A Feast for Thought

During this past week at the San Miguel Writers Conference, I have attended a myriad of workshops and gained insights that will improve my writing.

I’ve had the chance to meet writers from all over the world and learned from their experience.

My novel, The Woman Who Wanted the Moon, has been well-received and this encourages me to forge ahead with my next project.

The Conference’s social events have been a hoot, and the dinners with friends and colleagues have been delightful.

All of the above is reason enough to look forward to next year, but the conference has given me even more…

Many of the keynote speakers reminded us about the lack of social justice in our world. (Please do not stop reading, because this is important)

In prosperous North American nations there is a growing fear. It is getting harder and harder to maintain the lifestyle that the middle class has worked hard to achieve.

It is heartbreaking for those who counted on a secure and comfortable retirement to realize that the income they have is not going to be enough to meet even their basic needs. How are they to afford medical care and how can they remain in their own homes when taxes climb ever-higher?

Youth feel desperate because they can’t find gainful employment, let alone in their chosen fields. With the astronomical cost of housing and other essentials how will they be able to form families? And if they do take the bold step, they know that unless both parents work, they won’t make it financially. And if that’s the case, just who is going to raise their children?

More and more Canadian and US citizens conclude that illegal immigrants are strangling their own countries’ resources; they believe this group brings undesirable social elements into their own society and that this lowers the standard of living. In Europe the same concerns are running rampant.

We need to ask who promotes this idea. Who is benefited by keeping people on the right side of the border? Who builds walls and patrols the borders with armed personnel?

How did we come to accept that this is the way to protect our way of life? Why are we blaming a defenseless group of people who have left their homes because they need to feed their families? Just as we do…

If we have to point our fingers, maybe we should zero in on the ever-larger inefficient spending on both sides of the border and the profit margins expected by multinational corporations?

Yes, yes, yes… Sí, sí,sí… yet we feel powerless to stop them. We feel we have no voice.

But that is not true. The big business-oriented coalitions are organized and growing. Concerned citizens also need to stand up and be counted. And this starts with being informed.

I recommend Benjamin Alaire Sáenz’ latest collection of short stories: Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club as your next reading choice.

36 thoughts on “A Feast for Thought”

  1. I understand the dilemma of todays world and tightening belts would be a new strategy for all but it has to be done.I remember telling my son , when he was younger ,who is now 45, that not everyone can be a doctor , lawyer , a sports person, or even a computer expert . From where I see it there are too many academics and not enough job opportunities available for them to enter into the work force. .As much as we like to see our children aspire to higher ranks than what were given to us , someone as to do the menial tasks. But it seem menial tasks are a lowering of self esteem but in my opinion it reality it builds esteem.
    I was brought up in a household were both my parents worked to provide my brother and I a better education… and I am talking about 60 years ago! We were, what they now call latch key kids, My job upon arriving home from school was to chop wood and light the fire ready for my parents to come home in the evenings from their daily toll.
    The table was always set and some food prepared for when they did arrive home.
    Saturdays was wash day and we all lent a helping hand… turning the wringer, hanging out the washing, emptying the tub and ironing.
    I was taught at an early age to knit (8 years to be exact) so that I could make my own sweaters, gloves etc . My mother was a master sewer so again I learnt how to sew my own clothes.
    I used to do competition dancing and we would all spend hours around the table glueing on sequins to a design my mother had created.
    To make pocket money I used to deliver the daily newspaper house to house… what I made my mother would match and when my piggy bank was full she would come with me to the bank to deposit.
    When one grows up with these skills it takes you through life. and makes one value what we have.
    In todays world it seems a buy it ,use or wear it once and throw it away!
    How do we get back to learning some of the skill that have been lost? It may take another generation IF they can find someone to teach them.

    1. The skills you learned as a little girl indeed stood you in good stead. If you had not learned all you did, how would you have managed to turn a plot of dry dirt into the most gorgeous B & B and restaurant in your area. You learned to speak Spanish, you trained your employees… you hefted the wheelbarrow. You are a wonderful example of what hard work can acheive.

  2. Being informed, and the impact of education is huge, whether in the home as young children, or in a “school” environment…
    I see my kids prosper in the U.S., and the combination is visible. Traveling out of town, city, state, country – the world … all is a learning experience.
    When they were growing up some of their peers did not get to visit NYC’s museums (less than an hour from here), nor other cultural/informational events. The reasons may have been many. My kids remind me I worked there, therefore they “lived” it, now they know it better than me. (Okay so I didn’t use a metro card—tokens in those days :))

    And, people say, it’s never too late. Still a student, and the world is my teacher…

    1. Wonderful. Showing our children the world is a parent’s greatest responsibility and it can also be the most fun part of parenting. As they mature and make their own choices, we get to see what they liked best from the array of options we laid down

  3. I SO agree with Valerie, “thepickedonionyucatan!” I was once laid off from my professional level job in the USA, but a wise friend of mine had advised me to take the test for becoming a bus driver. I did, passed the test, and when my unemployment insurance ran out, I decided it better to work (even at a supposedly less prestigious job) than risk losing my home and such. I worked at the transit agency for 19 years, and learned more about living, working, and life there than I ever would have had I continued at my research analyst career path.

    I’m certainly not disparaging the value of a higher education– I’m very glad I had all mine. But if the opportunities evaporate in that path, choosing another can be a supplement, not a come-down.

    1. An excellent comment Alinde. It is so important to remain open to all possibilities. I find it is the doors the “open wide” as we walk through are the interesting ones. It is much easier than to try clawing at those that refuse to let us through

  4. I do agree with Valerie but, very sad to say, that era has gone the way of the dodo. It was an era when all were expected to contribute to the family welfare in some way. And I firmly believe people were happier than they are today because ALL contributed in a positive way. Within the last forty years things changed and the prevailing attitude became (a) what can I do to PLEASE my children and (b) do my kids LIKE me. In the era that Valerie refers to – and it was a good one – our parents were so busy making a comfortable home and food on the table they had no time to think about whether their children liked them or not. My father was a contractor and literally worked from dawn to dusk during the summer months and in the winter when the construction work dried up because of the harsh winters he worked on clearing the roads for the Department of Highways.

    Re people who immigrate to my country they have to work very hard to get ahead but my big beef is when they try to change our way of living to conform with their modus vivendi for example in religion. A wise person told an immigrant from a very restrictive country who had expressed a strong opinion against one of our customs the following: “You should be grateful that you have the privilege of living in a country where you have the freedom to publicly express your opinion”.

    1. Sharon I know that the era I lived has gone but when raising my children I never gave a thought to ,if they like me… it was a forgone conclusion. In my opinion,we should not have to secure a relationship with children by trying to please them or by proving we are good parents ALL the time and this is what is happening in the modern day family unit, as I see it.Dealing daily with families that come into the restaurant I am appalled how the children treat their peers.Also how the parents cowdown to every whim of their offsprings.
      Allowing the children free reign whilst it could endanger lives of others , seem oblivious to the parents.Saying well he /she is only child so its O K ,then it would be ,well they are only teenagers . Some will turn into obnoxious adults who are not happy until they have their own way!
      I actually congratulate parents who have well behaved children complementing on doing a great job of teaching their children.out of love and respect not out of buying whatever the child desires so the parents can reassure themselves that their children like them! Its sad!

      1. As far as I am concerned, children and adults must act responsibly if they want the freedom to enjoy life as they choose. They are not “living free” if their attitudes and comportment cause grief to others. Being accepted is part of being free and must be earned.

    2. Hi Sharon, Immigration will always be a polemic issue but I think we cannot judge an entire ethnic group by the actions of one person. After all, we are foreigners in Mexico and I think we are treated with respect and justice. No one has built a wall to keep us out of this country. I can count on one hand the times that I have been discriminated against. Whereas, “different treatment” is a daily occurrence for Latin American immigrants in our northern countries. Some people are fair and try to cultivate an environment of respect and tolerance for all cultures. If the immigrant is not in keeping with national customs, local Canadians or Americans should take the time to explain our sensitivities, just as many Mexicans have done with me. Usually it is unawareness of cultural sensitivities that cause rifts…

      1. Exactly! Many of the “mistakes” or misconceptions that immigrants have come about because they do not know the customs or the law. I think new immigrants or seasonal workers would start out on the right foot if residents welcomed them to the neighborhood. I remember my mother taking time from her busy life, raising 8 children,to make a loaf for new people on our block. That lady was from Hungary, and she arrived didn’t speak a lick of English. Mom made hand signals and the lady became Mom’s life-long friend.

    3. I think that most of the misunderstandings and slights on both sides occur because people don’t take the time to get to know one another. If we were all a little more generous with our time and friendship, we’d see a big shift in attitudes

  5. So much is due to attitudes. Canadians see and pay for Medicare as a human right and find it difficult to understand why many Americans are prepared to spend even more for their own healthcare but are not prepared to look after society. Hence the questions like: The unemployed get free health care? You provide healthcare to prisoners, the same as to middle class people? Etc, etc, etc. what we do not do is provide free education to illegals. Legal immigrants, refugee claimants, no problem. Seasonal workers are registered and have certain basic human rights. Many Mexican workers come to Ontario to work in the market gardens and return year after year. Employers of these workers have to obey the rules to be able to bring workers in. A Mexican father working hard in Canada to earn the money to support his family should not/ must not be exploited for someone else’s gain. The Canadian middle class is not as rich as the American, but maybe we are more humane.
    Back to attitudes. Plumbers on my little island earn $86 an hour and are in short supply. Do parents encourage their children to go into the trades- no. But somebody, send us more plumbers, electricians, and gasA
    Enough ranting for now.

    1. It’s true Alice. Canadian attitudes are somewhat more equal, but they reflect policies that were put in place many decades ago. I think one of the issues the Americans have with universal health care is that the idea is still “new” I takes time for such initiatives to settle into the common mindset. The guest worker visa in Canada is indeed a win-win piece of Canadian immigration law. It would work well in the US too, but as I say, everything takes time… too much time

  6. Certainly it is tough to get ahead. But I can’t tell you how many people I see living beyond their means, not saving a dime, and not planning at all for the future. And some people really are their own worst enemies, having children before they can take care of themselves, ruining their futures in the process. It’s also true that we are living in a world of diminishing resources. The rise of the Asian and Latin American middle classes has put enormous strains on resources that we took for granted only twenty years ago. Many such things will grow ever more expensive in the future, and this is the result of there being so many of us on this planet.

    Malthus may not have been wrong, only early.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where it alarms us how much gas we’ve burned this winter just keeping the house warm.

    1. How true; it used to be that we could predict the future based on the experiences of earlier generations, but this is no longer true. Our children will likely have no retirement benefits from traditional government programs. They have to assure their own old age security now. And that is sure not happening. New rules need to be learned. It’s time for us to make this a priority.

  7. This is a most interesting blog. While it is a sad fact that future generations may have to save for their own retirement and not rely on government pensions, etc., I have to admit the last thing a 20 year-old newbie starting out in the workforce wants to think about is retirement – after all. if he is lucky, he has at least 45 years of paid work to look forward to and that is a long time. But the years quickly fly by. Actuarial and financial research proves that if that young worker can discipline himself to invest a few dollars in a good plan for his future every payday he will retire quite wealthy when he is 65. The BIG trick is the discipline and self-control it takes to do this and I have to wonder how many young people possess these qualities.

    1. Discipline and consistency are two huge life lessons. Now they are more important than ever for young people. And… hopefully the insurer or saving plan sponsor will not bail before the young person grows old and can collect. Diversifying the investment portfolio is also a must

      1. How true re the insurer and/or savings plan sponsor either bailing out or going bust. My cousin’s husband contributed to his company’s pension plan for over 30 years. When he was ready to retire it turned out the company had changed ownership and management so many times that the employee pension plan literally fell through the cracks. After a lengthy class action court case spanning several years he and others had to settle for 65 percent of what they expected to receive from their long awaited pension.

  8. I spent my working life doing industrial work, steel, oil, rubber, some construction, none of it was very regular, I retired out of the steel mill with 31 years. To get the pension I draw, with its medical benefit, at today’s rate of investment return, I would have had to have saved every dime I ever made-every dime. How can this pension system survive? For one thing, the mill is making more and better steel, with 150 workers, what it took 750 workers to produce when I started in 1978. Those 750 drawing pensions-most of them died, the work at the beginning was brutal. We as a union took less home in our pay envelopes than we might have because we believed in investment in our steel works. We agreed to contracts that boosted our retirement at the cost of raises that did not cover the cost-of-living. The main thing was our demand that some part of earnings be invested in plant and equipment, it was always a strikeable issue. The dull bulbs in our workforce did not understand the investment issue but then they could not get elected to the union’s management group. We ran the union for everyone’s long term benefit, the owners, management and the workers, all those families who lived from the mill’s proceeds were our mandate. It kept me up at night.

    I was never sure about the mill, I took a degree in my 30s thinking I might need to reboot. I was offered a job teaching at 18,500 in 94, when the mill was paying 55,000-no brainer that one.

    I suspect the problem today, at least in manufacturing and the high productivity it enjoys in the US and Canada is a matter of how we tax labor and imports. Both nation’s tax labor at 2 or 3 times what they tax a good that is imported. A manufacturing facility has to really be on their game to overcome that kind of headwind.

    On immigration:I’m all for it, if capital can go where it pleases, people should be able to do the same-making a criminal out of a person who wants to better themselves is bad policy of the first order both in a moral and political way.

    1. I am not familiar with the union you were involved with, but I agree with what you say regarding immigration: if capital can go where it pleases, people should be able to do the same. Making a criminal out of a person who wants to better themselves is bad policy of the first order both in a moral and political way.

      1. I was in the United Steel Workers Union, immigration is one of their talking points today, a change that only happened in the last ten years but a welcome policy change none the less. The union’s leadership came to the conclusion that labor was labor, wherever and whenever it occurred, organized or not, a labor union has to advocate for all workers. The policy change came out of the Canadian branch of the USW. And trust me, union people fight over policy within their polity as much as any political group; maybe the biggest reason I retired early.

      2. I was not aware of that policy change, but agree wholeheartedly with it. The truth is that until Mexican workers earn a fair wage that will allow them to feed their families and live decently, the immigration issue will continue to cause polemic in Mexico, the US and Canada. I wish that the Canadian and American unions would put pressure on the Mexican government to see that happen.

      3. The union I worked with tended to be more concerned with the killing of labor leaders. Working conditions were number two on the list. Keeping industrial waste out of the environment was third. Wages were a local issue that the international did not meddle with much.

      4. But wages are the bottom line. International unions can be of a huge help in countries where workers are not free to speak up for their rights. A few weeks ago, I attended a talk by the Mexican-American activist and journalist Benjamin Saenz. He said that until Mexican workers make a decent wage and can feed their families, there will be no easing of border tension. I wish that American labor would lobby the Mexican government about this

      5. It is not just Mexico. Low wages seem to be the new normal for people who make things in the US.

        I have to say, stopping the killing of people because they want to organize has to be the first priority of the international. A killing takes away every one of a person’s tomorrows, it is the most effective form of political coercion..A conversation about wages is not going to happen if one fears their early demise. The international union talks about the people who are killed in Latin America because of their union organizing to give those people a chance to live and maybe someday address wages. On the ground, in their meetings with owners and management, wages and conditions are what is talked about, in meetings with political people, it is more along the line of: the killing has to stop.

      6. Norm, low wages in Canada or the US are nothing compared to low wages in Mexico or other countries in Latin America. Do you know that the minimum wage in Mexico is between 63 and 67 pesos ($4.84 and $5.15 USD) per DAY. In the USA minimum wage is $7.25 USD an hour and in Canada it is between $9.95 and $11.00 CAD an hour. If you do the math for an 8 hour day, you will see that Mexican workers earn between 1/8 and 1/10 what their Canadian counterparts make. I call THAT killing people as surely as putting an bullet through their head is killing them. I should add that American and Canadian companies doing business in Mexico pay their workers on the same wage scale; and no one can tell me they don’t know any better. If Mexico is to be an “equal partner” in NAFTA or any other trade agreement, wages MUST be equal too.

      7. I know what the pay is in Mexico.

        I have one child who makes eye glasses for the largest eye glass manufacturer in the world. She makes minimum wage. We buy food for her on a regular basis because she would not eat right if we did not. She is not starving but on her wages, fresh vegetables are not on the shopping list. The cost of living in the Mexico is not 12% of the cost of living in US-I know. The daughter has to heat the house, water and sewer, Real estate taxes, a car to get to work, public transport is not an option-it adds up, the wages just do not cover it all.. The difference between the two nation’s cost of living, I don’t know but I do know, the girl has a hard time making ends meet.

        I was there when the international brought in people from Honduras , Colombia, Guatemala , they talked of fellow organizers being disappeared, shot on the street; they were being killed over demands for safe working conditions, an 8 hour day and yes, wages.

        It was 15- 20 years ago when the international started bringing these people in to talk to the local leadership, they are still coming in to talk- it is going to be a long fight. Why did they bring them in to talk? They wanted our support in paying for a fight that some did not understand was theirs.

        I lobbed my Congressman on labor killings, I lobbed my Senators on labor killings. It costs money to send me to Washington, the local paid it because it was our fight and the right thing to do.
        The local is still sending people to Washington to talk to our elected personnel about labor in Latin America. We are all Americans, we are in this together.

      8. By no means am I saying that life is easy for those living on minimum wage in the US or Canada. And yes we are all Americans. The climate in northern countries is another factor that makes it hard to live on a low wage. However, there are many places in Mexico where the temperatures are cold but the people living there have never heard of heating in a house… they just try to get their hands on more blankets. They have to pay for food, medicines, transportation… the same things that must be covered by workers in the north. AND they have to endure the brutality and repression. I’m sorry, but I still insist, it is even harder to be poor in Latin America than it is to be poor in the USA or Canada.

      9. You will get no argument from me on that last line of print, none at all.
        We always save our food scraps in the freezer when we are in Antigua, we get a good sized plate together, we thaw it some and take it to the dump where the stray dogs live. After the first time I saw a person take it away from the dogs, I made sure it was fit for human consumption when ever I left a plate of “dog food” .I could go on and on , about how dire the poor have it in Latin America.
        On a positive note: I’ve been going to Yucatan for thirty years, the living standards today are much better than they were during my first visit in 82. And some of the reason for this gain, is because of people like you.

      10. Yucatan was on the list this past winter season, we had to come home early because of a family member needing our care. Maybe next year. I’m friends with your son on Facebook, your husband is a Maya ruin expert, I have three good reasons to visit your little clan. Yes we will meet and talk, you’ll like my wife, you two are kindred spirits.

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