Moral Relativism is Bias

An Inconvenient Truth is the name of Al Gore's book and documentary on the evidence of Global Warming.

An Inconvenient Truth is the name of Al Gore’s book and documentary on the evidence of Global Warming.

Moral relativism is the act of not taking a stand, or in other instances, pushing others to accept that there’s not a correct way to do things. Sometimes things are relative, but there are limits to this and it’s trendy to ignore that reality. Consequently moral relativism becomes bias when it ignores the impact of not taking a stand. Relativism can be paralyzing, not due to fear or ignorance, but due to confusion. Relativism becomes a tactic to negotiate for one’s real point of view, lack of interest, or not knowing how to act. For example, for a teacher to say “Can’t we all just get along” when a kid is being bullied, fails to hold the classroom bully accountable. Later, the kid who was bullied brings a gun to school since respect, love, and even life have all become relative.

Another aspect of relativism is it’s negative impact on diversity. To say there is no such thing as race denigrates the struggle of others, to say all religions preach the same thing diminishes each one, to say all cultures are the same denies the value of difference.

Relativism attacks anything that dares to say “No”. Are Americans spoiled? Why are we so desperate to push limits? Is this the by-product of a century of dominance and wealth? Morality deemed wrong even if it benefits society.

Relativism has its limits as I said, but it has been a way to challenge some archaic ideas. “Do no harm” is a mantra used to limit the extremes of relativism and dictatorship. Religion provides some good examples of “Do no harm” considerations. Circumcision is a useful test case for archaic rituals.  This is not an assault on the portion of Jews who circumcise males or the few Muslims who circumcise women, but is it our place to cut off a piece of a child? If the foreskin is removed with a Rabbi’s teeth, I would think so. If the surgery is botched and the child dies, definitely. But something so literally core to their religion must have some compromise, such as requiring a trained physician to perform it. Then again, if you could have aborted the boy 8 days before when they were in the womb, is it our place to say? (relativism) Now it’s different with women. To circumcise women does great harm, and not just during the act. It causes pain during sex and additional pain during childbirth for a lifetime. And I’ve read the Koran but not seen anything about cutting up a woman nor  interpretations that justify it. Male circumcision may be sad but can moral relativists make a strong enough argument if they also support abortion? And why are we so focused on things like this when the sex slave trade is still so prolific? Because moral relativists have carte blanche to do whatever they want, literally. It’s cover for self-interest. Is this the 21st century version of America’s Rugged Individualism?

Relativism has even handcuffed the police. Many don’t enforce unpopular laws from what I have witnessed. Even when I’ve been attacked by a known delinquent, it’s he said she said. They are hesitant to fill out a report, though my understanding is they must if requested. Then again if they don’t enforce some laws, why would they follow this rule? So I’ve gone down and filed reports myself. Should we support pay increases for police if they fail to abandon extreme relativism and at least enforce the laws still in place. You can’t pick and choose which laws to enforce. We saw that in battling Jim Crow in the South and oppression nationwide.

Moral relativism affects all of us. I am not immune. Let’s look inside ourselves to examine our own actions; how have we used relativism to trample on the beliefs of others; as well as our own? Or if we do believe something is relative, why do we think so?

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More Genealogy Tips and Tricks

Here are some more genealogy tips and tricks for your family history research. Click Ancestry & Genealogy on the right under Categories for similar posts.

  1. Formatting a Tree: Once you get further back in your family research it feels satisfying to see it all on one page. At one point I wanted to see seven generations from both sides represented on a one-page tree. This is not an easy task. Other than printing on legal size paper, I found that sports playoff brackets work great, whether the FIFA World Cup or The World Series! I adapted them for genealogy and then traced out my own. (Go Giants!)
  2. Adoptions: I don’t have any experience researching adoptions, but I have a couple of cousins sprinkled here and there who are adopted. I think it’s important to make a note in some way in the comments section where you might put blood type or eye color. Related to this, let me give heart to those who are adopted. Your family tree is just as important. And it’s not that you don’t have a family tree, you have two. You are twice blessed. Your biological father may have given you blue eyes, but your adopted father gave you a love of baseball or architecture or what have you. They are both part of your heritage and who you are.
  3. Outside the Internet Box: It is now considered normal to search online for your roots, but don’t forget old fashioned sources. I enjoyed the significant collection of San Francisco address directories at the California Genealogical Society as well as their in-depth collection of newspaper obituaries. These are not readily available online as they are much more local in nature. Yet this is where the good stuff, the meat, the story of the family, can be found. I learned of a great great-grandfather who was laid off from his job as a stevedore, likely had a few drinks, and washed up the next morning in Oakland. Not the proudest moment but insightful nonetheless.
  4. Fires, Earthquakes, and Natural Disasters: For the most part, the 1890 U.S. census burned before copies of census records were being kept in separate locations. However sometimes records are salvaged and then relocated. For example, regarding church records, I found my grandparents marriage certificate at St. Emydius Church even though they were married at St. Michael’s. They are neighboring parishes. A construction project at St. Michel’s and its later conversion to a Korean Catholic Church resulted in the records remaining at St. Emydius until I found it. Fortunately this was known by the church secretary, but sometimes you will need to know the history of the archives to get the history of your ancestor.
  5. Record Keeping: I highly recommend some organized filing system for your research, even if you don’t expect genealogy to become a full-on hobby. As a teenager I developed a simple way to group research using colored folders: green for the Irish, blue for the Scottish, red for the Danish, and purple for the Italian. I roughly followed the colors of the flag and went Roman purple since the green and red were taken. You may want a binder with the following sections: family records, active research notes, family worksheets, and family trees. You can also file by surname or generation; just pick something that works for you. This way if you take a break for a few months between research you will not have to start all over again.

Sample Sports Bracket

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New Quotes Page

I’ve launched a new quotes page. More will be added over time. Most of these touch an aspect of identity such as language, citizenship, religion, or class.

“We cannot free ourselves unless we move forward united in a single desire.” – Emilio Aguinaldo, Filipino revolutionary, and first president of the Philippines

“The whole story of the comfort women, the system of forced sexual slavery, the medical experiments of Unit 731, is not something that is in the US psyche. That is changing because many books are coming out.” – Iris Shun-Ru Chang, American journalist discussing the topic of her book The Rape of Nanking

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”– Winston Churchill, English Prime Minister

“Again if we want to be sons of Christ and followers of the truth of the gospel, we should consider that, even though these people may be completely barbaric, they are nevertheless created in God’s image. They are not so forsaken by divine providence that they are incapable of attaining Christ’s kingdom” – Bartolomé de Las Casas, Spanish priest, in his 16th century book In Defense of the Indians.

“We have made great progress when few have too much and fewer too little.” – Severin Grundtvig, Danish poet and theologian

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., American pastor and civil rights leader

Pádraig Pearse

Pádraig Pearse

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” – Toni Morrison, American author

“Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam. A country without a language is a country without a soul.” – Pádraig Pearse, Irish revolutionary and writer

“Your example will embolden others, who fear only to commence.” – José Rizal, Filipino author and nationalist, in his 19th century novel Noli me Tangere

José Rizal

José Rizal

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Inadvertent Racism and Black English

Difference is often looked down upon by the majority rather than cherished. Inadvertent racism rears its head occasionally too. An example of accidental genetic racism is the Ebonics fiasco of the Oakland school board. It came on the tail end of a paper I wrote on Ebonics in December 1996 for my African American Consciousness class at City College of San Francisco so I remember it well.

Crayon colored map I made for Ebonics Paper (no computer  needed, can you believe it!)

Crayon colored map I made for my paper titled Black English (no computer needed in the old days, can you believe it!)

Ebonics is somewhat unique among dialects in America as it is spoken among individuals of the same race rather than geographically based.  It is alternatively called Black English or African-American Vernacular English. It was legitimatized in a 1979 district court case Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School Children et al. v. Ann Arbor School District. It was determined that the home language of most low-income black children was a distinct dialect referred to as Black English.  Under the equal protection clause, in order to best educate these American children, teachers could not ignore this reality. Today Ebonics continues to be a source of disdain, pride, suffering and survival; depends who you ask.

Jump forward to 1996, the Oakland School Board recognizes the legitimacy of Ebonics, nothing new. It then went on to mandate instruction in the dialect, as a means to teaching Standard English. This is interesting, as it requires a normative system of instruction for the dialect. What shocked everyone at the time was that they also said the inclination to speak Ebonics was genetically based. It passed unanimously.

According to SF Gate articles, school board members stated that the poor black children they pictured were “biologically predisposed toward a particular language through heredity.” Of course national political figures were furious and the newspapers had articles about this daily. Some were worried of the racist implications; others used it to enforce a colorblind hegemony, which would deny considering a home language at all.

In 1997 the school board amended the resolution to remove the accidental racist undertones of tying the children and their families’ inability to speak Standard English to genetics. They accurately noted in their clarification that it was linguistically genetic, meaning the genealogy of language development over time created the dialect. Unfortunately that wasn’t clear the first time.

If the majority of the Oakland School Board, led at the time by Jean Quan, were white, there may have been serious consequences for these local politicians. Fortunately, the focus remained on correcting what could be wielded as legalized racism, even if enacted by accident.

Here is a portion of the text of the resolution passed on December 18, 1996. Full text can be found here thanks to SF Gate:

WHEREAS, numerous validated scholarly studies demonstrate that African-American students as a part of their culture and history as African people possess and utilize a language described in various scholarly approaches as “Ebonics” (literally “Black sounds”) or “Pan-African Communication Behavior” or “African Language Systems”; and

WHEREAS, these studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems are genetically based and not a dialect of English; and

WHEREAS, the interests of the Oakland Unified School District in providing equal opportunities for all of its students dictate limited English proficient educational programs recognizing the English language acquisition and improvement skills of African-American students are as fundamental as is application of bilingual education principles for others whose primary languages are other than English; and…

I remember it sounding worse back in 1996. What can we learn from this? It was a big fat faux pas at best. I think I was more aligned with the colorblind approach then. At worst it was scientific racism making a comeback. They practically proved the need for the resolution by passing it. Words are so important. It is ironic that the resolution was about teaching Standard English and fighting racism yet it was subject to such broad interpretation and accusations of racism.

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Filipinos in the California Gold Rush

Part of the inspiration for my first book, with a Filipino protagonist, was discovering Filipinos in the California Gold Rush. You can see in the picture here that there were multiple, not many, but still a presence. This census page shows six. I had also heard about the “Tulitos Camp” from the Pinoy Archives referencing a 1934 Stockton Daily newspaper article.

Filipino Manila Men in the California Gold Rush

There were said to be a hundred “Manila Men” from the Philippines, which was still a colony of Spain at the time. Many Filipinos, travelled to the Americas, first on Galleons carrying silver from Potosí in Peru, later to Mexico as laborers. There are instances where Filipinos settled in the Louisiana bayou when it was still under Spanish control. This was before Napoleon. More recently they worked in sugar plantations and the fields of California. Though not an integral part of American history until the 20th century, the appearance of Filipinos over time was always intriguing to me. Perhaps growing up in San Francisco and having many childhood Filipino friends influenced me.

But what was “Filipino” in the 1852 California state census? Back then Filipino referred to whites who had travelled to Manila. Those whites born in the Philippines were labeled criollo. The children of those who married local women were called mestizo. The locals were called indios or labeled by their respective ethnic subgroup: Tagalo, Ilokano, Cebuano, etc. There were a plethora of additional terms based on racial percentages and degree of darkness. The Filipinos in the 1852 census of Mariposa County are unlabeled in the race category. However I believe it’s because the US only had the labels of white, black, Indian, and mulatto readily available. Also, census takers may not have had the vocabulary or wherewithal to know. Thus the Chinese and Filipinos on the census sheet are unlabeled, though later thrown in as white for statistical purposes. The government soon stepped in and by 1860 clearer labels were developed, though still different from today’s.

This census finding and location featured prominently in my novel as a place for my protagonist to further develop his identity around race. Though in the real census, these miners appear to all be from Manila, and were labeled as U.S. citizens! They had surnames like Badilla, Tores, Lopes, Abeline and Dillon. I would argue they were mestizo. I make this claim using peripheral/circumstantial evidence. They were not given the two hash marks denoting ditto or ibid.  So they were not given the white label. Yet they were from Manila and listed as U.S. Citizens. Also, their surnames are not indigenous to the Philippines, though the Spanish assigned Spanish surnames to much of the population. Finally, a native Filipino would likely not have the resources to easily come to the gold rush. It would be a rare instance. Since all six are labeled in the same way, it can support the idea that they were all similar. More research would need to be done to obtain more solid evidence one way or the other.

Finding this record started as a pleasant sidetrack in my own genealogical research. When it marinated with my studies on race and identity, my personal upbringing and environment, it crystalized and grew into my first novel. I doubt the Tulitos camp miners would have imagined that they would spark inspiration in a white man 150 years in the future. This is just more evidence that our lives do not truly end, just because we die.

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Genealogy Tips and Tricks

To supplement the Genealogy Starter Kit, here are some genealogy tips and tricks I’ve learned. These have helped me when I find myself going down the wrong path or when one branch of the family seems at first to have been lost to time.

  1. Doppelgangers: You need to make sure you have at least two primary sources documenting the same fact. There are too many people on the planet to assume your Margaret Boyd or your Lupe Ramirez is the first one you see in your search. The commercials make it look that easy but it takes a cautious approach to make sure you have the right ancestor. Even if it’s the same birth year. That alone does not prove anything.
  2. Name Changes: Names change over time. Giovanni Ramazzotti may decide to go by John Ramazzotti by the time he reaches California. Janet McFee my go by Jessie once she gets married. Peggy is a nickname for Margaret; think of nicknames if you’re stumped. Also, census takers may write your ancestor’s name wrong. There are hundreds in the census with the name of Ah Chen, but you may know that within the family Ah Chen has a totally different name. Check the cultural context and history as clues to how your ancestor is named.
  3. Your Files: Keep a list of searches you’ve done. Many times I have found myself looking up the 1870 census record for Michael O’Neil only to realize that I had done that search before. It’s easy to get turned around because with each generation you double the number of individuals to research!
  4. Frontage Roads: Look for alternate sources. For example, I found numerous ancestors in the San Francisco address directories, a very rich source of information. It allowed me to see how often they moved, what they did for work, sometimes when they died – in that instance, the wife’s name appeared the following year with the note “(wid)” next to her name. It was the same address as the year before which strengthened accuracy of the fact. It also matched the death record once retrieved.
  5. Other Twigs and Branches: When I’ve been stuck, I’ve gone to siblings of the ancestor. You may find it was your great-uncle who cared for your great-grandparents and they appear in his census record. Voilà, you have found their names and can continue another generation.
  6. Ethnic/Linguistic Aids: There are other sites that could be useful depending on the ethnicity. For example, for the Italian side, you must make your request for family records in Italian. There are templates online for that.  Utilize those resources.
  7. Geography & History: War changes boundaries, names, husbands. It forces emigration and destroys documents. My great grandfather Matteo Luscia was Italian, but his census record, while most other men in the mining community were form Italy and also spoke Italian, lists him as born in Austria. Perhaps a corner of Brescia within Lombardia was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire at the time. By the time he naturalized, he had to relinquish an allegiance to the king of Italy, reinforcing that he was an ethnic Italian upon immigration to America.
"Moya" and "Bopop's" marriage record.

“Moya” and “Bopop’s” marriage record.

I get excited just thinking about it. Good luck to you.

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Genealogy Starter Kit

I believe these to be my great-great-grandparents Giovanni Ramazzotti and Charlotta Perazzo.

I believe these to be my great-great-grandparents
Giovanni Ramazzotti and Charlotta Perazzo.

Need a New Year’s resolution? Why not research your family tree? Here’s your genealogy starter kit. You may find there were questions you didn’t even know you had. It can explain why you grew up where you did or why you never met one side of the family. In my two decades of genealogical research, one of the best experiences is enabling friends to do research on their own. In fact, that’s how you begin the process.

The first thing to do is create a “Family Group Worksheet” which will guide you in gathering the key facts needed to grow your tree. This structure allows you to expand your discovery later. You can print templates, enter one online on Ancestry for example, or simply make your own for now.

Step 1: Talk to your family. Ask your parents, grandparents if you’re fortunate to still have them, aunts, uncles, any family member that may know milestone information about your ancestors. Be sure you’re getting accurate if not first-hand information. Write what they tell you and add a question mark if it’s unclear. You need the following bits of information going back as far as you can.

  • Full name of your parents, your grandparents, etc. Include middle initials, maiden names for married women, and siblings.
  • Birth/Baptism dates and places. Include church as applicable, city, province, etc.
  • Marriage dates and places. Ibid.
  • Death/Burial dates and places. Ibid.

Step 2: Enter any other information that might be useful. This is often the flesh that goes on the bones of your tree. This is the kind of stuff that makes a family tree so rewarding. Again talk to your family. Listen to the stories they tell. You may see it in a new light. Plus it displays grace to show your elders that they continue to have value. Here are some questions to guide you:

  • When did your ancestors come to America?
  • What were their occupations?
  • When did they migrate to the current city?
  • Did they serve in the military?
  • Were they ever imprisoned or enslaved?

Step 3: Document the information you’ve gathered. If the foundation is wrong, you will spend all your time researching someone else’s family. You can make requests for birth and death certificates from your state capital. Click here to search for the Vital Records Offices in the US. There is usually a small fee.

Step 4: Extend your research. This is the more daunting part, but there are numerous sources available. More and more can be done online. You may consider purchasing family tree software at this point to store your ever-growing database. This helps in planning family reunions. Customized family trees make great gifts.

Ancestry has census records online for the US and at least some for Mexico, Canada, and the UK. Many records may be locked for those without membership. Consider this an investment. Or you can visit local genealogical libraries and look up census records for free. It is much more cumbersome going through microfilm, but also fun, like a scavenger hunt. And check out the following as applicable. Good luck and Happy New Year!

The U.S. National Archives (NARA)

California Genealogical Society

New England Genealogical Society

Italian General Archives

National Archives of the Philippines

Oficinas del Registro Civil en Mexico

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Native Americans – Ancestral Records, Congress, and Sainthood

I’ve noticed Native Americans in the news lately.  Here’s a summary of three recent stories.

The truth about Ohlone history was featured in an article last month in Catholic San Francisco. There are few descendants remaining of Bay Area Native Americans as so many died after the Spanish arrived. Two are quoted, Vincent Medina and Andrew Glavan. Both are involved with Mission Dolores today. The Mission was founded in San Francisco in June 1776.

San Francisco Mission Dolores, photo from the 19th century

San Francisco’s Mission Dolores, photo taken in the later 19th century

Despite conveniences the Spanish brought in architecture, husbandry, clothing and transportation, it was not a fair trade. The Ohlone, as Medina points out, were forced into slavery. Their freedom of assembly, speech, religion, and other basic rights were blocked. They were forced to labor in the fields and construct the very mission we cherish today. Not mentioned was something I learned in high school, many enslaved women chose to kill their newborns instead of bringing them into this new world. This added to their decline.

Something I didn’t know was that the wooden grave markers of these Ohlone were gathered up and used as firewood for survivors of the 1906 earthquake and fire. Today, some of the Ohlone descendants and others are working to digitize the records kept by the Spanish in an effort to revive the language and remember the Ohlone ancestors.

In SoCal, accusations flew against Congressional candidate Raul Ruiz for his activities promoting Native Americans rights and recognition of ill treatment throughout American history. The article can be found in the LA Times. The most questionable seems to center around Ruiz reading a letter from a rebel in Mexico in support of someone who killed an FBI agent. As Ruiz says, “Congresswoman Bono Mack is launching desperate personal attacks because she’s down in the polls and losing this race — voters are appalled by her record on the issues that matter to them like voting to end Medicare and failing to create jobs.”

Jump out to the East Coast and to Vatican City where just the other day the first Native American was named a saint. Kateri Tekakwitha grew up in a Mohawk tribe with an Algonquin Christian mother who had been kidnapped and given to a Mohawk man during an inter-tribal raid. After refusing herself to marry a Mohawk man, she converted to Catholicism and thus became a pariah among her own people. She was seen as a traitor for not conforming against a growing threat of Europeans.

Kateri fled on foot to Canada to live with a community of Christian women. A complete article is on the NBC news website.

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Religious Ignorance

Watching Law & Order SVU on Hulu, I notice a number of episodes with murders and other secular activities taking place in a Catholic church. It makes me more conscious of how groups are portrayed in the media. With this show, I often see characters who are criminals and Christian. Perhaps writers involve Catholicism because our rituals can add so much color to a story. Thankfully one of the main characters in the show is Catholic or it could feel anti-Catholic. Maybe it’s this subliminal portrayal by the writers that keeps me watching.

Jesus Christ, founder of the Church

Jesus Christ, founder of the Church

There are lots of stereotypes and misinformation about Catholics in general. I’m a little taken aback by people visibly hating Catholicism only to learn how ignorant they are of it. Perhaps there is a correlation. Here are some myths I hear from friends and strangers alike. People think that because we’re Catholic we:

  • abuse children
  • aren’t Christian
  • don’t pray to Jesus
  • worship the pope
  • hate homosexuals
  • hate science
  • are all Latino
  • don’t believe in evolution
  • can’t think for ourselves

These are all false. I hope you see the ridiculousness in at least some of these. This speaks to a larger issue, the right of a people to define themselves.  Whether it’s Orthodox or Reformed Jews, Sunni or Shi’a Muslims, Protestants or Catholics, Sikh or Hindu, agnostic or atheist, we cannot push our stereotypes onto others to support our hatred. At least we shouldn’t, if we care about fairness and justice.

I don’t pretend that religion is perfect, it is after all, administered by humans. The child abuse and subsequent scandal was handled horrifically and we’re still working on the issues. Yet this doesn’t justify hatred for all Catholics or anything Catholic.

To help break more stereotypes, though shameful as any of it is, the percentage of priests who have molested a minor is in line with the general population. See Additionally it’s on par with other religions. We don’t even hear about what is happening with other religions, which to me indicates a lack of transparency.

We hear of American congressman found to abuse their underage aides. Should we abolish Congress and ban America? Let’s be realistic. We have such a tendency in America to want to obliterate whole groups of people we don’t like. Let’s stop this pattern. Don’t take up a banner to protest the killing of Christians in Nigeria, democrats in North Korea, or homosexuals in Saudi Arabia. Start here. Really, there’s plenty to do right where you live.

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Poem: Letter from My Ancestors



I read the following poem in The Best American Poetry 2006. It reminded me a lot of my own family.

You can learn more about the poet, Krista Lukas née Benjamin, on her website:



Letter from My Ancestors

We wouldn’t write this,
wouldn’t even think of it. We are working
people without time on our hands. In the old country,

we milk cows or deliver the mail or leave,
scattering to South Africa, Connecticut, Missouri,
and finally, California for the Gold Rush –

Aaron and Lena run the Yosemite campground, general
store, a section of the stagecoach line. Morris comes
later, after the earthquake, finds two irons

and a board in the rubble of San Francisco.
Plenty of prostitutes need their dresses pressed, enough
to earn him the cash to open a haberdashery and marry

Sadie – we all have stories, yes, but we’re not thinking
stories. We have work to do, and a dozen children. They’ll
go on to pound nails and write up deals, not musings.

We document transactions. Our diaries record
temperatures, landmarks, symptoms. We
do not write our dreams. We place another order,

make the next delivery, save the next
dollar, give another generation – you,
maybe – the luxury of time

to write about us.

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