30 years ago today: The massacre at McDonald’s in San Ysidro

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Inside Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, where many of the 21 victims were memorialized

 

You can see Mexico from just outside the hilltop of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in San Ysidro

You can see Mexico from just outside the hilltop of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in San Ysidro

It’s been very challenging, but I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about the massacre thirty years ago at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California.  The anniversary of that awful day is today.

In March, I visited the site to talk with people who were involved with the enormous task of helping the community to heal.

Sadly, mass shootings in public places have become something that’s become all too common, but back in 1984, it was a shocking event that gripped the nation.  At the time, it was the worst such massacre in our nation’s history.

The sculpture erected on the site of the former McDonald's in San Ysidro, now a community college.

The sculpture erected on the site of the former McDonald’s in San Ysidro, now a community college.

The names of those killed by the gunman, James Huberty.

The names of those killed by the gunman, James Huberty.

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The former site of the McDonald’s where the massacre took place is now a community college

There’s a strong Joan Kroc connection here, which is the reason for my interest: Mrs. Kroc helped the families of the victims’ in an important, and compassionate way.  She gave the initial donation to the victim’s fund, to help those who couldn’t pay for burials and other expenses associated with lost income.  Then, she spent time in the border town visiting with the locals to hear their stories.  You wouldn’t necessarily expect an heiress to go mingle with poor, despondent people.  But that’s the kind of person Joan Kroc was.

She was even, controversially, compassionate toward the widow of the gunman, James Huberty, who had (unsuccessfully) sought counseling the day before he went on the rampage and took so many lives.

Sharing photos today of the place in memory of the people who died, and to remind us how the underlying issues of mental health and gun control are ones that have been part of the public dialogue for some time–with very little progress made.

After much public outcry, McDonald's agreed not to re-open on the site of the tragedy, but instead set up shop up the street

After much public outcry, McDonald’s agreed not to re-open on the site of the tragedy, but instead set up shop up the street. The corporation donated the land of the original site to the city.

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Compassion Cards: An innovative way to help the hungry

Artwork by Jim Hodges

Artwork by Jim Hodges

Reader Rebecca Strong of Seattle wrote this week to share a wonderful idea she’s been enacting when she sees people on the street asking for money.  I asked if I might abridge her email for this blog, and she agreed.  This is something we practice here in Los Angeles, too.  Just as it feels great to feed someone you love, so too does it feel great to give a meal to someone you don’t know—who needs it:

“I wanted to be compassionate, but I was uneasy about giving out money because, as a petite, middle-aged woman, I was uncomfortable opening my wallet to hand out money when walking alone in the city. I wanted to help people buy food or other necessities, but I worried that money might be used to buy drugs and alcohol. At the same time, I didn’t want to judge anyone as being more or less likely to buy drugs and alcohol, or more or less worthy of receiving help from me.

I asked my favorite Real Change vendor who sells his papers outside the Walgreen’s in my neighborhood for advice. (Real Change is a newspaper and organization that exists to provide opportunity and a voice for low-income and homeless people in Seattle.) He told me about one very cold morning when he was homeless and hungry. A man he did not know offered to buy him a hot breakfast. Together they went to a supermarket. Standing before a case of hot food in the deli, the hungry man chose what he wanted to eat, and the kind stranger paid for it. The man remembered every detail of that meal, and he said it was the most delicious food he had ever eaten. His suggestion to me was to purchase gift cards for restaurants like McDonalds and give them to the people on the streets who ask for money.

Since I don’t eat in fast food restaurants myself, and since I wanted to give people who might prefer healthier options the ability to choose their own food, I came up with the idea of giving supermarket gift cards instead.

So now I regularly purchase $5.00 gift cards from local supermarkets and food co-ops, and I keep them in my jacket pocket. Whenever I encounter someone out on the street who is asking for money, I offer a card. I explain that it is a gift card worth $5.00 to buy food. Most people are surprised, delighted, and grateful to receive a card for buying food. It seems to me that these gift cards are an ideal way to be compassionate towards people who have no money to buy food.

In my own mind, I call the supermarket gift cards I give out Compassion Cards because they allow me to be compassionate towards the needy people I encounter in the city. When I give a Compassion Card to someone on the street, although it is a brief encounter, it is a meaningful experience. It is an opportunity for me to offer help and for someone to receive my help in a personal way. It is uplifting for both of us.”

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A sacred thangkha, commissioned by the 8th Dalai Lama, on rare display

-1On Friday, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena will open an exhibit called In the Land of Snow: Buddhist Art of the Himalayas.  The centerpiece of this show is a majestic thangkha, 300 years old, 22 feet tall and 16 feet wide, that was commissioned by the 8th Dalai Lama for his tutor.  You must see it in person to believe it.

Click here to read and hear the story I did for KCRW about the history of this rare piece, which has only been shown twice in the last 40 years (and not much before that.)  The curator, Melody Rod-Ari, does a beautiful job of explaining how the thangkha was made, and why it’s relevant–and powerful for your karma.

There are other Buddhist artifacts on display, too, but they are dwarfed, literally and figuratively by the scroll and its unusual display.

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Land-of-Snow-Full2

 

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Opera in Bhutan

The remote kingdom of Bhutan boasts distinctive traditional music and culture, which the government has long been committed to preserving (lest it be watered down or eliminated by, say, the incursion of contemporary pop music.)  Which is what makes this partnership between opera-lovers and the kingdom particularly interesting.  Led by a team from Rome, these classically trained Western musicians staged an opera (Handel’s Acis and Galatea) in a historic setting in Bhutan this past fall.

ImageClick on this link to see a short video by filmmaker Tao Ruspoli (who happens to a descendent of a patron of Handel’s) about their recent historic efforts.

 

 

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Bhutan: Cheaper to visit than NYC?

My friend (who is a tour operator) Lotay sent me this story this morning declaring the Kingdom of Bhutan cheaper to visit than, say, New York City.  That is….if you don’t use a pricey tour operator (if you’ve ever investigated, you’ve found that some charge a thousand bucks a day for a visit.)

Of course, there’s no other comparison between Bhutan and NYC–two radically different places in every way, especially as far as vacation destinations!  And depending on where you’re coming from, you have to factor in airfare, which can be considerable.  But it’s a good point not to be scared away by the “tourist tariff” Bhutan charges (and a nice plug for Lotay’s services.  He’s a swell guy, by the way.)Image.

The mention was on a list from a blog called Compass and Camera.

 

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American dream becomes nightmare for Bhutanese refugees

My friend TP Mishra wrote this article for the Wall Street Journal about the issue of suicide among resettled refugees.  It’s an important issue.  (Meanwhile, the suicide rate inside Bhutan is up at an alarming rate, as well.)  

http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/01/07/american-dream-becomes-nightmare-for-bhutanese-refugees/

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Chain Reaction: St. Joan and the Fast Food Fortune

ImageNew year, new topic: Although not that new, to me.  I’ve been immersed in my research about Joan Kroc for two years now, and am ready to ‘come out’ and talk about it, just as I delve deeply into the writing of my book about her.

ImageOn Saturday, January 18th, please join me at the beautiful Insight LA center in Santa Monica, where I’ll tell the story of this remarkable woman’s connection to an art work just blocks away–which inspired me to dig into her backstory, and how she became one of the greatest (and least-recognized) philanthropists of our time.

Details, click here

 

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Phajoding, Bhutan

…is a very special place in a land filled with special, beautiful places.  The photographer Jesse Montes captures this monastery, perched in a sacred spot, particularly well. (And you can read more about it here.)

I let my mind go back to scenes like these whenever the stress and sensory demands of the city are overwhelming.

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My personal year-in-review (is less about me than others)

photoAs so many of us are contemplating what we want out of the new year that’s dawning, I found myself making a list of what I managed to get accomplished over the last year, which happened to be my 50th.

While I didn’t do anything that by conventional standards was notable or headline-worthy (no bestsellers, no blockbuster deals, no gorgeous bouncing babies, house purchases, etc.) I was happy to see, in review, that it’s been productive–and more importantly, productive in a way that helps other people, my own personal mandate.

(Note: Only one of the things on this list involves making money.  Also note: This list is not in any particular order.)

Women of the DWC bake for their coffeeshop

Women of the DWC bake for their coffeeshop

1. The cooking group I lead at the Downtown Women’s Center (for women in need) helped them win a $25k grant from the Halo Foundation. We can’t solve homelessness by making dinner for people in need, but we can feel a part of our community and provide a healthy meal for those who don’t have access to what most of us take for granted.  Even better that we stoked their coffers, too.

2. I researched and spearheaded a movement that led to a rent abatement for over 100 of our neighbors due to the loss of our beloved swimming pool and other services here on my beloved Bunker Hill.  (I also managed to keep swimming, elsewhere.)

3. Working with another neighbor, we managed to clean up a deteriorating area of our community and involve/alert local officials, as well as draw media attention to the problem.

4. I’ve been working with Bhutanese refugees to help them with their all-volunteer media service that chronicles their resettlement around the world, a fascinating experience for me and important work for them.  Very interesting counterpoint to what I encountered while in Bhutan volunteering at a radio station there.

Academy of our Lady of Peace goes to Bhutan

Academy of our Lady of Peace examines Shangri-La

5. Of all the interesting places where I am fortunate to be asked to talk about the themes in my book, Radio Shangri-La, an all-girls Catholic school in San Diego and a gathering of hundreds of youth at the Kroc Peace Center were two highlights.  Love talking to kids.

6. I interviewed Deepak Chopra and his brother Dr. Sanjiv in front of 500 people at an Episcopalian church.

7. I interviewed Michaela Haas, the author of a compelling book about female Buddhist spiritual leaders, at a meditation center.

Vince at the gleaming Marlins stadium

Vince at the gleaming Marlins stadium

8. Along with my brother and boyfriend, we wrangled my parents and elderly aunt to a baseball game (a dream of theirs to see the new stadium in Miami.)  Later in the summer, we corralled my boyfriend’s infirm mother for a fun outing that involved ice cream and “freaking unbelievable hamburgers.”  Seeing her laugh was worth the entire trip.

9. I’ve read a lot, lot, lot, partially for my research on my Joan Kroc book but partially just because, which makes me happy especially when I hear people complain they don’t have time to read; I feel lucky that I do make time for this.

10. My part-time paying job, at KCRW, allows me to meet and talk with incredibly interesting people doing incredibly interesting things, usually having to do with art, usually mostly underfunded and otherwise unpublicized. Being able to share those conversations with the radio-listening and Web-viewing public is an honor and a delight.  It’s a rewarding (to me) application of my media background–which I resolved to put to better use after my book sold and allowed me to “retire” from daily news back in 2008.

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The power of media: All-volunteer Bhutan News Service, run virtually, keeps refugees up on the diaspora

The all-volunteer Bhutan News Service is hosting a training session in Pittsburgh this weekend.  Exiles from Bhutan make up the largest population of refugee newcomers to that city, so it’s a logical location.

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About 83-thousand refugees, resettled from camps along the Nepali border in a dispute that dates back over 20 years, are scattered around the world, but the majority (70-thousand) have been brought to the US in the last several years.

BNS is an online-only concern, with contributors sending in reports from around the world.  (Its current editor, Buddha Mani Dhakal, resides in Kentucky.)  The idea is to keep the refugees connected as they’ve been resettled, both with news of what’s happening inside Bhutan, as democracy takes root there–and with information about what the refugees are facing as they build new lives.  Suicide, for one thing, is high among the relocated refugees.

Of course, the information exiled Bhutanese are most interested in is whether officials in Bhutan will engage in discussions to resettle them in-country, or to even acknowledge their existence.  (Most Bhutanese dispute that the people in question were ever actually citizens.)  That kind of news is rare.

ImageImageSince I first went to Bhutan to volunteer with the first non-governmental radio station Kuzoo FM in January 2007, I’ve slowly unearthed the previously little-told story of the southern Bhutanese.   Just as I felt privileged to volunteer with young journalists at the dawn of democratic rule in Bhutan, (as the media landscape was just beginning and a newly drafted Constitution guaranteed freedom of the press,) I feel lucky to be in touch with the refugee population, too.

Today, in a session we held via Skype, I had the curious responsibility of explaining to the group (from my home in Los Angeles) what media are like today in modern Bhutan.  See, many of the younger contributors to BNS have never set foot in the country–they were born in refugee camps.  None of the constituency has been there since long before 1999, when TV was first introduced into Bhutan. I felt an awesome weight on my shoulders, for having witnessed and experienced what I have as a third party.

After 30 years in journalism, I’m often cynical about the state of the profession.  But knowing this group of people, who take the incredible responsibility of informing the world about their situation and using media as a glue to hold them together, makes me feel the incredible power of communication.  I believe that power will yield some sort of resolution to this long-standing dispute, hopefully sooner rather than later–as Bhutan changes, as the world changes, as we all change.

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