Because I’m Jewish, Doesn’t Mean I Have Horns: An Encounter with Anti-Semitism in Appalachia

By Storyteller Laura Packer

Story Summary

At 14, storyteller Laura Packer visited friends living in the rural south and encountered negative assumptions about Judaism for the first time. How she responded could have made the situation much worse, but she found a way to keep her dignity and maybe break down some ancient, inaccurate beliefs at the same time.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Because I’m Jewish, Doesn’t Mean I Have Horns-An Encounter with Anti-Semitism in Appalachia

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some common false assumptions someone might make about you? How could you respond in ways that might help prove those assumptions wrong?
  2. Have you ever made assumptions about a person based on their religion, the color of their skin or something else about them? Is there a way you could let some of those assumptions go?
  3. How do you think you would have responded to this situation if you were Laura?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Laura Packer.

When I was in my early teens in the 1970’s, I was given an opportunity that many people who grow up in cities never have. I went to visit family friends who lived in the mountains of western North Carolina. It was a welcome respite from the noise, and smell and stifling heat of my Philadelphia home. At my age, I’d never been any place like that. So, when I stepped out of the airplane and found myself in beautiful, green mountains, surrounded by fresh air and bright sunlight, it was like heaven. I stayed with a host family and they treated me like I was one of their own. For the first few years that I went there, I basically was a mother’s helper. I helped with the kids, I weeded the garden, I cleaned, I did whatever they needed me to do. And in exchange, I got to be in this beautiful place and spend time with people who really cared about me. I got to learn about a whole new way of living.

As I grew older, the family began to offer me opportunities to explore the world around me and learn a little more about this community. I was in the beginnings of a lifelong fascination with folklore, so this was an incredible opportunity. At the same time that we were exploring and meeting amazing people, I had to confront my own prejudices about what people who live in the mountains are like. All I really knew about Appalachia and life in Appalachia came from television. So, I was probably expecting something of a cross between Hee-Haw and the Grand Ole Opry and some kind of terrible insulting joke. I expected to find people in rags with no shoes and no teeth. I met some people who didn’t dress in whole clothing. I met some people who could have used better dental care, who suffered from the effects of poverty. But I met so many people who were kind. And I count myself very lucky that my liberal parents taught me to be respectful of everyone I meet. So, I hope, at least in my memory, I didn’t say anything too embarrassing.

The people I met were healers and cooks. They were knifemakers, and woodworkers, and farmers, and musicians, and dancers, and seamstresses and all kinds of amazing things. At the same time, some of them were doctors, and politicians, and teachers and had real professional careers. All at the same time, they practiced these crafts that they had learned from their families going back for generations. It was an education unlike any other that I’d ever had. I remember to this day and I’m deeply grateful.

Well, every person I met was welcoming. I learned how to spin. I learned how to make jams and jellies. I got to hold spoons that had been carved out of wood just a moment ago. It was amazing. These crafts were essential to their community. And I began to learn something about what it is to be a member of a community where you and what you can do actually has a central value. In the city where I lived, everyone was replaceable. Here, people were not. They had to depend on their neighbors and each other to get through the long winters up in those mountains. One of the last people I was taken to meet was a quilt maker.

We drove up a long path to get to her house, kind of, perched on the edge of a ridge. I remember looking out and the view was astonishing. Her garden tumbled down the mountain in front of us. And there were trees everywhere. And the sky was so blue. This woman looked like she was probably 100 years old. Though, honestly, I expect she was maybe in her 60’s. She had long, gray hair that was held back in a braid. Her face was bright with wrinkles from smiling and laughing her whole life. A life spent out, time out in the sun, sun time, in the sunlight. And she invited me into her home to see the quilts that she had made. She told me the names of the patterns; she pointed out the fabrics that she’d used. Saying that, this one came from her husband’s shirt or that one she bought at the store, that one was from her quilt, quilt that her grandmother had made that she then repurposed. She told me that she learned to do this from her grandmother and her mother. And she taught her girls. And then she, kind of, sighed and said, “My girls. I don’t think they do this no more.”

It was a moment suspended in time. And then afterwards we went and sat out on her porch. We looked at the garden. We looked at the sky. We listened to the birds and the sounds; the wind in the trees. And I realized I couldn’t hear any cars. The only sounds were the sounds of the natural world and the sounds we made. My host family was nearby and this woman started asking me all kinds of questions about my life. I answered them all as best as I could because it seemed only fair. She’d invited me into her world and now she wanted to know something about mine.

She asked about how old I was. “I’m 13, ma’am.”

She asked me if I had any siblings and I told her, “No, I had neither brothers or sisters.”

She asked me what grade I was. “I was starting ninth grade.”

She asked what I like to do. “I like to read.”

She asked me what my parents did for work, what my home was like? All kinds of questions. She asked me where my family was from and I told her, Russia.

And when she looked puzzled, she said, “My family’s been here for generations. I don’t really know where we came from.”

And I suddenly saw her world as so much bigger than mine even though she probably barely left the mountains she grew up on. There was a pause and then she had another question. “What church do you go to?”

“No, ma’am. I don’t go to church.”

“Well, that’s not right. You should go to church. What church do you go to?”

And I said, “Ma’am, I don’t go to church. I’m Jewish.” There was a long pause.

And then she said, “You can’t be Jewish.”

“I am.”

“But you don’t have any horns.” If this had been a movie there would have been a cut over the faces of my host family which I’m sure were shocked and stunned. But it wasn’t a movie. And honestly, I can’t tell you what their response was. I can tell you only that the world was very quiet for a moment. And in that moment, my 13-year-old self gave me a gift that’s lasted the rest of my life. I realized that how I reacted mattered. How I responded in that moment. If I responded with dismay or shock or belittled her in any way, it would change the way that she felt about Jews in general, and probably city people as well. But if I responded kindly, maybe we both could learn something from this. So, I said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry but I don’t have horns.”

“Well, they must have been cut off when you were a baby.”

“No ma’am. Jewish people don’t have horns.” She looked at me skeptically and I said the only thing I could think of, which was, “Would you like to look?”

She got up. She had these long, strong fingers. And I remember noticing a scar on the side of her hand as she raised her hands to my head and began running her fingers through my hair. She stopped at every bump, every scar, parting my hair to look more closely to see what it might be. And when she finally was done she sat down and kind of mumbled something. I don’t know what she said. I’m probably just as glad I don’t know. I stood up and my host family gathered around me. And I, I thanked her again for her time, and for sharing her quilts with me and for sharing her life with me. And we got in the car and started driving back down the mountain.

The silence in that car was very different from the silence on that porch. We were surrounded by the rumbling of the vehicle but also by the silence that was growing between us, until finally, my host father asked me if I was okay. And I shrugged.

I was… I was confused. I was shocked but I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t upset. I was just surprised. I’d read about anti-Semitism but I’d never encountered anything like that. I’d never met someone who made assumptions about who or what I should be based on my beliefs. Or maybe I had and I hadn’t known it before. But in that moment, the world had shifted. He told me that he was proud of me for the way I responded. And then the conversation drifted. We talked about her quilts, and the view, and the sky, and what we would have for dinner that night.

We got back to our home and life went on because that’s what happens. Life goes on. I wish I could tell you that I’ve never encountered anti-Semitism since. But that would be a lie and I wish that I could tell you quite honestly that I always responded with as much grace as my 13-year-old self did. But that too, would be a lie. I can tell you that what I learned from that experience. And what has carried me through my life again and again, both when people have asked me foolish questions, and when I have asked something foolish; been tripped up in my own assumptions, is, I remind myself to be kind. I remind myself that we all have assumptions. We all make mistakes. We all have beliefs that we don’t even know might be insulting to someone else. I hope that the next time I find myself in a situation like that, because, of course, there will be a next time, I wish there wouldn’t be, that my 13-year-old self will nudge me and will remind me that the first opportunity, the first thing I can do, is to remember that this is a moment of grace.

Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America

by Storyteller Pippa White

Story Summary

Someone once called her a humanitarian. “I’m not a humanitarian,” she replied. “I’m a hell-raiser!” And she was. She was over fifty years old, she weighed one hundred pounds, and she was under five feet tall. And yet she was called by the United States Government, “the Most Dangerous Woman in America.” Come and hear what she has to say. Come and hear how she changed the world.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Mother Jones-The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Discussion Questions:

  1. We hear a lot today about resistance. Was what Mother Jones did “resistance?” Why or why not?
  2. One hundred years ago, many children worked ten and twelve hour days, seven days a week. And they worked for pennies.  Think back to when you were seven, eight or nine years old.  How would work like this have affected you?  How might you be different today if that had been your fate?
  3. Child Labor was a scourge. How do you think it happened?  Why would people stand by and allow little children to do hours and hours of monotonous, dangerous work day in and day out? (Hints: pay, immigration, ignorance)

Resources:

  • Autobiography of Mother Jones—Charles Kerr and Co. Publishers, Chicago, IL
  • Speeches and Writings of Mother Jones – University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA
  • You can visit Mother Jones grave and memorial in the Union Miners’ Cemetery in Mount Olive, Missouri, not far from St. Louis. In 1898, eleven miners had been gunned down in nearby Virden, Illinois during a riot that broke out during a strike.  The Union Miners’ Cemetery was created to honor those men, and other hardworking people who fought for workers’ rights.

Themes:

  • Immigration
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Pippa White and I’m a storyteller. And the story I have for you today goes back about 100 years, give or take. It’s the story of a woman whom I consider to be a heroine and in her day, many people considered her a heroine. But in her day, many people also considered her a troublemaker. And that is a label she would have been completely happy with. What I have for you, is a little bit of her autobiography. So, I’m going to speak her words. But before I do that, I want to tell you a little bit about her. Because and I think that little bit from her autobiography will be richer for you.

She was born Mary Harris, in 1837, in Ireland. Her father, as was the case often back then, emigrated to the United States. And when he had enough money, and a job, and citizenship, he sent for his family. So, Mary Harris got to the United States when she was about 10. And she said of her American citizenship, she had always been proud. She grew up. She married a man named Mr. Jones. He was an iron molder and he worked in Tennessee. So, they moved to Tennessee. They started a family. All went well until, in the 1860s, a terrible epidemic of yellow fever swept through that part of Tennessee, and she lost them all. She lost her family of four children and her husband. She said she sat through nights of grief. No one could come to her, she said, because other families were stricken as she was.

She moved to Chicago and began a new life as a dressmaker. She was successful but, unfortunately, she was in Chicago for the Great Fire of 1871. That fire burned her establishment, her apartment, and again, she was left with nothing. She wandered the streets of the city as the fire burned and she came to St. Mary’s Church, which was taking in refugees. And there she stayed because she had nowhere else to go. She was there for quite some time.

She said, next door there was a rickety, old building where the Knights of Labor would hold their meetings. And she would go over there. Now the Knights of Labor were a fledgling union. Back then, ‘round the turn of the last century, millions of immigrants were coming to the United States, literally, every year from all over the world, but mostly, at that time, from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia but also from all over the world. And employers took advantage of them. They worked for pennies. They worked long, long hours. And they worked in terrible conditions and sometimes dangerous conditions. So, they joined together to form unions so that they could have a voice. So, this rickety, old building, next to the church, was called the Hall of the Knights of Labor. And Mary Harris Jones would go there. And she said, she would listen to their inspiring speakers and her life took a completely new change. It went in a completely new direction. She became that troublemaker. She became a labor activist.

So, let me get my hat here and my glasses. And I’m going to become that lady. But while you listen to the words from her autobiography, keep this in mind. She was about five feet tall. She was no more than 100 pounds. She didn’t even get into this line of work, a labor activist, until she was over 50. And she was not even well known until she was probably over 60. Yet the government of our country, the United States government, called Mary Harris Jones, for a good decade or so, the most dangerous woman in America. So, as you listen to her words, I want you to think about whether that title, The Most Dangerous Woman in America, is right for Mother Jones.

When the railway strike ended, I went down to Cottondale. I wanted to see if the gruesome stories I had heard of little children working in the mills were true. I applied for a job but the manager said he didn’t have anything for me unless I had a family that could work also. “Oh,” I said, “I have a family. There are six of us.”

“You have children?” he said.

“Well, yeah. Yeah.” Well, he was so happy he took me with him to find a house to let. The house he brought me to was a kind of two-story plank shanty. All the windows were broken. The door hung loose. The latch was broken. Inside there was one room, with a big, fireplace and a kind of open air aloft above. Holes in the roof had let the rainwater in, which had rotted the flooring in front of the fireplace. There were big holes, two big holes, big enough to drop a brick through. I said, “The wind and the cold is going to come in through those holes.”

He said, “Oh, summer is coming. Where are you at, a hotel? What are you talking about?”

I said, “I’m not sure this is big enough for all of us, six of us.”

He said, “It’ll do.” And so, I took the house with the understanding that my family would join me at the end of the month, when work was finished up on the farm.

And I started working in the factory. And there I saw them little children working. The most heartbreaking spectacle in all of life! There were times I couldn’t look at those bodies, those little bodies. I wanted to be back in the Rocky Mountain camps or the grim coal fields where at least the labor fight was fought by grown men! Little children working. Running up and down the rows of spindles. Putting a little hand in to repair a snapped thread. Putting, um, crawling under the machinery to oil it.

Hands got crushed. Fingers got snapped off. Children of six with faces of 60 worked a 10-hour day, for ten cents a day. When they fell asleep on the job, cold water was splashed in their faces. Toddling chaps of four went along with Big Brother or Sister. Oh, but their work was not paid. Machines were built in the north. Built low for little hands.

Every morning at 5:30 these children came in from the gray dawn, into the factory, into the pounding noise and the lint filled rooms. They’d fall asleep over their lunches of fat pork and cornbread. Sleep to these children was what play was to a normal child. But the manager would shake them awake and it was back to the grind.

Well, my family, not joining me at the end of the month, a manager got suspicious and I left. I went up to Lexington, Pennsylvania where fully ten thousand workers, textile workers, were on strike and half of them were children. They’d come into our, our union office. They were stooped, round shouldered little things. Some of them had a thumb missing, others a finger off at the joint. Most of them were under 10, even though there was a law in Pennsylvania saying children couldn’t work under the age of 12. I asked the newspaper boys, “Why don’t you fellows write something about child labor in Pennsylvania?” Oooh. They said they couldn’t. The mill owners had stock in the papers.

“Well,” I said. “I’ve got stock in these children and I’ll just make a little news!”

And that’s how it began, my children’s march on Washington. I asked the parents if I couldn’t borrow their children as they were all striking, they agreed. A lot of adults came with us. A man named Sweeney, agreed to be our Army captain. Each child carried a knapsack with a plate, a cup, a fork, and a spoon. I had a big wash tub with me so that I could make food along the way. And we carried signs saying, “We want to play.” “We want to go to school.”

In every town, I got into the town square and I brought those children up onto the platform and I showed the people their mangled bodies. I said, “The mansions of Pennsylvania are built on the backs of these children!” Well, at this point, I decided we would not go to Washington, but rather to Oyster Bay where President Theodore Roosevelt was vacationing with his family. I thought, perhaps, he might like to compare these children to his own. I thought he might like to know who wove the carpets he walked on, the drapes that hung in his window.

Do you know that recently they passed a law in Georgia for the protection of songbirds? When Labor asked for protection for these children, they don’t hear. I was in Washington D.C. recently and I saw our legislators passed three bills, in one hour, for relief of the railways. When Labor asks for relief for these children, they turn a deaf ear. I was in a prison recently. I asked a man how he came to be there. He said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he’d stolen a railway, he’d be a United States senator.

Well, we got to Oyster Bay. But President Roosevelt refused to see us nor would he answer my letters. But our march had done its work. Preachers were preaching about us. Teachers were teaching about us. Two newspapers got in a fight about us. And although the strikers lost the strike and had to return to work, one year later, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law saying no child could work under the age of 14. Thousands were sent home from the mills and thousands more never had to go. Our march had done its work.

Mother Jones died in 1930 at about the age of 94. She is buried in the Union Miners’ cemetery in Mount Olive, Missouri. She asked to be laid to rest there. There had been a riot that had left some protesting miners dead. The mining company had brought in detectives with rifles who shot them. And that was the beginning of the Union Miners’ cemetery. And that is where Mother Jones wanted to be buried. There still is child labor on this planet, most especially, in countries like India, China, Bangladesh, and South American countries. In our country, still a little bit. Agriculture, sometimes meat packing, but, mostly, the trouble has been taken care of thanks to Mother Jones and many others like her.

Thank you for listening.

A Change of Heart: Muslims & Whites Crossing Cultures in a Memphis Neighborhood

By Storyteller Kate Dudding

Story Summary

In 2010 when the members of the Memphis Islamic Center bought property on the street nicknamed Church Road, they thought they’d have a hard time proving to their Christian neighbors that they were a peaceful community. When the pastor of the Methodist church across the road learned of the purchase, he didn’t know what he should do.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A Change of Heart-Muslims & Whites Crossing Cultures in a Memphis Neighborhood

Discussion Questions:

  1. What caused Pastor Steve and Mark to change their minds? Why do you think not all Christians react to Muslims in the same way the Heartsong congregation did?
  2. What do you do or could you do to support Muslim Americans?
  3. Do you believe we have a responsibility to offer role models to others?
  4. Have you ever been in a situation where you were the only person who looked like you? What did you do and what happened?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Housing/Neighborhoods
  • Interfaith
  • Muslim Americans
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Kate Dudding.

During an interview in 2010 in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Bashar Shala said, “We were just looking for a place to pray and play, to hold weddings, and celebrate holidays, to have a place to relax on weekends. Uh, activities for our seniors and a day care for our young children.

We had put a bid in on a piece of land. But as soon as the owner found out about our community, he rejected our bid. It took us several more months to find another plot of land. Oh, it was ideal! 30 acres of rolling hills and a pond. We put a bid in and it was accepted. But the plot of land was right on a road in Memphis that is known as “church road” because of so many Christian churches that are on that road. We knew we would have to work very hard to prove that we are a peaceful community.”

Again, this was 2010, Dr. Bashar Shala was a 49-year old cardiologist and the chairman of the board of the Memphis Islamic Center. He said, “Memphis is the buckle of the Bible Belt. And here we were, Muslims going to establish a community right in the middle of ‘church road.’”

Meanwhile, on the other side of church road was Heartsong Church, a United Methodist community, uh, with Pastor Steve Stone as their leader. One day, he was home reading the newspaper having… enjoying his morning coffee when he saw a headline, “Muslims to build a large community center.” He said, “A large community center? I didn’t realize that there were that many Muslims in Memphis.” He read on, and then he got to the address and then he checked the address. “Hah! It’s right across the street? What are we going to do?”

So, he went to Heartsong and sat in his office and prayed. As he was praying, one of the stories that Jesus had told came to him.

One day, a traveler was robbed and beaten and left at the edge of the road. Many people passed him by. But only one stopped – a Samaritan. At that time, Samaritans were a despised religious sect because they only believed some of the Jewish principles. But it was the Samaritan who stopped and did all that he could to ensure that this traveler would recover and be able to return home.

Pastor Steve thought, “We’re going to have to figure out a way to be good neighbors to these Muslims.”

So, the next day, he ordered a big red vinyl sign, six feet wide with right… with white lettering. When it came, he put it right on the edge of Heartsong’s property, so everyone traveling on church road could see it, “Heartsong Church welcomes the Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood.”

A few days later, Dr. Shala drove past, stopping to look at that idyllic piece of property that they had purchased. And he saw the sign. He later said, “Almost all the nervousness I had had disappeared once I saw the sign.” He went in and introduced himself to Doct… uh, to Pastor Steve.

Pastor Steve said, “If you need a place to hold a meeting while the construction is going on or, um, you need to use our parking lot, please feel free to do so.”

So, his community did use, uh, the facilities at Heartsong Church to hold business meetings during the construction of their mosque and their large community center. Now you might have guessed that perhaps not every member of the Heartsong Church welcomed, uh, wanted to welcome the Muslims.

Some of them were very confused as to what Pastor Steve was doing. One of them was a man named Mark, a painting contractor. He and his wife had been members of Heartsong Church for 10 years. Mark said, “I didn’t understand what was going on. I was very uncomfortable.” He and his wife talked about leaving Heartsong Church but decided that they would speak with Pastor Steve first. At that meeting, Mark said, “Why are we welcoming Muslims? What’s going on here?”

Pastor Steve said, “I’ve met these people. They are educated, peaceful people. It is my Christian faith, not a deep study of Islam, that is at the root of my decision to welcome these people. Mark, I want you to go home and read the first four books of the New Testament, the Gospels. And if you find anything there that contradicts what I’m doing, I want you to come back and tell me about it.”

Mark did as he was asked. And later he said, “I realize, I realized that I was the problem. They weren’t the problem, I was the problem.”

Mark and his wife decided to stay at Heartsong Church but not everyone was convinced. Pastor Steve spoke with everyone who questioned his decision. But 20 of his 800 members left the church, some of them in key leadership positions. Pastor Steve said, “While we were sad to see them go, at the same time, we realized that if that’s how they felt, if that’s what they really believed, they didn’t really belong in Heartsong.

The next year, well, Dr. Shala and the rest of the leadership team at the Memphis Islamic Center were racing the calendar. The schedule had been that the construction of the mosque would be done in time for the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims, uh, fast during the daylight and then come to the mosque for special evening prayers.

As the holy month of Ramadan grew closer, Dr. Shala was getting more and more nervous. Finally, he scheduled a meeting with Pastor Steve and said, “Would it be possible if our mosque isn’t ready by the beginning of Ramadan for us to meet here for several nights for our evening prayers? Of course, we would pay you.”

Pastor Steve said, “How many people do you think you’d be bringing?”

Dr. Shala thought about his new community and said, “A hundred, maybe 200.”

Pastor Steve said, “Well, then you would have to meet in our sanctuary and that would be just fine except one thing. You can’t pay us. We will not accept any money. We’re neighbors.”

At that, the two men embraced with tears of happiness in their eyes. As he was leaving, Dr. Shala said, “I am going to pray that our mosque will be ready in time.”

Pastor Steve said, “You can pray the way you want but I’m going to be praying that it won’t be ready, at least for a few nights. I think that would be good for your community and it would be good for mine.”

Pastor Steve got his prayer answered and then some. The mosque was not ready ’til after the end of Ramadan. So, every night during that holy month of Ramadan, Muslims came and prayed in the sanctuary of Heartsong United Methodist Church. And every night, some members of that congregation were there to greet the Muslims. Pastor Steve said, “We wanted to make sure they felt at home.”

After the prayer service at the last night of Ramadan, the Muslim scholar who had conducted the, the prayers gestured to Pastor Steve to come to the front of the sanctuary. Then the Muslim scholar said, “I know we Muslims have heard bad things about Christians and they have heard bad things about us but now we have met real Christians (gesturing to Pastor Steve and the hosts that had come that night to welcome the Muslims) and they have met real Muslims.”

That month of Ramadan was the beginning of many friendships and connections between those two communities. They started holding joint events: feeding the homeless, having interfaith discussions, near the anniversary of 9/11 holding joint blood drives. And then two months later, celebrating Thanksgiving together. Mark, that painting contractor who had been skeptical about welcoming Muslims, he said, “I never thought I would ever meet any Muslims. I love it. It’s like my world has gotten bigger.”

Dr. Shala and Pastor Steve occasionally are asked to speak in front of area schools and community groups. Whenever they do, they are always asked this question, “Have any Christians converted to Islam or have any Muslims converted to Christianity?

They always say, “No. No one has converted but we’ve all become stronger in our own faiths.”

Now these two communities have a new plan. They want to make church road into a destination where people can come and celebrate interfaith respect and camaraderie.

Each community has donated land to create a large park to be called Friendship Park. Dr. Shala likes to say, “We are making world peace, one friendship at a time.”

They are in the midst of fundraising for Friendship Park and about to hire their first executive director. Because both communities have donated land on either side of church road, there’s going to have to be a bridge across church road to connect the two parts of Friendship Park.

I view that bridge as a second sign, not as explicit as that big red vinyl sign that had welcomed the Muslims to the neighborhood in 2010, but I think that bridge will be a sign, nonetheless, that indicates good neighbors live here.

Riding the Dog: A Talmudic Christmas in the Suburbs

By Storyteller Joseph Sobol

Story Summary

While Joseph’s father and his neighbor debate whether a good Jewish family in a New York suburb should have a Christmas tree, 6-year-old Joseph plots how to ride the family’s English setter, Freckles, the way cowboys ride horses in the Westerns. Joseph succeeds – for about a second and a half – but then the tree, the decorations, the lights, the jar full of pennies, the glass and the cat go flying! Joseph’s neighbor, a conservative Jew, surveys the disaster and pronounces that this is proof the Sobols should not have had a tree!

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Riding the Dog-A Talmudic Christmas in the Suburbs

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the difference between orthodox, conservative and reform Judaism? Jewish identity can have religious, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and national components to it – what does it mean that Joseph’s father was raised in a non-religious, sectarian Jewish household? Are you a member of a religious or cultural group that has different ways of practicing within it?
  2. Why would Joseph’s family want to have a Christmas tree even though they weren’t Christians?
  3. Joseph mentions people who were his father’s heroes – Emma Goldman, Tolstoy, Gandhi? What did these people have in common?

Resources:

  • Who is a Jew? An Introduction to a Complex Question by Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez
  • The Many Faces of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform by Gilbert S Rosenthal

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Jewish Americans/Jews

Full Transcript:

My name is Joseph Sobol.

And let’s say it’s holiday season, 1961. My dad and our neighbor Harold are arguing over the true meaning of Christmas for Jews. Harold is saying, “So what’s with the… What’s with the Christmas tree? How’s a nice Jewish boy like you having the Christmas tree in the living room?”

Harold is our close friend and adviser on all things Jewish. He’s the most conservative Jew we know in our neighborhood. Conservative on a spectrum that runs from orthodox to conservative to reform to us.

My dad is a psychotherapist and a militant proselytizing agnostic. “Agnostic,” he says, “is someone who is not afraid not to know.”

Well, Harold has some different opinions on this. He works for the United Jewish Appeal in New York City. His wife runs the nursery school, of which I’m a recent graduate. It’s 1961, a.d. year of somebody’s lord.

Dad says, “The tree is for my son so he doesn’t miss out.”

Harold’s not satisfied with this answer. So, they sipped their cognac. They smoke. They talk on and on about these questions. Meanwhile, his son, me, I’m over in the corner of the room playing with the tree. The tree is magnificent. I adore the tree. The tree to me is like a god. If by god, you mean something immeasurably magnificent and powerful that’s been chopped down and stuffed into a space too small for it, like a church or a living room. But we don’t go to church. We don’t even go to synagogue.

So, all I have is this once a year encounter with the sacred tree. But I’m six and I don’t know how to worship sitting still so, I’m playing with the tree. I’m hiding behind it; sneaking around it. Sneaking up on our dog Freckles curled up on the rug in front of the tree. I mean to ride him!

My mother sticks her head out of the kitchen and says, “Danny, back up. You can’t ride the dog!”

I turn around. I disagree. I think I can ride the dog if they let me train him. Freckles is an English Setter, white with orange spots. He’s the least Jewish dog that’s ever been bred. Goyish is the term for Yiddish. He’s the most goyish dog in the world but they sent him to obedience training school to learn all these useless things like sitting down, lying down, standing up, fetching a stick. Why can’t they let me do the most natural thing in the world? Ride my dog. He’s big enough; I’m small enough. He loves me. I know it. He lets me know this every day when I come home from school. What more gracious act of love than to take me upon his back?

So, this is my plan, my training model. I’m going to catch him while he sleeps. I’m going to sneak up behind him, preferably while he’s sleeping in front of the Christmas tree ’cause it’s easy to access. I’m going to put one foot behind his back; one foot in the curl of his belly. I’m going to reach down, take him by the collar and pull, “Giddyap!” And off we’ll go like the Lone Ranger and Silver across the living room. Hi-ho, Freckles! And awaaay! After that, I have no plan.

But before I can get to him, out of the kitchen rumble’s Lilly, the Glaswegian au pair girl. She’s solid muscle. She’s got a righteous leer and a Chesterfield hangin’ out of the corner of her mouth. She’s on fire. “Git away from that dog, ya creepin’ divil!”

And I take off behind the couch. Freckles jumps up, runs back to the laundry room where he was born a year and a half ago in a box by the sink. That’s his safe place.

Lilly grabs me up from behind the couch by the collar, plants me between Harold and my dad and said, “Sit still and listen to yer elders. You might learn, learn somethin’!” Well, off she goes back to the kitchen.

Harold and Dad are still arguing about the tree. “So, what’s with the goyish tree again? Ya haven’t explained.”

Dad says, It’s not a goyish tree, Harold. We converted it.”

Harold says, “How do ya figure that?”

Dad says, “We cut the tip off before we put the star on top.” Bada-boom.

Harold says, “But it’s a five-pointed star not a six. And anyway, why can’t you be content just to worship Hanukkah like the rest of the Jews?”

Dad says, “It doesn’t appeal to me.”

And I understand this. Hanukkah really, when you come right down to it, is sort of a second-tier Jewish holiday that’s been promoted by American Jews. They have something to go up against the Christians at Christmas. But decoratively and narratively, it’s a little bit lacking. Decoratively, I mean, consider the optics. What’s with that little chintzy eight-pointed candelabra next to this magnificent indoor tree?

And then, the story line is the same story as every other Jewish holiday, one after another. It goes basically like this. Jews just want to be Jews. And everybody else wants them to knock it off and fit in with the rest of them. So, the Jews call upon their God and a whole lot of people get smited, one after another. It’s Persians. It’s Egyptians, it’s Greeks. It’s Romans, it’s Nazis, it’s soldiers of the Inquisition. When is it gonna end?

And, Dad, when you come right down to it, he just wanted to fit in too. He was brought up in a secular Jewish household where their heroes were people like the anarchist, Anna Go…  uh, Emma Goldman, or pacifists like Tolstoy and Gandhi, not to mention that funky Jewish community organizer from Galilee named Jesus.

Dad says, “I don’t have a problem with the birth of Jesus, Harold. Who can object to peace, love and understanding. It was a great moment in Jewish radical politics.”

Harold says, “Tell it to the Nazis. Tell it to the KKK. Tell it to the John Birch Society.” And he’s winning the argument.

But I’ve stopped listening the moment I see Freckles’ long, spotted nose come out from behind the end of the foyer there, back into the living room. I see him sniff both ways for Lilly (sniff, sniff). And now he shambles up, back into the living room, clickety clack across the floor, over the white rug, to his favorite spot in front of the tree. He turns himself around two and a half times. And then folds up in a nice doggy ring, puts his face on his paws and starts dreaming of chasing pheasants.

And the moment I feel myself ignored, I slip off the couch between Harold’s knees and the edge of the coffee table, over to the hearth of the unlit fireplace, across the hearth. Past the giant glass penny jug where my parents toss their pocket change when they come home from work every day. Over to the tree; and then I make the turn and I start toward Freckles. This is my chance; everybody’s busy.

I hear Lilly and my mom in the kitchen. I hear the clinking and clanking of pots and pans, the clunking of cabinet doors. I smell the roasting meats and the baking pies. I hear the drone of Dad and Harold and their endless Talmudic disputation.

And it’s just me and the dog. I’m the Secret Agent. I am the Lone Ranger and the Invisible Man. And this is my moment. I’m going to get to him. I’m going to plant one foot on the front of his belly, one in the small of his back. Then we’re gonna go. And I get there, I’m right there. I’m gonna ride him and I do… for about a second and a half. I get my feet planted. I reach for his collar. I, I shout, “Giddyap!”

Up he comes. His bony spine right in the middle of my crotch. Ow! Freckles leaps up. He starts bolting! He starts rearing back just like the Lone Ranger’s horse and he throws me backwards across the living room! Crash, onto the rug! Harold and my dad jump up, start running around the coffee table. Lilly and my mom come crashing out of the kitchen toward me. And Freckles, in a panic, leaps straight into the Christmas tree! In mid-air, he does a little flip and he manages to hit the tree, just a glancing blow, with his rump and his tail. But he’s got his big floppy paws caught in the wires of the Christmas tree lights so the tree rocks backward and forward. Freckles bounces off, goes careening into the penny jug, which hits the wall and explodes! Pennies and shards of glass all over, careening, spinning all across that part of the floor!

And now, in a slow, stately swoon, down comes the tree in a shower of spruce boughs, tinsel, little colored balls, flashing lights. It’s just like a beached whale, covers the whole end of the room.

Freckles is gone, back to the laundry room. There are four adults standing stock still, gaping at the destruction. I’m lying on my back with the wind knocked out of me, my eyes shut tight, waiting for a certain death.

And Harold, our Jewish neighbor, friend and adviser intones in his best rabbinical voice, “Terrible and mighty is the judgment of the Lord.”

Hey, I’m Black Too! So, Where Do I Fit In?

By Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary

Because she had grown up in a predominately white community during the turbulent Civil Rights years, when Mama Edie’s new friend, Renee, went to college she learned the pain of being treated as an outsider by some of the other African American students.  But Mama Edie and Renee both learned that a strong sense of identity can combat bullying, provide a sense of direction and belonging and create meaningful bonds that can last a lifetime.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Hey Im Black Too So Where Do I Fit In

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been in a situation where people made you feel that you were unwelcomed and that you didn’t belong? Describe the situation.  How did it make you feel?  How did you respond to it?  Did anyone stand by your right to be there?  If so, who?  Did you continue your friendship?
  2. Have you ever been a “pioneer,” the “only one” or one of only a few like you in a situation, in your neighborhood or school? If so, what was the situation and describe what it was like.
  3. Are you comfortable in the skin you’re in? Are you proud to be a part of your cultural group?  If so, why?  If not, why not?
  4. Have you ever had the opportunity to stand up for someone who was being bullied or treated unfairly? Did you?  How do you feel about your decision and what was the end result?  Looking back now, might you have responded differently?

Resources:

  • African American Wisdom Edited by Reginald McKnight. Famous proverbs and anonymous quotes by African Americans from the time of Reconstruction through the 1990’s to inspire courage, pride, self-love, a strong work ethic, discretion and a thirst for knowledge.
  • The Importance of Pot Liquor by Jackie Torrence. Especially useful for children (and adults) who did not grow up in typical African American communities and may have missed out on some of the cultural wisdom and humor that has helped this culture to survive in especially trying times.
  • Brown Girl in the Ring: An Anthology of Song Games from the Eastern Caribbean Collected by Alan Lomax, J.D. Elder & Bess Lomax Hawes. A celebration of Afro-Caribbeans through songs and games that serve to keep African Descendant cultures connected, proud and alive.
  • The Life & Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collected by Lida Keck Wiggins. Poems written in African American Dialect and Standard English that demonstrate the creative skill required of African Americans not formally educated to bring feelings and images to life using blended linguistic influences of various cultures.

Themes:

  • African Americans/African
  • Bullying
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neighborhoods, Identity
  • Stereotypes/Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong. Going away to college in the 60s was so exciting. So much was going on. There were all kinds of things: political ideas, and spiritual ideas, many ideas to explore, new ideas to explore, but also old realities to reckon with.

For example, as a child growing up in a racially changing neighborhood, every now and then I didn’t feel quite like I quite fit in. And sometimes it was very difficult. Even sometimes the way the teachers would pit the black children against the white children. Ah, I mean, there was nothing that was spoken, but you felt this favoritism being shared towards the white children, which made us feel kind of bad. And I was seven years old or so, you’re not quite understanding what’s going on. All you know is that it just doesn’t feel good.

And the same kind of thing happened in high school. But even sometimes as the white children were leaving the neighborhoods, then they started pitting the lighter complexioned children against the darker complexioned children so that the lighter complexioned children got favoritism, which caused a rift and a problem. And sometimes even the lighter complexioned children were beaten up and called words like “high yella,” which made them feel bad. And all they wanted to do also was to just fit in.

Well, in high school, sometimes there were specific things that would happen that just let us know that some of the teachers were just not happy that we were there. And they seemed determined to put blocks in our way.

For example, having a session of guidance, a counseling session with my guidance counselor in high school, she suggested that, um, I not consider college because she didn’t think I’d make it there. So, she suggested that I try secretarial school. Well, I went on and I got accepted into Northern Illinois University anyway.

But even while there, in another guidance counseling session, the director of my program at that time told me that speech pathology, audiology were really not fields for black people but I was a nice person, and then I might want to consider social work. Now social work is a noble profession, and, in fact, I had considered it at one time but it wasn’t what I had selected then. I went on and got my Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology anyhow. Sure wish I coulda come back and found both of those teachers, show ’em my diploma, my degrees. But it was an interesting time too, in that I was starting to meet children who were coming from places I had never heard of. I guess I thought that most black people in America lived in cities like Chicago, and Detroit, and L.A., and down south. Then I started hearin’ about places like Rock Island and Cairo. Well, I had actually heard about Cairo because clearly the Welcome Wagon was not rolled out for children of African descent in cities like Cairo. And, in fact, cities like Cairo were those places, uh, uh, that we called, sometimes “up south”
because of the attitudes that were still there.

But meeting some of the students from those places helped me to understand, as I was learning more about the great migration, that African-Americans ended up in all kinds of places: west, and to the north, and cities large and small. Now the great migration was a period that took place roughly between 1914 and the 1970s. And what had happened, you know, (as the kids say what happened was) the European American immigrants were being sent to war. And with the rapidly building industry, there was still a need for people to fill those positions for cheap labor. And so African-Americans were typically not welcome in the military services. So, the opportunity was there. So, they came in droves from all over the south, all over the slave south trying to escape situations like, uh, the Jim Crow laws. Those laws that kept us separate… that had us in separate schools, and separate swimming pools and, and unable to even attend theaters where we might perform.

And it was a difficult time, even once they arrived up in the north, and tryin’ to find some place to live was also challenging because many people in cities like Chicago, and, especially, in Chicago, only wanted to welcome in people who we would normally call white Anglo-Saxons. Now that was a problem for African-Americans. There was nothin’ about most of them that resembled the white Anglo-Saxons. However, in an interesting way, those very, very light-complexioned African-Americans who managed to purchase property in certain areas because they passed or looked like they could pass, actually opened the way, opened the door for others to move into some of those communities. And what a surprise that was when these little brown complexioned people started showing up in the neighborhood.

But there was a policy called redlining that was intended to keep children of African descent, and other minorities as well, from being able to purchase property in certain areas. And so, it was decided in 1990… in 1966 that there would be a march in a neighborhood of, on the South Side of Chicago called Marquette Park. And I remember that day, um, and it was really an amazing situation. Um, and… but many things happened as a result of the march in Marquette Park that opened up doors, opened up the doors of the universities as well as the neighborhoods.

So, enter my friend Renee. Now, Renee was a person who had been born in Chicago. But at the age of nine, her father had gotten transferred to another city, one of those cities I had never heard of, but she was the first African-American in her elementary and high school. Pioneering, definitely! And so, uh, understandably, she learned to speak like her white contemporaries. Uh, she even moved and, and danced like them. But when it was time for her to come into college, she was so excited because she had many good friends among her Euro-American counterparts in her town. However, she was hungry for interactions with children of African descent. So, she was so excited about going to Northern, and meeting, and mixing, and mingling with these kids.

But here she comes. “Hi. My name is Renee. What’s yours?”

Well, people were kinda looking at her like, “So what’s with her?”

And so, it’s easy to assume that she was what we would sometimes call a “wanna be,” somebody who would prefer to be white. And that just wasn’t the case. She was, when I first met her, she was warm and bubbly. And she was friendly, and she was very smart, but that even became a problem because sometimes we’d be in class, and she was sometimes a little bit too eager to be the first one to answer. “Oh, well, that’s because such and such, and, and what have you.”

And so, some of the other students would look at her like, “Okay, so now not only is she a “wanna be,” but now she’s a Miss Know-It-All too!”

Poor Renee. Her popularity was taking a serious nose dive. Well, one particular day, we were having a meal together, which we often did. And you have to consider the timing. In 1969 when I went away to school, this was the time when we had just lost people like Dr. Martin Luther King, John and Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. Um, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Black Panther Party were brutally shot in their beds as they slept on the West Side of Chicago under the inspiration of J. Edgar Hoover by 14 Chicago police officers. So, there was a lot of anger at that time. So, the idea of a black girl comin’ along lookin’ like she’d rather be a white girl was not going to get any points. So, here we are, Renee and I sitting there at the dining, in the dining hall of the dormitory, and we were just about to finish our meal. Now I had noticed some other African-American students a little bit in the distance at a table beyond Renee, but she couldn’t see them because they were to
her back. But I saw them with their heads together, whispering, and talking, and pointing, and gesturing, and I was like, “Oh, Lord. Here comes trouble.”

So, I was hoping that they wouldn’t say anything. But just as we were about to leave, they got up, and they came over. And without even looking at her, they looked directly at me, and they said, “Whachoo doin’ witheh? She thank she white. She don even know she black. You know, I, I don even know, understa… understand… why you talkin’ to her?”

And I was just about to respond. But Renee in her very direct and confident way, she stood up and she said, “I do so know that I am black. You just don’t know that I am black. And Edie is still here because she’s my friend, and I could be your friend too. But it’s your loss.” And then she said, “Come on, Edie.”

Ha, ha, ha! And so, it’s like, okay, she took care of that. So, ha, ha, so I got up and I was about to leave, and they looked at me, and they said, “So, so, what’s so… why are you with her?”

And I say, “Like she said, we’re friends, and she’s a nice girl. So, if you would prefer not to look into that and to see her as the person that she is, that is your loss. So, um, I’ll see you all later.”

Now I was pretty well liked, and what have you, among many circles on the campus. So, we didn’t have any problems. So, I walked away ca… uh, Renee and I walked away, but she was fuming. We went back to the dorm, and I managed to kind of decompress her. And we talked about the situation, but then we went on, and prepared to go to the dance at the University Union that night. And when we did, we had a good time. And I watched her doin’ her little white girl dance, eh, heh, which was really just kinda comical to me, but she was a sweet girl.

She continues to be a sweet girl. And, in fact, she moved away to a state far away, but she came back to Chicago to be in my wedding. And 40 years later, we’re still friends.

Finding Light in the Dungeons of Ghana with Mother Mary Carter Smith

By Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary

When Mama Edie and Mother Mary Carter Smith, Co-Founder of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. enter the dark dungeons of Ghana, West Africa, where people were imprisoned for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, unexpected things begin to occur.  This story speaks to how one can perceive and be guided by just a small beam of light, finding strength, hope and direction despite barbaric and seemingly hopeless situations.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Finding Light in the Dungeons of Ghana with Mother Mary Carter Smith

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think life was like for Africans before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
  2. Slavery existed for many centuries in countries around the world. How was the Transatlantic Slave Trade different from the others?
  3. Name at least 5 rights that Africans were stripped of when they became enslaved.
  4. Are children of African descent still being impacted by slavery today? If so, how?
  5. Name some of the countries other than the US where African people were taken as slaves.
  6. How is the wealth enjoyed today by Europeans, North, South, Central and Caribbean Americans a reflection of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
  7. Have you ever found yourself in a terrible situation but then found a little glimmer of hope or direction that helped you to find your way through it? If not too personal, please describe.

Resources:

  • Henry’s Freedom Box by Kadir Nelson. The story of a young man who escaped to freedom from the slave south in the U.S. by shipping himself… in a box.
  • Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama.  Message of Past U.S. President Barack Obama in a beautifully illustrated book, teaching and encouraging his daughters to embrace all the diversity, unity, challenges and triumphs of living in the United States with strength, hope and knowledge, knowing too that they are unique and well-loved gifts to the world.
  • The African Origin of Civilization by Cheikh Anta Diop (high school and older)
  • Classic Slave Narratives Edited by Henry Louis Gates.
  • World’s Great Men of Color by J.A. Rogers. Vol 1: Asia and Africa, and Historical Figures Before Christ, Including Aesop, Hannibal and many others
  • A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope by Michael Foreman. Story of a young boy in a war-torn land where he finds hope in a barely surviving vine that he coaxes back to life.
  • The Wisdom of the Elders by Robert Fleming. Reflections “from the heart of African American Culture” on relationships, community, values, self-esteem, politics, self-determination, race and racism, healing love, laughter and change.

Themes:

  • African Americans/Africans
  • Crossing Cultures

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong. In 1996, I went to Ghana, West Africa for the very first time with my friends Betty and Wadiya. Oh, the feelings I had inside me! I was so excited, and there was so many things that we saw. We saw beautiful, tall, towering, palm trees wavin’ in the breeze, and beautiful, white, sandy beaches all along the highways. And the stunning beauty and strength of African women, who were carrying huge, and often heavy, baskets on their heads, with their babies tied firmly on their backs. And the bright and beautiful eyes of children wearing uniform after school, carrying their books, carrying their backpacks on their backs, and laughin’, and talkin’ on their way home. And even goat herders guiding small, little herds of goats across a busy street right in the center of the city.

But among the most profound experiences that I had there, was going into the dungeons of Cape Coast Castle. This was one of many forts that dotted the western coast of Africa, along the Co… Ghos… along the Coast of Guinea. And it was in these dungeons that African men, women, and children were held there, captive in chains, awaiting “shipment” to other places around the world. Now, this was something that occurred during a period of business called the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Now, granted, slavery was a practice that had been used in many countries for centuries. However, none, none was ever as brutal, inhumane or pervasive as this one. In fact, in quiet ways sometimes, it continues to destructively impact the lives of children of African descent worldwide, even to this day. Now, one might think that once a person had gone into one of those dismal dungeons that a subsequent visit might be a little bit easier.

Let me tell you how it happened for me. On my first trip in ’96, that white stone castle loomed ominously in the distance as our car approached the fishing village of Cape Coast. And we were greeted in the fishing village with warm smiles, and the smells of fresh fish and salt sea air. We saw brilliantly colored blossoms and birds, and saw people busily going about their daily work. There were men mending fish nets, and women on their way to market, or to the bank. And there were children laughing and running in play. One would never imagine that amid such beauty and normal life that anyone would ever have perpetrated something as horrific as the slave trade on such a kind and gentle people.

Well, we first went up into the castle, and we saw these comfortable accommodations that the British governmental representatives had for themselves. And, oh, such pomp and decor that reflected the high esteem in which they held themselves. Even the dark and rusted cannons that still sat on top of the roof, still poised out at sea, daring anybody to come and take what the British had already stolen. It was really something. It was quite something to behold.

Then we started going down into the dungeons. And once we got there, our guide had taken us to an opening that looked something like a cave. And as soon as we got inside, it went almost immediately pitch black. And we had to duck our heads because of the low overhang, and it was difficult to walk on the uneven path. And as our eyes were getting adjusted to the darkness, and as we were peering around that space, we were able to see bloodstains and shackles still hanging from the dungeon walls. The guide spoke to us of many horrific crimes that had been committed there. It made me sad. It made me angry and very, very frustrated. But more than anything, I was really, really so very sad that anyone would have to go through something like that.

Then my second visit, that was in 1997. This time, I had gone with a research study group from Medgar Evers College in New York. It was an amazing experience, a very eye-opening experience led by Kofi Lamotey. Again, there was a trip into the dungeons that was planned. And I’m thinking, “Well, that was painful but I’ve been there, I’ve done that. So, I got this, right.” Hmm. It was harder than the first time.

Then my third time going to Ghana was the first time that the National Association of Black Storytellers had gone, in order to participate in Panafest. Now this is a royal, regal celebration where the kings, and the queens, and the chiefs, and the princes, and princesses all come out in their golden, royal regalia. And they welcome children of the African Diaspora to “come back home” and to meet each other, and to plan, and to celebrate our victories. But more than anything, to look forward to how we can uplift the lives of our people.

Of course, another trip to the dungeon was planned. Now this time, I’m on the bus. I’m on the tour bus, and we’re riding along. And I see that castle in the distance comin’ up – palm trees, glistening sea. But my stomach started to tighten, and I, suddenly, felt like I didn’t think that I wanted to go there again. So, I went inside myself, into that space within me, that space of light where you go sometimes to ask for guidance. And it was as though I heard a voice that said, “You’re not finished. This is a necessary pain.” So, I took a deep breath and I said, “Okay.” I was obedient. Now, I had the option I could have gone to a restaurant there on the sea, had a little drink, and enjoyed the seaside, and waited for the others to come back. But I was obedient, and I went.

Well, by this time, I couldn’t assume that it was gonna be any easier than it was before. But I did wonder how this time might be a bit different. Well, one of the differences was that I ended up escorting one of our cofounders of the storytelling organization, Mother Mary Carter Smith, who herself was an elder. Now MamaMary was a spitfire! Little, bitty, tiny thing but a spitfire, nonetheless. And so even though she was small in stature, she was really big in her influence on us. And along with co-founder Mama Linda Goss, they were our Queen Mothers. And like all African Queen Mothers should, they provided a bit of guidance, a bit of light whenever we needed it.

So here we are, we’re about to go up the stairs, those broken stairs of the slave castle. And once we got inside, we’re looking around the space. And we found ourselves in a room where the guide had mentioned to us served as a chapel for the governor. And Mama Mary looked at me. She looked so confused. She said, “Wait a minute.” And she said right out loud, she said, “You mean to tell me that while my people are down in the dungeon suffering, the governor had the nerve to be up here praying? Now what kind of nonsense is that!” I understood her position. I wondered the same thing the first time I went to Ghana.

Eventually, we go back downstairs, down these broken stairs, and we start to go inside the dungeon. Now Mama Mary didn’t have too far to duck because she was so short. But her walk, her gait, was a little bit unsteady. So, I was holding onto her hand as we came down the stairs, and as we went inside the dungeons.

And then as we were first in the men’s dungeon, and then in the women’s dungeon, the tour guide was going on about the atrocities that had happened there. And we looked around and saw all these shadows and artifacts of a horrible time past. And I saw Mama Mary’s frail fingers going along the edge of the walls where he saw dried blood. And she ran her fingers over shackles that were still hanging there. And I saw the profound sadness in her face.

And then as the tour guide was continuing to go on and on about things that had happened, I noticed that Mama Mary was suddenly starting to stiffen. And her fists clenched, and her arms shot straight down by her side. And, and her head tilted back, and there was a low rumbling sound coming from her throat. And she was rocking back and forth, and the rumbling sound in her throat got louder and louder until she screeeeeeeeamed (weeping sounds).

She screamed and in her scream, you can feel the pain and the agony of those ancestors who had been there, whose pain we can still feel today. I went close to her, but not too close, ’cause I saw what was happening. She was in deep communion with the spirits of those ancestors. But I wanted to be there for support and, all of a sudden, she just collapsed right in my arms. And other storytellers also came around, and there we were, crumpled on the floor, trying to support Mama Mary so she wouldn’t hurt herself. And she just cried, and we rocked her. And some of the other storytellers cried too.

In time, she was able to stand back up and when she did, she seemed to stand a little bit taller than she had when we first walked inside. And I noticed this small hole, way up high, in the roof of the women’s dungeon, where a little bit of sunlight was shafting through. And that was the only sunlight that the Africans who were imprisoned there had for weeks and sometimes months, until they were piled onto ships, and sent away to other places.

So, after we all collected ourselves, we were guided to the final portal. That final doorway, where the Africans left and went out onto the sands, onto the beach, to be loaded up like so many cattle onto the ships and taken away. That was the Door of No Return.

So, we, the storytellers, also took that trek and walked through the Door of No Return. And as we got onto the beach, some of us were praying, some people were singing with their arms outstretched to the sky. Some had their arms around each other’s waists with heads touching, and just rocking, and humming together. Some just rocked back and forth and prayed.

As we were standing there, I thought about that light, that little shaft of light that came through. And I was reminded, as I saw Mama Mary standin’ taller and walkin’ stronger than she had when we first came to that place. I was reminded that often, even in our darkest hours, every now and then, when we… quiet ourselves, we can go inside ourselves to that little place of light, and ask for guidance. And it comes, and with it, we can lift ourselves up and find a better way.

Culture Shock: An Israeli Immigrant Learns America

By Storyteller Noa Baum

Story Summary

Noa arrived from Israel to America in 1990 the month Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to attack Israel. She arrived from a place where everyone walked around with boxes of gas masks in case they were attacked with mustard gas, to the quiet peaceful college town of Davis, California. To call it culture shock would not do it justice…

Here is the story of crossing over and learning to live in a culture where the perceptions of time, space and values are completely different from your own.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Culture Shock-An Israeli Immigrant Learns America

Discussion Questions:

  1. Was there a time when you felt like an alien in a culture you didn’t understand? Have you felt misunderstood in a new/different place?
  2. What are the things we take for granted in our culture – what do we call ‘normal’?
  3. How do you respond when you meet someone from another culture who behaves in ways that seem ‘weird’ or ‘strange’? Do you ‘write them off’? Try to avoid them? Are you curious to get to know more or wonder why they are so different?
  4. What are the things we can do to make someone who is a stranger feel more welcome?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Living and Travel Abroad

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Noa Baum.

In August of 1990, I left Israel to come to America. It wasn’t the first time I came to America. The first time, I was in fifth grade, didn’t know a word of English, but I learned very fast. Second time, I went to graduate school in New York City. But in August of 1990, I followed my American husband to the University of California-Davis, where he wanted to study. And that month Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Israel.

And so, I came from a place where everyone was walking around with little black boxes holding gas masks, in case Saddam Hussein attacked us with mustard gas. My friends were making a lot of cynical jokes to try and cover up their panic as they practiced to get their babies into strange collapsible plastic contraptions. And everyone wondered, “Can this flimsy thing actually protect my baby from the lethal gas?”

So, I left the war threats, new and old. I left that hectic pace of Tel Aviv with the relentless humidity and unbearable heat. I left the drivers, aggressive and impatient, honking at every turn. The demonstrations that continued for and against the diplomatic solution with the Palestinians, for and against the preemptive strike on Iraq. I left a brother still wrestling with hallucinations and voices that began after the 1982 war. A grandmother who raised me but no longer recognized me. A sister recently married like me. And my aging parents, anxiously following loud step-By-step TV instructions on how to prepare a safe room. I came from all that to the stillness and static home of cicadas in Davis, California.

To call it culture shock would not do it justice. Davis is a small college town in the middle of California’s Central Valley. It is a place where the biggest political struggle in its entire history has been to save the toads from being squashed when they crossed the highway. I was sure it was a joke at first but they actually built a tunnel so that the toads could get to their ancestral wetlands, on the other side of the highway. It almost hurt to think that I come from a place where protecting the lives of humans was not as successful as preserving the rights of toads in Davis.

Well, the weather was somewhat familiar, a relentless heat, 100 Fahrenheit in the summer. But other than that I was surrounded by strange phenomenon. People were actually standing in line and not pushing into the elevator or the bus. People like you talk and not interrupt you, mid-sentence. Drivers were actually patiently waiting in the light when it was green, for all the cars to come through before making a left turn. Oh, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that on that first week of August 1990, on flat roads of Davis, only one person was heard honking the horn of their car. And that person, was me.

No gas masks, no sirens, no bombs in the marketplace, no wars. America was peaceful and safe but I was an alien. Suddenly, interrupting others mid-sentence to and impatiently finished their thought, what I knew as signs of participation, showing that you’re interested and invested in their concern, was looked upon as rude. Where I come from, listening without interrupting means you are bored and that’s rude. Or, or talking with determination and urgency, obvious of your marks of leadership, dedication, showing that you’re here getting ready to get things done; was considered having an attitude. Well, having an attitude of what? No one ever finished that sentence, just…having an attitude. Or talking with a loud, dramatic voice and big, hand gestures;

what in Israel is considered clear indications of passion and enthusiasm, were described as too intense. Me, a deeply caring person, rude, with an attitude, too intense?

I just couldn’t get it and I couldn’t understand the subtext in conversations or the nuances of non-verbal language. To me, Americans were cold and uncaring. They send cards instead of picking up the phone. I mean, where I come from, writing instead of talking in person, means you don’t care enough.

And Americans are hypocrites. They say please and thank you and smile to everyone. We Israelis we’re warm, we’re loving, we’re honest. Smiling means you’re like someone. Smiling to somebody you’ve never met before? That’s pretending.

And Americans, they are uptight and not generous. They have to make phone appointments for everything. They never just spontaneously show up at your door and you can’t go to their house without calling. And if they happen to come by, after dropping the kids from a play date and you invite them in to eat, they look so uncomfortable. It’s like you can only invite somebody to eat if it’s an official dinner invitation. Whoever heard of such a thing. Where I come from, somebody is at the door, you instantly offer coffee and food whether it’s dinner time or not.

And Americans are so superficial. A few weeks after we arrived in that August, my husband took me to an event at the University. And he was smiling and talking to so many people. I thought, “Wow. He has so many friends.” But when we came home and I said, “So what’s the name of that friend of…”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what you are talking about? That that guy?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, what were you talking about?”

“Just chit chat.” Chit chat? Networking? Let’s do lunch sometime? But no one ever says when or where. Oh, I was an alien.

And for many years I just stayed close to Israelis and other foreigners. And it took many years to learn to understand the culture that I had moved into. And even longer to learn how to communicate who I was to the Americans without scaring them away. It took time to begin to identify that so much of what felt normal to me, was actually reactions to the world that came from growing up with a lot of anxiety. It took time to realize my own assumptions and stop judging, comparing, or labeling, “them.”

And I learned that Americans write because talking on the phone may interfere with your day and they don’t want to intrude. You see privacy is a big thing, which is why they don’t push into the bus or the elevator. Because giving you personal, physical space is a sign of respecting your privacy. And that is also why they don’t just show up at the door without being invited. They don’t want to intrude on your privacy unless, I discovered, you happened to come from the South. And they show kindness and generosity in so many ways, thousands of ways, that are different but just as heartwarming and big. Like the complete stranger from across the street who mowed the lawn when we moved into our house. I don’t know an Israeli that would have done that for a complete stranger.

And I discovered that Americans say please and thank you because being polite is a cultural value. And smiling…smiling puts the other at ease. It says welcome. Because, you see, at the heart of this culture, there is a large, green woman up in New York City standing with a torch held up high, welcoming. Welcoming the stranger, regardless of where you come from, your color of skin, or your religious, or your religion. Welcoming the stranger. Welcoming me. Welcoming everyone.

Peacemaking Beyond Borders – An Israeli Palestinian Friendship

By Storyteller Noa Baum

Story Summary

Noa grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. In America, she met a Palestinian woman who also grew up in Jerusalem, only on the “other side”. Their friendship inspired her to tell the stories of their families that echo the contradicting national narratives of their people. Noa continues to use the transformative power of storytelling for peacemaking through her memoir A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Peacemaking Beyond Borders-An Israeli Palestinian Friendship

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you already know and think about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Do you have opinions? Do you have any mental picture of an Israeli or a Palestinian?
  2. How do we form opinions? What is “history”? Who decides what goes in and what stays out? Can we ever know the “whole story” about anything?
  3. The following quotations are very important to Noa Baum. Discuss each one with reference to her story and to your own experiences:
    • “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard.” —Gene Knudsen-Hoffman      
    • “People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell.” –Elie Wiesel
    • “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Gandhi

Resources:

Themes:

  • Interfaith
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Noa Baum.

Jumana and I met on the green grass of America. It was a family potluck. I was holding my baby boy, she was holding hers. And she had the kind of dark beauty that I recognized immediately from home. So, I walked up to her. “What’s his name?”

“Tammer. And yours?”

“Ittai. Where are you from?”

“Jerusalem. Near Ramalla, actually.”

“I’m from Jerusalem too.”

Her American husband stepped right in, “My wife, is a Palestinian, you know.” As if I didn’t know. But I didn’t know she’d want to talk to me, and she didn’t know if I’d want to talk to her.

You see, I grew up, in Jerusalem. A divided city where the buildings are made of chiseled stones, white, cream, gray. And when I was a little girl before 1967, there were always places at the edge of the city you couldn’t go to. It was the border. Once my mother took me to such a place. There were rusty, orange signs, “Caution: mines,” “No man’s land,” “No passing beyond this point.” And she took my hand and we climbed on a heap of stones and stopped in front of the large roll of barbed wire. And through it, I could see a vast field with slabs of concrete and iron beams sticking out like crooked fingers. And beyond them, filling the entire horizon was a wall, that almost looked like the walls from the fairy tales, with rounded roofs and minarets peeking behind it.

But I didn’t like it there. I wanted to go home. I was scared of them. The Arabs. When my grandmother hears the word “Arab,” she says, (Spits), “Yimach shermam, may their name be erased. They took my Yaakov. Yimach shermam.” Yaakov was her son. He’s gone. Where I come from, we say he fell.

I come from a place where the news is on the radio every hour, 24 hours a day. And on the buses, the drivers turn the volume up and all conversations stop. There is always something. Bombs in the market place. Buses blowing up and wars. But there’s no choice. That’s what I grew up with. “There’s no choice.”

“We don’t want wars but there is no choice.”

“There’s no choice.”

“They want to throw us into the sea.”

“There’s no choice. This is our only home.”

Jumana and I watched our children grow up on the green grass of America. Tammer and Ittai spend hours being Pokemon. And we watched them grow without the fear. And no one put it in words. But each of us knew. Back home, my son would grow up to go to the army and check ID’s at roadblocks. Her son would grow up to arrive at the checkpoint and throw stones at the oppressor.

Slowly, over the years, Jumana and I started to talk. But for many years it was just, you know, the kids and diapers. Mom stuff. But then one day, I started working on a story about my memories from third grade, the 1967 war. And I realized I’ve known Jumana, this Palestinian woman for seven years. And she grew up in Jerusalem, just like me, not even five miles away from where I grew up. And I never heard what that war was like for her. Did they sleep with all the neighbors together in the furnace room when the bombs were falling? Did they even have a bomb shelter?

I called her up and a new chapter in our relationship began. I asked questions and I listened. And for the first time in my life, I heard what it actually feels like to be a Palestinian growing up under Israeli occupation.

She told me how when she was 10 years old, she saw a 13-year-old boy being beaten by Israeli soldiers and that was the first time in her life she understood the meaning of the word hate. Hearing this was like somebody just kicked me in the gut. Those soldiers, that terrified and haunted her entire childhood, were my people. Our boys, our symbols of security. everyone that I knew that turned 18 and went to the Army, including my brother. It was so painful. But I continued to listen because she was telling me her story.

And eventually, we started talking about difficult stuff. You know, the history of our people. And she would say something that was history, the truth with a capital “T,” that she learned in school. And I would look at her and say, “But that’s not true at all. That’s, that’s Arab propaganda.”

And then I would say something that was history, that was the truth with a capital “T.” And she would look at me and say, “But that’s not true at all. Zionist propaganda.”

And we would argue. And then she’d say, “Look at us. We’re getting defensive again.” And we’d laugh. And then I pick up the baby so that she could go make the soft-boiled egg for the other kids. And we continued to talk. And there was never a moment when I felt, “I can’t talk to this person.” And this experience, of being able to talk despite differences, the way our stories helped us hold contradicting points of view, this experience of being able to hold onto our compassion through all that, was so powerful that I decided I had to do something about it.

And being a storyteller, I created a storytelling performance called, “A Land Twice Promised.” And I tell the stories of our families. And I tell the stories that echo the contradicting national narratives of our people. I’ve been performing it now for more than 14 years. I recently wrote a book about it that tells the journey of my transformation from the, the black and white narratives of my childhood, to learning how to listen to the other, and using storytelling for building bridges for peace.

And over the years I’ve heard so many responses. There are those that say that I’m a traitor to my people because I tell the stories of the Palestinians. And there are others that say that, oh, I’m telling only the suffering of the Jews. I can’t begin to tell the story of the Palestinians. And there are those that come say, “What’s the point? What’s the point of all this storytelling? How can you even believe in peace? Can’t you see what’s going on in the world?” And I don’t always know what to say.

But I keep thinking about what my Palestinian friend recently said to me. She said, “I consider it a privilege having gotten to know you as a person and hearing her stories. Before hearing your side of things, the Israelis were just the enemy, the abuser, the one who took away my rights, rolled over me, terrorized me. The soldier, the settler, that’s what I knew of as Israelis. So, getting to know you and hearing your stories made a huge difference.”

And I think, about March of 2002. It is called in Israel Black March because almost every day there were suicide bombers exploding. And my most peace activist friends could not utter the word Palestinian, wouldn’t even let me say the word Palestinian But, my Palestinian friend kept calling. “Hey, Noa, I heard about that bomb in Netanya. Is your family all right?”

And I couldn’t help call her. “Jumana. I just heard about those tanks in Ramala. Is your brother OK?”

So, to the cynics and the naysayers I say, we heard each other’s stories. Why do I believe in peace? Because we heard each other’s stories and we have no choice. We have no choice.

Every Day is Basil Houpis Day: Bullying Doesn’t Stop After High School

By Storyteller Robin Bady

Story Summary

Robin was in middle school.  Basil Houpis had just moved to the U.S. from Greece, and he was different. He barely spoke English, wore mismatched clothes and smelled funny. Everyone picked on him mercilessly.  It was not until Robin went to her 30th high school reunion that she was able to take a stand.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Every Day is Basil Houpis Day-Bullying Doesn’t Stop After High School

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been bullied?  Did anyone help you?  How did you feel?
  2. Have you ever been a person who bullied another?  Why?  For how long? How did you feel? What did or could have stopped you?
  3. Have you ever been a bystander to bullying? What did you do? Why? How did you feel?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Immigration
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking Theme

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Robin Bady. I wonder, have you ever felt like you’ve done something that you wish that you could have done again and done over? Well, this story takes place when I’m in middle school in 1963, in the small town I grew up in on the New Jersey Shore.

So, my hometown teacher is standing in front of the class. And standing right next to her is this geeky looking guy. His hair was uncombed and it looked greasy. He was… had a funny smile on his face and his clothes were, were mismatched and wrinkled. And he was shifting side to side. And my teacher, she looked at him and looked at us and then smiled painfully and said, (very slowly), “Class, this is Basil Houpis. And he is new to our school and new to America. And he doesn’t speak English very well. Help me welcome Basil Houpis.”

Silence. And then from the guys in the back, “Hoo, Hoo, Houpis! Basil Houpis! He’s got the cooties! He’s got the cooties!” You remember the cooties. That horrible childhood disease that gets you. The one that you have because someone says you have it. That nobody wants to go near you. Well, Basil had the cooties. And I remember him walking down the hallway with a pained smile on his face. And, ah, we split like the sea in front of him. And he would walk there all by himself, desperately looking for somebody to smile or somebody to talk. And the mean boys, they would go, (in mean grumbling voice), “Oh, yeah. There’s Basil Houpis.”

And the cool girls and the girls who wanted to be cool, they’d say, “There’s Basil Houpis. He’s so weird.” And there was me. And there was, in truth, lots of people like me, who’s pushing up against the wall, wishing I could disappear into it. Where were the teachers, you might ask? I don’t know.

High school comes and puff, he disappears and nobody knows where he’s gone. But, in truth, Basil was never gone. Because once a year, in March, whispers would begin, “Don’t forget. Don’t forget. Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day.” Basil Houpis Day, that was a day when lots of kids would dress up with dirty hair and bad clothes that didn’t match, weren’t ironed, they’d smell. (The teachers… where were the teachers?) And they’d act just like Basil Houpis, which meant crazy and weird and didn’t speak their English well. Kids like me… you know, wished I could say something but I was too afraid. You know how it is. I did not want to be the next Basil Houpis.

Well, thirty years later, I am, thank God, out of high school. And I am now living my life and I’m happy, with a family. And I get a phone call from my old friend Stephanie. We had grown up next door to each other. We were one month apart. And she said, “So, Robin, why aren’t you going to the 30th high school reunion?” I didn’t even know about it. She goes, “You got to come! Everyone is coming. Why not?” So, I agree.

And on a very hot day in July, me and my husband… Well, you know, high school reunions are?… Well, you dress really well because you want to impress all the kids that you possibly didn’t impress in the past. I was very thin. I had a long, black, silky dress…slinky. I wore a jean jacket and statement jewelry because I was from Brooklyn now and I wanted to impress. Oh, high strappy heels.

And I walked to where the reunion is happening in our high school. I walk in and there’s the gym. The gym is decorated with, well, like it’s a prom. Not that I wouldn’t know. I never went there, to prom. But there it is. It is… something else. All the high school bands have reunited and they’re playing. There are kids doing skits. And I walk through. Everybody’s really friendly.

Then I go to the cafeteria. And the food they were serving, it’s exactly the same old sloppy joes that we had when we were in high school served by the same…the SAME cafeteria ladies wearing the SAME hairnet for the same price–thirty-five cents.

Well, I look around. There are a lot of people there. Everyone was there with their spouse or their partner. And even though there were nametags, I didn’t recognize anyone. Because… well, the truth was that if they were not standing in the group that they had inhabited while they were in high school, I just didn’t know them individually. And so, I spoke to people but it kept going past me. Who they were and why they were saying things to me about things I had said and done.

I had a pretty nice time. And when I went home, the following weeks, in the following months, the class reunion listserv was buzzing.

“Oh, do you remember going to the beach?”

“Oh, that party!”

“The diner.”

“The night after the play.”

“The night after the baseball game.”

“The night after the football game.”

And on and on and on. And then March came. And landing smack dab on my computer, in my email was the message… sent by a friend of mine, “Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day! Houp, Houp, Houpis!” And all sorts of emails came in response.

“Oh, yeah! I can’t wait to do it.”

“Oh, yeah! Know just what I’m gonna do!”

“Oh, that sounds cool!”

And I’m just looking and watching. And I can’t stop reading because I can’t believe it. This is, well, we haven’t seen him in probably thirty-four years, since middle school. What is this about? We’re not in middle school anymore. And then I felt, whap, the same fears that I used to feel when I was smack up against that puke green, cement walls of our school. And I’m watching Basil Houpis go by and I am wondering, “What I should do? I can’t do anything, right?”

I don’t want to stand up against them. I mean, those are the popular kids and the cool kids. And I got so mad. So mad that I think, “Wait a minute! I don’t even know these people anymore! Why do I care?” And then I go back and forth between tremendous fear and tremendous anger until I settle into rage. My fingers go onto the keyboard and I start writing. “Who the…What the…How the…Why the…” And I decide I shouldn’t write anything. My husband comes in. He’s been watching me and he says, “Close the computer. Go, do it tomorrow.”

And tomorrow I tried to write and the next day I tried to write and the next day and the next day. I think it took me a whole month before I found something that felt okay. And that Tom, my husband, and I agreed was reasonable yet powerful. Because I was not a kid anymore. And I wouldn’t stand for this today. So, I write something that goes like this: (Dear Robin, it’s wonderful, I mean, excuse me, let me start that again.)

Dear Classmates,

How wonderful it was to see you all at the reunion. I forgot how much fun we’d had in high school and how difficult it was too. You know, we are all successful people in one way or another. We have families. We have friends. We are doing well with our lives. Some of us are very successful. Some of us are just getting along. But we’re all adults. And that’s why I was surprised when I got that email from you. Well, first the one that said, “Don’t forget tomorrow’s Basil Houpis Day.” And then everybody writing about it. You know, if that happened to your child, what would you do? What would you say? Would you stop it or would you let your child do it? What if your child was doing it? Was the bully?

We are better than that. I know that from spending time in your presence and remembering you from our time together. Let’s stand up to the worst in ourselves. Let’s stop picking on a poor defenseless kid, who could barely speak our language, who’s no longer around.

With Love,
Robin

Pfush, off to cyberspace. I closed the computer. I didn’t really want to see if anyone responded. But the next day, I looked. How could I not? And I heard, I read but it was if they standing right in the room.

“Who do you think you are, Robin? I always thought you were a conceited, stuck-up person!”

“Well, who are you to be preaching at us?”

“What do you think you are?”

“Do you think you know better? We’re just having fun. What’s your problem, babe?”

And a lot of bad words and a lot of other things and a lot of meanness. Oh, and I love this one: “Your father would be so ashamed of you!” That one took me aback. And when I was about to give up completely, a couple of other emails came.

“Thank you, Robin. When I was a kid, I wished so much that I could have stood up and taken care of Basil. I would have hated that to happen to me, which is why I didn’t do it.”

“If that had happened to my child, I would be fighting mad. Thank you.”

“Thank you for reaching out to the best of us. We forget when we get all into that group think. Thank you. Thank you.”

“Thank you. It’s about time.”

And I think it’s about time I stood up for that kid. And I think about what my father would have said. He’d have quoted his favorite quotation to me from Hillel, the rabbi, who said many wonderful things from a hundred years before the common era. Hillel said, “If I’m not for myself, who am I? If I’m not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? When?”

A Twist of Fate: My Jewish Father in World War II

By Storyteller Heather Forest

Story Summary

Heather tells of the odd twist of fate that saved her father’s life when he, along with all the other Jewish teenagers in his neighborhood, gave up their personal life plans and enlisted in the U.S. army to go fight Hitler in 1942.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   A Twist of Fate-My Jewish Father in World War II

Discussion Questions:

  1. Many European Jews tried to immigrate to the U.S. to escape the atrocities of the Nazis. Quotas, xenophobia, and anti-semitism were barriers to being able to immigrate to the U.S. at that time. Do you see any parallels to today’s immigration crisis where persecuted people from war torn countries are having difficulty seeking refuge in the US?
  2. Has a skill you happen to have ever been useful in your life in unexpected ways?
  3. Have you ever followed your parent’s practical advice and found that it was helpful or even life changing?

Resources:

  • Website – https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007652
  • The letters referred to in this story were references to people attempting to reach out to relatives to find work as well as housing in the U.S. to meet strict immigration rules. Quotas limited the number of Jewish immigrants allowed to flee to the U.S.:
    “The economic crisis known as the Great Depression led then President Herbert Hoover to mandate that immigrants had to prove that they would not become a ‘public charge,’ disqualifying people who could not financially support themselves indefinitely. Public opinion, motivated by economic fear, xenophobia, antisemitism, and isolationism, did not favor any increase in immigration to the United States, even as it became clear that Nazi Germany was targeting Jews for persecution.”

Themes:

  • Family and Childhood
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • War
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Heather Forrest. My father was a… gentle giant. He was six foot seven and had soft blue eyes. He was a formidable basketball player for Weequahic High School in Newark, New Jersey back in 1942. He hoped that someday he would get a scholarship to go to college because his family was very, very poor.

He lived on Schuyler Avenue with his mother, my grandma Sadie, who had come to the United States as an immigrant in the early 1900s to escape the pogroms in Eastern Europe. These were organized violent riots against the Jews. She came to join her husband, Jacob Israel, who had come to the United States a few years earlier to seek his fortune. And when they were reunited, they had several children. And then Jacob Israel died in a construction accident. And Sadie was forced to support the family alone, which she did with her weekly winnings from a weekly poker game she held in the parlor.

She worried all the time about her son Emmanuel. “Manny,” she would say, “Basketball is not a job. Perhaps you should learn a trade. Think about it. Maybe, maybe you could take up typing.”

My father listened to his mother and the next day joined the secretarial program at Weequahic High School. He liked typing because he was the only boy in the class. And because he was competitive by nature, in a very short amount of time, he could type 120 words a minute. And, of course, he was eager to show off his skill to any girl who would watch.

You know, he did get that basketball scholarship, a full scholarship, but he didn’t take it… because of the letters. The letters that were coming from relatives in Europe to people in the neighborhood. Letters, desperate pleas, for sponsorship so they could escape the Nazi horror that was unfolding around them.

It was the spring of 1942, and although it was not being reported in the American newspapers, everybody in the neighborhood knew what was happening in Europe. Jews were being forced to wear yellow stars on their jackets when they walked in the streets. Jews were being forced from their businesses and from their homes. They were being herded into ghettos, locked ghettos. They were being rounded up from rural villages, and put on trains, and sent off to what they thought were work camps. Every Jewish boy in the neighborhood, including my father, set aside their life’s goals and joined the army to go fight Hitler.

And so, my father found himself at Fort Dix in southern New Jersey for basic training. He was in an infantry platoon when he said the “muckety muck” came. He told me about the visitor. He was a straight-backed, high military official. And so, all the men in his platoon lined up in front of the barracks.

And the “muckety muck,” as my dad called him, addressed the group. He said, “There’s a war goin’ on over there. Everybody needs to do their part. Any of you jokers know how to type?”

Well, only my father stepped forward, and he went off with that man who turned out to be the commander of an Army hospital ship. My father became his personal secretary and spent the rest of the war with the 200th Hospital Complement serving in the North Atlantic. Every other man in my father’s infantry platoon was killed in battle. My father survived because he knew how to type.

When a young man is killed in battle, it’s not just his life that’s lost, it’s his family line that disappears. And so, you see, if it wasn’t for typing, I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story.

Grow to Give: An Interfaith Food Equity Project

By Storyteller Heather Forest

Story Summary

The true tale of how storytelling inspired a group of diverse religious leaders in the town of Huntington, NY, to dig up their congregational lawns, grow vegetables tended by congregants, and then donate the produce to local food pantries.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Grow to Give-An Interfaith Food Equity Project

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been “food insecure”? Have you ever not had food when you were hungry because you could not afford to buy it and did not have access to land upon which to grow it?
  2. Do you consider food equity a social justice issue?
  3. Is your town economically segregated? If so, where are the grocery stores located in your town? Are there as many comprehensive grocery stores in low income areas of town as in higher income areas?
  4. Are high and low income neighborhoods in your town racially or culturally segregated?
  5. Is having access to healthy food a right or a privilege in our society?
  6. Could you imagine creating a community garden in your town if one is not there already?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Interfaith
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Heather Forest. Every year in my town of Huntington, Long Island, New York on Martin Luther King’s birthday, there is an interdenominational prayer service dedicated to a social justice theme. About 500 people attend; and priests, rabbis, monks, imams, pastors and ministers from all the local congregations participate in creating the service. They participate in the presentation of the service in full religious regalia. It is a colorful event filled with taluses, and yarmulkes, and vestments and saffron robes. But the most amazing thing about this event is that such a diverse collection of clergy manages to agree on a social justice theme.

Well, in 2012, the social justice theme was “We Can End Childhood Hunger.” Since it was to be a child centered theme, the organizers decided that instead of having someone from the clergy offer the 15-minute long sermon, they would invite a storyteller to come and tell stories about food.

When I received the invitation, I was delighted. I said, “Uh, I’m a farmer and, and a food equity activist. Of course, I’ll participate. I love your theme, ‘We Can End Childhood Hunger.’ That’s great. What are you going to do to end childhood hunger?”

And the organizer said, “We’re going to pray.”

I said, “Well, that’s wonderful but what are you going to DO to end childhood hunger?”

And the voice replied, “Hm, we’re going to raise awareness!”

“That’s wonderful. What if, as well as raising awareness, you raise vegetables. You know, there’s hardly ever any vegetables at the food pantry and vegetables are very important for the nutrition and the health of growing children. What if,” I said, “What if… You know, the congregations in this town, the synagogues, and the churches, they all have big lawns… What if people dug up the lawns, planted vegetable gardens tended by the congregants and then the food was donated to the local pantry. They hardly ever have any fresh vegetables.”

There was dead silence at the other end of the telephone. And, finally, I heard him say, “Well, young lady, you’ll have 15 minutes to make your case. Good luck!”

On the day of the prayer service when it was my turn to speak, I stepped up to the microphone. I took a big breath, and I said to the gathering…

“I’m a traveling storyteller. And one time when I was at an outdoor performance festival along the Hudson River, I took a break and I went for a walk along the river bank to, to enjoy the view. And as I stood there, I was joined by a woman in full African traditional dress and we enjoyed the visit together.

And she then turned to me and she said, ‘I don’t understand your country. In my village back home, it’s different. You have so much land and yet people still go hungry. In my village, if there was a little patch of earth showing, somebody would have planted it with seeds and there would be food growing.’

‘What a novel idea,’ I thought, ‘Planting food everywhere! But how would that ever happen in an urban or suburban environment?’ Well, actually, in fact, it has!

In the town of Todmorden in northern England, a woman named Estelle Brown awoke one morning and thought, ‘If the men can go to the pub, have a beer and start a war, the women can go to the café, have a cup of coffee and change the world.’

And so, she invited a group of her dearest friends to join her in the café, to have a meeting about changing the world. And, of course, they realized the very first thing they needed to decide was a topic about which to change the world. And they chose the topic of food, for food touches everyone’s lives. They made a plan. And they all went back home and took down the fences and walls at the edges of their front yards along the sidewalk. They replanted their flower gardens with vegetables and then put signs in the vegetable patches that said, “Help yourself.”

Well, when the vegetables came to fruit and people walked along, at first, they didn’t know what to do. But then, they enjoyed picking the tomatoes and the peppers. And soon people were planting vegetables in every patch of earth in Todmorden. There was a patch of vegetables growing everywhere from the train station to the police station. The town of Todmorden didn’t…  has vowed to become vegetable self-sufficient. And now people from all over the world come there to see how they could turn their towns, and their cities, and their villages into food forests so that no child goes hungry.”

I said to the gathering, “If anybody here wants to learn about how to plant food everywhere come to a meeting next week right here, same time, same place.” (Well, the next week, representatives from 30 congregations came.)

And as I stood before the clergy assembled before me, I said, “The history of lawns dates back to the 1500s, to medieval times when kings’ in Sp… in England, and France and Scotland would order their serfs to cut down the trees and brambles around their castles so that guards up on the parapets could look out across the vast open space. And they would be able to see the kings’ enemies approaching.

By the 1600s, wealthy landowners emulating the monarchy in an ostentatious display of wealth, cleared the land around their manor houses. And created great, grassy fields to show that they were so rich they didn’t need to use the land to grow food. Instead, they used those grassy fields for bowling games. The fields were called bowling greens and the game that they played evolved into our modern-day game of golf.

Well, in the 1800s, Scottish immigrants brought this new game to the United States and it caught on. It became very, very popular. And the newly burgeoning United States Golfing Association joined forces with the Agricultural Department. And huge research funds went into the development of a new kind of grass seed, a sturdy seed that didn’t have thistles and, and could be grown on golf courses. This is the lawn seed that we’re most familiar with today.

When soldiers returned after World War II, there was a housing boom. And people like William Levitt made places like Levittown and in the interests of the democratization of neighborhoods, he forbid fences. The neighborhood would be united by a carpet of pristine, green grass with no weeds, no seeds, no dandelions and, certainly, no messy fruit. Well, to a human being, a pristine, green, grassy lawn might look beautiful but to a migrating bird swooping down looking for food after a long flight, that lawn is a desert. There’s nothing for a bird to eat. No bugs, no seeds and, certainly, no messy fruit. You know, we are losing species of migrating birds because of lawns. And the petrochemicals that are used to keep those lawns green and pristine, leach down into the ground and, and they damage the fragile water table.”

So, I invited the clergy before me, “Close your eyes. Imagine yourself standing in front of the front door of your house of worship and look at your lawn. Ask yourself a question. Does this lawn represent my values? Do I really need a great, green grassy field around my building so that I can see my enemies approaching?”

Well, that afternoon, four of the congregations in attendance dug up their lawns: Huntington Jewish Center, Dix Hills Methodist, St. John’s Episcopal, Bethany Presbyterian. By the end of the spring, there were ten flourishing community service gardens on lawns in congregations in town. And by the end of the summer, 2000 pounds of fresh produce was delivered to the local food pantry.

The stories that I told that spawned the “Grow to Give Project” helped people from a diverse collection of religious perspectives work together and also to look at something ordinary, like a lawn, in a new way. One of the many powers of storytelling is that it provides an opportunity to envision change.

My Chinese Grandfather

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

As a child, Brenda visits her Grandfather who collects, dries and sells seaweed along the coast of California. When she is older, she helps him with his work. Brenda finds his ways strange and the work hard, but the two find unique ways of talking and enjoying each other’s company.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My Chinese Grandfather

Discussion Questions:

  1. What service did Brenda’s Grandfather provide? Why do you think he lived the simple life he did?
  2. Do you have any relatives whose language, cultural customs or ways of making a living are very different from yours?
  3. Do you have any relatives you wish you had spent more time with? If you had an extra few days with them right now, what would you ask them? How would you want to spend your time with them?

Resources:

  • Chinese Americans: The Immigrant Experience by Peter Kwong and Dusanka Miscevic
  • Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present by Judy Yung and Gordon H. Chang
  • Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans by Jean Pflaezer
  • The Chinese in America: From Gold Mountain to the New Millenium edited by Susie Lan Casel You can read an excerpt from the book and on page 161, you can see a photo of Brenda (the teen with the glasses), her younger sister, her aunts and her Grandmother with her Grandpa, George Lum, drying seaweed. There is a picture of How Long on page 163. In the actual book, on page 167, the little boys in the photo are Brenda’s uncles. Excerpt and photos at: http://bit.ly/SeaweedGatherers

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

I’m Brenda Wong Aoki. And when I was a little girl, I used to wish that I could trade in my grandpa because I felt like I got cheated ’cause I know what grandpas were supposed to look like. You know they have, like, white hair and twinkly eyes and you go to their house for, like, Thanksgiving or Christmas or something. Except my grandpa wasn’t like that. My grandpa didn’t have any hair, and he didn’t even have a house. So, I, I, ss… he was Chinese. But now that I’m older, I wish that I spent less time thinking about trading in grandpa, and more time getting to know him.

My grandpa lived in an old, tin roof shack. It was built out of tar paper and pieces of wood he’d just find on the beach. He had no electricity, no running water. He never really learned English, and his strange gruff ways used to scare me.

I can remember my first trip to Grandpa’s was 1959. I was six years old. We were in our old Chevy station wagon, and along the way I saw a sign that said, “How Wong” ’cause I just learned how to read. How Wong. That confused me. But my mother explained that How Wong was Grandpa’s best friend. They had come together from Canton, China when they were only 18 years old.

And then I saw a dwarf, right out of Snow White. It was Grumpy. No, it was Grandpa. Inside his shack, he had frogs big as my head, living in his sink and they were ribbiting. (Ribbit! Ribbit!) My mother gave me some flowers to give to Grandpa, a bouquet of flowers. He wouldn’t take it (giggle). “Moano zhu tou! Zhu tou! Stupid bamboo head!”

It turns out, bamboo head, that’s what you call ABCs. American-born Chinese, because we’re hard on the outside and hollow in the inside and Grandpa thought I must be a stupid ABC if I didn’t know that cut flowers are an omen of death. He thought I was trying to kill him or somethin. That summer, that night, Grandpa laid down blankets on bales of seaweed and blew out the kerosene lamp (whooo). We are at the edge of the ocean. There are no streetlights. Nothing. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face. And I didn’t remember seeing a bathroom. Mom hands me a metal pail. “What’s this for?”

“You know.”

“You mean?”

“Um huh! We call it a thunder bucket.”

When we left, our car was covered with pigeon droppings like icing on a cake. I had never seen anything like it. And that’s what I remember from my first trip to Grandpa’s. And after that, we would return to Grandpa’s every summer, and help him gather seaweed ’cause this is how Grandpa made a living. He would gather seaweed, spread ’em out to dry. Then later on, cut ’em into little pieces, put ’em in packages and sell ’em to Chinatowns throughout California, and even over to China.

When I was 16 years old, we returned to Grandpa’s. This time the sign said, “How Wong is the Chinaman.”

My mother explained, “Somebody must have written that because they were being racist.”

That summer I found myself wearing men’s galoshes, Grandpa’s overalls and this big coolie hat. I looked totally f.o.b. (fresh off the boat). And after they left me at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, whatever time the tide was low, his little green flashlight leading the way, we climbed down the cliffs on these little steps my grandpa had hewn out of the rock. Now I was slippin’ and sliding trying to keep up with Grandpa’s short, stocky legs. He was just like buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, and down. And I was hangin on for dear life. When we finally get down to the bottom, there was tidepools but tidepools like you can’t see anymore. Tidepools that were like jewels with pink and green sea anemones, orange starfish, little baby crabs,
golden fish, eh, gorgeous! But there was no time to look.

Grandpa would say, “Fai Dee! Fai Dee! Hurry up!”

Oh, the tide would not wait. So, twist and pull and throw in the basket. We gathered seaweed. Twist and pull and throw in the basket. Not the green one, not the brown one, just the black one for sushi. That kind. Twist and pull and throw in the basket, twist and pull and throw in the basket. This was terrible on my fingernails! Twist and pull and throw in the basket. This was not the way I was supposed to spend my summer. I have a new, brand-new bikini with white polka dots. And I was supposed to be on the beach, listening to the Beach Boys with my transistor radio instead of here with him. And he can’t even understand English. Twist and pull and throw in the basket! Twist and pull and…

“Watch waves.”
“What are you talking about? Watch waves.”

“Watch waves!”

Ah! This was really dangerous work. There’s no lifeguards out here. Ah, huh! When we were done, the beach was covered with all these big baskets full of wet seaweed. My grandpa would take this big pole and he’d put the baskets on either side, and he’d just climb up the cliffs. Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Buh, buh, buh, buh! Uuh! Buh, buh, buh! Uuh! Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Uuh! They must have weighed about 200 pounds easy, those two wet baskets. And when he was finished, I was up there spreading ’em out, spreading ’em out, spreading ’em out ’til we had, like, I dunno… seemed to me like a football field full of thick seaweed. Then when we’re finished, Grandpa would go into the shed, into his shack. He’d light a fire in the stove. (Shhhh!) Shoo the frogs out the sink. “Go now. Go. Go!” and they’d hop away.

He’d take a great big wok and make dinner. (Shh, hhh, hhh!) Sometimes on special occasions, Grandpa would bring out a Chinese delicacy, pickled chicken feet. Little toenails clicking, he’d walk them across the table towards me. Eeheeheeheeh! He loved to do that. Heh, heh, heh, heh! After supper, Grandpa would take 180 proof Chinese whiskey, pour it in a teacup, and in another, he’d pour me tea.

He’d say, “This fo’ me. This fo’ company!”

He’d light a big stogy, (ooh, whoo), look me in the eye and say, “Ooh, whoo, ah, Blenda! Blenda! How’s skoo?”

Brenda, how’s school? That was Grampa’s favorite American line. You see, in Chinese, words take on different meanings if you change the intonation. So, my grandpa would change his tones and think he was saying a whole bunch of American words. Our conversation used to sound something like this.

“Ah, Blenda! How’s skoo?”

“Grandpa, tidepools are cool.”

“Ah, Blenda! How’s skoo?”

“Tomorrow can we take a day off?”

“Blenda! How’s skoo?”

We used to talk like that for hours. At the end of the summer, Grandpa poured gasoline on the rocks and torched them. I remember standing with him watching the flames burning on the waves. He said that was so the old seaweed could die and the new seaweed could grow.

When my parents picked me up, I gave my grandpa a big kiss on his bald head, right between his big, floppy ears (smooch). And he said to me, “You go now! Go! Go!”

And he stood there all alone in the cow pasture with his little green flashlight. And that beam never wavered until we’d gone all the way up the mountain and dropped over the crest.

My grandpa died when I was in college, and we buried him up near San… up near San Francisco in the Chinese cemetery. Cem… cemeteries were all segregated. And the Chinese cemetery is right behind Home Depot, so I can always find it. Everybody put cut flowers on his grave, but I remembered and brought a small green plant that still had its roots.

Recently, my Uncle Victor passed away, and I found out that my grandpa was one of the last seaweed gatherers off the coast of California. This was a community that had been there for 100 years. They’d escaped the purging of the Chinatowns when Chinatowns throughout California were burned down. And fleeing Chinese were shot or lynched or put on barges and left out in the open sea without water or food. Grandpa and a bunch of men and their families, they, they gathered seaweed quietly on the coast. And they were respected because they weren’t in competition for the ranch hands, uh, jobs or anything. They also had money. They were merchants. They sold to China; they sold to Chinatown.

And I interviewed one of the ranch hands, and she said that my grandpa had saved them during the Depression. She said, “We were starving. The ranch hands were starving but your grandpa came with baskets, and he brought us Chinese food. It was the first time I’ve ever had Chinese food.”

And I thought, “Chinese food and baskets.”

She said she’d never had fish or crab before in her life until grandpa came and saved them during the Depression. So, my grandpa was a well-respected merchant. Georgie Wong, the Chinaman.

On the Train to the Japanese American Incarceration Camps

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

Brenda recounts a story that was told to her by a woman who was a nurse and who, along with 120,000 of other Japanese Americans, was forced to leave her home and all she and her husband owned to be imprisoned in Incarceration Camps during WWII. A baby who should have been in the hospital is placed on board the train to the camps with her mother. The nurse does all she can to help the mother and baby but the end-result is out of her hands.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  On the Train to the Japanese American Incarceration Camps

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you had to suddenly leave everything you owned and loved behind and could only take one suitcase with you, what would you take?
  2. How was it that American citizens could suddenly lose their citizenship rights to own their homes, their businesses and receive due process before being imprisoned? Do you think it could ever happen again?
  3. How was the propaganda against Japanese American citizens during WWII like the fear and prejudices against Muslim American citizens we see today?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Brenda Wong Aoki. This year, 2017, is the 70th anniversary of the Executive Order 9066, which was responsible for putting 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were United States citizens, in incarceration camps throughout the country. Now these people, two thirds of them were United States citizens, they lost everything. They lost their jobs. Their bank accounts were frozen. They never got ’em back. Their homes, their businesses, they had to sell for, for, for peanuts because they only had a week to sell everything. And they could only bring what you could carry, which was usually a suitcase and a small child. And some of these people were in these incarceration camps for up to five years, three to five years.

So, recently, uh, my sister-in-law said there was a woman she knew, an Issei woman, second generation Japanese, who had a story that she wanted to tell me, Brenda Wong Aoki, because I am the official, in her mind, Japanese storyteller. And she wanted me to have this story because she wanted me to tell it to the world. It goes like this.

I am a United States citizen, born right here on Grady Avenue. My father fought in World War I. My two brothers were drafted and fought in World War II. I am a nurse. Still am. This year we’ve helped so many friends die. Ne papa? My husband, he is 87. I am 84, so we think it’s time we told this story. It’s about the train ride.

It was 1942. We were newlyweds with a week-old baby and a houseful of brand new furniture. Birds eye maple bedroom set, new refrigerator, sofa. We had one week to sell everything. We had 50 bucks. We ran down to the train station with mainly just the clothes on our backs and baby stuff. We didn’t know we would be there for five years. When we got to the train station, there were soldiers everywhere. They separated the men from the women. They put me on the train with all the mothers and babies, and this is what I wanna tell you.

I see my friend Michi. She and I had just had our babies together over at General (Hospital), only Michi’s baby was so sick. The doctor said it would die if it left the hospital. So, Michi got on the train without her baby. But just as we’re about to pull out of the station, some soldiers come and throw a baby in one of the empty seats.
All the mothers are, “Whose baby, whose baby?”

Do you know, it was Michi’s baby! Those soldiers had gone into the hospital and taken the baby out of ICU against doctor’s orders and just dumped it on the seat. So Michi sat next to me because, as I told you, I am a nurse. I took one look at that baby. Its cry was so weak. But Dr. Takeshita, the doctor I worked for, he told me he was gonna be on the train, just one car ahead of us. And if anything should happen to any of the mothers or the babies, just go get him. So, at the first stop, I get off the train and a soldier points a bayonet at me. I said, “A baby is sick! A baby may be dying!”

He said, “The next one goes right through you!”

I got back on the train. It was so hot in there because they nailed the windows shut and painted them black. And the ride took almost three days, and they only fed us one time. But I remember the food. Spoiled milk and green bologna, left on the platform like we were animals or something. With nothing to drink, my breast milk was drying up, and my baby was crying and crying. (Wooo!) Everybody’s baby was crying and crying. But Michi’s baby was so quiet. Then I noticed… it was dead. But Michi didn’t seem to know. I mean, she knew, but she just… (rocks and sings, ooh, ooh…)
When we finally arrived, we were in the middle of nowhere, nothing. We are city people. We never been to a place like this, the desert.

In all the commotion, Michi slipped away. They couldn’t find her for hours. They had to get a jeep to go get her! There she was, walking through the desert with her dead baby in her arms. She was still trying to find a hospital!

My breast milk never came back and my daughter would have died too because all she had to eat the first two weeks in camp was sugar water. But Mac, the Hakugin pharmacist back home, a white guy, he heard about our situation and he sent us formula the whole time. Never charged us nothing!

Decades, decades have come and gone since the train ride. My daughter has had health problems her whole life because of those first few weeks in camp, but she survived. My husband, he married into Michi’s family, so he sees her from time to time. But me, I can’t come. She won’t see me … because my face reminds her of the train ride.

Racism on the Road and Into the Next Generation

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

Brenda performs a children’s song in Japanese and is told to stop using “demonic language” and is called “a witch.” She is told by a producer that he is disappointed she isn’t a “real” Japanese. Unfortunately, the bias and ignorance Brenda encounters on the road is also visited on the next generation as Brenda learns that her son is mistaken for another Japanese American student who looks completely different from her son.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Racism on the Road and Into the Next Generation

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do some people approach differences with curiosity and respect and others react with ignorance and hate?
  2. What would you do in Brenda’s place if you had been confronted with similar statements and actions? Have you experiences similar slights and biases?
  3. Brenda is disappointed that her son is experiencing similar prejudices and invisibility? Do you think race relations are improving or getting worse? Why or why not?

Resources:

  • Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives by Howard J. Ross
  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

I’m Brenda Wong Aoki, and I’m the first nationally recognized Asian Pacific storyteller in the United States. I’ve been doing this for a living for the last 40 years. So, I wanted to share with you some stories about being on the road. Uh, one of the stories is about being called a witch. I was doing this song for a bunch of children in a school. It goes like this. It’s about a big fish and a little fish.

Okina sakana, suiei, suiei

Chisana sakana, suiei, suiei, suiei

Okina sakana, chisana sakana

You get the idea, right. So, I’m doing this story. And, um, the person around me says, “Don’t do that.”

And why… I’m, like, “Why?”

And he said, “Well, because the mothers think you’re doing a demonic incantation on their children. Please don’t do that.”

I said, “Okay.”

So, then I did my public concert and there were women in the audience with signs that said, “Witch, go home!”

I think they’re talking to me but I’m a professional storyteller so I go on. And I start telling my story and they start chanting, “Witch, go home! Witch, go home!” And they start pulling their kids out of the assembly, and the kids are crying and everybody’s… There’s chaos and they’re chanting, “Witch, go home! Witch, go home!

Witch, go home!”

And I just freak out, run into the dressing room, and I’m so shocked. And I look in the mirror. And I think, “Huuuh! Maybe I am a witch because nobody out there looks like me.”

So, I called my friend Eric, who is a priest, and I say, “Eric, you gotta come out here because people think I’m a witch out here.” Now Eric is a circuit rider in Nevada. This happened in Nevada. So, he has lots of churches, and he usually wears a Hawaiian shirt, and he’s in a big open jeep. And I said, “But don’t come like that. Come in your cossack. Come with your cross; you know, come looking churchy.

So, Father Eric puts… comes. And he looks like Jesus Christ on the back of a jeep. And he’s got his black Cossack, he’s got his cross, his blond hair was flying in the breeze, and he screeches up to where I’m performing. And all these people with placards go, “Oh, my xxx, the witch has the anti-Christ with her.

So, all Eric said, “Let’s just go get a beer.”

But that was one of my experiences. It happened several times to me throughout the country being called a witch, but it was a very innocent song. Another time I was at a reception in my honor, which was before the show, which is awkward because usually a performer likes to be preparing, warming up their voice. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah! That kinda stuff, right. But if you’re at a reception before your performance, you can’t be doing that.

So, I’m trying to be polite and thank everybody for having me. And one of the society ladies comes up to me. You know the kind, starved to perfection.

She says, “Goodness, Brenda! It has been a delight working with you because, let’s face it, you speak such good English.”

And I said, “Well, thank you. I was born here.”

And she goes, “Uuuuh! Oh! No, no, no, no, no. I thought we bought a real one!”

And then she took me to the guy who paid the big bucks and he kind of looks like a great, big toad. He says to me, “What part Japan you from?”

I said, “I’m not from Japan. Actually, my name is Brenda Jean. I’m Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and Scotch, and I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah.”

And he goes, “What part of Japan is Salt Lake City, Utah?”

I said, “It’s not in Japan; it’s in the United States.”

He goes, “Oh, that’s why your eyes aren’t as slanty as the rest.”

And I’m thinking, “Am I supposed to say thank you?”

Now I have to tell you another story. I’d just finished performing in New Orleans at the New Orleans Contemporary Art Center. Wonderful, standing ovation! I was doing Japanese ghost stories. And after the performance, this woman comes up to me and says, “You know, we’re having so much problems between Vietnamese and blacks that could you come to East New Orleans and tell some Japanese ghost stories?”

“Okay.”

So, I go to the high school and it’s, like, one of those high schools, you know, with, like, like, guards everywhere. And they got German Shepherds sniffin lockers to look for drugs and things. And I go to the auditorium, and there’s hundreds and hundreds of kids and I look at them. They’re all wearing baseball caps and baggy clothes and they’re just kinda… uh, un. And they’re all Vietnamese, and I’m thinking, “Well, where’s all the African-American kids?” But anyway, I start my Japanese ghost stories.

And you couldn’t… there’s just silence, absolute silence. And when I’m finished there’s, like, one applause (clap, clap) and they can’t wait to get out of there.

And I’m thinking, “Wow! Great! I do a free performance and I bomb.” And I’m sitting there. I think, “What a waste of effort!”

And this girl comes up to me and she’s typical f.o.b., fresh off the boat. Immigrant young girl with glasses and books. And, you know, over… her clothes are too big. And I think, “Great! Not only did I have to do a free gig, but now some bookworm’s gonna ask me for a dissertation on Japanese theater. Uuh, huh!”

And she goes, “Miss Aoki? We don’t means to be dissing you but this is East Nawlins. Here we don’t gots to be Vietnamese. We gots to be black.”

And that was like, bam, slap, slap, slap, slap, enlightenment! I should not have been sittin up there tryin to tell these kids Japanese ghost stories. I should have been tellin ’em what it was like for me growin up in my mom and dad’s store. Bein the eldest kid, havin no money and bein poor. And knowin what it felt like not to have money, and havin people look at you. And it woulda been so much better. Sometimes the personal is so perfect.

The last story I want to tell you is about MaK.K. I have a son Kai Kane. Well, he grew up in an all African-American neighborhood. Very ghetto, crack house next door, arms dealer across the street. We all get along. It’s just that K.K. was the only non-black kid on the block. So, all of his friends didn’t want to call him by his real name, which is Kai Kane. And they said, “We’re just gonna call you K.K. So. K.K. grew up playing basketball and, you know, everything with African-American kids. Then he gets a scholarship to this fancy, white school on the other side of the bridge. Suddenly, there’s only two, uh, boys of color in his entire school. It’s Masashi, who’s from Japan, who’s very, very tall with straight hair and glasses. And K.K. who’s, uh, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Scotch, and looks like a cherub with all these curls. And he’s very, very short and kinda chubby. And the school cannot tell ’em apart. They can’t tell the difference between Masashi and K.K. So, they just decide to call him MaK.K. So, from kindergarten to eighth grade, he’s MaK.K. along with Masashi. MaK.K. So fast forward.

My son is a dancer, and he’s dyslexic, and he’s got ADHD. So, he gets a scholarship to Stanford because they’re looking for another Steve Jobs and they thought that, you know, with all these learning things, he might be the new Steve Jobs.

And he just graduated with a Master’s in Cultural Psychology. And he tells me, at the celebration, there’s only four kids who graduated with a Master’s in Cultural Psychology at Stanford. This just happened a couple of weeks ago. The four kids: one’s an African-American girl, one’s a Filipino girl, two Asian boys – one’s from China, and one’s my son K.K. Okay, the boy from China is very, very short. K.K. is now very, very tall. And K.K. tells me, the whole time they’re in the Psych Department getting their Master’s, the secretary of the department, who controls everything, you have to be on her good side, could not tell him and Larry apart the whole time. And this is Stanford University, the best Psych Department in the country, and this is Cultural Psychology. So, isn’t it funny and sad how some things never change.

The Brownlee’s Migration

By Storyteller Kucha Brownlee

 

Story Summary

Kucha’s Grandfather had a marketable skill and a spiritual home in the South after the Civil War. With a large family and plenty of hard work, life was good in Mississippi. But, one incident changed everything.  Suddenly the whole family became immigrants – packing up and moving out of Mississippi.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The Brownlees Migration

Discussion Questions:

  1. Would you pack up and move in hopes of a better life?
  2. Would you move quickly if you thought that you might be in danger?
  3. What would it take for your family to suddenly move out of state with no job offer or place to live already secured?
  4. Is there a bully in this story? If so, who? Is it the wealthy land owner? The renter? The ‘white sheets’? Someone else?
  5. Why do you think the whole family moved and not just Paw and Mama Ella?

Resources:

  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells and Alfreda M. Duster

Themes:

  • African American
  • Bullying
  • Family
  • Immigration

Full Transcript:

My name is Kucha Brownlee.

When I was younger, we spent our summers in the South. When we were there, my father’s brother and sister-in-law, uncle Phil and Aunt Viola Brownlee, they would pick us up and they would take us to visit all of the aunts and uncles on the Brownlee side. My father was from a big family. Seventeen children to be exact. Well, I knew that the Brownlee family had all been born in Senatobia, Mississippi. We lived in Chicago. But all of my father’s siblings lived in Tennessee. None of them had moved to Chicago. and I was thinking about that and I was curious, so I asked. How it happened if all of the Brownlee’s were born in Mississippi, they all live in Tennessee now? And this was answer.

My grandpa was born in 1862. That was a few years before the end of the Civil War. Now Mr. Brownlee, he thought he owned people, so he had purchased some people to work his fields. And one of them was Susie…Susie, and by default, her children. And one of those children was my grandfather, Richard, or as we affectionately called him Paw Brownlee.

This is the story. See, the Brownlee’s were renters, not sharecroppers. Now at the end of the Civil War, many, many of the workers who were now newly freed, ended up working at this, on the same plantation. I mean, they had nowhere to go, nothing to do. They needed a job. They knew farming. And so, they took the chance and worked on this plantation. In Mr. Brownlee’s case, he encouraged his children to stay, when in fact, he was not allowing them to be taken away. Now, he did teach his black children to read. But unlike his white children, they did have to work the fields. Good thing was he taught my grandfather carpentry. So, my grandfather had a marketable skill.

Once he was grown, and he moved out, he became a renter, because he had a marketable skill. Having this skill was great because he could rent. He also was the head carpenter building the black church that he went to. And because he could read, he used to teach reading in that church while the watchers from the church pretended to work in the fields. This is important to me. Because, you see, the reason, he had, they had to have watchers, even though slavery was over, the Jim Crow laws had set in. And so, it became dangerous to teach reading. So, the watchers would watch and if anyone white was coming, they would make it back to the church and that reading class would become a Bible study. So, my grandfather, (the teacher), met Ella McKinney, (the watcher), and they became husband and wife.

Anyway, they were renters. And they rented a huge, huge farm. And as the children got to be adults, they would give them a big sus… section of the farm to work. Well, there’s a difference between renters and sharecroppers. Renters own everything. They just rent. So, their livestock they bought. Their seeds they bought, their clothes, their furniture. They own everything. On the other hand, if you’re sharecropper, you have purchased everything on credit. And you don’t own any of it. The way you find out what you can own, is at the end of the harvest, there’s a reckoning. And they tally up everything you’ve made and put it against everything you owe. Now if during that season while you working that land, you have a cow that is, um, has a calf. The owner still owns that cow, so he can come and take that calf.

So, here’s what happened. Brownlees are renters. Their cow babed a calf and this white man, not a Brownlee, that they were renting from, came and tried to take that cow. Like Paw was a sharecropper.

Paw said, “Na, no! You’re not going to take that cow.”

And he said, “Watch me.”

Paw said, “Boys!” There were plenty of grown Brownlee men living on that farm. And they start appearing from everywhere. And all that man heard was chee, chee, the sound of shotguns. He froze.

And Paw said, “Now you can take calf if you want to but I don’t think you’re gonna too far.”

So, he let that calf alone, and he backed out, and left the farm empty handed. Yes. But later Paw and his sons, they had a talk about this. And they decided that before he had a chance to round up the white sheets, they better leave. You see, the KKK was still active in Mississippi. And that’s what they did. They packed up everything and they moved to Tennessee. Because in Tennessee, it was a little bit better for black families then it was in Mississippi. Then my father moved north to Chicago.

But that’s a different story.

First Generation Chicagoan – No Pigeon Holing

By Storyteller Kucha Brownlee

Story Summary

Kucha was born in the North, but her Southern family values and ties came North with her family. In this story, Kucha wonders why everyone feel the need to pigeon hole other people? She knows that a strong family defies stereotypes and grows love.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  First Generation Chicagoan – No Pigeon Holing

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever made an assumption about a person just by looking at them which turned out to be way off?
  2. What assumptions can you make from listening to a person speak?
  3. Have you ever heard someone speak and when you met them they looked totally different than expected? Were the assumptions cultural?  Positive?  Negative? Why?
  4. When the look doesn’t match the sound are you willing to find out why? Was it a pre-conceived idea that caused the difference?  Where did your beliefs come from?
  5. List some stereotypes that people have about you? Your race?  Your gender?  Your lifestyle?

Resources:

  • A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration by Steven Hahn
  • The Great Migration: From Rural South to Urban North by Liz Sonneborn
  • Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Blacks from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Family and childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes
  • Taking a Stand

Full Transcript:

My family is part of the great migrations of African-Americans that took place from the South to the North, in the early 1900’s. You see, the Brownlee family really moved from Senatobia, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. And then my father took that trip north to Chicago, Illinois. A few years later, he sent for my mother and the children. And the last three girls, myself included, were born in Chicago. So, I am a first-generation Chicagoan.

I grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Oh! The West Side…We had everything. There were blacks and whites, well, very few whites, but a lot of African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, gypsies. And then a few Polish, Italian and Irish sprinkled in. And I had a funny kind of accent with this happening. People would always ask me where I’m from. See, when I was little, people used to say, “You know, Chicago’s West Side is Little Mississippi” because the main dialect they heard was Southern. But we had all of that other mix. So, when I talk, I might have a little island sound because sometimes when I say, “man,” it will come out like “mon.” And then the rest was kind of Southern and Midwestern. And people always saying where are you from?

And I’d said, “Chicago.”

They’d said, “No, really. Where are you from?”

I’d said, “Really. I’m from Chicago.” And they didn’t believe me. So finally, I started saying, “That’s it,” to whatever island they thought I was from. But it’s all good.

You know, when I visited Puerto Rico, I actually had someone say, “I know you’re really Puerto Rican. You’re just afraid to admit your heritage because you forgotten the language.”

Well, whatever. Think what you want. It’s all good. But I do wonder why people always have to pigeonhole someone. And if you don’t fit into their concept of what it should be, they try to make you think there’s something wrong with you.

See, my family is all colors of the rainbow. We go from like a creamy-white to blue-black and everything in between. And we love each other really hard. Most of the time people try to get us to deny each other. You know, they’re constantly saying, “You’re not cousins. Come on, why you lying?” But we are cousins.

When we were little, we had this game we would play with newcomers. It was called “Guess Who’s Related?” And usually the people would try to make me related to our neighbors who were Creole. And we go, (Buzzer sound), “Wrong answer.” Because…Just because we are the same color does not make us related. What makes us related, of course, is the blood.

But people were always trying to change that, you know. My cousin, he had this girlfriend, and he brought her over to meet the family. He had been talking about her for some time. He thought this is “the one.” And she got there and she’s real nice. Oh, she was so pleasant. And then, of course, when they left she said, That’s not your cousin.” And she kept trying to make him admit that he wasn’t related to us. So, I think about that sometimes. So, you thought both of our families were lying to you. Anyway, they didn’t stay together because he figured, “If you can’t believe me when I’m telling truth, we have no hope here.”

My family. We don’t care what you think. We know who we are. We knew then and we know it now. And it doesn’t matter what you think. Because we know.

You know, in the 60’s, it got really strange because…You know in the 60’s, one of my classmates said to me, “Why are you doing this? This is not your fight. You can pass.”

Now what he was talking about is, King was about to have a demonstration and I was planning on marching. and he said, “This is not your fight. You can pass.”

Well, I suppose I could pass, but why would I? Why would I pass and pretend to be white? I know, I’ve heard that there’s some white blood in my family. In fact, I heard that my grandfather was Irish but I never met the man. His name is not on any birth certificate. And I’m not even sure what the relationship was consensual since my grandmother never talked about it and my mother would not allow us to ask her about. So why would I want to pretend I was white? Why would I want to pretend I was white?  That this was not my problem? When I know that my uncle had a flat in Cicero and had to be very prayerful and hope that those young, white punks had enough sense to know that he didn’t want to be on their street changing his tire any more than they wanted him there.

Why should I pass? And, and, then ignored the truth to the humor that my other uncle used to say when he would talk about bringing my mother to work. And my baby sister wanted to ride. And once he dropped Ma off, she started crying. Oh, big wails. And he said, “Girl, you better hush up before somebody think I’m tryin’ ta steal some little white chil’.” And it was funny. People laughed every time he told this story. But if the reality, if that had happened, would they have believed that that little, light child with blond hair was his niece?

My family… all colors. We ranged from creamy-black to paper brown cafe au lait, paper bag, paper bag brown, mahogany, dark-black, blue-black. And it doesn’t matter if you think we were related or not. Because we are family and we love each other. We’re blood. Blood brought us together. But blood is not what keeps us together. Love binds us together. We don’t live in the same building anymore. We don’t even live in the same state. But when we get together, love fills the space.

Tewas Go Home

By Storyteller Eldrena Douma

Story Summary

A poster appeared and words were being spoken on the school yard. “Tewas Go Home”! After hearing these words from other students and seeing the poster at the Trading Post, she needed answers. In a state of confusion, Eldrena asked her Tewa-Hopi grandmother, Nellie Douma, what those words meant. Why would her Hopi relatives talk that way? Was this land that they lived on in Arizona not their homeland? Go home to where? These were the questions she could not answer on her own.

Eldrena had never felt uncomfortable about going to school or where she lived. But after hearing these words from other students and seeing posters at the Trading Post, she needed to find out answers. This way of talking confused and scared her. But after hearing the “hand me down story”, it gave Eldrena a sense of pride and taught her about integrity and keeping one’s word no matter how much time passes.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Tewas Go Home

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever heard of the Tewas from Arizona or New Mexico?
  2. Have you ever heard of Trading Posts? Do you know their purpose?
  3. Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable or scared because of your heritage?
  4. Do you know your family stories? Has a story ever given you a sense of empowerment?
  5. When you have questions that make you uncomfortable, who do you go to?
  6. How do you think Eldrena would have felt if she did not seek wisdom from her grandmother?

Resources:

  • Resistance to Acculturation and Assimilation in an Indian Pueblo, p 59 by Edward P. Dozier
  • Language Ideologies and Arizona Tewa Identity, p 350-351 by Paul V Kroskrity

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education & Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Housing/Neighborhoods
  • Identity
  • Language
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand & Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hello, my English name is Eldrena. My Tewa name is CooLu Tsa Weh. It means blue corn. I come from three Southwest Pueblo tribes in the United States. They are the Laguna, the Tewa and the Hopi. 

I would like to share with you a personal story that occurred many years ago. It was during a time of awakening for me. It empowered me and gave me a sense of pride and belonging. It was a gift that I realized, later on, that my Saiya, which means grandmother in the Tewa language, she gave me so many years ago. 

It happened when I was out on recess in the fourth grade. And all of a sudden, through the chattering and laughter, I heard, “Tewas, go home.” And I looked around, and I thought, “Why would somebody tell us to go home. School is still in session. If you go home, you could get in trouble.” So, I just didn’t pay attention. 

But then later on, when my grandmother and I, Saiya, we were walking down to the trading post. It was a long ways from our house. It took about a mile of walking, and we lived in desert country so it was very hot. And when Saiya and I got to the trading post, she took her pottery in to sell. And the owner determined how much that pottery would cost and give her an idea of how much she could spend on groceries or whatever else she needed. 

And as we were leaving the building, we started to walk up that long hill. Now remember, I said I was living in the desert country. So off to the left, there was, uh, sand that when you walked in it, it’s almost like it took you forever to go anywhere, so soft! And there were brush and cedar trees and not very many rivers or creeks. And if there were any, they were dry.  

My Saiya… when we were leaving I noticed on a wooden post, there was stapled… This post held the streetlight. We didn’t have very many. So, it kind of stood out like a blinking light. This poster and it said, “Tewas, go home.”  

I, I mentioned that to Saiya and I pointed it out to her. But when she read it, all she did was put her head down. She nodded; kinda made a sigh. And we walked on, but it would never leave me. They could never leave me, those words, I didn’t understand them. I was just a young girl, and so later on that evening, I brought it up again. I said, “Saiya, what does it mean by ‘Tewas go home?’ Isn’t this our homeland? Isn’t this where we come from?” 

And she said to me, Granddaughter, “I’m gonna tell you a story that has been passed down among our people for over hundreds of years. Now sit and, and I will speak it to you. 

A long time ago, there was a war that was called the Pueblo Revolt. And it happened where New Mexico is right now. That is where we Tewas came from. Now this war was not very good at the time. And when it ended, everything was peaceful. And so, our group of Tewas, our community, we were living with all the rest of the people.  

But then the Hopis, where we live today, they were being attacked by raiding tribes. And they needed help. They remembered us as a warrior tribe. And so, they came a long ways to seek us out. And when they found us, they asked us to come and help them. But it took them several vili…visits before we understood what they were asking of us. This was gonna be a long journey of our people of long ago. And when an agreement happened, and the Tewas said, “Yes, we will come,” we had to leave behind the rest of the Tewa people from many different Pueblos. And so, we journeyed to the west to go make our new home among the Hopis. And the job that we were given was to protect them.  

Now when the people came to the Hopi land there was one mesa that we came to. It is called First Mesa today, and on fa… First Mesa, there was only one village named Walpi. No other village was up there. It was high off the ground. The Spaniards used to call these things, uh, they call them today, mesas because they look like flat tables from a distance. And so, Walpi was on top of one of these mesas. Now, when the raiding tribes came, our people took care of them. It didn’t take long before they knew they were no longer going to keep attacking the Hopis because the Tewas were there now, and they were their protectors. 

Now before our people had traveled to this land of the Hopis, they were told that they would be given new land. And, um, they would be taught how to grow crops off the fields… in the fields, and, um, they would be given clothes to wear until they could make their own. 

Well, the Tewas thought that was gonna happen, but after a while, when everything started to settle down and no more fighting took place, the Hopis, um, started to rethink about what they had spoken. And instead of good land, they didn’t give us very good land. They didn’t take care of us at first very well. They didn’t give us food to eat that, that could nourish our bodies. And so, the Tewas began to think, “Well, maybe we need to move on. These Hopis are not keeping their word.” 

Well, somehow, they say, the Hopi men found out about this, and it worried them. So, there was a meeting that was called between the two groups. And the Tewas thought about it and they prayed about it. And in the end, they decided that the only way they were going to stay, there at First Mesa, something had to happen. And so, they dug a hole right in the middle, and they asked the Hopi leaders to spit inside that hole. The Tewas spit on top, and it was covered up. 

To this very day, there are rocks placed on top of each other to mark the spot. The Hopis asked, “Why was that done?” And they were told that the only way we would stay is from here on out, we will keep our word to never leave this land and to always be your protectors. But from here on out, you Hopis, even though we live side by side and we speak two different languages, you will never know our language. You will never know the ways of the Tewa.  

And so, you see, Granddaughter, even to this very day, that word is still true. Now in my young mind, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s just a story. How could that still be true even to this day? Because up high on the mesa, the, the Walpis lived on the southern end and they gave land, uh, to the northern end of the mesa. And in the middle, the people got married and they built their houses there. And there was a combination of Tewa and Hopis that lived in that middle village. How could they not learn each other’s language?” 

And then I remembered my aunt was married to one of my favorite uncles. And so, I went down, and I asked him. And I told him the story that Saiya said to me, and I said, “Uncle, is that true? You’re a Hopi man. You live with my aunt. She speaks Tewa and Hopi. Have you not learned anything from her?” 

And then he thought about it and he said, “Now, Drena, whenever we are in the house, and I’m in the house, and your relatives come to visit, what language is spoken?” 

I said, “Mmm, Tewa?”  (“Yes” or… I’m sorry, not Tewa) “Hopi.” 

“Yes, that’s right, Hopi. And so, when I leave, then what do they speak?” 

“Tewa.” 

“Um huh! So that is how they protect the language. As long as a Hopi is around, they do not speak Tewa. They speak the language of the Hopi, and me, I am not Tewa. So, I do not take part in anything that the Tewas do because that is not of my understanding, and it’s not for me. And that is why I don’t participate in the Tewa ways, in the ceremonies. Those are for your people, and I honor that.” 

Well, that story happened a long time ago. And all I remember is my Saiya, when she finished her story, she said, “Drena, you know these things happened so many years ago, over 100 years ago, hundreds of years ago but this story is still told. It’s told in words, and it’s told in song. One of these days, we old ones are gonna be gone. And this story has to live on. The people have to be reminded that no matter, no matter how many time, uh, passes that we have to remember that our word is kept. And our people remain strong. And even though we’re separated from the Tewas of New Mexico that our cultural identity still stays intact. And all of these things, Drena, I give to you to pass on and to carry and to continue to tell.” 

Being Black Enough: Bullying and Race Discrimination

By Storyteller Linda Gorham

Story Summary

In kindergarten, Linda dressed in green for St. Patrick’s Day, was told by a teacher, “My, my, I’ve never seen an Irish N-word before!” In 7th grade, Linda was told by her classmates, “You act white! You dress white! You have white people’s hair…” And then, the taunting began, “Linda is a white girl, Linda is a white girl!” It took Linda a long time to understand what it means to be Black.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Being Black Enough-Bullying and Race Discrimination

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did Linda’s father mean when he said, “You must be three times smarter to be equal”?
  2. How hard is it for a child to fit in when she moves around a lot?
  3. Was Linda bullied?
  4. What does it mean to be ‘Enough?’

Resources:

  • Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families by Lori L. Tharps
  • Colorism Poems by Sarah Webb
  • The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color in a New Millenium by Kathy Russell and Midge Wilson

Themes:

  • African Americans
  • Bullying
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Linda Gorham.

Do you remember Ben Carson? Ben Carson was the African-American surgeon who ran for president of the United States back in 2016. Well, during that time, Ben Carson made a statement about President Barack Obama. He said that Barack Obama was not black enough. Here are his reasons. He said Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii with his white grandparents. Ah, Barack Obama went to private schools and Barack Obama didn’t grow up poor and in the ghetto.

When I heard that I wanted to scream. I wanted to go and talk to Ben Carson myself. I wanted to say to Ben Carson really are you going to go there? Are you going to do what people have been doing for generations and take an entire race and determine what it means to be black? Are you going to do that to the President of the United States? Are you going to do that to me? Are you going to take me back to every time somebody told me I was not black enough? Because my grandparents didn’t live in the south? Or because I didn’t wear an afro or African clothing? Because I didn’t grow up poor? Are you going to label me, like so many others, because my black parents looked black and white? Or because of the way I speak? Or because of the way I fix my hair? I know it’s cliche but if I had a penny for every time somebody told me I was not black enough, I’d be rich. But who wants that kind of wealth?

My father was in the service and he was a career Army officer. And he always said, “You, Linda, the oldest child, you are the one that has to set the example for your sisters. You have to pay attention and respect your sisters and take care of your family.”

“Yes, sir.”

He would say to me, “You have to always make sure you get good grades and graduate college.”

“Yes sir.”

And then he would say to me, “Linda, remember you have to be three times smarter to be equal.”

“Three times smarter to be equal? Three times smarter than who, whom? Equal to whom?”

“Number Ones, Linda. Number Ones,” my father would say.

My father and my mother did not want us to use negative terms when it came to race. My father was a brown skinned African-American man. My mother was a white, light skinned African-American woman. When they got married in 1945, people thought their marriage was interracial. Something very taboo, something very unusual back then. And they were called many, many names. And they didn’t want us to grow up with that.

So white people were number ones. Black people were Number Twos. It was casual. Like if I said a white guy and a black guy. My father would say a number one and a number two. OK. Well, you know, what I said to my father, “Why can’t we be the number ones and they be the number twos?”

And my father’s answer was always the same, “That’s the way it is, Linda. That’s just the way it is.” He was in the service. We had traveled everywhere. That’s what you do when you’re a career Army officer. My father, I would say, with his travels, by the time I was 13, I had lived in seven houses, on two continents. I had traveled 17,000 miles, not vacation miles, moving miles. And I had attended five schools in three states. And that’s the way it was. And that’s the way it was going to be. Number ones. Number twos. We are number two.

I learned what it meant to be number two for the first time when I was in kindergarten. It was 1959 and we were in jur… in New Jersey. And it was St. Patrick’s Day and my mother dressed me all up in green. I had on a green shirt. I had a green plaid skirt on, it was wool and itI had vertical stripes. Nice, beautiful stripes. And I had green ribbons in my hair. And I went to school that day and another kindergarten teacher, not my own, looked me up and down said, “Well, my, my, my I have never seen an Irish nxxxx before.

When I got home that day, I was behind my mother when I said to her, “Mommy, what’s an Irish nxxxxx?”

My mother turned around so fast. She had two long braids that hung down her back. When she turned around, one of those braids whipped through the air and smacked her on the other cheek. She smashed out her ever-present cigarette. And with the words and the smoke, came her feelings she said, “Well, that will never happen again.”

The next day she took me to school as she always did. She gave me a kiss at my door and she went straight to the principal’s office. I would love to tell you that that teacher apologized. She didn’t. And my mother never mentioned the incident again until St. Patrick’s Day rolled around next year and every year after that. She would stick her head in my room and she’d say, “Remember, Linda, no green today not even a speck.”

I know what she was trying to do. My mother was trying to help. You have to learn to adjust when you move around a lot. You have to learn to adjust when you’re number two or three or four or whatever you are. In my case, that meant we moved, we made friends, we moved on. And that’s just the way it was. My mother would say, “Think of every move as an adventure.”

From my father, “Linda, make every move work. Be an example for your sisters. Be a soldier, make it work.”

“Yes sir.”

And I did. My early schools, I was the only black student in the school or one of a small handful. And I made it work. But seventh grade was an experience I will never forget. My father was shipped off to Vietnam. It was 1965. My sisters, my mother, and I were shipped up to New Jersey to live with my grandparents. Another school. So what? I was used to another school. I was ready for it. Make it work. And this school was right around the corner. I didn’t have to go far. And this school was 100 percent black. Number twos, my people. I’m ready… Right?

By the end of the first week, the girls in my class were calling me, “white girl.” And it wasn’t just the two words, “white girl,” it was the way they said it. As if those words burned on the insides of their mouths. And when they said those words, they had to spit them out to get them out. It was a roll of the eyes and a roll of the head. It was, (mocking huh and sound), “White girl.” And the taunting was relentless. “You dress white, you act white, you talk white, you think you are white.”

“No, no, I’m just like you. I’m not white. I’m not!”

“Sure you are.” (Sing-song mocking), “Linda is a white girl. Linda is a white girl.”

I was dying inside. How could I not make this one work? What could I do? I tried everything that I could think of. I wanted to tell my mother what was going on. But my mother…Well, my father was in Vietnam. My mother was living with her in-laws. She had enough on her plate. So, I told myself to buck it up and be a soldier and fight my own personal war. But after a point, I couldn’t stand it anymore. And I sat down with my mother. And as I told her everything, three months of tears came out of my eyes. I told her everything. The taunting, the harassment on the way home from school, the pushing, the shoving, the names, the glue in my hair, the threats to cut off my ponytail. “White girl.”

My mother said. “Oh, Linda. These girls have been together since kindergarten. They all know each other. You’re new. You’re the new person. The other schools you went to, they were used to having kids come and go. This school isn’t. Soon as they get to know you, it’ll be fine.”

“Can I transfer? Please. Anywhere.”

“No. It’s your school around the corner. You were assigned.” Now my mother went to school the very next day. My mother went to school many, many, many, many, many days. My mother even came to pick me up after school. But I’m going to tell you the truth. Seventh grade was hell.  The good news, my father came home from Vietnam and we moved again, another school. Thank goodness.

Now eighth grade was in a school that was almost all black. Not quite there yet. And I was fine. And then high school was the same way. But in high school, in 1967, well, the, the, the, the Black Panther movement was going and there was a lot of activism. And so, my classmates started wearing African clothing. They started wearing Afros. They started greeting each other by saying, “Habari Gana,” which is Swahili for “Hello.” I didn’t do that stuff. So, they started saying to me, “You’re not black enough.”

Not. Black. Enough.

Ok. Where do I fit in? Who am I? I thought I knew but it doesn’t seem like I’m fitting in anywhere. I needed a plan. I was not going to fight another war. So, I decided, OK, I will join clubs where I know some popular kids are and maybe that will help. And then I tried out for the cheerleading squad. Cheerleaders are popular, right? It took me two years to make it on the squad and that helped a lot.

In my junior year, some of my friends, friends, were calling me by another name. And I liked it, Bubbles.

Here’s my mother. “Bubbles?” (Blowing smoke from cigarette.) “Sounds like a stripper name to me.”

“Mom, no, it’s not a stripper name. They call me Bubbles because they like me. They say I have a bubbly personality.”

(Blowing smoke from cigarette.) “Still sounds like a stripper name to me.” But for me, it was the first time in so long that I was acknowledged but being the same me I had always been. I had friends. And by the way, in high school reunions, they still call me Bubbles.

But some wounds…some wounds run deep. It was 17 years before I wore green on St. Patrick’s Day again. I had graduated college. I had my first professional job in a corporation. And that St. Patrick’s Day morning, when I put on a green scarf, I felt a surge of power over that kindergarten teacher, over those seven grade girls, over those high school girls, and everybody in between who had called me ugly names.

I am black enough. I am Linda enough. I am enough.

My Japanese Parents’ Unromantic Marriage

by Storyteller Karin Amano

Story Summary

Karin never dreamed about marriage growing up because of her Japanese parents’ unromantic arranged marriage. But when her father had a severe stroke and fell into a profound state of dementia, her mother, who had very bad knees, struggled through her pain to go to the hospital every day for two months to teach him how to read, write, and talk again… until a miracle happened and Karin learned to appreciate her parent’s relationship.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My Japanese Parents’ Unromantic Marriage

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever observed your parents’ marriage style? What do you think is the secret of a successful marriage?
  2. Have you ever researched your family history? Are you interested in finding out about your parents’ childhood or your family roots?
  3. Did you find any cultural differences between Japanese and American cultures in Karin’s story?

Resources:

  • Japan-Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by Paul Norbury
  • Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida
  • My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhoods

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Karin Amano. I have been living in the U.S. for 26 years and I’ve been observing, uh, married American couples. And, uh, many of them meet each other, uh, when they are young, and get married, grow older together, but then they go different directions, and later, they divorce. But then, they meet the new partner and remarry.

And American married couples remain passionate towards each other even though they are middle aged. They kiss and hug, holding hands together, uh, unlike Japanese married couples. Uh, I never see my, my Japanese parents, uh, kiss and hug and holding hands together. Uh, many cases, Japanese couples marries and then they leave their relationship from, uh, deek… relationship behind to focus on their children. So, when I was young, I never, uh, dreamed of marriage growing up seeing my parents, uh, unromantic, arranged marriage.

Uh, well, my father used to tell me, “Well, when I was a about to meet your mom at the blind date set up my… by my relative, I expected that a pretty lady, uh, is showing up because I heard she was a student from, uh, Miss Bunka Fashion College. But when she showed up, I thought, ‘Wow! This woman has a unibrow!’ And I wasn’t attracted to her. But, um, my relatives are bugging me, saying, ‘Hey, you’re already 29. Why don’t you settle down!’ So, I reluctantly married your mom.”

So, uh… Well, my father was born in 1930, aa, as, uh, 10th child out of, uh, 11 children. He was smart and, um, handsome, very popular in his hometown. He went to a good college and he got the nice, nice job as a chemist at a big, a Japanese company. And, uh, at some point, he left his job and he started his, uh, own business, a shop for wrestling fans in Tokyo. And it was successful, so he became very wealthy.

And meanwhile, my mom was born in, uh, 1934. She was tall, and athletic, and very popular at school.  Uh, she learned uh, uh, dressmaking at a fashion college. And when she met, my mom, uh… my father at the blind date, she thought, “Okay, he’s an intelligent and handsome man so I’m going to marry him. That’s okay.” So, they got married.

And at that time, my father had a girlfriend. They used to dance together at the dance hall. And they loved each other but my father knew he was not allowed to marry her because she’s not from a good family and she didn’t go to a good school. So, my father chose to marry my mom. And, uh, before long, he got the, a job and then my parents moved to a bigger city. And then, you know, uh, uh, the… they’re doing okay.

Uh, well, when I was 9, I remember my father had an affair. Um, he went back to his hometown for a class reunion and ran into, uh, his ex-girlfriend. And he felt sorry for her and, uh, she seemed miserable so he had an affair. And my mother seemed to be upset, but she didn’t divorce him. And then, several years later, uh, he had another affair with a woman who was a con artist. Uh, uh, she swindled him for, um, I don’t know, tens of thousand dollars. And my mother still didn’t divorce him. She said that, well, he got let go by the company so, you know, his, uh, anxiety, uh, made him do such a thing. Yes.

And then, when they were 70s, my mother made friend with this woman who was in her, uh, early 60s. Also happened to be a con artist. And then, uh, yeah, my mother, yeah, my parents lost a half-million dollars, uh, for a fake investment. So, at the age of 70, 75, I forgot, uh, they lost everything – assets and houses! They were broke. My father was angry at my mom but he didn’t divorce her over it.

And when my father was 81, uh, my mother found him on the floor, lying down on the floor, in the middle of the night. He had a severe stroke so he was carried into the hospital and he was in a coma for 8 days.

Um, when I went back to Japan, when I flew back to Japan, uh, he woke up but he wasn’t himself anymore. He was like this and he didn’t recognize me; he didn’t recognize my mother. The doctor said, “Well, he had a severe stroke and, um, uh, majority of his brain was damaged, especially frontal lobe was damaged so he gets aggressive. His mental age, it could be as young, as little as two years old. And there’s no hope for the recovery.”

And I was in shock. I hadn’t introduced my, uh, baby girl (it’s his first grandchild) before his stroke so I, I, I brought the photo album of my baby girl and I show it to him. “Th, th… hey, Dad, this is your first grandchild.” And my father took it, threw it on the floor and look at somewhere else. And drooling and my mother was wiping him. And I had to flew back to Florida (because I had a full-time job) a week later. I told my doctor, “Uh, I think, well, for the past one week, I think a little by little, maybe my father is getting better.”

And the doctor said, “Huh, huh, no way! Can you hear him? He’s, uh, screaming? We have to tie him into the wheelchair and other patients cannot, uh, sleep. We have to put him in a psychia… psychiatric, uh, hospital for the rest of his life.”

My father loved to go outside, socialize, very intelligent, and smart; he has to stay in a psychiatric hospital for the rest of his life! I was sad and I cried but I had to go back to Florida.

And two months later, I had a dream of my father who, uh, got back to himself. I know that my mother here… for… had, uh, very bad knees, um, climbed down three flights to get outside from her apartment. Took, uh, two buses and climb up to the hills every single day for two months to teach my father how to read, how to write, how to make him remember who he was. I called my mother. “I, I just had this dream; how’s, uh, uh, my dad doing?”

And she said, “I was just gonna call you. He came to, back to himself. Now he recognizes me, and the doctor and the nurses. He can communicate, uh, and he’s going to be released from the hospital, uh, next week. Yes, his, uh, feeding tube was, tube was removed!”

So, I was so happy and, um, now we (he) can ride a bicycle, he go to library by himself, mm, to read his favorite history book. And, you know what? Um, several years later, my mom fell down at the, you know, uh, parking lot, at the grocery shopping. And nobody else was there, and she couldn’t, she couldn’t get up. And then, “Oh, no! somebody HELP!”

And guess who showed up like a Superman? That was my father! He was walking around and found my mother on the ground. So, he called the taxi and he took my mom to the hospital. So, actually, um, her hipbone was broken and, also, it was time, uh, to do her knee surgery. So, my mother was staying at the hospital for four months. And every single day, my father went to the hospital to take care of her.

So, my father right now is 87 years old; my mother is 83 years old. They still live together at their apartment. So, I guess, they’re not passionate towards each other like American couples but, I guess, some kind of love has been growing between them over fifty-three years.

Loss and Acceptance

By Storyteller Karin Amano

Story Summary:

Karin had been a practical Asian woman and everything, such as “going to America by age 24”, “being a professional actor by 31”, “finding a partner from match.com by age 37”, “getting pregnant by age 40”, had been happening exactly as she planned. A sudden stillbirth of her baby boy changed her view, and she overcame the grief through the help of storytelling at a support group, workplace, and in her Japanese blog.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Loss and Acceptance

Discussion Questions:

  1. If an unfortunate life event happened to you, how would you react to it? What is the best way to cope with emotions such as grief or anger?
  2. What do you think would be the best way to express sympathy to the person who just lost her unborn baby?
  3. How does storytelling help to heal people?

Resources:

  • Empty Arms: Coping with Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death by Sherokee Ilse
  • Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha W. Hickman
  • Something Happened: A Book for Children and Parents Who Have Experienced Pregnancy Loss by Cathy Blanford

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

 

Hi, my name is Karin Amano. Well, I had been a very practical Asian woman who plans out every aspect of her life, such as going to America by age of 24, and being a professional actor by age 31, finding a partner from Match.com from age 37. And getting married and pregnant with a baby girl by the age of 40, and keep my full-time job, saving money and purchasing a house by age of 43.

So, in order to find my Mr. Right, uh, I had to write down 12 criteria that I was looking for my future partner. And after being on Match.com for three years, I finally found my partner who met all my requirements in my list. He was a college professor so we exchanged, uh, term paper-like emails for two weeks and two-hour telephone interview. And, finally, we decided to meet at the fancy Japanese restaurant. And we immediately fell in love with each other and we decided to marry. Yes.

Well, actually, eh, it took, you know… we, uh, dated for a year and then move in together the next year. And the test period has done, so 40 years old, we had a wedding. Ah, we did, uh, the Japanese traditional style wedding wearing kimonos and also a Jewish style wedding under chuppah, uh, wedding canopy.

And now, so we get married at age 40, and so I plan that, okay, we’re gonna have a baby, okay. In 10 months, I’ll give, uh, birth to a baby girl and then two months later, I will go back to work. Yes. And there right after our, uh, traditional Jewish wedding, I got pregnant, yes. And, yes, 20 week, weekth of pregnancy, I found that, uh, the baby was not a girl, so I was disappointed because it was not my plan. But anyway w… my husband and I decided to name the baby Kentaro, uh, which means the first healthy boy, in Japanese. And, uh, 28 week of my pregnancy, I was ready to go to, uh, take my very first maternity swimming class but I noticed that I hadn’t felt any baby kick. So, well, I al… you know, I’s… I called the doctor’s office and the nurse told me to come to the office immediately, so I did. And my doctor, who was moving the ultrasound probe, she said, “I, I cannot find a heartbeat!”

And I couldn’t figure out what she meant and she said, “I’m so sorry.” She continued, “Um, six days ago, your baby’s heartbeat was perfect. I don’t know what happened, uh, since then. I’m so sorry. Your baby didn’t make it but you have to deliver the baby tonight.”

So, I was put in a wheelchair although I was super healthy, um, carried into a beautiful hospital room with a great view of green trees and, uh, hills. And I was gonna have very happy delivery in less than a couple months. And a few hours later, my husband arrived. He looked very sad. And then, uh, the nurse started inducing me, and soon I started having a fever and shivering. I felt very, very cold and, uh, also pain whole my body and hallucinations for nine hours. And, finally, at 3:13 a.m., my baby boy Kentaro came into the world. He looked very beautiful. Of course, he was smaller than the full-term baby but cute face, fuzzy hair, long legs and arms, tiny fingers and tiny toes. He just looked like, as if he was just sleeping. And our nurse, who also had experience of stillbirth, was very sweet to us. And, uh, she dressed Kentaro in a cotton onesie and a hat. She took our, uh, family photo and got his footprint, wrote his name, birth weight and birthday on the card. And (s)he let us spend, uh, family time for several hours until she came to pick him up. And, um, that was the last chance say goodbye to Kentaro forever.

And then the next day, we came, uh, back to our home and when we saw the baby shower gifts on the table, we cried. When I looked at myself in the mirror with a flat belly, I cried. My husband and I sat together on the couch and just kept crying. And later that night, I got, uh, lots of phone calls from my friends and co-workers. And, um, I thanked them for their phone calls but I was troubled by what they said. And I played out in my mind what I really wanted to respond. It’s like this:

“Karin, you always wanted a baby girl, right, so you think about it, it’s just a rehearsal. Next one’s gonna be okay.”

“Well, you mean that the… Kentaro was just a rehearsal? Nobody can be, uh… replace Kentaro.

“Yeah, Karin, everything happens for a reason.”

“Then please give me the reason.”

“Are you coming back to work in a, a few days?”

“Well, it takes the same amount of time as the regular, uh, recovery time for the regular delivery.”

“You know, my friends and I were talking about you. I, we think that, yo… your eggs are too old. You know, you’re 40 years old, you know.”

“When did you become a medical researcher?”

“You know, uh, what are you going to do if the baby was worn… born with a big health problem. It’s gonna be so hard for you to raise him like that so it was a good thing that it happened, uh, now before he was born.”

“So, you mean that it was a good thing that he died now.”

“You know, I know that, you know, they meant well and tried to cheer me up. And I could have been one of them, you know, try to cheer up and saying the way wrong word. Uh, who could imagine, uh, you know, have to deliver the baby with very short notice knowing that the baby is coming into world without crying, without opening his eyes, uh, you know. And all the future, which was made around the baby, disappears. You know, holidays, next year, in five years, in ten years, the future suddenly disappears. So, I try to keep myself busy – next month and two months. And I remember my Japanese mother. When I called her, you know, I needed some nice words from her. She was very negative.

And she said, “Oh, I cannot believe you named the baby before he was born. You shouldn’t have done that. Ah, I, I think you worked too hard. I cannot believe you spent some time with a dead baby.”

And I said to her, calmly, “Mom, uh, could you please, um, uh, try not to say you shouldn’t have done that, something like that. You know, I was so glad that I named him. I can always talk to him in the heaven and he will like that.”

And there was a silence and then my mother said, “I, I told you this before, long time ago, I lost my baby boy right before the due date and I, I didn’t get to see him. Your dad and your grandma saw him but they was… they’re worried that if I could be devastated and in shock. But I was always wondering how he would look. Maybe I should have seen him.” Well, since then, she stopped giving me, uh, negative comments.

And, meanwhile, I started attending… my husband and I started attending a support group and the facilitator also lost a baby 30 years ago. And each of us, very diverse group, uh, Asian Jewish, Hispanic couples, British couples, American couples (there are five of us) started telling the story of our loss. And, uh, we really were helped telling our story, feeling each other. And, also, I wrote my blog and so many people gave me the comment that they are really helped to go through the grief process.

When a Japanese City Person Moves into a Small Town in America

By Storyteller Karin Amano

Story Summary:

Five years ago, when Karin moved to a small town in the Midwest after previously living in Tokyo, New York City and Orlando, Florida she worried at first about fitting in but was glad to find that people seemed overall friendly and open-minded. Very recently, however, she had a troubling encounter with racism and told her story to her friends (one Caucasian and two African American sisters) in town as well as her Jewish husband and got very different responses.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  When a Japanese City Person Moves into a Small Town in America

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you lived in a small town in the U.S.? If so, how was the racial ratio in that town? How often did you see minorities there and what did you think about different groups? How were your parents talking about them?
  2. What would you do if your friends were making fun of people who belong to a minority group?
  3. What do you think can be done to make your community more welcoming to people from different backgrounds?

Resources:

  • Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White by Frank H. Wu
  • Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, Updated and Revised Edition by Ronald Takaki

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Housing/Neighborhoods
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Travel Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Karen Amano. I grew up in the suburb of Tokyo so I was a city girl. And every time I went to my grandpa’s place in the countryside, uh, I felt lonely and, uh, scared, uh, looking at the sky melt with the stars. I wanted to go back home quickly, to the high-rise buildings and stores and the shop.

And, uh, I moved to New York City when I was, uh, 24. I had su… suitcase, you know, by myself and I didn’t feel much difference from being in Tokyo. New Yorkers walk fast like Tokyo people and there are buildings and shelters, store so, um, I really loved there. And then I stayed there for eight years until I was hired by, uh, a theme park company in Orlando, Florida and moved down there. Very first night, I couldn’t sleep in Orlando because it was so quiet. Ha, in New York City, uh, sirens and construction noise were my lullabies but I ended up, uh, staying in Orlando, Florida for 13 years. I had lots of international friends both in New York and Orlando.

And, um, 2012, my husband got a job offer in a small town in Midwest, only 2,400 people live. And, uh, it was a, uh… his position was Academic Dean at the Christian affiliated college. Uh, so, I’m Asian and he’s Jewish so, uh, he wrote the letter to the, uh, search committee, uuh, to make sure if it’s okay that he is a Jewish and his wife is Japanese and a Shinto believer. And search committee says, “Oh, no problem. They are very open-minded.”

So, after a couple telephone interviews, Skype session, both of us were invited to the campus interview, and finally he got a job. And then, um, it was gonna be a great career move for him and, uh, financially, it will help us so I should have been happier.

But I was concerned. Um, is there any racism in a small town in America because, uh, my Japanese friends told me their experiences in a small town. One of my Japanese friends said that, uh, nobody sat next to her at her local church and so she couldn’t make any friends until she moved to Orlando, Florida. So, we moved and, uh, despite my worries, everybody was open-minded and sweet, sincere and kind. So, um, yeah, I was okay for five years.

And, uh, last week, um, I was walking my chihuahua and my eight-year-old daughter. Um, I, uh, broke my ankle a couple of months ago so, uh, we took just a leisurely stroll. And we are trying to go to the local park. And there are… the swings were occupied by four teenagers, two tall boys, and two girls and a toddler they’re looking after, wandering around them. So, okay, it’s occupied.

“Well, let’s go.” Uh, we kept walking and we were at the parking lot right next to the playground.

I heard a loud voice saying, “Look at the Asians in the parking lot. Shinko shonka chango ja. Ha ha ha ha ha!”

“Are they talking about us?” I wasn’t sure but no other Asians actually in that town. I know only four other Asians who work at the Chinese restaurant. Okay. Uh, I wanted to ask them, “Are you talking about us?” But it was 6 p.m., getting darker, and three-pound chihuahua, me with broken ankle and eight-year-old girl, to approach them, I, I was not sure I could… it would safe. So, we went back home and, uh, my daughter and I are talking about racism. So, I told her, “You know, they made, uh, fun of us because we look different from them.”

And, uh, we ran into my husband who just got back from work. And I told him about what happened and he was furious. He said, “I have no tolerance for racists. Let’s go back there and talk to them.”

Now his grandpar… uh, grandparents, were, uh, jailed and exiled from Germany by Nazis. So, uh, you know, we got in a car and went back there but they’re already gone. And then the next day, my husband said, “Okay. Well, let’s hunt them down. Give me the dis, discrati… description of the teenagers, you know, and then we’ll talk to them before it’s too late.”

But I said, “Well, well, I don’t know. Maybe they’re not talking about us. It… well, if it happens again, um, we’ll talk to the principal. If they go to the same school as my daughter, go there. You know, school has K-12 in a single building and we can start from there.”

My husband said, “Are you sure?”

I said, “Yeah, I’m sure.”

And then the next day, my daughter had a playdate with a little boy at the same playground. So, uh, the boy’s father and I were chatting and I told him about what happened the day before.

And he started laughing. “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, yeah! Yeah and I… yeah, they’re good teenagers and wild teenagers in this town. You know, they could pick on me.”

And I said, “But wait, okay, you’re a Caucasian and, um, well, uh, they wouldn’t pick on you because of your skin color or the language you speak, or where you’re from, uh, you know.”

And then, he said, “Ah, okay, well, that’s right.”

“Well, they do that and, ss… influence other kids, including the toddler. They start copying their… “

“Ha, yeah.”

And then I also told the story to my neighbor who’s, uh, African-American lady. She’s, uh, around 50 years old. And her reaction was, “Um huh! Ah, they’re a lot of racism going on in this town; I didn’t want to move here. Look at the flag, Confederate flag on there, on the house, you know.”

And, uh, she also has a sister, uh, living across the street and she’s, like, a mid-40. And I also told her about this story and she said, “Yeah, yeah. I was called names at schools and, uh, you know, we have interracial marriage. My husband is, uh, white. Still, we’re walking a street, you know, teenagers make fun of us. And since I have the darkest skin, they make fun of me very loudly. I wanted to talk them back but if I do that, you know, they will stereotype me as an angry, uh, black woman. So, I just keep my mouth shut and my husband start preaching to that because he’s very religious. And, also, my daughter was bullied from the second grade to the

fourth grade. There’s a bullying group and she made fun of her not having, uh, straight hair. She cried every day. And I said, ‘I’m going to talk to the teacher and a principal.’ But she begged me not to do that because that will worsen the situation. Well, at the end, the leader of the bullying group moved to another, uh, town so it stopped. So, she’s okay.”

And so, I, I didn’t know that the racism happening in this town. And, uh, my daughter’s school has the zero-bullying policy. It looks very peaceful. Where have I been – five years? And I realized, oh, yeah, I didn’t feel fit in a small town, I, I didn’t feel like belong to here so tha… that’s why I was out of town a lot for, uh, gigs. Or going to Japan, other states, um, or staying in, working from home and barely talk to anybody else besides my, uh, husband and daughter.

But since I got the dog, I started walking in town lately. And I encountered this racism experience, um, so I thought, “What can I do? Oh, yeah. Instead of going to the other town, I, I should tell the story about, uh, my culture and, uh, Japanese folk tales at a local library and, uh, my daughter’s school. You know, because the, the parents… if the parents don’t, uh, teach their kids about other races, that they exist, who else can teach them. Uh, we need to educate each other so the children see me and they’ll start accept, oh, yeah, other race. And this type of folktale happens, yeah.”

And one more saying. I told the story to my Muslim professor friend and she said, “Yeah, well, racism often comes from ignorance so we need to educate each other.”

So, at the college, I plan to do more, uh, cultural presentations. So, that’s what I learned moving into small town life. You’ve heard my story. What was your reaction?

Chester Parker: Connecting–or Not–In a Time of Desegregation

By Storyteller Priscilla Howe

Story Summary

An African-American boy named Chester Parker helped Priscilla Howe feel less afraid in first grade. When their paths crossed years later, she missed the chance to connect with him again.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   Chester Parker-Connecting–or Not–In a Time of Desegregation

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you remember the first time you were in an unfamiliar place with diverse groups of people? Did you feel scared, shy and out of place? Did anybody help you feel more included, or did you help anybody else feel more included?
  2. How do you feel when friends or family tease you?
  3. Have you ever missed a chance to make a real connection? What do you think Priscilla could have done differently? How do you think this experience changed her?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

My name is Priscilla Howe and this story is called Chester Parker.

I was bused across town to my first day of first grade, in 1967, in Providence, Rhode Island. I went with my big sister, Deb, and she held my hand as we walked into the brand-new school. We went into the big, white room called the cafeteria. I’d never heard that word before. And it was full of kids. There were white kids and black kids, and kids who spoke Portuguese, the kids were from the Azores. And there were kids everywhere and they were all really excited. And I was scared and I was shy and I felt out of place. The teachers were calling off names from long lists. Deb heard her name called and she went off to her class. And I heard my name called but I was scared, so I didn’t answer. I just stood there and I waited ’til they gathered us all up, and took us to our classrooms.

In my classroom, in first grade, there was a boy named Chester Parker. Chester Parker. He was he was a wiry, black boy with big teeth, big teeth. He, he was funny. He was smart. He was curious. He was a bad boy. Not a bad, bad boy, just a clown. He was always talking. We were supposed to be quiet. And oh, but you know, he would do things like they’d give us paste on pieces of, little squares of paper. And well, we all ate that paste, tasted like spearmint, and and, he, he put his on his chin like a beard.

And one day, one day, Chester Parker went around to everyone in the class and said, “Is jackass a swear? Is jackass a swear? Is jackass a swear?”

And when it came to me I said, no. Because I didn’t know what a jackass was and I didn’t know what a swear was either. He, he noticed me. I wasn’t invisible. And that one day, in line on the way to the lavatory, I never heard that word before either, Chester Parker kissed me…on the cheek. And I liked him. I liked him. I talked about him.

At home, I talked about what he’d done the day before, what he did that day, what he might do the next day. Oh, and that was a mistake. Not because he was black, no, because he was a boy. It was automatic. My brothers and sisters started in, “Priscilla and Chester Parker sitting in a tree.  K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

It would make me so mad! How they teased me. They teased me. I walk into a room and my brother, Tommy, would say, “Chester Parker.”  Oooo! In fact, Tommy teased me about Chester Parker for a long time. Longer than Chester Parker was even in my life, ’cause he moved to another school.

After quite a while, my brothers and sister stop teasing me about Chester Parker. And I forgot about him until the summer after sixth grade. I went to church camp, the Episcopal Church Camp. And I was still scared. And I was still shy. Still felt out of place, a lot. And I was in the dining hall with a bunch of kids. I was kind of on the edge of this group of kids. And the door opened, and a big, big group of kids came in. They weren’t from our camp. They were kids who had been bused in just for the day, for the morning, and then lunch. I guess to give them a, a break from their lives in the projects, in Providence, And I looked up, and in that in that group of kids, there he was. Chester Parker. I recognize those teeth anywhere.

I ate my lunch and I kept kind of looking at him out of the corner of my eye. I wanted to go up and say, “Hey, Chester Parker, how are you? Chester Parker.” But I didn’t. I was too scared. I went outside and I waited outside, outside, the door of the dining hall. And after a bit, that group of kids came out. They had to go back home. And they walked right past me. Chester Parker looked at me. He looked me right in the eye. I don’t know, maybe he knew me.

They got on, they got on their bus. I watched that bus go down the dusty road. And I wished.  I wished I’d said something. I wished I’d said, “Chester Parker.” I wished I had made a connection with him, across that time. A connection across all of those lines of time and race and class and group. And I don’t know why I didn’t. Wish I had. Because I remembered that curious boy, who helped me feel not quite so shy, not quite so scared, not quite so out of place. Those years ago, that boy, that curious boy who asked that puzzling question, “Is jackass a swear?”

Arriving in Bulgaria: Overturning Assumptions in the Communist Era

By Storyteller Priscilla Howe

Story Summary

When Priscilla Howe traveled to Communist Bulgaria in the 1980s, she found herself in a difficult situation. She found help from a Bulgarian man who reminded her to look beyond appearances.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Arriving in Bulgaria-Overturning Assumptions in the Communist Era

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you think of a time when your assumptions about someone based on appearance were proved wrong?
  2. What do people assume about you based on what you look like? Are they right?
  3. Have you ever been helped by someone unexpected?
  4. Do you know the expression “pay it forward”? Have you ever done that?

Resources:

  • http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-feffer/remembering-the-calm-life_b_2671955.html
  • http://www.clarkhumanities.org/oralhistory/2006/1283.htm

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

My name is Priscilla Howe. I was on a train pulling into Sofia, Bulgaria in 1983. I had been traveling from Belgium, all the way across Europe, to Bulgaria. It took three days and that was not just a journey of, of time but it was a journey of political systems. Because I was going to a communist country to study the language for a year.

One of the things I love about traveling is that it makes you challenge your assumptions about who people are by… based on what they look like. So that’s what happened on this trip. I was on this train. I had… when I bought my ticket, I didn’t realize that I was going to be coming into Sofia at 1:00 in the morning on a Saturday morning. I didn’t realize that.

And I was… the train was pulling into the station and this guy was talking to me. He had a gold tooth and rumpled clothes and he was old. I mean he was at least 35. And he was a little more curious about me than I was comfortable with. He was talking to me in German because I looked German, but I’m not. And I was talking to him in my best Bulgarian, which was not very much at all but I did understand him. His name was Roman. I understood that he said that his name was Roman. And I understood him when he said, “You have nowhere to go. Come home with me.”

And I was exhausted. I’d been on that train for so long. I stood up for eight hours going through Yugoslavia because there was no space to sit down. I was exhausted and so, I said, “Yes.”

I went with him. I had all of my belongings for a year in the cab. We put them in the trunk. All the way to his apartment, I was thinking, “Oh. Crap, crap, crap. What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I going to do? I can’t jump out. All my stuff for the year is in the back of this cab. I can’t jump out.”

We went to Lyulin, which is a housing development that has 10,000 people. And every building looked like every other building. There were huge cement block buildings. We got out of the cab. Roman took one of my bags and I took my other bags. And I walked next to him up to the apartments. We went inside. We went up the elevator. And I was trying to remember my 10th grade personal self-defense classes. I was trying to remember if I had anything that could possibly be a weapon if I needed it. We went up to the door of his apartment and rather than taking out his keys, he rang the doorbell. He rang the doorbell! Somebody else was there. His wife opened the door.

His two kids got out of bed. His father got out of bed. And we all sat up and ate stew and bread for quite a while after that. Oh, you need to know this was dangerous for them. In a communist country at that time, that they were not allowed to have Americans stay in their apartments without, without proper permission. I was supposed to be registered with the police every night I was in the country. If they’d been caught, Roman and his family, Roman could have been fined and maybe he would have gone to jail.

Well, it was a Saturday morning, early in the morning. They insisted that I stay until Monday morning. That was dangerous for them. But we hid my bags so that the neighbors wouldn’t rat us out. And on Monday morning, he helped me find out… find where I needed to go. He showed me how to use the, the bus and the tram, the trolley. Showed me where to change, change money. He helped me find out where I had to go. And he and his wife had invited me back to come visit any time.

So, my first impression of him, which was he was kind of questionable. I was wrong. Roman, Roman was the first person to welcome me to Bulgaria on that trip and such a kind man. Such a kind welcome I received. So, I love the way that travel can turn your assumptions about how people are based on how they look, can turn those assumptions upside down.

Sagebrush Santa: Christmas, 1942 in the Minidoka Internment Camp

by Storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung

Story Summary

Five-year-old Kiyoshi, tries his best to make sense of his world which has been turned upside down since Japan attacked a place called Pearl Harbor. Since his father was taken away, he has had to leave his home, and spend the summer in a horse stall in the big city of Portland, Oregon. He has gone on his first train ride ever and has ended up near Twin Falls, Idaho in a place called Minidoka. It is Christmas Eve, 1942 and Santa will be coming soon.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Sagebrush Santa-Christmas, 1942 in the Minidoka Internment Camp

Discussion Questions:

  1. You are sent to a remote location with no access to stores, schools, or libraries.  You are away from most of your friends and are forced to stay in one place.  There is no cell phone service, internet connection, and electricity is unreliable.  What would you do to keep from being bored?
  2. Suppose that everyone in your class who wore the color purple on a particular day are told to go stand in one part of the room and everyone else are to stand in another part of the room.  You are now told that those in the purple group are bad and are not to be trusted.  Your best friend is in the purple group.  How do you feel?
  3. Under what circumstances does the Government have the right to put people in jail without trial as they are suspected or have the potential of doing something wrong?
  4. Christmas is coming and you have no money to buy gifts nor are there stores nearby, and mail delivery is unreliable.  Yet you want to give presents to your family.  You have access to wood, paper, string, paint, rocks, glue, some desert plants, sand, some tools, and lots of time.  What gifts would you make for your family?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Alton Takiyama-Chung. A few years ago, I went on a pilgrimage to Minidoka Relocation Center near Hu… Twin Falls, Idaho along with other members of the Japanese-American community from Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. That’s an annual event that happens about every June. And it includes a tour of the site as well as side trips to the local attractions and the sharing of memories and personal experiences. I listened to the stories of these people who were children incarcerated in the camp. I asked a lot of questions and did more research. And I wrote this story about what it would be like to be a child far away from home, the first Christmas in a place called Minidoka.

The morning rains had turned the paths and roads into muddy swamps. By evening, the mud was covered over with a blanket of snow that softened the outlines of the towers and the buildings. The snow just glistened and glittered in the moonlight and to five-year-old Kiyoshi, he thought that this was… made the perfect Christmas picture.

In the high desert of southern Idaho, in the winter of 1942, Kiyoshi sat in the wi… Mess Hall of Block 7 squirming with anticipation. His older brother and older sister went off with their friends and his mother, his Okasan, was in the, in the barracks resting ’cause she had been doing laundry all day. But it was Christmas Eve and Santa Claus was coming.

Now, about a year ago, there was an attack in a place called Pearl Harbor. And shortly after that, these men in suits and the, and this big car came and took Kiyoshi’s father, his Otosan, away. That made Kiyoshi and his whole family very sad. And that’s when a cold, empty space opened up in Kiyoshi’s stomach. He missed his Otosan; he missed his father, the way that he would tousle his hair and call him Kiyoshi-chan, or little Kiyoshi.

Then came these things called curfew, which made people scurry around after the sun went down. And then there were these things called blackouts in which everything went dark.

But the thing that his mother feared the most was this thing called evacuation. When that came, Kiyoshi’s mom and his older brother and older sister, they packed whatever they could in the suitcases. They moved out of their house and into a horse stall at the Exposition Center in the big city of Portland, Oregon. Aw, it was hot and stinky and, aw, just horrible in this horse stall. Kiyoshi couldn’t understand why they just couldn’t go home. And then came the day when people gave them little pop… paper tags with the same number on it.

The whole family had to wear this little paper tag. And they were herded out of the horse stalls and onto a train guarded by these big soldiers with big guns. They went on this train over the mountains where they were herded out of the trains and onto buses. And they’re taken to their new home of wood and tarpaper shacks and dust. This’s the first time Kiyoshi had ever been on a train. It’s the first time he’d ever been out of the state of Oregon. It was also the first time he’d ever seen a barbed wire fence.

When they first arrived in Minidoka, there was no heat in the barracks. They’re only cold-water showers. The dust just kinda blew in through cracks around the windows and doors and through the walls. And the outside toilets were freezing cold, and often Kiyoshi would be woken in the middle of the night by the fussing of the baby at the far end unit of the barracks. At least now, they had hot water, and Kiyoshi could make it from the showers to his unit in the barracks without icicles forming in his hair.

As Christmas approached, Kiyoshi began to worry and he asked his Osakan, his mother, “Uh, will Santa be able to get a pass to get through the front gate? Do you think Santa will be able to make it through the small chimney of the stove in our, in our unit? Do you think the guards will shoot the reindeer if they get too close to the fence?”

His mother said that she didn’t know but she was pretty sure the guards wouldn’t do anything to hurt Santa Claus. And then Tommy, Kiyoshi’s best friend who was seven, who knew everything, said, “Ah, no, Santa Claus and reindeer, they’re magical! They can go anywhere.”

Kiyoshi watched the snowflakes drift past the window outside and got excited all over again. He looked into the mess hall and there he could see that the, the wait staff and the cooks dressed in their finest. They just served a beautiful turkey dinner. And someone had, had painted the nativity scene on one of the walls and the whole room was decorated in crepe paper streamers and tin can stars. Someone even brought in a, a sagebrush and decorated it with tinfoil and, and cotton ball snow – a Christmas tree. There was even a Christmas wreath made of wood shavings, and Christmas carols were playing very softly on a small radio. You see, in camp, you didn’t celebrate Christmas just with your family but with all the families of your block.

And, suddenly, then the door slammed open and someone began shouting. Kiyoshi immediately thought of the men who had come to take his Otosan away, his father. He dove under the table, clapped his hands over his ears, and shut his eyes. He didn’t see that the man who was coming in was dressed in a red suit, had a long, red hat, and a white beard. What he saw were the men in the suits taking his Otosan away while he’s dressed in his pajamas. He didn’t hear the man shout out, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” What he heard was his mother weeping.

All the other children gathered around Santa Claus as he sat down his sack and began handing out presents. Then, suddenly, someone touched Kiyoshi on his shoulder. It was his best friend, Tommy, “Kiyoshi, there you are! Santa Claus is here and he brought presents!”

Kiyoshi climbed out from under the table, saw this man dressed in this rumpled, red suit and a cotton ball beard who was gesturing to him. “Aw, Kiyoshi-chan, aw, aw, I’ve got a present for you!”
“A present? For me?”

“Aw, Reverend Townsend and Shigeko Uno had written letters to all these churches across the United States telling them about the situation here in camp and I have presents for all the children here in Minidoka. And I picked this one out just for you.”

And he handed Kiyoshi this oddly-shaped object dressed… wrapped in brilliant red paper and green ribbons.

“And, I, I know it’s hard with your Otosan, your father, away. But Kiyoshi-chan, do you know this Japanese word, gaman? It means to bear, to carry on, to not complain. We must adjust to the new situation. We must prove to everyone else that we are Americans first, ne? Wakade mas ka? Do you understand?”

“Hai! Wakade mas. I understand.”

“Aw, very good. Aw, now, I must go and deliver presents to all the other children in all the other mess halls. Now remember, gaman, Merry Christmas!”

And he was gone. Kiyoshi looked down at his present; he wasn’t forgotten. Santa remembered. Santa still cared. And he began to unwrap his present as all the other children, all the people in the mess hall began filing out ’cause the camp choir was singing Christmas carols outside in the snow.

And what emerged from the wrapping paper was this toy wooden truck. And Kiyoshi felt his chest tightened. It reminded him of that old truck that his father used to carry groceries from their farm into the markets in Portland. That small, cold, empty space in Kiyoshi’s stomach opened up and threatened to swallow him down.

Gaman. How could he carry on? He was just a little boy. He missed his father. He just wanted to go home. Tears began rolling down his cheeks. And he didn’t hear the door open up behind him while the footsteps approaching him.

“That is a beautiful truck you have there, Kiyoshi-chan.”

Kiyoshi turned around and looked at this man, gray hair, glasses. Who was this man? He didn’t recognize him until he reached out and tousled his hair. “Otosan! Father!”

And suddenly he was in his father’s arms smelling his smell. Aw, and that cold, empty spot just melted away and was replaced with this glowing warmth that make his whole body tingle.

“Father, how? When?”

“Aw, they let me go, Kiyoshi-chan so I could be here with all of you. Come! Let’s go outside and, and listen to the choir!”

So, hand-in-hand, they went outside but Kiyoshi couldn’t see so his father picked him up, put him up on his shoulders, and Kiyoshi balanced there with one hand on his father’s hat and one around his new toy truck. These three Army flatbed trucks have been pulled up in a “U” and the camp choir was standing on the trucks being led by Mae Hara, who the camp… the choir director. She had a baton with a little light on the end of it and she was leading them in Christmas carols.

And to five-year-old Kiyoshi balancing there his father’s shoulders, he knew that he could carry any weight, bear any burden. Gaman. To him, it was the best Christmas ever.

Exotic Food: The Legendary Origin of a Chinese American Dish

by Storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung

Story Summary

People from all over the world came to America in the 1850s in search of riches during the California Gold Rush.  Many young Chinese men immigrated to America to earn money to support their families in China.  They experienced discrimination and violence, and could only live in specially designated areas, which became locally known as Chinatown.  Chinese food was considered to be “exotic” by the Lo Fan or White people.  This story follows one of the legends surrounding the origins of a popular Chinese American dish.  No one knows when or where the dish was invented and that makes for a good myth.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   Exotic Food-The Legendary Origin of a Chinese American Dish

Discussion Questions:

  1. You have just arrived in a new country by yourself and are unfamiliar with the language or culture.  You must find a place to stay, food to eat, and a job to earn money.  What do you do?
  2. What is your favorite food?  Is there a special way you like to have that dish prepared?  What country or culture did that dish come from?  What food makes you most think of home?  How does it make you feel when you eat it?
  3. When did your ancestors first immigrate to the US?  Where were your ancestors born?  What did your grandfather and grandmother do for a living?  Where did your father and mother grow up?  In what cities have you lived?
  4. Why do you think the Chinese Americans had some fun feeding the white people leftovers? How does humor help relieve stress when people are being oppressed?
  5. You have travel to another country, can not speak the language, and have become separated from your parents.  You are lost and have no money.  What do you do?  How would you like people to treat you?  What would you like them to do for you?

Resources:

  • Chinese Immigrants in America: An Interactive History Adventure by Kelley Hunsicker.  2008.  Capstone Press, Mankato, MN.
  • The Gold Rush: Chinese Immigrants Come to America (1848 – 1882) by Jeremy Thornton.  2004.  PowerKids Press, New York
  • snopes.com/food/origins/chopsuey.asp Chop Suey Origins

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Alton Takiyama-Chung. And this story, some people believe it’s true. You choose, you decide for yourself.

Hi, my name is Ming Wah. 1850’s or so, when Chinese began creating restaurants, yah, in America, Lo Fan, Westerners, white people thought, oh, Chinese food was exotic. So, I’m going to tell you this story, my restaurant friend told me about a famous Chinese American dish. Maybe true…hmm…maybe not. But, hey, good story.

I guess around 1850 Chinese can come into America in large numbers. See, in China this time is the revolution. Things, the whole country, was in ruins. Taiping Rebellion. People rising up against the government. There’s no work. And then in the South-eastern part China, all around Toisan District and ’round Canton. Lots of rain, flooding. Oh, people cannot even grow food. People starving. No chance for good life in China. Then, they hear about Gam Saan, Gold Mountain, America. See, gold was discovered in a place called Sutter’s Mill, California, 1848. People from all over the world come to America to get rich. In America, maybe chance for good life.

Whole families get together, pool money, buy one ticket, send one young man to America. One young man sail from Canton, China, cross Pacific Ocean, all the way to San Francisco, California. They hope maybe they find gold or get money. Send money back to China support the family. They think maybe work, three, maybe five years, and then come back. Some people in California, some people found gold, got rich, went back to China. Most, um, not. ‘Cause people, they had to deal with not only different culture but different language. And, also, Chinese had to pay special Foreign Miners Tax, four dollars a month. That’s about as much gold as you normally find in a month! Oh! And on top of that, people get beaten. They get, they get robbed. They get, even sometimes, killed! Oh! Some give up, go back China. Me? I stay. I still got family back in China I gotta send money to.

So, in China at this time, also, got, ah, alien land laws in the United States so Chinese cannot own land. Cannot vote. And we cannot live just about any place we like. Could only live in places specially designated, away from the Lo Fan, away from the white people. But wherever they are allowed to live, that becomes Chinatown.

Chinese, they open up stores, they open up restaurants, they open up laundries. Me? I got a job in store. We sell vegetables and fruits from nearby farms. Me, I keep the best vegetables, the best fruit for my restaurant friend. He tell me, “Oh, you guys got bess foo, best fruit, best vegetables!” He takes all that good food. He chop ’em up. He serve to his best Chinese customers entertaining special guests. Lo Fan. They like coming to Chinese restaurant because the food is exotic but for them, all too spicy.

My restaurant friend tell me, one night, almost closing, all these Lo Fan come to his restaurant. They are hungry. They want something to eat. Oh! He’s looking around. Almost no food left in the kitchen! All he has is leftover vegetables and leftover meat he wouldn’t serve his best customers! Ah! Never mind. Chop them up, put ’em in the wok. Chop up the meat, put ’em inside. Stir ’em up. Make gravy and then no spice. No, nothing. Make ’em bland. Put ’em on a plate. Serve ’em to the Lo Fan. The Lo Fan eat. “Oh! This is good! Oh, OK!” (Thumbs up.)

My friend look at them and go, “OK!” (Thumbs up.)

He go in the back, talk to all the cooks. The other cooks look at him, go, “OK.” (Thumbs up.) They start laughing. I think they’re still laughing.

See in the Toisan District, we call this dish tsap seui or leftovers. Now, white people, they cannot pronounce that so they call them Chop Suey.

Ha. My restaurant friend tell me, “You, you, you, come, come, come. You special friend. You, you, you eat free!”

I go, “Haha! OK!” (Thumbs up.) But me, never, ever order Chop Suey

Becoming a Woman of Color: Discovery in the Philippines

By Storyteller Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor

Story Summary

Rebecca, a Filipino American, grew up in nearly all-white neighborhoods and schools. In 2000, she began reconnecting with her Filipino heritage and became a woman of color.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Becoming a Woman of Color-Discovery in the Philippines

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the story of your family’s immigration to North America and settlement? If your heritage is Native American, where did your tribe(s) live before colonization?
  2. Where in the world has your family lived? How are race and culture connected to those places?
  3. What are the stereotypes about your race, gender, economic status, or geographic location? Do you feel these stereotypes reflect who you are or create pressures to be something you are not?
  4. How often do you see yourself or your heritage portrayed in films? What do the main characters in these films look like and what do they have to do to succeed?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Immigration

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor. My mother and father left the Philippines in 1955 and met in Seattle in the Duwamish territory. When they met, it was a time of great upheaval in Seattle. There was a lot of prejudice against Filipinos and the civil rights movement was just beginning. The elders in the Filipino community told them not to teach me their languages because it would hold me back in school.

I was their American dream. So, we moved to a suburb south of Seattle. And I grew up in all white neighborhoods, attended mostly white schools, and went to a mostly white church. Growing up, I saw Filipinos as my parents, the Filipino community in Seattle, but not myself. I was an American. My parents wanted me to succeed in school and so they encouraged me to not just do better than the girls in my class but to do well and exceed the boys in my class. I did so well that I was accepted into the physics program at Washington State University. I wanted to be Carl Sagan’s assistant. The program was very difficult, and, eventually, I realized that what I really had a passion for was literature. I went to graduate school in creative writing and I met Rosanne Kanhai, an Indo-Caribbean woman. And she saw something inside me. And she asked me if I would go to a Woman of Color Conference. I was curious. I wanted to see what the women of color did as academics. After the conference, I was driving home and I realized that my internalized oppression had gone so deep that I had seen myself as a white man not a woman of color. That started me on a journey to understand what it meant to be a Filipino.

I began to research Filipino stories. I began to understand the values and worldviews of my people before colonization. Before the Americans had come. Before the Spanish had come. These stories taught me much. In 2015, I had an opportunity to visit indigenous leaders. To find out what it was like to be part of the land to be a certain people. In that time, they taught me many things. And showed me that their struggles were, very stru… very similar to the struggles of the native tribes, here in the United States. They were displaced by corporations and the military and the government. They were forgotten because they were seen as backwards and educated. They thought I was educated but I went to learn from them. I went to learn how to be part of
the land. How to be in community.

There is a story of three artisans who made a beautiful statue of a woman. And that statue came to life. And these three artisans argued over who would get to marry the beautiful woman they had created. They went to seek the judgment of the Babaylan, the Wise Woman. The carver said, “I had taken a branch of a tree and carved her so I have the right to marry her.”

The tailor said, “I clothed her and made her modest. I should marry her.”

The jeweler said, “No, I arrayed her in the most beautiful jewels and made her a queen. I deserve to marry her.”

And the Babaylan thought and looked at each man and considered their case carefully. Then she asked, “Have you asked the woman what she wants?”

And the carver looked at the tailor, and the tailor looked at the jeweler, and the jeweler looked back to the carver, and said, “Ask her what she wants?”

And the Babaylan said, “Yes.” And turned to the woman and said, “Who would you like to marry?”

And the woman turned to the carver and said, “Thank you for creating my body. And I thank you, tailor, for clothing me and making me modest. And thank you jeweler for making me a queen. But I wish to be as I have always been.” And she reached her hands to the sky and her arms became branches and her body became the trunk of a tree and her feet rooted to the ground. She became as she always had been, a tree.

The elders of those indigenous tribes; the T’boli, the Ifugao, the Magindinao, the Obo Manobo. They all taught me that what was most important was to be myself. I am Filipino and I am American. That is all I need to be. Myself.

And these teachings, their teachings, I am always grateful for. And I take their stories to other communities so they will know that Filipinos are not just one people. They are many peoples of the islands with many different traditions, many different languages, many different ways of seeing the world. And yet, we are all together a people. All tasked with taking care of this beautiful planet on which we live. For we are always in relationship, not just with each other, not with just ourselves, but with the greater world around us.

December 7, 1941: An Eyewitness to the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

by Alton Takiyama-Chung

Story Summary

Charles Ishikawa grew up in Plantation camps in Waipahu, Hawaii in the 1930s and 1940s.  He was 14 years old and on his way to his high school basketball practice when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  He saw the planes diving like sea birds over the ships in the harbor.  After Marshall Law was declared, he helped patrol the Plantation camps to make sure that no lights shown out at night.  He was issued a gas mask at school and helped dig an air raid shelter in his backyard.  He and his family took down and burned everything that was Japanese in their home.  They were Americans, but worried if they were American enough.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   December 7, 1941-An Eyewitness to the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine your town was being attacked.  You can see the planes dropping bombs and hear the explosions, but you appear to be in no danger.  What do you do?
  2. Imagine soldiers are being stationed in your school.  These soldiers can arrest anyone for any violations of the new laws and put them in jail.  They seem to be watching you and your friends.  What would you do?  What would you do differently?
  3. Imagine that important people in your community are being arrested and taken away.  Food is being rationed and travel is being restricted.  The internet has been shut down and all cell phones must to be turned in to the government.  You must carry around an identification card at all times.  How does all of this make you feel?
  4. Imagine that the government censors all newspapers, television and radio broadcasts, and reads your mail.  They also read all of your e-mail, internet posts, track your internet activity, and listened in on all of your long-distance phone calls.  How does this make you feel?  What would you do differently?

Resources:

Pearl Harbor Child: A Child’s View of Pearl Harbor from Attack to Peace Revised Edition by Dorinda Nicholson.  2001.  Woodson House Publishing.  Raytown, MO.

VisitPearlHarbor.org March 8, 2017  The Attack on Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath

Forbidden Photos Reveal What Life Was Like In Hawaii After Pearl Harbor.  December 7. 2016.  Huffington Post.  huffingtonpost.com/entry/hawaii-pearl-harbor-attacks-photographs_us_58462170e4b055b313990dad

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Alton Takiyama-Chung. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a tour guide at Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu, Hawaii. And it’s an open-air museum focusing on what life was like in the sugar cane and pineapple plantation camps in Hawaii from 1850 to about 1950. My guide, Charles Ishikawa, a retired principal and schoolteacher, grew up in the camps around Waipahu. And this is one of the stories that he told me.

My name is Charles Ishikawa and I grew up in the plantation camp in, around Waipahu in the 1930s, uh, 1940s. Waipahu is located about, oh, two, three miles from Pearl Harbor where, uh, WWII began for the United States. Now, my dad worked for the Oahu Sugar Company but we lived in Ota Camp. Ota Camp was, uh, a camp with the flatlands between, uh, Waipahu and Pearl Harbor. He lived there because he wanted to raise pigs and, uh, chickens for extra money. Oh, plenty pigs living close to plenty people. Mmm! Not a good idea because of the, uh… aroma.

But everyone else lived in segregated camps in, uh, above Waipahu, uh, and above the sugar mill. I mean, there was the, the Filipino camp and the Korean camp and the Portuguese, the Chinese, and the, the Puerto Ricans, and the Japanese people like us. Everybody had their own camp but all us kids, oh, we all went to school, Waipahu High School, so we all knew each other and we got along okay. Things changed a little bit after that Sunday, December 7th, 1941.

We’re driving to the gymnasium, yeah, on the west side of, uh, of Pearl Harbor for basketball practice when, suddenly, we noticed this plane swooping in low, just over the treetops. Had these big red circles (hinomaru) on the wings. And it’ll… the pilot was so low we could see the pilot. I mean, he had big goggles on, a dark helmet and as he flew on by looked like he was looking down upon us and so some of us looked up and we waved. He looked down and kinda smiled and waved down at us.

Further on down the road we see this lone U.S. National Guardsman. He has a Springfield bolt action rifle and he’s shooting at the plane. And then, suddenly, all these other planes… gots… diving in. He starts shooting at them.
(Bang! Chi-chick. Bang! Chi-chick.) We pull over. “Eh, howzit,” I say, “Uh, these guys, eh, terrific! The maneuvers, they look real!”

“What? Son, those are Japanese! They’re attacking Pearl Harbor.”

“What? Nah!”

And then a buddy of mine who is smarter than the rest of us kinda put it all together. “Hey, they not fooling around! This for real kine! They dropping real bombs!”

This made no sense. I mean, Japan was far away. How did they get here? And why would they attack us? What did we ever do to dem? Heh! Whatevers! I didn’t know what to believe but I kinda figure… eh, had, had nothing to do with us.

We didn’t want the coach to yell at us so we continued on our way. We arrived at the gym a little after 8:00. People already dribbling, shooting practice shots. But before we could change into our gym clothes, the coach called us all together.

“Japan has attacked Pearl Harbor and, uh, President Roosevelt has declared war. Uh, you should all just, just go home.”

Nobody said anything. Just went to the cars.

War? What did that mean? I mean, I was Japanese but I was also an American. And Japan had attacked America and that’s wrong. But I had an uncle and cousins and other relatives in Japan. Now that we’re at war, that means, will I ever be able to see them again?

Driving back to Waipahu, we could see the, the thick, black smoke billowing up from Pearl Harbor. And the planes diving, zigzagging all across the sky just like, like seabirds diving on a school of fish! Explosions are shaking us! You can see the flames shooting up into the sky! And the air was filled with the screaming sound of, of air raid sirens!

We pulled into town. We could see that, you know, all these people sitting on the roofs of the houses trying to get a, a better view of the… what was going on, the action of, uh, Pearl Harbor. And that’s when we learned that, later on, that one of our classmates, one of the Sato boys, was killed by shrapnel from friendly anti-aircraft fire. I mean, we just saw him yesterday. And now, he was make. He was dead! I mean, for real kine. Dead! He’s probably one of the first casualties, civilian casualties, of WWII. And it… this was bad… I mean, ships were on fire. Things were exploding ova there! People probably dying! This’s really bad.

That night mama called all us kids together. Tell us, “Uh, go through de house, uh. Pull down anything that has Japanese on it or look, uh, Japanese. Take ’em in the backyard. Burn ’em!”

Oh, we took down art work, family photos, even calendars! We burn it all. We were so afraid that the military police would come and arrest us for being spies. I mean, we were Americans but, suddenly, we felt like we were suspects, guilty until proven innocent. Americans but, mmm, maybe not American enough.

Then came martial law. It was 8:00 p.m. curfew and then nighttime blackout. Is… Everyone is so afraid that the Japanese would attack again or, or invade. And so, all the windows had to be covered over so no light shine through so the Japanese wouldn’t have any targets to shoot at. You know, the pineapple company, at this time, they would put down this tar paper in the fields to control the weeds. Overnight, rolls of the stuff just disappeared. And, you know, next few days all de windows of all de plantation houses had dis tar paper put on top just like the ones the field. Funny, yeah?

Now, I was in Boy Scouts and so, our job, we had to go patrol at night to make sure that no lights was coming through the windows. Uh, the, the light coming through the windows, we had to knock on the door and tell them to cover the windows. We had the little flashlight that, uh, we put this red paper on top so we can see but not be easily seen. Kinda creepy walking through the plantation town like this. Well, this real tiny red light to guide you.

Then everybody we knew was digging air raid shelters. So, we dug one too. But the only place we could dig it was between the house and the bath house and underneath mama’s clothesline. Oh, we spent hours digging that hole. ’Cause it had to be big enough for the whole family to go inside, yah? So, we dug it six feet down and four feet by four feet. We cut steps into the earth to get inside. And then we got these two by fours; we placed them on top. And we got an old piece of totan, this corrugated iron, to put on top the two by fours. And we covered over all the dirt that we dug out from the hole. Trouble was that totan we use was kinda weak and corroded, rotten. But that’s all we had. If anyone stood on top, the whole thing would collapse.

But after all dat work, we never used it. I was afraid to go inside that thing ’cause it was dark and dank and it was filled with cockroaches and centipedes. I kinda figured if the Japanese ever attack, I kinda just take my chances rather than go and hunker down in the mud with the cockroaches and centipedes.

Now, in school, they handed out… everybody had the handed-out gas mask. Oh, we had to carry dem wherever we went. They showed us how to put it on; how to breathe in it. Thing was made of rubber, smelled funny, and was kinda gross. You put it on, we all look like elephant people.

One of the scariest things was the soldiers. There were soldiers stationed in, uh, high school and, and off to the plantation camps. I mean, big haole soldiers, Caucasian soldiers, and big guards stood looking at all of us. I mean, do they think that us kids and our parents will cause trouble because we Japanese? I mean, we never figured out what they were guarding. We never ask. But… looking back upon it, they’re probably just ordered there. They’re probably just afraid of us as we were of dem.

Lots of stuff changed because of that Sunday. We hadda come up with new ways of living. I mean, anything Japanese, we disowned. We disowned part of who we were. And all the leaders of the Japanese-American community, they all got arrested and taken away. We hadda figure out how to do a lot of stuff on our own now. And the soldiers, the soldiers are always watching us. Hoh!

It was a long time before life was normal again in Waipahu. Three months after I graduated high school in 1944, I was drafted into the Army. Huh, Japanese-American boy, learn how to fight the Japanese. Huh, and what happened to me afta dat. Ah, well, dat’s another story.