I’m Legit! Global Travel Website Recognition (and new Cuba content)!

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I’m overwhelmed and honored to say that my writing about traveling to Cuba has been recognized by FlightNetwork.com! Check out the article about the World’s Best once-in-a-lifetime Journeys for 2018 that just went live. I’m featured on the Judges page among esteemed global travel writers like National Geographic, Forbes, and USA TODAY!

I also wanted to share with you some unpublished pictures and unseen video from Havana and Matanzas, Cuba. Enjoy!

 I'm a sucker for a classic car in hot pink! Our guide introduced Drew and I to the local escuela community, and Havana's deep ties to artistic Afro-Cuban expression and Santeria. I’m a sucker for a classic car in hot pink! Our guide introduced Drew and I to the local escuela community, and Havana’s deep ties to artistic Afro-Cuban expression and Santeria.  We met this fantastic man JuanCarlos at a random cafe in Habana Vieja. He's been to Silicon Valley and said the invitation was open for us to stay with him at his home in San Jose, Costa Rica! We're tracking you down and taking you up on that offer JC. We met this fantastic man JuanCarlos at a random cafe in Habana Vieja. He’s been to Silicon Valley and said the invitation was open for us to stay with him at his home in San Jose, Costa Rica! We’re tracking you down and taking you up on that offer JC.

 Soooo many cats roaming in and around Havana. They're super friendly and chill! My tabby cat in San Francisco, CA is much more plump and is kind of a big jerk! Soooo many cats roaming in and around Havana. They’re super friendly and chill! My tabby cat in San Francisco, CA is much more plump and is kind of a big domesticated jerk!

 There's no denying the rich history and complicated political dissonance that deeply impact the people of Cuba. This mural was painted in recognition of the late Fidel Castro when he was freed from prison during the 26th of July movement.  There’s no denying the rich history and complicated political dissonance that deeply impact the people of Cuba. This mural was painted in recognition of the late Fidel Castro when he was freed from prison during the 26th of July movement.   One of the best snacks I have ever had! Fried chickpeas in the town of Matanzas–– a community which was virtually untouched by tourists when we stopped by.  One of the best snacks I have ever had! Fried chickpeas in the town of Matanzas–– a community which was virtually untouched by tourists when we stopped by.   Bookmaking still done by hand in Matanzas for more than 100 years!  Bookmaking still done by hand in Matanzas for more than 100 years!   Drew was called a Viking by the artist who drew this up while we ate dinner and listened to music al fresco. 

Drew was called a Viking by the artist who drew this up while we ate dinner and listened to music al fresco.   Delicioso Camarones y aguacate fresco anyone?! Yes please. Por supuesto!  Delicioso camarones y aguacate fresco anyone?! Yes please. Por supuesto!   This is just one of several great artwork exhibits I was in awe of at La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. A must see!  This is just one of several great artwork exhibits I was in awe of at La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. A must see!   The breathtaking view from the highway between Havana and Varadero! The breathtaking view from the highway between Havana and Varadero!

 A lovely server near the Mayabeque province lended us her lighter for those strong Cuban cigarettes. It was a beautiful design! A lovely woman near the Mayabeque province lent us her lighter for those strong Cuban cigarettes. It was a beautiful design!

High Anxiety: Why killing people with niceness isn’t always the best approach

I have to remember that I am not talking to a woman who is mentally well. For nearly her entire life, she’s suffered from debilitating anxiety, paranoia, mistrust, and depression. A “sad salad” if you will. Normally, a conversation like this wouldn’t affect me as much, and I can safely say that I can walk away from a tough conversation nowadays pretty unscathed. But the person I have been chatting with for the past ten minutes is my mother.

She started the conversation on an unassuming Monday morning yelling into the phone with her Filipina-American accent, “WE JUST CALLED TO MAKE SURE YOU WERE STILL ALIVE! YOU HAVE TO CALL US TO ONCE IN A WHILE!” Little does she realize, I can go without talking on the phone with her or my father for months at a time but it’s not a two-way street. I have to pick up the phone, post on her Facebook timeline, make an effort to calm her down so she doesn’t freak out and jump to conclusions about me being raped, conned, given a terminal diagnosis, and heaven forbid, eating too many carbs and meat!

I worry about my parents a lot- Mom more so these days. My Mom always, always tells me, instead of getting angry, just “kill them with niceness”. While that motto has served me well sometimes–– I’ve been able to get out of tense conversations about subjects like politics and racism with the phrase, “Well, if we can all learn to just see past color and be open to new ideas I think we would be okay as a society”–– I can’t help but think it could also adversely bury the anger and resentment you are feeling at the time. That frustration then builds and builds and builds and could eventually become the impetus for dealing with unaddressed, pent-up emotions.

As I quickly approach my 40’s, I find solace in the fact that I am just now starting to understand why people act out or say things the way that they do, including my elusive parents who worked their whole lives to pursue the “American Dream” and have American-born children. It doesn’t mean I am an expert on social understanding by any means. I just wish there was a class for that back in the 90’s. I have a working title–– Life Management. Or wait–– Not Killing Them With Niceness: A Field Guide to Life. I think I might just be onto something…

365 Covfefe Days Later: Comedy with a Cause

 The Organizing for Action San Francisco Team (from left): Leila Harmon (me), Alisha Qiu, Emily Boyd, Logan Evasco, Angelica Ramirez; Hospitality House Development Manager Tess Davis  The Organizing for Action San Francisco Team (from left): Leila Harmon (me), Alisha Qiu, Emily Boyd, Logan Evasco, Angelica Ramirez; Hospitality House Development Manager Tess Davis

Now that all the turkey and leftovers have been digested, it’s time for a little reminder of just how fast this year has flown by. I’m so not ready for Christmas yet!

For many of us, myself included, 2017 has been a tough, trying and super political year. So to keep the momentum of community organizing going, I wanted to update you on the results of Organizing for Action San Francisco’s free comedy show and donation drive for our friends at Hospitality House.

 Comedian Samantha Gilweit Comedian Samantha Gilweit

The Nov. 9th event raised an impressive $190 in cash donations and a big pile of in-kind donations to help those living on the streets get through these cold winter months.

 Comedian Joe Gorman  Comedian Joe Gorman 

Nearly 40 people came out to PianoFight for a night of laughs with our fantastic guest comedians Drew Harmon, Joe Gorman, Samantha Gilweit, Valerie Vernale, and Matt Gubser. The comics kindly donated their time but OFA made sure to give them each Participation Ribbons to celebrate their special comedy snowflake-ness.

 Comedian and Host Drew Harmon  Comedian and Host Drew Harmon

We also want to send out a special thank you to Tess Davis, Development Manager at Hospitality House for collecting all the donations, and Development Director Allan Manalo for stopping by to support us!

 Comedian Valerie Vernale  Comedian Valerie Vernale

For those of you who still want to donate new basic necessities, click here for more information. Since Hospitality House does not take used items, you can still drop them off at the nearby St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco.

 Comedian Matt Gubser  Comedian Matt Gubser 

Until next time…

Charlottesville: Just the beginning. What do Americans do now?

 Photo by jcarillet/iStock / Getty Images Photo by jcarillet/iStock / Getty Images

UPDATE October 13, 2017: 3 Alt-Right Leaders Found Guilty in Charlottesville Riots

https://www.thedailybeast.com/3-alt-right-leaders-found-guilty-in-charlottesville-riots?via=newsletter&source=DDAfternoon

For the last few weeks, I have been trying to wrap my head around the events and controversy surrounding the deadly attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. I went out looking for answers and found myself attending a Commonwealth Club Roundtable discussion in San Francisco. This is what I learned.

First, the important backstory. On August 11, 2017, a group of white nationalists held a march and rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. They were met by a large number of counter-protesters and in the next morning, at this normally liberal-leaning, white college town, a man drove into that group of people, killing a woman and injuring dozens of others. The event and aftermath became what’s being called a “self-inflicted political injury” to President Trump, and reaction nationwide has been dramatic on both sides of the aisle.

 Dan Borenstein (far right), Columnist and Editorial Writer, East Bay Times/Bay City News Group with Martin G. Reynolds (second to right), Co-executive Director, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, followed by Dr. James Taylor, University of San Francisco Political Science Professor, and John Zipperer, Vice President of Media & Editorial, Commonwealth Club  Dan Borenstein (far right), Columnist and Editorial Writer, East Bay Times/Bay City News Group with Martin G. Reynolds (second to right), Co-executive Director, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, followed by Dr. James Taylor, University of San Francisco Political Science Professor, and John Zipperer, Vice President of Media & Editorial, Commonwealth Club

“We are in a historically significant moment,” said Dr. James Taylor, Director of African American Studies and Professor of Political Science, University of San Francisco.  “There are things young people are experiencing on the streets now that MLK and his generation could not deal with and never had to deal with that require new narratives to address these issues,” according to Taylor.

“The selection of Charlottesville was intentional because it’s a smaller college town and there was an expectation that other people they would run into would be other, white liberals,” said Martin G. Reynolds, Co-executive Director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and Director of Reveal Investigative Fellowships, The Center for Investigative Reporting. White nationalists didn’t go to other cities like Dallas and New Orleans where other Confederate monuments were taken down.

“Had they gone (to those cities), the reality is they probably would have faced more African Americans in that protest. They were seeking to deracialize the conflict and make it seem this is about patriotism, not racism,” Reynolds said.

Now it’s polo shirts and chinos

 University of San Francisco Political Science Professor Dr. James Taylor talks about the history of the white nationalist movement.  University of San Francisco Political Science Professor Dr. James Taylor talks about the history of the white nationalist movement.

“Clearly we’re seeing they’ve become much more sophisticated. The days of the robes are gone for the most part,” said Dan Borenstein, Columnist and Editorial Writer for the East Bay Times/Bay Area News Group. “We’ve seen it in Berkeley and now San Francisco. The question is how do you react to it? How do most people react to this abhorrent message?”, Borenstein asked.

“What (the white nationalists) got was what  they wanted. They got media attention. They got engagement. They got conflict which raises a much bigger question, how do you react to that?”, he said. The answer is “Don’t engage. What they want more than anything else is to have an engagement that generates publicity. They control the message and that’s the best recruiting tool they could hope for. I think falling into that trap would be horrible and what I fear will happen this weekend in SF,” said Borenstein. As of this writing, there are several counter-demonstrations planned in light of what’s being billed as an event to promote free speech by the group “Patriot Prayer” at Alamo Square in San Francisco.  More on the founder here. You can also find a list of rallies, counter-demonstrations, and alternatives to protesting here!

“The key is to keep (these events) peaceful. To me, if you engage it and it becomes a violent protest, it plays right into the Trump (ideology),” Borenstein said.

Life After Hate

Others are not quite so sure about what to do, especially those whose job it is to present the story to the public in an unbiased manner.

“Looking at it from the perspective of a journalist, as I watch (President Trump) say what he said about how racism is bad and putting it in very simple terms, the actions of this administration have been counter to that,” Reynolds points out. Reynolds talked about one of the guests on Al Letson’s Peabody award-winning podcast and radio program called Reveal. On it, one of the co-founders of the organization known as “Life After Hate”, Christian Picciolini, shared his story and how life as a skinhead that started when he was just 16 years old ultimately changed him forever after one violent confrontation with a young African American man in Chicago.

“While kicking him and beating him, (the man) looked up into (Christian’s) eyes and had a connection for that one moment. He realized he needed to get out of that,” Reynolds said.

“You rarely change someone’s mind when you punch em’ in the face so this notion we have to look at racists sort of angrily is problematic,” Reynolds explained.

Reynolds said “Life After Hate” was one of the groups awarded a $400,000 Homeland Security grant to continue their work before President Obama left office. “Lo and behold, when Trump went into office, that grant was rescinded,” Reynolds said. Additionally, “Out of all the groups who applied and had their grants rescinded, they were the only organization that focused on white extremism,” Reynolds said. “When (President Trump) goes from these speeches, from teleprompter to real Trump and back again, the reality is journalists have to call that because the actions of the administration are running counter to the very claims that he is making.”

“After listening to Trump’s description of white nationalists/nazis and you quickly realize the difficulty of getting out (of it) is like a gang, “according to Borenstein. “Once in, it’s almost impossible to get out. The last thing we want to do is put up physical barriers or walls that drive them deeper into this,” Borenstein said.

The Power of Presence

So how should people in the Bay Area react?

“(Through) the numbers, the demonstrations, the outpouring (of support),” said Taylor. “What we’ve seen Donald Trump do very forcefully and effectively is unify and democratize elements of this society that had not been mobilized for a long time. Many women responded and have stayed engaged since January that had not been engaged in the political process before,” according to Taylor.

He pointed out the mass show of solidarity in Boston shortly after the Charlottesville attack. “Just showing up as 20,000 silent observers in Boston who didn’t know exactly how to deal with this issue before us. We are here to say this is wrong and that had a powerful effect,” Taylor said.

To understand the Future, look at the Past

“Racial polarization is deeply ingrained in American politics in terms of our party system alone,” Taylor said. “Nothing else explains American (political) parties better than race. Not gender, not sexuality, not income, not region, not wealth. They’ve changed their names over the years, but both are shaped by ‘where is the Negro’, ‘where is the working class white?'”, said Taylor.

He went on to say that the National Football League made a choice by bringing back country singer and songwriter Hank Williams on Monday night football. “We are ignoring the African Americans who are concerned about what (people like) Colin Kaepernick are trying to articulate,” explained Taylor. “Through the specific stanzas in the National Anthem, (Kaepernick) exposed the racism and black defeat in this pledge. What Williams represents is an appeal to Nascar (fans) and the working class element of whites that our political system has had a hard time bringing together,” Taylor said.

“To think that we’re going to get some new religion suddenly, to change this after 150 years where these people identify themselves based on the hate of blacks specifically… polls show Trump support has a strong anti-black effect.”

 Moderator John Zipperer leads the discussion on Charlottesville, VA at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco Moderator John Zipperer leads the discussion on Charlottesville, VA at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco

The Notion of Terror

Reynolds said another problem is the lack and unwillingness from law enforcement and public officials to call what happened in Charlottesville an act of domestic terrorism, especially when you combine this with the increase in hate crimes since President Trump took office.

“The authorities are reticent to call it (domestic terrorism),” Reynolds said. “So then, as journalists, we’re often reticent to call this domestic terrorism. That needs to change. We need to take a hard look at what terrorism (is),” Reynolds said.

“I don’t know that people of color can tell white folks what to do to stop being racist. And frankly, it’s not our job,” Reynolds explained. “To me, the real racism is the systemic and institutional racism that we need to address. It’s what we’re taught. (We need to) train journalists to recognize their own bias. It’s going to take time.”

 President Trump announces an increase in U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. August 21, 2017  President Trump announces an increase in U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. August 21, 2017

Up in the Air

Another hot topic is talking about what to do to next with those controversial Confederate statues.

“The Confederate monuments had very little to do with the 1860s and the Civil War and had more to do with the assertion of Jim Crow terror,” Taylor explained. “These monuments served as a warning to African Americans in the 1920s in and outside the South that a certain sentiment is supported here. The beauty of today is people are starting to bring up these ghosts from the past,” according to Taylor.

“Instead of dismantling them, put a statue of Frederick Douglass in place wherever there’s a Confederate monument like Jackie Robinson at baseball stadiums to contextualize history so we can learn more,” Taylor said.

Special thanks to Riki Rafner and John Zipperer with the Commonwealth Club for giving me access to attend the event and provide this coverage.