China: Best of Maji Shan

Buddhist carvings at Maji Shan, on the Silk Road.


On Immigration Reform – No Surprise

I was feeling guilty about not engaging or following the current Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, but given the latest round of news, I’m not feeling guilty anymore.

I just can’t be surprised by the direction it’s taken. Everything’s hunky dory until Republicans realize that they have to throw a wrench somewhere, so here come the border triggers.  Why would somebody like Cornyn or Sessions care about having a good bill that passes? They’re set for life in the Senate, for as long as they want (unless something changes in Texas!), and they are certainly not on a presidential track.

Basically, all the good stuff that we want, like an actual path to citizenship, won’t be implemented unless we first pay our dues to border security. Thus, “border triggers”, including incredible amounts of money for the Department of Homeland Security (over one billion dollars), a goal of 100% operational security, E-Verify and biometric systems, and a 90% apprehension rate at the border.

Naturally, none of that has any bearing on the people who are already here. They can do absolutely nothing to affect their immigration status, they have to wait for this mythical “100% operational security” to happen. It’s like 0% unemployment. Also, unicorns.

Comprehensive bills have always held everything hostage at the expense of passing individual pieces of legislation (and not just for immigration. See the failed climate bill of 2009…I’m just not a fan of comprehensive anything),  and it opens the door to having conversations about border security. Because, y’all, if we’re talking about immigration reform, we absolutely cannot leave out border security. Right?  According to the Republican and, unfortunately, the Democratic frame, right.

A few words on the lackluster rollout of Where are they learning negotiation? They hand out support for the Keystone XL pipeline, hoping, hoping, that this will incentivize Republicans in conservative districts to break rank with their very vocal voting constituency?  Fool proof!  Just like the way in which Obama deported record numbers of immigrants in order to prove his border security chops to Republicans, and that has really worked…so…well…

Meanwhile, we can stop deportations and disrupt detention centers.  Sign and call!

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Escalante vs. de la Fuente

Interview in full HERE for Distilled magazine.

Flavia de la Fuente and Juan Escalante are both involved with immi­grant advo­cacy and pol­icy reform. So in order to get an inside per­spec­tive, Dis­tilled Extra won­dered what would hap­pen if one inter­viewed the other

Hello, Dis­tilled read­ers! My name is Flavia de la Fuente, and today I’ll be inter­view­ing Juan Escalante. You should Google him. Any­ways, Juan and I met on the inter­net on March 1st, 2010 when I joined Drea­mAc­tivist as the edi­tor. We dis­cov­ered we both have a mutual love for Star Wars. He made a “that’s what she said’ joke. I asked him whether gators are really every­where in Florida. And since that day we have met in per­son exactly once, and yet we are best buddies.

Hey Juan. What’s up?

Not much, you know… won­der­ing why am I being inter­viewed like this. Are you teach­ing me? Are you try­ing to expand my cre­ative juices? Is this a way for you to teach me? Are you a teacher? OMG, I suck don’t I? I knew it, I let this sit too long and now you think I suck. SIGH…

So. You’re undocumaz­ing. I mean undoc­u­mented. How did that happen?

Well, it’s kind of a funny story. My par­ents applied for a pro­fes­sional visa, an L1, which pro­vided a pas­sage to become a Legal Per­ma­nent Res­i­dent (LPR, and even­tu­ally a cit­i­zen. We arrived in the United States on August 29th, 2000 and after six years of paper­work, lit­i­ga­tion, appli­ca­tion fees, lawyer fees, and wait­ing in the so called “line” that all immi­grants are expected to wait in, we came to the real­iza­tion that our lawyer filed the wrong paper­work at the wrong time. All those years, and all that effort — wasted. Our case was closed by United States Cit­i­zen­ship and Immi­gra­tion Ser­vices (USCIS), with no appeal.

When peo­ple ask me about my immi­gra­tion sta­tus, when they hear this story, they often respond “Oh wow, so you are not like those other bor­der crossers who come mooch off our county!” I don’t respond, rather I stay silent — because rather than bury the igno­rance with my fact checked knowl­edge, I rather just con­vince myself that I ought to work even harder to achieve a com­pre­hen­sive reform to our cur­rent immi­gra­tion system.

Read the rest HERE for Distilled magazine.

Austin, Get Over Yourself

…and I say that with love. [Because  I love you, Austin, I really do.]


I’m sorry. I love you.

The single purpose of this post is to eradicate the phrase “Oh yeah, Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red” from the vocabulary of anybody who cares about turning Texas blue.

I am so incredibly sick and tired of hearing this refrain. It’s part of the Austin mythology. And it needs to die and get buried six feet under because it is not helpful. Every time someone says “Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red”, a voter in a swing district  registers as a Republican.

Battleground Texas just set up shop and they have the incredible, sisyphean task of convincing people that Texas can go blue. We all have that incredible task. In fact, I had that task last week, when trying to convince my partner, a native Texan, that we can go blue. I made him listen to me rant while cooking, which involved a lot of banging of pots and pans. It was pretty dangerous.

Anyways, perpetuating the myth that Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red is not helpful because it isn’t true.

Here’s one visualization, adjusted for population.

But this one is better, via Gawker. With my own edits. Thanks Paint!

My Paint skills are outstanding.

My Paint skills are outstanding.

Let’s zoom in a little.

Zoom In Election Visualization

Houston on the right. Dallas-Fort Worth up top. San Antonio and south Texas to the bottom. And El Paso to the left.

See? NOT the only dot of blue in a sea of red. And it’s not even that red. It’s more of a lovely fuchsia shade.

Let’s go over this. My favorite (mostly anecdotal) talking points when ranting about how Austin is not a blue dot in a sea of red:

Out and proud.

  • It’s completely non-scientific, but let’s just all step back for a moment and think about the fact that the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, is a lesbian. You know, the ultimate persona non grata to the stereotypical homophobic bubba Texan that lives in the psyches of Americans across the land. Sure, she’s somewhat of a centrist Democrat. But let’s just marvel at the fact that the mayor of the 4th largest city in America is having her civil rights debated in the highest court in the land and she is the boss in Houston.
  • Also, Houston is the most diverse city in the country. And what’s that phrase that political operatives love to throw around? Demographics are destiny? I actually hate that phrase too, but I’ll stick to one rant at a time.
  • Houston is also the home of some kind of OK legislators, I guess. You may have heard of them. Jessica Farrar (swoon…) and Ana Hernandez (double swoon…).
  • Beyonce is from Houston. This is not entirely germane, but I’m including this anyways. It must mean something.

    Well whaddya know.

  • DFW. I don’t have really great anecdotal points for this one. Just look at the data. Better yet, friend Michael Li on Facebook and let him astound you.
  • Pretty cool legislators from Dallas, most of the time: Anchia, Marc Veasey. Cooler: Angela Hunt, because she’s a lady.
  • Here’s the part where I get really riled up. A blue dot in a sea of red, you say?! Take a drive down I-35… Have you heard of these guys in San Antonio called the Castros? One of them, Julian, is the mayor of San Antonio. You may have heard of him. I’ll jog your memory: He was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. He talked a lot about menudo cookoffs.  He had the cojones to put out a citywide measure to ensure all kids in San Antonio had access to pre-K. He also had the gall to green-light a plan that would put in motion the retirement of an entire freaking coal plant and incentivize the relocation of an entire solar company to the tune of 800 jobs  in one fell swoop. Right. That’s what I thought.
  • He’s got a twin, Joaquin, who just took over the district formerly held by Charlie Gonzalez, former head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. So this, except identical.
  • And can I get some love for my people in Nueces County, Corpus Christi? They’ve been working for years to stake out some ground in the land that was once the uncontested territory of McCarthy enthusiasts, and they’ve finally got some. Talk about a swing area.
  • Despite the machinery of the politics and the rather mediocre nature of the delegation, South Texas IS BLUE. There is no discussion.
  • There are progressives in the Rio Grande Valley, and they’re getting organized. I know them. I love them. Watch out, institutional political party machinery!
  • And last but certainly not least, how about El Paso? When Bill Clinton visits Texas, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to go to El Paso. He loves El Paso. It’s probably because of Chico’s Tacos. And the Miners. And the fact that El Paso has been reliably democratic since before the Seven Kingdoms (that’s a Game of Thrones reference, y’all. Look it up). That’s some dark blue right up in there.

I know, right!?

  • Mary Gonzalez. I’m not even going to say anything. I’m just going to insert this GIF:

IN CONCLUSION. Stop saying Austin is a dot of blue in a sea of red. We’re not. We’re a progressive city and we pilot a lot of new things and ideas. But we aren’t the only ones. Martyrdom is annoying.

Please don’t get all weird and nationalistic about this city vs. this city. I really don’t care. I care about turning Texas blue.  We’re one state with a ton of electoral votes, and that’s the big prize. If we deliver, we will change this country’s political landscape for a hundred years…and I love the sound of that.

We need to start perpetuating a new narrative – we are many, many dark blue dots. And we need to work together.

Rant over. Back to phone-banking.

West, Texas

Courtesy Reddit!

Via Huffington Post:

According to the 2011 budget submitted to congress by OSHA, which provides most of the federal oversight for that industry, there are 7.5 million workplaces in the U.S. and only 2,218 inspectors to check them for safety violations. The number of employed nationally means that there is one inspector for every 57,984 workers. One analyst reported that means OSHA has the capacity to inspect a business work place once every 129 years. Fortunately, state level OSHA workers aren’t as pressed and they can get to a facility every 67 years. – James Moore, Director of Progress Texas PAC

Welcome to Texas!

And of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the fact that even though this thing killed more people than the Boston Marathon bombings (which were awful), it won’t even get close to the amount of media attention.

It’s routine. Par for the course. It’s just another industrial facility storing lethal chemicals left to its own devices because there’s little to no government oversight- and that’s just not news.

28 Years of Bliss

Disclaimer: dark humor runs in the family. I swear, we love each other.

Today, our parents marked 28 years of marital bliss. What’s their secret, you ask? After copious investigation and a thorough examination of their patterns and behaviors, we have curated this careful, comprehensive list of suggestions:

  1. When debating the difference between a sphere, disc, and ovoid at the dinner table, bring out Spanish, English, Italian, and French dictionaries. Do not dismiss your children from the table until the matter is resolved in every language.
  2. Speaking of which, dinner time is to be treated as nothing short of a meeting with the joint chiefs during a Defcon 1 level crisis. This creates a sense of urgency and importance to the dinner proceedings, tantamount to terrorist manhunts and major natural disasters. No idle chit chat, it’s time to solve your problems. Let’s start with you.
  3. When disagreements arise as to the identity of the celebrity in that one commercial (Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz?) while having lunch on vacation and there is no internet to speak of (or smartphones), continue to argue throughout the entirety of the vacation. This ensures that nobody will forget to google it the moment we have access to the internet.
  4. Do couple-y things like go on long bike rides together, but do not speak. This is exercise time. There is no mercy for the slow.
  5. Encourage your husband to seek out young secretaries and interns as girlfriends. Be vocal, and repeat this in front of your children. This is called reverse psychology. Or is it.
  6. When raising children, there is only one golden rule: one cannot be too involved in your child’s life. Life choices such as career path, education, and significant others are all fair game, and will be referred to the subcommittee on Our Children’s Future and negotiated in conference with the committee on You Can’t Move There, That’s Too Far Away.
  7. Spending time together means holding each other at arm’s length. Do not look each other in the eye. It will be perceived as a sign of aggression and fear. Approach with caution, hand held out.
  8. Respect your partner’s decisions by challenging them – it shows that you care. Send them upstairs to change their shirt because it’s old and stained.
  9. For casual conversation, use English. For arguments, use Spanish. For very serious discussions, use the language your children don’t understand, like French. This scares them.
  10. If your son interrupts your argument to ask that you say 3 things you like about each other, your argument is now in the realm of absurdity. This is a useful flag.
  11. Pick a twin. Just don’t pick the elder sibling, because she will have a chip on her shoulder regardless. Send her to Chile.
  12. Offer vacation destinations and ask for suggestions. Reject all of them. This creates the illusion of a collaborative space much like the ones portrayed in the standard American situational comedy. (But it’s not.)
  13. Driving is a team activity, and constant feedback on speed and technique is a way of expressing concern for your spouse’s well-being. Keep it simple, like, “WHY are you going so slowly!?” and “por la madre patria!” In foreign countries, keep it interesting and discuss how your spouse is violating international driving norms.
  14. Refuse to put a college sticker signifying “(insert university name here) Mom” or “(insert university name here) Dad” on your vehicle until all your children have been admitted to said university.
  15. When assigning tasks at the dinner table, oldest child first (referred to as “The Fetching Child”) until not available. Pointing to said item and grunting usually gets the job done.
  16. Under no circumstances is a family vacation allowed to pass without someone secretly harboring resentment towards someone else for not going to this restaurant, that hike, waking up “on the family schedule”, or driving in an adequate fashion. There must always be a fight during some point on said trip.
  17. When choosing friends as a couple, look for someone with the following qualities: 1) appreciation for fine wine.
  18. Never, ever, ever, ever say “I love you.” Oh, that’s so tacky.

Good luck! If you can get through the day and you haven’t strangled your spouse even though you want to, you have achieved all the qualities of a good marriage.

A Life Announcement of Sorts

After almost 3 lovely years at the Sierra Club, I’m saying goodbye. I am pursuing an MBA at the University of Texas starting in the fall.

While composing this in my  head, I realized that most of the content was dedicated to thanking others. It was a tribute to all the people who have supported me, believed in me, and trusted me.   And I’ve realized that whatever the self-made individual is, I am the opposite of that.

I have had loving parents and a loving family since the moment I was born.

I have had wonderful friends who think that I am awesome no matter what.

And perhaps most importantly, I have been welcomed into many different communities – and perhaps the most valuable part of that is the fact that they have trusted me. [Thank you].

This is more of a pledge – I swear, I won’t ever let you down.