Hermione Granger and the Struggle for Social Justice

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hermione Granger becomes an activist for house-elves. She observes how Winky the house-elf is treated roughly and immediately dismissed by her owner Bartemius Crouch for a crime she did not commit. This injustice leads Hermione to take up the fight for racial equality in the wizarding world, but J.K. Rowling does more than teach young audiences to take a stand when you see something wrong going on in your community. She teaches us that the fight for social justice is an uphill struggle that does not lead to immediate change. Hermione learns this lesson when she meets resistance in the form of the status quo with regard to the role of house elves and the fact that house-elves do not feel their oppression.

When Hermione hears that Hogwarts employs house-elves without pay or benefits, she launches a grassroots campaign to promote change. She creates the organization S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). The aim of this society is to “secure house-elves fair wages and working conditions.” (225) Hermione attempts to rally students to create reform in the school, but she is told every time that she is on the wrong side of the issue. When Hermione explains how house-elf enslavement in the wizarding world goes back centuries, Ron Weasley responds, “Hermione — open your ears. They. Like. It. They like being enslaved!” (224) Even Hagrid, known for his love for magical creatures, explains, “I’m not sayin’ there isn’t the odd elf who’d take freedom, but yeh’ll never persuade most of ‘em ter do it — no, nothin’ doin’, Hermione.” (265) Hermione’s words fall on deaf ears precisely because of what she mentions to Ron: house-elf enslavement goes back centuries. In the eyes of the wizarding community, that is just the way it is. You cannot expect to easily change an idea that is considered normal and a part of everyday life. Ron and Hagrid’s words point to another problem: house-elves love their enslavement.

Hermione not only has to change the minds of the entire wizarding community; she also needs to convinced the oppressed of their oppression. House-elves love to serve. Fred and George Weasley, when visiting the kitchens of Hogwarts, observe that they look “happy” and “think they’ve got the best job in the world.” (239) Harry Potter and the gang confirm these observations when they visit the kitchens. The house-elves, upon seeing them,“came trotting up. . . bearing a large silver tray laden with a teapot, cups for Harry, Ron, and Hermione, a milk jug, and a large plate of biscuits.” (377) Service is hardwired into the house-elves. When Dobby, the house-elf freed by Harry Potter, mentions how he is enjoying his freedom, the house-elves “started edging away from Dobby, as though he were carrying something contagious.” (378) How can Hermione fight for the freedom of house-elves when they hate the very mention of it? Even Dobby, a lover of freedom, reverts back to his servant ways. When he calls the Malfoys “bad masters,” (381) he seems okay at first but suddenly starts calling himself bad and banging himself on the head. Dobby is incapable, despite being free to do and say as he please, to freely express himself without shock and a feeling of wrongdoing. Dobby’s self-punishment points to how deep this institution runs. This institution has its intricate web in the psyche of house-elves. Hermione will have a tough time liberating the oppressed if they love their oppression and balk at the idea of freedom.

Hermione Granger’s struggle to promote house-elf rights is the struggle for social justice. It is a constant battle that requires, to borrow Professor Moody’s words, constant vigilance. If we are not vigilant and accept things as they are without question, like Ron, that is how systems of oppression are allowed to take root in society and flourish. The battle is not easy. It is a gradual, uphill battle. Hermione learns that change is not going to happen overnight. It will require dismantling an institution that has thrived for centuries and changing ideas that society views as the natural order of things. Tough lesson aside, Rowling does an excellent job of providing young readers with a role model who questions what society deems as normal and challenges injustice when it rears its ugly countenance. In other words, Hermione Granger is woke as fuck.

I Mean No Harm

Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas, ethical standards for yoga practitioners and one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga outlined by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras. Ahimsa means not to injure and refers to practicing non-violence toward living things. This practice does not just refer to physical action alone; it also refers to speech.

Words are powerful like magic spells. When weaved together, you can either heal someone’s spirits or hurt someone emotionally. This ethical standard resonates with me for two reasons. First, it is part of the reason I went vegetarian. Besides the health benefits of giving up meat, I want to extend compassion to animals. Eating meat involves participating in the murder of animals. I do not want to turn a blind eye to that. Second, I have a habit of being passionate when I express myself. In my passion, sometimes I talk without considering the effect that my words have on people. I have pissed people off or inadvertently hurt people’s feelings without intending to inflict harm. The desire to never hurt people I care about is the main reason ahimsa means a lot to me.

I aim to be mindful of what I eat as well as what I say. I am already on the path by giving up meat. Going vegan is a future goal. The lack of vegan options in my neighborhood will prove a challenge in this journey, but I am confident I can manage. As for my words, this is an area I need to work on. As an Aries, I am easily annoyed by rudeness. I am a passionate person. I need to go back to my breathing and consider the impact my words have before I utter them. I want to extend compassion to all living beings, especially the people I love, and I will misstep if I do not think before I talk.

Banishing the Basements of Bigotry

I have been revisiting the Harry Potter series. I just finished up Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, and I really dig how J.K. Rowling deftly explores the notion that hate is a behavior that is learned and passed down from generation to generation through wizarding families like the Malfoys. Rowling further unravels this philosophy and exposes it for the foolishness that it is through the example of the talented and intelligent witch Hermione Granger.

Hate makes its ugly debut as a theme in Harry Potter when Draco Malfoy calls Hermione Granger a “filthy little Mudblood,” (112) an epithet for a wizard or witch born from Muggle (non-magic) parents. This term is a part of the philosophy of the pure-bloods, wizarding families that claim they are pure because their blood is not mixed with any Muggle blood. Pure-bloods believe they are superior to Muggles. In their eyes, Muggles are base, unworthy, and unfit to learn magic. Harry and Ron learn in their History of Magic class that, over a thousand years ago, Salazar Slytherin harbored this same hatred for Muggles when he founded the Slytherin House. According to their teacher Professor Bins, Slytherin’s founder believed “magic learning should be kept within all-magic families” and “disliked taking students of Muggle parentage, believing them to be untrustworthy.” (150) This hatred led to the creation of the Chamber of Secrets and the plan to purge Hogwarts of wizards and witches with Muggle relatives. Salazar Slytherin’s belief system from its inception to its current incarnation teaches us that hate is not a natural feeling; it is a behavior that is taught. The seed of hatred for Muggles was planted by Salazar Slytherin and is continuously maintained by future generations of Slytherins.

Rowling further unravels this hate for the harmful behavior that it is by introducing us to the genius Hermione Granger. Despite not coming from a wizarding family, Hermione has proven to be proficient in magic. Though the pure-bloods would believe that people like Hermione are unfit to learn magic, Hermione demonstrates she is more than fit by excelling in the field. Her hand always shoots up in the air with the correct answer to every question. She is able to master new spells quickly. Hermione makes magic look effortless. It is silly to ban someone from practicing magic when they are so damn good at it. She also played a critical role in saving the school by helping Harry identify the monster attacking students as a basilisk. Without that knowledge, Harry would not have triumphed over the monster by avoiding its fatal gaze. If Hogwarts would have followed Salazar Slytherin’s lead and barred talented witches like Hermione Granger from attending the school, Hogwarts would frankly be fucked. It is because Hogwarts accepts people of different backgrounds that the school flourishes and produces talented wizards and witches of many talents like Ms. Granger.

Rowling’s treatment of the subject of hate is just as relevant today as it was when I was a teenager. In the Trump era United States, people in our country experience bigotry, discrimination, xenophobia, and other pernicious examples of hate. Kids need to learn that these behaviors have a root that can be traced. Hate is learned. If we can learn to hate, we can unlearn to hate and replace it with community-boosting behaviors like compassion and love. It is inspiring that authors like Rowling teach younger audiences about important topics like hate in a clever way. We need to educate our kids that your background has no bearing on who you are. Your hardwork and your actions shape your fate.

My Week and Two Days Without Meat

Hello everyone,

Yes, I am still alive and well. No, my decision to give up meat did not claim my life. It has been more than a week since I decided to give up meat. This started as an experiment to see if I was capable of doing it. Since starting this trial run, I have decided to make it a permanent thing. My body feels great after deciding to not stuff my gaping maw with meat.

My original diet was making me feel bloated, and I definitely felt it during my yoga practice. I felt stiff, like something was in my way from feeling comfort while doing the asanas. When I attended my Ashtanga yoga class after a week of no meat, I definitely felt a difference. I still can’t touch my toes, but I am getting closer to reaching that flexibility I want. I don’t feel the discomfort I used to feel before I started this meat-free diet. Aside from the ease I feel in doing the asanas, my little belly is starting to slim down a bit. I feel great on the outside and on the inside.

The only thing left is to start preparing alternatives to meat. I already started by replacing my sides of meat for dinner with quinoa, which is famous for being rich in protein, but I cannot subsist on quinoa alone. I need to diversify my diet. Eating should be a joyous activity, an opportunity to experiment and surprise yourself with different flavors. No one should feel bored with eating. The game plan is to try other things like kale, tofu, mushrooms, eggplant, jackfruit, etc. It is going to be a learning experience because cooking is not my forte, but I made it this far. I just bought some kale today. I am going to put one foot in front of the other.

Vegan or Nah?

Lately I have been getting deeper into my yoga practice by attending more classes. Thanks to my homie Claudyne (I appreciate you), I found a home for yoga classes in MindBodySoul Yoga Studio in Washington Heights. I have attended a few classes such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa (Level 1). I have also attended outdoor yoga classes with Victor Chaves. The dedication to the practice is starting to sprout, but I also want to attend to another obstacle in my practice: diet.

I am a carnivore by habit. As a half Puerto Rican, half Dominican, meat is a huge staple in the Hispanic diet. I am used to eating a combination of rice, meat, and plantains. One of my yoga instructors mentioned that a lot of yogis choose a diet free of meat for the health benefits such as reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc. She also added that this diet helps the body do the asanas with more ease. I can barely touch my toes. One of my goals is to reach my toes and be able to have my heels touch the floor when I do downward facing dog. Maybe eliminating meat can help me get there. Plus, living longer with few cardiovascular issues is a nice bonus.

A lot of yogis also choose this diet because of Ahimsa, an important principle in Indian religions such as Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism which consists of causing no harm to living things in words, actions, etc. Because meat involves not just harming but killing animals, some yogis choose to not eat meat. I try to not be a dick to my fellow human beings. Maybe I can extend the same courtesy to other animals. The recommendation of my instructor, along with the this principle of cause no harm, motivated me to give a meat-free diet a chance. I want to challenge myself and do something that is beneficial for my body and the living beings around me. I also want to get the most out of my yoga sessions.

The thing about habits is that they can change. Since taking my yoga classes, I started reducing my meat consumption. I became more mindful about what I am putting into my body. I eat more salads for my lunch instead of something greasy and fattening. These past two days, I have not eaten meat. This was not a conscious choice. I just started a different, positive habit because I want to take care of myself, and the meat gradually became reduced until I completely replaced it with something else. I plan to try a non-meat diet until Wednesday to see how I handle it. I am not going vegan yet, but who knows what the future holds? Never say never. *wink*

Bookworms, Unite!

The postliterate society is a term in fiction dating back as early as the 60’s. It means a society where technology advances while reading is either extinct or has reached the point where it is not a common activity. Examples of the postliterate society in fiction include works like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Ilium by Dan Simmons. While bookstores still exist in parts of New York, sometimes I fear my community is moving in the direction of postliteracy. The surprise I experience when I am seen reading and the closure of our only bookstore serve to me as red flags that we are not heading in a positive direction.

I am almost always seen with a book in my hand. I like a good read during my commute to work and sometimes during my breaks. The reactions I experience when caught reading always boil down to one feeling: surprise. One day, I was reading a novel while eating breakfast at my local bagel spot Bagels On Bartow. A lady sitting next to me saw me immersed in my book and wanted to take a picture of me to post on her Facebook page. She explained she wanted to share the great news that people are still reading books. A part of me felt flattered, while the rest of me felt a sense of sadness that reading is viewed as a rarity.

My favorite reaction was from an elderly gentleman who saw me reading while walking (don’t try this at home, kids). The man pointed at my book and exclaimed, “A book! That’s a real book!” Completely blindsided, I was only able to produce a nervous laugh. These reactions bothered me because I know I am not alone. I know people who read, but my community doesn’t seem to have a lot of readers. If they did, it should not come as a shock that I am reading a book.

The recent closure of our local Barnes & Noble does not help my pessimism about the state of reading in my community. Barnes & Noble in the Bay Plaza Mall was the only bookstore of the Bronx. It served as a great hangout spot for readers who wanted to buy books, graphic novels, manga, etc. The problem with the bookstore boiled down to prices. People were not buying books frequently with the existence of Amazon, which offers books at more discounted prices. This probably played a role in why the store closed and was replaced by Saks OFF 5th. Apparently people can afford expensive purses but not a book.

The only silver lining is The Lit Bar, a wine bar and bookstore project by Noelle Santos, which promises to bring a bookstore back to the Bronx. The project was successfully crowdfunded. The only question now is when The Lit Bar will come to the Bronx. I am brimming with anticipation for the day this spot opens in the Bronx.

I am comforted by the fact that I know I am not alone. I am surrounded by awesome people who are woke as fuck and well-read. Bookworms need to unite and show that we are not a dying breed. The Lit Bar was successfully crowdfunded, demonstrating that the Bronx has folks who love to read. We are few, but we are not extinct. We are the last bastion against our community’s descent into post-literacy.

Moses Sumney, aka Broke My Word

Last night was the best night of my life. I had the great pleasure of seeing one of my favorite artists Moses Sumney live with my homie Claudyne. He performed in the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The venue was small and not incredibly packed, making the concert experience more intimate. I could actually see the artist’s face, a first to me. He wasn’t some speck in the distance.

Moses was not the only highlight of the evening because he did not come alone. Accompanying him was his band. One of them (wish I could recall his name) was playing what looked like a small sax. It was refreshing to hear an instrument that was not in the studio recordings, leading to a new interpretation of my favorite Moses Sumney tracks. The main highlight of the band was Brandee Younger, a harp player who has an extensive resume that includes working with famous names like Lauryn Hill, John Legend, Common, Drake, etc. She elevated Moses into the realm of the divine with her beautiful and intricate harp-playing. I felt like I was perched on clouds before the pearly gates when she had her time to shine.

Moses, of course, stole the show himself. His set consisted of performances of most of his album Aromanticism, as well as renditions from his earlier work such as “Worth It” from his Lamentations EP. His voice was out of this world. He effortlessly soared into his higher register, taking you to another realm with his ethereal soundscapes as he reflected on death, lovelessness, and yearning to just make out with the one you long for in your car. He also utilized his voice and loop pedal to construct beats from scratch. It was refreshing to watch artists with real talent create art, showcase their craft in a world of mass-produced beats and auto-tune.

I promised myself I was not going to take out my phone, but I could not help myself. I had to take one good snapshot of this guy. After two attempts, I put my phone away in order to stay present and not miss a thing. Artists like Moses are the reason I pick up my guitar and want to learn. He creates music that connects with me on an emotional and spiritual level. I hope his headlining tour makes him a household name. We need more artists like him out there, putting out music that makes you feel and think.

Staying Present

Words cannot encapsulate my level of excitement. One of my favorite artists Moses Sumney is going to perform at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on Wednesday, October 11th. His angelic voice and soulful guitar playing resonate with my soul as he meditates on themes like loneliness and existence. I know the day of the event I am not going to record a thing. The reason for this is simple: I want to be present.

Buddhism emphasizes the importance of being in the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Life is available only in the present.” It is easy to get caught up in past hurts and future anxieties. This obsession with the past and the future causes life to pass us by. I do not want life and especially this concert to pass me by. I want to savor every delicious guitar chord, every sustained note in the higher register, etc. I cannot stay in the present moment if I am on my phone.

It is very common for concert goers to record parts of concerts, and there is nothing wrong with that. The one benefit of recording is that you can look back on those memories. I know for a fact that I will not look back on any recordings I make. I went to a Deftones concert last year in Mohegan Sun. I recorded a lot of video footage of their set. I have not looked at any of my videos once. I could have used all that time I spent recording on savoring the heavy guitar riffs and Chino Moreno’s dynamic vocals.

The phone is going to stay in my pocket during the concert. It is not often that I get to see my favorite artists live, and the last thing I want to do is miss the experience. I don’t need a video clip to remember being in the Music Hall of Williamsburg. I am sure my brain will do the job just fine.

I Am One with the Buddha, and the Buddha Is with Me

WARNING! The following post contains spoilers of the ending of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. If you do not want the conclusion ruined, do not read any further. If you already saw it, or don’t care about spoilers, I hope you enjoy!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an intriguing addition to the Star Wars franchise. Rogue One delivers action, intergalactic dogfighting, and musing regarding if the good guys are really any better than the bad guys. What intrigued me most about this story in a galaxy far, far away were the Buddhist references peppered throughout the movie. These references include the use of mantras, the idea of life and the universe being composed of the same stuff, and the notion of death as a continuation, not an ending.

Chirrut Îmwe, one of the rebels in the movie, brings Buddhism into the movie through his use of mantras. Fans of the movie already know his popular mantra, “I’m one with the Force, and the Force is with me,” but let’s examine the purpose of the mantra. Mantras are featured in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc. They are said to endow the practitioners with supernatural powers. Chirrut definitely demonstrates the supernatural aspect of mantras with the master switch scene. Chirrut and his group are pinned down by Imperial gunfire, preventing them from fulfilling their mission objective of sending the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance. Chirrut puts his life on the line and begins chanting the mantra as he walks out toward the master switch. The mantra protects him long enough to fulfill his mission of turning on the master switch before the enemy succeeds in taking him out. He should have died on the spot by walking out, but the mantra endowed the warrior-monk with supernatural protection. Even though Chirrut doesn’t survive the battle on Scarif, his use of the mantra allows the rebels to accomplish their mission objective even though the odds were stacked against them.

Another way Chirrut brings Buddhism into the Star Wars universe is his description of the Force. It is important to understand what The Force is. For the uninitiated, according to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope, the Force is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” This description is similar to the Buddhist concept of the self and how it is made up of non-self elements. Buddhism views us as connected to life and the universe because our bodies are made up of the elements. Within us are the earth element, the water element, etc. The same elements that run through all life runs through us. This sense of connectedness is also conveyed through the Force. The same energy field that runs through humans runs throughout the universe. The philosophy of the Force and the non-existence of the self may utilize different terminology, but the message is the same: we are all connected to the universe.

Besides expressing a Buddhist way of looking at our relationship to the universe, Chirrut also expresses a Buddhist view of death. Buddhism views death not as an ending; it views death as a notion that prevents us from seeing the true reality. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “We think that we exist only from this point in time until this point in time, and we suffer because of that notion. If we look deeply, we will know that we have never been born and we will never die. A wave is born and dies, is higher or lower, more or less, beautiful. But we cannot apply these notions to water.” In other words, we do not cease to exist; we continue on in another form (e.g., becoming one with the earth when buried, as ashes, etc.). We are just like the wave. Whether cresting or crashing, a wave still exists as water. Whether we are alive or dead, we still live on in the universe in some way, shape, or form. When the warrior-monk is in the threshold of death, and his partner Baze is by his side, he tells his friend to not worry: “It’s okay. It’s okay. Look for the Force. And you will always find me.” When Chirrut says this, he is echoing this Buddhist idea of continuation. His body may cease to function, but he does not cease to exist. He will continue to live on in the form of the Force.

Though Chirrut does not directly state he is Buddhist, he does express a lot of Buddhist concepts in his way of life and his philosophy. His use of mantras places him in the ballpark of Buddhism as well as other Indian religions. The warrior-monk’s view of the self as composed of the same stuff as the rest of the universe and death as a continuation are concepts Buddhism explores at length. It is refreshing to see a badass introducing the audience to Buddhist concepts, especially when Christianity is the prevalent religion of American society. Let’s hope Hollywood continues to experiment with these ideas in future projects.