Opinion: A fix that could up chances of winning Amazon HQ: The Atlanta Journal Constitution by Samuel Zamarripa

Amazon set the economic development world on fire in September when it announced its intent to build a second headquarters in North America. Cities hoping to win Amazon’s bid, including Atlanta, recently sent their proposals to the company. Promising as many as 50,000 six-figure jobs and as much as $5 billion in investment, applicants are coming up with a lot of creative ideas to attract Amazon’s attention.

Tucson, Arizona, for example, sent Amazon a 21-foot-tall cactus, reportedly to let Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos know that “We have room for you to grow here.” Birmingham, Alabama, is placing giant Amazon delivery boxes around the city encouraging residents to post a photo of themselves with the boxes using the hashtag #bringAtoB. Georgia isn’t above the fray with the innovative PR stunts. Metro Atlanta’s own city of Stonecrest has offered to carve out 345 acres of its boundaries to create the City of Amazon if the retailer picks Georgia.

Amazon’s relocation is a serious business decision and publicity stunts and PR campaigns are not going to sway the company’s decision — political and economic realities will. As the number-one state for business and with a willingness to create lucrative economic incentive packages, experts expect Atlanta’s application to be competitive for Amazon’s new headquarters, but there is a key metric where we fall short.

Buried inside the request for proposal released by Amazon is a site selection requirement that “The Project requires a compatible cultural and community environment for its long-term success. This includes the presence and support of a diverse population … .” For technology companies like Amazon, this means being supportive of immigration and welcoming to their diverse workforce.

Over the past several legislative sessions, Georgia hasn’t proven itself to meet this “compatible cultural and community environment.” Fights over issues like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, bilingual ballots, non-citizen driver’s licenses and the prospect of a battle over Confederate monuments undermine the positive economic development attributes Georgia has to offer.

Some may dismiss this as hyperbole, but in the competition for billions in economic investment the concern is real and it is acute. Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver are actively advertising Canada’s progressive immigration system and inclusive environment in their pitches to Amazon. A spokeswoman for Toronto’s bid recently told CNN, “Our open immigration policies make it easier for companies to gain access to global talent, and our inclusive and tolerant society makes Canada and the Toronto region a top choice for international students.”

Atlanta still has a lot going for it and it should still be considered a potential finalist for Amazon’s investment; but, we need to be proactive. Toronto can’t shorten its brutal winters to improve quality of life, but Georgia can be a more compatible, cultural and community fit by welcoming diverse populations, particularly immigrants.

Georgia also has outsized influence on the immigration debate before Congress. Three members of the Georgia Congressional delegation, Representatives Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Karen Handel, R-Roswell; and Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, sit on the powerful House Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over immigration reform. Georgia is one of the states best positioned to lead the effort for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.

Georgia’s House Judiciary Committee members can make an immediate impression on Amazon by brokering a compromise on the DREAM Act. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has signed two letters to Congress supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and has met directly with President Trump to discuss immigration reform proposals. What Bezos and other tech company’s CEOs know is that, if Congress does not act to protect DACA recipients by March 5, 2018, some 24,200 Georgians and 800,000 people nationwide will begin losing their deportation protections and will be forced out of the American workforce.

Courting Amazon by leading the charge on DACA has very little political downside. Some 86 percent of all Americans and 80 percent of all Republicans support giving Dreamers the chance to stay in the United States permanently. The ancillary benefit of improving Georgia’s competitiveness for large economic investment makes it even more compelling.

Early next year, Amazon will make a decision on where to invest $5 billion. When that decision comes down, we don’t want to second-guess whether we could have done more to win. Georgia’s elected leaders need to address all aspects of Amazon’s RFP, not just the site selection and economic ones. Showcasing a little Southern hospitality by welcoming all people to Georgia could be the difference-maker.

 

Musing on Frederick Buechner

 

This book was a gift. A friend and seminarian read my novel and was moved to send me copy of Telling the Truth along with a thoughtful note.

I don’t read much theology but have always liked the idea that gifted writers can alter the landscape and freshen up a cliché or two. When the book arrived, I jumped in and took two parts of a day to read the tiny book.

I am going to pass the book along to some friends. Buechner is simply original, very comfortable with small words and big thoughts. If he were a thing, he would be a razor blade capable of fine cuts and deep wounds. If he were a circus performer, he would walk the highwire.

Telling the Truth is a literary discourse on the sad happy paradox of the gospel. Buechner offers a glimpse of something just out of reach; a hazy intrigued of a God here but not. He is at home in the wilderness of not knowing and finds inspiration in tears and laughter.

There is a lot of juice in the 98 pages of this trilogy of tragedy, comedy and fairy tale. Inspirational fodder for weary preachers and pieces of the human puzzle for the literary set

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Border Child by Michel Stone: A review

The story of Mexican migration is a literary land mind, its lore and iconography, deep and opaque. Intractable images abound—aliens and walls, Arpaio and invaders—all frozen in the mind’s eye. The human story begging for nuance, still percolating in the stomach-acid of immigration blather.

We have shared a border with our Mexican compadres for almost two-hundred-and-fifty-years. We sun and play in their playas while the poorest of their poor labor in our fields, scrub toilets, and work the night shift, caring for the dying. Yet, we know precious little about the complexity of the Mexican people, their real history, world-view, and reality, especially the paperless adventurers who dare to cross over in darkness. Their parable trapped in icy clichés.

Border Child is a welcome literary ice pick, a sharp and poignant story that chips away at the pejoratives and slander, bigotry and dehumanization of people wandering in search of a better life. The book invites nothing but lovely sentiment and delivers a few colorful surprises; a cartel’s hush-hush cooler packed, with colorful parrots, a daughter sensing the presence of a mother she had never known in a glob of clay. Stone has a strong feminine touch, her voice paced and steady, never intrusive.

There are some romanticized moments and imagery in the book. The once idyllic life of Mexican artisans and campesinos is fast disappearing, replaced by urban slums, clear-cut forests, alcohol and drug abuse, and dangerous, political corruption. Even the colonial City of Oaxaca, where the story unfolds, now overrun by invasive tourism, its zocalo full of plastic Chinese goods.

Stones lens however does not interfere with the powerful dignity she carves into the lives of Lilia and Hector, and their beautiful children Alejandra, Fernando, and Elizabeth, nor with this heartbreaking tale of love and loss. In fact, it is her American voice and easy-way with words that makes this work so important and accessible for her audience.

Appropriately titled Border Child, this utterly human story invites us into the vulnerable world of an infant child and her migrating parents—something minacious, yet understandable—and into the foreign and ugly reality of a line in the sand, called a border. In doing so, Stone is insisting, in a soft and elegant manner, that we ask ourselves which of the two is most important.

My Five Minutes @DBookFestival

My Five Minutes @DBookFestival

Thank you and good afternoon.

It is a pleasure to be here, at the Decatur Book Festival, with each of you. To have the occasion to say a few words about my debut novel, The Spectacle of Let—the Oliet and Obit.

In my first book, a duology, I embraced a fanciful and imaginative narrative, a magical style and genre common among many Latin American and Spanish writers. It is my best effort to honor a fantastic literary tradition while discovering my own contemporary American voice.

I wanted to write a book that was a both a story, in a traditional and familiar sense, and an experience, in an extraordinary and unfamiliar sense.

The Story: In an unfinished memoir, a writer, Otto Cristóbal Almeida, recounts his chance encounter and experience—meeting a mysterious and beautiful woman and their unplanned, illicit affair. The paramour, Niva Miramontes, is a literary muse, a modern siren with an extraordinary ability to tell fantastic stories about Creation and the first spoken word of God. “In the beginning,” she insists, “God said Let, and the rest is just a spectacle.”

Her fanciful stories turn into a rambling saga, a generational story of the Portuondo family, their exile from Havana, Cuba and ultimate redemption in the magical world of Veracruz, Mexico. Through her tales, Miramontes explains the unique powers of the Portuondo’s known as The Blood of Sound, and her own celestial gift called, the Voice.

Enchanted but overwhelmed, Almeida becomes lost in his own unfinished manuscript while the power of Miramontes stories invade his life in the form of a dreams dream known as an “Oliet.”

Through an encounter with himself, in the throes of the dreams dream, Almeida has an epiphany and comes to terms with his struggling manuscript. Fate however is not kind. His unfinished manuscript lands on desk of his brooding editor, L. Rand Bonarias who must discern where Almeida’s fiction begins and ends. What is real and true, imagination or creativity, and who is Niva Miramontes.

The Experience: If the story portion of, The Spectacle of Let is like common and familiar stories we tell about our own lives—a simple beginning, middle and end, where we are born, what we do and, where we are going on our next vacation—the experience portion is about the untold and unspoken stories of our reality. The complex parts we do not and cannot understand, the mysteries we love and quietly embrace. What after all is life without mystery?

There are countless twist and turns in The Spectacle of Let full of allegory and parable, myth and gospel, with a touch of theology. Perhaps a genre, that could be called, “Magical theology”. It is an adventure into the nature of words themselves, their origins, their vexing meaning and power in our lives. It is the story of the first spoken word of God and the possibility that miracles and force of Creation itself, is incomplete and ongoing. It is a creative narrative about things, we cannot not understand.

It is my hope that the story and experience of The Spectacle of Let, will fire your imagination as it did mine. Please come by my table and visit with me. If you purchase, The Spectacle of Let, I have a small ink stamp to accompany my signature. Just like a visa/stamp, one gets when crossing a border, into another country. My way of welcoming you to The Spectacle of Let-the Oliet and Obit.

Thank you for listening to me today. You can find out more about my current book and the companion novel at my web site www.Zamarripa.com. Thank you

A Poor Man’s Score

In the summer of 1962, while watching the Cinerama epic How the West Was Won, I was captivated by the music. Composed by Alfred Newman, “one of the three godfathers of film music,” this big-screen score opened my senses to the emotional power of music in film.

In my first novel, The Spectacle of Let — the Oliet and Obit, I tried to create an emotive geography and sense of place; a feeling and sentiment of being somewhere once, then again and again. Many writers create this feeling with words alone. While I wrote I wanted music — an emotional landmark, a musical score — familiar melodies that transported me to my literary home each time I returned to the wanting manuscript. So it was that I became a curator of an instrumental playlist, “a poor man’s score,” to accompany my written words.

Some compositions I associate with my enigmatic heroine, the elusive beauty, Niva Miramontes; others, like those by composer Javier Navarrate, with a deep sense of being alone, lost in the beauty and fear of writing and discovery. All of them together lend another emotional measure and force to the written word. They remind me of the moment I saw James Stewart galloping his big pony over the Rocky Mountains, determined to concur the West, accompanied by the panoramic majesty of Alfred Newman and his orchestra. You can find the playlist, entitled The Spectacle of Let, here on Spotify.