When is a White Person Not a White Person? When She’s an Arab.

maxresdefaultA couple days ago I heard a story on NPR. Apparently, according to the next census, I’ll no longer be a white person. I’ll be MENA (Middle Eastern North African).

I mentioned this to my daughter. She said, “I thought you never were white.”

I explained that legally, I was. 22 years before I was born, Arabs were legally recognized as “white” by the United States of American.

“Yeah, but no one thinks of Arabs as white,” she said. (She’s Latina).

When you look at me, you would probably say, “Hey, that lady is white.” That’s because my mom’s parents were German. I got her coloring.

In the US, to be considered a Native American, instead of a generic white American, you have to be 1/16th Native. That’s one great-grandparent.

Historically, to be black you only needed “one drop” of African blood.

I’m half Arabic. A full 50%. My dad was fully Middle Eastern. An immigrant from Lebanon. Speaking Arabic.  Had an Arabic name: Salim. Grew up in Beirut. Was a tank gunner in the Christian Militia. Had Palestinian friends. Summered in Syria.

I inherited my dad’s nose. He said I looked like his mother, the grandmother I never met because she disowned him when he married my Germanic mom.

I said to a friend, “I don’t even know why this is bothering me. Why would I even want to be white? Especially right now, with all the ugly white supremacy stuff going on.”

My friend, a Jewish woman whose ancestors escaped some Nazi-benighted Eastern European country said, “Because white is safe.”

According to the NPR story, it became necessary to designate Middle Eastern North African peoples as MENA because there were just too many “Some Other Race” people in the last census.

But I can’t help wondering why, when the last census was taken in 2010, President Obama’s administration didn’t find it necessary to take care of that “problem” by designating Arabs as MENA then. Maybe he didn’t think an undesignated “Some Other Race” was such a big deal, being mixed race as he was.

I did some reading. The MENA idea has been kicking around for a while, but this is the first administration to seriously consider it. Congress still has to vote on it in 2018 to make it definite. I wonder which way it will go, and what it will mean.

MENA sounds so benign. I can imagine naming a daughter that, maybe with a different spelling—I assume it’s pronounced “Mee-nah”. It even sounds sort of Arabic.

On a related note: I found it a little troubling to hear about my possible MENA designation on the same weekend I heard about the new VOICE initiative.

VOICE (Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement) is the brainchild of Steve Bannon, voiced by DJT. It’s the latest in his white supremacy government propaganda push, inspired by Hitler’s Jewish Crimes List. Interestingly, the Third Reich started reporting Jewish crime separately from non-Jewish crime after putting in place the Nuremburg Race Laws.



DJT: Revisiting Operation Wetback


This week the kids and I are up near the Canadian border, and the other night I found myself in conversation with an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent. I mentioned that we lived in a city with lots of mixed status families, and I was concerned about DJT’s crackdown on immigrants. Specifically, what would happen to the children who were citizens if their parents were deported?

Now, I can’t be sure what is policy and what is this particular ICE agent’s opinion, but he said a few things that were troubling.

He said the kids would be deported along with their parents unless they have a close relative with papers who can act as guardian.

He said he could see a situation in which the kids are taken off the school bus and put directly into another bus for deportation.

He said when people are deported, all their property is left behind. They can try to get someone  to claim it for them, but mostly “it just rots”.

He said officials were “emptying beds” in detention centers right now, preparing for the mass deportation order.

He said “The planes are waiting.”

He said, “The model is Operation Wetback.”

But here’s the interesting part: his information on Operation Wetback was based on the myth that particular operation had grown into. Not on its facts.

According to internet myth and this particular ICE agent, “in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexican Nationals…so WWII and Korean Veterans would have a better chance at jobs. It took 2 Years…” and was a massive success, that Trump will easily repeat.

But, with very little research, I found that Operation Wetback was, in fact, 10 times smaller,  and it was considered a failure by many, and was, without a doubt, a humanitarian crisis. Deportees dropped off in the desert with no water died of heat stroke. “Slave ship” conditions on the boats used to transport deportees resulted in deaths by drowning.

Nevertheless, this agent, a rational, generally nice guy, will carry out whatever repeat of this nightmare DJT orders. As will his fellow agents. Because  it is too much to expect someone who has been groomed to follow orders, who has been chosen because of his ability to do so, would suddenly question authority.

Are we to believe this one agent? (Maybe he’s an outlier–maybe this isn’t going to happen). But if he’s telling the truth, the takeaway is this:

  • If you are in a mixed-status family, make sure you have identified someone in your extended family that your citizen children can go to if you want them to remain in the US.
  • Identify someone who will be able to go into your house and retrieve your belongings and send them to you when you are back in your country of origin.
  • Figure out how you will get your money out of your US bank accounts from a remote location.
  • If you can, get a reputable immigration lawyer now, and get your papers in order now.


For those of us that are citizens, we have to consider what we can do to protect our neighbors. I’m afraid the “Muslim Ban” was a dress rehearsal. We responded admirably and put a stop to that nonsense. Nevertheless, Bannon/DJT may push on. Right now, deportations of non-criminal immigrants are ramping up. So we must remain vigilant. And we can not let horror and exhaustion get the best of us. Stay involved. Don’t give up. We are on the right side of history.



Writing the Resistance


This weekend I had a chance to take a break from politics and attend the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 18th Annual International Conference in New York. It was my first time, and everyone was so warm and welcoming.

On the first day,  Fish in a Tree author Linda Mullaly Hunt spoke with me at the Friday Professional Author’s forum, and  Jodi Kendall (whose book The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City is out October 2017) and Marcie Colleen  (who writes the Super Happy Party Bears chapter books, among others) took me to Grand Central Station’s food court for lunch.

Mathew Winner (of All the Wonders podcast and blog), was so knowledgeable about social media, and so open to meeting new, awkward people like me.  Erica S. Perl (Ferocious Fluffety and many more), said hello on that first day and kept letting me hang around whenever I felt awkward. Ellen Hopkins, of Crank and Traffick fame, chatted with me at the Saturday night get together when it was clear I had no idea who she was, and when I finally realized it and fell all over myself apologizing (I knew her books, but not her face, and she had no name tag), she  graciously let it slide.

But it was’t just about schmoozing and self-promotion. And it wasn’t just about writing craft. As the weekend went on, it was clear that the unstated themes of the conference were Bravery, Diversity, and Empathy. Over and over, the keynote illustrators and writers  were moved to talk about their response to the current political and emotional climate in this country. Bryan Colliers moved us to tears as he talked about the illustrations in Knock Knock, a picture book about a boy separated from his father. He spoke of how each of us saw that child every day, separated from a parent by death, deportation, incarceration, or simply “gone”, and how our empathy for that child’s story changes lives. Cynthia Leitich Smith had us examine how we depicted diversity in our books, and she gave me a lot to think about with regards to identity and the Own Voices movement.

The editors and agents and authors repeatedly revisited the idea that when we bravely and empathetically tell stories about diverse children, we make space for them in a troubling and sometimes hostile world, and that in times like these, that is more important than ever. Diversity means all kinds of things–nearly every one in this country has some hyphen, whether it’s based on religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, regional or socio-economic factors. Sara Pennypacker summed it up in the closing keynote, when she spoke of each of our efforts as “positive acts of creation” that remove one drop of evil from the world.

In times of crisis, writing and reading children’s books can seem frivolous,  chatting about our art can seem self-indulgent. But we need to dream better versions of the world before we can realize better versions of the world,  and art for children is the first step. Children grown on diverse voices get used to diversity, and are far less likely to vote for hate in the future. By bravely writing about diverse people with empathy, we write the resistance.





DJT Day 20: Nevertheless, She Persisted



Have you noticed how DJT and his allies keep trying to shut us up?

President Bannon told the media to “keep its mouth shut”.

When Alec Baldwin hurt his feelings, DJT said SNL should be canceled.

Conway wanted to know when reporters who called her on her lies (she calls this talking “smack” as opposed to telling the truth) will be fired.

And Sean Spicer complained that Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of him “crossed over into mean”. (I couldn’t help but wonder if her funny skit was meaner than keeping a 4-year-old in need of emergency heart surgery out of the US because he’s Iranian.  )

Today DJT decided Nordstrom was treating his daughter “unfairly” for dropping her fashion line.  Well, if our actual votes don’t count, shouldn’t we be allowed to vote with our wallets? Last I heard, the Supreme Court decided that corporate spending is a form of free speech. Doesn’t that count for individual citizens too?

And now, Coretta Scott Kings words aren’t allowed on the Senate floor. How is it possible that the Republican Party has so forgotten itself, that it actually wants to muzzle free speech ?

But we won’t shut up.

In the wake of this “appalling” election, Paul Auster finally decided to become president of  PEN America (an organization dedicated to freedom of expression). He said in an interview, ‘I’m going to speak out as often as I can, otherwise I can’t live with myself’.

Well, I think many of us feel the same way.

Last night our little Indivisible Group met for a second time. We’ve grown from 10 to over 50. We’re going to keep growing. Today many of us faxed Coretta Scott King’s words to all the Republican Senators.

Even though I know they’ll vote Sessions in on party lines, I hope they get the message.

They may warn us. They may give us an explanation. Nevertheless, we will persist.


















Day 14: 2 Weeks of Madness

rs-jon-stewart-colbert-86db6124-ec05-4c7b-a6d8-4c4f503f358e“All actions will be necessary and, if we do not allow Donald Trump to exhaust our fight and somehow come through this presidency calamity-less, and constitutionally partially intact, then I, Donald J. Trump, will have demonstrated the greatness of this democracy – just not the way I thought I was gonna.” Jon Stewart on Colbert.

I have a serious crush on Jon Stewart. It’s okay for a woman of a certain age. And I think what he says completely sums up how I’m feeling.


In two weeks, I’ve gotten together with a group of like-minded women in town and we’ve started an Indivisible group. We’ve done a crash course in community organizing, written a mission statement, drawn up guidelines and operating principles.  I’ve had to learn how to use Facebook to communicate. I’ve been to protests, written letters to politicians on both sides of the aisle, made calls every day, signed petitions, and monitored each new crazy executive order in order to respond.

I feel like my eyes are swelling inside their sockets and I have a dead animal on my head. Kinda like Jon Stewart up there.

But as the DailyKos says, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

So all of us have to work to not give in to exhaustion. I keep hoping he-who-shall-not-be -named will break first. I keep reading leaks about how he’s so thin skinned. So what we are doing is having an effect. We have to keep it up.

Comedy helps.

Right now I’m kind of in awe of the Bald Piano Guy, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and SNL in general. Their ability to be funny in the face of the horror-show keeps me going. They’re the true heros.

And I’ve got to say, I don’t see any equivalent humor coming from the other side, do you?

What keeps you going?










DJT Day 12: Why the Resistance Will Win


I work in schools as a private duty nurse for medically fragile students, so every day I say the Pledge of Allegiance. Today, I started crying. Now, I know Trump and his supporters might say those are “fake tears”, but I don’t care anymore what Trumpies say. Because as I was feeling sad, my survival instincts kicked in, and I started something like a Gratitude List.

Except in this case, it was a “Why the Resistance Will Win” list.

  1. Martha’s Vineyard ran out of pink yarn and over a thousand people showed up at 5-Corners on the day of the Women’s March–even though Martha’s Vineyard has a winter population of 16, 535 people. That’s about 1 in 16!
  2. We’ve got heart: The resistance actually cares about people other than themselves. We aren’t guided by fear, but by love.
  3. We’ve got soul: We have the Pope, The Dalai Lama, and thousands of other religious leaders on our righteous side. After all, what would Jesus (or Buddha) do?
  4. We’ve got spine: Sally Yates, Bob Ferguson, CREW, Walter Shaub, that 12 year old from Yemen; all the “Indivisible” groups, journalists, protestors, the Standing Rock Sioux, the Veterans who joined them and who stood with the Muslim refugees, etc etc (There are so many up-standers I can’t list them all in this quick and dirty blog)
  5. We’ve got the truth: data backs us up, over and over. Photos, archived quotes, leaked tweets…
  6. We’re cooler: all the artists, actors, musicians, celebrities–they’re with us.
  7. We’ve got history: not only does history show that authoritarians eventually lose, but we’re also on the right side of history.
  8. We’ve got the dramatic arc: In every major story, every hero movie (Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, everything about WWII, The Wizard of OZ, etc) the Resistance wins.
  9. We’ve got rainbows: We’re the face of the world–that big, beautiful diverse place of many wondrous differences.
  10. We own the future: people will keep moving across borders no matter what, loving different people, mixing it up, making crazy quilt families and communities until everyone knows and loves someone that this administration would hate–

And that is why, my friends, We are going to win.

Yay Team Democracy!

DJT Day 11: Steve Bannon, The Hand of the King


Dear Mr. President,

During one of your debates with Hillary, she accused you of being a puppet of Putin. Like a witty four-year-old, you shot back, “I’m not the puppet; you’re the puppet.”

Obviously, she had struck a nerve.

So you know how on Friday, you wrote that Muslim ban executive order? (I know you don’t like to call it that, but in the REAL world of TRUE facts, that’s what it is.)

Well, it turns out that in the REAL world of TRUE AND DOCUMENTED FACTS, the seven countries you chose to ban Muslims from have actually never been guilty of sending us a terrorist, and post 9/11, an American is thousands of times more likely to be killed by another American than by a Muslim immigrant from any country.

Though you didn’t pick countries where terrorists have actually come from, the countries that terrorists have come from, but are exempted from your ban, are also the very countries where you have financial interests.

So we can use our brains and deduct, reasonably, that this isn’t really about saving American lives. Or else you would have written an executive order banning guns from homes with toddlers, since a gun-wielding toddler kills a US citizen about once every two weeks. (True fact—not alternate!)

And we can use our brains to deduct, reasonably, that your decisions about which countries to include or exclude may be influenced by your financial conflicts of interest.

Now it doesn’t take much more thinking for us to wonder about the timing.

I guess you were figuring that while the “losers” were protesting your un-American action, the chaos would cover your slipping Steve Bannon onto the National Security Council.

Careful sir, your strings are showing.

Michelle Chalfoun

DJT Day 8: You Racist, Muslim-Banning Lunatic


Today’s letter:

Dear Mr. President,

Sorry I missed a couple days there writing to you, but I need a break from your lunacy, so I could have a nice time with my daughter eating Chinese food and binge watching old Gilmore Girls. She’s just gotten to the right age to enjoy it.

It seems you haven’t been slacking these last two days. I can’t even begin to cover the supercallousfascistracistextrabraggadocious executive orders you’ve been putting out at such a manic rate now that you’ve decided the presidency is a monarchy and it’s okay to write laws without paying attention to Congress or the Constitution. But I would like to call your attention to latest whack-a-doodle idea you had and the chaos it’s creating.

Your ban on Muslim refugees. Now I know you think it’s “working out very nicely”, and you want us to buy the line that it’s “not a Muslim ban”, and that the everyone was “totally prepared”, but you really aren’t a magician, and the lies you say are not magic spells that make everyone lose track of reality.

In provable reality, people are being stranded in airports, families are separated, vulnerable old people and children are going without medicine and care, and even a man who helped the US by translating for our soldiers is stuck because of your racist nonsense. Oh yeah, and they all happen to be from predominantly Muslim countries—so nah, you’re wrong. It is a Muslim Ban. That’s why the cab drivers at JFK have gone on strike. They’re Muslim!

There’s a reason a judge granted a stay against your crazy ban. It’s likely not Constitutional.

Re-read your Oath of Office.

Michelle Chalfoun

What I didn’t include in the letter is that during my hiatus, I helped form a group in my town dedicated to resisting DJT and his racist, authoritarian, crazy agenda. I think we’re going to be very successful. If you want to do that in your town, go to https://www.indivisibleguide.com

It’s a great guide to forming a rebel cell. Yay Team Democracy!




Letter to DJT, Day 6

adel7“I’m begging FEMA for boots on the ground”: Donald Trump leaves GOP leaders begging for aid after deadly storms in the South
Red State governors in Mississippi and Georgia complain they’ve been waiting for a response from Trump for days.


My letter to DJT today was about the above situation. It went something like this (unfortunately, I don’t have the exact words anymore–I got distracted and sent it before I could copy it).

Dear Mr. President,

It has become evident in the last six days by the things you have done and the things you and your surrogates, such as Omarosa, have said that you do not take an action unless it enriches you or your friends, consolidates your power, or pisses off the left. You clearly are not interested in helping the people who voted you into office.

The South has been devastated by tornadoes. The Governors of Mississippi and Georgia have begged for a response from FEMA and all you have done is issued a statement. Is it because these people no longer interest you now that you are a President? Helping them would not enact revenge on the left, or line your pockets, so you can’t be bothered?

You are the President of the United States. Act like it.


Michelle Chalfoun


Not my best work. But I am tired and the offenses just keep coming. It’s hard to know what to address: torture? deportations? unfit appointees? environmental degradation?

Clearly he is writing all these executive orders, bypassing congress, as rapidly as possible so that there is nearly no time or way to respond to all these outrages. Where is the reasonable Republican?  Is there no one near him with a soul? There are people hurt by every decision he makes and doesn’t make. Every action he takes and doesn’t take.

What happened to the South is an epic tragedy and DJT’s subsequent lack of response is criminal. That he should talk about crowd size instead of the destruction and death down there…?

I mean, who does that?




Day 5 of DJT: Super Villain, Literally


I had this idea that I would write DJT a letter every day, for the first 100 days of his presidency. And then, today, he decided to re-open the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL pipeline.

And I was like, “Wha—?”

There’s no good economic reason–prices of oil have been slumping since the fall of 2015 because we really  don’t need that much oil anymore, what with fuel economy, and LED lighting, and all kinds of new tech, and  CLIMATE CHANGE!

These pipelines won’t create a lot of new jobs. Except in maybe Alberta, Canada.

And then I saw that Omarosa went on Frontline and said we all are going to have to bow down to President Trump. She basically admitted that he became “the most powerful man in the universe” for “the ultimate revenge.”



Well, if that isn’t typical super villain motivation, I just don’t know what is.

If you have the patience to read the whole transcript, you will see she admits that he’s “very Darth Vader-ish”.

Wait, doesn’t that just mean he’s like a super villain? Figuratively, not literally? Isn’t this a case of hyperbole?

Not really. Because if he succeeds in all his  plans, he will literally destroy the very planet we live on. And lots of people will die. People will die from climate change related super storms,  floods, and drought. Entire species will go extinct. Ecosystems will disappear.

Not to mention all the people who will die when their healthcare disappears as he guts the ACA. And let’s not forget the arms race he’s challenged crazy North Korea to.

I’m not just a crazy lone conspiracy theorist. Check out the bunkers the super wealthy are  building for themselves, because they’re pretty sure we’re all going down. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich

And all of this, just for revenge.

So I didn’t write my letter. Because today I am just too heartsick. But tomorrow, I meet with my neighbors and join the Rebel Alliance. May the Force be with us.