Sunday, July 29, 2012

Calling for Respect & Dignity: a poem from María Meléndez

by Amelia María de la Luz Montes (

Almost a year ago, fellow La Bloga writer, Melinda Palacio wrote a lovely piece on the award winning poet María Meléndez.  María Meléndez is a poet whose work is brilliant in the way that it weaves human struggles, pain with landscapes, with our damaged environment. Poetry and story are gifts that may take us to worlds far away from our small sphere of understanding and to truths about the world, about ourselves.  Meléndez’s poems open up familiar terrains in ways one may never have considered before—in poignant and searing language. 

Poet, María Meléndez
I want to bring Meléndez’s poetry to you today, dear La Bloga readers and here’s why: 

This past week, Meléndez’s poetry has been near my reach because of so many recent and ongoing horrific and sad events.  Regarding ongoing events, reading her poetry helps me not forget the thousands of mujeres in Juarez who continue to be assaulted, brutally murdered without investigation or with faulty or fake investigations.  People may think—oh well, that’s Mexico for you—corrupt and unable to uncover the truth.  Crime and corruption are global problems:  in big cities and small towns. 

Take my town of Lincoln, Nebraska, for example. A friend of mine, Charlie Rogers, who lives just a few blocks from me, was assaulted in her own home one week ago because she is an “out” lesbian (click here for story).  Because police do not have suspects as of yet, the town’s reporter (Jonathan Edwards) from The Lincoln Journal Star slanted the story to emphasize that the entire event may have been a hoax. When FBI and police detectives are investigating a case, all possibilities are taken into consideration—all possibilities are given equal weight—one possibility is not privileged over the other.  So for a reporter to take one of those aspects of the case (that it might not have happened) and emphasize it as his lead in order to sensationalize the case (because it’s “news,” he says), it dangerously slants the story, compromises the case, and readers begin to doubt the victim.

It is like what has happened over and over again in Juarez, Mexico.  A good example is the case of one Juarez victim’s parents and sister who frantically distributed flyers asking for help in the case of their missing family member.  They went door to door with the flyers, asking people to help them look for their family member.  Then the town’s newspaper reporter published a picture of a woman and man with a lead story saying the victim had actually eloped with the man in the picture.  When the parents saw the article, they were shocked because the woman in the picture was not their daughter.  Yet, as soon as that article was out, people stopped looking.  The public suddenly saw their daughter as a run-away who had taken off with some guy and the critical days immediately after her disappearance were spent trying to deal with the newspaper’s erroneous story.  A few weeks later, their daughter was found dead—another statistic among the more than 3,000 dead women in Juarez whose perpetrators have not been captured.  Here is a recent New York Times article on the Juarez Murders (click here).  

This week in Lincoln, Nebraska—the aforementioned reporter (Jonathan Edwards) chose to sensationalize one aspect of the Charlie Rogers' case, impacting public opinion with the headline:  
“Police:  Was Hate Crime Real?” The first sentence begins: "Police continue to investigate Sunday's reported hate crime but say they haven't ruled out the possibility that the 33-year-old woman staged the attack."

The day before the Lincoln Journal Star headline and story appeared, CNN’s reporter Melissa Abbey wrote a thorough story about the assault with the headline:  
This is a very different headline in comparison to: “Was Hate Crime Real?” 
The first sentence is also much different.  It reads:  "Three masked me allegedly bound a woman and carved words into her skin, police in Lincoln, Nebraska, said Monday."

Jonathan Edwards and The Lincoln Journal Star’s local reporting disrespects this case, this woman.  Because of their unprofessional reporting, Charlie decided to come out of hiding and speak.  How brave for Charlie (who I’ve known for many years—a shy, dignified, brilliant, and respectful individual) to have the strength (while she is trying to recover and heal) to speak up (click here) in a very public way, to speak her truth and say, “Yes, it does happen.  And it happened here.”  This is what she said:

“Being a victim in a situation like this, or a survivor, and having your integrity questioned . . . it feels victimizing again . . . It makes an already difficult situation more difficult because my world has been changed forever by these events.  And so the idea that people think it’s a lie is so hurtful.  It’s understandable—I mean intellectually I understand that people . . . have a hard time wrapping their heads around the events that have happened.  As do I . . . But I’m a person, with feelings, with concerns . . .  It feels like a punch in the stomach, like a betrayal.  Instead of the focus being on safety and healing and the investigation, the whole thing turns into a defense essentially.  It doesn’t become about the situation.  It becomes about something altogether different.  And then I start to feel like a pawn in a game that isn’t my game, you know? . . . I didn’t ask for this.  I don’t want this.  Whatever people’s intentions are or are not, it’s important to me that they understand --  for future victims -- hopefully there will be none.  People are people and agendas are agendas and I hope that we distinguish between those two things.  I was hurt and what matters is the story . . . This is an investigation.  This is a crime . . . It deserves a level of respect.  I know—when these sorts of things happen, it ignites fires and that’s a good thing in some ways.  It can also be a very bad thing.  I’m not a pawn in a game.  I’m a person and it very much feels like I’m being used as a pawn.  I want people to know I’m not afraid.  I want other victims to know that it’s important to come forward.  I also wanted some control over what was happening in the media and I thought that the best way to do it was to do it myself. Maybe you don’t know me, but you probably know someone that this has happened to.  So for people to think that this doesn’t happen here:  it does.  It did.  Everyone is worthy of justice, of safety, of fairness.  I’m not hiding from this anymore.  There is fear, but there is resilience.  There is forward.”  --Charlie Rogers

When I read Charlie's transcript from her television interview, I feel I am also hearing what las mujeres de Juarez-- the thousands in Juarez would have wanted to say; the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer individuals who have been assaulted and ignored or their stories sensationalized as well-- would have wanted to say; the Black, the Indigenous, anyone who has been deemed "different" and assaulted and has never had a chance to speak would have wanted to say . . . 
What does all of this have to do with the poetry of  María Meléndez?  Everything.  Plato wrote:  “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.”  Melendéz’s poem below speaks to injustice, speaks to the pain that women experience, speaks to all of us. 

To the over 3,000 victims and families in Juarez, Mexico; to victims/survivors and families in the U.S. and all over the world who are presently in untold pain; and to Charlie Rogers in Lincoln, Nebraska who eloquently and strongly spoke this week despite experiencing such a horrific hate crime so recently; to you, Queridos y Queridas La Bloga readers—I lovingly send you María Meléndez' poem:

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? 

Think of pink pickup trucks.

And picture dead Americans
Doing their Vietnam-era combat dying
In neat ethnic proportion

All hail, the proportional dead!

Visualize nonperishable respect
Handed out in paper bags to neighbors.

A Dignity Pantry open 24 hours.

Then, I suppose, we could each
Have a friendly lick
Off the other’s cone.

But this is your real Mother
On Public Assistance talking:

Is the salt in all those crackers
And canned goods
Not supposed to kill me? 

Why can’t I use these vouchers  
For organic cheese and milk? 
Why are the wealthy allowed to be healthier than me?

Deep cleansing breath everyone. 
Oppression isn’t rocket science. 
It’s easy enough
To ignore the torso
Of Evelyn Hernandez,
Afloat on the shore of the Bay
A year before Laci.
Her maternity shirt a billowing
Jelly-fish crown animated by waves,
Her case rejected from the rolls
Of America’s Most Wanted.

SF Homicide tried spreading the word . . .

I’m sorry to say, Evi, that without any
Lacey-white wedding photos to show,
Newsmakers thought no one would care much.

You were only 24, and being Salvadoran,
Maybe no one had shown you yet
How the gods of public opinion
Get fed around here.

The days of Good News are behind us;
Now a group of elites claiming expertise
On the whole Christ thing
Assures us He was way more uptight
About two men trying for wedded bliss
Than the brutal dismemberment of women
With names like “Hernandez.”
            Sorry, señorita,
            The Bible’s pretty clear on this one.

You don’t need a PhD to see
This is a slap in the dead face
Of an entire chain of mothers,
Knotted and tangled together,
Circling down through history,
And coming to rest on the knifepoint
Of the present, as rosary beads circle down
To Christ’s nailed feet.

While we’re on the subject
Of murdered muchachas,
Could someone please
Ask the slaughtered
Daughters of Juárez
Not to shriek so loudly
At night?  They’re bothering
Some nice people in Texas.
Would they mind not being so political
All the time? 
            (say the p-word as though invoking the name
            of a hated vegetable, e.g.,
                        “Could you not be so lima bean all the time!”)

Everyone knows that only a few Texans,
Only a few Americans,
Get to be political.
And then, only on TV.

I’m not an angry person, really.
I’ve never yelled at the snow for
Or cursed a grasshopper
For disappearing into the weeds
When I wanted to catch it.

A river killed a man I loved,
And I love that river still.

Rough treatment from the Great Beyond?
I’ve come to expect it. 

But someone—who?
The Son of Man?—
Told me I could expect better
From the hands
Of humans.

In all fondness for the grasshoppers, I say
My neighbors and I
Are no better than insects

May the peace of legally recognized newlyweds
Be with us all.

And may Evelyn’s broken breath,
As recorded in the Bay waves,
Fill our ears until we’re deaf
To the Call for Complacency. 

---María Meléndez
from How Long She’ll Last in This World



msedano said...

It's a travesty when a local reporter grinds a personal axe when she or he writes for the paper or teevee. I hope Lincolnians keep a close eye on Edwards' writing and keeps the editorial board and advertisers worried about losing subscribers.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Amelia, I'm horrified to read this. I'd been following the story through your posts, and it sounded as if Lincoln was really trying to do the right thing. How horrible for Charlie! And for every lesbian/gay man/person of color living there who now knows, if they are attacked in a hate crime, the newspaper may tell everyone, "They just fabricated it for attention." Pinche reporter!

Anonymous said...

beautiful poetry irregardless or disregardless!

it is worth considering that Edwards was trying to give all sides. This is why they pulled in the FBI to investigate