Twelve Geographic Concepts That Shouldn’t Apply to the United States (But Do)

When I taught World Regional Geography, I lectured about concepts relating to politics, environmental issues, genocide, and human rights issues, particularly in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.  I never dreamed that some of these terms would apply or re-apply themselves to the United States of America (USA) in the early twenty-first century.  But then we experienced a regime change. So, instead of feeling helpless, I made a list of a dozen terms that I believe unfortunately for almost everyone, may now apply to the USA.  I’ve included their historical use in my classes as well as their current application in these “united states”, which seem, to me, are less united than ever.

  1. “Kleptocracy” – a government whose main goal is to enrich themselves at the expense of its citizens. Taught in lectures about corrupt governmental policies in developing countries where public monies disappeared or were siphoned into projects that benefited government administrators and contractors. Now applicable to describe the current administration’s privileged treatment of donors and multinational corporations.  May also apply to the current cabinet, political donors, multinational corporations, especially those tied to oil, and many members of United States (US) Congress.[i]
  1. “Enemy of the People” – a phrase used by Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong in reference to citizens and groups who opposed their regimes. Being deemed an enemy of the people usually resulted in death. Taught in lectures about genocides and politicides of the 20th century, particularly in connection to Stalin (est. 7,000,000 to 20,000,000+ deaths), and Mao (est. 35,000,000+ deaths).  A term the current president actually used recently to describe members of the US press.[ii]
  1. “Rampant Anti-Semitism” – when violent rhetoric or action is specifically focused against persons of Jewish faith or heritage. Taught in lectures about genocides of the 20th century, particularly the Nazi Holocaust.  Currently expressed as bomb threats, graveyard desecrations, and individual acts of discrimination against Jewish persons.[iii]
  1. “Illegals” – when a group of people or individual person is defined as being illegal. Taught when outlining the ten stages of genocide, as designation as a separate and offensive group is often one of the first steps (classification) toward genocide. A term recently applied by members of the conservative press and the current presidential administration to describe immigrants from Latin American countries. [iv]
  1. “Mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples” – when people who are native to a landscape are disadvantaged, displaced, persecuted or otherwise mistreated by the colonizing population. Often tied to promotion of the interests of national and multinational corporations bent on resource extraction.  Taught in lectures about the mistreatment and forcible removal of indigenous peoples in Latin America, Sub Saharan Africa, Australia, and other areas of the world, and to remind students that the US has been guilty of offenses of this nature since the first colonization of North America.  Currently re-applies to the US as steps taken to forcibly remove the Standing Rock Native Sioux in North Dakota from tribal lands in direct violation of a previous treaty, their land rights.  Also included desecration of sacred sites by persons affiliated with the Dakota Access pipeline.[v]
  1. “Male Permission Required” – when women are required to obtain permission from a husband to travel, to drive, or to obtain medical treatment. Taught in lectures about restrictions to women in some countries of North Africa and Southwest Asia.  Current legislation has been proposed in Oklahoma to require women to have male permission before obtaining an abortion. Legislation has also been proposed to decrease the ability of women to access birth control and health services by defunding Planned Parenthood and dismantling the Affordable Care Act.[vi]
  1. “Environmental Poisoning” – when a corporation or government exposes citizens to pollution and contamination of water, air, or land which results in harm or death to those persons. Used in lectures about the Bhopal explosion in India in 1984, instances where chemicals are dumped into water sources by multinational corporations in foreign countries, and instances where ground, water, or air is contaminated by the byproducts of industry or warfare worldwide. Currently applies to the citizens (especially the children) of Flint, Michigan, and to US citizens too poor to move away from polluted areas.  May soon apply to most of the USA if the Environmental Protection Agency is dismantled.[vii]
  1. “Election Tampering by a Foreign Power” – when a foreign government purposefully intervenes in the elections of another nation with the purpose of influencing the outcome of an election to favor their own agenda or policies. Taught in lectures about coups by foreign powers, including the US, in Latin American and African countries.  May currently apply to the recent presidential US election, which evidence suggests was influenced by cyberwarfare at the hand of Russian intelligence, and may also be directly tied to persons involved in rise to power of the current administration. We may never know the extent of this tampering as the current administration and republican controlled congress resists investigation of this issue. [viii]
  1. “Lack of Support for Quality Inclusive Education” – when a nation fails to make education for its citizens a priority, usually through adverse rhetoric, lack of funding, or impeding access to educational resources for targeted groups, often minorities and women.  Taught in lectures describing barriers to the United Nations Millennial goal to promote education, especially of women and girls, throughout the developing world. Now applies to the current administration’s efforts to promote Christian education in public schools, to sanction education vouchers, to overturn protective legislation which formerly protected minority, disabled and transgendered students, and to possibly dismantle the entire Department of Education.[ix]
  1. “Violence Against Peaceful Protestors” – When a government uses armed police or armed military forces to quell peaceful protest through violence and intimidation. Taught in lectures about US protests in the 1960s, and protests in Latin America, particularly Cochabamba, Bolivia, where armed governmentally supported forces use violence against unarmed peaceful protestors.  Currently applies to proposed US legislation which claims that some protestors are “paid” or “violent” and is now aimed at increasing the ability of government and police forces to use violence and force against unarmed protestors, and then to arrest protestors and seize their assets.  One current example of force against peaceful protestors includes violence in North Dakota against unarmed protestors who oppose the oil pipeline.  There are also new reports, nearly daily, of excessive use of force via pepper spray, plastic bullets, or other methods of violence by forces sent to ensure peaceful demonstrations.[x]
  1. “Media Restriction” – when a government opposes or bans some media outlets while supporting those which are sympathetic to their views. Taught in lectures describing how media restriction and manipulation played a vital role in the success of the Nazi regime in perpetrating the Holocaust.  Currently applies to the current administration’s restriction of certain press agencies from official governmental briefings, while choosing to include representatives from conservative news agencies.[xi]
  1. “Anti-intellectualism” (especially with regard to science) – when a person or group has contempt for learning, intellectual inquiry, and scientific inquiry. Knowledge obtained through religious sources is often cited as superior to intellectual inquiry.  Religious law and state law are often similar or identical. Taught in lectures about genocides in the 20th century, particularly in Cambodia, where teachers, intellectuals and artists were among the first killed to make room for a new order, and the rise of fundamentalism in Iran in the 1970s. Describes the current administration as evidenced by choice of

Secretary of Education, a forced blackout of communication for governmental science groups, and open spoken disdain for intellectuals and scientists.[xii]

Well, there you have my dirty dozen.  I hope these terms will soon cease to apply to any government or any group of people in the world.  I would like nothing better than for these concepts to become mere historical descriptions rather than part of any person’s daily reality.

Hey, a woman can dream…right?

Heidi K. LaMoreaux, Professor Emerita, Sonoma State University













Heidi LaMoreaux has published in a wide variety of genres including short play, creative non-fiction, poetry and scientific journals.  She has a Ph.D. in Physical Geography and is interested in overlaps of academic disciplines, particular science, writing, and art. Heidi has taught courses at The University of Georgia, in The Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University and at Santa Rosa Junior College.  She is now a Professor Emerita.  For more information see


Apron Strings – One Mom Gets It Perfectly Right

Life Slice "Apron Strings"

Life Slice “Apron Strings”

The image above is one of my LifeSlices – a piece of my life rendered as a small collage.   My LifeSlices are usually made of polymer clay, wood, or mica, with holes at the top which can then be threaded onto a pole, in chronological order from oldest (bottom) to newest (top) to form my LifeCore (see images below). Call it my weird version of scrap-booking. (For more slices see


The following occurred in 1991 as I was leaving Utah to pursue my Ph.D. in Georgia.  This memory exemplifies one of the things that my grandmother was referring to when she visited me in a dream in 2006 (see:  These apron strings are part of my Mormon life that are worth keeping.  Thanks Mom. (Thanks also to my cousin Ken for editing this piece).

Apron Strings

I finally relax into the window seat of aisle 4 when we rise above the cloud bank.  A loud ding signals that the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off, so I grab the box from my carry-on.  My legs are already starting to cramp; I won’t have an aisle to stretch them in, but I will be able see the landscape unfold all the way to Georgia.  The Great Salt Lake, on my right, fades into a bluish line as the plane turns east over the grey scallops of the Wasatch mountains.

This time landscape can wait.  I’ve seen most of this familiar terrain in slides and overheads or from geology field trip vans anyway.  Textbook pictures with textbook explanations – faults and folds and formations.  I wonder what Georgia will be like.  Flat like Florida?  I hope not.  Living in Florida was like living in a salad bowl – overhead vegetation broken only by occasional slices of sky.  Even if the terrain is flat and overgrown, the prospect of studying caves in my graduate work trumps any possible dread of claustrophobia.

The white gift box from ZCMI is carefully bound by white satin ribbons tied in a bow.  All that white is probably an echo of the Mormon poem about “My Three White Dresses” – the “name and a blessing” dress that girls wear as babies when first presented to the congregation, the baptismal dress worn at the age of eight when a child makes her first covenants with God, and the wedding dress that every Mormon woman hopes for.  So far I’m two dresses for three.  This box was the last thing my mom pressed into my hands before I boarded the plane. “Open it in the air dear.”

I slide the ribbons aside to free the lid and open the box.  Inside are two white linen straps, a $100 bill, and a note. “Dear Sweetheart:  Well, enclosed you will find those apron strings you have longed for for so long.  I can cut them but not my heart strings. You’re my daughter, my sister and a special friend who I have loved each day with all my heart.  Have a great new adventure – but remember who you are – a daughter of God and of Al and Lois.  You’ll always have a home with us.  Best adventure. Go with our love and faith.  Mom xoxo

Sometimes, against all odds, a parent gets it perfectly right.

What I don’t know then, suspended in flight, silent tears adding humidity to the dry air, is that severing those strings will also unravel my Mormon life.  That I will choose to “forget who I am,” and that “home” is not always something you can go back to – at least not in Utah.

Floating between Utah Brown Soil and Georgia Red Clay layers, ca. 1991

Inner Geographies: A New Beginning

This website is newly created, but I’ve been working with Inner Geographies for nearly a decade.

Let me backtrack a bit.  I was a devout Mormon (Latter-Day Saint, or LDS) for the first 33 years of my life.  I was REALLY Mormon.  I grew up within 20 minutes of the Salt Lake Temple, I am a descendant of polygamist great grandparents, I went to church nearly every Sunday, I worked at various “callings” or jobs in the church, I served an LDS mission to Florida, I won a baking contest, I married a man in the Salt Lake temple, and I gave birth to an amazing daughter.  I did everything I was supposed to do as a good Mormon woman.

And, I was miserable, even though I couldn’t admit it to myself.  Then, during my time in Georgia pursuing my PhD,  I fell in love with a woman in my congregation.  After the mud settled, I realized I was not meant to live an LDS life.  So, I chose to be with Panther, divorced my husband, and was, of course, excommunicated.

The day the excommunication letter arrived, I decided to throw out everything that reminded me of my Mormon roots.  I gathered my carefully kept journals, my scriptures, my LDS memorabilia – all evidence I could find of who I had been -and tossed it all into a dumpster.

Some things are not, however, so easily discarded.   I found, and am still finding, that it is much easier to remove the woman from Utah than to remove Utah from the woman. I refer to myself as a “recovering Mormon”.

I stayed in this flavor of denial for years.  I focused exclusively on who I was becoming, my new family, and my new job –  successfully avoiding the woman I had been.  I even quit talking to my birth family.  I had things safely compartmentalized until, one night in 2006, I dreamed of my grandmother.

In the dream, my mother’s mother, who died just before I married my husband in 1992, calmly walked toward me wearing a one of her light blue house dresses with pink and white flowers embroidered on the yoke. Her weathered hands clasped the handles of two wooden boxes.

She stopped several feet in front of me and held out the first box – a box with brass hinges and clasps and a black wooden handle.  The box was fashioned from light wood, probably pine.  The case was about twice as big as a regular sheet of paper and only a few inches deep.   She opened it.  Inside were tubes – like mailing tubes but made of opaque plastic – each tinted a different primary color.  Kind of like the red and black tube my diploma from the University of Georgia came in – the tube that had been opened and refastened by the US Postal Service, with a note of apology, because it looked “suspicious.”

Grandma opened one of the tubes and emptied the contents into her hand.  Her cupped palm held small objects.  Things I had made in Primary Class in the Mormon Church.  Jagged cut-outs of animals, pictures of Jesus helping the children (colored outside of the lines with one color of crayon), and small rocks and twigs and egg shells gathered on nature walks.  She replaced the contents of the tube, capped it, closed the case, and placed it on the floor in front of me.

She slowly opened the second case, made of the same color wood, but smaller – designed to keep papers, not objects.  It contained documents from my time in the LDS church.  Primary drawings, my baptism certificate, invitations for daddy-daughter dates, goals I had set, forms I’d filled out, my mission calling, my temple recommends.

Grandma looked at me and said in her pleasantly raspy voice, “you may want to go through these now.  You might want to keep some of it.  I’ve been holding onto it for you.”  Then she gave me both boxes.  I took one in each hand.  She turned to walk away, then looked back at me, smiled, and said “goodbye dear.”  She always called me “dear….”

That morning, I told my partner my dream.  We often share our dreams over coffee.  She said it wasn’t a dream, it was a visitation.  I told her that I knew that.  The images were too vivid and too easy to remember to be only a dream.  I had spoken to my dead grandmother.

My partner looked at me, steam rising from the coffee cup like bog mist and said, “Heidi, your grandmother visited you… as a lesbian.”  Some wall broke inside me. I almost cried.

For a long time I had been nursing the fear that I had irrevocably pissed off my ancestors (which most cultures agree is not wise to do) by leaving the Mormon Church to live the life I know is mine.  The selfish life.  The excommunicated life.  The life divorced from my Mormon husband.  The life where don’t talk much to my birth family.  The supposedly sinful life I’m living with Panther.  The life outside of my birth culture.  The life outside of a religion I vowed I would never leave, never deny, never denunciate.

My grandmother visited to remind me that some of my Mormon life was worth keeping.  That my life prior to 1999 should not be so easily dismissed. That the Mormon and Ex-Mormon eras of my life must somehow be reconciled.

Inner Geographies is my attempt at this reconciliation. I decided to revisit my past through through lenses that are familiar to me – science, art, and creative writing.  From the visitation of my grandmother onward, Inner Geographies began forming as an idea, then as artwork, then as a class in the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State University, then as community workshops, then as a memoir in progress, and now, as this revamped website.

Fortunately, many of my students – who have taught me more than they realize by sharing their lives in our small seminar classes – have given me permission to share their artistic explorations on this website.  I am grateful for their generosity and courage.

This site, like most of us, is a work in progress.  My interpretations of my life are just that – interpretations based on observation.  Science has taught me to refine my analysis when better evidence emerges. Art has taught me that some things die if compressed into words.  Creative writing has given me a vehicle to express what words are able to describe.

One of my colleagues, Dr. Francisco Vazquez shared this quotation during LIBS 102 In Search of Self.  It became one of my first LifeSlices in my LifeCore:

gramsci core

Inner Geographies is my way of taking inventory of these “infinity of traces.”

I hope you enjoy looking through the site.  Please leave comments/feedback and subscribe to the blog if you are interested in these ideas.  I will be adding more artwork, descriptions of inner landscapes, and projects in the near future. I hope that people beyond Sonoma County will begin to use these tools for self-exploration and then share their process with others.

Thanks for taking the time to read this message – especially in this age of information saturation.