in donations to Martinez and other Republicans' campaigns. Locking up more people = millions of dollars in revenue for private prisons. 

I don't feel any safer, do you? 

The only pettiness I see in Santa Fe comes from the Governor's office and the Republican-controlled House. Speaker Tripp, while you allow the drivers license bill, teen curfew bill and right-to-work bills onto the floor for votes in an effort to create "election bait," please remember your call for decorum and respect and show the same to the people of this state. We are less interested in your reelection and more interested in seeing our state begin the hard work of getting out of last place.

Bravo, Representative Trujillo, and I agree whole-heartedly - shame on you, Governor Martinez. Shame on you.