Archive | December, 2016

The Atheist Who Loved Christmas Eve

16 Dec

If it wasn’t for my aunt Sylvia, the wife of my mother’s brother and my first cousin Wendy, their daughter, my Christmas Eve memories would be much colder and bleaker, or worse nonexistent.  These two women organized the Christmas Eve parties I have fond memories of.

As a child, as long as I could remember my Christmas Eves were always the same.  My father would drive my mother, my brother, sister, and me to somewhere behind the Santa Monica Airport in Los Angeles, where my aunt and uncle’s family lived.

I remember walking the short distance from my parents’ car to my aunt and uncle’s home and feeling the dank air.  Entering their home was always a pleasure, feeling the coziness of their home on Christmas Eve.  Usually a 6-foot tall or taller, Christmas tree, decorated in white or sometimes red, would grace one corner of the living room.  Under the tree, were numerous gifts for my aunt’s immediate family and small gifts for my brother, sister and me.  A fire would be burning in the fireplace.  Sometimes for what seemed like minutes, I would stare at the flames flickering.  I could smell the burning wood and scent of the tree.

The routine was always the same.  Sooner or later after arriving, the two families would eat dinner together, segregated—the adults at one table and the children at theirs.  There were six children: three from my family and the three of my aunt and uncle.  Wendy was my aunt and uncle’s middle child.

After dinner, youngest children got the honor of distributing the gifts to the people in the room.  Then the gifts were opened, in reverse order by age.  After the gifts were opened, the families entertained themselves with parlor games or reminiscing or my two female cousins would attempt to entertain by singing and dancing, with catcalls from the young males, particularly me.  My sister recently told me she remembers our aunt dressing up, wearing an ugly Santa Claus mask and then chasing the youngsters around the house.

I attended these gatherings through high school, after high school, much less frequently.   Many years pass.  My father died; my mother, my aunt and uncle, my sister and her husband, and my cousin Wendy and her husband moved to Nevada.

By then, my cousin Wendy was teaching and had the responsibility of organizing the Christmas Eve parties.  After many years, Marlene, my wife, and I attended a couple more.

Wendy new how to entertain and could match my quick wit.  Two favorite things of hers were giving gag gifts and singing karaoke.  Some of the gag gifts were re-gifted over and over.  I appreciated her low-brow humor.  Once somehow I got a gift of a toy brown cow that dispensed chocolate candy out of its rectum.  Then there was the karaoke.  My cousin made sure everyone at her parties participated in the karaoke round.  It was great fun.

My aunt and uncle lived until their 90s.  They died five years ago.  Then, my cousin died two years later.  Now I only have those memories of Christmas Eve.

Oh, I forgot.  My parents were Ashkenazi Jews.  My uncle called himself an agnostic and I call myself an atheist.

Amy Hunter Talks on Race and Palestine

12 Dec

Amy Hunter, who is now the manager of diversity and inclusion at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, spoke on Friday, Dec. 9, at the Christ Lutheran Church in Long Beach, on the similarities between racism in the U.S. and Palestine to more than 20 people.

People for Palestinian-Israeli Justice hosted Hunter’s talk.  Jewish Voice for Peace-LA and the Long Beach Area Peace Network co-hosted.

Dennis Korteuer, who is a Professor Emeritus from Cal State University, introduced Hunter.  In part, he said, “Hunter’s been seen on CNN, ABC, NBC, PBS, and interviewed by NPR and a host of print media publications.  She has published works and has presented on issues of race and social justice throughout the United States and globally.”


He ended his introduction by quoting Hunter: “My lens is truth and liberation. My stance was a bit calmer before going to Palestine and now my sense of urgency has heightened.  With my travel to Palestine, there were so many similarities to what I had participated and witnessed in Ferguson.”

Near the beginning of her talk, Hunter admitted she uses Critical Race Theory, which Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab defines as “a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression,” as a way to understand the history of property rights.


She then explained the racist connections she saw between the United States and Palestine.  She said, “When I went to Palestine, of course, those things resonated…. This is America, with native-American people and the stealing their land and so it wasn’t hard to make the connection.  The over-policing of black bodies looked like the over-policing of Palestinians, while I was in Palestine and the conversations were very similar.  And so not only is it important to recognize what colonization in the country looks like, but globally what looks like to really inspire a global movement to decolonize.”

She soon defined what she meant by decolonization, when she said, “(It) will have to look like something different and if you’ve never belonged to community, it’s really hard to talk about community building, but ultimately … that’s what solidarity will look like between blacks and Palestinians … because the similarity between the communities are so very the same.”

Near the end of her talk, she said, “I would like to see a different world for my children, for all children and that’s why I do this work…. I’m pretty intentional to say what liberation looks like, what free looks like.  I’m really … clear that I’m not free until they’re free.”

Hunter’s Lucky Zip Codes TED talk may be viewed at




The City of Long Beach Stands with the Standing Rock Sioux

9 Dec


About 40 people, in the plaza outside City Hall, before the meeting of Long Beach City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 6, rallied with speakers in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, in anticipation of the city council agenda item on the same subject.

The rally began with Tongva elder, Gloria Arellanes, leading a prayer and blessing, followed with speakers.

Noe Ramirez, Long Beach resident, emceed.  The first speaker Ramirez introduced was Elliot Gonzales. Gonzales is a leader of Stop Fracking Long Beach and according to the city’s website, a member of the city’s sustainable commission.  He said, “It is time as an environmental community we begin to recognize indigenous rights as part of why it is necessary for us to be able to sustain life on this planet…. We will perish, if we do not speak up to the abuses that are happening to our native brothers and sisters, I guarantee that it will happen to us…. We must become active in resisting in every aspect of our lives, like in government, in society, as in community.” He said environmentalists should view themselves as allies to the indigenous.

Ramirez then introduced George Funmaker, as a resident of Long Beach.  Funmaker belongs to the Dakota Ho-Chunk tribe.  He said, “As native people we’re healing from something called historical trauma.  Historical trauma is when the United States Government put us in boarding schools and we were not allowed to speak our language, we were not allowed to do our ceremonies and it wasn’t until 1978 (with the) American Indian Religious Freedom Act, where we were able openly  practice our ceremonies.”  He said one issue needing to be address is white privilege and white supremacy.  He said originally the pipeline was to go through Bismarck, North Dakota, but the mostly Caucasian city would not allow it, the company listened to them and the company decided to run it through native land.


Then, Funmaker with some others shared a no DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) song with the audience.  He ended by pointing out that it was the women who provided the leadership for their movement.

The council chambers was about half-full, when the agenda item came.  Before public comment, First District Councilwomen Lena Gonzalez argued for the resolution and pointed out that “the protest and fight is not just about oil.  It is about respect for our indigenous communities and respect for the rights of treaties that were signed with this tribe more than 150 years ago.”

Second District Councilwoman Jeanine Pearce also argued for the resolution.  She said the protesters against the pipeline “were met with disproportionate use of force, in…freezing temperatures, tear gas, rubber bullets, even grenades, yet they still remained strong.”

During the public comments, Funmaker said that “Long Beach has to look at their own oil addiction…. It’s not (just) about this pipeline, it’s about transitioning to renewable energy and keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

Another speaker during the public comment, in favor was Alex Montances, who identified himself as living in the Sixth District, as being from the Filipino Migrant Center and the National Alliances for Filipino Concerns.  Montez said that during the Thanksgiving weekend he was part of a six-person delegation who drove from Long Beach “to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux.”  Montances ended by quoting a native-American artist he met, who said, “It was the first time in history that almost all of the native-American tribes are united together to protect what is sacred to them: water, land and Mother Earth.”

After public comment but before the city council vote, Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw thanked all the supporters and speakers and said he is working with others to bring forward a motion to create a Native Heritage Commission for the city.  Mayor Robert Garcia said he was a “strong supporter” of the resolution.

No city councilmember or anyone during the public comments spoke against the resolution.  The resolution passed unanimously.



Low-Wage Workers Protest in Los Angeles and LAX

1 Dec

Hundreds of low wage workers, mostly people of color, and their allies marched and protested around the Los Angeles Airport, as part of a national protest in 340 cities, on Tuesday, Nov. 29, for $15-an-hour jobs, for unions, immigrant rights, and against cuts in the Affordable Care Act, against racist policies, which put newly elected President Trump on notice that his policies would be resisted.

Three groups marched and protested around LAX.  One group, around noon, walked and chanted on the sidewalk from West 98th Street and Aviation Blvd. toward Avion Dr.  At Avion, the group turned left toward Century and headed toward the airport proper.  Around Vicksburg Ave., gathered a Los Angeles Police Department contingent, where no sidewalk existed.  Near Vicksburg the group turned around before the sidewalk disappeared and headed back from where it came.   Two chants the group shouted out, while walking, were “If we don’t get it, shut it down” and “No Justice, No Peace.”

The local NBC affiliate, quoting an LAX management statement, it said, “Shortly before noon, two groups of demonstrators gathered on the Upper Level at LAX, with one group on the north side and the other group on the south side, marching toward the Tom Bradley International Terminal.”

No arrests occurred at LAX.


Later in the early afternoon, on Aviation between 98th and Century, hundreds rallied and heard speakers on a flatbed truck.

One of the speakers was 44th District Congresswoman Janice Hahn, who was recently elected as the 4th District Supervisor.  Regarding the profits of the airline industry, Hahn said, “While these airlines are making record profits, we know that the workers are not getting their fair share.  Last year these airlines made over $25 billion in profit across the county, but 42 percent of all airline workers live below the poverty line…. I’m here in solidarity with you.”

A second elected official who spoke was Los Angeles Councilman Curran Price.  He reminded the audience his support for raising the minimum wage and for immigrant rights by his support for Los Angeles being a sanctuary city.

A third speaker was Tim Maddox, a vice president of USWW (United Service Workers West).  USWW represents service property workers, such as janitors, cabin cleaners, stadium and arena workers, and other airport workers.  Maddox said, “The Airport used to be good jobs….Reagan began busting the unions when he fired air traffic controllers who were on strike….This was the beginning of outsourcing our labor at the airport and deregulation…. Moments later on a more optimistic note, he added, “But, we know when we take action and fight back, we win…We have won wage increases in Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland and Fort Lauderdale.”

The same NBC affiliate, which reported on LAX, said, “The first (of the day) protest began about 6 a.m. at Seventh and Alameda streets in downtown Los Angeles. About an hour into the rally, protesters blocked the intersection of Seventh and Alameda streets and police arrested 40 of them, the Los Angeles Police Department reported.”

CNN reported dozens of arrests in Oakland and New York with a strike at O’Hare International Airport of janitors, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants.  Reuters reported arrests in Cambridge Massachusetts and in Detroit.