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Cele's Columns 1997 - 2004

Here they are!  All of Cele's Westfield Evening News columns, published every Saturday while she was the State Representative.  (You'll find my current blog at Tercera Edad in San Pancho, Mexico.)

You can select a year or use the search box to find a topic of interest.

Cele's 2003/04 Columns

Cele's 2003/04 Columns

A few columns from Mexico after leaving Beacon Hill in Boston.

Coming Face to Face with Illegal Immigration

Coming Face to Face with Illegal Immigration

Published in the Springfield Republican/Westfield-Agawam edition, in March 2004

There was a coyote in my house today.

Coyote. Same spelling in English and Spanish. But, this was not a four-legged carnivore from the forest. Rather, a two legged one, here to shepherd nine young hombres to the United States. Illegally.

The basic definition of a coyote is someone who charges would-be illegal aliens a lot of money and makes a lot of promises about safe passage from Mexico into the United States.

Oh, Juan Carlos told me that the coyote was his “amigo,” but even a casual observer would notice that they weren’t in the same league.

Juan Carlos, old jeans, sneakers, white t-shirt, an open flannel shirt for a jacket. Carrying a very old and very empty backpack. And, for the first time since I met him, he was wearing a small turquoise earring in his left ear.

His friend. New stylish jeans, expensive shoes, brand new and very full backpack, and a perfect haircut. Tanner by far than Juan Carlos who had dropped out of school to wield a pickaxe and help support his family.

And that, after all, is why he wanted to leave Mexico. To help support his family. Juan Carlos doesn’t have much choice. Uneducated, unskilled, he is the oldest of nine children.

So he was chosen to try to get to the United States—the land of opportunity—where he, without even a rudimentary knowledge of English, not a hello or goodbye or thank you, is expected to get a job and start sending money home.

His father explained that is was only natural that he be chosen to go. The oldest child, the oldest son, just 17, and without obligations to a wife or children of his own.

I think he had a sweetheart. We had teased him about one a few weeks ago and he blushed. Growing up on a ranch not far from this city, Juan Carlos is shy, not worldly, thin and gangly, and I doubt that he knows where this journey could end.

He came to our house to say goodbye to his father, who was doing some work for us. I tried to warn him, out of earshot of the coyote, that this trip was “muy peligroso,” very dangerous.

But his family had somehow paid the exorbitant fees charged for a supposedly safe crossing and the coyote waited patiently while dad put away his tools and the three headed toward the bus station.

Along the way, nine other young Mexicans, all hoping for a better life, would join them.

The plan was to take a bus to a safe place in a city in northern Mexico. From there, they would be taken to the river to swim across the border. For this part of the trip, about 700 miles, each paid the U.S. equivalent of $2,000

Once across the river, they were to meet another coyote who would lead them across the desert. A three-day walk. For this? Another $1,000.

Did these nine know they might be caught by vigilantes or the border patrol and be returned to the Mexican side of the border? Perhaps the best thing that could happen.

Did they know that once they swam the river that the second coyote might not be waiting there? Were they aware of border bandits that might take everything they had left? Were they prepared for a three-day march through the desert?

And, how hard will they have to work, if they indeed do make and find jobs, to repay the money given to the coyotes?

For Juan Carlos’s father, $50 is an average weekly wage. About $200 a month to feed his large family, if he works six days a week?

The family lives simply. No phones, no cars, no extras. Example: I saw Juan Carlos and his father sharing lunch one day while they were working here. Each had two or three tortillas and they dipped black beans straight out of a can. The family eats a lot of beans and tortillas.

Taking all of this into account, how long did it take the family to amass—earn or borrow—the $3,000.

Nine young men times $3,000. Or, $27,000. That’s a lot of money paid to coyotes who cares nothing for the lives or safety of the travelers.

I have a feeling that I won’t see Juan Carlos again.

I can only hope that it is because he has found a job and is, indeed, sending his parents the money they so desperately need.

(Note: The former State Representative for Westfield, Cele Hahn has retired to Mexico.)

Do You Miss Being the Representative?

Do You Miss Being the Representative?

Published in the Springfield Republican/Westfield-Agawam edition, Sept. 18, 2003

Do You Miss Being the Representative?

Of course.

I'm sitting under a huge photo, a panorama, of all 159 members of the house. I can go from face to face, I can name every person, and I miss all of them. All of them are friends, Democrats or Republicans.

I miss making people happy. Example. When I called Police Chief John Camerota last year to ask if he wanted anything in the budget, he told me he needed motorcycles. I managed to get him the money, so officers can get through traffic when construction on the Great River Bridge starts.

Solving the problems the average citizen had with state government - car registration, Title 5, deadbeat dads, and subjects you wouldn't even think about - was equally important.

And, the bridges. All of them. Great River, Little River, Horton ... I worked with Senator Mike Knapik to get approval and funding for all of them. They are all being built. My favorite--the Great River Bridge--is, finally, going to be a reality.

The list goes on and on and on. Working in the beautiful State House, being part of the oldest continuously operating legislature in the country, all the pomp and circumstance. And, a great parking spot.

Of course I miss being the Representative.

But, there is life after retirement. And I prefer to use the Mexican word for retiree, "jubilada." It is more gracious.

Yes, I am enjoying my life in Mexico. It, like the legislature, is a challenge. The language, the customs, the geography. Everything is a challenge.

Take driving. To make a left hand turn, you pull off the road to the right and wait for traffic in both directions to pass, and then you make a sharp left and get on the road you want to take.

After dark, many Mexicans drive without headlights, claiming they can see better. In addition to the hazard of cars without headlights, bulls love to sleep on the highways because the roads are still warm at night. Hitting a bull is deadly, for both of you.

How about signs that tell you not to leave rocks in the road? When cars break down, drivers often don't have jacks, so they put rocks under the car, then drive off when the problem is solved. The next driver hits the rocks and, well ... driving is a challenge.

How do you say "nails" when you go to the hardware? I carefully looked it up in the dictionary. Went to the hardware store and asked for "finger nails." Language ... another real challenge.

Finding doctors, contractors, caraway seeds, car washes. The things we take for granted in the United States. It is challenging, but good. I think challenge keeps you young.

Why, many ask, did you go so far away?

I think my replacement needs time to be himself, without any second guessing. And my second guessing would drive me nuts.

I want to live somewhere where no one knows my name, as the song said. It doesn't matter what I did in my previous life. I am who I am now.

I had my life as a broadcaster, as a representative, and now ... "jubilada."

I am happy now. And I was happy being a Representative.

Do I miss the job?

Of course.

But I don't regret my decision not to run for a fifth term.

1853 Johnson Organ Made in Westfield

1853 Johnson Organ Made in Westfield
Westfield, Massachusetts. Stoddard, New Hampshire.

When I was Westfield's State Representative, several people wanted to know about that city's 19th century Johnson organ company.

For several decades, our family has summered in Stoddard.

And, now, the two have something in common, other than the Hahns and a few other Westfield natives.

The oldest Westfield organ in existence is back in service and about to be rededicated in Stoddard.

William A. Johnson, a Westfield organ maker, built his Opus 27 organ in 1853. Today, it is the earliest Johnson organ intact and in use, and it's being rededicated at the Congregational Church in Stoddard, NH, on Sunday, August 10.

The Sesquicentennial Celebration and Rededication Service will be held at 4 p.m. at the church. The service will include an organ stop demonstration as well as a recital by Dr. Susan Armstrong, a member of the American Guild of Organists, teaches at New England College, and other musicians.

A researcher of Johnson organs, Dr. Armstrong will also give a slide lecture on the Johnson Opus 27 in the Stoddard Town Hall at 3 p.m.

Johnson, a well-known American craftsman, who built almost 900 organs during his career, built the two-manual, thirteen-stop organ in Westfield 150 years ago. The Organ Historical Society of America is recognizing the Stoddard organ as a national treasure.

Opus 27 was first sold to the Unitarian Church in Petersham, MA, where it was in service for almost 50 years. It was then purchased by the Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, MA, where it was used until 1932.

Opus 27 was then dismantled and moved to the Stoddard Congregational Church for the cost of $500.

A celebration was held to mark its arrival. The Keene Sentinel, in 1932, described the dedication of the new pipe organ in the "quaint old white Congregational Church, standing apart from other buildings on the brow of a hill and facing the main street of this small and quiet Cheshire county village."

The village is much the same more than 70 years later. But the church, thanks to installation of a furnace, has services year around instead of just in the summer months, and the Johnson organ, once again dismantled piece by piece, has been totally restored by Andrew Smith of Cornish, NH.

No longer does the organ have to be pumped by hand. Although the original pump handle remains, and is ready for manual operation if necessary, an electric blower was installed in 1970. One of the guests at next week's dedication will be New Hampshire Senate President Thomas Eaton, who pumped the organ as a youth.

The restorers, former ministers and organists, including Patricia McMahon Clark who was organist from 1972 to 1997, and contributors will be honored during the rededication. Documentation related to the Johnson organ will be on display and a reception will be held following the service.

Stoddard Congregational Church, founded in 1774, is on Route 123 North, off Route 9, about two hours, or 100 miles, from the Springfield/Westfield area. The church itself was completed in 1836.

A Look at War -- From South of the Border

A Look at War -- From South of the Border

War.  Guerra.

And my neighbors generally go on with their daily work.  Don't we all?

But, my neighbors are Mexican. 

Admittedly, I am not an expert on Mexican politics.  It is more difficult to understand than Boston politics.  But I have been living in this wonderful country for several months now and I guess it is once again time to put the computer to good use and try to relate just what is happening here.

Mexicans generally agree with their president, Vicente Fox, who has explained that this country is a pacifist country, these people are pacifist people.

" Mexico reiterates that conflicts must be solved multilaterally and regrets the path of war." President Fox said.  "The world must continue to support solutions that comply with the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter. In it, it is established that the use of force must always be a last and exceptional resort, only justified when all other channels have failed.

" Our relationship with the United States, our closest partner, our neighbor and friend, must not change. We agree on the fight against terrorism. In this, as in many other matters, our shared objectives come before our differences by far."

The major fear, of course, is that the United States will somehow get even with their neighbors to the south because Mexico did not support the United States polices on Iraq.

Reprisals could include making border crossings more difficult, or impossible, or slowing or completely stopping talks about letting Mexicans cross the border freely.

Already there are economic worries as well, because the Mexican economy depends on the health of the United States economy. 

Poorer people are finding it more difficult to make ends meet as the value of the peso goes down.  Restaurants are raising their prices, as are many merchants to make up for the difference.

On the other hand, Mexico is rich in oil, and as oil prices increase more money is going to the country, which in turn promises to share the wealth with its cities and states.

And, like in many small communities, the rumor mill is active, this time spreading the word that if a Mexican enlists in a United States military they can automatically become citizens.  This is not true, but many still believe.

When we get documents to allow us to stay in Mexico for more than 30 days (called FM3s) we acknowledge that we won't become politically involved, that we won't interfere with Mexican politics.

Nonetheless, many Americans in this city have been busy painting anti-Bush and anti-war posters, all now hung on the front gates of the biggest church in town.  This church is across from the jardin (what we could call the town square) where Americans have set up an anti-war booth, seeking signatures of people agreeing with their point of view

But, for the most part, their demonstrations have been poorly attended, although many tourists (85 percent of the tourists here are Mexican, coming to visit the cradle of independence) wander through to see what is going on. 

A major U. S. paper this week said that protestors of this war are parents of the young adults who might have protested the last war or two.  And, I must admit, it appears that most of the protestors here appear to be aging hippies.

Now, I do know that there have been major demonstrations in Mexico City, for example, where protestors damaged the U. S. Embassy.  But we have not seen that violence here.  Neither have I seen, or heard of, any anti-American activities.

Today, statistics show that 80 percent of the Mexicans oppose the war, while some 75 percent of Americans support our country's stand.

A German-born, now-Mexican doctor, this week, put it all together by comparing Saddam to Hitler. He declared Saddam Hussein an evil man who had killed at least a million innocent people.  He said that Saddam must be killed or exiled.  But, he said, almost sadly, Saddam is very sneaky, he will make winning very difficult.

The U. S. was right, he continued, to want to start this war, but, why now, without UN support. 

We are in this war to win.  As an American I support my President's decision, and I support our troops.

Itis spring.  The jacaranda trees are in full bloom, giving the city a lavender glow, a peaceful lavender glow.  And it is time for a siesta.

(Cele writes from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.)

Cele's 2002 Columns

Cele's 2002 Columns

Getting ready to leave the legislature, I wrote about eight great years. Then there was the legislation to prevent discrimination against fat …

Cele's 2001 Columns

Cele's 2001 Columns

Learning about lobsters and Columbia bicycles. Some peeks at what comes in the mail and what constituents complain about. On the light side … …

Cele's 2000 Columns

Cele's 2000 Columns

Memories of spending billions, staying awake during an all night legislative session. Memories of cars and squirrels. And a trip to a 40th high …

Cele's 1999 Columns

Cele's 1999 Columns

Sometimes, there just wasn't enough going on in the State House to write about. Try the New Year's column, "We're Buttering the Cats." Or, "…

Cele's 1998 Columns

Cele's 1998 Columns

Immigration.  Then, it was a wave of Pentecostal Christians from Russia arriving in my district. They caused quite a stir, and some outrage …

Cele's 1997 Columns

Cele's 1997 Columns

It's always fun to look back at the columns I wrote long ago. And 1997 brought the light (see "That is not my pink dog") to the serious. There …


All materials copyright 1997 - 2014