San José : DO NOT OPEN until 2117

San José : DO NOT OPEN until 2117

MACLA Instagram screen capture: Xavier Cortada, “DO NOT OPEN/San Jose,” 2017


In “DO NOT OPEN,” I ask residents of San José to write letters to the future. I do so because, today, many of their neighbors aren’t willing to listen. Today, too many are in denial about the human impact on global climate change. For many, denial comes easier than visualizing the future impact of rising seas on their community. Our words fall on deaf ears.

So, instead, we must write it all down, keep it in a safe place, and share it later, when others are willing to listen.

Although the letters are intended for people not yet born, the true audience is those breathing in the present.

Sure, the future will be curious.
The future will read our letters and want to know why we couldn’t show restraint when facing insurmountable evidence of our role in creating this global crisis.

The future will be incredulous.
In 2117, our great-grandchildren will read the words we wrote them and want to understand why we didn’t do more when so much—everything– was at stake.

The future will be furious.
A century from now, San José will read what we penned and want to know how, on our watch, ecosystems collapsed, biodiversity plummeted and so much of humanity suffered.

The future will benefit from insights, but “DO NOT OPEN” isn’t for them. It’s not about them. It’s about us.

I’m less interested in them being able to hear us. And more interested in us being able to see them. By writing to them, we name them. By writing to them, we can’t deny their existence. By writing to them, we create a connection to them.

Being able to connect with our progeny raises the stakes for us now in 2017. It lengthens the “care horizon” beyond our lifetime. It provides a path to hope, purpose. It encourages us to do all we can now to protect our planet, its future generations and the animals we coevolved with.

— Xavier Cortada

MACLA Instagram screen capture: Xavier Cortada, “DO NOT OPEN/San Jose,” 2017.


During the opening Temperature Check exhibition, MACLA invites attendees to participate in Cortada’s “DO NOT OPEN” performance.

Participant Instructions:

Walk up to the “DO NOT OPEN” wall in the MACLA Temperature Check
Close your eyes: Imagine San José 100 years in the future. Imagine the people living here then. Imagine how rising seas will impact the city and those who will live here then.
Think about what you would like them to know. Think about what someone living in San José in 2117 would want to hear from someone living here in 2017.
Unclip a piece of blank paper and envelope from the “DO NOT OPEN” wall and use a pencil to write it all down:

Tell them who you are.
Tell them why you are writing to them.
Tell them what you thought, what you saw.
Tell them what you felt, what you feared.
Tell them what you did, what you hoped for.
Tell them what you want them to do.

Fold your handwritten letter in two, kiss it, place it inside the envelope and seal it. Sign and date the back of your envelope and write the words:
“DO NOT OPEN until 2117”
Clip the sealed envelope to the “DO NOT OPEN” wall with the handwritten words facing out.
Stare at your envelope for 100 seconds. Visualize the changes rising seas will bring over each of the next 100 years. Think of how your words will be received in San José in 2117.
Walk away.


Marking “I have a dream”

Xavier Cortada, “The Markers, 1963,” South Pole, 2007.

On Aug. 28, 1963, this point (marked by the flag) on the moving ice sheet that blankets the South Pole stood at 90 degrees South, while the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech , in front of the Lincoln Memorial at 38’53” North, 77’02” West.


Here is the text of his speech:


I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

His presence will be felt for many days to come…

We learned about Father Lerena’s passing a month ago. Here is what I wrote…

Fr. Francisco Pérez-Lerena, S.J.
December 27, 1924 – July 25, 2017


Fr. Francisco Pérez-Lerena, S.J. lived on planet Earth for 33,813 days. I only got to spend a fraction of that time with him. But it was enough to learn about his greatness.

It was the late 80s and early 90s as he was doing everything he could to address the drug epidemic consuming his city. Prior to that, Fr. Lerena had been the leader of Jesuit priests in the Antilles (1974-79) and the rector of Belen Jesuit (1980-83), back when the prep school was based in Little Havana.

In 1984, as a parish priest in Downtown Miami, he was moved by the plight of Kelvin Minnick who came to confession. The priest struggled to find a drug treatment for the young man, but before he could, Kelvin committed suicide.

The Jesuit priest realized he had to do something to help Miami’s drug-addicted youth. Finding few resources, he decided to build his own center.  From the rectory of Gesu Catholic Church he began organizing; he called on volunteers to help him—my Mom was among them.

Together, they began to build Regis House, a drug prevention and treatment center.  Slowly, they raised money, awareness and more volunteers to grow the organization. They built community, life. They gathered for weekly masses and potlucks. They organized working sessions to plan radio marathons, raffles and gala luncheons.

He knitted together friends, parishioners, the Belen community, concerned citizens, politicians, parents, students –any one who would listen — to work together to help care for our community’s children.

People listened. People responded. Together, he led them in building Regis House.

I last saw Fr. Lerena on April 1st, 2017, 116 days before he died. He was surrounded by a room-full of supporters who came to thank him for a life dedicated to love, to service. At 92, he was stepping down as the leader of the non-profit organization he had founded, fully aware of the impact they had made. The organization had changed the lives of countless children and families, including the very people he called upon to help him build Regis House.

Fr. Lerena was an incredibly generous man. He was a man of purpose and vision. He was a leader. Leading by example, he taught us how to be better, do better.

We are all better because he lived.

His presence will be felt for many days to come.


Xavier Cortada

Regis House Executive Director, 1990-1992
Board member 1988-1997

April 1, 2017: Fr. Lerena and Xavier Cortada at Belen Jesuit Prep School in Miami.

They gave it a name and told us to take cover– under a mattress, in the bathroom…

Hurricane Andrew: August 24, 1992

25 years ago a hurricane came barreling into my hometown at 168 miles an hour. It came out of nowhere… 48 hours earlier, the Category 5 monster hadn’t yet been classified as a hurricane.

They gave it a name.

And told us to take cover: Under a mattress. In the bathroom. Find the safest room in the house. A bunker, if you had one. Hide.
Storms are named in alphabetical order. Their way of bringing order to irreparable chaos… This was the first storm of the 1992 hurricane season; so its name started with an A.

A as in August. As in too early, too soon, too quick. As in Alpha.
Beginning, Commencement…

Catastrophe landed at dawn, lifted our rooftops and swirled into our living rooms.
Destroying buildings, even killing some.
Exiting in the Gulf a few hours later, property damage was the largest in American history.

Gripped us before, during, and, yes, after.
Hurricane Andrew.

It changed many things; everything, actually.
Just as much as it destroyed, it gave opportunity for renewal.

Many people took stock of their lives. Who they were. What they meant to one another.
Neighbors saw each other in a new light. Without electricity, water or security, they looked out for one another, helped each other.
Openness, new beginnings.

People began reimagining a new future.
Questioning past building practices and developing new, safer ones.
Rebuilding community.

Sea-level rise is the new threat on the horizon. It magnifies the threat extreme weather events will bring to our shores. In the future, the water may not recede. Neighborhoods may forever be lost. Insurance may not be able to cover the damage. Folks may not be able to ever return home.

Together, we must remember who we were on August 24th, 1992 –neighbors helping neighbors, as we manage to chaos to come.
Understanding that when one of us suffers, all of us suffer, we need to take stock of everything that is at stake and begin making the right decisions. Communities musy be engaged. Policy-makers must be proactive.

Vigilant, as we face an uncertain future, we must do all we can to better understand. We must be science literate. We must be able to understand, communicate and listen to the science.
We must summon the courage today to make the right choices for tomorrow’s reality. Choices that strengthen community and build equity as we face an uncertain future.

X, Y and Z aren’t letters used in naming Atlantic hurricanes. We usually don’t get past W… But Hurricane Xavier, Tropical Storm Yolanda, and Hurricane Zach may soon come into our lexicon.

You can expect more extreme weather events with warming seas. Future hurricanes will be more dangerous, more erratic and more frequent. Their storm surge deadlier, and their damage costlier as we insist on building closer and closer to the water’s edge.

Zooming towards Texas, Hurricane Harry is in the Gulf of Mexico today. It appears to the first Category 3 storm to hit the US mainland in a decade. It is a serious threat. It’s the eighth named storm. And its only August 24th.

August 24, 1992 brought Andrew as the first. That felt bizarre enough.

Back then.