Sunday, September 18, 2005

Interview with Common Ills member Maria

We spoke to Common Ills community member Maria this week to discuss a number of topics. Members of The Common Ills and readers of this site are familiar with Maria who alternates in the weekly rundown of Democracy Now! headlines each weekend. (Francisco and Miguel are the members Maria alternates with.)

You're a resident in California so our first question to you will be your reaction on the Gropeinator's decision to run for re-election?

Maria: Horror. Dismay. He may hope to win but it is my hope that the hopes of Californians will be for a change.

You're a teacher, you belong to a teacher's union?

Yes and unions are very vocal against Ahnuld. Unions have been the ones to strip the glow from the faded movie star.

How do you define your ethnicity?


A number of Mexican-Americans, Latinos and Hispanics are said to have voted for Ahnuld during the recall.

I don't know. I know some in my area did. I wonder how great that was. Bustamante was weak and the idea that those outside of California had regarding him were not reflected among people I knew. None of us saw him as the Latino hope or even as having much of a shot at winning. Ahnuld appealed to some because of screen image. There was a thought that he'd get tough and the state would recover. We were in very dire straights thanks to Enron. Davis was weakened and I honestly felt Arianna Huffington shouldn't have dropped out. I know there was pressure on her to drop out and a lot of mean things written but she was the only candidate that wasn't glad-handing and back-slapping. She raised serious issues and she was the only one confronting Ahnuld. Where Bustamante was weak, Huffinton was strong. The strategy, the Democrats, behind the recall seemed to be coming from outside of the state because within California, among people you would expect to support Davis, there was a feeling of "He's done nothing." Bustamante was seen as too closely tied to Davis and he's also seen as weak. When you add in Maria Shriver, who went around charming crowds, we had two people who were cyphers and washed out, Davis and Bustamante, and no real alternative to Ahnuld after Arianna Huffington dropped out. If the condemnations of her for running, the how dare she!s, hadn't been there she would have made more impact because she did cross party lines. That's partly what aided Ahnuld with some segments. An attitude of "Well Maria's from the Kennedys so he can't be that bad." He was that bad. He is that bad. A bunch of weak men wanting to step around that issue had no chance of defeating him. Arianna Huffington could have if she hadn't been trashed for running.

What do you think was behind the weak campaigns by Bustamante and Davis?

A feeling that people would vote party line regardless. A feeling that a movie star couldn't really win this race as though Ronald Reagan hadn't already proven that it could happen. A sense of hubris. That is why they didn't confront him. There was sort of this . . . I guess "Oh, it's just Ahnuld." They didn't take him seriously. They acted as though it was sewn up. And that the worst thing that could happen was Davis would be outed but we would all rally around Bustamante. They seemed to think, because of his ethnicity, that he had a segment of the vote sewn up. We, California, aren't new to ethnic candidates. There wasn't a feeling of, "Trail blazer!" just because of his ethnicity. There was a sense that he was weak and a do nothing. That trumped his ethnicity. The decision not to offer a real candidate on the Democratic ticket may have been seen as an attempt to protect Davis but it hurt the party and now it's hurt the state.

Who would you like to see run against Ahnuld?

I haven't thought about it much. I guess an Arianna Huffington or a Jerry Brown. It could be them or someone like them. You need a fighter and you need someone that's seen as concerned about California. Not just occupying space there, but concerned about California. I think Gavin Newsome, to offer a third name or type, could win.

Newsome's a bachelor now.

We've had bachelor governors. We had Jerry Brown. It wasn't an issue. There was good natured jokes that Linda Rondstadt was our "honorary first lady" but no one minded. Gavin Newsome has the looks to go up against the heavily made up Ahnuld who, if you see him in public, and I have, looks like he's wearing make up. The honest glow of Newsome would underscore the pancake that it looks like they apply to make Ahnuld look vibrant. I honestly felt like I was seeing someone who was ill when I saw him. He was paunchy and he was made up. That's how it looked to me. Opposite someone like Newsome, that would be obvious even if they stripped the make up from Ahnuld which would make it even more obvious.

Sorry to put you on the spot, we didn't mention Ahnuld earlier this week when we asked you for an interview.

No problem. But honestly, this is just me speaking off the top of my head. I heard the announcement and I shuddered. I haven't thought much about it since other than to pray he is not re-elected.

We hear The Laura Flanders Show in the background and your kids as well.

I know, she just mentioned Gavin Newsome but I didn't catch what she was saying. Since they're discussing New Orleans, I doubt, sadly, that it was to announce Newsome was running for governor. The kids are watching Monsters Inc. again. They want popcorn, so you're also about to hear that popping in the microwave.

You're a regular listener of The Laura Flanders Show.

Some weeks it's my only line to sanity! Seriously. I love the show. I love her writing as well. I read her books to my kids, I'm not joking. I e-mailed the show that and she joked on air that she hoped it didn't give them nightmares which made me laugh. I'm a single working mother, and they get children's books and they also get what I'm reading. I think it will help them grow up more aware of the world. I want them starting their adult lives a lot more aware than I was.

Which was?

This is no fault of my parents, let me say that. And if anyone reads and wonders, I'm third generation American. But my belief was that we were active, my parents instilled that, but it was something we did as an extra. What I want them to see, my kids, is that it's not an extra, it's part of who we are and what we are. That's shaped by a really bad marriage, a really bad one. I think if I realized how much the world was with us, I would have been less likely to marry the man I married. Whom I've divorced some time ago, just to clarify.

How would it have been different?

He was charming, to give him his due. He was attractive. He was also totally unconcerned with anything that happened outside of us. So at home, we were an island, and at work or doing errands or activism, I was part of a world. At the end of the day, my high point is not going to be sitting on a couch and watching Married With Children. Or listening to nonstop stories I've heard, all about him, over and over. Can I ask for a break here because Naomi Klein is coming on [The Laura Flanders Show]?

No problem, we want to hear that too.

Oops, she's not on yet. I don't mean to act as though I was not interested in hearing what happened when he was twelve. But that was a weekly story, if not daily. That was partly due to the fact that he had no new stories to tell. Near the end of our marriage, he lost his job so he lived on the couch in front of the TV but prior to losing his job, he was parked on the couch then as well. I'm a teacher, so I've got papers to grade, I've got lesson plans and all this other stuff to do. My day doesn't end when school lets out. With three kids, one right after the other basically, I really didn't have use for anyone who thought their role in the partnership was to come home, eat dinner and then zone out on the couch. He had no interest in the children. If people are wondering how this makes a "bad marriage" I should probably add that he was a mean, nasty drunk. He hit me once and got the message that it would only be once.

What does that mean?

(Laughing) I beat the shit out of him. I grew up with four brothers and we played rough. He thought wrong if he thought he could take a hand to me and I'd be afraid. That's not to put down other women who are victims of abuse. I'm just saying my brothers didn't cut me any slack for being the only girl so my response was different than some other women. He was bigger, but he was also drunk and, with my brothers, I learned to fight dirty when I had to. He balled up his fist and hit me in the face and my lip may have been bleeding, but I didn't hesitate, I punched him in the balls and when he fell to floor, I kicked the shit out of him. I'm not advocating that for anyone else, I'm just saying what I did. I also called my parents and told them, "Get over here right now, or I'm going to kill him." They were there in minutes and so were my brothers. I was seven months pregnant at the time or that would have been the end of it. But he did the apology and the "I'll watch my drinking" and I had two kids and thought, "Fine, another chance."

Did he ever hit you again?

No. He knew that wasn't an option. Both because of my response and because of my brothers firmly took the message home to him that night. One thing I will advocate to any victim of abuse is break the silence. Tell your family, tell your friends. I'm sure that had a greater impact on him then the beating I gave him. Abusers abuse in private because they know it's wrong. Naomi's on.

Okay, break.

We're back and we'll pick up where we left off. You were talking about your ex-husband. Did you want to add to that?

He could see the kids if he wanted. When he's not in jail. He doesn't want to. He's a pretty boy, he was a pretty boy, who got by on his looks and never had to develop as a person. The looks have faded but it's still all about him. To be really honest, I was shallow to place so much emphasis on his looks. My friends would swoon over him in high school and I liked that and liked hearing how lucky I was. Had we remained in high school all our lives, as students I should say since I'm a high school teacher, it probably would have been fine. But he never develped beyond that. He had a self-interest that wasn't uncommon for that age but it was one he never grew out of. While he had his looks, they cut him a lot of breaks. As the beer gut developed and the face went jowly, and we're talking a few years after high school here, we're not talking about years and years of drinking, that's how hard he hit the bottle, the breaks stopped coming. His job, while we were married, was selling cars. And he could charm anyone while he had his looks but when they faded his quotas started dropping until finally they had to let him go.

Stop us and let us know if you don't want to answer a question, but what was the breaking point?

He never harmed the kids physically. But he just wasn't interested in them. He couldn't be alone in the house with them because he couldn't be trusted to watch them. Our oldest is very cute, they all are and probably more from him than from me. So one day, while he's hung over, he's just running her down. Picking her apart because she's hung over. Telling her things like, "You're gap toothed." She'd lost a baby tooth for God's sake, it's not like she's Condi Rice. It will grow back. The way he was talking to her, and I'm censoring some of it, was a way two adults wouldn't talk to each other but it certainly wasn't the way you would talk to your own child. I told him to pack and leave that I was tired of his being drunk all day on the couch, doing nothing with the children and only causing more work for me. The way he was speaking to our daughter, reminded me, honestly, of the way he spoke to me before he hit me and I thought, "No, it's not going to happen again. He's not going to rage at her just because he's bloated and drunk."

He left.

And took the car. The only one we had because he'd leased his from the dealership so, of course, when he lost his job, he lost the car. That was fine. We managed until I could replace the car.

He has no contact with the kids?

No. He calls sometimes to speak to me in various stages of intoxification. If he's only mildly intoxicated, I'll ask if he wants to speak to the kids because, drunk or not, it would mean something. They ask about him. He never wants to. There's no child support because, when out of jail, he doesn't hold down a job. I explain to the kids that he's got a sickness, alcoholism, and that maybe he'll get better but life's not fair and we get the breaks we get and work to make what we have better. That's why I want the kids to be more aware than I was. I should have realized, in college, when there was no interest in my day and discussing classes only made him angry, that this wasn't going to work. It was my mistake. Not his, not my parents, my mistake. And my kids will make mistakes, hopefully learn from them, but on ones I've made, I want to be sure they don't make which is why we'll grab a book by Maruice Sendak or a book by Laura Flanders and read from it. I want them to have their childhood, have their fun, but to know that there's a world out there. And that childhood ends. My ex-husband didn't grasp that, doesn't grasp that and I went through too many years where I obviously didn't accept it.


We had a long engagement. I was almost done with college when we married. I was old enough to realize what was going on if I'd been smarter. Instead, I was okay with the "It's Friday, let's go to whomever's and I'll drink and get drunk and then we'll go make out and we'll call that a weekend." I mean, that's high school behavior if you do it. It's not college matrial for adults and for people with less breaks, because I had breaks, not everyone can go to college, they're pushed into the adult world right away. Hopefully, my kids will go to college, their choice whether to or not, but regardless, I want them to realize that being an adult means responsibilities. Things that are cute at sixteen are not cute at twenty-three. You know, this isn't even what we planned to talk about. I'm giving two of the kids a bath right now and sorry to go off topic.

No, it's a great interview. We're enjoying it.

These are my weekends, and that's not a complaint. I'll do some work on grading and planning and I'll be with the kids. Tomorrow, we'll all go over to my parents. That's why I say The Laura Flanders Show is my only line to sanity some weekends. I don't date. When they're older, I will. But since they have no father in their lives, by his choice, they need the time from the one parent they do have. Don't laugh but I have to sing right now.

[Maria sings "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." with her kids]


No, you have a good singing voice and your children sounded very sweet.

That's the "we are in the bath now" song. We've got little songs we all do all the time including "Cleanup, cleanup . . ." It helps them transition and focus. They're playing and I'm watching them so you've got nearly all of my full attention.

Did you want to add anything to the topic of dating?

Let me put in that others can make their own choices and I'm not condeming anyone who dates. I'm saying that I evaluated my own situation and there's no time for casual dating and there's no time for looking for a partner. I'll date again when they're older. That's my choice based on what I see they need. My mother doesn't agree with it and is always inviting some man to the Sunday lunch in an attempt to match me up. But the weekends are for the kids and not for dating. That's only been difficult with regard to one man my mother tried to team me with but it's my decision and I'm sticking to it for the next few years. Others can probably manage it but I can't. I know my limitations and I know what my children need. In my situation, this is the best decision. Other women, or male single parents, may be able to handle other decisions based on themselves and their children. If they can, I salute them. But I know my limitations and I know my children's needs.

Okay so let's talk about Democracy Now! and the thing you, Francisco and Miguel do for the community.

The first thing I want to say is that Miguel got a nasty e-mail, in Spanish or C.I. probably wouldn't have forwarded it to him, where the person tore him apart of his use of Spanish. That really upset me. I know it bothered Miguel. Miguel didn't grow up in foreign country and has picked up Spanish from his family. I understood what he was saying and I'm sure everyone who spoke Spanish did. For awhile, he didn't want to participate as a result of the e-mail. But Francisco's going to word it one way and I'm going to word it another way and, let's be honest since it's called Spanish, someone growing up in Spain will word it another way. There are unique characteristics to all areas speaking Spanish around the world. After that fact is grasped, we need to grasp that all people who speak Spanish do not have the same level of education, even if Spanish is their first language or only language. The Common Ills is a resource/review and when I told C.I. about the e-mail to Miguel, C.I. doesn't read Spanish and if someone writes in, it's forwarded to Francisco, Miguel or myself since we do read and speak Spanish, C.I. said, "Anyone looking for proper spelling or proper grammer came to the wrong site based only on my own entries." The point of the community is to be a resource/review and provide information. So for the person griping to Miguel, who made three errors in his e-mail berating Miguel, who was an Anglo who fancies himself the expert on all things Spanish, I'd say take a deep breath, take a walk, don't visit the site.

C.I.: Agreed. I want to add that Miguel gave his permission for this to be discussed. Maria, Francisco and I have wanted to address this for over a month but Miguel was really bothered by it and asked us not to. He's finally reached the "screw you" period so it is being discussed. Sorry to injerect.

It really did do a number on Miguel. That's why I started grabbing the rundowns repeatedly for a period. We were all encouraging Miguel to ignore it and he would say, "Okay" but it hurt him and when he wasn't able to do it, I'd grab it at the last minute. Francisco will usually do a greeting in his entries because he's comfortable with that. I'm just saying, "Here's what to pay attention to." Miguel was in between us and he didn't deserve to be slammed for attempting to offer something personal, something that anyone who understood Spanish knew what he was saying. The Anglo was being elitist and that attitude doesn't belong at The Common Ills. And if you ask Ava, back me up on this Ava, the way she'd word things in Spanish is completely different from the way I would because she's speaking a different variation of Spanish.

Ava: Exactly. There isn't one version. For people who find that confusing, they need to think in terms of the English language and how there is Americanist English and there is British English. The two are not identical in every way. Spain, the government of Spain, went around colonizing areas. Those areas were not empty. They had their own native populations and each culture brings its own native traits. Let's talk about the selection of stories from Democracy Now!

There again, we're going to pick different things, Francisco, Miguel and myself. I believe it's known at the site that Francisco lives in New Mexico. Miguel lives in another state, I live in California. That will effect what we choose to highlight because what we discuss with friends is impacted by what's around us. For myself, with The New York Times charging for some content, I made the decision to switch to Democracy Now! for the focus in my classroom. So what I'm highlighting are the things that the kids have shown the most interest in. Let me note that Democracy Now! provides some sort of educational guide for educators to use in the classroom and I have meant to sign up for that repeatedly but there's never been time. But if someone reads this and wants to utilize Democracy Now! that's a service they provide. Francisco's not around high schoolers the way I am, so what he'll emphasize is what interests the people around him. Miguel's college age and he'll be going by what his peer group is discussing. There's never a wasted moment in the headlines from Democracy Now! so every item will never be covered. When I started, I did the first rundown, I tried to pick two from each day. Then (laughing) Francisco upped the ante by picking more than that. To be more specific, the headlines are on during my first class of the day, we listen by radio. And the class picks out their stories from the headlines. Those are the ones we dicuss in the later classes. If a student goes online, and many times they will, and find a story that wasn't mentioned, we'll discuss that as well. We're doing current events for fifteen minutes so the headlines being ten minutes allows for five minutes of discussion for the first class. That may short change them in some ways, but they also get to hear all the headlines. Later classes, are dealing with what the first class has picked as the most important and anything that someone finds by visiting the site. From the discussions, I base my picks for the week when it's my turn to do the rundown.

You have lively discussions in your classes and one thing you've noted at The Common Ills, early on, was how the youth of the country had turned against the war.

Right. I said that it has to do with the fact that they're studying the government. They're getting the concepts that we are supposed to stand for as a nation. So learning that and looking at what we're doing in Iraq, their reactions are very vocal and very loud. There were times when I wondered if this was a regional thing, but Mike saw that as well.

Mike: Right. It was obvious in high school for us, students, that there was one America we were being taught about and another America that was occupying Iraq. We also knew people who went over there and if someone didn't come back, which has happened, it touched us and made us really think. And we're also so strongly targeted by recruiters that we were probably forced to think about in ways that if we were old, like in our thirties or forties --

That's old, Mike?

Mike (Con't): Okay, not like ancient. But if we'd been that old, it might not have effected us in the same way. But you've got these guys showing up and trying to force you, I think they're trying to force you, into signing up. Just preying on you and all. So it is a topic that gets more discussion than I think the mainstream media has given it or has been aware that us young people are discussing.

If I can ask Mike a question, I'm wondering what he saw in his teachers. Not his professors now, but back when he was in high school, his teachers.

Mike: They got really nervous on the topic. They didn't want to discuss it unless they were sipping the Kool-Aid. That frustrated a lot of us because it was like "I can't express my own opinion" from the ones who were silent and yet the ones who were rah-rah war never had a problem discussing it. So you could get really short changed. But what ended up happening is that we would challenge the teachers pushing the war in a way we might not have otherwise. So that was the good thing that happened.

I was wondering about that because I noted at The Common Ills that there was a lot of reluctance on the part of anyone, teachers, to address the war in any way. But I think that was wrong. I'm thinking about what Mike said and that's actually more accurate. Those who were for the war, teachers, never had a problem discussing it.

Did you have any problems with parents?

No. I did have a problem with someone on staff, not a teacher, and I said if I have a complaint from a parent, I'll worry. If it's my opinion, I say it's my opinion. If a student disagrees, they have their say and it's not an argument. But I'm dealing with low-income students and their parents are usually much more vocal than I am inside the classroom. Parents' reactions have been positive because it's not, "Here's current events. Now here's the text." We're meshing the two so the students are much more interested in what they are learning and they're doing very well. In fact, the senior class last year, they really came alive and I'm used to losing the seniors each year, but I almost cried the last day of school because they were all so amazing. They had just gotten so active and so alive in the disucssions that it was like nothing I'd ever had happen in a classroom. They weren't just waiting for information to come to them, they were online at The New York Times, at The LA Times, at Dahr's site [Dahr Jamail], at Democracy Now!, at The Washington Post. You hope, let me back up and speak for myself, I hope to interest them each year because this is about their lives, it will effect them. American Idol's not going to teach them the issues in a general election. So I try to get them interested and by the end of the year, they usually are. But last year's seniors drove it. I didn't have to do a lot of prep or a lot of explaining. They were driving the discussion and I was just along for the ride which is the way you want it to be but it usually doesn't work out that way. Wally's talked about this at The Common Ills and I always mean to e-mail him but that's the sort of thing he's spoken of happening at his school and he's in Florida.

Right, they check out the newspapers and The Common Ills and Rebecca's site and a host of others and they're all bringing that into their discussions.

C.I.: Correction, sorry to interrupt. Wally's now in college. He was in high school last year.

I think that's so amazing that C.I. is able to keep members straight. Until I started getting the e-mails in Spanish, I didn't appreciate that. Someone will say "when you highlighted" and I'll have no idea what they're talking about. I used to do that all the time with C.I. in e-mails. I'd just pick up where the last one was and never thought, "You know there are a lot of e-mails. You should probably preface what you're talking about."

C.I.: Mike or Rebecca would have caught it, if I hadn't.

Rebecca: But, and Mike will back me up here, it's still going on even though Wally's graduated, at his old high school. His sister's there and I hear from her. Mike's talking about the Boston area, Maria's talking about California and Wally and his sister are in Florida. So it's not regional and C.I. knows that as well from the things C.I. does speaking to students, college and high school.

C.I.: Right. It's what Maria saw. Fall 2004 and fall 2003 were two different climates. Maria made the point last year that it was the students who were really leading on this and I think that's true that they bring a special energy to it. I don't think that's been noticed by the media and I'm always bothered when I read a quote from someone saying that students are involved in this conversation. They may not be involved in a manner you're familiar with but they are very involved in this discussion.

Mike: And Jim and I have talked about this, I feel like we're hijacking Maria's interview here, sorry, but the thing always tossed in our faces by older people is "Where are the marches, where is" whatever was done in the sixties. I like the sixties. I don't know a great deal about them though. I mean we model behavior and hopefully next weekend will give the nation something to model but apathy's existed for years in this country so now that we're discussing these issues, students, and we're interested and getting involved, don't turn around and slam us because we aren't copying what you did that we probably don't know about because we honestly weren't taught about and didn't live through.

C.I.: Mike's right about us hijacking the interview, sorry Maria, but the thing that some don't realize is that mobilization against the Vietnam conflict in the United States didn't happen in isolation. You had the civil rights movement preceeding it, giving behavior that could be modeled, and you had students across the globe getting involved in various activities. That fed into the mobilizations and the protests in the "sixties" and I'm referring to the early seventies.

I cringe when I read someone saying that the students aren't doing anything or aren't interested. I have to wonder what "students" they are observing? They're not seeing the students I teach. Cindy Sheehan has sparked a national dialogue but students have been engaging in that dialogue for over a year, students in my classroom, in ways that adults haven't.

And that's a strong point to out on. This is Betty, and Maria, if you have a minute hold on because I wanted to ask you about something privately, mother-to mother. But we all thank you for giving of your limited time and participating in this interview.

Thank you, Betty and everyone. I think it's important that the young people get the credit they've earned so I was happy to do it. Plus, it was a rare Saturday where I could to adults.
Usually, I'm just able to listen to Laura Flanders and enjoy the conversations vicariously. Let me also take a second to thank Elaine again for honoring me with the title of her site, Like Maria Said Paz. That was very sweet and it's something my friends keep talking about, "Maria had a sight named after her."

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