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April 10, 2001

Life Forms by Dan Silver - Revisited

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Letters to the Editor

Subject: The Harbinger

Dear Editor Coleman,

My mother sent me a clipping of the March 12, 2001 Metro/Region section's article, "Harbinger to cease publication after April 9." It arrived today.

The article brought tears to my eyes. Although I appreciated the article, there is a major facet of The Harbinger that was overlooked or, most likely, totally unknown by your writer.

Back in the Summer of 1983, I began attending the University of South Alabama after transferring from some reputable universities in Florida. And I, like so many other students at South Alabama, really didn't know anyone else on campus or off. I saw The Harbinger around campus and Mobile, sometimes in proximity to The Vanguard, and oftentimes, not. I was impressed with The Harbinger's objectivity and refusal to be a pseudo-"paid political announcement" sponsored by the University via College of Journalism students [who are] afraid to ruffle anyone's feathers or anything else that might jeopardize funding, academic, or professional goals. I was also impressed with The Harbinger's strive to seek underlying causes and to present differing perspectives. But all of that aside, I was impressed with the creativity of the publication.

To the best of my recollection, I became involved with The Harbinger by attending a fund-raising event at Thirstie's, which was a local band mecca and watering hole at that time. I was actually invited to participate in producing The Harbinger. We ALL were! And from that moment, my life has never been the same.

You see, The Harbinger provided direction to SO many students and community members. The Harbinger provided opportunities to ALL students and community members. At a time when I would have felt very lost and alone in this strange new place called Mobile, Alabama, The Harbinger provided a sense of learning and purpose that was not provided in classrooms or other local publications. Under Dr. Tsang's wings of drive, inquisitiveness, and spirit, I discovered talents I didn't even know I had. We ALL did. He nurtured us and encouraged us to seek and to ask and to create and to express ourselves.

A business major, I had no idea that I possessed artistic skills. Next thing I knew, Dr. Tsang asked me to create artwork for articles, and that work was actually published. As a fund-raising event, I suggested that The Harbinger have a Mardi Gras party. Along with countless others we put together The Harbinger's First Party Gras. This was open to EVERYONE, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, familial status, handicap, or other traditional Mardi Gras society criteria. This event and all Harbinger events happened because of Dr. Tsang's unsuffocatable spirit, determination, and creativity.

When we went to Harbinger meetings we felt important. We mattered. We felt at home. We were international. We were global. We were united. We had purpose. We had direction. We had charisma. We had ideas. We had debates. We had questions. We had answers. We had art. We had literature. We had history. We had science. We had music. We had each other. We had family. And all of this was because we had Dr. Tsang.

Dr. Tsang and The Harbinger turned me and many others around. This exquisite man, an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, channeled the energy of youth and youthful energy into not only a newspaper publication, but also a meaning and purpose in life.

I am only one of the hundreds or thousands that have been affected by Dr. Tsang's spirit of soul. Lucky Kalamazoo. I hope they're ready to have their lives transformed.

Amanda DeLong

Dear Edmund,

In Mobile briefly yesterday, just long enough to see that you are lighting out for new territory. Mobile's loss is Michigan's gain. Very sorry to see that no one is picking up the Harbinger project. Though, who could give it the attention you have?

Just wanted to salute you, commend you for all the long hours, hard work and inspiration you put into the Harbinger. Though I'm not often in Mobile, I'd often dial up the Web version and feel plugged into the *good* things about Mobile. The Harbinger kept hope alive in that way.

Know you'll be a dynamo wherever you are. Thanks for letting me play along back in my college days.

I wish you well.

Brian Oberkirch

Dear Editor,

On February 14th of this year, Mirtha Ira Bueno Hidalgo was released from a prison in Lima, Peru after having been jailed for over seven years. She is one of thousands of prisoners of conscience that Amnesty International (AI) believes to be unjustly detained in Peru since ex-President Fujimori eliminated due process in that country in 1992. When the local group of AI first formed in January of 1999, it chose Mirtha as its Special Focus Case. Her circumstances were both compelling and moving. The now thirty-one-year-old former law student was then serving a twelve-year term for terrorist-related crimes. Police arrested her as she was putting up posters in a working class neighborhood in 1990 and charged her with possession of "subversive" manuscripts, which turned out to be notes she was taking for a university course on a twentieth-century Spanish author. In 1992, the High Court of Lima found her innocent of these crimes and released her after two years of unjust imprisonment.

Between 1992 and 1995, Mirtha led a normal life, returning to her hometown of Juala to teach in a secondary school and finally resuming her law studies at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima. She was unaware that the Supreme Court of Justice had decided to annul the 1992 verdict of the High Court. So, on November 12, 1995, while voting in local elections, Mirtha was re-detained and re-tried for the same crime of which she had been exonerated three years earlier. In March of 1996, she was sentenced to twelve years of imprisonment to be served at the High Security Prison for Women in Chorrillos, Lima.

Mirtha, like thousands of other Peruvians, was caught in an overhauling of the judicial system decreed by then-president Alberto Fujimori and executed by his henchman, Vladimiro Montesinos. Congress was closed, Peru's Constitution was abolished, and the judiciary was placed under direct executive control. Thousands of Peruvian citizens were tried in faceless courts by masked judges who answered directly to the executive and who maintained their posts on a provisional basis. In spite of limited reform measures and the resignation of Fujimori in November of last year, the fate of these political prisoners in Peru is still unsure. There are continued reports of harassment and persecution of lawyers who represent those charged with terrorism. Furthermore, conditions in prisons like Chorrillos are unsanitary, unsafe, and prisoners often complain of malnourishment, mistreatment, and neglect. In other prisons, they lack any protection year-long from the freezing cold. There is even one prison so high above sea level that inmates become sick from oxygen deprivation.

Mirtha is one of the lucky ones, released by Presidential Pardon fewer than two months ago. After lobbying the State Department, meeting with Representative Sonny Callahan, writing endless letters to Peruvian authorities, circulating petitions, and even organizing a candlelight vigil on Mirtha's behalf, the local group was obviously elated at the news of her release. We cried, we laughed, we shivered in our gooseflesh, and we hugged each other. It was a few weeks later when we received a letter from her that we realized that while our lobbying efforts were vital to Mirtha's release, it was our contact with her on a human level that helped sustain her emotionally and keep her spirit alive. I would like to offer excerpts from her letter to the Mobile Chapter of Amnesty International as proof that the seemingly insignificant act of writing a letter can have a most profound impact. Mirtha writes:

"So many times I was on the brink of crossing that fine line between the real and the unreal and I might have even been lost forever in that world that permitted me to escape from reality. There were, however, acts which helped me overcome this state of despair. There was the fact that all of you continued writing me and that you were always concerned about what would happen to me. This was truly invaluable to someone like me who thought that she was nobody and whose life was reduced to bare existence; someone who couldn't even express what she felt, because thinking or feeling would have made the situation even worse.

"Many times I doubted myself and began to build up feelings of guilt, searching for a reason I was imprisoned, and this would plunge me into deep depressions. It was then that a letter would come, a card from Amnesty International, and momentarily I would become filled with joy. It moved me that people who didn't even know me would write me, believed in me, and worried about me. It was then that I would regain my faith in mankind and would begin believing again that there are no boundaries for solidarity and that as long as humanity does not lose its capacity to be outraged by unjust and arbitrary acts, there is hope for a better world and there are still dreams.

"The capacity to dream is so important. So often one survives only by feeding one's dreams, One tries to escape the rut, day in and day out, waiting, by dreaming of regaining freedom and of being at the side of loved ones again.

"Maybe one day I will have the opportunity to get to know all of you personally and to share so many things that I keep in my heart. I would like for you to get to know my daughter who is eight years old. When I was detained, she was just three, and now she is so big. We are having such problems understanding each other. She asks me so often why I was far away for such a long time and why I left her behind. I try to explain that it wasn't my wish to leave her behind. Currently, the Coordinator for Human Rights is providing us with psychological support.

"At the moment, my country is in a deep economic crisis, which has tremendously affected my family. While I was in prison, they told me about it, but I never expected it to be this bad in reality. After my release, I found out that my father, who is a farmer, had to sell part of his land to maintain his subsistence.

"I am now trying to reenroll in the University in order to continue my career. I would like to find a job, even though I know my situation is difficult. I have just gotten out of prison and can't explain to everyone that it was unjust and arbitrary and that I never should have been detained. And even when I can explain, I can't really do so, because talking about my past is so painful. The only consolation left for me is the solidarity I have with people imprisoned unjustly, because I know how it feels to spend your life in a penitentiary for no reason. I know how it feels to smell the odor of prison and not be able to forget it as hopelessness is ripping you apart, undermining your soul.

"My greatest longing is to finish my career and to have my daughter with me, to give her everything I could not give her during all those years in prison. I know that time cannot be brought back and that nothing can bring back the experiences that were taken away from my daughter. This affects me enormously and affects my daughter even more. I want to at least win back my daughter, regain her affection and keep at my side the people who believed in my innocence and did not give in at any time. I want to keep those people with me who somehow provided me with support, day to day, from places so far away and who were strangers to me. These kinds of acts restored my soul and I will never forget them as long as I live.

"Please forgive me for going into so much detail, but where are the limits for writing when the soul is opening and the pain comes flooding out? I really don't want to burden you, I only want to show you my affection and the deepest gratitude my heart can feel. My heart is reborn and I breathe the air of freedom.

"Pray for me and for all people who have been unjustly deprived of their freedom. Let us remember that life does not stop behind cement walls.

"With much love and affection from me and my family. Please remember that in

Peru there is someone who loves you and would like to get to know you.

My deepest affection,


Sondra Maniatis
Amnesty International
Group 513


The Mobile Chapter of Amnesty International meets on the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at C.C.'s Community Coffee (Old Shell Road near McGregor). Phone 633-4430.


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