Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Of Hummingbirds and Lions"

Two Drops of Ink, one of the most popular on-line writing sites, has published my poem, "Of Hummingbirds and Lions:"

"Two hummingbirds come to the weathered rail of the grey porch, poke in and out of the red boxed flowers, back away.  

They hover beside my ear, wings beating the air, bringing the only hope of a breeze.
Beyond the sharp beaks, pointing, lie blonde hills topped by smoky blue haze.  The tawny mountains drop, disappear imperceptibly into the ocean..."

To read the entire poem, check out
 Two Drops of Ink.

To order
 Sister Mysteries, my new novel, go to claudiajricci.com or Amazon.com. 

It's no coincidence that the setting of the new novel is the same golden California hillside that appears in this poem. I wrote the poem while at a writing colony in California. And I wrote a lot of the novel at the same colony.

Readers are giving the new novel high praise:

“Ms. Ricci writes a real page turner; I found it challenging to put this book down! The immediately-engaging characters of Sister Renata and Gina develop a complicated relationship across time that sweeps the reader up in the dramatic events of the story that turns out to involve them both. In addition, Sister Mysteries is a wonderful fugue on the power of writing and also the power of music--a lot to accomplish. The author does this with seeming effortlessness--Bravo!” 

"Just an absolutely amazing piece of work. The vivid imagery, the poetry, the artistry.  Her writing has a flow and cadence that penetrates and turns the reader into a fellow traveler. I can't wait to share this with others."

Claudia Ricci is an amazingly gifted writer. Beautiful, painful, torturous, true, mysterious, provocative and healing -- a story of courage and friendship in the face of greed, power and betrayal."

Her descriptions are so vivid and the story itself is so intriguing."

Sunday, September 09, 2018

"A Real Page Turner!"

You spend what feels like an eternity writing a book, and then, once it’s published, you wonder, are people going to like it?

But when readers start sending in reviews like the one below, a great weight is lifted.
“Ms. Ricci writes a real page turner; I found it challenging to put this book down! The immediately-engaging characters of Sister Renata and Gina develop a complicated relationship across time that sweeps the reader up in the dramatic events of the story that turns out to involve them both. In addition, Sister Mysteries is a wonderful fugue on the power of writing and also the power of music--a lot to accomplish. The author does this with seeming effortlessness--Bravo!” 

For those of you who have purchased the book, a hearty thanks. Are there one or two friends to whom you might recommend the book? Are you part of a book group?

Discounts apply, and I would be happy to visit with the group for a discussion.

To buy the book, please visit my website, www.claudiajricci.com, or go to
 Amazon.com for either a paper copy or an ebook.


Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Flamenco guitarist Maria Zemantauski plays at the book party!

Maria Zemantauski is a virtuoso guitarist and composer, and -- I am very fortunate to say -- a good friend.  She was kind enough to drive an hour and a half on Sunday to come to my party celebrating Sister Mysteries. The book revolves around flamenco guitar, and practically everything I know about flamenco I learned from Maria, during many years of guitar lessons. A more patient teacher I’ve never met. Nor have I ever met anyone more passionate about music and the deeply  important role it plays in human life.
If you like classical guitar, you will love her music. I highly recommend all of her albums; the newest, entitled "Maria Zemantauski," and available on her website,
is a compilation of songs she’s written or arranged in the last 20 years.

She brought a very special energy and flair to the book party; the guests were enthralled with her spectacular playing, as are all of her thousands of fans worldwide.

A special thanks to her. And thanks to all of you who came to the party and purchased the book. 

Another special guest was my cousin Barbara Sergio, who made the drive from Connecticut. Barbara was for many years a nun, and on Sunday she told me that one of the nuns in her convent was named Sister Renata!

Meanwhile, readers continue to praise Sister Mysteries:

"I just finished reading Sister Mysteries. From the very beginning I loved Sister Renata. I really liked the Gina sections too — I like the way Gina is trying to write the stories. I particularly liked how Gina moved across time — sometimes she is with Sister Renata and then sometimes she becomes the nun. I also like how Señora moves across time. It has a magical realism quality that makes sense for the entire novel. It reminds me of Isabel Allende's writing. I also like how the book is really about the power of writing — writing saves Sister Renata because it brings Senora to the courtroom. Writing saves Gina too. The book is great!!!" 

To purchase the book, I encourage you to go to my website, where you will pay no shipping fee. You may also purchase an ebook or a paper copy of the novel through Amazon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Readers are praising Sister Mysteries!

The first people to read Sister Mysteries are giving the book high praise:

Just an absolutely amazing piece of work. The vivid imagery, the poetry, the artistry.  Her writing has a flow and cadence that penetrates and turns the reader into a fellow traveler. I can't wait to share this with others."

Claudia Ricci is an amazingly gifted writer. Beautiful, painful, torturous, true, mysterious, provocative and healing -- a story of courage and friendship in the face of greed, power and betrayal."

Her descriptions are so vivid and the story itself is so intriguing."

You can order from Amazon or my website, claudiajricci.com.
 And if you're nearby, you can celebrate the novel this Sunday, August 26th, from 4 to 6 p.m. at 5 General Knox Lane, in North Egremont MA. The driveway has two stone pillars at the top. If you're coming, please let us know. Our phone number is 413-528-4213.
Sister Mysteries, set in 1883 in California, is a framed tale: the inner story focuses on a young Dominican nun -- Sister Renata -- who is accused of killing her cousin Antonie, who writes erotic fantasies portraying Renata as a seductive flamenco dancer.  The web of words Antonie spins incriminates Renata directly in his murder.

More than a century later, a writer named Gina Rinaldi is lured back to the past by Antonie's housekeeper, Señora Ramos. Señora wants Gina to rewrite the nun's story to reveal the truth about Antonie's death. Is Gina as delusional as Antonie, or is she living a past life reincarnated as the nun? Is she whisked back through time on a mission to save her soul, and the nun, or has she begun to unravel?

To buy the book in print, I encourage you to purchase directly from me on my website, via Pay Pal or credit card, as Amazon takes 50% of the book proceeds. And buying from me you pay no shipping fee.

You can purchase an
 ebook or a hard copy from Amazon.

Thanks to all have ordered the book! Your support is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

It’s here! At long last, Sister Mysteries is between book covers. Besides being a murder mystery, the novel is a 19th century #MeToo tale.

Set in 1883 in California, the book focuses on a young Dominican nun -- Sister Renata -- who is accused of killing her cousin Antonie. This is the same cousin who writes erotic fantasies about Renata, portraying her as a seductive flamenco dancer.  The web of words Antonie spins incriminates Renata directly in his murder.

More than a century later, a writer named Gina Rinaldi is lured back to the past by Antonie's housekeeper, Señora Ramos. Señora wants Gina to rewrite the nun's story to reveal the truth about Antonie's death. Is Gina as delusional as Antonie, or is she living a past life reincarnated as the nun? Is she whisked back through time on a mission to save her soul, and the nun, or has she begun to unravel?

Sister Mysteries, says one reader, you are in store for "powerful drama, passionate writing, well defined and compelling characters, erotic passages, religious fervor, the metafictional presence of the writer and her problems, a heady mix of narratives and voices, suspense...and more."
To buy the book in print, I encourage you to purchase directly from me on my new website, via Pay Pal, as Amazon takes 50% of the book proceeds. And buying from me you pay no shipping fee.

You can purchase an 
ebook or a hard copy from Amazon. You can also purchase a hard copy from The Troy Bookmakers.

For those of you who live near Great Barrington, MA, I'd love to have you join me at a 
book party on Sunday, August 26, 2018, from 4 to 6 p.m. My home is at 5 General Knox Lane, in North Egremont. Please RSVP by August 20th.
I hope you'll join me and Renata in the mystery of the golden hills of California!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Buttery yellow lilies
glow in the sun.
A lime-bellied,
thrumming the air,
slips its needle-like
beak into the roaring red bee balm.
Birds are whistling
their piercing chirps
and one makes a metallic
sound like a xylophone.
The morning breeze
floods through the open window.
I sit in meditation,
breathing, my energy brimming,
each cell of my body waking
up to the cool air.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lessons from the Garden Wilds

By Sharon Flitterman-King, Ph.D.
My flower garden -- overgrown with weeds and thistles, gloriosa daisies, hollyhocks grown lush and wild, roses faded, finished, yet unclipped, and baby’s breath—is teaching me in ways the most carefully tended garden never could.
Last summer, for example, it was home to a family of rabbits. How long it had been a haven, I don’t know. But when I’d finally gotten there with my trug of unused garden tools, I came upon them quite by accident.

I caught, out of the corner of my eye, a quiet scurry as I was tugging through the mass of weeds and vegetation, and looked up just in time to see a tiny, furry bottom—small round end of mole or mouse. Little enough to be a sparrow, except it didn’t fly.

Curious, I crept along the garden’s border, following my sense of where the thing had scrambled, over to the far rosebush. I got down on my hands and knees and peered into the grasses. There, half hidden by the weeds and huddled up against a jagged leaf, I saw a baby bunny holding very, very still. Its ears were two tiny daisy petals, translucent like two small shells, pressed back against its head, a bright white spot as if a bird had left its mark on its tiny forehead.

I held my breath and watched; it did the same. This infant rabbit could not have been more than a few days old—still small and helpless, but old enough to have its baby fur. I longed to reach into the weeds and pet it. But I’d heard somewhere that mother rabbits fear the human smell, and so I crept back to my spot and continued with my tugging—gently now, not wanting to disturb it.

But just as I was reaching in again I sensed another shiver, looked up, and saw a second rabbit (same tiny bunny’s bottom, same bright white forehead mark). I checked on bunny number one, but he was where I’d left him, small and still, tucked beneath a dandelion leaf, brown eyes closed and sleeping peacefully after his big fright. That made two babies that I had disturbed with my clumsy hands and sandaled feet.

I’d had enough—no use causing more distress. I went indoors and fixed some lemonade. I dreamed away the rest of the hot day sitting in the shade of our big spruce, watching pine needles shiver and hollyhocks sway with each small gust of wind.

My wild things keep teaching me each summer—to live at peace with nature’s processes, to recognize its frailness, to be tender, patient. Not to fear. To realize that this nature that we live with—are a part of—has its laws and rhythms, and that we cannot intervene.

These creatures, all unknowing, are teaching me to recognize there’s little I can do about my garden snake, the one I saw last week, jagged into pieces by the mower’s edge.

I felt a sadness when I came upon it dead and quiet in the grass. Mute, I stared at it, half in horror, half in awe, for the life it had lived so vigorously in my garden eating bugs and insects, and weeding in its way. I felt a quiet fascination, a sort of helpless reverence for this also helpless thing.

I’m growing more accustomed to what happens in my garden, more patient, more accepting. Like just this morning when I opened up the curtains in our living room to let in the early morning light and saw a tangled clump of gray partly hidden in the unmowed grass. In an instant I knew it was our oriole’s nest, downed by last night’s thunderstorm.

I felt a little shock as I remembered how I’d seen it every morning before this, hanging so precariously on the edge of a dead branch, high up in one of our old maples, swaying with each ruffle of the leaves. I’d always been concerned when I’d seen this ragged, scraggly thing—wondered over, worried for our brave, bright birds.

But this morning when I looked across the lawn I felt a small wave of relief, because I realized that the nest must have been empty, bright flash of orange and sharp, whistling chirps having been but just an echo these past few weeks.

I start out every summer worrying over wild things—the baby rabbits that we have about, our helpful garden snakes, the nesting orioles whose house hangs by a fragile filament. I think I’m learning, slowly, to be at peace with this precariousness, to love my wild things. To let them be.

I’ve learned to be content with the little that I can do: creep quietly into the house so a small brown thing can nap; gather up my snake and bury it beside a quiet birch; pick up the ragged nest and gently place it by our back step. Watch and wait and feel that thrill of wonder when the orioles return, flashing brilliant in the lilacs, and start to weave again their fragile house.

This piece appeared first in The Christian Science Monitor.
Sharon Flitterman-King, who holds a PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of "A Secret Star." She resides in Hillsdale, New York, with her husband, writer David King.

Friday, July 13, 2018

God's Thief

Art by Jeff Blum Copyright 2018
 By Lynne Spigelmire Viti 
God sees me carry the stones from the seashore, smooth
gray rocks I cradle two at a time, pulling them close
to my belly, carrying them like the physical therapist said to.
If it’s against the law to carry these rocks home
to my garden, well then, I’m God’s thief.
God sees me snap off the forsythia branches, try
to speed up spring, make sunlight and  water
push out small green leaves, butter-yellow blooms.
They brighten my Spartan workroom.
God sees me out among the weeds and the damp spring soil
when I should be writing.
God knows the faces of our friends are drawn tight
in those last days before their bodies give out, their souls
still burning hard and bright in our memories.
If only God weren’t so silent, so distant with us,
if only God would pull up a chair, act like
a parent imparting advice, say, When I was your age,Rome wasn’t built in a day, keep your friends close
I’ve gathered so many rocks now, each time wondering
when God will show God’s self, or give me a sign—
not a miracle exactly, but a perfect rose, then another,
a summer of roses, safe behind a wall of sea-smoothed rocks.
Acknowledgement: This poem originally appeared in The South Florida Poetry Journal, August 2016.

Lynne Viti is the author of Baltimore Girls (2017) and The Glamorganshire Bible (2018), both  from Finishing Line Press. She blogs at stillinschool.wordpress.comJeff Blum has been a life-long peace activist and community organizer who took up painting after he retired from USAction, which he helped found.  He is a regular in art classes and seeing where it leads him.  

Monday, July 09, 2018

A brilliant idea

I told her
I didn’t
have enough
to do. 
I said,
“I am not
She said,
“What do
you need
to accomplish?
Where do
you need
to get to?”
And then, 
she had
this brilliant
piece of

Make it

Thursday, July 05, 2018

When in Doubt

When in doubt

the birds
the grass
the sun
the stars
all of
your pets
giant sequoias

many reasons

Thursday, June 28, 2018

needs doing
in this moment.
Just because there is
time on the clock
that is not occupied
by assignments or art
or dirty dishes or
weeding or anything
Don’t panic!
Sit in your rocking chair
and stare up into those maple trees
outside the window.
Feel your breath slip
into your nose
and fill your chest.
Remember what they
you are not a
human doing.
You are a
In this moment
just be calm
and observe.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Taking the Plunge, Submitting Paintings to an Art Show

Not long ago, I decided to do a very large painting (3 x 5 feet) for my dear friend Nancy S., who refuses to take a cent to care for my dog, Poco. (Her dog Burt and Poco are great pals.)

I had a fabulous time doing this painting, knowing that there was a person waiting for the end product. (Other paintings can be seen here.)

It was exciting to hang the painting over my friend's sofa. It was wonderful to discover that you can see the painting as you walk up her driveway. It was delightful to hear Nancy say how much she is enjoying the painting.

That partly explains, I think, why I decided to take the plunge and submit three paintings to a juried art show sponsored by the Housatonic Valley Arts League here in Great Barrington, MA.

I chose two large canvases, and a small collaged painting. When it was time to drive the art over to the show location, it was raining torrents. I mean serious rain. We -- my husband and I -- wrapped the paintings in a sheet and then in a moving blanket.

After depositing the canvases, I felt happy. I wasn't expecting to get accepted, but I was glad that I was putting my art out into the world. Finally. After 16 years painting, I am now starting to think about how I might show and sell my work.

Today I got word that the judges chose two of the paintings to appear in the show. The first is called "Westerly," and it is three by four feet.

The second, smaller painting, is called "Patience." It reminds me of the work of Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still, whose paintings appear in a Denver museum devoted exclusively to his work.

I can't imagine that the pieces will sell. But to me, today, it's enough to know that the paintings will hang for a month in town.

The organizers asked for a bio, and this is what I submitted:

I came to painting via my first novel, Dreaming Maples.  The story features several women who are passionate about their art. I spent a lot of time doing research for the book at the Clark Art Museum.  The novel is set in part in North Adams, MA, not far from the Clark. And the climactic scene in the book takes place at the Clark, beneath Renoir's "Blonde Bather."

The way I write fiction, I see every scene before I can write it. Many people say that when they read my books they feel as though they are watching a movie. So as I wrote, what I kept seeing were paintings. My journals from that period are filled with drawings and small paintings.

Two months after the book was published, in 2002, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease (lymphoma.) The chemo was ruthless. I could barely function. I wrote poetry to get me through. But I also started to wander around the house in a chemo-induced fog, cutting out pieces of paper and making colorful collages.

One week, when I was headed to Sloan Kettering, a dear friend who had an art store handed me a fistful of colored pencils and a small art pad. She picked a Black-eyed Susan growing outside the door and she told me that I should draw while waiting for my chemo at Sloan.  I did. It helped so much. Art cured and healed my soul just as the chemo and radiation healed my body.

At some point during that summer of chemo, I painted my first large canvas. I remember standing beside our pond, surrounded by the green lush of summer. My painting: a hillside of fir trees against a beautiful blue sky.  The painting was OK, but I quickly realized that I didn't have much talent as a realistic painter. So I started throwing paint on the canvas, the way Jackson Pollock used to. (My paintings have been compared to those of Joan Mitchell.)

I continued to paint outdoors beside the pond. Whenever a painting wasn't working, I would simply hose it down and start again. Over and over and over, I tried to let the PAINT AND THE DESIGN HAVE THEIR SAY.  My goal always was to just STAY OUT OF THE WAY!

That was 2002. I have been throwing acrylic paint on canvas for 16 years. What have I learned? That painting is alive. More alive than writing. AS VIBRANT AS DIVINE LIGHT! 

You write a story or a novel, and it is made of paper (or it's an ebook.) One sits on a bookshelf and the other resides in your iPad.  Paintings on the other hand are lively and pulsing. The colors heat up your soul. When you are done, you can hang them, store them in the basement or give them to your kids and friends. I think of people who have my paintings and I smile at every one. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Sister Mysteries: a MeToo# Movement Story

The MeToo# movement is thriving and it’s here to stay. The days when women sat back and suffered in silence while they were being systematically abused and violated and demeaned are over.
It’s still a bit of a mystery to me – and I’m sure to others – why exactly the movement caught fire when it did. Feminism isn’t new. Nor is sexual abuse.
Maybe we have to thank Trump. His blatant sexism, his disgusting comments and his morally-corrupt attitude toward women sent millions of women (and men) into a tailspin.  The resistance movement was born literally the day after the 2017 inauguration when so many Americans marched across the U.S.  protesting the election.
The momentum continues as more and more women are running for elected office, at every level. More and more women are talking about feminism and the power that women have to excel in every part of society.
So maybe there really is no mystery there.
Where there remains a mystery, for me, however, is how it is that I am finally publishing my novel Sister Mysteries right in the midst of this swell of feminist activism. How is it that this book will appear in a matter of weeks, as people are thinking and talking (and talking) about women’s power? 
The nun at the center of my novel endures extreme sexual abuse. The man responsible is her own cousin, but for reasons I won’t spell out here, she is the one who ends up in prison because of his elaborate lies about her.
I started writing this book way back in 1995, as I was finishing up my doctorate in English at SUNY Albany. My area of concentration? Feminist Narrative Strategies. I wrote my first novel as a feminist story. Sister Mysteries appeared about this time as well.
I’ve got no good explanation why after 23 years, I finally managed to finish the book that I never thought I would finish. Why this year? I can’t attribute it to Trump. Or can I? Who knows what lurks in the subconscious mind?
All I know is that the novel offers one more rather elaborate story about sexual harassment. About women being objectified, vilified and violated. Physically hurt and psychologically destroyed by men in California in 1883. (I first wrote the word “destoryed.” There is that too!)
Stay tuned. The book is due in mid-July.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Morning Moment

Now comes
this moment
when pink
the color of
cotton candy 
the wind is
cool against
my shoulders
birds gurgle back
and forth the
sun glows on
the sea of
yellow and
white flowers

in the meadow
the blue of
the sky is so
clear so hard
to describe
the moment
is too full 
words always
fall short 
just close your eyes
open them and


Saturday, June 02, 2018

The Poem That Accompanies "Sister Mysteries"

Several years ago I came across a poem that reminded me of the story I was trying to write in my novel, Sister Mysteries -
which will be published in a matter of weeks. When I tried to research where the poem first appeared, in order to get permission to use it in the book, I found out, sadly, that the author, Judith Ortiz Cofer (who was my age), had passed away in December of 2016. I called her publisher, the University of Georgia Press, but they couldn't tell me if the poem was in one of the books they had published for her.
On a whim, I did a Google search to see if I could locate her husband, John Cofer. I found his address in Georgia and wrote to him. He was most gracious -- and still heartbroken over the death of his beloved wife.
Mr. Cofer, who handles Ms. Ortiz Cofer's  literary estate, gave me permission to use the poem, and I present  it here. She did in 144 words what it took me about 95,000 in the book.

By Judith Ortiz Cofer

A sloe-eyed dark woman shadows me.
In the mornings she sings
Spanish love songs in a high
falsetto filling my shower stall
with echoes.
She is by my side
in front of the mirror as I slip
into my tailored skirt and she
into her red cotton dress.
She shakes out her black mane as I
run a comb through my close-cropped cap.
Her mouth is like a red bull’s eye
daring me.
Everywhere I go I must
make room for her: she crowds me
in elevators where others wonder
at all the space I need.
At night her weight tips my bed, and
it is her wild dreams that run rampant
through my head exhausting me. Her heartbeats,
like dozens of spiders carrying the poison
of her restlessness over the small
distance that separates us,
drag their countless legs
over my bare flesh.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Healing with Positive Affirmations!

Louise Hay, whose book, You Can Heal Your Life, has sold more than 50 million copies worldwide, passed away last August. But her teachings live on. What follows are some positive affirmations that Hay recommended people listen to and repeat over and over again. They are brought to us by Hay House, the publishing company that Hay launched in 1984.

Check out Louise Hay's Wikipedia bio. She suffered severe abuse and rape as a child. Later, she developed cervical cancer as an adult but refused conventional treatment. Says Wikipedia:
"Hay described how in 1977 or 1978 she was diagnosed with "incurable" cervical cancer, and how she came to the conclusion that by holding on to her resentment for her childhood abuse and rape she had contributed to its onset. She reported how she had refused conventional medical treatment, and began a regime of forgiveness, coupled with therapy, nutrition, reflexology, and occasional colonic enemas. She claimed in the interview that she rid herself of the cancer by this method, but, while swearing to its truth, admitted that she had outlived every doctor who could confirm this story."
I approve of myself exactly as I am right now.
I have already begun the healing process.
I am willing to release the need in me that is creating this condition of fear and anxiety.
I am responsible for my life.
I am willing to change and to be happy and positive.
I deserve to be well.
I deserve to love myself, exactly as I am now.
I trust the process of life to take care of me.
I am my own best friend.
I am willing to forgive the past.
I can change my negative outlook by flipping the tired old script.
I forgive myself.
I dissolve all resentment and guilt and shame and fear.
My willingness to forgive begins your healing process.
I let go of sorrow.
I let go of tension and anxiety.
I let myself melt into the moment.
I embrace the WONDROUS BEING of life.
I am relaxed and smiling from my heart.
I respect and revere the life force and all of its mysteries.
I am ONE with all of life.
I am good enough just the way I am.
I don’t need to achieve anything to be happy.
I am choosing to use my power to help heal myself.
I handle my own life with joy and ease.
I am unique and special and wonderful.
I am worthy of my own love and the love of others.
I have a right to exist and to thrive.
I am living my life the way I want.
I choose to be well.
I choose to stay well.
I have lots of energy.
I am becoming totally well.
I am taking time for myself.
I have strong reasons for healing and for living.
Every hand that comes into contact with my body is a healing hand.
My body responds amazingly well to treatment.
Strength and wholeness return to my body.
It is now safe for me to get well and to stay well.
I have vibrant health.
All my organs, muscles and joints are working perfectly.
I release and dissolve all resistance.
I am open and receptive to my highest good and greatest joy.
I am surrounded by loving, healing energies.
I feel good about myself.
I have a right to do what I want to do.
I take loving care of my body.
I sleep well and awaken each day, refreshed.
I am loved and welcome wherever I go.
I trust the process of life to bring me my highest good.
I love myself, exactly the way I am.
I am now free.
I listen with love to my body’s messages.
I know I am worth healing.
It is easy for me to change.
I am whole and complete.
I release and dissolve all resistance.
I approve of myself, exactly as I am right now.
I am One with all of life.
I am at PEACE!
All is well in my world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Hope For Immigrants

Note: This story appeared first in Berkshire Homestyle Magazine.

During the past year, as the Trump administration has been tightening immigration enforcement and threatening to end programs protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants, the Berkshire Immigrant Center, now 20 years old, has been expanding.

It's a good thing.

Brooke Mead, who joined the Pittsfield-based BIC in 2002 and became executive director in July, says she hears from terrified immigrants every day.  Since Trump’s election, Mead says she has seen “a huge rush of people” with green cards trying to become naturalized citizens. “These people have long felt the U.S. is their home but they didn’t see the urgency of citizenship before.”
To aid immigrants seeking citizenship, BIC offers legal help, advocacy and procedural counseling; the center charges a fraction of what private immigration attorneys charge.
BIC has a caseload of more than 700 immigrants representing more than 70 countries around the world. Each year, BIC represents about 10 percent of their clients in citizen applications. BIC also offers an array of other vital services to Berkshire immigrants. Among those services are language classes, settlement services, as well as referrals to housing, daycare, health care, continuing education, career counseling and social service needs.
People are so fearful about their immigration status these days, she says, that her organization and others that serve immigrants have seen lighter turnout for some educational and cultural programs in recent months. “We’ve always felt we are a safe space, but lately we have had to reassure people of that,” Mead says. “People are worrying about congregating. There was even a question last September about whether the Latino festival would take place.” (It did.)
Considering the abrupt and arbitrary way that many immigrants have been deported in the past year, it’s not surprising people would be wary of congregating.
One Berkshire County man recently deported is married to one of Mead’s good friends. A very stable homeowner and highly skilled workman, the father of two young children who “did not even have a traffic ticket, not even a parking ticket,” this man typifies the situation faced by so many of the nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants.
 “It takes so much time and money to deport somebody,” Mead says. “We don’t have the money to deport 12 million people.” Moreover, she says, with immigrants contributing so much to our economy and enriching our culture and society, “it’s not in our national interest morally and rationally to deport all those people.”
Some of those seeking Mead’s expertise are young adults covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, a program enacted in 2012 by President Obama to protect young adults who came as children to this country with their undocumented immigrant parents.
A lot of uncertainty surrounds the DACA program. The Trump administration tried to close the program down as of March 5th but a February 26thSupreme Court decision keeps DACA open for application renewals.  The ultimate fate of the program is up in the air. Meanwhile, DACA recipients are not allowed to travel, Mead says.
There are also big questions about the future for immigrants currently covered under the Temporary Protected Status program. President Trump announced in January that TPS – which covers thousands of Salvadorans, Haitians and Nicaraguans – will expire in September of 2019.
Like so many critics of what she calls the nation’s “broken” immigration program, Mead says that “without a comprehensive immigration program, everyone is vulnerable” to deportation.
Thankfully, as the immigration crisis has intensified, so too, has the level of public support. Donations to BIC are up. Requests for BIC to conduct programs and community presentations about immigration have also increased.
“For so many years we’ve been trying to say how important immigration is, how it’s worth donating to,” Mead says. “For the first time ever, we’re definitely receiving love and affection from the community.”
As a result, the center has been blossoming this year. BIC moved from a one-room office in the First Baptist Church on South Street into St. Stephen’s Church on East Street, just off Park Square in Pittsfield. At St. Stephen’s, the center has expanded into seven private offices, a reception area and a file room; the center has access to an auditorium in the church as well.  
In her new role as executive director, Mead hired a staff, including two new caseworkers and a receptionist. (The former executive director, Hilary Greene, is also staying on part-time.) Meanwhile, the immigrant center’s board increased from four to eleven members, and launched the center’s first development program, complete with committees and specific goals for public outreach.
Mead says it’s important to know that BIC gets no state or federal aid for its work. About $85,000 of the center’s budget, which this year will total about $230,000, comes from grants. Another $30,000 to $40,000 comes from client fees, presentations and sponsorships. She says that public support is critically important, now, as it will be into the future.
“There’s always going to be a need to navigate immigration law. We just hope people will remember that, no matter what happens going forward.”
Mead grew up in Williamstown, and she holds a master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College.  Having lived in Venezuela and Mexico City, she has experience living as an immigrant. In December 2013, she became registered as an accredited representative with the federal Board of Immigration Appeals, meaning she is entitled to practice immigration law.
It’s clear talking to her that the work she does on behalf of clients goes way beyond a job. It’s a passion. Meaning that sometimes, like when her friend’s husband was deported, or when a client is in a rough situation, she cries. When a client triumphs, being sworn in as a citizen and voting, she cheers.
Mead had a child four years ago, and soon after she began working with an African-born woman who was trying to become a citizen. The woman herself had a child, but because of daycare problems, the child was back in Africa living with her grandmother.
The African woman had a green card, and she was studying to be a nurse. When she came to BIC, the same thing happened every time. “She would come in, then she’d cry, and I’d cry.”
Part of Mead’s job is to help clients strategize and solve immigration problems. Part of it is just being there, as a cheerleader, supporting a woman who is desperately missing her baby. (The African mother became a citizen; she and the baby were reunited.)
And so, Mead ends on a positive note: “we have more wins than we have losses. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
In the case of her good friend, whose husband was deported, it’s not clear when her friend will see her husband again. There are two children who are now without their father.  Mead acknowledges that. “It’s depressing as heck that he was deported. But there’s still three people here. My job is to figure out how can I ease their situation.”
Through all the turmoil, Mead says that faith and hope are key to her work.
“You have to have hope and faith,” she says. “You really have to believe things are going to work out for your clients, even in the current climate. Otherwise, you’re not going to make it!