My 2016 BDAY Project

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image1For some years now, I’ve made it a point to use my birthday as a day to effect positive change, highlight the work of organizations I am fond of, and raise awareness in order to promote action among my friends and family. This year is no exception.

As always, I’m VERY thankful for every one of you who has taken the time to call and/or write to me in order to share your good wishes… but since I’ve already caught your attention, hopefully I can keep you here for a couple of more minutes and invite you to donate or participate with one of these worthy causes and organizations:

Kiva – Loans that change lives: Microfinancing to people all over the world. Lend as little as $25 dollars to the project of your choosing (Women, Agriculture, Single Parents, Social enterprises, etc).

Atlas Corps – Change your perspective. Change the World: “The peace corps in reverse.” An organization that provides fellowship opportunities in the U.S. to young leaders from across the world. Global capacity-building enabling leaders to detonate change in their communities.

Global Majority: Non-violent conflict resolution. Founded under the premise that the global majority wants to live in peace. Education, training, networking and international advocacy.

Globe Aware – Have Fun. Help People: Voluntourism in an international environment helping impoverished communities in developing nations.

Enseña Por México: Volunteer Project focused on providing better education systems and programs to children in Mexico. Affiliated to the Teach for All network.

Hagámoslo Bien: Promoting a culture of lawfulness in Monterrey, México. Building a network of committed individuals and organizations willing to adhere to a culture of lawfulness and strengthening the rule of law.

Please take a minute to learn about their great work. Click on these links and if you can, it would mean the world to me if you would donate to them today.

MANY, MANY, MANY THANKS.

Arjan

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QEPD Renato López y Omar Girón

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Anoche recibí la noticia: De la manera más cobarde y vil nos arrebataron las vidas de dos personas hermosas.

Nos robaron del gusto, la alegría y la fortuna de volver a ver sus sonrisas, de la suerte de volver a tener felices momentos con ellos. De reír, de abrazarlos, de compartir.

Nos robaron como muchas veces lo han hecho… y me llena de cólera.

A las familias de ambos, a su familia en CMX, a sus amigos y a los compañeros de Omar y de Renato, no hay forma ni palabras de consuelo por esta irracional pérdida. Lo único que nos queda es decirles que emocionalmente compartimos con ustedes en este difícil momento. Lo único que nos queda es mandarles mucho amor.

Y nos quedan las memorias. Porque esas nunca nadie nos las podrá robar. Y en esas memorias, sus sonrisas estarán para siempre.

Descanse en paz Omar Girón.

Descanse en paz Renato López.

Today’s anti-gay marriage march in Mexico

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IMG_2608Fueled by ignorance and intolerance, today the recently-created, wrongfully-named group Frente Nacional por la Familia (National Pro-family Front) will initiate a series of marches in Mexico’s main cities, denouncing a law initiatives package geared towards combating homophobia and discrimination, promoting inclusion and the legal recognition of all family units and marriages.

Among other things, they claim that the proposed law initiatives are “a threat against our children, our marriages and our families.” Members of the Catholic Church promoting this movement, have stated that the marches are not anti-gay “because gays are to be accepted and accompanied in order to heal them, just like prostitutes and drugdealers” (I shit you not).

While other modern societies are proud to show their progressiveness embracing diversity and inclusion, the FNxF’s emergence is proof of how backwards a relevant portion of Mexican society continues to be.

I was happy to see that in my social media networks, practically 100% of my contacts were denouncing today’s marches. One dear friend of mine very eloquently stated “nothing has generated more support for equal marriage rights than this march against them” because the absurdness of the FNxF movement has made many of us come out and state that this so-called national march does not represent us or our families.

Unfortunately, my list of contacts in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are not representative of society as a whole. Just driving around my neighborhood this morning, I could see a number of houses proudly displaying signs in favor of the discriminatory march. I guess the new saying goes, you can choose your Facebook friends but not your neighbors.

Another very creative friend with a very acid sense of humor posted a series of pictures portraying the KKK and said “To those of you going to the FNxF march today, remember the dress code is all-white.” The use of imagery was funny, the unfortunate closeness to the real thoughts and motivations behind the march, certainly is not.

How is the acceptance of the right of other individuals to love each other and establish a legal bond in their relationship “a threat to your children and to your families”? Regardless of the fact that we should all be recognized as equals, just as a universal truth, I think anybody who is a parent and has a sound mind should naturally consider the fact that they hold a responsibility in teaching their children love and not hate.

I was born in a homophobic society, in a homophobic time. I laughed at and made homophobic jokes as I grew up. I simply did not know better. Luckily, as I grew and developed critical thought, I quickly and very logically understood how ridiculous homophobia is. It was an easy and logical transition and I believe most of my generation and the generations to come, naturally fall into this development route in Mexico. It will continue to be this way as long as homophobic humor is part of our mainstream media and culture, but at least there are natural breakpoints and people can evolve. One of those breakpoints, ironically in the FNxF’s view, is when you become a parent and you realize your responsibility in teaching your children the right path. During this time, you also come to realize that your child could as he grows up, identify his/her sexual orientation as a homosexual. When you realize that this is a possibility, it becomes so natural, based on the love you have for your child, to develop an inclusive attitude of coexistence. You would never want your child to be hated just for the fact that they were born of a specific sexual orientation… you would never want your child to be hated at all!

While most arguments in favor of this march are based on religious misinterpretations of the catholic faith (the Pope himself has expressed that this type of gender discrimination is an abomination), there is one particular argument I read that I want to tackle: Somebody in my timeline said that just like we allow gays to march during Pride, we should not criticize the FNxF’s right to manifest their beliefs. So here goes:

  1. Intolerant thought should not be tolerated. Different points of view should be celebrated, but a movement that states that the sexual orientation of people wanting to establish a legal bond between them based on the love they have for each other is a threat to society, cannot be compared with a plight for respect and inclusion. I’m sorry, but no, you don’t get to be tolerated if your ideological framework is based on hate. The whole idea of established codes of conduct in organized society and generally-accepted behavior is an attempt for us to get along as a group. You’re not helping. Leave your hate at the door.
  2. You don’t have a just cause. If you try to compare your right to spread hate with the plight of PRIDE parades, you are either ignorant of history of simply blunt-headed. PRIDE was born as a cry for equal rights and non-discrimination. It was a brave movement geared toward letting gay people know that it was ok to be gay, that they should not fear the fact that they were gay. As society progressed, the parades have become more and more a celebration of the fact that global society has become and is becoming more inclusive. If your march is supposedly a defense mechanism in order to preserve your understanding of family and how your family is composed, how is gay marriage a threat to you? How does the possibility of two men or women getting married directly affect you? You have no just cause… Quite frankly, I think you only have way too much time on your hands and way too much hate in your soul.

Exactly forty-five years ago this month, John Lennon wrote and released the song Imagine. Forty-five years later, more and more of us still imagine all the people living life in peace. And yes, you may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. If you’re planning to march promoting hate today, I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one.

We CAN rise again

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Thirty years ago today an 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City. 1985 would mark Mexico’s history forever. The trying days that followed the earthquake would challenge our nation’s ability to regroup and recover. A level of nationwide solidarity that I haven’t seen since, helped us get back on our feet and rise from the rubble. We CAN rise again. #1985 #september #sept19 #mexico #mexicocity #earthquake #richterscale #terremoto #solidarity #society #solidaridad  

 

Is Peña Nieto Facing a Mexican Spring?

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Originally published by Americas Quarterly on December 4th, 2014.

Two years ago, Enrique Peña Nieto took office as Mexico’s president, under the banner of a renovated Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI) and with a promise of a brighter economic, social and political future.

Only two months after he took office, Thomas L. Friedman remarked on that promise in an article titled “How Mexico Got Back in the Game.” And who can forget Timemagazine’s February 2014 cover, featuring Peña Nieto with the headline “Saving Mexico”? In that feature, author Michael Crowley said that on the security issues, “alarms are being replaced with applause” and that the social, political and economic reforms package steamrolled through a PRI-dominant Congress were preview of great things to come.

The media prematurely started calling this era “Mexico’s moment.” Granted, we are living quite an interesting moment in Mexico’s history, but not for the reasons the 2012 optimists foresaw.

A recent series of events and decisions stemming from the political elite at local, state and federal levels has detonated into what could evolve into a Mexican version of the Arab Spring. In Friedman’s piece, he quoted the president of Monterrey’s Center for Citizen Integration saying that “Once a citizen feels he is not powerless, he can aspire for more change. […] First, the Web democratized commerce, and then it democratized media, and now it is democratizing democracy.”

This is exactly what’s happening. A newly empowered Mexican civil society is reacting and saying enough is enough.

Some of the things I will discuss in this piece are not making their way to mainstream media, or they are being distorted and minimized, but they are gaining momentum in the open forum of Mexican social media—clearly demonstrating the growing divide between institutions and a fed-up and empowered rebellious citizenry.

The apparent state-sponsored mass murder of 43 rural students from Ayotzinapa was not the result of Peña Nieto’s mandate or decisions. The horrible events occurred in the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD)-run state of Guerrero, and the alleged intellectual authors of the massacre where the now-deposed and incarcerated PRD mayor of Iguala,José Luis Abarca, and his wife.

However, the president’s reaction to the crisis is proving to be more than a challenge for his office. Protesters are holding him accountable and expecting answers from him and only him.

When the massacre reached mass media, political groups in the elite saw it as an opportunity to attack their opponents. Two-time presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador called for Peña Nieto’s resignation, saying the president was not equipped to deal with the Ayotzinapa case. The PRI apparatus returned the blow, flooding the Web with a picture of Abarca and López Obrador hugging during a political rally and arguing that the two politicians were not only members of the same political party, but close friends and political allies.

While this game of political finger-pointing was going on, the families of the 43 students—and, quite frankly, most Mexicans—were more interested in what the federal government was doing to advance the investigation and to deliver credible results.

When days turned into months and the public still had no answers, two incidents collided and became a perfect storm for the president.

On November 7, 33 days after the Ayotzinapa students disappeared, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam gave a press conference in which he declared that the students’ bodies had been thrown in a mass grave and cremated, citing confessions from local gang members as evidence. Families of the students, who had expected empathy and hope, were instead subjected to a crude account of how their loved ones had been abducted, transported, tortured, maimed and murdered.

Murillo continued to share testimonies of apprehended criminals, describing the way the bodies were doused with gasoline and set ablaze. At the conclusion of the press conference, Murillo dodged questions challenging the credibility of his statements, only to abruptly end the session by getting up from his chair and murmuring “I’ve had enough” (Ya me cansé).

Though Murillo later said that his words were an expression of his frustration with the violence, #Yamecansé immediately became a trending topic on Twitter. Enraged Mexicans shouted they, too, had had enough of the political elite, of organized crime in bed with the government, and of being lied to and patronized.

The second PR disaster came two days later, when journalist Carmen Aristegui uncovered acase of alleged corruption and nepotism involving Peña Nieto’s wife, Angélica Rivera. Aristegui revealed that the construction company Grupo Higa, which had won a  multimillion dollar bid to construct a high-speed rail project in the PRI-governed state of Nuevo León, had also built Rivera’s now famous $7 million “Casa Blanca” mansion.

As if the Casa Blanca accusation wasn’t bad enough, Peña Nieto decided not to directly respond to it. Instead, the strategy from the president’s office was to have the First Lady provide an explanation, in a failed attempt to put distance between the accusation and the president.  The Rivera’s nonsensical YouTube video explanation of how she came to possess enough money to buy the house through acting in telenovelas, created an outcry on social media, showing that nobody bought the First Lady’s explanation. Instead, the video became yet another symbol of the effrontery with which the political class approaches their constituency, stirring up frustration and indignation.

The #Yamecansé and #CasaBlanca hashtags sparked massive social mobilizations and marches in the state of Guerrero, in Mexico City and in major cities across the country and abroad. Some have compared these mass protests with the #YoSoy132 movement of 2012.

The similarity between the two movements is the fact that Peña Nieto is the main target of criticis—but it would be more accurate to compare the current movement with the Arab Spring. #YoSoy132 was fueled by electoral politics, with the goal of preventing Peña Nieto from winning office. After Peña Nieto was elected, the movement did not die completely, but it became more symbolic than effective.

Today, enraged and politically alienated youth are amassing in a more organic way, and their reasons for protesting will not dissipate after electoral polls close. Local, state and federal incompetence and corruption have created more reasons than ever for people to take to the streets and demand a change.

There is no sign of this trend reversing. In fact, all strategies used by the government to tackle the protests only seem to aggravate them.  With accusations of police beating up and arresting peaceful protesters, Peña Nieto’s presentation of a security reformthat would unify local police forces was met with skepticism. The spokesperson for the relatives of the Ayotzinapa victims called the measure “like his words—false,” and a move by Mexico’s lower house of Congress to revise rules on social mobilization (Senate approval pending) was received as a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of movement.

Why aren’t these strategies working? In part, because they were the wrong solutions to begin with. In his recent op-ed in El Economista, the founder and president of the Mexican think tank Instituto de Pensamiento Estratégico Ágora A.C. (IPEA ), Armando Regil Velasco, identified the root cause of the prolonged problem:

“When your moral authority is so fragile, it doesn’t matter what you say. Skepticism will impose itself and little to nothing will be believable. [The Federal government] lacks honesty, courage and determination.”

The Mexican political elite, with Peña Nieto heading the list, has lost whatever  trust the citizenry once had in them. The phrase “more crooked than a politician” has risen to new heights in today’s Mexico, and those brave enough to mobilize are finding more and more reasons to do so as more cases of corruption and inadequacy develop.

After two years of Peña Nieto’s government and with the current social chaos the country is facing, I wonder where those 2012 notions of “Saving Mexico,” “Mexico’s moment” and “getting back in the game” have ended up. The best place to look for them is probably in the gutter.

La mejor manera de pasar un cumpleaños

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Hoy ha sido un día de grandes satisfacciones. Empecé el día al lado de mi bebé que me regalaba sonrisas al tiempo que se tomaba su biberón. Un poco después se nos unió mi esposa que me dio dos excelentes regalos… de esos que se nota que fueron pensados específicamente en ti. Durante el día he recibido una infinidad de muestras de cariño de familiares, compañeros y amigos que se tomaron el tiempo para mandarme un mensaje o llamarme. También tuve una mañana muy productiva en la oficina sacando pendientes importantes antes de cerrar el año. De verdad, un gran GRAN día.

Pero les quiero platicar muy brevemente de otra cosa que hice el día de hoy… y se los platico no con las intenciones de proyectarme magnánimo ni mucho menos. Si les comento de esta experiencia, es sólo porque obtuve de ella TANTO, que me parece egoísta no compartirla invitando a que ustedes consideren hacer algo similar en su cumpleaños. Por lo pronto, yo pretendo hacerlo una tradición en el mío.

Anoche reflexionaba acerca del hecho de que en este año he recibido mucho de muchas personas y del tiempo que he podido pasar alrededor de la gente que quiero y haciendo las cosas que me gustan. Ha sido un año sumamente gratificante en todos los sentidos. Guardar tanta gratitud en una sola persona es muy difícil así que anoche decidí que dedicaría una parte de mi cumpleaños a dar, aunque fuese un mínimo detalle y en poco tiempo.

Después de comer con compañeros de la oficina y de sacar algunos pendientes, fui a una pastelería y compré un montón de bolsas de pequeñas hojarascas. Un poco antes de las 3:30 de la tarde llegué al Hospital San José (lugar en donde varios familiares y amigos han sido atendidos) y me dirigí a la sala de espera de la Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos. Ahí, en distintos y pequeños grupos, había alrededor de 25 personas, en espera por obtener noticias de sus seres queridos que estaban siendo atendidos.

De manera respetuosa y tratando de ser lo menos intrusivo posible, fui visitando a cada una de estas personas, a quienes ofrecí las galletas como regalo y les di palabras de aliento, deseando la próxima recuperación de sus pacientes. Pasé tan sólo alrededor de una hora con ellos, pero quiero decirles que fue un momento INCREÍBLE. Todas las personas ahí me mostraron enorme gratitud por lo que no era más que un pequeño detalle… algunas estaban confundidas y me veían inicialmente de manera incrédula. Otras me preguntaban por mis familiares y me deseaban que ellos también mejoraran, sorprendiéndose aún más al aprender que afortunadamente ningún familiar mío estaba internado. Recibí bendiciones, palabras de agradecimiento y una señora mayor, con la que estuve platicando un rato más que con los demás, me felicitó y me dijo que hacía mucho que no veía una acción desinteresada de una persona a otra. Realmente me llegó al corazón y me hizo reflexionar BASTANTE sobre la necesidad que tenemos de rescatar el sentido cívico en nuestra comunidad. Me preguntó por qué lo hacía y al explicarle que era algo que había querido hacer para festejar mi cumpleaños, la señora (a pesar de lo que a su edad esto significaba en esfuerzo) se paró de su lugar y me regaló un abrazo.

Es evidente que nuestras acciones individuales no necesariamente resuelven los grandes problemas que aquejan a nuestra sociedad pero es muy fácil olvidar que la gente que nos rodea, a veces no necesita que les resolvamos esos problemas. A veces una sonrisa, un abrazo o un pequeño detalle son suficientes para volver a depositar la esperanza en aquellos que pueden haberla momentáneamente extraviado. A veces la gente sólo necesita una mirada empática… y eso, no cuesta nada.

Mis mejores deseos a todos ustedes. Que tengan un 2015 lleno de satisfacción, de grandes logros y de muchas razones para sentirse orgullosos y agradecidos. Que sea un año en que avancemos como sociedad y nos acerquemos de nuevo a lo que debería de ser una comunidad.

Con cariño y respeto,

Arjan

P.S. En este blog y a través de mis redes sociales el día de hoy compartí una serie de ligas a organizaciones cuyo trabajo considero valioso. Muchas gracias a quieres se sumaron al proyecto y las han apoyado el día de hoy. Si todavía no lo hacen, por favor consideren la información contenida aquí.