Southampton: Here Today


As the taxi drove up to 60 Radway Road, my brain started making connections and activating memories which had long been luckily stored in my head. Not forgotten, just put away for far too long.

It had been more 26 years since I was first here and ten since my last visit: Southampton, England. Home of Professor Arjan Shahani, an incredible, intelligent, knowledgeable and lovable man I am lucky to call my uncle and the one I proudly take my name after.

I pushed the green wood gate open and rang the doorbell next to the green door, excited to greet Prof. Shahani. While I was really happy just for the fact of seeing him, I did not anticipate I would find so many other reasons to be happy after I walked through the door.

The brain is an incredible organ. It is amazing how much it stores and finds special places inside your head for. I was quick to find that my brain had taken in so much and so many beautiful memories from the house I was walking into, as revisiting it quickly brought those memories back into the present through a series of brief but endorphin-filled flashbacks.

The creaks in the floor, the stairwell, the hanging closet beneath the stairs, the book-filled shelves, a very faint but distinctive aroma which you only find in houses where real Indian food is cooked and spices are stored, the sitting room where people actually do sit and where my dad and uncle shared so many cups of English tea, the window sill, the garden… yes, the garden most of all. A place I remember my aunt Sigrid enjoyed spending so much time in and caring for. While Aunt Sigrid is no longer here to share my trip down memory lane (which I am sure she would have enjoyed), in many ways her presence is strongly felt. Her signature is all over this house and it is almost as if she were still here. Uncle Arjan has made sure of that by placing pictures of her in different areas of the house, not mourning her departure but celebrating her life and joy. Her ever-present smile is in every corner.

Yesterday, Uncle Arjan took me to a park in the city center of Southampton and showed me the linden tree that was planted in honor of Auntie Sigrid. It is a young and strong tree, much like I remember her spirit was. Today, we sat on a bench in another park which was dedicated to her. Beautiful.

I did not spend a lot of time in Southampton as a kid (only visited a couple of times) and I probably didn’t realize it at the time, but from feeling what I am feeling and all the things coming back to me, I now know that the little time I did spend here, was truly significant and special to me. These moments matter and they are part of what defines one’s life story.

Running around the house and going up to the attic with my cousin Morwenna and sister Shanti, reading children’s books in the sitting room, eating raspberries from the garden even though we were not supposed to, going to the Southampton Common (“Park” for us non-Brits) for a walk under forest trees in a British afternoon… I never realized until now that these moments were so dear to me. I had to write about this.

This morning I woke up early, put on my running shoes (trainers as they are called here) and went for a jog in the Common. The mist was lifting from the pond where ducks waddled, squirrels running up trees while I ran past them. As I started taking long, deep breaths of the clean air and just taking in everything around me, my memories kicked back in and I remembered walking these paths with my mother and aunt. We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary… we just took walks and talked about trivial stuff but again, being here revisiting made me realize that those were some of the simple moments that made my childhood so incredible.

Throughout my life I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by very special and loving people and I haven’t been thankful enough. My conscious being has probably missed out of noticing how so many intimate personal interactions have positively shaped my life throughout the past 35 years. However, I’ve stored all of those interactions in my head and this trip has made me realize that.  This was only a 5K run but a much longer mental trip… is there an equivalent in kilometers for tracing back to your earliest memories and thinking of the hundreds of people you are thankful for?

There is just no way to individually name all of you but please know that even if I have not said it or not said it enough, I love you and I am happy you’ve been a part of my life experience. This life has been an amazing run and I am not even at the halfway mark yet.

I love you, Auntie S… And we are Here Today.


A Discussion about Lesbian Roles and Depictions in Mexico


Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Aug. 18th, 2014.

LGBT cyber-activists took to the web last week to publically denounce Mexico City’s 3rd International Lesbian Festival. Through acommuniqué posted on Facebook, nearly 20 LGBT organizations and collectives and around 50 individual signatories condemned the festival as a vehicle for perpetuating misogyny and machismo. They also criticized a number of authorities for vouching for the festival and participating in its organization, including Mexico City Labor Secretary Patricia Mercado and Jacqueline L. Hoist Tapia, who is the president of the Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación (Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City —COPRED).

It sounds counterintuitive that LGBT groups would oppose an event that claims to support their cause and promote equal rights—and which could not even be hosted in more conservative cities in the country today. So why are these groups opposing the festival?

There are a number of reasons: for one, the festival’s promotional materials include highly sexualized images of women clad in lingerie, and the festival’s agenda includes an event called “The Bunny Party,” sparking comparisons to the men’s magazinePlayboy. Also drawing criticism is the festival’s “coronation ceremony” and a workshop on applying makeup.

In their communiqué, groups opposing the festival write that “while it is fundamental to have cultural, artistic, political and leisure space for lesbians, we find it appalling that these spaces are provided under the basis of gender stereotypes that are misogynistic andmachista. Instead of contributing to the empowerment and freedom of lesbian women from the roles that have oppressed us for ages […] the festival reproduces them with singular joy.” According to the communiqué, the festival’s publicity “only represents white, thin women […]showing women as objects the way male adult magazines would.”

La Tortillería Queretana, an organization that originally participated in the festival, publically bowed out of its scheduled theatrical performance, stating that, “our view is both lesbian and feminist. We are not willing to participate in a machista event.”

Parts of the festival’s agenda seem like they could be consistent with the mission to promote equality and LGBT rights. Events such as the screening of a documentary titled“Lesfriendly,” a soccer tournament, and discussions about workplace challenges and professional opportunities for lesbian women in Mexico could all be interesting or useful to those who might have attended the festival, if not for the festival’s insensitive and objectifying portrayal of women.

Yet the outcry that the festival has generated is also a testament to the progress that Mexican LGBT advocacy groups have made in the recent years in order to get their message across.  The LGBT community in Mexico City and its surrounding cities has clearly built up an effective network that not only promotes LGBT inclusion and acceptance, but also seeks to enforce the guidelines, principles and standards of said inclusion. It is no longer about recognizing the LGBT community’s existence; it’s about being portrayed the way they want to be portrayed and defying traditional stereotypes.

Whether one agrees with the collective or not, the fact remains that these conversations are finally taking place out in the open. Hopefully, this level of activism and social engagement will spread to the rest of the country in the years to come. A cultural transformation, in which Mexicans learn to be more tolerant and respect diversity of all kinds, would help alleviate some of our strongest grievances and obstacles for peaceful interaction.

Blood Spilled in Pursuit of Truth in Mexico


Originally published by Americas Quarterly on Aug. 12th, 2014.

This June, Mexico’s Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Prosecutor’s Office–PGR) issued a report that paints a gruesome picture of the country’s freedom of the press situation, releasing worrisome numbers on crimes and homicides committed against reporters and journalists for the past 14 and a half years.

Between January 2000 and June 2014, an average of one journalist has been reported assassinated in Mexico approximately every 52 days.  In the 36 months between 2010 to 2012, 35 journalists were killed, and there were 71 homicides against journalists reported between 2006 and 2012, during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón.

Of the 102 murders cited in the report, which occurred in 20 out of 32 Mexican states, 61 percent of the crimes took place in Chihuahua (16 murders), Veracruz (15 murders), Tamaulipas (13 murders) Guerrero (11 murders) and Sinaloa (7 murders).These five states are no strangers to drug cartels and organized crime.

The report also mentions 27 other types of crimes continuously perpetuated against the press—not just by criminals, but also by the police. These crimes include deaths threats, murder attempts, abuse of power from authorities, illegal detainment, kidnapping, corporal violence, theft, intimidation, illegal wire-tapping, illegal seizure of property, and entering journalists’ homes without search warrants. Additionally, from 2010 through June 2014, 14 journalists have gone missing and today are presumed dead.

And it’s not just traditional news media outlets that are under fire. In 2011, citizens were shocked by a number of cases where citizen journalists and bloggers were tortured and killed, and whose bodies were publicly displayed in cities like Nuevo Laredo—sending a message to truth-seekers and freedom of speech activists nationwide.  In 2012, I wrote about the case of the online alias 5anto, a video blogger who shut down his site after receiving numerous death threats.

While each case presents its own particular nuances, it’s undeniable that powerful forces are behind these heinous crimes to control the press. While the crimes themselves and the recent increase in their frequency are reason enough to worry, the message that they send to news media nationwide is even more troublesome.

One needn’t be an expert to understand the level of pressure that journalists face in Mexico today to self-censor out of fear of their lives. I’ve even become more careful with what I say and how I say it, after getting a threatening phone call in 2011 for reporting on the Casino Royale massacre in Monterrey and questioning the venue’s ties to a prominent political family in the city.

Even more famous are cases of prominent personalities like journalist Lydia Cacho, who has survived numerous attempts against her life, as well as physical and psychological abuse during illegal detentions after she published Los Demonios del Éden (The Demons of Eden). The book exposes the alleged involvement of important politicians in a prostitution and child pornography ring.

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) senior Americas program coordinator, Carlos Lauría, has referred to Mexico as “one of the most dangerous places for journalists around the world.” The 570 pretrial investigations opened from 2010 to date, resulting from a variety of crimes targeting journalists, are a testament to Lauría’s claim.

Meanwhile, the 102 murders reported between 2000 and today are a lot more than just numbers on a page—there is a brave Mexican behind each one. There are families, wives, husbands and children who mourn the loss of a dedicated journalist who sought to report on the wrongs of this country because he or she believed it was the best way they could remedy them. Behind each of the numbers on the report are thousands of news stories that will never be written, and truths that Mexicans will never hear about, silenced by bullets.  This piece honors their bravery.

As long as security conditions in Mexico don’t allow for journalists to freely publish their investigations and editorial pieces—for those bold enough to directly report on dangerous subjects and expose public figures as criminals—hiding behind anonymity might be the best course of action. Permanent silence must not and cannot be the road to take. There’s too much at stake.

Israel-Gaza… aquí vamos #LunesDeBlogsGV @GVenespanol


Escribí este blogpost originalmente en inglés y lo publiqué hace unos días pero decidí traducirlo a español para buscar una mayor audiencia y someterlo a #LunesDeBlogsGV de Global Voices Español. De antemano gracias por leerlo y compartirlo.

Probablemente a ustedes les esté pasando algo similar:

Tengo la suerte de vivir en un país en el que hay una relativa situación de paz y estabilidad. Tengo acceso constante a agua corriente y vivienda segura. Durante el día, estando alejado de mis hijos y esposa, no me preocupo y en general me siento tranquilo de que ellos están bien. No tengo temores de que una bomba o misil estalle cerca de mi hogar y ninguno de mis ancestros o familiares vivos han estado inmersos en una historia de guerra alimentada por el odio, intolerancia, conflictos mal manejados ni violencia religiosa. Se podría decir que soy muy afortunado.

Veo como la violencia escala en Medio Oriente a la distancia. Leo al respecto mientras tomo mi café recién hecho, desde la comodidad de mi oficina que cuenta con aire acondicionado. Visito los distintos sitios de noticias, buscando alguna aproximación fidedigna a hechos reales, porque me queda claro que los medios internacionales tradicionales de noticias están sesgados de una manera y otra y cargan por su propia agenda política. Acto seguido, ingreso a Facebook.

Esta red social en la que normalmente mis amigos comparten fotografías de los últimos logros de sus hijos o publican los resultados de encuestas tan triviales como “¿En qué ciudad europea debería de vivir?”, ha cambiado de manera radical.

Aparentemente, muchas personas se acaban de enterar de este conflicto milenario y cómo se ha agravado las últimas semanas y claro, TODOS tienen una opinión y una naturaleza inherente para compartirla. Una serie de videos de YouTube que resumen la historia de la región con inexactitudes, generalizaciones y juicios no fundamentados, aparentemente han dado a mis amigos suficiente desinformación para determinan “a quién le van” en el conflicto entre Israel y Palestina, como si esta terrible situación fuera una justa futbolística. Mis amigos de México, Estados Unidos y Canadá siguen compartiendo estos materiales, comentando cosas como “esto lo explica todo” y mi muro es invadido por hashtags a favor y en contra de Israel. De vez en cuando, surgen hashtags conciliadores cómo #PrayForGaza (RecenPorGaza).

Más tristeza causa ver como mis amigos de origen israelí, árabe y musulmán, quienes normalmente son personas tolerantes y que promueven la paz, han vuelto a Facebook una plataforma proselitista para atraer personas a “su causa”. Veo a mis amigos judíos decir que “sólo nos estamos defendiendo”, agrupando a todos los árabes y musulmanes bajo la etiqueta de terroristas. Del otro lado del espectro, veo a amigos árabes y musulmanes de distintas naciones decir que “nosotros estábamos aquí primero” y hablando del uso de fuerza desproporcionado y posibles crímenes de guerra por parte del gobierno Israelí en los ataques en la franja de Gaza.

Sus amigos les responden. Les dicen “estamos contigo” y “te apoyamos”, lo cual es una reacción esperada viniendo de gente que les tiene cariño y que se dan cuenta que detrás de estas expresiones está una verdad inequívoca: su gente sufre.

El problema de esta dinámica es que lo único que logra es alimentar el juego de culpas, distanciando aún más a las partes en guerra y alejándolas de cualquier posible concepción de una resolución o por lo menos asentamiento del conflicto. ¿Acaso tratar de establecer una supuesta legitimidad detrás de las terribles acciones que hoy aquejan a la región cambia el hecho de que se han perdido cientos y miles de vidas? ¿O justificaría encontrar a un culpable el sufrimiento por el que han pasado por demasiado tiempo y generaciones? ¿Publicar en Facebook estos videos supuestamente educacionales pero evidentemente nocivos les ayuda a dormir mejor por las noches?

A mis amigos de Israel, judíos, palestinos, árabes y musulmanes de distintos países: estoy con cada uno de ustedes y no estoy con ninguno de ustedes.

Estoy empáticamente con ustedes a distancia al ver como ustedes o personas a las que ustedes quieren se encuentran enfrentados a peligro inmediato y sufrimiento; cuando veo la sangre derramada de hombres, mujeres y niños inocentes, independientemente de su raza o religión.  No estoy con ninguno de ustedes al verlos buscar apoyo o justificación a la violencia por parte de cualquiera de las partes involucradas en el conflicto. Estoy con ustedes en la esperanza de cualquier paso que conlleve a la paz, tales como ceses al fuego, cumbres de paz y procesos de mediación que dirijan a una realidad en la cual todos son permitidos acceso a derechos humanos básicos. No estoy con ninguno de ustedes cuando abandonan la creencia de que la paz puede alcanzarse y cuando se orillan a una realidad en la que creen que las balas son el único medio de comunicación efectivo para sus mensajes.

A mis amigos que no están involucrados directa o indirectamente en el conflicto, pero que han sucumbido a la tentación de expresar apoyo unilateral a las acciones bélicas de alguno de los involucrados, una invitación: Los invito a tratar de obtener los hechos de fuentes confiables y hacer un poco de investigación respecto a la historia que ha llevado a la crisis en esta región antes de emitir juicios. Los invito a formar una opinión basada en una búsqueda por información objetiva y verificable. Entiendo que esto implica algo de trabajo pero si no están dispuestos a hacerlo, por lo menos los invito a entender que crear y expresar una opinión en base a videos de YouTube engañosos o sesgados no los hace verse cool o inteligentes. Adicionalmente, les invito a reflexionar sobre el hecho de que al difundir estas piezas, sólo están alimentando el juego de culpas, promoviendo posturas nocivas y empeorando la conversación al llevarla a espacios en los que la prospectiva de una solución pacífica queda distante. En lugar de buscar un culpable y decir quién está bien o mal, vean esto como una invitación para aprender y entender la complejidad detrás de los conflictos en la interacción humana, a entender sus causas de raíz y por ende, posibles soluciones. Los invito a no atraer odio a sus propias realidades, tan alejadas de las que viven las personas en Gaza.

Así que desde mi oficina con aire acondiciona, del otro lado del mundo de donde hoy sufren tantos, les digo lo que John Lennon brillantemente escribió alguna vez: lo único que estamos diciendo es que le den oportunidad a la paz.