I was the lucky one

by Tymothy Parmenter

I was adopted from Tegucigalpa Honduras at age 7. I had left behind my mother, my sister as well as grandparents, aunts, uncles and many cousins. I was headed to the United States, the land of dreams; a country where many of my friends and family had wished to go. I was the lucky one.

I remember saying goodbye to my sister, I remember the park where I would play as a child. I remember the church I attended, the stray dogs, the large Coca Cola sign on the side of the mountain, and many other things. What I remember most about my last days in Honduras was the plane flight. It was my first time on an airplane and I was doing it alone. I wasn’t completely alone as my adoptive mother and new sister were with me, but they were essentially strangers at that point. I had only met my new mother once and that was 6 months prior. My new sister spoke Spanish which was helpful but again, I felt alone.

The day I left was May 15, 1991. The plane flight was long and we had a layover in Miami. From there my sister boarded a plane to Washington DC and my mother and I flew to Syracuse NY. My mother knew only a couple of words in Spanish so it was a quiet trip. Upon my arrival to Syracuse, I was greeted by the rest of my family. My new parents had made a pledge to make the world a better place by adopting children in need. That being said I was welcomed by my new, very diverse family. My parents had 11 kids in total, 8 or which were adopted.

I remember arriving at my new home for the first time. My grandmother, who was my care taker for the most part, had called and I told her that I was at my new home with my new family. It was one of the last times I spoke with her. Communication with the family I had left behind started off with a few phone calls for the first couple of months to almost nothing. I knew that making a phone call for them was difficult. We were poor, we had no phone. The internet was not an option early on and I had no way of reaching out. Not only that, the language that I knew as a child became obsolete. No one in my family, my school, my neighborhood spoke Spanish so I forgot it. I forgot the words, the phrases, the pronunciation of the words, I lost it all.

I grew up as an American kid from the suburbs. I attended school, played sports, went to prom. I did everything my peers did and more. I graduated High School, went to college, started off on my own and had my own family. My life in Honduras was a distant memory at this point. Though I thought of my mother and sister often, I knew nothing about them. I didn’t know where they were, I didn’t know what they looked like, I didn’t even know if they were ok.

It was about April of 2017 when my spouse Kay asked if I was interested in finding my family in Honduras. I had said that I had tried using the internet before but had gotten nowhere. All that I could remember was my sister’s name, Lupe and my mothers, Rena and that they were in Tegucigalpa. Other than that I had nothing else but a few photos of my last days in Honduras. Kay, being a social media guru, got to work and quickly found a missionary who was originally from Kansas and was now living in Tegucigalpa that was willing to help me locate my family. Kay told her my story and sent a photo of me on my last day in Honduras. My house was in the background in the distance but I always remembered which one it was.

With my picture and my story, the missionary was able to find the very street where the picture was taken, 27 years prior. There she asked a tortilla vendor if she knew how to get to the house which had been circled in the background. The tortilla vendor not only knew the house, she also knew the family that used to live there. She pointed at me in the picture and said, “and that is the little boy they gave up for adoption years ago”.

The tortilla vendor took the missionary to the neighborhood where the house was and introduced her to my aunt and my mother. She took out my picture, showed it to them and tears of joy overtook them all. They had been searching for me for many years but had not known where or how to look. My great grandmothers had passed a few months prior to this day and her dying words were, “find Giovanni” my original birth name.

I had gotten home from work and I was in the kitchen with Kay and my kids when her phone started ringing. Kay was making dinner and I was playing with the kids so we both ignored it but it wouldn’t stop. We looked to see who it was and it was the missionary facetiming us. Being completely ignorant to the nature of her call I told Kay to answer, maybe it’s something important.

Again being oblivious to what was going on I went back to play with my kids and left Kay with the phone. She calls me from the other room to come see and I said, this better be important. I took the phone and there was the missionary. She said, I’d like to introduce you to your mother.

Reconnecting with my family was indescribable. I didn’t recognize my mother. My first words to Kay were, that’s not my mom, that’s my grandmother. Taken completely by surprise by the turn of events it had slipped my mind that 27 years had passed since I laid eyes on the woman who gave me life, whom I had cherished and adored. That night was an eventful night to say the least. I spent hour’s facetiming my family. To my surprise I had four additional siblings I knew nothing about. Lupe however was nowhere to be found. To my delight and amazement I was told that she had been living in Miami for the past 10 years.

I wanted to take the time to go to Miami and visit my sister. I finally got the chance in June of 2018 almost a year after reconnecting with my family. At this time it had been 28 years since I had seen her last. We weren’t close when we were kids, that I do remember but as adults I look back our sibling rivalry as childish and immature. I arrived to Miami late on a Friday evening. Nerves should have gotten the best of me at this point but I was calm and collected. This was a surreal moment but for me it felt natural and pure.

The drive from Fort Lauderdale to Miami was about thirty minutes and when I arrived I texted her that I was there. I walked to the front door, it swung open and there on the other side was the face of the little girl I remembered. She had aged and matured and her eyes were motherly and kind but her expressions were just as I remembered. She wepted as we embraced and I couldn’t stop smiling. I was greeted by her two eldest daughters at the door, nieces whom I have never met but had had conversations with through facebook. With my minimal Spanish skills and their equivalent English skills we conversed for hours. We talked about our childhood, we reminisced about the family and friends I had left behind. We caught up on what had gone on in our lives, about school, our kids, everything.

I was able to spend the weekend with her and her family, it all felt natural as if we were just catching up. Needless to say Miami is a beautiful city and a fun town and we definitely took advantage by spending the entire weekend together sightseeing, going down town, and going to the beach. It was a beautiful weekend, one that I will never forget. As my time reconnecting with my family came to an end I realized that I felt complete again. My life has circled back to my origins and the realization of who I really was and where my roots were was a humbling experience.

I now keep in contact with all five of my brothers and sisters. I hope to make it to Honduras to visit someday to embrace my mother again and to finally meet my brothers and sisters, hopefully in the near future. My family and I are all set to visit my sister and her family during the Holidays in Miami this year. It will be the first time that my sister gets to meet her nieces and nephews. I am excited to unite our families.

The Day Syracuse Revolted

by Maximilian Eyle

In October of 1851, roughly 2,500 Syracuse citizens came together in the city’s downtown. With a battering ram, they broke down the door to the jail and successfully freed a man called William “Jerry” Henry. Jerry had escaped from slavery years before and started a new life as a barrel maker in Upstate New York. He would have been sent back to a life of slavery, but Syracuse residents stepped in and secured his freedom. Jerry was immediately sent north to Canada where he was safe from arrest. This event is remembered as the “Jerry Rescue”, and is one of the proudest moments in Syracuse’s history.

At that time, the United States was divided into states with slavery, and those without. In 1850, a federal law known as the Fugitive Slave Act was passed which required that states without slavery help capture and return any escaped slaves. Jerry was arrested under this new law and put in jail. This caused tremendous outrage among the locals. Abolitionist Samuel Ringold Ward expressed his disgust at a public meeting prior to the Rescue, stating: “We are witnessing such a sight as, I pray, we may never look upon again. A man in chains, in Syracuse!”

The story of the Jerry Rescue has the advantages of being both legendary and true. It speaks to the power of a united local community pushing back in the face of an overzealous federal government enforcing an unjust law. The Civil War may still have been ten years away, but protests like this helped hasten the end of slavery. Today, we see similar local resistance as Syracuse refuses to use its police to search for or detain illegal immigrants despite federal pressure to do so. As we look to the future, we should remember the progress that can be made when Syracuse stands as a united and independent city.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

Healing the Soul- My experience in a Temazcal

by David Alfredo Paulino

Mentors have an uncanny ability to sense our state of being. Perhaps we project it more openly than we care to admit. In my case my mentor, Armando, left a post on my Facebook wall checking up on me and telling me that I would always be welcome in his home. Once I saw that, I remembered our countless conversations about how beautiful Mexico was. Those memories spurred me to reach out and ask him when I could visit. Plus, I felt I needed to get out of New York City for a while. Physically I needed a breather but much more importantly my soul needed to rest. With Armando’s track record, I knew that I would need to get out of my comfort zone; boy was I right.

I was nervous boarding the plane, mainly because Armando had sent a list of expectations that he had for himself, one of those expectations was that he wanted to create a space where I would have intense dreams for the duration of my stay. The night before my flight I had a dream with my cousin whom had passed away three years ago. It made me think twice about going through with the trip, but I could not let that hold me back as I try to be a man of my word.

As soon as I arrived in Mexico City, I bought a ticket to his town called Tepoztlan, it is known as the birthplace of the serpent god Quetzalcoatl. He picked me up at the bus stop. He was as happy as I remembered, with a warm smile and an even warmer heart. Armando’s spirit never ceases to amaze me. I got into his car and he began to show me Tepoztlan and it was marvelous to say the least. The town is situated at the heart of the Tepoztlan valley with the shrine of Tepozteco, dedicated to the god of pulque Tepoztecatl. I was in awe as soon as I saw the town and the mountains served as a backdrop to an already magical place. We arrived to his two story home and as soon as he opened his door he went directly to the wine rack and started pouring a cup for me and for himself. After three hours of drinking and catching up we decided to call it a night, he showed me to my room and told me, “we have a long day tomorrow, we have a ritual to go to…do you wish to partake?” I immediately said “of course!”.

It was around 9:00 am that I woke up to a knock on my door, “David, there’s coffee downstairs, get ready so we can head out”. I got up, brushed my teeth, took a shower, drank coffee and then we got in his car and headed for a village called San Andreas where the ritual would take place. I was told minimal things about the ritual, that I would sweat profusely and that it would be hard on my body and my ability to endure an extreme environment. We arrived to the home of our spiritual guide, we spoke and ate one of the most delicious pastry I have ever eaten, a tamale made of pineapple. I fell in love with it!. After we ate, the guide told us to take bits and pieces of the outer shell of the tamale which is like hay, and make knots. The knots would represent any negative things that people that we love have ever said and did to us. Although they might not have done it out of malice; it still had an impact on us. After that, we followed her to a nearby fire that was heating a pile of volcanic rock. We had reached the Temazcal. A Temazcal is a type of sweat lodge used by many pre-Hispanic indigenous tribes of Mesoamerica. It was used as a place to heal the sick and for women to give birth as well. Now it is mainly used as a place to cleanse the mind, body, and spirit. In order to enter the Temazcal we needed to throw our straws into the fire and walk around the fire. Following that, she blew incense all over our bodies before entering the Temazcal. Little did I know that a Temazcal would be just what my body needed.

As we entered we were directed to a tarp on the floor so that we may sit. We were creating a circle around a little hole in the ground where the volcanic rock would be placed on. Once we were all seated the guide began by introducing herself and instructed us to introduce ourselves and say why we were there. It was a good thing that I was not first, as I needed time to prepare my Spanish. Once it was my turn I stated who I was and that I was here in order to heal my traumas and to discover them at the same time. The ritual had 4 phases each dedicated to one of the directions of the Earth, north, south, east, and west. I began to reflect with the north phase, I could already feel the space beginning to pick up steam. We were all concentrated on our breaths, our chants, and singing. With each new phase, we continued to focus on our breaths, our chants, and our singing with the heat becoming more intense and thus pushing our bodies more and more. When we got to the last phase I was a mess, at this point laying down because of how uncomfortable I was, and I started to lose feeling in my hands. After our last session I asked the guide about it and she told me, “You have no goal to fully grasp on, you are aimlessly scrambling never fully dedicating yourself to one thing. Once you have a goal and direction then you will be where you want to be.” I listened silently trying to absorb everything she said. When we ended the ritual, we headed outside to douse ourselves with cold water.

The cold water felt really good, my body was still affected by the experience, I felt light and lethargic. There was food prepared so we began to eat and getting to know the others that participated in the ritual. After we left and returned home we decided to rest because of the effect of the Temazcal. I slept profoundly and my body felt great. Armando and I spoke about our experiences and what the guide told me. I told him I left with a clearer mind of what I have to do. He asked me what it was and I told him I’d rather not say it just yet.

My trip to Mexico was a magical one that I will always remember. Mexico’s beauty and rich history was simply enchanting and it left me desiring to see much more. I will return to Mexico and would love to experience more of it, it taught me many things, above all I learned about patience and endurance. The anxiety I felt was lifted due to what I learned during my trip. I encourage others to visit a new place by yourself, you never know what you might learn about yourself.

My name is David Alfredo Paulino. I graduated from SUNY Cortland with a international studies major with a concentration in Global Political Systems and my minors are Anthropology, Latin American Studies, and Asia and the Middle East. I was born in Manhattan, NYC, but I currently live in the Bronx with my Mother, little sister, and Stepfather. Although I was born here, most of my fondest memories come from my frequent visits to the Dominican Republic, and always being there. I even stayed there for a year. Due to my constant going back and forth, I grew to love the atmosphere there and sometimes I yearn for it more than the actual city.

Alcohol Drinking and Gambling

by Miguel Balbuena

“Shape of You” took the world by storm in January 2017. It went on to win the title of best selling song worldwide that year and the next one it garnered the Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance, just to mention two of the accolades that it has collected.

I attribute the success of this tune, by English artist Ed Sheenan, both to its music and to its lyrics. In short, its music is infused with a Caribbean vibe stemming from a marimba-driven percussion; its lyrics have appealing lines such as: “the bar is where I go / Me and my friends at the table doing shots / Drinking fast and then we talk slow.”

These lines may be construed by some as glamorizing, glorifying, romanticizing and mythologizing the consumption of drinks containing ethyl alcohol, most commonly known as ethanol by chemists. Drinking alcohol has long been the favorite pastime of some people. So has gambling (defined as playing a game of chance for something valuable) with dice. When you integrate both leisure activities you get the ultimate vicious over-the-top game of GORL, which links the likelihood of drinking alcohol to the outcome of tossing a die. GORL is not well known in the United States. It is far more popular in Latin American countries.

GORL is a game of chance in which the letter G means “guzzle,” the letter O means “oblige,” the letter R means “right” and the letter L means “left.” Miguel Rodriguez, a classmate at the Pontifical Catholic University, introduced me to this game back in the day. He went by the moniker of Miguelon. At his favorite bar, called “Life Is Worth Nothing,” he was patient enough to explain GORL’s basic requirements and rules to me.

The requirements are:

1) Having a table and chairs (optional, if sitting on the floor is very uncomfortable);
2) Having a die;
3) Having a dice roller cup (optional);
4) Having an endless supply of beer (preferably ice cold);
5) Having a minimum of three players (or victims, if you will), without any maximum, and;
6) Having a full glass of beer of at least 8 ounces in front for each player at the beginning of the game, glass that would be refilled to the top again every time it is emptied.

The players sit around a table and roll a die. Once thrown, the six options assigned to its numbers are:

∗ If it falls one: The player who tossed the die guzzles his glass of beer to the bottom.
∗ If it falls two: Another player (player obliged), chosen on the whim of the player who tossed the die,
guzzles his glass of beer to the bottom.
∗ If it falls three: The player to the right of the player who tossed the die guzzles his glass of beer to the
∗ If it falls four: The player to the left of the player who tossed the die guzzles his glass of beer to the
∗ If it falls five: All the players guzzle their glasses of beer to the bottom, excluding the player who tossed
the dice.
∗ If it falls six: All the players guzzle their glasses of beer to the bottom, including the player who tossed
the dice.

Miguelon concluded his GORL master class by indicating that the game winner would be the last player still standing after the rest had been knocked unconscious by the binge-drinking. But before you and your best buddies rush to buy kegs and other beer paraphernalia to engage in GORL, please bear in mind that this could be fatal due to the systemic consequences of having a high blood alcohol content (BAC).

A case in point is that of Timothy Piazza, an engineering student at Pennsylvania State University who last year engaged in another drinking game, called the Gauntlet, which first led to his getting a BAC of approximately 0.40 percent and then to his death. We have to take into account that all 50 states of the union have set a BAC 0.08 percent as their legal limit for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Fraternity brothers required Piazza to participate in the Gauntlet as part of his pledge process to said fraternity.

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields
(in the fiction and non-fiction genres).

United by the Music

United by the Music
by Félix Martínez Marrero

What is trova and how did it become part of typical Puerto Rican music? When is it heard? The trova is the poetic composition composed to be sung. It is the typical music of our ancestry. The trova is significant as a cultural expression. It is heard all year, although some relate it mostly to the Christmas season.

Like most Puerto Ricans who emigrate to the United States in search of a prosperous future for their families, 48 years ago, my parents and their 11 children did the same. One of those children was me. Although I came to Rochester as a young man, I have never stopped longing for my beautiful island, our culture and the neighborhood where I was born. That’s how music became my refuge, becoming the consolation of longing for the soil where I was born. From here came my dream of one day to record a CD of typical music. The years went by and I continued to be involved in music with Pedro Núñez, the Maso Rivera of Rochester who may rest in peace and Marcos Santiago, among others. Even if the temperature was below zero, I did not miss a “parranda”.

Six years ago I started trying to make my dream come true, but for one reason or another I could not achieve it. One day, talking with my wife Margarita, I decided to start communicating with friends who are involved in the music to see if I could achieved my purpose. I spoke with my friend Eliú De Jesús in Florida, who put me in touch with Josean Feliberty Colon in Puerto Rico and I from Rochester, NY, how would we achieve this get-together? It was this way that JFC Home Studio in Ciales, PR, Freddygeezstudio in Rochester, NY, and EDR Studios in Groveland, FL, joined by the music and started my long-awaited project. We started to decide which topics we would include: seises, aguinaldos, trullas… The recordings began in three different studios, “UNITED BY THE MUSIC”. Everything was ready with plans to go on the market in October 2017 and Hurricane María hit PR. It was necessary to postpone the release of the CD.

Originally the CD included eight songs. During the wait and hearing about the suffering of our Puerto Rican brothers, we were inspired by the last song which became the number one on the CD “Puerto Rico Rise Up” (Puerto Rico se Levanta in Spanish). Now the CD contains nine songs with five styles of six, three aguinaldos and a trulla. Each one with an original message of nostalgia for the country, a love story, a biblical message, a cultural controversy, a tribute to Don Pedro Núñez, among others. By obtaining this CD, you will join us, through music, to promote our cultural heritage and although far from the Puerto Rican soil, we will always carry it proudly in our hearts.

Artistic Father of the Cuban Musicians

Hubert De Blanck: Artistic Father of the Cuban Musicians
by Ana María Ruimonte, www.ruimonte.us

While I was in Havana in June, the one and only maestro Huberal Herrera invited me to attend a beautiful concert titled “Spanish Cuban Romantic Music from the 19th Century” at the “Palacio de los Matrimonios” (Marriage Palace in English), on Sunday, June 24th at 11 am.

The pianists Lisa María Blanco and Yanner Rascón played delightful compositions by Cecilia Arizti Sobrino and Nicolás Ruíz Espadero, and the actress Natasha Díaz read poems by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda and José Martí. But what excited me most was what followed: The performance by the maestro Huberal Herrera who played The Beautiful Cubana by José White and also five great compositions by Hubert de Blanck: “Study in e minor”, “Over the tomb of Ma-ceo”, “Viennese Waltz”, “Toccata in A minor” and “Variations on the Hymn of Bayamés”.

These pieces were characterized by a progression of slow and fast rhythms; ascending and descending arpeggios across the entire eight octaves of the piano; deeply profound, pedal tones reflecting the solemn sections; sweet waltz rhythms; influences of Bach and Wagner, contrapuntal fugues with variations and cannon; agile strumming, staccato, trills and theatrical expressivity. The pieces demonstrated maestro Herrera’s range of expression and facility in this gorgeous collection of pieces by the composer.

The story of Hubert de Blank exhilarates me. When he was young, Belgium’s King Leopold the Second awarded de Blanck a grant to study music wherever he decided. Then de Blank traveled to Colonia in Germany. There he met a Brazilian violinist, Eugene -Maurice Dengremont and they create a duo together. They toured throughout Europe and in the Americas they performed in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and New York. Hubert de Blanck gained a position as professor of piano at the College of Music in New York; where he met the Cuban Ana María García Menocal and they married there in 1881. They went to Havana for Christmas in 1882. Just one year later, the couple moved to live in Havana. They had 5 sons, the oldest named Guillermo. When Ana María died, de Blanck married Pilar Martín and they had 3 more children. Hubert de Blanck incorporated the music and rhythms of Cuban into his musical life. He obtained Cuban citizenship and in 1885 founded Cuba’s first Conservatory of Music, which to this day bears his name and continues to train the best young Cuban musicians. Eventually, de Blanck was forced into exile as a result of his politics, particularly his pro-independence activism. He composed many piano pieces, and also the opera “Patria” (Homeland). He is buried in the Colon cemetery in Havana.

Maestro Huberal Herrera is the most recognized interpreter of the music of Hubert de Blanck. Indeed Maestro Herrera owns an extensive collection of his compositions, some otherwise unavailable, given to him by de Blanck’s son Guillermo Menocal, who was Herrera’s teacher.

Such an exceptional composer and magnificent interpreter!

Ana María Díaz was born in Madrid and obtained her Master of Arts in voice with the specialty of Opera at the Escuela Superior de Canto in Madrid. Presently, she lives in Philadelphia. Opera singer and writer of reviews of opera and other artistic activities, she is President of Owlsong Productions, Inc. Ana María Díaz belongs to the duo Soprano Meets Contrabass with her husband Alan Lewine, performing original arrangements of arias and songs for soprano and jazz contrabass with flamenco influences in the recital “800 years of music in less than 2 hours”. Ana María Díaz is a member of Opera America in New York, UNIMA-USA, Early Music America and Women in the Music.

Ana María Díaz has written and produced a bilingual musical Baroque theatrical performance titled “Burn, Heart, Burn” as a commemoration of the artists from 17th Century Spain and America with puppets using elaborate period costumes, songs and brief stories. The songs are recorded in her CD “Arded, Corazón, Arded”. Ana María been collaborating with “CNY Latino” Newspaper with her column titled “Burn, Heart, Burn” since the beginning of 2015.

Cycles of Stigma

Cycles of Stigma: How Prohibition Makes Sex Work and Drug Use Even More Dangerous
by Maximilian Eyle

June was Pride Month in America, and this year’s theme in New York City was “Defiantly Different”. It represents a chance to push back against the stigma surrounding LGBTQ identities and lifestyles while celebrating the diversity of self-expression that exists within the LGBTQ community. When we talk about stigma in this context, it is usually regarding a lack of acceptance of the individual’s sexuality on the part of the family or by society. What is less frequently acknowledged is that the manifestation of this stigma often sets off a chain reaction as the individual struggles to cope with the trauma of their sexual identity being denied or ridiculed.

When we think about where LGBTQ culture shines brightest, big cities come to mind. Metropolitan areas like New York City act as magnets for members of the LGBTQ community nationwide due to the more progressive mentality toward sexuality and the greater availability of support resources. The stigma associated with non-heteronormative lifestyles in many areas of the U.S., particularly rural communities and small towns, often makes it unpleasant and even unsafe to live openly there.

As these stigmatized people seek a new life in a more accepting environment, they often carry heavy burdens. Some are material, like the struggle to survive financially in an expensive and foreign environment like New York City. Others are emotional, like the memories of having been spurned by friends and family where you grew up. Though there may be less anti-LGBTQ sentiment in a metropolitan area like New York, many who come to such a large city find themselves unable to survive financially.

For members of the transgender community, their ability to conceal their sexual identity can be more difficult than for gays or lesbians. When faced with this added barrier to entering the “traditional” workforce, some will inevitably turn to sex work as a means of survival. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey studied this and other issues among 6,400 transgender adults nationwide between 2008 and 2009. It found that, “An overwhelming majority (69.3%) of [transgender] sex workers reported experiencing an adverse job outcome in the traditional workforce, such as being denied a job or promotion or being fired because of their gender identity or expression.”

Because prostitution is illegal in the vast majority of the United States, legal and social repercussions face those who choose this line of work, needlessly stigmatizing them and making their lives less safe. They are forced to enter the black market, put themselves at risk for arrest, and are limited in their ability to receive access to contraception, STD testing, and other essential healthcare resources. Though heterosexual prostitution is also stigmatized, the taboo tends to be greater for gay or transgender sex workers.

If the person has been arrested for drug use, finding a traditional employment path will be particularly difficult if not impossible. Again we see the damaging influence of stigma appear – this time in the context of drug use. The War on Drugs has conditioned society to regard substance use as a moral failing, much like many anti-gay groups view LGBTQ lifestyles as morally wrong. Our justice system advances this perspective by incarcerating and punishing these individuals, adding the inescapable and institutionalized stigma of a criminal record.

Just as prohibiting sex work makes it even more dangerous, the most dysfunctional and destructive aspects of drug use are usually products of prohibition rather than of the substance itself. Consider overdoses, which almost always result from the user’s inability to know the content, purity, or strength of what they are ingesting. In the U.S., where nearly 65,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, users are buying their drugs on the black market. They cannot know what they are consuming, and their purchases fuel a black market worth over $100 billion annually. In Switzerland, where the government started giving opioid users access to pharmaceutical heroin and other opioid substitutes dispensed in a clinical setting, their overdose rate dropped by half and the rate of HIV infection dropped by 65%. Furthermore, the rate of new users there has declined. This harm reduction practice puts users in contact with medical staff without the pressure to change their lifestyle or usage.

The long history of stigmatizing members of the LGBTQ community increases the rate of trauma and abuse. (77% of transgender sex workers experienced harassment during childhood after expressing their transgender identity.) The continued discrimination that is present as transgender people enter the workforce forces them to find alternatives in the black market, bringing with it further stigma and legal peril. The consequences of this are dire. The attempted suicide rate of transgender sex workers is over 60%.

The legal system’s practice of legislating morality via the criminalization of drugs as well as sex work only serves to exacerbate the potential dangers of these behaviors by limiting the available resources and adding to the stigma felt by drug users and sex workers. Compassion, not punishment, should be the underlying philosophy behind our public policy. The social and legislated stigma felt by people who are drug users, sex workers, LGBTQ, or a combination thereof, is a cruel burden that must be lifted before we can truly hope to help the most at-risk members of our communities.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.