Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Afghan Wives, Self-Immolation

For many Afghan women, circumstance can lead to desperation. Forced marriages (for girls as young as 12), extreme poverty, family shame. Mental illness sometimes complicates the situation. New York Times reporter Alissa J. Rubin and photographer Lynsey Addario report on these women and their devastating solution: self-immolation. Setting oneself on fire is a common form of suicide in this part of Afghanistan.

Family members of the survivors are equally devastated. The mother of a teenage wife prays that her daughter does not die with her burns: “That would leave a scar of a thousand years on my heart.”

In October alone, seventy-five women arrived at the Herat Burn Hospital. According to Rubin:

It is shameful here to admit to troubles at home, and mental illness often goes undiagnosed or untreated. Ms. Zada, the hospital staff said, probably suffered from depression. The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: Their family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband’s family. Outside that world, she is an outcast.

The Times sheds light on this disturbing trend. How might these Afghan women find options to setting themselves on fire to escape the entrapment of their daily lives?

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Filed under: afghanistan, global justice, human rights, women, , , , , , , , , , ,

Poetry for Fading Light

The Times published six poems by some of the greats, in honor of the shift to Daylight Savings Time.

Turn back your clocks, celebrate these poems. “Free,” the prose poem by James Tate, is my favorite. An excerpt:

I was always thinking about her even when I wasn’t thinking. Days went by when I did little else. She had left me one night as a complete surprise. I didn’t know where she went. I didn’t know if she was ever coming back. I searched her dresser and closet for any clues

….were they a dream? I didn’t trust anything any longer. I searched the house for any trace of her. Nothing. I started asking my friends if they remembered anything about her. They looked at me as if I were crazy. I sat at home and began to cheer up. What if none of this happened? I thought. What if there was nothing to be sad about?

JAMES TATE, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author, most recently, of “The Ghost Soldiers”

Towleroad also published a funny post about contentious tweets over Daylight Savings Time. Is nothing free of bipartisanship?

Filed under: literature, poetry, time, , , , , ,

NYT Profiles M.I.A., to Her Displeasure

The New York Times published a long profile of rapper/musician/provocateur M.I.A. in today’s Magazine. Last week, Maya vehemently expressed her displeasure with reporter Lynn Hirschberg’s profile, tweeting Hirschberg’s phone number to her thousands of followers.

It’s an interesting piece, criticizing M.I.A.’s Tamil sympathies with her penchant for agitprop. Among other tidbits, Hirschberg discloses M.I.A.’s interview for film school admission (“If you don’t admit me, I’ll become a prostitute.”), her posh five-bedroom home in the affluent L.A. neighborhood of Brentwood, and the reporter’s understanding of hypocrisy within M.I.A.’s persona (as when M.I.A. claimed to want to give birth in water, though in reality birthing in a private hospital room). The profile creates a portrait of M.I.A. as mysterious as Lady Gaga.

How exactly does Maya meld art and fashion, the personal with the political?

“They have a jumpsuit that I like,” Maya said. “But instead of using their fabric, I want them to use a fabric that’s made from a document I found.” She took out her laptop and clicked on an official-looking typed letter that had been censored. Black bars erased certain words. “I’d like to turn this page into fabric,” she said. “I know someone who can do that. And then I want to take that fabric and make it into a jumpsuit. I’d like to turn censorship into fashion.”

I’ve embedded Maya’s video for “Galang,” one of the catchy, underground beats that launched her career in 2003. It’s obvious from the video how talented M.I.A. was, and how her artistry transcends music to include fashion and politics. No matter what the NYT reports, M.I.A. is in a league of her own.

Filed under: music, politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Birds, Dogs, and the Photographs of Alec Soth

Two reasons I’ve been drawn to the photographs of Alec Soth:

1. Iowa

Call me a sentimentalist. When I saw that the photos Soth took for the NYT‘s Continental Picture Show series were based in Iowa–my home state–I was hooked. “Iowa Bird Story” is a video of Soth’s journey to photograph Neva Morris, the oldest woman in the U.S. at 114 years of age, unfolds like a picture book. Short, declarative sentences explain the photographer’s actions. Video and still photos capture Soth’s persistence in discovering the real narrative: How does a 114 year-old woman view her world?

2. Dogs

I’d seen Soth’s work at the MassArt galleries last fall, and also solicited work from the gifted photographer for the magazine that I edit. Soth graciously agreed to provide the cover for our upcoming issue from his series, “Dog Days, Bogota.” I love the clarity and composition of his photographs; in the photo that will become our next cover, Soth captures a Colombian family of mother, father, and toddler–parents standing in an embrace beside their child in a stroller. The image is both familiar (it has all of the elements of middle-class America) and subversive (the couple are dressed in leather jacket, piercings, with coiffed hair).

The dog of his title is a sad, likely wild, dog seated calmly on a forbidding cliff overlooking Bogota. Again, the juxtaposition of the domestic and the urban is what grabs your attention. Who wants to consider a dog without a human home?

Filed under: age, animals, art, photography, , , , , , , , ,

Sunday Routine: Councilwoman Margaret Chin

I grudgingly like this breezy series in the New York Times called “Sunday Routine,” despite the fact that it’s fairly bourgeois and appeals to a readership that can actually luxuriate in a brunch-filled, sleep-late Sunday morning routine.

This week, the series tracks the Sunday routine of Councilwoman Margaret Chin. She is the first Asian American in the New York City Council, and the founder of Asian Americans for Equality. A busy woman, indeed.

In particular, I was drawn to her commitment to getting to know her constituents by attending different churches in her district: a Latino church on East Broadway, for example, or a service at the Salvation Army. Seems to show her commitment to representing all of her constituents, not only her fellow Chinese Americans. Perhaps the next Patsy Mink?

Filed under: asian america, government, , , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
August 2019
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https://rsiasoco.wordpress.com/about/

About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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