The Nuances of This Thanksgiving & a New Political Moment! November Newsletter

Dear Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,

Like many families, our clan celebrated Thanksgiving in a very different way this year, which included a “Video Chat” where all my children and grandkids shared what they were thankful for and their hopes for the coming year. As a family of immigrants, our take on what’s coming next is revealing. Culture Watch will include a special announcement about an interview with Global Connections TV about my book “Different Latitudes,” several book reviews and a special movie about the complex relations that can exist between immigrants. I’ll report on my Webinar with the overseas staff of “Esperanca,” and Special Projects will include an update on my next book. The Calendar includes information about my next presentation to a writers’ group and the latest on Partnering for Peace, as well an inspiring Voices of the Day and, as always, What Others Are Saying.

For the first time in 47 years, my wife and I had Thanksgiving dinner alone. We did manage a “pre-Thanksgiving” coffee, cake and birthday celebration with most of our clan (with masks and social distancing) since our youngest grandson was turning one, so we brought the piñata and candy out. Later that evening the adult kids/grandkids participated in a video chat to continue our traditional dialogue on what we were thankful for and our hopes for the coming year.

Four of our grandkids are voting for the first time, and everyone was thankful to see a change in political direction. It occurred to me that many might be surprised at our response to our country’s new direction. In Florida, the Hispanic community bought the “Cuba, Venezuela socialist scare” and helped Trump win the state, and in Texas, many Hispanics voted for Trump out of fear of the “immigrant caravans” reportedly bursting across our borders of that state.

Yet, the “Red” state of Arizona flipped to “Blue,” for the first time since 1996 and elected two Democrat senators, partially due to the growing number of immigrants, younger voters and the impact of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was Sheriff of Maricopa County for 24 years, lost the last election but at 88 ran again despite being charged and convicted by a Federal judge for ignoring an order to stop racial profiling. The Sheriff cost Maricopa County taxpayers over 140 million for litigation from individuals illegally arrested for suspicion of being illegal only to be pardoned by President Trump. The Sheriff had investigated former Obama’s birth certificate and claimed it was forged without evidence. The Republican winner, Jerry Sheridan put up large signs entering our neighborhood saying that he would, “stop the mobs from invading homes” in northern Scottsdale.

Our family includes my wife and children who were born in Guatemala, a son-in-law from Peru making for two naturalized citizens. Our preference for the run-offs vacillated between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and one of our traditional “toasts” this year with blue margaritas, included giving thanks for not having to turn off the TV with children in the room when our President talks or having to explain his hateful comments. My daughter-in-law said she showed our granddaughters pictures of our new Vice-President Elect, Kamala Harris, at their age, as she’d be a new leader. She also mentioned John McCain’s concessions speech, which “reminded us of the power of steady, moral and kind leadership, no matter the differences in policies.”  The entire clan gave thanks that our country would finally begin addressing climate change before it was too late for our youngest grandchildren.

Culture Watch
One of the greatest challenges to any dialogue in the future is that both sides are dealing with misinformation. Conspiracy theories and misinformation about coronavirus and recent election results are spreading like wildfires. Which is why this interview from Amanpour & company with Renee DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observation group is so timely.

Book & Movie Reviews

I initially heard Ayad Akhtar when he was interviewed by PBS, and then came across the words of Bill Moyers about one of the author’s many plays on what was to be Moyers’ last; his plays are “not only history, but prophecy. A Biblical-like account of who’s running America, and how.” Moyers added: “Our times at last have found their voice, and it belongs to a Pakistani American: Ayad Akhtar.” Here is the comment of the interview with caught my attention, “Money is the supreme value in our society (the U.S.). Customers are first—to buy is our “privilege.”

This novel about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams, told from the perspective of a Muslim writer, is a must read. The book reflects the power of fiction to explore and understand what’s going on in reality and includes a powerful social commentary. Not surprisingly, Alison Bechdel’s quote is on the page just before the first chapter, “I can only make things up about things that have already happened…”
The author blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part picaresque novel, part social essay at its heart, it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call their home.

The author forges a narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and the gods of finance rule, where immigrants live in fear, and where the nation’s unhealed wounds impact the rest of the world. Akhtar’s story unfolds within one family and moves from a heartland town in America to palatial suites in Central Europe to guerrilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan. In the process, he spares no one — least of all himself.

Like many Thomsen enthusiasts, I’ve wondered where his last, elusive manuscript was and how it might be published, bringing the number of travelogue classics to five. So when it appeared on Amazon, published—I jumped with joy—at last, 28 years after his death. I was not disappointed, as it was worth the wait.

Thomsen began talking about this book in 1980 and sent some of the manuscript to fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and author, Christopher West Davis, who told him that it was some of his best work, “He was in the zone, in top form, etc. encouraging him to keep it up…” But later on, Thomsen would lament the difficulties of getting it published.

This first edition was created from a photocopy of the original typed manuscript and includes his handwritten notes. The book is over 300 pages, the chapters are untitled, and the index only includes a brief “Editor’s Note,” “Forward,” and “endnotes,” which list where “unreadable texts” were located. Thirty vignettes, dating from his arrival in Ecuador as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1964 include snippets of characters from his previous books, making sense of the beauty and complex world of the Esmeraldas on the coast of Ecuador.

Although those who have read Thomsen’s previous books will recognize more details and insights into characters and circumstances, this book is a standalone publication and includes several spectacular stories like this treatise on creativity and an author’s responsibility when facing human degradation and violence.

When I finished this book earlier this year, I embarked on my next book, “The Moritz Thomsen Reader: His Books, His Letters and His Legacy Told by the Writers Who Knew Him Best.” I’ve already secured the majority of the essays I want to include, and one of the writers, Craig Storti, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco who has published eight books of his own in the field of intercultural communications, invited me for an interview for the newsletter of SIETAR, Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research. The focus of the interview is Moritz Thomsen. I’ll let you know when it’s published and please remember to keep your eyes out for potential publishers for my new book!

The Life Ahead is a movie, which complements “Homeland Elegies.” Sophia Loren stars in, and helps direct (with her son), a film based on a French novel about an unlikely friendship between a Senegalese migrant and an elderly holocaust victim who runs a childcare center. Beautifully done and timely, considering the vilification around immigrants and the growing divisions in the world family.

My Zoom Webinar with the Overseas Staff of Esperanca
I led the first session of Esperanca’s “Partner Summit” in Spanish with 13 participants from the U.S., Bolivia, Peru, Nicaragua and Mozambique. One of the partners said the presentation had “all the bells and whistles—spectacular,” while another commented, “It took me out of my comfort zone about fundraising, which is good.” At the end, the group was energized, having discussed and shared information on successful in-country fundraising and stating how they’d expand their fundraising plans for the future. Here’s the power point and presentation in Spanish which is two hours long (Check out the first part and then go to the end to get the participants’ responses and experience.)

Voices of the Day
A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.
– A. Philip Randolph
What the people want is simple. They want an America as good as its promise.–Barbara D. Jordan, U.S. Congressional representative, 1977
What Others Are Saying
So exciting, Mark! Good luck with the new projects and congratulations on the book!
Fernanda Santos, New York Times Correspondent, and author of “The Fire Line: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.”

  • Join me December 4th on the Writers Connection for a webinar on “My Literary Journey.” Send your questions ahead before then. You can register at
  • I was just interviewed on Global Connections TV.  GCTV features leaders at the UN to the private sector, academic to NGO organizations, including Peter Yarrow (Peter Paul & Mary) and Dr. Jane Goodall. I will let you know when they post the interview. The Moderator, Bill Miller, is a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic Global Connections Television
  • Join us at Partnering for Peace for our Annual Meeting December 12th,  where we will discuss next year’s plan to strengthen the Rotary/Peace Corps partnership and select our new board. Our President, Steve Werner, was just interviewed on Global Connections Television.
  • Don’t forget the Desert Nights Literary Fair, which starts on February 22nd on the campus of ASU in Tempe, Arizona. The Virginia Piper Center for Creative Writing hosts the event, which I’ve attended in the past. The event will bring together 25 faculty members and, although it’s via Zoom, I anticipate seeing some of the top writers, agents and publishers in the country.

Please check out my new Million Mile Walker website, which includes all my articles and book reviews (including the totality of the two presented here) under “Books/Articles” and “Library,” as well as a “Special Message” video,  The Guatemala documentary website is:

“Follow” me on the Million Mile Walker Facebook page for the latest on international affairs and literature.
And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” by all means, rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it.

Mark D. Walker

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