ICE Arrests Green Card Holder; Community Responds

UPDATED, April 29: When a GoFundMe page was established to help the family of Joel and Jessica Guerrero of New Paltz, New York, some 400 people donated $16,165 to the family of Joel and Jessica Guerrero within days. The community grew from immediate neighbors and family to the rest of the nation and beyond borders. When we remember that we are all cousins, the world shrinks in happy ways.

The fundraiser was closed at the start of April, but Joel remains in federal custody, detained by ICE. A petition on to free Joel has attracted almost 1000 signatures and many more are needed: “Please Stand With Joel & Jessica Guerrero.”

My column from March 5, 2017, with some corrections (thank you, Jessica Guerrero):
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Two Awards, Plus a Film Plug

About two years ago, before this blog was launched, an online publication presented without any introduction a short film that I could not stop watching. It was an insomniac night and I no longer remember the name of the publication that made the insomnia worthwhile. (Buzzfeed, perhaps?) I think the only thing the publication said about it was that it was “narrated by Siri,” the iPhone voice, and that it was weird.
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In Support of a Good Friend

Perhaps the best thing one can feel about one’s friends is the desire to tell everyone you meet, “You ought to know so-and-so,” or “I hope you can meet …,” about them. Even better than that, I suppose, is telling your friends that you think of them in this way. I am grateful that this is a familiar feeling in my life.

I would like all of you to meet my good friend Kat. She is one of the more remarkable people I have met: 20 years old but with many more years than that in life experience, honest up to the point just before it becomes “honest to a fault,” curious, and funny. A good beginning songwriter and keyboard player. She has many ambitions, and one is to study in England; because no one would have given her a chance to attend college at all but she is a student at The New School through her own initiative and work anyway, I think that she will be attending school in England. She needs help with this, however.

She is pursuing her own fundraising this month at this site: Help Kat Study Abroad.

Kat has some details for us:

Attending college was a huge first step into making a better life for myself than the one I had come from. After spending some time in foster care as a kid and constantly feeling the need to fight to be heard, I am adamant about helping others find and share their voice.

Being in college has helped me to start on this journey, but I feel it is important to take my goals a step further. My goal is to study abroad at the University of Sussex next semester, and I need your help!

The University of Sussex is located in Brighton, which is known for its effective role in a variety of social movements. Attending the University of Sussex would develop yet provide opportunities to learn through real life experiences. Some examples of opportunities I plan on getting involved in include an organization called Mind Out, which is a mental health service targeted towards LGBTQ people. As someone who is a member of the LGBTQ community, I feel it needs to be incorporated in my activism.

What follows is an autobiographical essay that Kat wrote earlier this year. It is reprinted with permission.

In My Skin” by Kat McCauley
Nothing felt real. The words that were coming out of my mouth were not my own. I was watching life around me happen, and had no say in the outcome of any of it. If anything was felt, it was discomfort, but even that felt far away. Everything felt far. I was floating further and further away from what was supposed to be my body. It was like going in and out of consciousness. I was told my mind was playing tricks on me. I wanted so badly to feel, but there was nothing gradual about who I was at the time, and any feeling that became present overcame me like a tornado. Before I knew it I was unmanageable and going down a long dark hill at a rapid pace. I was fourteen years old, and had never felt more alone. I was so good at pretending to be social, that no one knew how truly antisocial I had become. I was a chameleon, and could pick up on anyone’s personality. I could be anybody’s best friend. But nobody knew me.

I had been struggling with severe depression and feelings of dissociation for a few years, and had tried to keep it together.

Having just gotten out of foster care, I was learning quickly that suppressing my feelings was not going to work for me anymore. I had tried so hard for so long to be the perfect image. I wanted to control how people saw me, but eventually the truth caught up with me, and I had to learn to feel things as they were happening. It was a huge challenge, for I had never, until being in foster care, had the chance to experience my feelings in a safe environment. Feeling was something I viewed as dangerous and weak. I wanted to persevere. I wanted to be the one who did it all alone. Feelings became completely overwhelming and unintelligible for me. I had spent so long suppressing them, that if a feeling came up, I would go numb. The number I was, the further away I felt from myself.

It was at fourteen years old that I realized I could no longer persevere alone. I showed up to school one morning, something I hadn’t been doing very often, and ended up being sent away to a mental hospital by a guidance counselor who had become aware of how much I had been struggling. Terrified, I was forced back into my own skin, a place unfamiliar and lonely. While this was not the last time I would be sent away, being in the hospital taught me a lot about true bravery and strength. While being away in a safe space I began to face some of the demons that had brought me there in the first place. It gave me breathing room to begin to process some of the trauma I had faced growing up. It gave me the chance to learn how to take care of myself.

I can now see that strength comes in many forms. For me today, strength and courage come in the form allowing myself to be raw and to be seen. This is where the growth happens. This is where I can begin to heal. Through the love of the people who see me, I have been able to reclaim the love I’ve always wanted to have for myself. For a long time, my biggest hope was to want to want to feel safe. I realize now that I wanted to be okay the entire time; I just didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t think that someone like me, someone who came from dysfunction, someone who didn’t even feel connected to a body, could ever even consider the possibility of being safe. Today, I know it is possible to be safe in my skin. I am able to love and be loved in an authentic way. I am able to feel and to process the experiences of everyday life. I am able to live comfortably in my skin. Always Remember: YOU are LOVED. You are important! Most urgent of all, YOU ARE WORTH BEING SEEN.

I did not know Kat in that difficult period of her life, but all the work she has put into pursuing her truth over these years has given my friends and me one of the most authentic human beings we have been lucky enough to know. You ought to know her. I hope you get to meet her. I hope you can help her.

Opus 40

There are a handful of places and objects on the planet that photography under serves. Opus 40, in Saugerties, New York, is one of them. Built in an abandoned bluestone quarry in upstate New York by one man, Harvey Fite, Opus 40 is a contemporary American version of Stonehenge or the collection of Easter Island moai. It is one of my favorite places.

Photo by Tom Bookhout

An aerial view. Photo by Tom Bookhout

Fite was a sculptor and fine arts professor at nearby Bard College when he purchased the bluestone quarry. If you have ever walked on a sidewalk in Manhattan, you have walked on bluestone from this or a nearby location. Using the rubble that had not become NYC sidewalks, Fite filled one six-and-one-half-acre section with hand-laid circles of bluestone paths and ramps, leading nowhere and everywhere, from fifteen feet below the ground level up to the magnificent centerpiece, the obelisk, a nine-ton, three-story-tall single stone, which from different perspectives seems to point at the nearby Catskill Mountains, join with the range, or appear to be the reason the Catskills are there. And Fite did it all alone, using ancient techniques. At first intended to be a showcase for his sculpture, over the next 37 years the site itself became Fite’s life work. He died in 1976.

Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy the following year delivered a one-two punch to the sculpture park; Irene saturated the ground beneath the ramps and walls and Sandy’s damage included a collapse of a very tall support wall. Fite’s stepson and his family have engaged the efforts of master stonewallers and stonemasons, who are using those stones that fell and can still be fitted together and finding others from local quarries to repair the damage and rebuild the broken sections. Where possible, they will employ Fite’s own tools and techniques to complete the repairs.

An estimated $30,000 is needed to fund the first stage of the work, and here, non-ancient techniques are being employed: an Indiegogo campaign is currently underway to raise the funds. Almost two months remain in the campaign, and over $6000 of the $30,000 has been raised as of today. The website has details of the perks sponsors will receive in return for their financial help.

If I had not been a student at Marist College, where Harvey Fite’s stepson was teaching, I quite possibly would still not know of Opus 40’s existence, even though I live in the same county. My teacher-friend grew up at Opus 40 and still resides there. In the early ’90s, I attended a friend’s wedding at Opus and in the summer of 1998, I volunteered there, helping direct parking for that year’s music acts. The quarry is a natural amphitheater and the obelisk is an eye-grabbing stage set; the concerts that summer included a blues festival, Orleans, and Pat Metheny.

Here is a brief video of Orleans performing at Opus 40 from around that time period:

The video below, made for the fundraising campaign, documents some of the landmark’s artistic significance and its cultural importance—with clips of Sonny Rollins performing there and Steve Earle, Chevy Chase, and Bela Fleck speaking about Opus 40—and details the amazing work the stonemasons have already contributed to the restoration project.

And this video features my friend explaining in greater detail the history of the quarry, his step-father, and how Opus 40 came to be.