Tag Archives: Michael Patrick MacDonald

Chilean Chronicles, Part 45: Miguel Huerta, Michael Patrick MacDonald and Fiskales Ad-Hok

Miguel Huerta and his son Martin.

Miguel Huerta and his son Martin.

We were about an hour into our picnic at Bicentennial Park with friends Miguel Huerta, Macarena Rodriguez and their lively and delightful boys Martin and Domingo when talk turned to the events leading up to the fortieth anniversary of the Pinochet coup.

You never knew when something could happen to you, Miguel said.

That fear, he said, led many Chileans to turn away from what they knew and to not involve themselves in what happened to others.

Friend and author Michael Patrick MacDonald described that same feeling of suffocation in his review of Martin Scorcese’s The Departed. As he sat in the theater, he wrote that he experienced ”the same suffocation that I felt as a kid growing up in a blood-soaked neighborhood, controlled by lies, deceit, and betrayal emanating as much from the halls of power as from Whitey Bulger.

“Watching`The Departed,’ my mind’s eye still focused on the exit sign, I relived the panic attacks of my youth, in the aftermath of my brothers ‘ deaths, at a time when we all knew that no one was allowed to talk. We all had to suck it up and move on.”

MacDonald’s solution was to cross the Broadway Bridge, get out of Southie and head to Kenmore Square, where a punk scene pulsing with anger, noise and rebellion was raging. (Indeed, MacDonald’s second book, Easter Rising: An Irish-American Coming Up From Under chronicles how he used music to get through the pain he suffered from murdered and disabled siblings and growing up in a neighborhood where hundreds of young people were killed, but residents kept asserting that such violence only occurred in black neighborhoods and that Southie was the best place in the world.)

Thousands of miles away, in the waning days of the Pinochet regime, a similar scene sprung up.

Fiskales Ad-Hok was at the center of it.

Malditos la Historia de los Fiskales Ad-Hok, Pablo Insunza’s documentary film, tells the story of the band’s early years, its gradual rise to prominence and its place in Chilean musical history.

Dunreith and I attended a screening of the film tonight at Parque Bustamante during the final installment of documentaries played at Parque Bustamante as part of Providencia’s commemoration of The Week of Memory here in Chile.

Told largely through interviews with original band members Alvaro Espana and Roli Urzua, the 2004 film takes the viewer through the band’s origins until what was then the present.

Formed in response to the dictatorship, Fiskales drew its name by tweaking the title of military prosecutor, or fiscal ad hoc-a position that was filled at the time by General Fernando Torres Silva.

The band’s earlobe-shattering, headbanging, mosh-pit inducing music also reflected its staunch opposition to the regime. Vulgar and profane, the group’s songs take direct aim at the police and the violence in Santiago, among other topics.

More basically, though, Fiskales’ very presence was a direct confrontation to the imposed order and that was a defining characteristic of the country under Pinochet, who is shown calling for those promulgating disorder to be dealt with a “mano dura”, or hard hand.

Malditos takes the viewer through the ban and the country’s development in the 90s. The group opened for punk legends The Ramones in Santiago in 1992-a gig that boosted their profile-and went on to record a series of albums and eventually tour in Europe.

Even though they journeyed away from home, they always returned and kept commenting on the change, or lack thereof, in the country.

After the exuberance invoked in the country by the triumph of the “No” vote in the 1988 plebiscite, Chileans found that Pinochet’s continuing to head the military and serve as as Senator for Life meant that the words and promise of democracy had not been kept.

We had been lied to, one of the band members declares, looking straight at the camera.

The anger from that betrayal fueled the band’s offerings, even as at times their sound mellowed from the late 80s frenzy.
Insunza is clearly a fan of Fiskales, and, as such, the tributes to the band from young fans to people associated with them from the beginning at moments verge close to promotional material, rather than a serious assessment of the band’s contribution to Chilean musical history. (To be fair, I have to confess that it has been difficult to watch any music documentary with a completely serious attitude since first seeing Rob Reiner’s classic rockumentary, Spinal Tap, in 1983.)

Drinking beers and laughing giddily as they pose against a wall, the 2004 vintage Fiskales members certainly have lived hard and have more than their share of the proverbial tread on the tire.

In the end, though, Insunza’s attitude toward the band and the abuse they have visited on their bodies matter much less than the fact that the band formed at the time that it did, and, having come together, it ripped apart the silence that Pinochet and his minions sought to impose and that Miguel described in our afternoon picnic-the same silence that Whitey Bulger and Boston’s powerful enforced in the South Boston of Michael MacDonald’s childhood a decade earlier and thousands of miles away.


The Boston Irish writers: Russell, Crane, MacDonald and Lehane

I hope you’ve been following it, but in case you haven’t there’s been an absolutely ripping dialogue about real and perceived violence, urban neighborhoods, activism and the future, to name just a few topics, coursing through this blog.

The authors are my friends, fellow fathers and frequent commenters David Russell and Jack Crane.

I’ve had little to do with the exchange, other than giving Mssrs. Crane and Russell a platform to air their articulate and passionate views, both of which are informed by decades of lived experience and commitment to values.

Dave and Jack both hail from Massachusetts, and, as one might expect from their surnames, both descend from large Irish families.

The Emerald Isle has produced many great writers in its day-Beckett, Joyce, Yeats and Wilde are only four of the most well-known-and their transplanted brothers across the pond haven’t fared poorly, either.

In addition to the aforementioned blogger/activists, we’ve got Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls, his wrenching memoir about growing up in South Boston during the era of busing and a pre-fugitive Whitey Bulger.  In Coming Up From Under, MacDonald writes about the role music played in helping him get out of Southie.  The book culminates with a trip to his ancestral land with his inimitable and indomitable mother.

Dennis Lehane also has direct ties to Ireland, as both his parents were born there.

The Dorchester native and Boston College High School graduate uncorked a gripping mystery and potent, if painful, look at Boston’s Irish community in Mystic River.

I had seen the film that netted Sean Penn and Tim Robbins Oscars when it came out, and picked up the book in Rockport last week at Dunreith and my dad’s recommendation.

Dad in particular said he enjoyed the movie, but found the book much better.

I agree.

Lehane tells a riveting tale of three friends whose lives are permanently altered one afternoon when they are 11 years old.   Dave Boyle is taken away for four days by a pair of pedophiles and abused for four days before escaping, while Jimmy Marcus and Sean Devine live the haunting possibility of what could have been.

A quarter century later, each man has known additional loss.

The book begins with the murder of Marcus’ oldest daughter-an act that brings Devine back to his former haunts and that also draws in Boyle, who has since married a cousin of Marcus’ second wife (His first, the murdered girl’s daughter, died while she was in prison.).

As Russell and Crane did in their dialogue that started with violence, Lehane uses the story to tell about a neighborhood, the class divides within it, the ongoing erosion of the turf by yuppies, and the darkness that lies within so many, if not all, of us.

The result: the book almost read itself.

I found myself, in a rare occasion, putting aside my copies of Hoy to polish off Mystic River.

That you can become so engrossed in a book where you already know the outcome is impressive indeed, and that is exactly what happened to me in Lehane’s capable hands.

I’ll keep on writing and, I hope, stimulating continued thoughtful dialogue from my two friends.  In the meantime, if anyone’s looking for an entertaining and quick read, you could do an awful lot worse than picking up the fourth of the Boston Irish quartet.  Beckett and Joyce they may not be, and I’ll read with pleasure and gusto whatever they have to say and whenever they say it.

Michael Patrick MacDonald comes to Chicago for iBAM!

Friend and award-winning author Michael Patrick MacDonald will be among the artists participating in the Irish Book Arts & Music Celebration.

It’s been a decade since Beacon Press first published MacDonald’s searing memoir, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, and he’s gone around to Boston schools recently talking about his and their experience.

The longest paper he had written before that was a 20-page paper for a class at UMass-Boston.

MacDonald tells the story of growing up in busing-era South Boston, where a generation of young people were lost to drugs, murder and other mayhem, all the while declaring that Southie was the best place in the world and that bad things only happened in black neighborhoods.

His family suffered greatly. 

One older brother was murdered by fellow bank robbers.  Another died mysteriously in a jail cell.  A third killed himself by throwing himself from the roof of the Old Colony housing project in which MacDonald and his many siblings lived.

A sister was permanently disabled after being thrown off the roof in an argument over drugs.

Through it all, Helen King, MacDonald’s accordion playing and jogging mother, retains her zest for life.

MacDonald does not shy away from tackling the racism in the community that made international headlines, but also makes it clear that he has little sympathy for the liberal policy makers who pitted two poor and under resourced communities against each other.

The book begins and ends with MacDonald at a vigil for his brothers.  By the end, through his journey, he is able to say his brothers’ names. 

If All Souls is the story of his growing up, Easter Rising, his second book, tells how he got out of Southie.

Music was a key.

Punk music, in fact.

MacDonald shows the importance of physically removing himself from Southie’s dangerous streets and immersing himself in the Kenmore Square punk scene played a critical role in his survival.  His journey in this book takes him to England and to his native Ireland, again with his intrepid mother.

A different and slightly less gritty work than his debut, Easter Rising offers valuable insight into how people in enormously adverse circumstances find a way to survive, and even flourish.

I first met MacDonald in the late 90s after seeing Margaret Lazarus’ film Strong at the Broken Places and an installation at the Charlestown Monument.   I was working for Facing History at the time and got him a number of speaking gigs while he was working on All Souls.

I remember vividly reading the busing chapter he had shared with me while waiting for an appointment at the Rebecca Johnson Middle School.  The image of a pig’s head he described stays with me still.

I told him then that I was glad he had survived, grateful he had shared the work with me, and confident that it would find a very wide audience.

Dunreith and I hope to get together with Mike sometime this weekend.  I highly recommend both of his books.

David Russell’s post about his favorite non-fiction books-others are welcome!


David Russell doesn't only travel to Ghana; he's also assembled his list of non-fiction favorites.

David Russell doesn't only travel to Ghana; he's also assembled his list of non-fiction favorites.


Dear friend, master teacher, hoopster, dedicated family man, world traveler, passionate reader and Black History Month quiz winner David Russell has come up with this response to yesterday’s post about Alex Kotlowitz’s favorite non-fiction books.  I have taken the editorial liberty of breaking Dave’s comment into paragraphs: 


“I want to give your question about favorite non-fiction books some thought. How can you decide? I think for me it’ll be the books that influenced me the most, that I’ve gone back to or have thought about the most after reading.


Right away Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren is there; I love the description of the ending of the year: she had not finished, she had just run out of time. That speaks so powerfully to me as a teacher; you always want to and need to do more.

Also Anthony Lukas’s Common Ground. I was a relative newcomer to Boston when it came out, and it gave me the deepened understanding of the recent history of the city that I craved. I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed to finish a book; I wished it could have just kept going and going.

Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind could perhaps be number one. I was so moved by the American odyssey presented in the book, but perhaps even more so by the reality that if it was hard and uncertain that Cedric make it, with his skills, determination, and help, how remote is the possibility for others? It is such an unimaginable distance that must be traversed.

All Souls, which lists the blogger in its credits (!), was gripping and gave voice to a story not at that point adequately presented. I loved its demonstration that family disfunction and violence do not have to be related to color (duh, but not enough established in the public mind).

The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom by Herbert Gutman was seminal for me in its proof of the resilience of the black family; the simple thesis that slavery made family life impossible and that this is what has caused 20th century difficulty is shown to be false.

Emotional Intelligence right away rang so true to me; yes, academic skills are important, but what really is most important for navigating the world?

In A Different Voice by Carol Gilligan I loved because it challenged the standard paradigm of how to view women’s valuing of relationships; it is not a lower stage of development–perhaps it is something of importance that males have been missing!

Taylor Branch’s trilogy America in the King Years was magnificent. I love that subtitle: “the King years.” Say what you may about King’s limitations, he was catalyst and moral warrior beyond compare.

All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence by Fox Butterfield I have gone back to a few times. It starts with Willie Bosket, violent black American criminal, and asks, where did this man come from? How is he connected to the history of this country? The answer is very deeply connected.

I’m going to think about this some more. Thanks for the suggestion. Of course I hope to get to more of the books on Kotlowitz’s list; I’ve read a few, but I’m sure they all are great!”  


Best Boston Resources for John Myers and Liza Weinstein.


This is just one of the many attractive views in store for my friend John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein, who move to Boston on Sunday.

This is just one of the many attractive views in store for my friend John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein, who move to Boston on Sunday.


Buddy John Myers and his wife Liza Weinstein are moving to Boston.

It’s one of a series of major changes in their lives.

On Friday she received her doctoral degree in Sociology from the University of Chicago.

On Saturday they finish packing up and celebrating with both sets of parents.

And on Sunday they drive to Boston, where Liza will soon start working for Northeastern University. 

She also will have their first child in a few short months. 

John and Liza are both Michiganders who have never lived in Boston, so I’m putting together this list of Boston resources for them. 

Debate and amendment are welcome.

I. Best Boston Dictionary: The Boston Dictionary, by John Powers.  While just a tad dated-the book has an image of Michael Dukakis reading an article about Swedish land management technique under the term “furma govna”-this illustrated work is a perfect introduction to the much imitated Boston accent. 

II. Best Book about Boston Busing: Common Ground, by J. Anthony Lukas.  One of my all-time favorite books, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book tells the story of three families during the decade that started with Dr. King’s assassinations, with individual chapters about Boston’s then-Mayor Kevin White, Boston Globe Editor Tom Winship, activist and mayoral candidate Louise Day Hicks, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, and Judge W. Arthur Garrity

III. Best Boston Memoir: All Souls, A Family Story From Southie, by Michael Patrick MacDonald.  Friend MacDonald brings it in this coming of age story that has vivid scenes of a community’s member going to funeral after funeral for its murdered youth, all the while saying that drugs and violence are the exclusive province of black neighborhoods.  The busing chapter is particularly memorable. 

IV. Best Boston Sports Memoir:  Drive: The Story of My Life, by Larry Bird.  The self-proclaimed “Hick from French Lick” restored Celtics glory in the 80s after an embarrassing downturn in the late 70s, leading the team to three titles and helping, along with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, the league reach unprecedented heights.  This straightforward book, written toward the end of his glorious care, tells the story of his hardscrabble youth.

V. Best Local Historian: Anthony Sammarco.  This well known local historian has published a series of beautiful books, many about specific Boston neighborhoods, that combine well-written text with attractive pictures that effectively convey the feel of each area.  

VI. Best Bookstore/Record Cafe: Rhythm and Muse.  Got to give the love to dear friend and former roommate David Doyle, who’s been operating in Jamaica Plain for more than a decade now.

VII. Best Medical Thriller Set in Boston: Coma, by Robin Cook.  Ultimately turned into a film by a pre-Jurassic Park Michael Crichton, this chilling novel of death in a hospital may not be the best choice for John and Liza as I imagine her pregnancy will require her to take quite a few hospital trips.

VIII. Best Children’s Book Set in Boston: Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey, and The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White.  It’s too hard to distinguish between these two classics, which are geared toward slightly different audiences.  Both are wonderful, though.

IX. Best Legal Book Set in the Boston Area:  A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr.  This book takes place in Woburn, which is just outside Boston, and the story of the fast-driving Jan Schlichtmann’s efforts to hold polluter W.R. Grace to account makes for gripping reading in Harr’s capable hands.

X. Category and book determined by readers:  I’m leaving this one open for suggestions.

Bill Reynolds takes on 1978 Boston and the Red Sox/Yankees playoff.

Bill Reynolds brings back searing sports and race memories in this engrossing book.

Bill Reynolds brings back searing sports and race memories in this engrossing book.

It was a hurt that took a quarter century to undo.

I was 12 years old in Oxford, England when I heard the news that the New York Yankees had defeated my beloved Boston Red Sox, 5-4, in a one-game playoff on October 2, 1978 to win the American East divisional championship. 

Light hitting shortstop Bucky Dent had dealt the critical blow, hitting a three-run shot that had carried into the net above the Green Monster, controversial superstar Reggie Jackson had extended the lead and fireballing reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage had gotten Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski to pop up to third baseman Graig Nettles for the final out.

The collapse was complete.

Just three months earlier, my brothers and I had been exulting over the Sox’s 14-game lead over the Yankees and inevitable divisional victory.

Mom issued a cautionary note, telling us, in essence, that anything could happen.

Addicts of the volumes of statistics contained in Boston Globe  sports pages, we knew that Mom could talk with authority about poetry, but were notbout to hear her dire predictions.   Our mockery violated the rule that you should listen to your mother.

We also didn’t realize that Mom had some experience of her own. 

She had been just a little older than us when her childhood team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, had blown an almost identical lead in 1951 before losing the final frame of a three-game series when Bobby Thomson took Ralph Branca deep while Willie Mays waited on deck in a blow instantly known as “The Shot Heard Round the World.”

Unfortunately, Mom was right.

Award-winning sportswriter Bill Reynolds recreates the single-game playoff between the bitter American League rivals and delves into Boston’s tense racial scene at time in an engrossing book,  ’78: The Boston Red Sox,  A Historic Game, and a Divided City.

Reynolds opens the action with the games before the game, in which the much-loved Cuban pitcher Luis Tiant had pitched a complete game gem over the expansion Toronto Blue Jays while Rick Waits and the Cleveland Indians had triumphed over the Yankees.  The victory, Boston’s seventh in a row, completed its comeback from a 2 .5 game deficit in the final week and set up the playoff.

From there, Reynolds alternates between the playoff game’s progression, into which he intersperses descriptions of both team’s history, players, owners and managers, and Boston’s tense racial relations at the time.

Drawing heavily on the seminal work about busing in Boston,  J. Anthony Lukas’ Common Ground, as well as Michael Patrick’s MacDonald’s haunting memoir All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, Reynolds shows how Boston in the late 70s was very much a divided city in which the antibusing movement was losing steam after years of protest, but still had plenty of emotional supporters behind it like School Committe member Elvira “Pixie” Palladino

Reynolds takes the reader through the violence in South Boston in 1974, its continuation in Charlestown in 1975 and the uneasy truce that existed during the time the game was played.

To his credit, Reynolds links sports and race by writing about the Red Sox’s troubled racial history-late owner Thomas Yawkey was considered by many to be a racist and the Red Sox were the last team in all of baseball to integrate their squad-and the incomplete way the presence of black players like George ‘Boomer’ Scott, Tiant and 1978 MVP Jim Rice united the city. 

Reynolds also includes a shorter, less developed exploration of the waning years of what author Tom Wolfe called the ‘Me Decade’ and a paean to the 1970s Boston Globe sports writing team, which included local legends like Ray Fitzgerald, my childhood favorite, and also people who went onto national prominence like Peter Gammons, Bob Ryan and Leigh Montville

Of course, the game ended with Nettles squeezing the ball Yaz popped up and a 45-second silence that Reynolds describes beautifully.  Reynolds gives a brief postscript about the team’s deterioration the following year and redemption not arriving until 2004, when the Red Sox made history by overcoming a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees and sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first championship in 86 years. 

Reynolds’ book is a useful snapshot of a troubled time in an historic American city.  There are a few factual errors-Brown v. Board  of Education was a court case, not a piece of legislation, for example-he does not introduce much new material about race relations, and his description of the decadent 70s is a bit thin.  Still, for those members of Red Sox Nation who want a dose of tetrospective Memorial Day machocism, ’78 might just be the one for you.

What do you remember about the ’78 Red Sox?

Has Boston changed in any meaningful way?

Does Jim Rice deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

Facing History and Ourselves Dinner, my favorite resources.

Then-future First and Facing History Board Member Michelle Obama at the Chicago office's 2007 fundraising dinner.  This year's dinner happens takes place tonight.

Then-future First and Facing History Board Member Michelle Obama at the Chicago office's 2007 fundraising dinner. This year's dinner takes place tonight.

Facing History and Ourselves’ fundraising dinner for the Chicago office is tonight, and I’ll be there.

My wife Dunreith is the associate program director and has, in my opinion, done amazing work in getting Facing History materials, themes and resources throughout the Chicago Public Schools.  She has concentrated on, and been extremely effective in, schools on the city’s South and West Sides.

Dunreith and I met 12 summers ago at a Facing History follow up seminar, so the organization is at least indirectly responsible for my being  a husband and father! 

The organization, though, has been part of my life for 30 years, when I first took a Facing History class as part of my time at Exploration Summer Program at Wellesley College.

For those who do not know, Facing History is an international professional development organization that has students think about their choices, and the moral consequences of their choices, by reflecting on themselves, the past and the connection between the two.  Through examining the Holocaust and other examples of mass violence, students are encouraged to think about how to be active participants in society today.

Facing History’s scope and sequence calls for students to learn first about themselves and then to think about the groups to which they belong.  From that thematic base, they move back in time and place to the historical periods they are studying.

While the focus initially was on Germany and Europe in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the eras now include looking at Rwanda, Northern Ireland, and South Africa, to name just a few.   During the study of the past, students are making connections between their own lives and the materials they are reading, hearing and seeing.    They are also considering universal questions of human behavior and issues of rescue, resistance, perpetrators and bystanders.

The scope and sequence then calls for students to think about how communities and nations come together after mass violence, deal with memory and legacy and then, as mentioned above, encourages students to think about how to apply what they have learned by contributing to our democratic society.

Through Facing History I’ve had the opportunity to meet many remarkable people like Holocaust survivor and author Ava Kadishshon Schieber, witness to the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp and former educator Leon Bass, Cambodian genocide survivor Arn Chorn-Pond,  South Boston native, author and activist Michael Patrick MacDonald, and Dutch survivor, psychiatrist and philanthropist Ries Vanderpol, to name just a few.

Here are five, but by no means all, of my favorite Facing History resources:

The Lunch Date-This Academy Award-winning film by Adam Davidson explores issues of race and stereotypes through an encounter at a New York train station between a white woman on a shopping expedition and a possibly homeless black man.

Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education.  This book by the MacArthur Award-winning scholar Danielle Allen blends an analysis of the infamous picture of Hazel Bryant screaming at Elizabeth Eckford on the first day of school in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas with classical definitions of citizenship and heavy doses of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and German philosopher Jurgen Habermas

Strong at the Broken Places-This documentary film by Margaret Lazarus interweaves the sustaining and healing from trauma of four survivors. In addition to Michael Patrick MacDonald and Arn Chorn-Pond, the film also features Marcia Gordon, who survived rape, homelessness, prostitution and a relative’s death by fire, and former U.S.  Sen Max Cleland, who lost both arms and a leg in Vietnam.  Be warned tough: this is a tear-jerker!

Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence. Harvard Law School ProfessorMartha Minow, who dedicates the book to Facing History founder Margot Stern Strom, looks here at the moral necessity but inevitable insufficiency of ways to come together after mass violence.  Specifically, she concentrates on trials, reparations and truth commissions (She has a favorable impression of the latter, especially as implemented in South Africa.).

Steve Cohen-No list of Facing History classics would be complete with Cohen, who entertained and educated thousands of teachers during his time with Facing History with his inimitable style of teaching that could best be described as an early Robin Williams teaching history. 

Do you know about Facing History?

How have you connected with the organization?

What resources have I left out from the list?

What are some of your favorite books, videos and speakers that connect to the different parts of the scope and sequence?