Jul. 14, 2009

Latina Worker

by Doren Robbins

Then I notice through a triple-Americano-awakening moment,
in the mall food court, a young Latina cleaning around by the chrome rail
at Sbarro Pizza. Maybe a Guatemalan, possibly Salvadoran or

could've been Argentinean or Columbian, Chilean, Bolivian,
Panamanian—good chance a Peruvian, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Mayan,
Toltec, Sephardic, Huichol coffee plantation or U.S. Fruit Company

or tobacco company or auto industry slave labor robot or CIA-trained
death squad Guardia Nacional butchery massacre survivor.

Several tables down from mine--roughly stacking chairs on tops
of tables—cussing in Spanish, in the mall food court, she hates her job,
I hate her job.

"Latina Worker" by Doren Robbins, from My Piece of the Puzzle. © Eastern Washington University Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Isaac Bashevis Singer, (books by this author) born in Leoncin, Poland (1904).  He grew up in a religious family and when Isaac was 10, his older brother gave him his first nonreligious book, a copy of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (1866) translated into Yiddish. His father had forbidden books that weren't about religion, but Isaac and his brother read all sorts of folktales and satires by Yiddish, Russian, and French writers in secret.

At age 31, Isaac moved to America to rejoin his brother, who had become a successful writer in New York. But Isaac could only write in Yiddish, so he had to depend on selling his work to the Jewish Daily Forward on a free-lance basis. The first collection of his stories to be translated into English, Gimpel the Fool, was published in 1957.

He was awarded the Newbery Honor Book Award for his first children's book, Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, and was given the Nobel Prize in literature in 1978.

It's the birthday of playwright and novelist Irving Stone, (books by this author) born in San Francisco, California (1903). As a young man, he visited Paris and stumbled upon an exhibition of the work of Vincent van Gogh. It inspired him to write Lust for Life (1934), a novel about the life of Van Gogh. He then wrote a number of biographical novels about historical figures, like Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin. His most famous novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961), tells the story of the life of the painter Michelangelo.

Today is Bastille Day. It's France's national holiday that commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. The Bastille was a fortress in Paris that had been a place where political dissidents were sometimes held for arbitrary offenses at the command of the king. But on this day in 1789, the fortress-prison housed only seven prisoners and none of them were actually political dissidents. Still, for the French people, the Bastille had become a symbol of the royal tyranny they needed to overthrow.

Revolutionaries gathered at the base of the fortress in the morning, and just after lunchtime they stormed the Bastille. After hours of bloody skirmishes inside the fortress, 98 of the revolutionary attackers had died and only one of the fort's defender guards had been killed. But the French government's commander, fearing an all-out massacre, had surrendered. The revolutionary forces stabbed him, decapitated him, and put his head on a pike to carry around in victory.

It was a catalyst for other events of the French Revolution: Soon, feudalism was abolished, and then the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" was proclaimed. One year after the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the French established the holiday "Fête de la Fédération," or Feast of the Federation, to celebrate the successful end of the French Revolution, with a constitutional monarchy they'd just established. But France was still a long way away from a modern democratic republic. A few years later came the Reign of Terror, in which French citizens executed Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette and other fellow French citizens. And then in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte seized power and declared himself emperor.

Today is also the 14th of July Revolution in Iraq, celebrating the day in 1958 in which the Iraqi military overthrew the King of Iraq.

It was a military coup to replace the monarch, King Faisal II. King Faisal was largely propped up by the British government, making and upholding alliances with the British that Iraqis resented. He consulted his own cabinet ministers and seemed to be earnest about ruling the nation well, but some of his policies helped fuel a growing disparity between rich and poor.  There was unrest and revolution in neighboring Arab countries in the early 1950s:  Egypt had shed the British monarchy and declared itself a republic in 1953, and Egypt and Syria and allied themselves into the United Arab Republic.   Calls for pan-Arab nationalism swept across the region.  The King of Jordan, worried about anti-Western uprisings in nearby Lebanon possibly moving into his own stable country, called over to pro-western King Faisal in Iraq for some military reinforcement help.

So the Iraqi military was dispatched and started on its way to Jordan.  They had to pass by Baghdad, the seat of Iraq’s government, to get Jordan.  The Iraqi military commanders leading these brigades were committed Iraqi Nationalists who resented the British-allied regime.  And on this day in 1958, the military commanders conspired with their army brigades en route to Jordan and diverted them instead into Baghdad. They marched into the city, seized control of the state broadcasting station, and over the airwaves they denounced Britain and King Faisal. They proclaimed that Iraq was now an independent republic and would soon hold elections for president.

They went into the Royal Palace and executed the king and his family, who had actually surrendered already. Two weeks after the revolution, a new constitution was drawn up for Iraq.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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