INLANDIA LITERARY JOURNEYS: Writing helped family pursue justice

o5hej0-b88676034z.120160411110922000gh0fr950.10A mother’s worst nightmare became my reality. The midnight phone call from a sheriff’s deputy waking me with horrible news: My son, Mark, had been “in a collision and he did not survive.”

The rest is a huge blur. My adult son was the victim of a hit-and-run crime, and he was unable to defend himself. His voice was silenced. It became our family responsibility to ensure that Mark’s voice would be heard.

During the criminal trial, we were offered the opportunity to address the judge by writing a victim impact statement. It allowed us to tell the court about the effects, the impacts of Mark’s death and the damage the offender had caused.

We read our statements out loud during the sentencing hearing.

I held a large photo of Mark to put a real face on a judicial case number. Like Joan Didion in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” I wanted to scream, but I remained calm. Mark’s voice resonated through me, through his father, his son, his brother and his aunt. We spoke for him.

Victims are seldom called to testify in court, and if they do testify, they must respond to narrow, specific questions.

But the California Constitution allows victims to present written and oral statements. These statements are often the victims’ only opportunity to participate in the criminal justice process, or to confront the offenders who have harmed them.

These are testimonials about how a crime has affected them. They generally are included in the presentencing report presented to the judge and are allowed during the sentencing process.

When a victim is deceased, as in our Mark’s case, the relatives have the right to be heard. A judge may use information from these statements to help determine an offender’s sentence.

I welcomed the opportunity to articulate to the judge how my son’s death was a horrible loss to our family. And I was able to list prior offenses committed by the offender that had been stricken by the judge during a pretrial hearing.

I also helped Mark’s 12-year old son, Paul, write a statement about how the loss of his father affected him. His Uncle Leonard read Paul’s statement at the trial.

There are benefits to writing an effective statement. Fairness and justice for your loved one is the main goal. It could be your best shot at persuading the judge. Like writing in a journal, the reflection process and the act of writing down your thoughts about the crime’s impacts help with emotional healing.

Indeed, it improved my satisfaction with the criminal justice system, especially when the jury ruled in favor of the people of California, as they did in our case.

The Riverside Main Library has stacks of volumes in the 800-section that may help those unsure of how to write a statement. For example, Beth Kephart’s “Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir” and Brandon Royal’s “The Little Red Writing Book” are full of advice and recommendations.

When your case goes to trial, be prepared for the bad memories to be relived all over again. Attend all court hearings, especially the trial. It demonstrates that the victim is loved and supported. Keep notes of the proceedings and visit the Superior Court website frequently to review the minutes and other documents regarding the case.


Inlandia Institute president Frances J. Vasquez writes about the importance of victim statements

Frances J. Vasquez

Remembering Anne Frank

For many of us Gentiles, our introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust often begins with reading The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne’s parents presented her with a red-checked diary for her thirteenth birthday on June 12, 1942. Anne was enjoying a relatively normal life for a Jewish girl in occupied Amsterdam. She lived with her mother, father, and sister, and attended school like others her age. But less than a month later, their lives changed forever. Anne and her family went into hiding in the “secret annex” of her father’s warehouse and office building. During the two-years of their oppressive hiding period, eight people stayed indoors twenty-four hours a day. The Frank family’s love of literature helped sustain them until they were arrested by the Nazis and deported to concentration camps.

World War II was raging. Nazi Germany had invaded the Netherlands. Life was dangerous for Jews. This is the context in which Anne wrote. She became a prolific writer while in hiding. The pen was her best friend. The teenager aspired to be a journalist and to become a famous writer after the war. She documented her two years in hiding in her world famous diary and wrote, “one day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews!” Anne also expressed herself in short stories, fables, and other creative endeavors. Writing helped Anne cope with the emotional and physical rigors of living in confinement. She channeled her fears and tension into written descriptions of daily events with wit, humor, compassion, and candor.

I purchased a copy of Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex during a visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. This edition was first published in London in 2010 by Halban Publishers, Ltd. The book includes some of Anne’s personal reminiscences, daydreams, and essays. It also features her fanciful fables and short stories. One of the essays, “Do You Remember?” describes Anne’s wistful memories of school days at the Jewish Lyceum. She writes about “many a delightful hour talking about school, teachers, adventures, and boys. Back when our lives were still normal, everything was so wonderful.” Anne remained hopeful of returning to school as she recounted other memories prefaced by “Do you remember?”

Indeed, in the best interests of human dignity, we remember Anne and her writing, and the horrific genocide that resulted in the death of millions of European Jews by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust of World War II. This Wednesday, January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Resolution, designated by the United Nations General Assembly on November 1, 2005 declares that member nations “honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.”

Why January 27? On this date in 1945 the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated. Lamentably, only 21 days earlier, Anne’s mother, Edith Frank-Hollander, perished at Auschwitz. Anne and her sister, Margot Frank, died in the Bergensen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp less than two months later in March 1945. Their father, Otto Frank, survived Auschwitz and was the only “secret annex” inhabitant to outlive the hell of war to carry on his work with vision and tenacity.

After reading and publishing his beloved daughter’s diary, Otto Frank redirected his heartache and sorrow to tell her story. He dedicated the rest of his long life to work on combating discrimination and prejudice: human dignity and rights for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, and religion. Since the first publication of Anne’s diary in 1947, over 40 million copies have been published in 70 languages. In 1960, the hiding place was converted into a museum. It is one of the world’s most visited museums. Otto Frank posited, “to build a future you have to know the past.” When I visited the Anne Frank House in June 2015, the long lines of people coiled for blocks. I didn’t mind. A visit to the Frank’s secret annex was a significant pilgrimage.

Anne was an extraordinary girl whose maturity and wisdom is evident in her writing. In Tales from the Secret Annex her fables and short stories exhibit creative optimism and hope as she transports to other realms. “The Wise Old Gnome,” “The Guardian Angel,” and “Blurry the Explorer” are a few of numerous examples of Anne’s ability to see good prevail over evil and sorrow. The enduring interest and inspiration of Anne Frank’s writing reflect the continued relevance of the topics she expressed in her diary. While there is no happy ending to Anne’s life, her writing is her enduring legacy. The words of one girl made an indelible difference. Anne fulfilled her dream to become a famous author. Brava, Anne Frank! Her memory continues to inspire awe in new generations of readers.


Frances J. Vasquez is president of the Inlandia Institute board and a member of Inlandia’s Riverside writing workshop.

For more literary journeys, visit the Inlandia Literary Journeys Blog or the Inlandia Institute.

Books Illuminate the Days of the Dead by Frances J. Vasquez

In “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” writer-poet Octavio Paz said, “The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us.

“Life extended into death, and vice versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.”

That view is never clearer than during festivities for Days of the Dead, or Días de los Muertos, when the spirits of our departed loved ones come alive in joyful celebration.

Rituals surrounding the holiday have been practiced by indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica for thousands of years. They believe that the souls of the dead have divine permission to return to earth each year to visit their relatives. Offerings of flowers and food are set out to welcome them. It is a time for feasting and reunion – not a somber occasion.

Celebrations are held on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, for deceased children; and Nov. 2, All Souls Day, in honor of deceased adults.

The relatively recent phenomenon of Day of the Dead in the United States illustrates the power of cultural traditions as opportunities for people to exchange ideas and learn from each other.

The Riverside Public Library offers interesting, authoritative books about the tradition. I recommend “Día de Muertos en México – Oaxaca,” by Mary J. Andrade, and “Fiesta: Days of the Dead & Other Mexican Festivals,” by Chloë Sayer.

Both books are beautifully illustrated. Andrade’s is bilingual and Sayer’s is in English.

Death for the indigenous of Mexico signified a stage in a constant cycle, not an end of life. Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures kept skulls as trophies and displayed them to honor the dead. The skulls symbolize death and rebirth. In Mexico, the deceased are honored at cemeteries, homes and businesses through elaborate altars displaying offerings of candles, incense, photos, memorabilia, favorite foods, beverages, and flowers (particularly cempasuchitl, or golden marigolds).

Why marigolds? According to legend, during the Aztec travels in Mesoamerica, the ruler Tenoch led the Nahua tribe in search of a place to settle. Many people died during the arduous journey. The travelers stopped to pray to the sun god for flowers to honor the places where their loved ones perished. A day later the fields were covered with beautiful golden cempasuchitl. The ancestors adorned the graves with this flower, hence the traditional flower of the dead.

Legendary Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada used calacas, or “skeletal” images, as political and social satire – making fun of the aristocracy during the repressive Porfirio Diaz presidency. Posada’s caricatures in Mexico’s newspapers sent direct messages that even the illiterate could understand: the disdain for the corrupt regime. His illustrations successfully molded public opinion against Diaz, and served as the “face” of the Mexican Revolution. Posada’s calacas are favorite images in U.S. Day of the Dead memorabilia.

UNESCO declared the city of Oaxaca in 1987 as part of the cultural heritage for mankind, and in 2003, UNESCO recognized Day of the Dead celebrations as part of the intangible cultural heritage of world humanity. A dream came true for me last year when I traveled to Oaxaca for the weeklong Day of the Dead festivities where the meaning of the indigenous beliefs are kept intact.

According to Andrade, the author, “The new gods have yet to displace ancient ones.” It’s the season in which bright magenta and golden orange flowers cover the expansive fields like a fine cape.

The Central Valleys of Mexico are sprinkled with rural towns imbued in tradition and culture. I visited several Zapoteca and Mixteca quasi-ceremonial centers: Teotitlán del Valle, Etla, Mitla, Ocotlán, Tlacolula, San Martin de Tilcajete, and Zaachila where the land is infused with history, legend and folklore.

Subtle variations in the festivities reflect each town’s particular cultural character. Everyone anxiously awaits this short but substantive season when aromas stimulate one’s senses to reflect on those who have departed physically, and share in famous Oaxacan delicacies: mole, bread, tamales, chocolate, mezcal. The capital city of Oaxaca is the jewel of the valleys whose architectural design is a colonial monument.

Residents hold colorful processions through the streets featuring large puppet figures. Elaborate altars are installed everywhere: homes, businesses, hotels, restaurants and cemeteries.

The Inland area’s premier Day of the Dead festival will be held 3-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, in downtown Riverside on Market Street between University Avenue and 12th Street. The family-friendly celebration will highlight a procession of Aztec danzas to invite the spirits to dance and rejoice during this symbolic annual reunion. Of special interest are the family and community altars along 10th Street from Market Street to the Ysmael R. Villegas Medal of Honor Monument.

Visitors to the community altar are invited to write down the names of departed loved ones and include satirical, brief poems in the form of epitaphs, or humorous anecdotes about the deceased. Admission is free.

For more information, visit www.riversideca.gov/museum/day-of-the-dead.asp.


Frances J. Vasquez is president of the Inlandia Institute board and a member of Inlandia’s Riverside writing workshop.

For more literary journeys, go to inlandiainstitute.org.

Inlandia Founder Remembered by Cati Porter

No one could ever say “no” to Marion Mitchell-Wilson.

After I began attending Inlandia events in late 2007, Marion invited me for coffee. Before my cup was empty, I had agreed to become a member of Inlandia’s Advisory Council.

Smiling, thoughtful and almost always full of energy, Marion had a way of making you want to help with her projects. And you never regretted it.

Marion, founding director of the Inlandia Institute, died a week ago after a long battle with breast cancer.

I never envisioned an Inlandia without Marion. Occasionally she would say things like, “Cati, when I retire,” but I couldn’t think past the here and now.

Even after she officially “retired” in 2012 to work on getting well, she continued to be present for me, whispering suggestions and offering solutions, serving as Inlandia’s institutional memory.

Many of us have fond memories of Marion, and how she got us involved in promoting the Inland area’s literary life. We’ll share a few thoughts here from several Inlandia board members and local writers.

FRANCES J. VASQUEZ

Marion Mitchell-Wilson cared passionately about many things and all things Inlandia: the people, their stories, and the literary expression of our regional voices. Multi-talented, she was a wonderful gourmet cook who loved to share her bounty and her kindness with others.

One Friday, I helped Marion with preparations for an Inlandia member reception being held the next day. Her amazing menu included a favorite recipe for asparagus spears roasted with orange slices in lemon-infused olive oil and orange vinaigrette. And, a reconstructed whole poached salmon with cream cheese, cucumber sauces, and other delicacies.

During several hours of washing, peeling, and slicing fruits and vegetables, I spilled water on the kitchen floor. I asked for paper towels or rags to wipe the floor with. Marion, in her efficient way, quickly turned to a drawer and handed me a large cloth towel. I bent over to wipe the spills when Marion stopped me. “No, Frances. Don’t bend. Skate like this.”

Marion tossed the towel on the floor, stepped onto it with both feet and skated gracefully around her kitchen floor. We both laughed heartily and continued with the food preparations.

ELIO PALACIOS

I met Marion at last year’s Advisory Council workshop. My first impression was how unassuming she was considering the part she had played in creating and shaping Inlandia. And her love of and dedication to Inlandia was also very apparent as was her knowledge and wisdom.

KAREN RAE KRAUT

Marion and I met in 1990 when the California Humanities Council sponsored a series of public programs on the theme of “Place” and its effect on how we experience our lives. How’s that for foreshadowing?

Our expanding group of interested people went on to receive a grant from the Humanities Council to locally sponsor the American Renaissance Chautauqua, which resulted in the formation of a non-profit organization called the Inland Empire Educational Foundation. IEEF (rhymes with leaf), as we fondly called it, sponsored reading and discussion groups and public programs for the next five years.

Marion was an important part of all these free programs, and her vision and common sense contributed greatly to their success.

ELLEN ESTILAI

It was impossible to be part of the Riverside arts and culture scene and not know Marion Mitchell-Wilson, but I really got to know her after she invited me to a meeting with Malcolm Margolin at the Riverside Main Library to talk about the literary landscape of what we would eventually come to know as Inlandia.

That meeting helped lay the groundwork for Heyday’s book, “Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California’s Inland Empire.”

When the anthology was published, no one in the community wanted that journey to end. Marion was the engine that drove the bus, and she cajoled and sweet-talked fellow travelers into hopping on.

In 2007, I retired from the Riverside Arts Council to devote more time to writing. I was hoping for a respite from meetings and committees, but Marion was having none of that. She told me she wanted me to serve on the advisory council of a new organization, the Inlandia Institute.

“It’s just a few meetings a year,” she assured me. When I demurred, she said, “There will be liquid facilitation.”

I’ve now been in for eight years, as a council member and board member, but also as a writer. Luckily for me, the Inlandia Institute emerged just as I was learning to be a writer. I cannot imagine writing without Inlandia’s support. Like many others in this unique literary community, I am indebted to Marion for her vision, strength, and yes, occasional liquid facilitation.

ENDOWMENT

When Marion first learned the cancer had returned and was terminal, she met privately with Inlandia board members and staff, sharing her one big wish: that an endowment be founded in her name, so she could ensure the future of the organization.

In keeping with Marion’s wishes, the family is requesting donations in lieu of flowers.

Contributions can be made via PayPal, using donations@inlandiainstitute.org, through CrowdRise and by mailing a check to the Inlandia Institute, 4178 Chestnut St., Riverside, Ca., 92501.

And save these dates: Aug 28 for a memorial service at the California Citrus State Historic Park, and Sept 18 for a special endowment kickoff party in Marion’s honor at the Riverside Art Museum.