family Archives - The Jose Vilson


Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Hugging After Re-Election

Dear President Obama,

You’ve won. Congratulations. Honestly. As an independent, I had no initial horse in this race, but as a Afro-Latino, I’m proud that you’ve once again managed to claim the White House as yours, in a country where the bones, blood, and sweat of African slaves and Native Americans sit under the House you now occupy. Your re-election came at a high cost, specifically your dreams of a bi-partisan transcendence. If anything, it solidified that the country civilly lives in three spheres: one that wants to push its party a little farther right, one that wishes its party would push a lot farther left, and one that sits square in the middle, lukewarm to the politics of the current day.

My family and I watched your sincerest video to date a few hours ago, awed at the humanity you showed in victory, inspiring those of us who do work in the public sector for those less fortunate and / or privileged. Our son will never know a world where a person of color can’t reach the highest post in our government, and the personal sacrifices you made to make that happen might have brought a weaker man to his knees.

But, your work is far from done.

We thought you would bring fair trials to the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and close it in your first year. The gates remain open.

We thought you would bring about actual peace in the Middle East. You might have killed Osama bin Laden, but you are equally responsible for the drones dropping on innocent civilians there, and the perpetuation of the Green Zone in Baghdad while babies die right outside its gates.

We thought you would reverse the reprehensible education policies set by your predecessor George W. Bush, and, instead, you may have enhanced the testing machine in many ways, even as you speak against it.

We thought you would push for a single payer piece in a more comprehensive universal health care bill instead of what turned out to be the health care reform we ended up seeing. It’s saved thousands, and most of the bill’s effects will hit in 2014, but our medical bills hurt now. Sadly.

We thought you would pass the DREAM Act, giving a clearer path of citizenship for those children whose parents came to this country for an opportunity, just like so many other parents have over the last few centuries. A simple memo won’t satisfy Jan Brewer nor Joe Arpaio in Arizona, so it won’t satisfy us either.

We thought you would walk with us when our unions came under attack in Illinois, Wisconsin, California, and in so many other states. I even laid out one of my most comfortable pair since we wear around the same size. Alas, you never came to pick them up.

We get that politicians generally don’t fulfill their campaign promises in full, and compromise constitutes our imperfect union as much as the general public despises compromise. Yet, those of us who see these glaring issues will hold you accountable. We need to set a more progressive agenda, one that places more importance on the poor and working class in this country than the wealthy. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work because if it did, the income gap wouldn’t keep spreading the rich and poor apart ever so slightly every second of every working and non-working hour.

Without the risk of losing the presidency four years from now, you have another opportunity to do what’s right. Again. But this time, your base won’t wait or hope. We will continue pushing for a better America, one that pushed for candidates who promoted marriage equality, women’s rights, and a truer sense of democracy. While your administration contemplates nuclear weapons in Iran and war in Syria, I worry that some of your current policies will only push the term “Democrat” into right-center.

We can’t afford that.

So I’m hoping you receive this with the knowledge that, yes, I do have some obligation to call out the racist and bigots. You are Black despite people’s misgivings about what Black ancestry means here, and you don’t have to show your transcript to irrelevant losers. You do have a cool factor that affords you the right to mention Jay-Z and Abraham Lincoln without skipping a beat.

You don’t have to listen to people who say that you were only elected by people who prefer government handouts. As demonstrated by your bailouts in the early part of your tenure, the very rich like their handouts as well. As a person, I admire the love you and your family have for each other, and the image of a popular person of color embracing the idea of “family” symbolically for the country, and that I do think Michelle, Sasha, and Malia rock in their own ways.

However, as an educator and father, I want to see you leave this country better than it currently stands for years from now. Too many people all over the country are suffering, and some of that falls squarely on your shoulders.

By the time my son has the wisdom to ask me about you, I’d love to say, with context, “Mr. Obama did right by us …” I won’t be quiet about everything else, but, as demonstrated by your re-election, this is far from over. For either of us.

Thanks in advance,




by Jose Vilson on July 3, 2012

in Jose

I always dreamed I would end up in Seattle somehow.

In the early 90s, I fell in love with the idea of going to the Emerald City back when Gary Payton threw lobs to Shawn Kemp for some of the most incredible alley-oops I had ever seen in my life. My infatuation with the green and gold only grew as I started to see pictures of the Space Needle and the Puget Sound. Back when Ken Griffey displayed the most beautiful swing possibly of all time, Nirvana and Pearl Jam already cranked through my headphones, and I had developed a good taste for seafood.

It took me 20 years, but I finally arrived on Friday, and it felt so good.

I walked down through downtown Seattle, sniffing in the plethora of Starbucks and Pan-Asian foods deep into my lungs. I brushed past the crowds near Safeco Field and Pike Place Market. I wiped my mouth after having a clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, leaving just enough room for grilled seafood for the main course. I laughed at vendors selling Yankees Suck! tees while cheering on the Mariners versus the Red Sox in Viva Las [Jason] Vargas faux-gilded sunglasses. I had one (and only one) local beer, but felt wobbly walking and driving up and down the hills of Queen Anne and Capitol Hill.

Yet, something was missing.

I started to see families of all races, ages, and orientations making their way around the Space Needle. I walked up the cyclical ramp, up the ramp, and past the crowds snacking on hot dogs and fries. I walked right to the outer observation and felt like I stood on top of the world. The people spoke with their inside voices, but the whole scene felt so loud to me, like a roar, a boom, a clarion call. Overlooking every street I walked, every building I passed, and every body of water that contributed to the brisk conditions there, I almost felt like, for a split second, the world was mine.

I didn’t have my family with me. The entire observation deck had babies sitting on railings (with a little help of course), kids running around trying to keep a set of binoculars in front of them, adults sighing and smiling, and couples embracing. Now, I join the millions of people who couldn’t imagine making it to the top without the people they love.

I’ll definitely be back in Seattle again. The next time, however, I’ll have at least two other people in tow, one of whom will ask me, “Dad, what is that over there?” I’ll tell him it’s a mountain. He’ll say, “Can we get up on one of those?”

Yes, of course. Music to my ears.


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Short Notes: A Family Thing

by Jose Vilson on September 6, 2009

in Jose

Wu Tang Clan

Wu Tang Clan

You probably wouldn’t know it from the lack of information I’ve shared about my actual family, but I come from a single-mother household with one brother from my stepfather and a plethora of siblings, a couple of whom I didn’t even know of until I was 16. Much of that stems from lack of responsibility or maybe even ignorance, but I’m over that. It took years for me to realize that this reality, this diversion from the “American dream” had less to do with me and more about the ideals instilled in me from my surroundings and the parts of me I felt I was missing from not having a real positive male presence in my house.

This, and many other related thoughts ran through my mind as I had 2 of my cousins and my elder brother sitting around a table at Dallas BBQ last night. One would never think that a family this disjointed would find themselves boisterously enjoying Hennessey-dipped wings and hating on outside vagabonds. In true Vilson form, we also threw a few barbs at each other and the rest of our family for good measure. At one point, I found myself just surprised at the naturalness and the openness we’d all established with each other over the last 6-8 years, as if we had been together for most of our lives.

It also got me to thinking of the students I’ll have this year, most of whom I’ll have had for 2 years going on 3. How much of this consistency with these students has maintained my students who don’t have father figures in their homes? How much have I contributed to a family-type environment in that room? Do I contribute positively to their lives or am I just another stressor in addition to the various complications they have at home? Because I’m such an advocate for the socio-emotional development of my students, I find myself on the opposite side of the trends people follow around me.

For instance, a fellow math teacher told me she couldn’t put up inspirational poster boards because people in years past told her that non-subject-related posters were unacceptable, especially in a topic like math. To that, I retorted, “F* ‘em.” Sure, it was a little terse (and hilarious), but I also recognize the need for my students to love where they are, and know that they’re welcome and accepted somewhere, even with the rules we have. Too many students aren’t invested in school because a) their roles at home are elevated and / or b) they have emotionally / socially / economically broken homes. Some of us “educators” are far too concerned with complying with the state tests that we don’t teach them the critical thinking skills that will lead our students to help their own communities on a myriad of levels.

If not for my elder brother, ever the family historian, zealous salesman, and effective-problem solver, we wouldn’t have found that common bond between the Vilsons necessary to build those connections. Now, a whole generation of Vilsons, displaced by circumstance, can do things like terrorize waiters and customers at Dallas BBQ. Or for that matter, develop the extended family we never really had.

Jose, who tried to make this short, but this was far too important …

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Against All Odds

June 16, 2009 Jose
2Pac In Backwards Hat & Chain

Today will mostly be remembered for 2Pac Shakur’s birthday. The once and still prolific MC carried on a legendary life, evidenced by his persistent legacy and demigod status within multiple communities. He constantly ranks amongst the most profitable dead celebs, and his style continues to pervade some really popular MCs. People like me were also […]

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The Sounds of Quisqueya Call Me Right Back

May 19, 2009 Jose
Jose In The Dark

Today, Raquel Cepeda linked me to a post about Dominican-Haitian relations that she wrote on her blog, and for those of you who know me, you know I had to jump on that quickly. Most of you know my story already: Dominican mom, Haitian father, grew up conflicted about my identity and how people sought […]

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Open Thread: Thankful

November 27, 2008 Jose
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

My favorite Thanksgiving traditions involve my younger brother and cousin eating pernil (pork) from Mom’s awesome cooking, drinking tons of soda, playing NBA 2Ksomething, or Mario Kart, and then sitting in the living room after the adults left and talking shit. Just putrid and haterific shit. Most of it I can’t even remember, but I […]

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