Progress: Beyond Our Walls, Breaking Brexit vs. Fidel Fell

Reflection: Beyond Our Walls is a very versatile genre and stories in this genre can go in many different directions stylistically. It is also hard to find a focus in these genres, and to stick to that focus through multiple interviews while also letting the story take shape around the perspectives of the interviews. With my story “Breaking Brexit” I had written excellent Beyond Our Walls stories before (see: “What toMauro holds for Hillary”), but never one that is so distant from our school. Brexit was a huge focus of politics when it happened, especially at my family dinner conversations as my father is British, but it was hard to find people at ARS who had legitimate opinions or even complete knowledge about the event. I wanted to make the story relevant to us, to include actual ARS community members in the story, and to make it informational for readers. I interviewed my father’s British friend, a politically knowledgeable teacher, and a student with British relatives. The interviews all had pretty different focuses so I struggled with putting them all together in a story that flowed. The final story was good, but it was not fantastic. Later, I wrote a story about the “death” of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro titled “Fidel Fell.” My grandpa came to America from Cuba during the Castro revolution and he has distinct memories of the church he grew up in being involved in the revolution- I am Cuban. It seemed fitting that I take this story, but like Brexit, it was a bit disconnected from the Ann Richards community. I interviewed my Cuban grandpa, our Venezuelan Spanish teacher, and a particularly politically aware student about Castro’s death. The interviews were still difficult to put together in a well-written story, but this time I did better because of my experience with “Breaking Brexit.” Clearly, practice helps. I managed to make the story much more applicable to our students while maintaining the integrity of the story. The quotes I chose to use were more relevant and my writing was better.

Breaking Brexit:
Liberals who assumed the United States and England were moving forward politically with them are stunned at the most recent decisions in their countries.

“I’m not a [US] citizen yet,” Ben Wright, a British member of staff at the University of Texas at Austin, said. “I actually decided on Wednesday to pull my application. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the pledge of allegiance anyway and the whole oath, and the fact that it would be Donald Trump on the wall of the DMV when I went in to do it… I just think I’m going to keep my options open.”

Keeping his options open, but feeling lost. Wright recently checked out emotionally from Britain (his home country) because of the majority vote for Brexit.

“I think refugees and homeless people go through problems that I will never go through,” Wright said. “But I do feel sort of politically, culturally homeless; sort of displaced in between my homeland, which is going bonkers politically, and here which is going bonkers politically. So I can’t imagine what other refugees, who have faced crazy populace in their home countries feel… They come here, and look who get’s elected. That’s rough.”

The votes for Brexit and President – Elect Donald Trump were two very different elections, and seemingly different issues – but the outcomes could have been influenced by the same ideas.

“It shows the same sort of ability of angry, disenfranchised people to come out of the woodwork,” Wright said. “Everyone talks about how the rural American way of life is in trouble, and it’s slipping away- so is the black way of life, so is the hispanic way of life- and they don’t all go nihilistic and racist on us. So, there’s something else going on too, which is racism. There is no economic excuse for it. I think that’s the same case in England as well; [The economy] is context, not an excuse.”

History teacher Ms. Pamela Mathai says that a large similarity between the voters for Brexit and the voters for the winner of the U.S. Presidential Election is that they used the economy as an “excuse” for their decisions.

“We live in a time period where we like to think that racism is something of the past, and sexism against women is no longer an issue,” Ms. Mathai said. “But I think Brexit made it really clear that there was a lot of islamophobia, and a lot of fear of syrian refugees, and migrant communities coming into England, and disrupting the communities, or what they see as disrupting the communities that are already there.”

Britain and the United States are characteristically more left than right in politics, economics, and social aspects. However, both countries have made largely conservative decisions within the past year: Electing Donald Trump for the President of the United States, and Britain choosing to exit from the European Union.

“The reality is, and this is how it’s been historically, throughout our nation and in other countries historically: When the economy is in crisis or when people are feeling left out of the economy, one way to redirect anger [instead of directing anger at the economy itself or at the people in power], is people use race as a way to blame problems and shift anger and anxiety onto people who are different than us and blame them for our economic problems,” Ms. Mathai said. “Instead of looking at: How is our system flawed? How are the people in power not making good decision for us? I think those things are very connected.”

According to Wright, perhaps it is good that Trump was elected now so that we are forced to address the racism that drove these decisions. He says that we now have to pay attention to the people who are voting for Donald Trump and Brexit, or else it’s going to bite us in the butt.

“There was a lot of reporting before Brexit happened around similarities between people who supported Brexit and people who supported Donald Trump,” history teacher Mathai said. “And I don’t think that that’s an accident.”

However, Eleanor Bailey (11) argues a different point, saying that these two decisions were driven by separate agendas.

“I think that the election of Donald Trump is worse,” Bailey said. “It not only involves the politics and the economics, it also involves the social aspect… Brexit was mostly an economic issue, in my opinion.”

Our election was also worse in Bailey’s opinion because of the effects it will have on the youth of America.

“Donald Trump being elected president means that hateful comments like the ones he’s made are now being seen as okay by the youth of America, who don’t really understand what it means to say those things,” Bailey said. “All they know is that if the president can say those things, why can’t I? That’s to me is the scariest part of this whole thing. Not his policies, none of that, just the fact that a man who says these things is the most powerful person in our country.”

Perhaps we did break Brexit, seeing that according to Bailey, our election has much more at stake than the economy. If Brexit does get approved by the congress of Britain, however, it is much more permanent.

“Which is good news for America because it’s only over four years,” Wright said. “But for Britain this could be graver because once you’re out [of the European Union], you’re out. It’s like selling a house in Austin, you’re never gonna get back in.”

There is the permanent aspect of Brexit, the lasting social impact of the U.S. Presidential Election, the racist and economical impacts of both, and most importantly the political technicalities of both. Depending on where a person is from or where their priorities lie now, anyone can decide for themselves whether or not they approve of these country wide decisions- and if they don’t approve of them, they can decide which one breaks the other.

Fidel Fell:

Almost every day in the news this week there has been reporting on the death of Fidel Castro; how it is affecting Cubans, mourning or celebrating; how it will affect the U.S. and other political and economic powers; how everything down to the culture in Cuba may change.

“It’s a really sad event, because I think he did [good things] for a lot of people,” Kai Bovik (10) said. “And while he needs to be criticized like any leader, he still did a lot of good, and so it was a pretty tragic event.”

Many people are surprised at some Cuban’s reactions to Castro’s death- he is depicted as a ruthless dictator, and yet Cubans are grieving his death. Bovik was not super educated on Castro before his death, but took the opportunity to learn more about him after seeing so many people in mourning.

“I found that he was very controversial: He did a lot of good for the third world people, he increased literacy rates and health care,” Bovik said. “But he also, for example, had strict policies on freedom of speech and things like that. Also, he apparently had some homophobic policies. So while he definitely needed to be criticized, and there were some things that I did not agree with, overall I think he did a lot of good.”

People may especially think of Castro as a negative figure because of the influence of Cuban- Americans

“I read somewhere that a lot the Cuban people in America were people who were exiled by Castro, or family of people who were exiled by Castro,” Bovik said. “So I think that those people might be happy about [his death], or may be glad that the person who tore apart their family is gone.”

A Venezuelan perspective comes from Spanish teacher Mr. Carlos Ruiz who grew up admiring Fidel Castro and Che Guevara for their ability to stand up to the most powerful countries in the world, like the United States. Now he is glad that Castro is gone and Cuba has a chance to change, because of the negative things Castro did in office such as: controlling information on the internet in Cuba, hiding starving Cubans from the public eye, suppress the freedom of speech.

“I think that Raul Castro- [Fidel’s] brother, who is just five years younger (85 years old)- is more open to new ideas,” Ruiz said. “And he understands better the economic system that they created is not working, and it has not worked for years. So he’s going to be more open to have better relationships with the United States, and with other countries.”

Carlos Lopez, 93, grew up in Cuba and left just before Castro’s dictatorship. Lopez believes that it was time for Castro to die because he had been dictator for too long, and had been sick for five or so years.

“Right now Cubans in America are celebrating the end of Fidel’s days and his power in Cuba,” Lopez said. “Of course, his brother Raul is still in charge of governing the country- although he has said he plans to retire during the next year. I think the Cubans in Cuba are hoping that when Raul leaves office, the US will help Cuba recover economically and establish a true representative government.”

Ruiz said that under Castro, Cuba was continuing an economic parasite of communist dictatorships, drawing inspiration from Russia and Venezuela and spreading the broken system further. When Venezuela was going through trouble, they could not ask Cuba for help because Cuba had followed their footsteps. So, Venezuela turned to the U.S. for help.

“But right now it’s unclear how the USA will deal with Cuba,” Lopez said. “We will have to wait and see what incoming President Donald Trump will do and how his government will treat Cuba. My fear is that the Cubans will be disappointed with what this country offers and does.”


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