That’s What My People Do: Facing Prejudice in a 1960s High School

by Eunice Jarrett

Story Summary

High school students organizing a memorial service for a teacher trigger an emotional process for Eunice who is asked to step out of her comfort zone, again.  Family life and school life create race-related expectations.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Thats-What-My-People-Do-Facing-Prejudice-in-a-1960s-High-School

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did expectations based on race shape the students’ behavior at Eunice’s school?
  2. Can you name talents or skills that are reflected in Eunice’s family? What about your family? What gifts do you see in yourself and your relatives?
  3. What is the impact of constantly hearing stereotypes – positive or negative – about you and groups to which you belong?
  4. In this story, what makes a simple request to sing seem so troubling?

Resources:

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Three graphic novels)
A Raisin in the Sun a play by Lorraine Hansberry
Article in Northwest Indiana’s newspaper about Eunice’s sister, Annie Hicks, who was the first black teacher in Hammond, Indiana –
http://www.nwitimes.com/news/local/lake/hammond/hammond-s-first-black-teacher-speaks-of-need-for-tenacity/article_b902bcf1-db00-5d20-9589-52674ba792de.html
Facts about school integration in the U.S. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_integration_in_the_United_States

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Eunice Jarrett and my story starts in the 1960s, in Indiana.

The complexion of our high school was changing and the black parents encouraged their kids to stand up and be a credit to our race. So, I became our high school student government’s token Negro. One of our teachers had died suddenly, and the student government people were asked to organize a memorial service.

And I remember the service going kind of like this. We had a meeting and I remember the meeting going something like this. Max was the president and he decided that he would preside over the meeting.

Rose really liked the old teacher. And so, she said that she would give the highlights of the teacher’s life. Chris was a poet and he volunteered to tell the poem. Huh, and Tom, Tom decided that he should say the closing prayer.

And then they decided, “Well, what, what should Eunice do?”

Tom said, “Let her sing. Isn’t that what her people do?”

Like I wasn’t in the room. I mean, I was right there. Why would they say for me to sing? They never heard me sing. Ohh! Sing and dance. That’s what they think my people do. Huh. Well, they didn’t know. They didn’t know that letting me sing might break that stereotype. Letting me sing, I might bring my whole race down from that high pillar of musical expectation. But I’d sing, because that’s what my people do.

You see, my sister Annie, she stepped up and she went to teachers’ college, graduated with honors, only to be told that this color of her skin disqualified her from teaching in her own hometown. Huh. She won that federal court case and the superintendent of schools who said, “Over my dead body,” he died. And my sister became the first Negro teacher in our whole school city. She inspired other people, and that’s what my people do.

Fred didn’t know, Fred didn’t know that I knew some real singers. I mean, my mother and my sisters, they could really sing. My mother, she fancied herself to be a soprano Marian Anderson. Hmm. When she got to sing on Sundays, she had her own gospel arias. But she would always tell us the story of that magnificent Negro woman who sang opera all across the United States and all around the world. Then she told the story of the Daughters of the American Revolution who wouldn’t let her sing at their event in Constitution Hall, in front of an integrated audience. Because Marian Anderson was a Negro. Hmm.

Mama said, “What the devil means for bad, God will use it for good.” Mama said, “Mrs. Roosevelt fixed it. Instead of Constitution Hall, Marian Anderson got to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a beautiful Easter morning, in front of thousands and thousands of people. I can still feel the pride of Mama’s voice when she told that story.

Yes. Daughters of the American Revolution. Yes, that organization. They were the same daughters, they gave out awards to eighth graders for citizenship and leadership. And when I graduated eighth grade in 1966, I was the winner of that award.

Our principal and faculty, they voted for me. But when they found out who I was, they turned my name into the DAR. And when they found out who I was, they refused to give me the award because it was supposed to be given to a white student.

Well, our white principal said, “We voted for her. And if you don’t give it to her, we won’t give your award ever again!”

I still have that award somewhere in a box. Can you imagine how I felt standing there to receive an award that I knew they didn’t want to give me? But I stood there and I was gracious, because that’s what my people do.

Well, while Rose was writing my name, I wondered, “Should I get Mama or my sisters to sing?”

Well, the student government kids didn’t know that when I went to choir rehearsal, my sisters got the best singing parts, they got the leads. And the rest of us, we had to clap and rock in the background. The student government kids didn’t know I had a hard time clappin’ and rockin’ at the same time.

But I think I’ll sing, even though once a lady at choir rehearsal whispered very loudly that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. So just to make her a liar, I practiced finding my tone, and I put it in my imaginary bucket.

Well, you know, I agreed to sing not because I’m the best singer, but we stand up. And sometimes we have to stand up to people who don’t know it was enough to not like us.

You know, they say that when one black family moves into a block, it breaks the block. Well, when my family moved, we broke the block. And the boy next door made it his job to stand at our fence and call us names, every day. And we had to walk past him, hold our head up high, and ignore him every day, until the day he came into the fence, ready to fight girls in their own backyard. Well, my middle sister got in trouble for fighting back. But you know, sometimes we just get tired, sometimes we really do. Huh.

Well, all I had to do was sing a song. I just had to pick a song. “Let My People Go?” Uh, that was a little sarcastic. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?” That was probably the only spiritual that some of my classmates knew. But I was a Negro and we had spirituals. That’s what my people do.

Well, it was the day of the program. I remember the shuffling feet, letting down the wooden auditorium chairs, the hushed whispers. The student government officers, we entered stage left and there were chairs, wooden chairs and an arc behind the podium. Yes, hhh, I remember.

Max went to the podium, and he, in his most eloquent words, explained the reason for the assembly and we started the assembly. He introduced Rose, and Rose had done her… She’d done her research. I didn’t know that I… that teacher had gone to Tibet and knew how to ski. But I was not surprised that she taught a lot of the parents, and she had a cat.

Well, next Chris went up to read his poem. I don’t know what he said because I knew I was next. Then Max went back to the podium, and he said words and more words and I was looking for my invisible bucket. But then Max turned and smiled at me.

So, I stood up. And I walked to the podium. And I looked out on the darkness, and I did what my people do.

The Colfax Louisiana Massacre: A Story about Reconstruction

by Zahra Glenda Baker

Story Summary:

This is Zahra’s personal story of reconnecting with her siblings and learning about how history is told through the voice of the “hunter”. On a journey back to their Louisiana birthplace, Zahra and her siblings uncover a story of an event that affects the lives of their family, community and the nation.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Colfax-Louisiana-Massacre-A-Story-about-Reconstruction

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did the 4 million African Americans after slavery need in order to transition into full citizenship?
  2. What systems needed to be in place to secure a life with dignity for the former enslaved African Americans?
  3. Why is it important to question the perspective of history’s stories?
  4. Had you heard of the Colfax massacre? Why or why not?
  5. Why is it important to tell your own story?

Resources:

Red River by Lalita Tademy
The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction by LeeAnna Keith
The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction by Charles Lane
Smithsonian Online Magazine Article on the Colfax Massacre: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/1873-colfax-massacre-crippled-reconstruction-180958746/

Themes:

  • African American/Africans
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcription:

Hi, I’m Zahra Baker.  And I spent the first three years of my life in Central Louisiana in a small rural area that was surrounded by pine trees and weeping willows, pecan trees and sat beside a place that was ironically called the Red River.  Now my family is complex.  And we had many difficulties in my early years.  But… I was the youngest of seven and because of that, I got sent away to live with my Uncle Willy and Aunt Dot for a… for a year in Slidell.  And then I was sent all the way to Lafayette, Indiana and was adopted by my Uncle Dave and Aunt Bessie.

Now this was far away from Colfax, Louisiana where I was born.  And it wasn’t until my young adult life that I was able to reconnect with my siblings.  And the day that we met each other again, I was filled with joy and sadness and sorrow and frustration and anger and gratitude and fear.  What if they didn’t like me?  What if we didn’t have anything in common?  We had so much time separated between us that I wasn’t sure if there was anything I had to offer them.  But when I met them, there was such a feeling for comfort and familiarity that all of the fear just washed away.  And they liked to talk a lot so there was a lot of laughter and a lot of chatter.  And I was determined that I was going to spend time with each one of them until I figured out what we had in common.  But what I came to realize was the story that we had in common was the story from our hometown Colfax, Louisiana.  So they had all moved West to California but every year we would decide to have a family reunion.  And often times we had that reunion in Colfax so that we could reconnect with our family and friends there.

So that on one of those trips, we were walking on down memory walk, sharing stories, and we came upon the courthouse.  And when we got there, we saw a sign and the sign said, “Colfax Riot.  On this site, there was an event called the Colfax Riot where three white men and 150 negroes were slain.  This event occurred April 13, 1873.” And the sign said, “This brought an end to carpetbaggers misrule in the South.”  Well, the wording on that sign was kind of odd to me.  First of all, Negros was spelled with a little “n” and the word “misrule” and carpetbaggers”…  All of that was strange to me, so I decided to do some research.  And, I realized that 1873 was during a time called, “Reconstruction.”

Now in Louisiana, they didn’t teach us anything about that time period.  It happened right after the Civil War from, say, 1865 to 1874.  So I had to dig deep.  I asked people questions. I went online to see what I could find and what I found was that most of the historians didn’t really like to talk about Reconstruction.  They felt that it was an experiment that failed.  They felt that is was a time when there was a lot of corruption and carpetbaggers from the North and scallywags, which were Southern people who sided with the new government, had ruined the whole thing.  And they also said that it was the worst period in American history.

Well, black people felt like the worst period in history was slavery and that radical reconstruction, well, that was something of a revolutionary idea that was going to help America come into its promise of equality through the idea of public schools and through the idea of civil rights legislation and financial gain.  In 1873, there were probably 2,000 black people that were in office. And there was some amendments.  Like the Thirteenth Amendment, we know was what enabled black people to be free.  And the Fourteenth Amendment brought about civil rights for those enslaved people that were now free.  But the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote.

Well, that right to vote was a thorn in the side of the white league, which was a coalition of white men who were determined to maintain white supremacy.  They actually called themselves “The Redeemers” because they were going to redeem the South back to itself.  Well, in 1873, in Colfax, the black majority voted in a government that was going to support them and their needs.  But… the day that the new sheriff was supposed to take office, the ousted sheriff decided that he wasn’t going to give up his power. So he called all of his friends and told them to back him up.  Well, the new sheriff called all of the black men and deputized them and told them to hold the courthouse so that he could go in and do his job.  Well, they held that courthouse because they had visions of a life of equality.  A vision for a future that their children could flourish.

For seven whole days, they tirelessly held that courthouse but on April 13th, Easter Sunday, the white league was not gonna have it anymore.  So three hundred armed white men marched into Colfax and started shooting.  And they shot off a cannon that set the courthouse on fire.  Soon after, there was a white flag that was held in a window as surrender.  And just as the black men started coming out the door, there was a shot and one of the white men was killed and in retaliation, The Redeemers started shooting.  And down came the ideas of a better world, as one by one, those men fell to the ground as they were running out of that burning building. Over two hundred men were killed that day.  About fifty were captured, then walked to the Red River where they were shot and drowned.  And then another fifty were hanged on an oak tree.  Clearly, this was not a riot. Those men laid down their lives so that we could have a better life.  And that was a massacre.

Now in my research, I found over a hundred names listed of the wounded and the killed that day.  And in that list there was some names that might have been part of my family line.  But regardless, all of the men that day were fighting for the rights of all black people. And not just for black people, but for humanity.  For the nation to rise to its fullest potential.  I hope that we all will remember them and hold them up.  Because it was their work that established the work of those who are moving us forward now.

And history books can ignore Colfax and Reconstruction if they want or write it from the perspective of the oppressor.  But by us digging deep into that history, we were able to discover the amazing well of those freed men and fighting for our liberation. And as the Igbo people from Nigeria say, “The lions must create the historians of the tale of the hunter.  The hunted will always be glorified by the hunter.”  My siblings and I will continue to tell the Colfax story from our point of view. And more than that, we will take that legacy and live our lives in a way that we uplift humanity and make the world better for the next generation.

The Importance of Representation on Our Stages: Role Models for Young Audiences

by Rives Collins

Story Summary:

In this story, Rives Collins, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University,  recalls his work directing plays for children.  He shares the discoveries the young people helped him make regarding the importance of representation on our stages and the significance of role models for our children.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The Importance of Representation on Our Stages-Role Models for Young Audience

Discussion Questions:

  1. Rives says he has two important teachers in the story. Who were those teachers and what did they help Rives discover?
  2. What do you think Rives means by a ‘ME TOO’ moment? Why do you think they are important?  What can happen if someone never experiences a ‘ME TOO’ moment?
  3. Tell us about a time you experienced a ‘ME TOO’ moment.  Has there ever been a time when you wished for such a moment even when there didn’t seem to be one?
  4. Rives says he remembers the two important teachers to this day, but neither of them was a teacher in the traditional sense of the word. Tell us about a time you learned something significant from someone who wasn’t exactly a teacher?  (a friend, a grandparent, a coach, etc.)

Resources:

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
Multicultural Scenes for Young Actors by Craig Slaight and Jack Sharrar

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Rives Collins. I teach at Northwestern University in the Department of Theater, where my specialization is theater for young audiences. So, this story, it’s going to take us back a ways. Back to the early 90s or so.

I directed a play for kids. “Androcles and the Lion,” is a crowd pleaser, the comedy. Androcles is known for plucking the thorn out of the paw of a lion and the lion later on returns that kindness. It’s a good story. It’s a story about friendship. And we were working with an organization called Urban Gateways. Urban Gateways would bus kids from underserved neighborhoods to our campus to see a play. And this student matinee was going really well. Kids were having a ball. They were laughing and cheering. And I remember, I noticed that all the kids in the audience, they were people of color and all the actors they were white. I noticed it. I didn’t think much of it. And then, ah, I had this thought. I thought maybe we’re sending the message to the children in the audience that someday they can grow up and come to Northwestern and be a student and be in a play and bring laughter to a whole new generation of kids. And I remember, feeling (and this is awkward to share this), I remember feeling, kind of self-satisfied. Like we were doing some kind of good deed. After the play, all the actors headed out into the lobby, still in costume, to greet the kids on their way to the buses. And when I got to the lobby I saw a huge crowd of kids had gathered around one actor. And I’m thinking to myself, “OK, so, which one of my actors has the charisma to gather a crowd like that? I think it’s probably Androcles. He’s the hero of the story. Nope he’s over there. So maybe it’s the lion. The lion’s the funny guy. He’s over there.”

So I’m wondering which one of my actors has the star power to collect a crowd like that. And as I walk across the lobby, I see. It’s our custodian. And he’s standing with his vacuum cleaner. And I want to be sure you don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with being a custodian. I believe there’s dignity in all work and not only was our custodian great at what he did, he took real pride in the fact that he’d helped his daughter through law school.

But as I saw him with all the friendly handshakes and high fives, I realized he was the only person of color that kids had seen since arriving at the university. And I understood that maybe I wasn’t sending the message that someday they could grow up and be a student at Northwestern. Maybe I was sending the message that someday they could grow up and they could come to Northwestern University and they could vacuum the floors. I never intended to send that message. Never, ever. But sometimes the things we intend and the things we actually do, they’re not the same.

Ok, so, fast forward with me a few years. I directed another play, “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.’ It’s based on kids books by Kevin Henkes and Lilly is a mouse. She likes to wear red, cowboy boots, to carry her purple plastic purse, she’s got a big imagination and she gets in trouble at school a lot. And the actress playing Lilly was a wonderful student, a college student named Niha. And after the performance, we had a question and answer period with the audience. And a little girl raised her hand and said, “I would like to ask the person pretending to be Lilly where she is from.”

And Niha told the truth, “I’m from New Jersey.” And she saw the palpable disappointment in the eyes of the child. So she added, “But my family came to America from India.”

And that’s when the little girl jumped up on her chair and she cried out, “Me too! Me too!” And the whole audience applauded and cheered.

And from this stage, Niha was beaming. And I learned something that stayed with me. I’ve worked to create those, “Me too,” moments ever since. I believe those moments of identification, they matter. It’s not enough to invite young people to our spaces as if they are tourists. As if they’re outsiders seeing a place where they don’t really fit in. I think instead, we want to create those empowering “Me too” moments that allow young people to imagine themselves being successful in this place. And helping them understand, in their bones, that they belong.

I’m grateful to two important teachers. One, a much loved custodian, and the other a little girl who once jumped up on her chair and cried out, “Me too!”

Thanks.

Standing on the Wall of Derry: An Irish American Confronts the Irish Conflict

by Margaret Burk

Story Summary:

Finding herself on a historical tour of the Wall of Derry in Northern Ireland, Margaret discovers within herself that she is holding on to an ancestral hostility, the kind of hostility that perpetuates hatred, violence and war.  Is this who she wants to be?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Standing-on-the-Wall-of-Derry-An-Irish-American-Confronts-the-Irish-Conflict

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are there prejudices you hold that come from your family?
  2. Has hearing another person’s story or getting to know them ever changed how you feel about that person?
  3. Has an unexpected experience ever surprisingly changed the way you think or feel?
  4. What does Margaret mean that the Irish conflict wasn’t just about religion? How is the Irish conflict similar and different from other civil wars?
  5. What do you think of the words Martin Luther King Jr. If we are to have peace on earth…our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. And this means we must develop a world perspective.”
  6. What do you think of the words of the Dalai Lama XIV, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

Resources:

The Fight for Peace: The Secret Story Behind the Irish Peace Process by Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick – The most detailed and authoritative account of the road to the Good Friday Agreement. A classic of its kind by two of Northern Ireland’s finest.

Trinity by Leon Uris – Gives the background to the ancient conflict between the trinity of nationalists, unionists and ‘Brits’ that painted Ireland’s history in blood.

The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions by Ruth Dudley Edwards – A Dublin Catholic goes Ulster native to produce a sympathetic and understanding portrayal of Protestant prisoners of history.

Ten Men Dead: The Story of the 1981 Hunger Strike by David Beresford – The Iron Lady (Prime Minister Thatcher) versus the Iron Men, with short-term victory for Thatcher and a long-term victory for the Provos.

Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly – The Great Starvation and the emigration from Ireland.

1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion by Morgan Llywelyn

 Bloody Sunday (2002) a movie that tells the story of one of the most significant moments of The Troubles, the 1972 shootings in Derry, from the perspective of a key participant – Ivan Cooper, the leader of a movement to achieve a united Ireland through non-violent means.

Across the Divide in Northern Ireland (2016) In this movie, a Catholic and a Protestant girl swap school uniforms in a fine short film produced as part of a project to teach children about the Irish Civil War called “The Troubles”

Selma (2015) This movie depicts Dr. Martin Luther King’s nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery, which eventually culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Belfast Project: An Overview Peace, Justice, and Oral Historyhttp://www.democraticprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Belfast_Project-ENG-version.pdf
http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/03/litigation/boston-college-oral-history-project-faces-ongoing-legal-issues/#

Our Shared Futurehttps://northernireland.foundation

Themes:

Crossing Cultures
Education and Life Lessons
European Americans/Whites
Family and Childhood
Identity
Stereotypes & discrimination
Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
War

Full Transcript:

My name is Margaret Burk and this is a story about an experience I had on a trip to Ireland in 2013. I was standing on top of the stone wall 20 feet high and 20 feet wide, that surrounds the old part of the city of Derry, in Northern Ireland. I didn’t want to be here, in Northern Ireland. I had signed up for a tour that advertised visiting sites in southern Ireland only. I’m an Irish American, I have always wanted to come to Ireland, Southern Ireland, home of my ancestors. So, what was I doing in Northern Ireland? You have to understand that Ireland is divided into two countries. Southern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, is free and independent. And Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain. Our tour directors decided that we had to take this historical tour of the wall of Derry because they heard the guide was fabulous. “No, I protested. Northern Ireland was not on our itinerary.”

I was actually surprised at the intensity of my emotions, as this ancestral anger rose up. And then. and then, it was like I was 12 years old again and the memories just came flooding back. And me and my cousins were sitting at the feet of Uncle Tom listening to his stories. Uncle Tom had emigrated from Ireland and married my Aunt Mabel and joined the Terre Haute, Indiana Irish Curly Clan, my family. He had come from Ireland shortly after the war of independence in 1921 that divided Ireland into south and north.

At family gatherings, birthdays, holidays, after dinner, we’d sing Irish songs. And then we kids would beg Uncle Tom to tell us stories true stories of Irish history. My mom told stories about the lives of the saints but Tom told stories about battles and villains and heroes. And whether he was telling about the rebellion of 1789 or the fight for Vinegar Hill or the Battle of the Boyne, I loved them all. The stories about Irish fighting for their freedom from English rule. Uncle Tom was a gentle, soft-spoken man but when he settled into his chair to tell, he changed; his jaw tighten, his fist clenched, and his face reddened with the anger of it.

And that’s just how my body felt when we were talking about going into Northern Ireland. But I was outvoted. I sulked in the back of the van as we crossed the border from Southern Ireland to Northern Ireland. I felt like I was betraying my family. The weather echoed my mood. Cool, cloudy, and drizzling.

When the tour of the wall of Derry began, I hung out in the back of the crowd and the guide, Martin McCrossan, 60’s, baldish, ruddy complexion, had a voice as loud as a carnival barker.

“This wall was built in 1601 by the first English settlers to protect themselves against the attacking displaced locals.”

My neck, red, “Displaced locals. I’ll show you a displaced local.”

Those were Irish people who had had their land stolen by the invading Brits. Uncle Tom had told me the stories. How British armies ravaged the land, British laws in power impoverished the people, I knew the stories. And then, Martin hurried us out a hundred yards down the wall, to the side of an old church outside the wall. St. Colum’s. And then he pointed to the backyard of the church, where there was this odd hill. It was like a grassy mound, like 12 or 15 feet tall, in a space, not much bigger than my backyard, in Oak Park, Illinois.

“1689. This church was the stronghold for the Irish forces trying to gain back the city of Derry from the English settlers. The siege lasted for 105 days. But the Irish couldn’t breach this wall. Three thousand Irish died outside the wall, 6,000 English inside the wall, mostly of starvation. That mound is the burial place of the dead.”

Huh. Six thousand English died? Starvation? I looked at the cross on top of the mound and thought of the dead on both sides. I knew many of the English settlers were poor peasant farmers who had come with the hope of a better life. I thought of the women and the children. I’d never heard stories of the English side. Then, Martin directed us down the wall to our next stop, that, which was near a tree. The rain was intensified and I thought, “Was he oblivious to the rain?” I called out, “You know, we can just listen from underneath this tree over here.”

He turned and looked at me, not harsh but firm, and said, “No, you have to stand over here,” and waited patiently until I complied.

Pointing to the hole in the wall, down, he said, “Bloody Sunday, January 13th, 1972. Ten thousand Catholics, supporting the movement for a unified Ireland without English rule, and inspired by the civil rights movements of the United States, were marching peacefully on that street below. English toops… troops shot into the crowd killing, injuring, starting the violent civil war between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland that lasted for 26 years.”

Hmm. I, I remember. I watched that on TV. It was bad. But the fight wasn’t about religion, it was political. It was about who ruled, who made the laws, who owned industry, who could get a job. And Martin pointed across the way to a mural. A mural that, that was the whole side of a six-story building. It was of young, school girl. She had like, you know, shoulder length, black hair and a white blouse, a green skirt.

“Twelve-year-old Annette McGavigan, the 100th person killed in the conflict caught in the crossfire between the opposing sides.” And then Martin spoke more slowly and I could hear the emotion in his voice as he said, “That rifle beside the girl, when the mural was painted in the midst of a conflict, that rifle was pointing down – a call for peace. And that butterfly above her head. It was only an outline-a sign of hope. And when the peace agreement was finally signed in 1989, and the violence ended, the artist repainted that mural. Now that rifle is broken into two pieces and the butterfly is painted with all the colors of the rainbow.” He paused to let us take it in. A six-story mural, a young school girl, a rifle broken in two, a rainbow-colored butterfly.

“Come,” Martin said. And he led us through an opening in the wall, down a few steps, into the back door of St. Augustine Church. The social hall was, was filled with weaving looms and women busily weaving. And on the wall, were hung like a dozen, three foot by five foot exquisite murals.

Mary Cullum explained proudly, “These tapestries tell that the history of Derry and were given one to every church and civic organization, Protestant and Catholic, even to the Orangemen.” I knew that the Orangemen still lead a parade provocatively through the Catholic section of Derry every year on July 12th.

But for these weavers, it was important that everyone, even the Orangemen, knew the history of Derry from all sides. As we ended the tour outside St. Augustine’s, on the on the stone patio, Martin looked at every one of us and spoke with heart felt emotion. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for coming to Derry. You are part of our peace process. Go home tell your friends and your family to come and to know our story.”

“Am I part of the peace process?” I thought. I didn’t want to come here. I didn’t want to hear these stories. But now that I had, I, I discovered I was holding onto an old hostility that had been passed down to me. But the people here were trying to move on, to build something that we all want – a place to live together peacefully. And I could feel Uncle Tom’s stories mixing with these new stories, creating possibilities in me. Possibilities for new ways of thinking and new ways of feeling. Hmm… And that is the path to peace.

A Brilliant Day: A Dutch Woman’s Courageous Travels in Nazi Occupied Holland

by Peter R. LeGrand

Story Summary:

This story weaves present day observations with the true accounts of Peter’s grandmother, a Dutch Jew, and the incredible journeys she went through during the time of Nazi occupied Holland during World War II. As Peter takes a bike ride along Chicago’s lakefront, observing the ease and comfort of modern day life, he remembers his grandmother’s stories of the dangers of riding a bicycle across rural Holland to secure food for her husband and children. The contrasts of modern living are highlighted against the fears of appearing in public as a Jew during the war.

For a print friendly version, click here:  A-Brilliant-Day-A-Dutch-Womans-Courageous-Travels-in-Nazi-Occupied-Holland

Discussion questions:

  1. It has been discussed that current U.S. politics have re-awakened themes related to the Holocaust. Some of these themes are, but are not limited to: racial profiling, racial prejudice, and racial superiority. In light of the story presented here, do you agree with this premise? Why or why not?
  2. How are different groups in the United States classified through stereotypes? How do stereotypes exert power just as the Star of David was used as a means of control?
  3. The Germans have not been the only country to use racial profiling in their history. For example, during World War II, the United States employed internment camps for people of Japanese descent while the United States fought a war against the country of Japan. This resulted in a sudden and severe segregation of Japanese American citizens during the war.  Discuss what factors might go into a country’s or society’s decision making in using such tactics. How can we guard against such things? Are tactics like this being used today?
  4. Discuss the relevance of the Holocaust experience to modern life today. Points to consider: A. Is a modern-day Holocaust possible? B. If so, how would this take place? C. Could modern technology (Cellular phones, Internet, etc.,) contribute to or prevent such a reoccurrence? D.  Is the war on terror an influence here? E. Has a modern-day Holocaust already occurred, or is one occurring in the world now?
  5. Are poverty and lack of education factors in race relations? Why or why not? What factors contribute to negative race relations and even genocide? What factors contribute to positive race relations?
  6. Do you see solutions to problems raised by the questions above? In whatever way that is most powerful to you, (Art, music, writing, story telling, etc..,) present what you see as a problem and any solutions you see. Try to back up your solutions factually if possible.

Resources:

The Missing Stories by Elise Dubois, Copyright 2008, by GigaBoek.nl
A Brilliant Day by Peter R. LeGrand, Copyright 2016.

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Jewish American/Jews

Full Transcript:

My name is Peter Robert LeGrand and this is a story that I’ve been lucky enough to tell about my amazing family.

It’s a brilliant summer day in Chicago in 2016. And when I look down, I can see my feet turning the pedals on my bike in a satisfying rhythm as we make our way down the lakefront trail. I’m with a group of friends and as we go, we can see groups of picnickers are set up along the lake with their grills. There’s endless mounds of cooking meat and other foods and the smell is so potent you can just about wrap yourself in it. It’s like a coat of flavor that we are slowly riding past as we go. We hear music of every kind as we moved down the bike trail. And after a little while, we stop for a few minutes near some folks who are playing Samba music. One of our riders and his girlfriend jump off their bikes and they start dancing to the music, immediately. Moving back and forth, arms and hips, and music all coming together in one continuous flow. After a few moments of this, they jump back on their bikes and off we go down the lakefront trail.

My thoughts start turning to my grandmother. Who, some 70 years ago, took a series of bike rides of her own during the war. I recall her telling me about these rides and thinking to myself, what an amazingly, brave thing to do. But she, herself, said it really wasn’t a question of courage. It was just something that you had to do. It was winter. The last winter of the war and life was very hard. The Germans had taken over almost every aspect of life in Nazi occupied Holland. It was very difficult to come by almost anything there. And as a result, even food was very difficult to get. That last winter of the war was called De Honger Winter or The Winter of Hunger. As I said, food was very hard to get. My mother used to speak about how my grandmother would take a small tin of coffee, one that we might use just in a week’s time, and make it last for months. And by the end of it, she said, it will be nothing more than brown colored water. My grandparents received ration coupons for food during the war. This included bread. My grandfather used to say that they chopped up straw and baked it right into the bread. It was so bad. My mother recalls that the straw would even stick in your throat when you ate it.

Some 12 miles away from where my grandparents and my mother lived was another family member who was a baker. My grandmother set out one day on her bike to retrieve and get some bread for her family and two other families. She hid when she saw German patrols. The Germans would use almost any pretense to arrest you. And they all lived in constant fear and awareness of curfews. And just if they were violated, you could be arrested and taken to jail. Simply walking down the street was cause for fear. But on this trip, she was able to get some bread for herself and families and return home safely. A few months later, she set out on another ride farther away with more risk. This time my grandmother was asked to take seed supplies to another family who was also, of another family member, who was also a baker.

As dangerous as it was for her to do this, it had become even more dangerous for my grandfather to be out in public. By this time, the Germans had been rounding up all able bodied men to help in labor camps promoting the Germans war effort. It was dangerous in German occupied countries for non-Jewish men. Even more dangerous, at times, than for Jewish people. Labor camps were places that Germans had started to produce war materials to support their war efforts and being in one of these camps was known to be almost as dangerous as being a Jew. My grandfather, on my father’s side, was actually taken to one of these camps and he was only one of 11 people who was able to escape. And he only escaped because he bribed his way out of this camp. So while my grandmother was out trying to get food for my family, my grandfather was avoiding being captured by hiding in a dirt-filled space under the floorboards of the living room in their house.

All the time I was growing up, I never heard my grandfather speak of these things. He was a very quiet, thoughtful man, who never really made a fuss about much of anything. I heard all of these stories from my mother. I try to imagine him, underneath the floorboards of his living room. Not making a motion, not able to hear anything, only vague noises from maybe my mother walking to and from the front window where she was to look-out for German soldiers. He couldn’t see anything and he had to lay in this unnerving quiet. Was this simply a prelude to some shouting and banging on the front door announcing the arrival of German soldiers?  What would they think if they saw that there was a small child, my mother, at home with no parents around?  Would he have to listen to the Germans searching his house? Would it be worse to lay in the dark, not being able to see your enemy or would it be better to be out in the open to see him coming? On top of all this laying in the dark, worrying about his wife who is out in the world. In a dangerous world that they lived in with no peace of mind for any of them. I now understand all the better that my mother used to say after Hitler, “Everything else was easier.”

So I was riding along on that summer day in Chicago, thinking of my grandmother as she rode trying to find food when I passed a woman who was guiding a decked out bike with cargo bags, a red bike. And she’s talking on her cell phone and I can hear her as I ride slowly by.  “Yeah. Going to go to a party later. Maybe stop and get some wine and cheese. I’m thinking about going to a yoga class, maybe have a nap.”  My grandmother’s bike not only didn’t have cargo bar bags it didn’t even have two good tires. After the successful trip said she had taken, she set out on another trip. Even farther away on a borrowed bike.

This bike had one good tire, the other tire being what was called the hard tire. It had a garden hose wrapped around the rim with just pieces of wire to hold it in place. After some four hours of riding on this bike with one good tire, she arrived at a cousin’s house out in the country. In addition to the cousin’s family that were in the house, there was another five people who were either Dutch Resistance or Jews or maybe both. They were all in hiding in that house and they were all wanted by the Germans. My grandmother was invited to stay for dinner. And some 40 years later, she wrote in her diary about this meal that she had. We had delicious tomato soup with meat and meat balls and a pot roast and stewed apples and really good boiled potatoes with delicious brown gravy. And afterwards for dessert, we had rice pudding with delicious berry sauce. “I had not eaten like that in years,” she wrote in her diary.

My mother and father used to talk frequently about food after the war. After the war, the allied forces dropped food from the air to get food in quickly to the people who had been liberated. My mother used to talk about the bread that was dropped in. And she would close her eyes and she put her hand over her chest and she would talk about it. And I could see that she was back in that exact moment reliving the taste of that fresh bread that was dropped to them after the war. And when I read my grandmothers diary, I can tell that she was reliving that same tomato soup meal that she had as well.

That summer day when we were about 10 miles from downtown Chicago, we stopped at a rest stop along the lake where there was a snack bar. And I stopped and I looked at the menu, which is painted in big cartoon, almost garish, colors. There’s roast beef sandwiches, and there’s Polish hotdogs, and there’s onions, and there’s French fries, and there’s nachos, and there’s potato chips, and ice cream. And I watch the kids come up to the snack bar and grab their treats and eagerly run back for more playtime on the beach as they’re eating.

After that dinner of tomato soup that my grandmother had, she was given a large bundle of food: rice, butter, flour, things that they couldn’t get in the city.  And on the way home, she stopped and traded a pair of my grandfather’s pants for some wheat that she carried home in her backpack. After my grandmother pedaled home that day, she would… worried that she would not make it home in time for curfew that the Nazis set. If she was discovered, the German patrols were known to attack and steal and take everything you had. There was no fear of reprisals against the soldiers. But luckily, and astoundingly, after some 50 miles of riding, she made it home that day before the curfew. She and all of her precious packages of food were safe. My grandmother took that same trip several times before the end of the war. Riding slowly, with one good bike tire, on a borrowed bike, carrying precious food home but carrying much worry as well.

I rode some more that day under that beautiful blue sky and finally at the end of the lakefront trail, I said goodbye to my friends and I turned myself north to head home onto the train. I’d ridden that day about the same distance that my grandmother rode. But I would never match the true distance that she rode that day.  She wrote that she admired the bravery of others that she met on her rides. That all the while, while she’s dodging German patrols and bombings from the British, and all the while avoiding patrols and ducking into the woods if she was seen. Racing against the clock. And every moment of her rides was the one thing that set her apart from all others, that she did all of these rides with the bright, yellow Star of David sewn to her coat for all to see. I pedaled home, each turn of the wheels along the path, every turn, a reminder of those long ago bike rides and the woman who described herself as a woman of little courage.

Surviving and Thriving: When Racism Destroyed 1920s Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma

by Shanta Nurullah

Story Summary:

This family story describes Shanta’s father and grandparents’ escape from the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma Massacre. Shanta’s grandfather, a tailor, was forced to flee with his family to Chicago where he was able to re-establish his business.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Surviving-and-Thriving-When-Racism-Destroyed-1920s-Black-Wall-Street-in-Tulsa-Oklahoma-template

Discussion Questions:

  1. What attitudes and choices led to the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma?
  2. Why do people move away from home, leaving everyone and everything behind?
  3. Does your family share any migration stories?
  4. Had you heard of times and places where Black people were the wealthiest? Why or why not do you think?
  5. What are the keys to people being able to live peacefully in the same town or community?

Resources:

Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Scott Ellsworth and John Hope Franklin
The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neighborhoods
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Shanta. I’d like to tell you a family story. This story involves my father, Simeon Neal, Jr. who was born August 31, 1920. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma where his father, Simeon, Sr. had a tailor shop. The shop was on Greenwood Avenue, which in Tulsa was called Black Wall Street because there were so many thriving and successful businesses along that street and in the area around that street. There were also hundreds of homes in which most of the black people in Tulsa lived. Now, the year after my father was born, in 1921, on May 3rd, the first and incident occurred that changed the lives of everyone in Tulsa basically forever.

There was a young black man who worked downtown shining shoes in front of the Drexel building. And because segregation was very much in force in Tulsa, at that time, any black person who worked downtown or in that area had limited options when it came to just doing something like going to the bathroom. So, this young man, his name was Dick Rowland, when away from his shoeshine station to use the washroom and he was allowed to go only on the top of the, the top floor of the Drexel Building. In order to use the bathroom, and in order to get there, he had to take an elevator. And the elevators in 1921 were not like the elevators that we’re used to where you just go in and press, press the button for your floor and you’d you taken to your destination. At that time there was always an elevator operator, who either controlled the elevator with, with a lever, like you might have seen in the cable cars of San Francisco, or with a wheel that would actually propel the elevator up or bring it back down. So the elevator operator on this day, May 31st, in the Drexel Building, was a young white woman whose name was Sarah Page. Now, the story doesn’t say exactly what happened.  We don’t know for sure. But when Dick Rowland went into that elevator, he either stumbled and fell into Sarah, or accidentally or maybe even on purpose, touched her. But by the time he made it back down to his shoeshine station, a rumor had started that he had assaulted Sarah and that was just not allowed. It was not allowed for a black man to touch a white woman even if he was a young boy. The penalty for doing such a thing was usually death. Sometimes ya get arrested before you die but usually you would be strung up and lynched, which was a practice that was very prevalent in the south for a long time. And we weren’t even exactly in the south but it was Oklahoma. It was segregation. A black man cannot touch a white woman.

So white folks started gathering for the lynching that was going to take place because Dick Rowland had so-called assaulted Sarah Page. And it got to be such a big deal, as lynchings often were. Sometimes whole families would come out. People would have picnics. There was even a town where lynchings occurred on every Friday. But in Tulsa, on that day, the word spread so far that it reached the Greenwood Avenue District and the black people came to try to save him from what was surely going to be his fate.

Now, this was shortly after World War I and lots of the men who lived in the Greenwood Avenue District had been soldiers, had been fighters, and they still had that warrior spirit. So they went downtown to rescue Dick Roland and make sure that he was not killed for what might have just been an accident. The people who were intent on lynching Dick Rowland were armed and the black men were armed. Some with guns or rifles, others with sticks, bats, bricks, whatever they could get their hands on, and a big battle actually ensued between the white men and the black men. As the battle spread, the black men started retreating toward the Greenwood Avenue District and the white men followed. And when they got close to the area where black people lived, they started setting fires. And one burning building led to another burning building, to another one.

And the white men who had set those fires would not even let the fire department in to put the fires out. So Greenwood Avenue went up in flames. Burning not only the businesses, but the homes around it and the fire was getting close to Grandpa Neal’s tailor shop. He had one customer, a white man, who had a horse and wagon and he offered to save my grandfather and his family by hiding them under the hay in that wagon. So if you could imagine, not having any time to gather up your belongings or your precious photographs or mementos or even clothes. If you could imagine, Grandpa Neal and his wife Susan, their, their daughter of three or four year old, four years old Marjorie and my father who was less than a year old, gathering them up, hiding them under the hay in this wagon, and leaving town just to survive. And it was a good thing that they did that because hundreds of people were killed on that two day spree of fires and gunshots and death and destruction. Between May 31st and June 1st hundreds of people, hundreds of businesses destroyed.

Now Grandpa and his family made it to St. Louis, initially, but really couldn’t get a hold on establishing themselves there. So they went to Chicago next. And Grandpa Neal was able to establish another tailor shop.  This time on 47th Street, which was a prosperous business district in Chicago at that time. And I remember visiting that shop and Grandpa Neal was still making suits. But he would also sell men’s accessories, shirts, ties, socks. And I remember playing with, with the socks of the sock drawer. That was one of the things I would do while the adults were talking.

But more than that I remember how vibrant and exciting 47th Street was with, you know, music clubs and places to eat, all types of businesses. And it’s those memories that become really in stark contrast to the 47th Street of today, although there is an effort to bring things back. There are so many vacant lots where, where businesses used to be. There are so many boarded up buildings where families used to live. And that poses the question of why? Why…Why does one community thrive when another one goes down? I don’t have all of those answers but I have a, a night…What is this year? 2016…Example that could, could in a way, shed some light on that.

There’s this grocery chain called Mariano’s. I’m calling out names now. But when a few years ago, when the Dominick’s chain went out, it went into bankruptcy, and went out of business, their stores were, the court order was, that they couldn’t sell all of their stores to just one of the grocery, grocer. They had to divide that between at least two or three different concerns. So Jewel got some of the buildings and Mariano’s, which was just an up and coming chain at that time, got the other buildings. So there was this strip on 71st Street and Jeffrey, still on the South Side of Chicago, where there was a Dominick’s. And years later now, three or four years later, no grocery chain has, has moved into that building. But Mariano’s finally opened on King’s Drive and Oakwood Boulevard. While this one Mariano’s was being built, on the north side Mariano’s stores were popping up literally everywhere. I mean, any time you would drive any distance on the north side of Chicago, you see yet another Mariano’s. Now why is it that the North Side can have, at this point, probably 10 or 15 of these grocery stores and it took years for the South Side to get only one. Happenstance… or intentional? You tell me.

Black History Month

……………bhm-back….. .. Celebrating Black History in Classrooms, Groups or for private reflection. Here is a selection of units and lesson plans for use in Black History Month or for of any time . . . .

 

Celebrating Black American Arts

This short, but flexible lesson plan provides a variety of options for students to become familiar with African American culture including through research and presentation. Options include the contributions of African Americans to dance, art, music, food/cuisine, and science.

Download Celebrating Black American Arts (PDF)

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Connecting The Dots:

Racism, Activism, & Creating a Life
by Storyteller Michael McCarty

African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.

Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.

Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.

Let Michael McCarty’s story inspire conversation among your students (and faculty) about the issues of racism, standing up for one’s beliefs, working for change in the world and in our lives and the power of stories to inspire and connect.

Complete text and audio download of this story come in a short version and a long version. Connecting the Dots is an ideal discussion starter for college age, young adults and justice and peace groups. Lesson Plan provides questions and activities..

Click here for Connecting the Dots

Go to other short video stories by Michael McCarty:  RaceBridgesStudio.com and go to the Video Showcase menu

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We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism

A lesson plan that helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This is a basic begining unit to consider race and racism with respect and discovery. Teacher guide and student activities.

Click here for We All Have A Race

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A White Girl Looks at Race:

Davey Crockett; Us vs Them; The Dr. King March

3 Short Stories by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

Three short stories set in Chicago in the 1960′s amid racial separation, change and conflict.

Susan O’Halloran tells of meeting her first Black child as a young child herself, of the racial attitudes in growing up on the southwest side of Chcago and her memories of feeling’locked in’ when Dr. Martin Luther King came to march blocks from her home. Gripping and moving stories of the past, challenges for the present. Texts, teacher guide and student activities with audio downloads.

Click here for A White Girl Looks at Race

Go to other short video stories by Susan O’Halloran:  RaceBridgesStudio.com and go to the Video Showcase menu

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From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door:

Tracing the Roots of Racism

By Storyteller La’Ron Williams

African American Storyteller La’Ron Williams tells about his experience growing up in Flint, Michigan, where he felt nurtured by a supportive African-American community. Yet even at an early age, Williams knew there were threats to his safety when he saw on the front cover of Jet Magazine the picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who had been killed by bigoted Whites in the South.

From that jarring moment onward, Williams describes the experience of growing up in parallel worlds: a Black world that loved and mentored him and a White world that, even in its most benign expression, assumed a “neutral status” that for African-Americans was neither neutral nor benign. Using examples from the media and from his own experiences in a town divided by racial tension, Williams creates a story that tells the truth about American racial hierarchy while also offering hope for all those eager to transcend its legacy. Full text of story, audio downloads and student activities included.

Use this story as a way to introduce topics related to race, to deepen your conversations about the distinctions between personal and institutional racism, to address race and unconscious bias in the media, or to provide another way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month in February

Click here for From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door

Go to other short video stories by La’Ron Williams:  RaceBridgesStudio.com and go to the Video Showcase menu

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT THE END WILL BE

By Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

 

Story Summary:

 In 1972 Diane marries outside her race (as they say) and her mother-in-law refuses to attend the wedding, among other things. What happens to the family’s relationship afterward is anyone’s guess.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Since most cities and neighborhoods are not integrated in a balanced manner, or are, in fact, still segregated, what are the ramifications for an interracial couple and their children when they live in a non-integrated neighborhood, where the churches, schools, etc. are either predominantly one group or the other?
  2. In a Black/White marriage, for example, one or maybe both spouses may not feel totally comfortable in the social/cultural setting of the other spouse. For instance, the white spouse may feel ill at ease being the only white person at a Black party or in a Black church, or vise versa. Do you think this situation might apply more to one spouse than the other, and, if so, how might that affect their marriage and other choices they make?
  3. Many biracial or mixed race young people identify themselves as such, yet almost all Black/White biracial young people identify themselves as Black, period. Why do you think this is true? What historical forces encouraged this identification? What happens to the child who doesn’t look “Black”?

Resource:

 

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

The Teacher as Learner

 

Story Summary:

Nancy shares some of her favorite teaching moments when students from different cultures turn the tables and teach her about stories from their cultures. Second grader, Luis, tries to be patient with his teacher, but despairs of ever getting Nancy to pronounce “pantalones” correctly. Nancy learns just how challenging it is to communicate in another language.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Teacher-as-Learner

Discussion Questions:

  1. What happened when the second graders taught Nancy the Spanish version of The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything? What were the benefits that for once the students were the language teachers instead of the language learners?
  2. What are some other ideas for reversing the roles of teacher and learner – particularly for students whose first language is not English?
  3. Why do you think the 7th graders were so eager to find and hear stories from their cultures of origin? How did telling The Story of Tam and Cam help the two Vietnamese students start telling stories about their life before coming to America?
  4. Does each group who comes to this country eventually lose its culture? What is gained and what is lost through assimilation or through holding on to one’s culture?

Resources:

  •  The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda William
  • La Viejecita Que No Le Tenia Miedo a Nada (The Little Old Lady Who Was not Afraid of Anything, Spanish Edition) by Linda Williams, translation by Yolanda Noda
  • The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series – each book collects variants from many cultures of one tale type (Cinderella by Judy Sierra, Beauties and Beasts by Betsy Gould Hearn, Tom Thumb by Margaret Read MacDonald, A Knock at the Door by George Shannon)

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Nancy Donoval, and I’ve been a working storyteller for a lot of years. And I want to tell you about some adventures that I had as an artist in residence, in the state of Illinois.

I went to this one school for a week and they welcomed me. I’ve never been to a school like this before. I was gonna to do an assembly of stories for different grade levels; K-2, K-3, and then fourth, fifth, and sixth and then I was gonna to be in the reading teacher’s room. And each classroom was going to come to me for, for one little session on storytelling. And we talked about different things I would do with different classes and different grade levels. But when I got to the school, oh my goodness, they had prepared it so much. There were signs everywhere. “Welcome storyteller. Welcome to Nancy Donoval.” I went into the women’s bathroom and there were signs in there, welcoming me to the school. And the kids had made them all and they had laminated them. I felt like a wanted, special artist.

It was right around Halloween. So, I went in to do the assembly. It was one of those big cafetorium with the kids all spread out like a sea of them around me. And I’m standing there with the microphone and I start telling some ghost stories because it’s around Halloween. And everything is going great and then I start telling this story from a book by Linda Williams, called The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything. Because this was the younger group of kids and I didn’t want to tell anything too scary. And as soon as I started the, this one group over in a corner, erupted. There was just noise, and commotion, and moving around, and then, and then the teacher saying, “Shh.”  I thought OK., is it the Linda Williams fan club? Is it people who really hate this? What is happening there? But I was just doing the story. I found out later, that was the second-grade ESL class and they had just put on The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything, the Spanish version. So, as they were listening to all these stories that were in English and catching what they could or what they couldn’t. Suddenly, I was telling a story that they knew that was for them.

I had so many kids come in and, and do the different groups but the classroom, I remember is that group of kids coming in to be with me. They were so excited. I was so excited. I have no memory of what the teacher and I had planned to do. I do have a memory of thinking I don’t speak Spanish. And while I’ve worked with kids of second language in groups, where it was a lot of different languages, or most people spoke English but a few people. I never had a full-on group of seven year olds, they really mostly spoke Spanish. I was feeling a little out of my depth and what was I going to do for them. And I thought, hmm, let’s try instead of “oh I’m the teacher here to help you.” They loved that story so much in Spanish. Let’s have them teach it to me. And so, they started teaching me, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything, in Spanish.

I’m not very good with languages. I really struggled. It was fun because I knew the story. When we get to the sound effects like “clump, clump, clump, and, and snap, snap, snap,” I was like, OK, I know how to do those. But I had so much trouble with all the rest of it. They were so gentle and so patient. And they, sort of, broke themselves up into little groups of who was going to work on what, who was going to teach me what. And I started seeing them mirroring all the behaviors that people had used with them, trying to get them to speak another language.

The person who was very ferocious with me. “No, no. Like this, like this.” And then they would say it again, “Like this.” And I would feel a little like, “I’m trying. I’m doing my best. I mean I’m not faking that I’m not good at this to make them feel better. I am really trying to do it.”

And there was a boy named Luis who just attached himself to my left shoulder and somehow became the person who was determined that I would say the word pantalones correctly. He was so patient and so. (Sighs) He did that so many times. And he would say the word and I would say it. And to me I was saying it exactly like he said it. But I wasn’t. They were giggling. They were laughing. They were the teachers.

They were the experts and I started realizing, oh, they’re actually getting to see how hard it is to learn a new language. They’re getting to see me not be able to do it in a snap. And I was hoping that maybe that made them feel like, oh yeah it takes a while to do this. And really they are much better at English than I’m ever going to be in Spanish. I loved that group of kids. I’m always going to remember Luis and I still really don’t know how to pronounce pantalones very well. But you know, you can go to schools and be speaking a different language even when it seems like you’re both speaking English.

I grew up in Chicago and that’s where I was based at this time. And, and I was very comfortable in the urban environment. But I ended up doing residencies way out in farming country, in western Illinois. I remember working with a group of high school students and they were telling stories about hijinks their parents had been up to. And one of them started talking about when a group of his parents’ friends, when they were teenagers, had stolen a bunch of watermelons. And they had taken the watermelons and they put them in the river to keep them cold and hide them and then they could eat them the next day.  And I was horrified! Take fruit that you’re going to eat and soak it overnight in a river?! I’m from Chicago. We dye the river green and the rest of the year, when it’s not St. Patrick’s Day, it is a lot of colors but mostly not the color of anything you want to soak something in overnight. And we realized even the same word “river” meant something totally different to them than it meant to me.

I even ended up going into this hog farming community. I was the first artist that had ever been to their town, ever. Five hundred people in the town. All the kids who were in the school lived on hog farms all around. And when they were working on making up an adventure for an animal story, they did a story about what they knew and they created an amusement park for pigs. Everything pigs would like, troughs of food that the pigs when they pay their lunch ticket could swim in and open their mouths, and just everything would go in, and I would never have been able to think about what a pig would want for an amusement park. But they knew exactly what to do. It was the most homogenous community I’d ever been in. Everybody was white, everybody was a farmer. I think there was one Jewish family in town. People would tell me that to let me know that they did have diversity.

I was there for a month working with third graders. And the very last week a girl came into our class who had just been adopted from an orphanage in Russia. She had black hair. No one in the school had black hair. And her skin was darker and she was from this other country and she did speak English and we were kind of at the end of the residency and we’d done most of the work that they had to do. And every day I would tell them new story as part of our work and she came in. And I thought, hmm, hmm.  Russia, Russia. I knew a story about Baba Yaga. It wasn’t one I’d really performed but it was one I knew. And I told it. Not to say, “Hey little girl, I know all about Russia,” but just because I thought, in this room, where she looks so different from everybody, maybe she’s heard this story and I can give her something familiar.

She lit up. And then after the story, corrected me on how it should go. Because, of course, I got the story from a book and she’d actually heard it from someone. “No, no, no, that animal in the story that would have been a mouse not, not what you were saying.” And she drew these amazing pictures of Baba Yaga’s house. The house on chicken legs. And she had a detail I’d never known about, this chain around one of the chicken legs, keeping it to the ground so it couldn’t run away. I still have her pictures. And I helped welcome her in to that community and she helped me know that story a little bit better.

I have one last group I want to tell you about. It’s a group of seventh graders, not in rural community at all, right there in Chicago where I grew up. But it was an inner-city school. And when I went into work but the seventh graders, four classrooms of seventh graders, in a Chicago public school, it was almost all immigrants. They had 31 languages spoken in the room. At least a half to a third of the kids there were not born in this country and the vast majority of the rest of them, their parents were not born in this country. There were a couple of people that their grandparents had come from another country. But this was the United Nations in a classroom. And the principal had brought me in to say that in a week, which was one hour a day with each group of seventh graders, she wanted them to be able to tell a story from their life. That by seventh grade you should be able to get up in front of people and tell a story from your life.

And I went in to work with them. And one of the things I do when I work with kids is that, we go around the room and I have them say their name out loud, and then tell me something that they really like. And then, we come up with a gesture for it as a memory tool. Because I’ve learned my lesson, that kids really end up getting worried about doing it right. And if I’m trying to learn their names and come back the next day, and come back the next day, I always tell them, I’m not going to remember all your names. I’m going to get some wrong. By the end of the week, I’ll be better. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember you. And I need you to really tell me something you care about and we’ll come up with a gesture to get it into my head.

And I remember this one kid, who his favorite thing was roller coasters. So, the gesture he came up with was, (makes downward gesture). When I went back the next day it was like, ahhh, OK. I remember that name. I remember that name. I remember that name. I got to him, I couldn’t remember his name. And it wasn’t like the kids were against me, I know we have you know things about junior high, they wanted me to do well. And suddenly, this charade show was going on, of, of everybody doing things that he kept doing this, (makes downward gesture). And I could not remember what that was. And finally, I went, “Roller coaster, roller coaster!” And then I still couldn’t remember his name and all of the kids started going, (makes stirring/tossing gestures) I’m totally lost. Totally lost. Yeah, his name was Caesar. And they were showing me mixing up a salad. And that’s part of why I asked them for their name so they say at least one thing to me and we have a relationship.

But then we started moving into them trying to tell stories from their lives, they were pretty much like, I don’t have a story.  I don’t know what you mean. And I started thinking about my grandfather who came from Czechoslovakia. And when I was a kid, I thought it was so amazing that he grew up in this other country and he knew this other language. And I try to get him to teach it to me. And he would say, “We are American. We speak American.” He would put his whole country aside. And I started thinking, I wonder if these kids know that they have stories that are from their country?

When I became a storyteller, I started hunting for stories from Czechoslovakia. Anything to make me feel connected to the homeland. And I got them all in books. And I remember going to the Museum of Science and Industry and telling for this Christmas thing. And, and, oh, I’d be all little kids, and being very, ahh, you know, high-powered participation, secular, holiday stories. And then my last group was two, two women; one in a wheelchair, and then the old one pushing it. And as soon as I started this story, just for them, a new story I was learning that was quiet, and not participatory, but from the country my grandfather came from, the woman in the wheelchair fell asleep. But the other woman just watched me and watched me and watched me. And afterwards, she came up and in that universal grandmother gesture, she curled three dollar bills into my hand, and said, “You just gave me back my childhood. You just gave me back my grandfather’s hands. When I was young and I grew up in Czechoslovakia and I would sit on the floor by the fire and he would sit on a stool. And he would tell me stories, including that story. And I would watch his hands.” And all I could think was these stories really come from the country? ‘Cause I’m just in the folktales section at the library. But the stories in the books really come from there.

And I’m looking at these kids who feel like they have no stories. And the next day, I brought in a huge crate of books, a whole bunch of folktale books. And I said, “I’m not giving these to you but I want you to actually have a chance to look at where you come from and all the stories that are connected to you.” And I just started grabbing them, “Who’s from India? Who’s from India? Stories from India?” handed it to them. “OK. Russia. OK.”  Just everything. “Who’s Buddhist. Let’s have that.” All the different collections and they drove into them. They were so hungry for them. And at lunchtime these two kids came up to me and said, “Did you have any books from Puerto Rico?” I said, “Oh, no, I don’t. I don’t have any books from Puerto Rico but I know a couple stories from Puerto Rico.” And they skipped lunch and sat there with me while I told them stories from where they came from, where their parents came from. Two girls from Vietnam had been very clear that they had no stories. They knew no stories. They had no stories. But I had a book of all these different versions of Cinderella from different countries. And I just started going through the Table of Contents, not reading the names of the stories, and what country they were from. And the very last one on the book is The Story of Tấm and Cám from Vietnam. And those two girls, (gasps), they knew that story. And then they wanted me to read it from the book. And I said, “Why should I read it from the book? You know the story.” They told it. And then they started telling us about the school they’d gone to in Vietnam and the bell that was rung to bring them into the school every day. And the cute boy who usually worked at the gate. They had story. They just needed to know where they came from.

I have to say pretty much every one of these experiences had a moment of me going, “I have no idea what to do now. I don’t speak these languages. I don’t know their cultures. I don’t want to.” And every time the right thing for me to do was instead of trying to teach them, let them teach me.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTINUING A BLACK HISTORY FOCUS

We cannot underestimate the impact of what storyteller Anne Shimojima calls “looking into the mirror of life and never seeing your own reflection.”

In this video “Taming the Fire“, story artist Sheila Arnold describes her teenage discovery of African American History. Luckily for Sheila, she had a teacher who understood Sheila’s anger at not learning about her heritage. Her teacher appreciated Sheila’s passionate and rightful desire for the truth and was able to transform that energy into inspiration for herself and all of her students.

Sometimes, those of us who are not identified as African American, think of Black History in terms of when Americans of African descent got the right to vote or sit at a lunch counter. The obstacles faced were so much deeper and wider than that and included: the right to know your name, the right to know your family, the right to hold office, the right to be in the military, the right to sign contracts, the right to buy homes, the right to enter most professions, the right to read, the right to go to school, the right to medical care, the right to refuse sterilization, the right to give evidence against a white man, the right to live without constant threat of physical harm and death to you and your loved ones and on and on. The fact that in spite of all this danger, disrespect and discrimination African Americans made contributions in every field of American life is a true testament to the human spirit.

In order to survive and even thrive under this constant onslaught to their humanity African Americans were able to lean on the gifts from their African cultures as well as develop a unique African American culture that is nurturing, strong and varied. Each African American child deserves to know about the beauty and struggle from which they come and all American students need to understand and appreciate how the United States is as democratic and as true to its ideals as it is because of African Americans.

THE HISTORY OF NATIONAL HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH

hhmDid you know that National Hispanic Heritage Month actually started as a one-week celebration? The observation started in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded to 31 days under President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Do you know why it starts in the middle of the month, September 15th, instead of on the first of the month as other ethnic celebrations do? That’s because Hispanic Heritage month includes the history, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean plus Central and South America.

September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico celebrates their independence on September 16 and Chile on September18th.

Who calls himself or herself “Hispanic” or “Latino”? The U.S. Census Bureau defines the category as those of Spanish origin regardless of race. The 2010 Census identified 50.5 million people or 16% of the population as being of Hispanic or Latino origin. As you might guess, the top two places in the U.S. with the highest percentage of Latinos are Texas and California, but populations are rising throughout the U.S.

Whether you have many, few or no Hispanic children in your classrooms, observing National Hispanic Month is important for your students who are Latino as well as for those who will most certainly be studying, working and living alongside people of Spanish-origins.

For ideas on lessons plans that highlight the history and contribution of Hispanic Americans go to: http://racebridgesstudio.com/how-do-you-perceive-mexico

For examples of Hispanic art collections, videos and images go to:  http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov

THE DR. KING HOLIDAY : DAY OF SERVICE Contributing vs. Taking ?

What is the difference between contributing and taking? Do the students of today understand this distinction? Can they put it into practice? As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that the mlk-stampyouth of today play a role in positively contributing to our society. After all, we want our future leaders and caregivers to build our communities up and expand our resources, rather than become those who tear down our quality of life.

It is important to discuss with students, on a regular basis, the value of contributing. Contributing to conversations, to programs, to the world in a positive way. Contributing means giving or donating. It could refer to time, energy, talents, money, or resources. Students should see that everyone, regardless of age or race, has the ability to contribute to our world in a positive way and make a difference. That is how we learn about each other – values, cultures, beliefs. And that is how we make our world a better place for everyone. 

Taking is just that. Taking. It doesn’t offer anything in return. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t kind. It doesn’t improve the quality of life for anyone – except the taker, and that is usually temporary and minimal. All actions have consequences. Taking can suggest a negative action and has a negative consequence. Contributing, on the other hand, is a positive action with positive consequences. Contributing often has a ripple effect – impacting people positively miles away and generations apart.

How can schools and teachers impart these valuable life lessons to students? Below are a few tips:

  • Value the opinions, beliefs, and experiences of every student. Encourage students to form their opinions based on fact, not rumor.
  • Encourage students to share in class. Tying academic lessons to life experiences cements understanding of those lessons. Don’t be afraid to allow the lesson to drift to this area. The results are priceless.
  • Provide opportunities of service and volunteerism for students. Some schools even require students to participate in some sort of service. Have students select a service, and then have them sign an agreement to complete the task.
  • Expect students to participate positively while in school, and support activities that promote student service.
  • Set up a field trip (or several) during the school year where the entire class participates in an act of service.

 

FOR FURTHER IDEAS ON THESE THEMES  SEE RACEBRIDGES RESOURCE :

GIVING IT BACK : SERVICE LEARNING IN YOUR CLASSROOM 

Thanksgiving and Belonging

Many Meanings and our First Nations Peoples

The holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us.  Perhaps more than any other gathering, Thanksgiving, with its richly mythologized history and emphasis on the table of family and fellowship, gives teachers and students a golden opportunity to reflect on the larger, metaphorical “American table” and who is – and isn’t –  included. By asking, “Who’s missing from our table?” educators can open up a timely discussion about inclusion, diversity and welcome in America.

In discussing the story of the original Thanksgiving table, teachers can mine students’ understanding of an event that schoolchildren have always been taught was about peace and fellowship between two peoples. Of course, most historians agree that this traditional story has been highly mythologized – and neglects the painful truth about Native American genocide and assimilation. When students understand that the first Thanksgiving table was perhaps not as welcoming as they’ve been taught, they can more easily take a look at their own gathering tables, literally and metaphorically. And they can begin to consider who may or may not feel included at those tables.

  • Begin by asking students what they know about the first Thanksgiving. You’re likely to hear about the Pilgrims’ black clothes and shoe buckles, about the Indians contribution of corn, how the two groups came together peacefully to share a meal, and so on..
  • You can then explain to them how much of this story is untrue. For example, we know that these Puritan Pilgrims would not have worn black on a weekday. We know that many Native Americans were massacred by Americans in that period of time. For many students, this will be an entirely new way to look at a traditional American story — and it may get them thinking about why they’ve only heard the story from one perspective..
  • Next, organize students into small groups where they can focus on telling their own stories. Pose the question, “Was there a time in your life where you and your family felt included or excluded as an American? Or maybe there was a time you included or excluded someone else?”.
  • In closing, have students report on their stories of inclusion and exclusion by stating ways in which they were disappointed by their country, and the ways in which they’re proud and hopeful about their country..

Reflecting on and telling our own American stories in the classroom is one way we can “open up” the American table.  As we prepare to celebrate one of the most beloved holidays of our country, it’s crucial that we ask ourselves who s missing from any of the tables at which we sit and then make sure  that we reach out to and include those folks. Only when we pay attention to who is missing from our table can we act to make sure all are welcome there.

Get free lesson plans and short videos highlighting Native American Month and Thanksgiving.

THE DR. KING HOLIDAY : DAY OF SERVICE

What Can Students Do?

Part of educating our students involves making them aware of the world in which they live – the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, the right and the wrong, the haves and the have-nots. As the future leaders of our country, today’s students must be exposed to the realities of the present day. We must teach them to recognize things that need change, to dream big, to set goals, and how to go about making changes in our world.

What can schools and teaches do to bring awareness to students and to encourage acts of service? Below are a few ideas to get started with:

  • Talk to students about what an ideal world looks like to them. Brainstorm qualities and write them down. Next, have a discussion with students about how the world lines up with their “ideal world.” Then, dialogue with students about things that they think need fixing or changing in our world. Encourage them to think of those that may need assistance.
  • Allow students to come up with ideas of service that would help to achieve their ideas for a better world. Suggest a few things to get them started, like: shoveling snow for a neighbor, serving food at a homeless shelter, reading or providing entertainment to the elderly at a retirement home, cleaning up the neighborhood park, volunteering, etc.
  • Provide outlets for students to complete their acts of service. Create a list of services with the students, and then look for places where those services can be provided.
  • Offer food and clothing drives for those in need.
  • Visit www.mlkday.gov to find fantastic opportunities for service in your own community. See if any would work for your school/students.

 

FOR FURTHER IDEAS ON THESE THEMES  SEE RACEBRIDGES RESOURCE :
GIVING IT BACK : SERVICE LEARNING IN YOUR CLASSROOM 

Storytelling: The Oral Tradition of Native American People

November is Native American Month

Storytelling As Strength

Who among us doesn’t like to hear a good story? Students are no different, even if they claim to be too old for such activities. Exciting and appealing, storytelling represents a strong method of conveying information in an engaging manner.

Valuable lessons can be taught and learned from this practice. In Native American culture, this practice is known as oral tradition. It is the sharing of life experiences, knowledge, and wisdom through storytelling. These stories are passed down from generation to generation, giving the culture’s youth a sense of belonging while instilling the system of beliefs, values, and traditions of Native Americans to its youngsters.

In some of the First Nations Tribes there is a growing concern that the ancient oral traditions and tribal languages are dying out with the aging elders, and the young often losing touch with that richness and family connectedness.

Below is one example of Native American oral tradition. Share it with students of all ages, and see if you can find meaning and life lessons in its words.

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Hero with the Horned Snakes (Cherokee)

 

cr_Richard_Hook-NA_Myths-09-222x300In ancient times, there lived some very large snakes that glittered nearly as bright as the sun. They had two horns on their heads, and they possessed a magic power of attraction. To see one of these snakes was always a bad omen. Whoever tried to escape from one instead ran directly toward the snake and was devoured.

Only a highly skilled medicine man or hunter could kill a two-horned snake. It required a very special medicine or power. The hunter had to shoot his arrow into the seventh stripe of the snake’s skin.

One day a Shawnee Indian youth was held captive by the Cherokees. He was promised his freedom if he could find and kill a horned snake. He hunted for many, many days in caves, over wild mountains, and at last found one high in the Tennessee Mountains.

The Shawnee youth made a large circle of fire by burning pine cones.Then he walked toward the two-horned snake. When it saw the hunter, the snake slowly raised its head. The Shawnee youth shouted, “Freedom or death!”

He then aimed carefully and shot his arrow through the seventh stripe of the horned snake’s skin. Turning quickly, he jumped into the center of the ring of fire, where he felt safe from the snake.

A stream of poison flowed from the snake, but was stopped by the fire. Because of the Shawnee youth’s bravery, the grateful Cherokees granted him his freedom as they had promised.

Four days later, some of the Cherokees went to the spot where the youth had killed the horned snake. They gathered fragments of snake bones and skin, tying them into a sacred bundle. These they kept carefully for their children and grandchildren, because they believed the sacred bundle would bring good fortune to their tribe.

Also on the same spot, a small lake formed containing black water. Into this water the Cherokee women dipped their twigs used in their basket making. This is how they learned to dye their baskets black, along with other colors.*

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*Native American Lore. (n.d.). Retrieved 9 5, 2011, from ilhawaii.net/stony/lore142

Go to our Free Lesson Plans and
Videos for November highlighting

Native American Month & Thanksgiving

STOP TREATING PEOPLE AS EXOTIC OTHERS

Of course, we want to introduce students to the wider world. But teachers have unwittingly introduced other groups and cultures as if those groups were the exotic others.Human zoo

For example, schools hold International Festivals that have the flavor of “look at these unusual foreign people.” When groups of people are seen as exotic or patronizingly precious that are no longer “real” people.

Plus, the people of the world are not only international. They are here. They are Americans, Americans with a wide array of viewpoints and desires. They are people to recognize, appreciate, respectfully disagree with, live with, love with, work with and study with on a day-to-day basis, not just once a year.

Without intending to, we can keep a group of people at arm’s length while, at the same time, giving ourselves the false feeling that we are being inclusive.

We want to remember that as recent as the 1950s, people from other parts of the world as well as African and Native Americans were displayed in the U.S. as if animals in a zoo. The displays were often part of a continuum that ranked groups from apes to real people i.e. Europeans. Without meaning to, our study of other cultures can have a tinge of the same feeling.

It takes more time, thought and true connections with people with whom we’ve had less experience to be able to honor the complexity and variety within other cultures as well as understand our own cultural backgrounds with their unique histories, oddities and perspectives.

Stereotypes: Disproving the Myths About the Hispanic Community

With the growth of Hispanic population in America readily increasing, it is important to address the need for schools to avoid and debunk the myths surrounding the Hispanic community. School should be a safe place for students to go where self-esteem is enhanced and learning reaches its highest potential. As leaders in the educational realm, teachers must set the example in the classroom. What are the stereotypes that exist about the Hispanic community? How can teachers disprove these? Below are a select few myths with appropriate guidelines for teachers to follow. 

  • Most Hispanics are immigrants. Untrue. Only about one-third of Hispanic population in America are immigrants – the remainder have all been born in America.*.Teachers should be aware that family is a huge factor when considering cultural heritage – much more so than being born in the actual country itself.
  • Most Hispanics do not value education. Also untrue, even though the alarmingly low rate of high school graduation in the Hispanic community shows otherwise..Teachers should be aware that many factors affect the decision of Hispanic youth who choose to drop out of school – the needs of the family are of great importance. Hispanic students may have to make the choice to help provide financial support for their impoverished family rather than finishing school. Very often survival comes first, and education falls to those who can afford it. Often a language barrier makes education very difficult. And finally, a lack of understanding from the mainstream culture makes education simply too hard altogether. It is not that educational value is unseen, rather, that the price for it is too high.*
  • Student capability is determined by whether they fit into the cultural mainstream. Wrong. Student capability is never decided by the mainstream of anything..Teachers should be aware that finding out about student backgrounds is a valuable tool. Teaching styles greatly impact student learning. Societal norms do not predict student success, and should not be relied upon to do so.
  • Family status and income are determining factors in determining student potential. Another myth. While these may affect individual student academic success to some degree, potential is determined by the student..Teachers should be aware that every student has the potential to succeed. Expect the same amount of effort from each student, and give the same amount of genuine encouragement and praise to each student. Demand the same level of excellence from each student, challenging them to always do their best work possible.
  • Academic success is measured by mastery of the English language. False. Being able to communicate in English does not signify an understanding or a lack of understanding of the academic material..Teachers should be aware that fluency of the English language does not constitute academic success. Knowing the language does not translate into mastery of the content of the academic subject areas. Focus on the understanding of the material, not the understanding of the language when gauging academic success.

 

For activities and ideas for the classroom or for youth or

young adult groups in and around Hispanic Heritage Month

RaceBridgesVideos.com

 

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*Shear, L. (2007, 3 19). Myths and Truths Regarding Hispanics in America. Retrieved 8 1, 2011, from associatedcontent.com

CIVIL RIGHTS : SNCC- A Nonviolent Fight for Freedom

 

February is Black History Month. It is a time to recognize strong leadership and significant contributions from American history of black citizens. It is a time to celebrate the achievements and notable accomplishments that bettered our world. But there were many organizations that enriched the lives of Americans. Take a moment to consider the many, many groups and organizations that worked so hard to make change happen.

One such organization is SNCC. Below are some frequently asked questions and answers about this important, yet not so widely known organization during the Civil Rights Movement. Share them with your students. Make a trivia game out of the facts below. Create a webquest or scavenger hunt for facts about this group for your students. But mostly, let them be enlightened by the existence of this organization and their push for freedom.

Q: What does SNCC stand for?

A: SNCC stands for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.*

Q: When was this group established?

A: It was founded in April 1960 by young people who had emerged as leaders of the sit-in protest movement initiated on February 1 of that year by four black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina.*

Q: Why was it formed?

A: SNCC’s emergence as a force in the southern civil rights movement came largely through the involvement of students in the 1961 Freedom Rides, designed to test a 1960 Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in interstate travel facilities unconstitutional. By the time the Interstate Commerce Commission began enforcing the ruling mandating equal treatment in interstate travel in November 1961, SNCC was immersed in voter registration efforts in McComb, Mississippi, and a desegregation campaign in Albany, Georgia, known as the Albany Movement.*

Q: What do they stand for?

A: The statement of purpose of the organization is : “We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the presupposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love.”*

Q: What type of ways did they use to get their messages out?

A: SNCC primarily used demonstrations, protest groups, and sit-ins to get their messages out and let their voices be heard.*

Check out these websites for further study on SNCC!

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* (n.d.). Retrieved 2 3, 2013, from Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute: http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_student_nonviolent_coordinating_committee_sncc/

 

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Explore the free resources and lessons
that focus on Black History Month and
many other Diversity themes for your
classroom, school or organization..

 

 

The Hmong and Schools: Creating Culturally Sensitive Classroom

Hmong story quilts
will sometimes display
political messages,
or scenes of war.

RaceBridges highlights a group of Asian American people who are rarely heard about but have much to say : The Hmong.

The Hmong people are an immigrant group to America. They came to the U.S. in the 1970s . The Hmong are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. The brief ideas and activities below will promote further study, not only of the Hmong American community but of the arrival of the very many and varied groups of immigrants that have made up America.

What is it like to be an immigrant in America? Often, it is a confusing place to live. Laws and beliefs are different in a new country. Language becomes a significant barrier, and customs are critiqued by all. Below are some basic beliefs and behaviors of the Hmong culture. See if you can identify potential problems when not familiar with American laws and customs. 

Hmong culture, in general, believes:

  • Girls are ready for marriage by the age of 13 or 14 years old, usually to an older man. American law considers this child abuse.
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  • Marriages are often done through Hmong culture and not through U.S. legal channels. This makes life difficult for Hmong women if there is a divorce or abandonment because it was not recognized as a legal marriage in the U.S. to begin with. There is also belief in polygamy in the culture – problematic all the way around.
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  • Girls who marry young will usually have children young, preventing them from finishing high school. This perpetuates the Hmong struggle for education.
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  • Hmong people value the family greatly, and desire for everyone to be together. Ten to twelve people may live in housing intended for 3-4. Rental housing in America usually has limitations on how many people can live in a specific space.
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  • Older generations of Hmong have the understanding that wilderness belongs to everyone, and is available for hunting or anything else. The concept that open land might be privately owned is a foreign concept to them. This can bring about great problems, due to simple misunderstanding and cultural differences.
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How do students feel about the Hmong population in America? How can schools and teachers learn about the cultural differences, and foster positive attitudes among students? Below are a few bits of information about attitudes toward the Hmong people, and a few tips for developing a culturally sensitive classroom.

Attitude toward the Hmong:

Americans find it difficult to distinguish Hmong from Vietnamese or other Asian groups.

Culturally Sensitive Classroom Tip:

  • Invite all students to talk about their cultural heritages. Encourage activities that blend the cultures and offer understanding.

Attitude:

Americans are perplexed by the rituals and music of the Hmong culture.

Tip:

  • Set aside a cultural appreciation day, encouraging students to bring in physical objects and music of their culture. Share an instrument or a song in the classroom.
  • Allow students to share information about traditions of their culture or explain the meaning behind the ritual or music. Celebrate the uniqueness of culture!

Attitude:

Americans do not understand why or how the Hmong came to be in U.S.

Tip:

  • Offer lessons that supply historical information about the Hmong contribution during the Vietnam War. Explain what happened during that time. Simply make the information available to students, as most probably have no idea of the historical background of the Hmong people or how they came to America.
  • Invite an elder of the Hmong community to share his/her experiences with the class.
  • Provide printed materials, photos or articles that give additional facts for students to absorb. Students thrive on “hands-on” activities.

Attitude:

Americans have little knowledge of the history or background of the Hmong culture.

Tip:

  • Talk about the Hmong culture! Implement a lesson about the Vietnam War that includes the Hmong involvement in it.
  • Ask an elder of the Hmong community to share knowledge, rituals, traditions, beliefs, experiences, etc. with the class.

Attitude:

Americans view the Hmong people as hard-working and polite, but uneducated.

Tip:

  • Stress the importance and value of being a hard-worker in the American society.
  • Being polite is equally valued, but is sometimes seen as a lack of assertiveness. With a large population of Hmong in Minnesota (the state where politeness is referred to as “Minnesota Nice” because the people are overwhelmingly polite), this quality is genuinely appreciated and valued.
  • Be open with students about the background of the Hmong people – that they came from Laos where there was simply no need for education. The people lived in the lovely countryside with family enmeshed all around. Great academic strides have been made for the Hmong. Celebrate their achievements.

_____

Sources:

http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Hmong-Americans.html. (2012). Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from Every Culture: http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Hmong-Americans.html

(2008, 9 13). Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from Asian Week: http://www.asianweek.com/2008/09/13/persistent-invisibility-hmong-americans-are-silenced/

Lindsay, J. (2012). http://www.jefflindsay.com/hmong-clash.html. Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from http://www.jefflindsay.com/hmong-clash.html

Sensitivity or censorship?

Controversy is brewing over a new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, which seeks to replace all 219 instances of the “n word” with the word “slave.” While the publishers’ intent is sensitivity, many people consider the change a dangerous case of censorship.

For educators, issues like this are especially thorny. How do we teach our students about the difficult realities of history—and explore American literature’s place in that history—without creating a contentious classroom? Do we omit difficult facts and language, or do we confront them? And when we do confront them, how can we create an environment that helps our students speak openly, think critically, and exercise compassion?

Find lesson plans like What’s Racism Got To Do With Me ?, We All Have A Race and Keep the Peace! available free at: RaceBridges Studio

Remember the Holocaust

images The Holocaust : National Days of Remembrance

The US Congress established the Days of Remembrance as our nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust.

RaceBridges remembers the Victims of the Nazi Holocaust in World War II Europe. We remember too the aging survivors of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims—six million were murdered; Roma (Gypsies), people with disabilities, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, various faith groups, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi Germany.

The theme of of the 2011 Days of Remembrance is Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide : What Have We Learned ?

RaceBridges invites you to listen to these four original short stories told by professional storytellers. These stories remember the Holocaust,  and are about people who escaped from the Holocaust and their enduring witness . . .

 

Use these stories for personal reflection or for student and group discussion.

Further Information :
http://www.ushmm.org/remembrance/dor/

REFLECTIONS ON KWANZAA (Part 2 )

Be inspired. Be uplifted.

Kwanzaa is an annual festival celebrated in many African American communities, churches, schools and homes December 26 through January 1.  This ritual was created in 1966 by Dr.  Karenga of California State University, Long Beach, CA.  It is celebrated throughout the USA and around the world and is born of values from Africa.

When the Kwanzaa ritual is celebrated fully there are seven values or principles that are remembered and valued on each of the days of Kwanzaa. They embody the strengths, solidarity, struggles, dignity and hopes and goals of the community.

The 7 Kwanzaa principles are :

Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) To build and maintain community together and make our sister’s and brother’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)  To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses together.
Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building of our community to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity) To do as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith)  To believe with our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness of our struggle.

 

The Kwanzaa seven principles have a universal message for all people – good will. These values stress the importance of uniting people through shared beliefs and acts, resulting in the strengthening and celebration of family, community, and culture.* 

In our uncertain world of unstable economies, war-torn countries, and growing concerns of safety, Kwanzaa is a holiday with harmony and joy at its crux. It brings people together – all countries, all religious traditions, all classes, all ages and generations, and all political persuasions – using the common ground of celebrating the African culture in all its historical and current diversity.*

The 7 principles or values of Kwanzaa are rich in motivation and inspiration, even if you are far from the African American community. Here are some ideas to generate some teaching modules in your classroom or school. In this article, the final four values are highlighted. (The first three Kwanzaa principles are featured in an earlier article. Scroll Down.)

Inspired by Kwanzaa, consider these activities for your classroom or group:

  • COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS
    • Create opportunities for students to participate in business experiences, such as: school store operations, fundraisers, cafeteria purchases, concessions, etc.
    • Allow students to vote on how certain monies will be spent, such as fundraiser money.
    • Give students chances to budget money set aside for field trips or picnics. What should the money be spent on? What are the priorities?
    • Let students complete order forms and meet with community store owners.
  • PURPOSE
    • Inform students of WHY. Don’t simply teach blindly, TELL the students why they are learning a particular concept. Apply it to the real world.
    • Practice goal-setting with students. Offer incentives and rewards for successful achievement.
    • Offer opportunities for students to interact with each other in problem-solving situations.
  • CREATIVITY
    • Practice “green” habits in the classroom, and encourage the students to participate. Assign tasks. Recycle. Reduce electricity usage. Minimize trash.
    • Provide space for the science or consumer science departments to grow a garden, plants, or flowers. There could even be a flower sale in the spring that students could collaborate.
    • Spruce up the landscaping – let students plant along the sidewalks or front entrance of the school. There could also be seasonal crafts put together for inside the school.
  • FAITH
    • Offer opportunities for students to show school spirit. Pep rallies. Assemblies. Clothing with school insignias that can be purchased. Talent shows. Basketball games that have students vs. teachers. Team or department contests. Challenges between grade levels.
    • Hang posters school-wide that boast school support, and encourage positive student interactions.
    • Involve parents in school activities. There are always opportunities for parents to volunteer, chaperone, or assist in activities.

__________

*(n.d.). Retrieved 11 1, 2011, from Africa Within: http://www.africawithin.com/kwanzaa/kwanzaa_values.htm

REFLECTIONS ON KWANZAA (Part 1 )

Be inspired. Be uplifted.

Kwanzaa is an annual festival celebrated in many African American communities, churches, schools and homes December 26 through January 1.  This ritual was created in 1966 by Dr.  Karenga of California State University, Long Beach, CA.  It is celebrated throughout the USA and around the world and is born of values from Africa.

When the Kwanzaa ritual is celebrated fully there are seven values or principles that are remembered and valued on each of the days of Kwanzaa. They embody the strengths, solidarity, struggles, dignity and hopes and goals of the community.  

The 7 Kwanzaa principles are :

Umoja (Unity) To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) To build and maintain community together and make our sister’s and brother’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)  To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses together.
Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building of our community to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity) To do as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith)  To believe with our hearts in our people, our parents,our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness of our struggle.

 

The Kwanzaa seven principles have a universal message for all people – good will. These values stress the importance of uniting people through shared beliefs and acts, resulting in the strengthening and celebration of family, community, and culture.*

In our uncertain world of unstable economies, war-torn countries, and growing concerns of safety, Kwanzaa is a holiday with harmony and joy at its crux. It brings people together – all countries, all religious traditions, all classes, all ages and generations, and all political persuasions – using the common ground of celebrating the African culture in all its historical and current diversity.*

The 7 principles or values of Kwanzaa are rich in motivation and inspiration, even if you are far from the African American community.  Here are some ideas to generate some teaching modules in your classroom or school.   In this article, the first three will be highlighted. (The final four principles will be featured in an upcoming article. Scroll Up.)

Inspired by Kwanzaa, consider these activities for your classroom or group:

  • UNITY
    • Encourage students to work together to complete school-wide tasks. Consider these ideas: canned food drives, fundraisers for the school to achieve school improvement goals, picnics, volunteerism, field trips that promote teamwork, etc.
    • Put together group projects.
    • Gather students for assemblies with community-building as the theme.
  • SELF-DETERMINATION
    • Encourage students to work assignments/projects through to completion.
    • Set up positive reinforcement goals with students.
    • Set goals with students – daily and future.
    • Include activities in the classroom that are both short-term and long-term.
    • Encourage students to stand up for what they know is right.
  • COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY
    • Set up assignments and activities that utilize groupwork and partner work.
    • Establish and enforce no tolerance policies for bullying, drug use, violence, etc. at school.
    • Create student leadership opportunities for students to excel in.
    • Design occasions for students to succeed in responsible tasks.

__________

*(n.d.). Retrieved 11 1, 2011, from Africa Within: http://www.africawithin.com/kwanzaa/kwanzaa_values.htm

Reflecting on Dr. King: Taking a Stand: Teaching Our Students to Consider Those Less Fortunate

What can students learn today about the highly influential Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? So much is accessible for students to learn about the man and his works that it is impossible for students today to be a part of our society and not know of him. He changed our country, our mentalities about liberty and human rights. It is nothing short of amazing what one man with a powerful voice can accomplish in a fleeting period of time.

Students should be able to take away from a study of his life and accomplishments the strong set of values
that he possessed. Values that he saw as so basic, everyone should have them.

He was, and still is today, a commanding authority on the rights of the individual. He spoke for those who had no platform and no hope. He opened doors that had been sealed shut. He encouraged volunteerism and a serving spirit. 

Below is a list of service opportunities that students could participate in during the school day, either in school or in the community. There is no more fitting place for Dr. King’s values to be put into practice than with the youth of today. Explore these opportunities with your students, and let them choose  one or many to participate in. When students are allowed a voice, their voices become much stronger.

  • Organize a food drive
  • Make crafts for kids in the hospital or those in nursing homes
  • Shovel snow, rake leaves, sweep floors, etc. for neighbors
  • Paint a mural in the community
  • Clean up an area of the community that needs work (parks, for example)
  • Plant trees for the community
  • Research your community to see what their needs are
  • Help out at an animal shelter
  • Deliver meals to the elderly
  • Babysit for a single parent for an evening
  • Collect recyclables
  • Serve meals at a homeless shelter
  • Organize a clothing drive for kids in need

 

Explore the many free lessons, resources and videos with themes of community building and inclusion found on our web sites. 

Reality Check: Truths and Myths of the Native American People

.What do you know about the Native American culture?
.What are the stereotypes and realities?
.

What do today’s schools and teachers know about the Native American people?

Take the quiz below to see if you and your students can
identify the truths and myths of this culture.

.

.

  1. T or F    All Native American tribes live in tipis.This is untrue. While several tribes live in tipis, not all Native American tribes do. Encourage students to explore the dwellings of other tribes, and why tipis are not appropriate housing for all tribes.*.
  2. T or F    Native Americans worship nature and animals.False. While Native Americans hold great respect and honor for nature and animals, they do not worship them. Their belief system centers on one creator who goes by many names. Be sure to clarify the difference with students.*.
  3. T or F    A medicine man and a shaman are the same thing in Native American culture.Couldn’t be further from the truth. In Native American culture, a medicine man is someone who uses herbs to treat illness or injury. A shaman in of European descent, and have no connection to the Native American culture at all. Be sure to use correct terms when teaching students about the Native American people.*.
  4. T or F    Native Americans are lazy or refuse to work.Untrue. To understand this perception, it is necessary to know the background of this culture. Once America was “discovered,” Native Americans of all tribes were expected to completely adapt to the new culture. This meant changing beliefs, ways of life, clothing, personal appearance, dwellings, etc. When the Native Americans refused to adapt, misconceptions of work ethics developed into full-blown stereotypes that still exist today.*.
  5. T or F    Native Americans are uncivilized savages.Just plain wrong. The terms “uncivilized” and “savage” imply that these people were blood-thirsty for battle. While some Native American tribes are considered warriors (often at war), it should not be taught that every tribe was seeking to kill. Also, these words suggest that Native Americans ran about without any system of morality. Native Americans had (or still have) their own system of laws and punishment.  Living by a different set of guidelines does not characterize civility.*

__________

*(n.d.). Retrieved 9 5, 2011, from http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stertype.htm#hallofshame

Fresh Ways to Explore the Gifts and Values of Black History Month in the Classroom

.

Black History Month is celebrated in February. Black Americans have contributed greatly to the growth of our nation. From artists to inventors. Engineers to authors. Judges to athletes. This culture has so enhanced our country that it is impossible to imagine what America would look like today without the accomplishments and ideals of black Americans.

How can schools and teachers call attention to these fine citizens and their achievements while allowing students to utilize their interests, talents, and creativity? Below are some engaging new ideas for exploring the black culture in the classroom during black history month.

  • Create a Soulfood Feast. Allow students to research or bring in recipes for soulfood. They design a placecard identifying their item (even its contents). Set up a day and time for the occasion, and students can bring in their creations that they made at home. Students can eat lunch in the classroom this day, sampling each other’s food..
  • Put together an internet scavenger hunt. List questions that highlight the gifts and values of black history month and have students research online to find the answers. Provide the websites where students will be doing this searching.
  • Offer an unfair or prejudice activity. Divide class into teams. Make this a trivia contest, but gradually let students see that only certain groups receive much easier questions. Once students recognize this, lead a discussion about how it felt to be treated differently or unfairly and how it felt to watch others be treated unfairly. Tie this into the theme of black history month..
  • Check to see if any local theater groups have performances centered around the holiday, and take students to a live performance..
  • Contact your local public libraries. There will often be special activities arranged here that would tie to black history month..
  • Have students research a famous black American. Then, they could create a 3D display of this person for the class or the school. Include pictures/photos, quotes, accomplishments, etc. on the display. Everyone can go on a gallery walk to view each other’s works. Consider offering prizes for the most creative, detailed, thorough, etc. works.

For further units related to Black History and many other diversity themes go to : RaceBridges Studio

Celebrating Black History Month

……………bhm-back….. ..

Celebrating Black History in Classrooms, Group or For Private Reflection

Here is a selection of units and lesson plans for use in Black History
Month or for any time . . .

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Celebrating Black American Arts

This short, but flexible lesson plan provides a variety of options for students to become familiar with African American culture including through research and presentation.  Options include the contributions of African Americans to dance, art, music, food/cuisine, and science.

Download Celebrating Black American Arts (PDF)

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Connecting The Dots:

Racism, Activism, & Creating a Life
by Storyteller Michael McCarty

African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.

Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.

Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.

Let Michael McCarty’s story inspire conversation among your students (and faculty) about the issues of racism, standing up for one’s beliefs, working for change in the world and in our lives and the power of stories to inspire and connect.

Complete text and audio download of this story come in a short version and a long version.   Connecting the Dots is an ideal discussion starter for college age, young adults and justice and peace groups. Lesson Plan provides questions and activities..

Click here for Connecting the Dots

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We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism

A lesson plan that helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This is a basic beggining unit to consider race and racism with respect and discovery.  Teacher guide and student activities.

Click here for We All Have A Race

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A White Girl Looks at Race:

Davey Crockett; Us vs Them; The Dr. King March

3 Short Stories by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

Three  short stories set in Chicago in the 1960′s amid racial separation, change and conflict.

Susan O’Halloran tells of meeting her first Black child as a young child herself, of the racial attitudes in growing up on the southwest side of Chcago and her memories of feeling’locked in’ when Dr. Martin Luther King came to march blocks from her home.    Gripping and moving stories of the past, challenges for the present.  Texts, teacher guide and student activities with audio downloads.

Click here for A White Girl Looks at Race

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From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door:

Tracing the Roots of Racism

By Storyteller La’Ron Williams

African American Storyteller La’Ron Williams tells about his experience growing up in Flint, Michigan, where he felt nurtured by a supportive African-American community. Yet even at an early age, Williams knew there were threats to his safety when he saw on the front cover of Jet Magazine the picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who had been killed by bigoted Whites in the South.

From that jarring moment onward, Williams describes the experience of growing up in parallel worlds: a Black world that loved and mentored him and a White world that, even in its most benign expression, assumed a “neutral status” that for African-Americans was neither neutral nor benign. Using examples from the media and from his own experiences in a town divided by racial tension, Williams creates a story that tells the truth about American racial hierarchy while also offering hope for all those eager to transcend its legacy. Full text of story, audio downloads and student activities included.

Use this story as a way to introduce topics related to race, to deepen your conversations about the distinctions between personal and institutional racism, to address race and unconscious bias in the media, or to provide another way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month in February

Click here for From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door

 

CIVIL RIGHTS : RACEBRIDGES SALUTES. . .

THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON

People march for equal rights, integrated schools, decent housing, and an end to bias. Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington D.C. Photo: Warren K. Leffler, courtesy of Library of Congress

A young black man orders a sundae at a southern lunch counter and, instead, winds up at a (black only) hospital with multiple cuts and bruises to his head, a smashed cheekbone and broken ribs. A young girl is knocked off her feet as fire hoses, strong enough to tear bark off a tree, are aimed at her and her mother. Four little girls prepare for Sunday morning services when a bomb rips through their church and ends their short lives. White, black and brown people link arms and sing “We Shall Overcome” after Dr. King’s thunderous voice declares again and again,

“I have a dream!”

For some of our students these images are long-ago history. For many of us, they are lived history. But whether we are younger or older, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham and the 1963 March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom can be an opportunity to revitalize our dedication to creating a country that lives its ideal of “opportunity for all”.

Too often the Civil Rights movement is taught as a set of events frozen in time. We even hear that phrase “post-racialized” America as if the struggles of the Civil Rights era are done and complete. We do our students a disservice when we don’t make them aware of how rights can be won and lost and, in fact, have been several times over throughout our country’s history. The idea of progress has dominated American culture for centuries as if “onward and upward” is a guarantee. To function in civic life, students must know that American ideals are not yet reality and, therefore, as citizens, they have a very important part to play.

What solutions might our students conceive for today’s civil rights issues such as: Housing, jobs, unequal medical care, a path to citizenship for immigrants, protecting the right to vote, monitoring and enforcing civil rights laws already on the books, the wealth and education gaps between whites and people of color plus a criminal justice system which has led to a “new Jim Crow” through mass incarceration targeting men of color.

In a misguided attempt to protect our students from harsh truths or to wish the challenging parts of our country away, we may be missing a chance to re-invigorate our students’ democratic spirit. The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement can be a wake-up call that “equality and justice for all” is a work in progress and an ideal about which we must be ever vigilant.

For more information:

http://50thanniversarymarchonwashington.com/

About the events in Washington D.C.:

http://nationalactionnetwork.net/mow/

KEEP THE PEACE: Small changes for a big difference


As one year ends and another starts anew …
Here is a free gift for you during these
December days . . .
A RaceBridges unit called KEEP THE PEACE!

 

“Keep the Peace!candles32-138x300
Preparing for Conflict, Dealing with Anger and Creating Communities of Harmony”
A Teacher Resource

We celebrate the Holidays with the feasts of Hannukah, Christmas and Kwanza.We mark a brand New Year with resolutions for our students, our school and ourselves.

 

These occasions express the longing for renewal hope and peace.
We invite you as a teacher, leader or parent to consider the ways of peacemaking..

 

Creating safe, welcoming communities is the job of the entire school – teachers, administration and students..

 

In facing this challenge even small changes can make a big difference.This resource suggests some mini lesson plans and ideas for “keeping the peace” in your classroom or school.

 

Activities can be done one at a time or put together into a longer event
.

 

.

Passing for WASP

flip2

PASSING FOR WASP
By Carol Birch

 

 

Introduction:

Trying to assimilate into another culture is a difficult task. In an effort to fit in with the population in their inner city and later suburban city, storyteller Carol Birch recounts personal experiences she had with this difficult task. The desire to be American has everything to do with uniqueness and nothing to do with being just like everyone else. Listen as Carol shares how her father embraced all of his cultural heritages.

Summary:

Storyteller Carol Birch believes this statement: “To build a bridge from one culture into another and make pluralism a cause for celebration, we have to have one foot firmly planted in who we are.” However, in exploring her Polish and Scottish roots, Carol wonders if she’s really been living what she teaches. Join her as she recalls personal family stories of her cultural background, and celebrate as the family embraces their heritage.

Classroom Reflections & Activities:

  • Have students find out about their own cultural backgrounds, and then share these with the class.
  • Provide time for students to research what a WASP is, and why it is part of American history.
  • Give students an icebreaker activity that allows them to ask about the cultural heritages of the other students. Create a worksheet with a list of things for students to investigate about their fellow classmates, such as: find a student whose cultural heritage speaks Spanish, find a student whose cultural heritage practices a religion different from your own, find a student whose cultural heritage celebrates a holiday you are unfamiliar with, etc. This allows students the opportunity learn about others in a non-threatening way..

Watch the video now

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.

Explore our many other free storyteller-videos and
lessons for classroom, group or individual use :
RaceBridges Studio Videos

Civil Rights : Not so well-known, but No Less Essential

The Little Rock Nine

As we settle in this February to observe the accomplishments of so many notably important and influential black leaders, let us celebrate those who are not as easily recognized as champions of civil rights. Take the time to share with students many relevant black Americans who impacted the growth of our nation to become a land of the free. Many people and organizations helped to lay the foundation and framework for the Civil Rights Movement. Below is a list of some very important black Americans/organizations and their footprints that helped to lead the way for more prominent leaders who facilitated change.

Individuals & Organizations Important to the Foundation of the Civil Rights Movement:

  • Edgar Daniel (E.D.) Nixon – NAACP Montgomery chapter President; worked closely with Rosa Parks
  • Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
  • Freedom Riders
  • Interstate Commerce Commission
  • Freedom Summer
  • Greensboro Four – Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil
  • Ralph Johns
  • Stokely Carmichael
  • Little Rock Nine
  • Carpetbaggers and Scalawags
  • Freedman’s Bureau

Visit these sites for some great videos and valuable bits of information:

 

.

Explore the free resources and lessons
that focus on Black History Month and
many other Diversity themes for your
classroom, school or organization..

 

 

Not just another day off : How teachers can help students celebrate Dr. King’s Birthday

Dr. King Day : Turning Dreams Into Deeds

On January 16, will your students be thinking about the real reason for the national holiday? Or will they simply think of it as one part of a nice three-day weekend?

For so many students — and teachers alike — the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. is just another day off, rather than an active celebration of the life of America’s most prominent peacemaker. White students in particular may not think this holiday has much to do with them. And with an African-American leader in the White House, today’s young people may be thinking that racism is a thing of the past — a problem for older generations, not theirs. But in spite of great strides made since the Civil Rights era, racism still presents serious challenges for America. 

King Day offers a timely opportunity to remind students of these challenges, and encourage them to reverse the damaging beliefs, behaviors and systems associated with discrimination. So what can you do? The educators at RaceBridgesforSchools, a nonprofit initiative that offers free lesson plans on diversity and community-building, have these suggestions to help you bring Dr. King’s message and mission into your school.

  1. Promote service learning.Many people are not aware of the service component of the holiday: in 1994 Congress designated the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of a day off, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by serving the community. Do this at your school by organizing a day of service: students can serve at a soup kitchen, plant trees or deliver meals to homebound persons..
  2. Write a commitment pledge to racial unity at your school. King Day is an excellent time to develop and commit to a pledge against racism. Get students and faculty engaged in the process where all can contribute in a reflective and honest way to write this pledge. Have the completed pledge printed up in a large format, and encourage school administrators to adopt the pledge, distribute it, and have the students say it together at a special time during the week before King Day..
  3. Start an anti-racism or diversity club for students and/or faculty.Now’s a great time to form a group that focuses on many of the challenges Dr. King spoke of. You can begin by discussing issues and themes of ethnic and racial differences and conflicts at your schools, and move on to consider what positive actions you would like to take as a group to address these issues..

Martin Luther King’s son, Dexter, in a speech initiating the national holiday for his assassinated father, said, “The holiday for my father is not just for black people…the holiday for the birthday of my father is for all people of goodwill everywhere.” As schools work to recognize and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, MLK Day can become more than a day off, and a more meaningful celebration for students of all backgrounds.

For more ideas about celebrating the birthday
of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. –and resources and
lesson plans for encouraging diversity year round —
visit RaceBridges Studio

Reflections on Minidoka

ahm-header

Introduction:

Searching for a resource for Japanese American experiences in World War II relocation camps? Alton Chung tells the true story of his journey and encounter with an 89 year old former internee who made her first visit after 66 years. This personal and challenging story is food for thought for all of us.

Summary:

Alton Chung relates the true story of his journey to the Minidoka Relocation Camp site at Hunt, Idaho and of his encounter there with an 89 year old former internee. She was 23 years old when she left this Japanese American incarceration camp and this was her first visit back to the site after 66 years.

Touring the old camp evokes emotions and thoughts of loved ones and life at Minidoka during World War II. The internee shares personal memories of that time and how the internment affected her life. The story provides a view of relocation camps that allows us to experience the difficulties encountered and, hopefully, encourages us to think differently about others.

Classroom Applications:

  • Create a webquest (an online scavenger hunt) for students to uncover information about incarceration camps
  • Visit a WWII museum
  • Write journal prompts for students to respond to daily.

Watch the video now

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Explore our many other RaceBridges videos for
Asian American Month or any other time of the year.

NATIVE AMERICANS : WHO ? WHAT ? WHEN ? WHERE ? WHY ? HOW ?

nahm-2011-450November brings us Thanksgiving  — one of the biggest holidays in our country.  It is a special time of year where we are reminded of our blessings, and encouraged to express gratitude for all that we have.

November is also Native American Heritage Month. As educators we carry the responsibility to address the complicated and painful aspects of our history that occurred between the pilgrim settlers and Native people of this land.

November also gives us the opportunity to become more familiar with the contemporary life of the First Nations People  The more we learn the more we are able to transform our disappointments and anger over the past into action today working together for a more just world. 

A CLASSROOM ACTIVITY :  

This classroom activity leads students through a process of observing, reflecting and posing questions in response to images of European settlers and Native American or First Nation people to explore issues of inclusion and exclusion today.

This activity can be built around images in your textbook, images around the school, or through the resources available through the Library of Congress website: http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/primarysourcesets/thanksgiving/

First, ask your students to make OBSERVATIONS along the following lines:

What do you notice first?  What is small but interesting to you?  What do you notice that you can’t explain?

Next ask your students to share REFLECTIONS on where the images came from.  Why do you think somebody made this? Who do you think was the audience for this item?  If someone made this today, what would be different?

Finally, ask you students to pose some QUESTIONS in response to the images.

Who…?  What…?  When…?  Where…?  Why…?  How…?

Ask students to draw contemporary parallels to the way that Europeans and Native people were portrayed.  For homework, ask students to bring in images from current media that reflect similar themes of exclusion between people today.  Ask students to present on the images by making observations, sharing reflections, and posing questions.

You could make these images into a collage and use it as the starting point for a class pledge for a more thoughtful Thanksgiving holiday.

Classroom Pledge:

This Classroom or Group Pledge is a way to draw together the main outcomes of your sessions with your students about Native Americans.   This text is simply a model that

can be developed in your own situation and context – with a few students or many students

or participants,

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving table, let us remember that we are part of creating history today with our actions.  We’ll do what we can to be inclusive in our own lives.

Today we remember those who have been left out of the discussion, the decision-making and the fellowship of our school and of our country.

We remember times during which we have been left out or we have excluded others.  And we remember times when others have extended their hands in welcome to us or when we have been the ones to include others.

May we remember to include all people at the tables at which we sit in the future.  There is room for all of us.

Ideas for Lesson Plan Starters :

  • Students could read the Presidential Proclamation of Native American Heritage Month and then investigate the people the President refers to as distinguished “inventors, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders, and scholars”..

[http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2010/11/23/presidential-proclamation-thanksgiving-day]

  • Students could do a very local and current assessment of issues of power today by focusing on what groups are not “at the table” of decision making at your school or in the community;
  • Students could research what Native tribes lived or live in your region and investigate the particulars of those communities now;
  • Students could research the stories of how their families came to the United States, where they settled, who used to live there, who lives there now and then share those stories during class time..

Reminders for Teachers

  • Remember that conversations about power and historical accuracy can be complicated and uncomfortable for students on all sides of the issue.
  • Lay the groundwork to create a non-judgmental climate in the classroom to honestly explore these issues.
  • Research Native history and contemporary life in your region so that treatment of these questions is not only historical, but also present.

 

RaceBridges Resources

Go to these RaceBridges lessons on this site for further exploration . . .

  • New – Celebrating Native American Culture and Encouraging Awareness. Streamlined Lesson Plan.
  • The Spirit Survives : The American Indian Boarding School Experience: Then & Now by Storyteller Dovie Thomason. Lesson Plan and audio download with classroom activities.
  • Search Across the Races : by Storyteller Gene Tagaban. A Native American Looks  at his mixed identities. Lesson Plan and audio download with classroom activities.
  • New – Gratitude.  Streamlined Lesson Plan and classroom activity for around Thanksgiving.
  • Thanksgiving : Who Is Missing From The Table ? Reflections and activities around Thanksgiving for classroom, school or group use.  Resource.

Other Recommended Resources

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You can find many other lesson plans and videos
on a variety of diversity issues and themes
at RaceBridges Studio and RaceBridges Studio Videos

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MULTIPLE ANCIENT MIGRATIONS FROM ASIA INTO THE AMERICAS?

We already know that Columbus did not “discover” America as there were people hairalready living here. But what if some of the first to settle in the northern hemisphere weren’t even First Nations but Asians?

A team of Danish scientists have uncovered a tuft of dark brown hair in Greenland that has led them to theorize that 4000 years ago there was a tribe of humans that trekked from North Asian to settle into what is now called Greenland. The DNA collected from the hair traces back to Asians, not Native Americans or the Inuit people who live there now.

This suggests that the first humans to colonize the American Arctic were Asians/Siberians, distinct from the first people who arrived in America more than 14,000 years ago.

Of course, the research goes on but the theory suggests that the travels of early Asian groups may have been wider than previously considered and that perhaps there were multiple migrations from the Bering region into the American Arctic.

Making A Difference This New Year

At about this time of year, our New Year’s resolutions can begin to wane. Our doubts creep in and we can begin to think we’re too insignificant to make a difference in our own lives, let alone anyone else’s. However, add a little imagination and who knows what we can come up with? Here are three examples.

Two neighbors in a small American town far removed from the Middle East were discussing the tragedies taking place in those countries. They came to the conclusion that despite being so far from these tragedies, there had to be something that they could do, and voila! They came up with the idea to bring Israeli and Palestinian youth to their north suburban neighborhood for a program of four weeks of peace and fellowship. That program ran for three summers, touching the lives of over 40 young people.

In another example, a doctor relayed a story of how one day – while he was in the middle of surgery! – he realized that he and the doctor assisting him were both presidents of their respective religious congregations, one a mosque and one a synagogue. They decided at that moment to bring their congregations together to create a dialog between them. The two congregations had several surprisingly open and heartfelt meetings, visiting each other’s places of worship and learning about each other’s religious and cultural heritages. This interfaith work has continued in various other forms into the present.

The third example centers on a leadership program for high school students, in which  students were tasked with the creation of service projects. One year, some students came up with the idea of holding a Senior Prom in which they would invite Seniors – that is, senior citizens – and hold an intergenerational dance.

Over the backyard fence, in the school or work hallways or, even over surgery, it’s so easy to complain about what isn’t working. But these people asked instead, “What can we do?”

This is the time of year when New Year’s Resolutions start to fall away. But, maybe, our ideas of what we could accomplish or inspire this year haven’t been large enough to excite and motivate us.

Ask yourself, “How can I turn my frustrations and concerns into a force for good? How can I make a difference in the world this new year?”

Majority Becomes Minority: The Browning of America

images3America is in the midst of a big growth spurt – a wave of increases in the populations of minorities. The Hispanic communities all over the country are swelling in numbers, and are now the largest ethnic minority group in America – totaling 16% of the entire country’s population. Furthermore, it is projected that it will reach 30% of the population by the year 2050.*

*Hispanic Heritage Month. (2007). Retrieved 8 1, 2011, from Factmonster.com: http://www.factmonster.com/spot/hhm1.html

How will this rapid and vast growth affect America’s schools and students? How do schools address the huge influx of Hispanic students in schools?

  • Textbooks and other student materials will need to adapt to include this change in population, like they have adapted in previous circumstances (gender inclusion, for example)
  • ESL, ELL, and bilingual programs and teachers will increase in schools as the population increases
  • Differentiation in lessons and activities will continue to be a necessity, even a requirement
  • Lessons involving awareness, acceptance, and tolerance will be mainstays
  • Respect for others and their system of values will become more and more relevant
  • Family support will be essential in schools, parents will need to really step up to back student learning

In sum, families and schools will need to seriously work together toward student academic achievement. It is no longer enough for only schools to accommodate the needs of its population. Communities will need to avail programs to facilitate adults in the learning of the English language, so that families can better partner with schools.

Our government needs to re-evaluate how funding reaches schools, and how students are tested. Schools cannot handle the massive increase of student needs without the assistance of community and government programs, and the support of families.

For ideas and activities for the classroom or for youth and
young adult groups in and around Hispanic Heritage Month
go to : www.RaceBridgesStudio.com

Life Stories: Celebrating American Indian Heritage Month in Your Classroom in November

First established through a joint resolution by Congress in 1990, National American Indian Heritage Month is now recognized annually each November. It’s a time to learn more about the history of American Indians, and for educators and their students, it’s a perfect opportunity not only to celebrate the heritage of native peoples, but also to share a variety of “life stories.”

Although American Indian Heritage Month hasn’t always been officially recognized, most American children learned something about “Indians” in elementary school. At that age, many of us were taught about teepees, wigwams and headdresses; few of us learned much of the real history of First Nation peoples, or heard their personal stories. The stories we did hear, such as that of Pocahontas, were rich in mythology but offered little insight into what it truly means to be Native American.

And while almost all cultures use stories to document their cultural and religious heritage, and to show how the past influences the present, Native Americans have a particularly rich history of storytelling. Indigenous storytelling includes not only legends, history, poems and spirituality, but also deeply personal observations about the world and each person’s place in it.

With that in mind, schools can broaden their celebration this month through storytelling. Teachers can help students learn about the personal experiences of First Nation people, and encourage students to think about their own “life stories,” especially in terms of race, identity and belonging.

The educators at RaceBridgesforSchools, a nonprofit initiative that offers free lesson plans on diversity, have developed resources that can be used to celebrate American Indian Heritage Month — and to get students thinking about their own life stories:

  • I Am Indopino: Or, How to Answer the Question, Who Are You?” by professional storyteller Gene Tagaban. In this story (which accompanies a complete lesson plan), Tagaban talks about his combined Cherokee, Tlingit and Filipino ancestry, as well as his family’s exploration and eventual acceptance of their own complex identity. Tagaban’s story, touching on themes of family, lineage and the human relationship with the natural world, will resonate with students searching for their place in the world and a sense of belonging..
  • The Spirit Survives” by First Nation storyteller Dovie Thomason recalls her family’s experience in the Indian boarding schools, to which American Indian children were taken by force to be assimilated into white culture. Dovie’s story and the associated lesson plan, available free from RaceBridgesStudio.com, exposes students to historical events that aren’t taught in most schools. It also touches on themes of cultural identity, inclusion and exclusion, and the power of education.

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By sharing stories such as these, teachers can offer a more meaningful celebration of American Indian Heritage Month this November. And in the process, students may learn more about their own uniqueness and the deep connections we share with people of different backgrounds.

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For the text, audio and lesson plans of “The Spirit Survives:
The Indian Boarding School Experience, Then and Now”

as well as “I Am Indopino: Or, How to Answer the Question,

Who Are You?” visit RaceBridgesStudio.com

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Learn More About Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, first created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Some have gone so far as to say, it’s not a “real” holiday because it is so new. But whether a holiday was created last year or centuries ago, someone and some people created it because it filled a deep human need to ritualize what gives us strength and meaning in life. The fact that Kwanzaa celebrations grow each year within the African American and Pan-African communities worldwide shows that this holiday has become an important way to reinforce what it means to be of African heritage and a lover of community, justice and equality.

Here is a short video that explains the broad strokes of the holiday and the official website and book by Dr. Maulana Karenga.

Resources:

http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org

Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Dr. Maulana Karenga (Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press)

Justice Fighters: Models for All

The Civil Rights Movement was a critical time in American history. It was a time when thinking changed, values changed, and laws changed – thanks to some exceptional people and their drive to attain equality for all. These people, often at great personal risk, challenged what beliefs existed and revolutionized our country for the better.

Let us celebrate the accomplishments of the brave Justice Fighters that helped to establish the free world in which we live today. Teachers and schools can identify these individuals and their achievements throughout the school year – it was they who fought for our right to do so. May we not only learn from their examples, but follow in their footsteps. 

Below are a few of the Justice Fighters of the Civil Rights Era and what each is most known for:

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The above heroes and ‘sheroes’ of the struggle for civil rights are indeed celebrated.  RaceBridges invites you to also explore the lesser known and everyday heroes that are alive today and very often are a part of your students’ communities and neighborhoods.  Use our stories and short videos to unearth new stories of resilience and achievement and set your students exploring.

 

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List of Civil Rights Leaders. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 4, 2012, from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civil_rights_leaders

JUNETEENTH: A Celebration For Today

Did you know that in some states the news of emancipation from slavery didn’t reach people until much later – in the case of Texas not until two and a half years later? The Emancipation Proclamation was made official on January 1, 1863 and, yet, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union juneteenthArmy was not able to read the news of freedom in Texas until June 19, 1865.

Some say it was because a messenger was killed on the way to deliver the news. Others state that President Lincoln’s authority over the southern states was precarious and so a deal was struck to allow one last cotton harvest in Texas. Others say it was pure greed and cruelty: the slaveholders weren’t about to give up their free labor source without resistance.

The “Juneteenth” order read:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

 For the formerly enslaved and those who supported them, initial shock evolved into jubilation which quickly turned into the reality of navigating a way forward in a country in which African Americans had had no legal status or rights. Currently, this day is celebrated to commemorate all that has been accomplished and to give a model of hope and persistence for all that lies ahead.

 

Indian Boarding Schools — Part One

NOTE: As we take the month of November to celebrate the contributions of the First Nations, we want to witness also the sad truth of attempts at the genocide of the American Indians and their cultures. Particularly, we take this month to focus on the Indian Boarding Schools. We offer these four articles because as the saying goes “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it”, but also because we cannot support and celebrate our American Indian students, friends, co-workers and neighbors without understanding the context in which their very survival has taken place and their many contributions have been made.

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Imagine a government that you don’t trust, that has already killed so many in your group and broken promise after promise, coming to your door and demanding that you hand over your child. The government officials promise your child will be back from their “school” in the summer but year, after year, after year goes by and your child is not returned. This and similar stories were repeated in First Nation homes from the late 1800s to the twentieth century as American and Canadian Indian children were taken from their homes to attend United States government-run Indian boarding schools.

At the schools, the children were forced to give up their native language as well as their spiritual and cultural practices in order to look and sound like European Americans. They were forced to wear western dress, to cut their hair (a mark of shame in many First Nations’ cultures), to have “kerosene rubs” to lighten their skin, to be indoctrinated into western religions and to endure long hours of forced work duties. Those who did not cooperate or tried to run away were often harshly punished and beaten. The geographic isolation and separation from their tribal and familial support system made far too many of these young children easy targets for sexual predators.

A 1928 study titled “The Meriam Report” found that infectious diseases were widespread at the schools because of insufficient nutrition, overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and weakening from overwork. Death rates for First Nations children were six and a half times higher than any other ethnic group. Yet, the schools continued. Young adults, some who were married with their own children, were also separated from their families and sent to the schools. At its height, there were 153 Indian Boarding Schools in the U.S. The highest recorded number of children in Indian Boarding Schools was 60,000 in 1973.

After the 1973 protest by American Indian Movement activists at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, a resurgence in American Indian pride and activism put an end to the worst of the boarding schools. Some boarding schools still exist today for students who would not otherwise have access to education on their reservations. Today, the staffs of these schools are primarily Native American. The students’ languages and cultures are supported. Young ones are no longer told that their spiritual practices worship “false gods”.

Below are statements from two people who attended Indian Boarding Schools. A friend of mine, storyteller Elizabeth Ellis, often says, “If someone can stand to experience it, then I can stand to hear it.”

NEXT WEEK:  Why would we want to know about and even teach about this tragic period in U.S. History?  –  Part 2


Indian Boarding Schools — Part Two

Why is it important that we acknowledge and even study about the existence and the abuses of the Indian Boarding Schools? 

  1. We cannot build any kind of future on a foundation of lies. Some children, thank goodness, had some positive experiences at some Boarding Schools. However, the secrecy and manipulation that surrounded the entire initiative to assimilate Indian children (“Kill the Indian in the child”) damaged and still affect possibilities for future collaborations between First Nations and any institutions or organizations of the dominant culture. Trust cannot be rebuilt unless the whole truth is told, full responsibility is taken and those responsible are held accountable. Furthermore, we can never find remedies for problems, unless we first examine and understand the nature of those problems. We cannot transform something without first acknowledging that it exists..
  2. Knowing the truth of this travesty gives a context for the devastation experienced in many Indian families and communities for the last several generations. While similar social ills are present in every community, the lasting effects experienced by any who were taken or those who know and love someone who was kidnapped, tortured and held against their will makes the mental health, domestic violence, drug abuse and fractured family issues within Indian communities more understandable. It is important not to give credence to those who would re-stereotype First Nations (“Oh, that’s why ‘they’ are that way…”), but to put responsibility on those who caused the widespread need for these coping mechanisms and insist that the demands from the Indian nations for more mental and physical health resources, adequate housing, superior education and such be met..
  3. The unimaginable scope of this tragic chapter in U.S. and Canadian history should put an end to any minimizing of the Indian experience. Sometimes, the planned genocide of Indian people is dismissed as if a card game has ended: “You lost; get over it.” The Truth and Reconciliation Hearings in South Africa, Canada and other countries have shown that healing is dependent on the WHOLE story being witnessed and heard. It supports the victims in their grief process, gives them the validation and exposure of the perpetrator they seek and helps them understand and accept the unquenchable longing for all that was lost. In an article by Judith Lewis Herman entitled “Justice from the Victim’s Perspective”, Herman states, “Community denunciation of the crime was of great importance to the survivors because it affirmed the solidarity of the community with the victim and transferred the burden of disgrace from victim to offender.”.
  4. In addition, acknowledging these crimes makes it possible for the descendants of the perpetrators and for those of us who have benefited from white skin privilege to acknowledge what we may have indirectly gained because of this planned genocide. For example, I may not have direct dealings in the fact that people’s lands were taken or that others were forced into labor camps. We are never at fault for what happened in the past. This is not about good and bad people. Most of us are good people who would never knowingly hurt others. It is about understanding that any  wealth or advantages that come my way are not simply because my ancestors “worked” hard but acknowledging that my position in life is attached to an inheritance in blood. Again, this realization is not to make us walk around guilty and impotent.  Owning the whole truth can make us powerful allies, open to taking part in the need for reparations and any other acts of justice that can begin to tackle the need for redress..
  5. When one group seeks to conquer another, their repertoire of repression is all too similar. When any culture or country is colonized by another, children become part of the playbook for take-over and are easy pawns in the game. In the 1650s, when England was colonizing Ireland, during one decade, over 100,000 Irish children were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In Australia, aboriginal children were stolen from their homes from 1909 to 1969. As recent as the 1950s, 22 of Greenland’s children were sent to Denmark for the start of a larger experiment to create an elite-group of Danish-thinking Greenlanders who could go back to Greenland and affect (or infect) the education and other institutions there. Again and again, this belief in the superiority of one group over another and the foisting of its ways upon the oppressed group fails, but leaves in its wake a terrible legacy of death and destruction (half of those 22 Greenland children were dead by their early twenties). Knowing about the Indian boarding schools, unfortunately, gives us a quick, shorthand understanding of the challenges facing oppressed groups around the world..
  6. Learning and teaching about the Indian Boarding Schools also gives us a context to celebrate and be inspired by all the ways Indian people have survived and even thrived given all the genocidal attempts on their communities. The Boarding Schools unwittingly created lifelong intertribal friendships and a new spirit of Pan-Indianism into this century. American Indians have and are accomplishing notable contributions in every field of endeavor throughout the Americas. The fact that so many Indian children and adults were able to call on a spirit inside of them that could not be extinguished, no matter what was happening to them externally, provides a testament to human strength and to a nurturing, indwelling grace that can inspire all of us. 

 

NEXT WEEK: The U.S. and Canada apologize to First Nations for the Indian Boarding School kidnappings. Whose apology was better may surprise you – Part 3

Resource:

“Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World: 15,000 Years of Inventions and Innovations” by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield

Indian Boarding Schools — Part Three

On June 11, 2008, millions of Canadians tuned into a live, nationally-television apology to the First Nations from their Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. In this historic speech in the House of Commons, the Canadian government took full responsibility for the Canadian government’s attempts to assimilate First Nations children “causing great harm that has lasted for generations”. Harper went on to outline compensation for former residential school students, the creation of an ongoing Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as increased funding for child welfare and education.

The United States passed the Native American Apology Resolution in 2009 that acknowledged a “long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes” and offered an apology “to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States”. However, by contrast, President Obama signed this resolution on December 19, 2009 in a ceremony that was closed to the press.

Armand MacKenzie, the former Senior Advisor on International & Human Rights Affairs at the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples of Canada emphasized the importance of full, public disclosure.  “It was really something great to see the Apology done in public,” he said. “The injustices were a result of state policies and practices. They need to be accountable, otherwise governments can do what they want without consequence.”

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Senator from Kansas, Senator Sam Brownback and Democratic Senator from North Dakota, Byron Dorgan, tried for five years to pass an Apology when, finally, the bill was approved by tucking it away on page 45 of a 67 page document of an unrelated spending bill, 2010 Defense Appropriations Act, H.R. 3326.  In addition to being less public, the United States apology missed the opportunity to detail the government’s transgressions. While the original preamble to the U.S. bill detailed specific crimes and offenses as the Canadian apology had – the Trail of Tears, the Long Walk, the Sand Creek Massacre, and Wounded Knee, the theft of tribal lands and resources, the breaking of treaties, and the removal of Indian children to boarding schools and so forth – the U.S. preamble was deleted from the final version of the bill.

Too few Americans even know about the Indian Boarding Schools and the U.S. Native American Apology Resolution, let alone include it in the national discourse. It has been said that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it”. Unfortunately, the mistakes of our past are being repeated today. Prime Minister Harper stated that “There is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever prevail again.” Because these attitudes of superiority still “prevail” hundreds of Indian children are still being removed from their homes into non-Indian foster care and the promises of sovereign rights plus education, housing and health care are slow in coming to the First Nations in both Canada and the United States.

NEXT WEEK: We’ll look at how the attitudes and thinking that produced the Indian Boarding Schools still exists today and the injustices perpetrated because of that – Part 4

Resources:

 

Indian Boarding Schools — Part Four

After a century of government policy that forcibly removed tens of thousands of First Nations’ children from their homes and sent them to boarding schools that basically amounted to forced labor camps, The U.S. Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978  (ICWA) to put an end to this and other policies toward American Indian families and children. The ICWA was enacted “… to protect the best interest of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture. …”

In addition to the Indian Boarding Schools, the law was to address “the consequences to Indian children, Indian families, and Indian tribes of abusive child welfare practices that resulted in the separation of large numbers of Indian children from their families and tribes through adoption or foster care placement, usually in non-Indian homes.”

Prior to the 1978 law, 85 to 95 % of First Nation children were placed in non-Indian homes when they went into foster care. Unlike non-Indian adoptions where only birth parents can object to an adoption, the ICWA is supposed to give a tribe, as well as the biological parents, standing in adoption cases. Placement within a child’s tribe is to be given preference.

But a study in 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 32 states are, in various ways, failing to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act. It found that the ICWA is the only federal child welfare law of its stature without any kind of regular federal review or a federal agency to take over its oversight. The controversy over a 2011 National Public Radio special report that claimed a systematic abuse of South Dakota’s Indian children along with the 2013 Oklahoma Supreme Court Case, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl shows the complexity of these issues and the maze of federal, state and tribal jurisdictions that one must negotiate to even monitor the quality of care for Indian children.

These recent allegations and disputes along with continued legal battles over land use, protection of Indian burial mounds, mineral rights, the mismanagement of Indian trust funds and on and on shows that Indian issues are not historical glitches but a continuing search for justice and common human decency.

How do we make these and other challenges to the First Nations part of the national discourse on race and fairness? How do we have any hope in living up to the ideal of “justice for all” if the First Nations’ rights are continually ignored?

American Indian journalists, teachers, writers and media experts of all kinds need platforms so that their voices are heard and those of us who are non-Indian and woefully ignorant of current Indian issues can be educated.

We are grateful to announce that authors and storytellers, Tim Tingle of the Choctaw Nation, Dovie Thomason from the Lakota and Apache Nations and Joseph Bruchac of the Abenaki Nation have agreed to contribute articles to the RacebridgesForSchools site in 2014.

Resources:

 

Today’s First Nations Youth speak:

Incarceration

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Incarceration
A Short Video Story
by Anne Shimojima

Introduction:

Have you ever wondered what life would be like if the government had imprisoned your entire family? For Anne Shimojima, this was the experience of her grandparents and their children. In this touching story, Anne tells of what life was like behind the barbed wire fences and the inadequate housing. Looking past what is unspoken, Anne reveals details of life for Japanese Americans in incarceration camps during WWII.

Summary:

Curious as to her family’s experiences in incarceration camps during WWII, storyteller Anne Shimojima explains how she uncovered details to her family’s past. For whatever reason, many Japanese Americans do no talk about their experiences during this time. Anne was able to dig into her family history and speak with relatives who then shared details of what life was like in these camps.

Armed with a deeper and more personal understanding of what her grandparents had endured in the incarceration camp, Anne reveals a hidden world when she is able to describe the camp itself. She explains how she was brought closer to her grandparents and better understands the indignities they suffered, the sacrifices they made, and the hopes they had for future generations.

Classroom Applications:

  • Invite grandparents of students to come to class and share a story from their life
  • Explore geneology or create a family tree
  • Watch videos or read literature the helps students to better understand historical events..

Watch the video now

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Explore our many other RaceBridges Studio videos and lessons

for Asian American month or any time of the year.

 

Immigrant Story: a Chinese Family in the US

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Immigrant Story: a Chinese Family in the US
A Short Video Story

by Nancy Wang

 

Introduction:

RaceBridges pays tribute to the many Asian Americans who have helped build and enrich America. Nancy Wang paints a true life picture of her Chinese American immigrant family’s struggles and ingenuity in the Monterey, CA area. This story is a great resource for understanding the contributions of Asian American immigrants to America.

Summary:

This story follows the journey of Nance Wang’s ancestors who arrived in California on a junk boat in 1850 and the adversities encountered along the way to America. Upon arriving, Nancy’s family started the fishing industry of the Monterey Peninsula, which proved to be lucrative but not without opposition. Both legal and illegal violence ensued against them for generations.

Although America was a land of opportunity, unfair regulations and restrictions caused great difficulties for the hard-working Chinese Americans. This story reveals how a group of immigrants rallied with resilience and ingenuity so that the 7th generation of Chinese Americans thrives today.

The unimaginable challenges faced by Nancy’s family in this true story are thought-provoking and provide insight for us to appreciate our differences as well as make changes in how we think of others. With understanding, we can feel their pain and change our world for the better.

Classroom Applications:

  • Read literature written by Chinese Americans(see this link for some names: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_American_literature)
  • Write biographies of famous Chinese Americans
  • Create a cultural food tasting day, where students bring in foods from various cultures for all to taste and learn about.

Watch the video now

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Explore our many other RaceBridges Videos for

Asian American Month or any time of the year.

 

Immigrant Stories of Empowerment

“We are a country of immigrants. Almost all of our citizens have roots in other countries. Unless you are a full-blooded Native American, either you or one of your ancestors journeyed to the United States. Maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was someone 300 years ago. But someone in your family, for whatever reason, was uprooted from home and culture, and traveled here, making the United States his or her new home” (Gretchen Morgan).

America is the great melting pot of culture and diversity. That is how our country started, and continues to become more and more diverse as time goes by. We must celebrate our many cultures and our many stories of the journey to America. Schools and teachers need to recognize that students come from a wide array of backgrounds. The more these backgrounds are embraced, the greater the learning will be.  

Below are a few links to find stories of immigration. Share them with your students. Encourage them to write and share their own family story of immigration.

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Morgan, G. (n.d.). Retrieved 5 4, 2012, from Immigrant Journeys.com: http://www.immigrantjourneys.com/

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Go to the many stories and short videos about immigration and other diversity themes on our RaceBridges Studio Sites. 

HOW DO YOU PERCEIVE MEXICO?

pix4How you perceive our neighbor to the south can affect how you unconsciously treat your Mexican American students. What are your perceptions? Do you perceive Mexico as a third world country?

Let’s take a look at that phrase “third world”. The phrase was first used during the Cold War in the 1960s and 70s to designate who was aligned with the Un

ited States. Countries said to be aligned with the Soviet Union were given “second world” status and non-aligned countries were called “third world”. The terms didn’t make sense right from the beginning but even less so now that the Soviet Union no longer exists.

In popular vernacular, “third world” has become synonymous with “undeveloped”. But it may surprise you to learn that Mexico is rated as “recently developed” by many and “highly developed” by the Human Development Index.

Yes, some of your students’ families may come from towns that fit your image of neglected border towns with little sanitation facilities, let alone schools. However, others may just as well come from posh districts that rival the wealthiest U.S. neighborhoods and educational institutions. Assumptions about your Mexican American students’ backgrounds and, therefore, their academic abilities and skills can be dangerously misguided.

So, too, common misconceptions about Mexico as a lawless “wild west” may create biases toward your students. Yes, there is corruption in Mexico that Mexican citizens are very concerned about, but it may surprise you to learn that Mexico is ranked close to Brazil, Argentina and even Italy when it comes to corruption. Most of us need to update our images of Mexico to include the fact that it is now a democracy supported by a rising middle class, with a viable Supreme Court and a three-party legislature that is said to work more cooperatively than our own Congress on their ambitious global economic agenda.

Updating and contextualizing knowledge of our students’ home countries can help us examine unconscious biases and bring us closer to our true desire to treat all our students with the dignity and respect they deserve.

To keep up-to-date with present day Mexico, go to:

https://www.facebook.com/MexicoToday

www.youtube.com/user/mexicotoday

TEACHING MORE COMPLEX HISPANIC HISTORY

hhmWhen teaching the rich history of ancient Mexico, Central and Latin America, it’s tempting to take shortcuts and assign an Indian nation to each country: Mexico is Aztec, Central America is Mayan and so forth. The truth is, just as today, various cultural groups intermingled, lived side by side and conducted long distance trade and exchanged ideas on art, writing, architecture plus mathematical and astronomical systems.

It is true that when the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they found themselves in an Empire known as “The Aztec”, but that would be like Latin Americans arriving in Spain and calling all of Europe “Hispania”. Before the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, “The Aztec” was a 100-year-old alliance between three groups: the Acolhuas, the Tepanecs, and the Mexica people of Tenochitlan (what today is modern day Mexico City). The Mexica conquered the other two city-states and, eventually, other civilizations across Mexico.

Those other groups include the Teotihuacanos and the Mayans who are responsible for the spectacular ancient Mexican pyramids and ruins. Dating back to 100 A.D. and before, the early and diverse Mexican Indians’ knowledge of the stars and other natural events paralleled or outstripped the knowledge of the scientists and astronomers of the same time in what we now call Europe.

It is wise to remember and present that our Latino students come from a variety of countries and cultures with distinct sets of traditions and beliefs resulting from the merger of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest skills, knowledge and civilizations.

To explore the ancient and classical civilizations of the Americas, go to:

http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/MRC/ancientciv.html

IMMIGRATION REPORTS and PANEL GUIDELINES

hhmOften, during our monthly celebrations of ethnic heritages, we will have students, parents or community members discuss their ethnic group and their arrival in the United States. This can be especially true during Hispanic Heritage Month. The assignment may have worthy intent, but there are several pitfalls to the typical “immigration” report or panel.

Here are a few to consider during Hispanic Heritage Month:

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1. Keep in mind that some of your contributors’ ancestors may have been forced to come to the U.S. or were already here. Include those experiences by asking:

  • Were some in your family forced to come to America? How does your family deal with painful memories and events? How do you support each other and thrive in the face of adversity?
  • Are you descended from native groups who were originally here?  What regions did your family/tribe live in?  Were your ancestors forced to leave ancestral ground?  How have your family and group survived in the face of such tragedies?.

2. Whenever possible, have more than one representative of a culture present so that students can see that people within cultures have unique experiences and opinions. Sometimes, in an attempt to be inclusive, we’ll introduce a culture and unknowingly create more stereotypes by asking questions such as “What do Mexicans think about..” as if any culture could be of one mind. Instead, ask question such as:

  • What languages do you speak and what languages are spoken in your family?  Do you have relatives who are bilingual or don’t speak a language in common with you?
  • On what issues do people in your group most disagree? Are there different values within and between subgroups? For example, on what do younger and older members of your family agree and disagree?
  • Have you emphasized different aspects of your culture at different times of the year or different times of your life?.

  3. For ethnic panels and festivals, please don’t present Spanish-speaking and other ethnicities as only “international”. This reinforces the notion that there are “real” Americans and “foreigners.” Unless you are purposefully showcasing other countries, remember that the Spanish-speaking cultures you are exploring are here and, therefore, are American. You can ask questions such as:

  • What has being “American” meant to you? What have you had to give up to be American?  What have you gained?
  • Have you ever been to another country and experienced your Americanness?  What was that like for you?
  • How has your (or your parents’) choice of neighborhood, religion, school and friends strengthened or weakened your cultural connections and your sense of being “American”?.

A wonderful book to help us think “Beyond Heroes and Holidays” is edited by Enid Lee, Deborah Menkart and Margo Okazawa-Rey. It is a practical guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development.

A LARGER HISPANIC APPRECIATION

hhmWhen you celebrate Hispanic heritage month this September and October, remember to present the true facts: Hispanic Americans have been making contributions to life in the U.S. even before this country was a country.

For example, the Spanish-founded San Miguel de Gualdape, Georgia was the first European settlement in North America. It was founded in 1526, 81 years before Jamestown, Virginia, the first English settlement. Also, St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States, was founded in 1565 by Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, and subsequently served as the capital of Spanish Florida for two hundred years.

Yes, guide your students to learn about and compare Hispanic cultural experiences, holidays and contributions but also help them examine the mainstream culture’s lens through which cultures are ranked and valued. As the editors of “Beyond Heroes and Holidays” state: “It is impossible to develop genuinely multicultural curricula from only the dominant perspective because it illuminates only one set of experiences.”

Why do we know so much more about English history in this country and not Spanish? Why do we talk about the current “growing diversity” in our country when the truth is this continent has always had a rich diversity of people, languages, systems of government and so forth?

For a business perspective that details the growth of Hispanic influence in the U.S., go to:

http://www.renewoureconomy.org/news/four-ways-hispanic-market-makes-impact-economy/

Hispanic Heritage Month

RaceBridges For Schools invites you to

RECOGNIZE & CELEBRATE NATIONAL

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IN YOUR CLASSROOM!

(Sep 15 – Oct 15)

Over 15% of the total US population are from Hispanic peoples. That’s more than 45 million people.  Some of these vibrant Latino cultures trace their roots to Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba … others trace  their roots to Spain and Central or South America.

These lesson plans and original stories are for use in exploring and deepening the discussion with your students about Hispanic Heritage.  All of these units highlight original personal stories from two professional bilingual storytellers.   The original stories will help lead your students to reflect on their roots and explore differences and commonalities. 

 

 
Between Worlds
Written and told by Storyteller Olga Loya
Olga reaches back into her Mexican-American childhood as she searches for her place in the world.
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Why Do You Want To Go To College?
Written and told by Storyteller Olga Loya
Sometimes the wrong advice can help a person do what’s needed.  Olga’s high school teacher tells her she will never make it in college which only spurs her on to go to college and graduate.
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What’s a Mexican?
Written and told by Storyteller Olga Loya
Olga explores the various labels for her ethnic group: Mexican, American, Mexican American, Latina, Chicana and so on. In doing so, she finds out how she wants to define herself and her pride in her cultural life.
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How Do You Say Blueberry in Spanish ?
Written and Told by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

Antonio explores the challenges and joys of trying to raise a bilingual child. As anxious new parents, Antonio and his wife ask, “Are two languages better than one?” and find humor along the way.

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Mr. D’s Class
Written and Told by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

Thirty teenagers from twenty countries, one Jewish teacher, and one Cuban-Irish-American storyteller (story artist, Antonio Sacre) set out to publish a book of writing in one of the poorest and most challenging high schools in Los Angeles. Will fear and distrust stop the project before it begins, or will they stand together?

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Looking For Papito
Written and Told by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

As a Cuban and Irish American child, Antonio deals with being “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough”. By trial and error and with the support of his family, Antonio reclaims all of his ethnic heritage and his Spanish language.

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Other Stories told by Antonio Sacre

There are teacher guides, audio downloads and printed texts as well as student activities for most of the above units. These videos and lessons are a few of hundreds of  units and short videos for teachers and educators exploring  a variety of diversity themes.

HAWAII : Rediscovering the history, language and culture of native Hawaiians

hawaiiA native of Hawaii, President Obama once wrote, “The opportunity that Hawaii offered—to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect—became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.”

Obama’s birthplace is not only a crossroads of cultures, it is a state rich with its own indigenous traditions, language, and culture. Though suppressed for many years, native Hawaiian culture is experiencing a revival, as this generation seeks to preserve it for the future.

In the minds of most Americans, Hawaii—the 50th state—is a tropical paradise and a global vacation destination. We are well aware of its stunning natural beauty, world-famous beaches, and the leis and hula skirts tourists take home as souvenirs. But what do we know of its history? Besides the attack on Pearl Harbor, which triggered U.S. involvement in World War II, few Americans know much of the native people and their history—including the years of conflict at the heart of Hawaii’s journey to statehood.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, offering a great time to explore the overlooked time in Asian-American history and celebrate the resurgence of the native language and culture of America’s Pacific Islanders. 

Overthrow of Hawaii’s monarchy spurs culture change and sparks widespread protests

Though Polynesian people had been living there for centuries, Hawaii was “discovered” by British explorer James Cook in 1778. Traders, merchants, and immigrant workers flooded in, resulting in an overwhelming Western influence to the Hawaiian Islands, causing a transition from subsistence farming to a cash economy and an unfortunate loss of tradition.

In 1893 U.S. businessmen overthrew the monarchy of Hawaii and established a Republic. Five years later, despite widespread protests and fierce opposition, the Islands were annexed as a territory by the United States.

Western missionary education stripped Hawaii of its native language

The influx of Westerners included missionaries who were determined to educate the Hawaiians, including teaching them to read and write. In order to do this, they needed to give the Hawaiian language a written form. Unable to distinguish between many of the sounds in the Hawaiian language, the missionaries gave Hawaiian names and words very different sounds and appearances from their original spoken form. Hawaii’s capital, for example, became “Honolulu” instead of the original “Honoruru.”

The native language changed dramatically and irrevocably. And when the monarchy was overthrown, the new government banned the speaking or teaching of the Hawaiian language in any public school. This suppression of the Hawaiian language would last for nearly 100 years.

Resurgence of language and culture for native Hawaiians

In the 1970′s, however, a renaissance of the Hawaiian culture—and a renewed respect for the native language—emerged. In 1978, Hawaiian once again was made an official language of the State of Hawaii. Shortly thereafter, schools were again allowed to teach the language.  Immersion programs, which emphasize instruction in Hawaiian and focus on native language, history, and culture, also began to develop. In 1990, the United States government established a policy recognizing the right of Hawaii to preserve, use and support its indigenous language. The year 1996 was proclaimed the “Year of the Hawaiian Language.”

The renewed interest in the study and use of the Hawaiian language in schools, in government, in music and media continues today as Hawaiians of all backgrounds seek to preserve native culture for future generations.

 

La’Ron Williams and his story ”From Flint, MI to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism in America”

Professional storyteller La’Ron Williams grew up in an area of Flint, MI called “Elm Park.” It was an area that—from the 1940s to the 1960s—was transformed by a confluence of race, politics, and economics, from an all-White neighborhood into one that was all-Black. In his poignant and engaging story, “From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism in Working Class America,” Williams describes some of his earliest experiences with a growing awareness that he was receiving contradictory messages about himself as a Black person: although there was the nurturing support he got from his immediate community, there was also the shame he absorbed from the larger society’s portrayal of African-Americans in the mass market and the media.

Williams tells stories from the heart, and his stories tug at his listeners’ hearts too. With his engaging manner, Williams addresses an emotionally laden topic—racism—by combining an adult’s analysis and wisdom with the fully believable wonderment and confusion he felt as a child. Listeners of every color and background are drawn into his story precisely because it is suffused with a child’s sincerity and genuine bafflement that the reality he lived didn’t match the stories he was taught about himself on TV and at school.

Williams’s story begins in Chappy’s Barbershop in Flint at the end of the summer of 1955, when the author was only four years old. It was in Chappy’s that Williams first saw the cover of Jet magazine featuring a photograph of Emmett Till, an African-American teenager from Chicago who was murdered in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a White woman. It was a grotesque photo, taken after Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. Two bullet wounds were visible on Till’s swollen head.

Although he was a young child, Williams describes the jarring impact of that photograph upon his life. With an adult’s vision, he gives language to his childhood feelings of confusion as he struggled to understand why the images of White people portrayed on TV didn’t match the treatment of which he knew them to be capable. Following Till’s death, his grandmother explained it by saying, “White folks hate Colored folks!”  But almost all of the characters Williams saw on TV were “White folks,” and while they were sometimes funny, wise, courageous or clever, they were never cruel.

Williams uses this feeling of disconnection to provide insight into the dynamics of “blockbusting” and his own “transitioning” neighborhood. He uses the insight provided by his “outsider” status to offer enlightening explanations about his personal experiences with racial hierarchy: From the time his well-meaning but racially unaware third-grade teacher forced him to use “flesh” colored paint, to the incident when he was slapped in the face and called a “Nigger” by an older boy who was a member of the school safety patrol.

In the final part of the story Williams recalls a time when he was the only Black student in his seventh-grade English class. His class was asked to write about something called “the Beatles.” Williams didn’t know who they were, and his classmates and teacher shared a laugh at his expense. Later, when he wrote about Emmett Till, he discovered that neither his teacher nor his classmates had ever heard of him. In this case though, no one felt deprived for not knowing. No one was deemed “stupid” and no one was laughed at.

Williams’s story is both entertaining and enlightening. As he reflects upon his youth, his listeners are given an opportunity to reflect upon their own upbringings, and everyone thinks a little harder about the continuing entrenchment of racism in American society.

HERE ARE SOME EXCERPTS FROM WILLIAMS’ STORY ‘FROM FLINT, MI  TO YOUR FRONT DOOR: TRACING THE ROOTS OF RACISM IN AMERICA”

“At the end of the summer, in 1955, I was four years old, sittin’ there in Chappy’s Barbershop on a hot, hot, hot Saturday afternoon – (the kind of hot that’s so hot it makes grownups sleepy) – and I was lookin’ over at the table where Chappy kept the newspapers, and the magazines, and the candy – like I always did – when I saw this picture on the front cover of “Jet” magazine. It was the sort of thing that, if you’re only four years old, you don’t know what it is you’re lookin’ at . . . But I must have kept on lookin’, because the grownups started talkin’ about it. They said that it was a photograph . . . A photograph of a dead boy’s body . . . The body of a boy named Emmett Till.

I was four years old. It was the year before I even started Kindergarten, and I saw him lying there. He had one eye gouged out, his skull had been bashed in, he had two bullet holes in his head, and his face was swollen up like some kind of giant sponge from hanging for days upside down in waters of the Tallahachie River.

Do you all know about Emmett Till? Emmett Till was a fourteen year old Black boy who went down from Chicago to a place called Money Mississippi to visit his Uncle, and he was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and brutally beaten and killed by two White men, because he supposedly whistled at, or winked at, or said something flirtatious to a White female store clerk.

In my mind, when I was lookin’ at that picture, it might just as well have been goin’ on right then. ‘Cause in the same second that I was lookin’ at the picture and hearin’ those barbershop men talkin’ about what had happened to Emmet Till, I saw myself dead and beat up like he was. I saw myself lookin’ at myself dead. I saw that Emmett Till’s skin was Brown like my skin was – I mean brown like everybody’s in Chappy’s Barbershop – and I knew in a split minute why this horrible thing had happened to him. Remember, I was only four years old, but I had already heard this kind of thing talked about a thousand times, and I could hear a voice inside my head. It was my grandmother’s voice, speakin’ almost in slow motion, as she gave the answer that she always gave whenever she was mad or frustrated with the shape of the world in which she was livin’. I could hear her say it: “White Folks Hate Colored Folks!”

… In the seventh grade … I was the only Black student in my English class. The teacher had given us an assignment to write a paper about something she called “the Beatles.” Everybody else in class was laughing and having a good time, and seemed to know what the teacher was talking about. I thought it was a joke and wondered why she wanted us to do a paper about insects. Everybody was in a good mood. But when I raised my hand and I asked, “What kind of beetles?” everybody had an even bigger laugh – at my expense. So the teacher told me, in a very condescending tone, that it was alright for me to write on any subject I chose, as long as I did a good job.

. . . So I wrote about Emmett Till. My teacher and classmates had never heard of him.”

La’Ron Williams, Storyteller: LaRontalk@aol.com

< Back to Download Page

From Flint Michigan to Your Front Door: Tracing the Roots of Racism

by Storyteller LaRon Williams

This lesson plan explores the true story FROM FLINT MICHIGAN TO YOUR FRONT DOOR by African American professional storyteller La’Ron Williams. With humor and honesty Williams will inspire conversation among students about the issues of institutional racism, living in two cultures at once, and claiming one’s own history and culture. This story and lesson plan addresses the White, Euro-centrism of our history and culture and the use of story to challenge that mono-cultural understanding of history. Lesson Plan, story-text, student activities and audio-downloads.

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Storyteller La’Ron Williams writes about his experience growing up in Flint, Michigan, where he felt nurtured by a strongly supportive African-American community. Yet even at an early age, Williams knew there were threats to his safety when he saw on the front cover of Jet Magazine the picture of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who had been killed by bigoted Whites in the South.

From that jarring moment onward, Williams describes the experience of growing up in parallel worlds: a Black world that loved and mentored him and a White world that, even in its most benign expression, assumed a “neutral status” that for African-Americans was neither neutral nor benign. Using examples from the media and from his own experiences in a town divided by racial tension, Williams creates a story that tells the truth about American racial hierarchy while also offering hope for all those eager to transcend its legacy.

This story offers a powerful tool to approach institutional racism and unconscious bias in a nonthreatening way. With his rich, warm voice, La’Ron narrates audio excerpts that help to personalize these complex issues, bring them to life for students, and encourage his listeners to think deeply about race and racism.

Use this story as a way to introduce topics related to race, to deepen your conversations about the distinctions between personal and institutional racism, to address race and unconscious bias in the media, or to provide another way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month.

More information about this story

Lesson Plan

Download the From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the From Flint, Michigan to Your Front Door lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Part One — 8:26 minutes

Excerpt #2 — Part Two12:57 minutes

Excerpt #3 — Part Three — 7:19 minutes

Excerpt #4 — Part Four – 5:44 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller La’Ron Williams

La’Ron Williams has a remarkable rapport with audiences of all kinds. Children and adults respond with equal enthusiasm to his warmth and vigor as he uses dialect, facial expressions and movement to breathe life into tales which transcend the boundaries of class and age.

Williams is motivated in part by the belief that the power and beauty of African culture should be shared, and that the lessons of struggle, perseverance, and survival of Africans in the Western Hemisphere are part of a legacy we all should recognize and own.

Ultimately, he believes that a narrow love of one’s own culture is not enough; that we all have to take the time to tell each other our stories – with all the joy and frowns and pain and smiles that they bring. That “…we have to come to know and accept the ways in which we are different and become aware of and appreciate the ways in which we’re alike, and that we have to use that knowledge not to ascribe hierarchy or to produce winners and losers, but to promote understanding and resolution.”

TURNING DREAMS INTO DEEDS

EXPLORING THE MESSAGE OF
DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. FOR TODAY
National Birthday Celebration : January 16, 2017

Materials for Students, Teachers & Leaders …
for group or personal reflection and action …

mlk-monument

 

The historic monument on the National Mall in Washington DC remembers Dr. King.

The monument also recalls the many people (known and unknown) who took part in the U.S.Civil Rights Movement and who challenged segregation and changed racist laws.

  The challenge of our day is to continue to turn dreams into deeds and make the ideals of Dr. King come alive in our classrooms, for our students, and for our world.

 

RaceBridges recommends this collection of lesson plans, activities and videos.  Some of the units speak of growing up in the 1960’s and facing racism.

Other units present activities that will evoke the spirit and message of Dr. King as we seek ways to carry out his legacy today.

These lesson plans also speak of the hope of turning dreams into deeds.

 

LaRon

LEARNING LONG DIVISION AND WHITE SUPERIORITY FROM MY “SWEET” THIRD GRADE TEACHER

BY STORYTELLER LA’RON WILLIAMS

More Info

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smflint_lessonplan_Page_01

FROM FLINT MICHIGAN TO YOUR FRONT DOOR : TRACING THE ROOTS OF RACISM

by STORYTELLER LA’RON WILLIAMS

with 4 audio download segments

More Info

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A WHITE GIRL LOOKS AT RACE

BY STORYTELLER SUSAN O’HALLORAN

with 3 audio download segments

More Info

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CONNECTING THE DOTS : RACISM, ACTIVISM AND CREATING A LIFE

by STORYTELLER MICHAEL McCARTY.

with 5 audio story download segments

Short version and Longer Version

More Info

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Short Videos on Showcase Page

More Info

DR. KING CAME TO TOWN :
A Short Video Story

by Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

More Info

FROM MOON COOKIES TO MARTIN AND ME :
A Short Video

by Storyteller Lyn Ford

More Info

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This RaceBridges site contains many complimentary lesson plans, resources, audio downloads and short videos that keep alive the message and mission of Dr. King for your students.

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INCLUDING EVERYONE:

Small Changes to Create a Welcoming Classroom

How welcoming is your classroom? Resource to help teachers make the little changes in their classrooms that will send the big message that Everyone is Welcome!

What we do every day, in regular classroom situations, can have a big impact. By using thoughtful language, challenging stereotypes,and encouraging hospitable behavior, we can help our students to become more open to those who are different from themselves.

Download this teacher resource

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CLAIM IT!

Differences & Similarities :

Creating a Climate of Inclusion

This lesson plan reveals the many differences in a classroom (or school) of students, despite the seemingly homogeneous surface. It assists teachers as they explore the sometimes hazardous territory of race and differences.

Download this teacher resource

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WE ALL HAVE A RACE !

Addressing Race and Racism

Talking about Race and Racism often makes people uncomfortable and even angry. It can be quite difficult to get the conversation started and even more difficult to facilitate the conversation once it has begun. This lesson plan offers a basic introduction to these topics by allowing students to think and learn about the basic meanings of “race” and “racism,” to discuss race and racism in their own experience and lives, and to learn some basic skills necessary to being allies with people of other races.

Download this teacher resource

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WHAT’S RACISM GOT TO DO WITH ME ? :

How Our History and Context Shape Us and Others

This lesson plan seeks to help students understand how history influences the present and to be open to the complexity of societal structures, historical causes, and environmental context both in their own lives and in the lives of other individuals and groups. While this lesson focuses on race, class, and gender, the basic principles in these activities apply to any situation that can be analyzed for cause and effect. The skills practiced in these activities will help students think through their own and others’ initial responses and engage in more thoughtful analysis of a situation instead of jumping to conclusions.

Download this teacher resource

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STICKING TOGETHER! :

Sharing Our Stories, Our Differences,

and Our Similarities

The goal of this lesson is to bring together students around their stories of differences and similarities. The most authentic community is one in which people can find common ground while still retaining what is distinct about themselves. Engaging. Fun. Illuminating.

Objectives of this lesson plan :

  • To create a sense of community in the classroom;
  • To use storytelling as a way for students to learn about one another’s differences
  • To use storytelling as a way for students to discover their similarities

Download this teacher resource

 

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Please explore hundreds of other diversity
themes, lessons and
videos at RaceBridgesStudio.com

 

Our History is Our Strength : Women’s History Month

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Listen to these Women Stories
in your classroom . . .

Bearing witness to the heroic
actions and words of women

Telling inspiring stories
that are little known
and rarely told . . .

 

 Listen to these stories and use the lesson plans with your students
of moving stories of inclusion and exclusion, loss and hope, past
and present. Use these stories in your classroom to inspire and
challenge your students to reflect on their world-view and to broaden
their horizons.

Use these stories as discussion starters for a faculty in-service session
to prompt and animate discussion about race-relations and inclusion.

These lesson plans come with complete text as well as audio, teacher guides,
student activities and further resources on related themes.  You may also find
corresponding videos on our sister site, RaceBridgesVideos.com.

These units are also suitable for young adult group discussion as
springboards on the subjects of race and racism.

 

….

Anne

Anne Shimojima

Japanese American Storyteller Anne Shimojima tells her original story Hidden Memory: Incarceration: Knowing Your Family’s Story and Why it Matters. About her family in the United States, especially during the time of World War II when some of her family were sent to the Japanese-American incarceration camps. Explores in an engaging way xenephobia, racism and being “unseen” in society.Courage and resiliance in a story that is rarely told.

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Watch videos

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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olga1

Olga Loya

Latina Storyteller Olga Loya tells excerpts from her original story: Being Mexican American : Caught Between Two Worlds – Nepantla. Growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles. Caught between the Latino and Anglo cultures, she realizes that she might belong to an even wider family and community and that perhaps there is a way to live with them all. Warm and spirited.

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Watch Videos

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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gene

Gene Tagaban

Native American storyteller Gene Tagaban remembers Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit woman, of Petersburg, Alaska. She attended Western Washington State University. When she returned with a new husband to live in Juno, no one would rent her a home because she was native. This was the limit to Elizabeth. She said: “No more signs. We need better housing, good jobs and good education for the people. And the right to sit wherever we wanted.” Gene Tagaban lovingly remembers the life of Elizabeth Peratrovich through the stories told to him by his own grandmother. The story remembers the shining day, after much struggle and bigotry of the passage of the Alaskan Anti-Discrimination Bill in1945, 20 years before Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus. This account is part of Gene Tagaban’s longer story of identity and belonging : Search Across the Races : I Am Indopino … Or How to Answer the Question : “Who Are You?”.

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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dovie

Dovie Thomason

Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason tells her true story: The Spirit Survives: The American Indian Boarding School Experience: Then and Now. This story weaves together personal narrative and historical accounts about the Indian boarding schools to reveal how they were used to decimate native culture and how some Indians stood up to them. Shocking and Inspiring.

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Download lesson plan and audio story

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linda

Linda Gorham

African American storyteller Linda Gorham tells two stories. One is I Am Somebody : Story Poems for Pride and Power. This an upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage. The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students. In her story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and actions in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

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Download lesson plans with audio stories

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Watch Videos

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Celebrating Women : Bridgebuilders and Storytellers

Ideas for bringing the universal subject of Women into your classroom.

RaceBridges honors Women’s History Month each year in the month of March. But gender equality is an important diversity issue that can be explored at any time. So we re-publish here our lesson plan for Women’s History Month in this Resource format. We remember that any time in the school year is a good time to explore the struggle for women’s equality and the ideals still not yet

fulfilled. We trust that these ideas, classroom activities and recommended links will be of help for you and your students in exploring this subject.

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TURNING DREAMS INTO DEEDS : DR. KING

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

TO HONOR DR. KING’S BIRTHDAY

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“We must learn to live together as
brothers and sisters or perish together as fools.”Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Continue the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
with these lesson plans and resources…

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VOICES FOR CHANGE

Values of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A new Streamlined Lesson for your
classroom exploring
Dr. King’s message of protest.

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10 Ways to Educate for Anti-Racism
and to Celebrate Diversity

 > Download now

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What’s Racism Got To Do with Me?

> Download now

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Seeking Harmony : Starting &
Sustaining a Diversity Club for
High School Students

> Download now

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Creating a Diversity Session for
your Faculty : An Introduction

> Download now

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Giving it Back: Passing it On

>Download now


VISIT RACEBRIDGES VIDEOS FOR MORE
ON DR. KING’S LEGACY 

In remembering the day Martin Luther King, Jr. died, African-American storyteller Lyn Ford recognizes how people of different backgrounds can share a vision for unity and peace. And as Americans seek to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in January, Lyn’s story also gives us an opportunity to explore the relationship between Dr. King and the Jewish people.

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Fresh Ways to Celebrate the Dr. King Holiday in the Classroom

martin_luther_king-stampAs winter settles in and the new year arrives, classrooms are filled with restless students. They are fully engulfed in the routines of school, and are eager to do something different. The holiday that celebrates the life, values, and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. falls in the middle of January – right in the midst of the classroom blahs.

Why not add some zip to your curriculum and lessons? Why not change up your usual class customs? Get the students up and moving, doing something unexpected. Celebrate MLK Day with some fresh new ideas for students!

Here are some bright and creative ways to celebrate this national holiday in your classroom!

  • Plan a walk to raise money for a local charity or nonprofit organization that your students care about. Chart your trek on a local map.
  • Give a series of scenario skits to students to read and act out in class. These should be short and involve some sort of situational difficulties that students face. Once each skit is presented, ask the class what they would do? What would MLK suggest they do in that situation?
  • Have students research important quotes of MLK and design posters to hang throughout the school.
  • Send helium balloons up in the sky with MLK quotes or values written on them.
  • Organize a peaceful march referencing the values that MLK stood for.
  • Have students re-create or recite one of MLK’s famous speeches. Consider posting this on schooltube.com (this is a school-friendly version of YouTube where students can post videos and other projects online).
  • Arrange a classroom sit-in. Let students protest a class activity or policy (one that the teacher would be willing to change), and allow students to peacefully protest its use. Let them create posters, present persuasive speeches, and work collectively as a group.
  • Design creative bookmarks with MLK quotes on them.

 

Check out the new RaceBridges streamlined Lesson VOICES FOR CHANGE created for use around the Dr. King Holiday

And check out these other lessons and resources most suitable for reflection and use around the Dr. King Holiday.

► Check out these websites for more ideas:

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For Black History and Always: I Am Somebody

Students need to know that their families and their cultures – and, therefore, they – are welcome in the classroom. A great way to do this is to take Linda Christensen’s idea featured in the wonderful book Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practice Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development called “Where I’m From: Inviting Student Lives Into the Classrooms.”

Have your students make up their own “I Am Somebody” or “I Am From” poems by first making lists of:

  • Items found in their homes
  • Items found in their yards
  • Items found in their neighborhood
  • Names of relatives – especially ones linked to the past
  • Family sayings
  • Names of foods served at family gatherings
  • Names of places where the family has lived or visited
  • People – past and present – from their culture who they admire

Then, with a link between images such as “I Am…” or “I Am From…” have students write a first draft. Next, have the students read to each other with no specific comments. Just being heard can help the students feel cared for. Then, you can have a general discussion of what made certain phrases stand out such as specificity of detail, metaphor or humor and the students can try one more draft.

Here are a couple excerpt examples from Linda Christensen’s article “Where I’m From: Inviting Student Lives Into the Classrooms”and my work with teens:

I am from awapuhi ginger

Sweet fields of sugar cane

And green bananas

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I am from get-togethers

And Barbeques

Salsa dancing on the back porch

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I am from Kunta Kinte’s strength

Harriet Tubman’s escapes

Phyllis Wheatley’s poems

And Sojourner Truth’s faith

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In this video, storyteller, Linda Gorham, shares her “I Am Somebody” story and reminds us that “We are products of the people who came before us and the preparation for the future.” 

 

Feathers in the Wind: A Jewish-American’s Story

feathersby Storyteller Susan Stone

Feathers in the Wind: A Jewish American’s Story invites students and teachers of all religious and cultural backgrounds to reflect on their own lives and to explore the impact of gossip and hurtful words.

This lesson plan “unpacks” stories told by Susan Stone, a professional storyteller. This story and lesson plan can be used in one or two sessions.

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feathers_banner

“…Your words are like feathers in the wind.

Once they’re gone you can’t get them back and you don’t know where they’ve gone to.”

susanstone

 

Feathers in the Wind: A Jewish American’s Story invites students and teachers of all religious and cultural backgrounds to reflect on their own lives and to explore the impact of gossip and hurtful words. This lesson plan “unpacks” stories told by Susan Stone, a professional storyteller. This story and lesson plan can be used in one or two sessions.

This unit provides some ways to engage diverse students with traditional folk tales and contemporary stories.

  • Through personal reflection, peer discussion, and the development of collective strategies for making a difference, the exercises included here explore our use of language and encourage us to stand up for our beliefs.
  • The unit seeks to promote a culture of empathy and compassion for the differences and similarities among us.

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Lesson Plan

Download the Feathers in the Wind lesson plan (PDF)

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Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Feathers in the Wind lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Track One — 12:18 minutes

Excerpt #2 — Track Two– 8:58 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Susan Stone

 

Susan Stone has been sharing her tales for over twenty years for children and adults all over the USA.  She teaches storytelling to teachers at National-Louis University, IL, and has been honored with many awards for her CDs of Jewish stories for children.  She loves telling stories from many cultures, but especially loves sharing stories from the Jewish tradition.  Susan  believes that hearing each other’s stories enables us to nurture compassion for others, and perhaps heal ourselves as well.

www.susanstone-storyteller.com
susan@susanstone-storyteller.com

Evacuation

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Evacuation

 

A Short Video Story

 

by Anne Shimojima

 

Introduction:

Interested in knowing what life was really like for Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941? Take a journey with storyteller Anne Shimojima as she tells not only her own personal family experiences of the event, but relates the difficulties faced by many Japanese Americans at the onset of WWII.

Summary:

With honest and detailed reflection, storyteller Anne Shimojima tells the personal story of the forced evacuation of her grandparents following the attack on Pearl Harbor. While setting the stage with warm recollections of who her grandfather was, she interlaces historical facts to build a foundation of awareness.

Relating hardships faced my many Japanese Americans, Shimojima explains how prejudice and discrimination resulted from unadulterated rumor and fear. She recounts the bitterness that she saw in the faces of her loved ones, and how their experiences in the forced evacuation profoundly affected her family. Listen as she brings a new understanding to a long misunderstood and overlooked aspect of American history.

Classroom Applications:

  • Invite a guest speaker who experiences persecution to come to share stories with students
  • Watch the short film The Wave to show students how people are easily influenced when fear and rumor are involved (film is easily found online)
  • Create a set of interview questions, and have students interview an older family member or friend.

Watch the video now

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Explore our many other RaceBridges Studios videos for

Asian American Month or any time of the year.

 

Dreaming of Cuba: Stories that Bind

by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

Antonio Sacre tells of his lifelong desire to learn about Cuba from his father and his father’s reluctance to discuss the country from which he and his family were exiled after the revolution in 1959. Sacre explores his desire to learn about his family’s history, his father’s reluctance to discuss Cuba, and the time his father finally shared some memories from his childhood.

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This lesson plan “unpacks” the story Dreaming of Cuba: The Stories that Bind by Antonio Sacre. He is an internationally touring writer, storyteller, and solo performance artist based in Los Angeles. He is the son of a Cuban father and Irish-American mother and a Boston native.

Antonio Sacre tells of his lifelong desire to learn about Cuba from his father and his father’s reluctance to discuss the country from which he and his family were exiled after the revolution in 1959. Sacre explores his desire to learn about his family’s history, his father’s reluctance to discuss Cuba, and the time his father finally shared some memories from his childhood. This story and lesson plan explores themes of identity, loss, and family relationships.

Lesson Plan

Download the Dreaming of Cuba lesson plan (PDF)

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Story Excerpt*

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Dreaming of Cuba lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are

protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Dreaming of Cuba“– 8:05 minutes

(Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.)

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Download Two Extra Bonus Stories related to the themes of this Lesson Plan. Listen to two extra stories by Antonio Sacre about himself, his father and Cuba.

* NOTE: There are differences between the transcript and the spoken version of this story; it is preferable to listen to the story, using the transcript as a guide while listening or as a way to remember story details while working in class.

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About Antonio Sacre


Antonio Sacre, born in Boston to a Cuban father and Irish-American mother, is an internationally touring writer, storyteller, and solo performance artist based in Los Angeles. He earned a BA in English from Boston College and an MA in Theater Arts from Northwestern University. He has performed at the National Book Festival at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, the National Storytelling Festival, and museums, schools, libraries, and festivals internationally.

Contact & Information for Antonio Sacre:

www.antoniosacre.com

Tribal Pride: Various Names for the People of the First Nations

Native American. First Nations. American Indian. This culture of people has such unique and interesting backgrounds, and it is most intriguing to learn about each tribe by name. Although the encompassing titles of Native American or First Nations identify the nationality of the people, it is the tribes that are the most distinctive. Each has its own way of life, history, location, food, clothing, and artwork. Each has its own legends and stories, people and personalities.

Schools and teachers work diligently to be as inclusive and sensitive as possible in classroom settings, and to teach students to do the same. It is recommended that schools learn which tribes are part of their student enrollment, and celebrate those accomplishments accordingly. Below are a few well-known tribes and their meanings, and a few websites that offer information on a vast number of other Native American tribes.

TRIBES:

  • Apache – “enemy”*
  • Cherokee – “relatives of the Cree” or “the people”*
  • Chippewa – “original person”*
  • Dakota – “the allies”*
  • Micmac – “my friends”*
  • Mohawk – “man-eaters”*
  • Mohican – “from the waters that are never still”*
  • Navajo – “planted fields”*
  • Seminole – “wild”*
  • Sioux – “the allies”*
  • Wampanoag – “easterners”*

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WEBSITES:

Dignity and Courage Come Alive !

by Storyteller Linda Gorham

I Am Somebody :  Story Poems for Pride and Poweriam

African American storyteller Linda Gorham tells this upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage. The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students.

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Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Uprosa

In Linda Gorham’s story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and action in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

 

 

Dignity and Courage Come Alive !

 

 

lindaAfrican American storyteller Linda Gorham tells two stories. One is I Am Somebody : Story Poems for Pride and Power. This is an upbeat and moving celebration of Linda’s family tree and heritage.

The lesson plan guides teachers to invite “pride poems” from their students.

In her story Rosa Parks : One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up Linda personalizes the words and action in a story of the famed Rosa Parks. The lesson plan explores the many other heroes of the civil rights movement who “sat down’ to stand up for justice. Self-worth, dignity and courage come alive.

This unit comes with a teacher guide, text of stories & audio-download of stories as well as student activities.

Lesson Plans

I am Somebody: Yes You Are!

Purpose

    • Build pride in students for their family and background
    • Connect home life and classroom activities
    • Model how times of struggle become sources of strength
    • Appreciate the diversity and background of the other students
    • Gain practice in writing by creating poems and stories

Download I Am Somebody Lesson Plan (PDF)

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Rosa Parks: One of Many Who Sat Down to Stand Up

Purpose

    • Become more familiar with the Rosa Parks’ story
    • Place Ms. Parks’ protest within the larger context of her supportive family and community and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s
    • Examine the motives and practices of bigotry and institutional racism
    • Experience a recreation of some of the feelings, challenges and decisions facing people in this country as they lived in a system of legalized segregation and discrimination
    • Understand the extent of the bravery of those who stood up to discrimination given the ignorance and violence of the times.

Download Rosa Parks Lesson Plan (PDF)

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Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the I am Somebody and Rosa Parks lesson plans. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Linda Gorham

Linda Gorham’s stories are fun, full of energy, and designed to enhance the love of reading. She tells folktales, inspirational stories, fables, “RESPECT” stories, hero stories, and, of course, stories that make your spine tingle and your hair stand on edge. Linda’s stories reinforce values, spark the imagination, and explore the world of ideas and traditions from other cultures. www.lindagorham.com

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A Different Perspective: Acknowledging the Positive Images of the Hispanic Community

As our country seems more divided than ever, debates arise over many controversial issues. With so much negativity directed at the immigration issue, Hispanic Americans are frequently perceived in a negative light. There is, however, much that is overlooked in the Hispanic American culture for students to aspire to. It is time for much more positive images to be given to today’s youth.

Schools today can be a valuable resource for students to achieve great things, and they need to provide students with encouraging role models who portray constructive examples of Hispanic Americans. Schools need to be able to encourage students to excel at being themselves. Additionally, there is much beauty in the cultures of Hispanic or Latino descent that could easily be identified in our schools as positive images.

What can teachers do to highlight positive Latino images in the classroom? Below are some suggestions for incorporating images that show Hispanic Americans in a positive way.

  • Hang up quotes from notable Hispanic Americans on the walls
  • Display artwork or photos of prominent Hispanic Americans
  • Read literature by prolific Hispanic American writers
  • Discuss accomplishments of significant Hispanic Americans of all industries and fields
  • Sing/Play music written or performed by Hispanic Americans
  • Identify Hispanic American inventors and their inventions
  • Create research projects based on Hispanic Americans in government
  • Explore award-winning Hispanic Americans and their accomplishments

 

For activities and ideas for the classroom or for youth or

young adult groups in and around Hispanic Heritage Month

(Sep. 15 – October 15, 2012)

RaceBridgesVideos

November is Native American Heritage Month

pumpkins-gordsNOVEMBER IS NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH.

 

Each year in November, many students learn of the Thanksgiving story. They hear of Pilgrims and Indians, of the hardships, the food, and the bond established between the two peoples. A table is set for feasting and for celebrating the day of America’s discovery. Many, unfortunately, do not learn of another aspect of that time – that Native Americans see it as a time of mourning. How do schools and teachers cover the Thanksgiving story sensitively and with accuracy?   Below are a few tips to get started.

  • Invite a guest speaker to talk to students about the perspective in an age and school appropriate manner...
  • Find books or other resource materials that depict actual happenings..
  • Talk about why Native Americans would feel mournful at this time..
  • Avoid stereotypical plays, clothing, speech, food, or behaviors..
  • Share what happened in the years after the First Thanksgiving (age and school appropriate, of course)..
  • Create a new Thanksgiving story..
  • Focus on gratitude..
  • Allow students to share personal experiences.

 

RaceBridges presents a number of free lessons and resources that
will provide teachers and leaders with many ideas and activities for this time of year.

Explore these free lessons and videos for this month of November:

November: Native American Heritage Month

Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life

by Storyteller Michael McCarty

African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.

Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.

Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.
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    • African American Storyteller Michael McCarty tells his true story Connecting the Dots: Racism, Activism & Creating a Life.
    • Racism in Chicago … the Black Panthers …Activism and the institution … Expulsion from High School …. Drugs …. Searching … Journeys around the world … Stories and people that shape us ….Ways and paths to self-discovery … With humor and hope the storyteller “connects the dots” in his life.
    • Invite your students in to explore their responses to McCarty’s challenges, dead-ends and the people and events that shaped his life’s journey.
    • Let Michael McCarty’s story inspire conversation among your students (and faculty) about the issues of racism, standing up for one’s beliefs, working for change in the world and in our lives and the power of stories to inspire and connect.
    • Complete text and audio download of this story come in a short version and a long version. (See below).
    • Connecting the Dots is an ideal discussion starter for college age, young adults and justice and peace groups. Lesson Plan provides questions and activities.

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Connecting the Dots (Short Version)

Lesson Plan

Download the Connecting the Dots (Short Version)lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Connecting the Dots (Short Version) lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1a – 4:11 minutes

Excerpt #1b7:07 minutes

Excerpt #1c — 6:06 minutes

Excerpt #2a4:24 minutes

Excerpt #3a — 4:55 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.

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Connecting the Dots (Long Version)

Caution

In this longer version of the lesson plan, there is reference to drug use particularly in Story #2.  While the storyteller talks about how he eventually gave up drugs and devoted himself to being healthy and productive, a teacher might want to address the topic of drug use and abuse before beginning the lesson or to skip reading and listening to the sections of the story that pertain to drug use.

Lesson Plan

Download the Connecting the Dots (Long Version) lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Connecting the Dots (Long Version) lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Track One17:25 minutes

Excerpt #2 –Track Two18:20 minutes

Excerpt #3 — Track Three17:16 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Michael McCarty

Michael McCarty (“Have Mouth Will Run It“™) is a multicultural storyteller of African, African-American and International Folk tales, Historical tales, Stories of Science, Spiritual stories as well as stories of the brilliant and absolutely stupid things he has done in his life.

His stories inform, educate, inspire and amuse. His storytelling style is energetic and enthusiastic.

Thanksgiving : Who Is Missing From The Table?

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Thanksgiving is a time to remember our country’s beginnings and to celebrate our rich history of welcoming the stranger. But in many ways, our idea of the original Thanksgiving table—a table we want to believe was about peace and fellowship between two peoples—is a myth.

Many teachers struggle in the classroom at this time of year because of the myths surrounding the original Thanksgiving story, settlers’ treatment of indigenous peoples, and the failure of our nation to welcome consistently the stranger and the newcomer. How can we teach the truth in our classrooms while still celebrating this national holiday?

 

The educators at Race Bridges for Schools, a nonprofit initiative helping schools explore diversity and race relations in the classroom, encourage teachers and students to study the true history of Native Americans in the U.S., to consider our country’s history of welcoming or shunning strangers, and to look at our own tables, literally and metaphorically, and who might not feel included at those tables. They suggest classroom activities such as:

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  1. Reading or listening to short stories from different groups of people about times they felt welcomed and times they did not feel welcomed to America’s table..
  2. Exposing students to true stories from the Native American perspective. Storytellers such as Dovie Thomason and Gene Tagaban share their personal experiences growing up as First Nations People.  These true stories cover topics as diverse as the Indian boarding schools and the search for identity and dignity among the indigenous peoples in Alaska. Stories suchas these expose students to historical events that aren’t taught in most schools, and touch on themes of cultural identity, inclusion and exclusion, and oppression..
  3. Sharing personal stories. Have students share their own brief stories about a time when they or their family were or were not welcomed, or a time when they did or did not welcome another..

Whether you simply engage in classroom discussion or facilitate small-group presentations, exercises like this enable your students to explore more fully the history and experience of Native Americans.  As we prepare for Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, lessons such as these will help students consider who’s been missing from the “American table” and how they can literally and metaphorically make a difference.

America champions the ideals of equality, fairness, and welcoming the stranger to our table. Thanksgiving is a holiday that especially challenges us to examine whether or not we are living up to our ideals. For your students, they can ask these questions in any of their activities, whether at a club or sport or student council, at their place of worship, later when they look at colleges, and, throughout their adult lives.

DOWNLOAD NOW

SEARCH ACROSS THE RACES: A Native American Looks at His Mixed Identities

I am Indopino brings together Tlingit, Cherokee, and Filipino storyteller Gene Tagaban’s personal story and the history of discrimination against American Indians in Alaska. He also weaves into this rich narrative the story of Elizabeth Peratrovich, who helped pass the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act in Alaska, the first of its kind in the country.

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A SEARCH FOR IDENTITY AND AN AMERICAN INDIAN VISION THAT STILL LIVES TODAY.

This lesson plan uses the original story “I Am Indopino” by Gene Tagaban.  He is a noted storyteller and story artist whose heritage is Tlingit, Cherokee, and Filipino. This story brings together Tagaban’s personal story and the history of discrimination against American Indians in Alaska. He also weaves into this rich narative the story of Elizabeth Peratrovich, who helped pass the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act in Alaska, the first of its kind in the country.

This unit contains:

  • Downloadable printable lesson plan
  • Teacher guide
  • Student activities
  • Printed text of story
  • Audio-downloads of story told by Gene Tagaban with his evocative music
  • Other Resources

Gene Tagaban weaves together historical and personal stories to explore larger themes and questions.  He explores the complexity of personal identity in light of his own multi-ethnic background while extending the question “Who am I?” to all of us.

Gene Tagaban illuminates the stereotypes that still surround indigenous people, in particular American Indians, and how those labels get in the way of seeing people for who they are in particular.

Tagaban also demonstrates how our histories —whether historical events, folk tales, or heroes—help shape who we are and how we understand ourselves.

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Lesson Plan


Download the I am Indopino lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the I Am Indopino lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Track One10:36 minutes

Excerpt #2 — Track Two8:55 minutes

Excerpt #3 — Track Three9:31 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Gene Tagaban


 

Gene Tagaban is a Native American performing artist, storyteller, trainer, counselor and healer. His heritage is Cherokee, Tlingit and Filipino. Raised in Alaska, Gene’s Native American name Gaay Yaaw, loosely translates as Salmon Home Coming. He is of the Tak deintaan Raven Freshwater Sockeye clan of Hoonah, Alaska, and the Child of a Wooshkeetaan Eagle Thunderbird clan of Juneau, Alaska.

Storyteller Gene Tagaban can be contacted about performances at www.storytellingraven.com or onecrazyraven@earthlink.net

November : Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, and of course the Thanksgiving holiday.  RaceBridges presents these free Lesson Plans and Resources that will assist you in bringing alive the stories of our first residents of America.  Two of these units present activities to use around the Thanksgiving holiday.

 celebrating-sm Celebrating Native American Culture and Encouraging Awareness. Streamlined Lesson Plan.
  The Spirit Survives : The American Indian Boarding School Experience: Then & Now .by Storyteller Dovie Thomason. Lesson Plan and audio download with classroom activities..
 tagaban Search Across the Races : by Storyteller Gene Tagaban. A Native American Looks  at his mixed identities. Lesson Plan and audio download with classroom activities..
.gratitude-sm Gratitude.  Streamlined Lesson Plan and classroom activity for around Thanksgiving..
  Thanksgiving : Who Is Missing From The Table ? Reflections and activities around  Thanksgiving for classroom, school or group use.  Resource..

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Challenges Asian Americans Face Today

How much do you and your students know about Asian Americans? Do they know the discrimination Asian Americans still face today?

 

Research shows that Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing victims of hate crimes in America. 17% of Asian American boys in grades 5 through 12 reported physical abuse, as compared to 8% among white boys. 30% of Asian American girls in grades

5 through 12 reported depressive symptoms, as compared to white girls (22%), African American girls (17%), or Hispanic girls (27%).

14% of Asian Americans live below the poverty line, compared to 13% of the U.S. population.

In addition, while jobs pay Euro Americans $522 per every additional year of education beyond high school, Asian Americans make $379 per every additional year of education. According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Asian-American men born in the United States are 7 percent to 11 percent less likely to hold managerial jobs than white men with the same educational and experience level.

A Celebration of Unity Day and Courage

As the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw near, we celebrate Judaism’s rich history of storytelling through the reflections and memories of Jewish-American Storytellers, and stories about the legacy of the Jewish people.

Feathers in the Wind: A Jewish-American’s StoryA lesson plan with audio story excerpts featuring Jewish American Storyteller Susan Stone

 

Short story videos from RaceBridgesVideos.com

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. : Creative Ways to Involve Your Students

mlkEvery January, our country celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His vision that all people would be treated equally and with respect will forever be a model of true humanitarianism. His hope and dreams were enormous, and he fought to call attention to them. He strove to be a voice for those whose voices were not heard, and he believed in the power of deeds.

In this month of January approaches, why not engage your students in some MLK celebratory activities? Allow your students to experience a little of what MLK stood for and practiced. Below are some innovative and engaging ideas for you to use in your classroom that would combat the winter doldrums and give credence to a man whose ideals and achievements are worthy of being replicated. 

  • Celebrate diversity! Have students bring in samples of cuisine from their culture for the class to taste..
  • Explore acts of humanitarianism. Hold a fundraiser, like a sponsored walk, and donate the money to a local charity..
  • Role-play scenarios of injustice in your class. Allow students to decide how they would react in certain situations, building awareness and empathy..
  • Discuss values that MLK stood for, like compassion, equality, and freedom. Have students create scenarios that show a particular value..
  • Practice volunteerism or service. Discuss this concept with students, brainstorm services they could provide or fulfill in the community, and then let them do it..
  • Allow students to listen to MLK’S “I Have a Dream” speech, and then have them write their own speeches. This allows them to think about the needs of our society today and how they can impact its betterment..
  • Discuss MLK’S views on non-violence. Have students apply that value to the school, finding ways to encourage all students to not use violence as a way to solve problems.

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Explore the many free lessons, resources and videos with themes of community building and inclusion found on:

 

BRING BLACK HISTORY INTO THE PRESENT

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With budget cuts at every level of education, it’s rare when a teacher can arrange a field trip to a national monument or organization. Thank goodness for the web! This February, during your Black History celebrations, why not rely on virtual experiences to give your students new encounters and increased understanding without the cost or time away from the classroom?

You can create a virtual Black Issues scavenger hunt for your middle and high school students using this resource:

http://bit.ly/tJv2aI

Focusing on African American history without showing how the past is still affecting the present leaves our students without an understanding of today’s challenges and how they might one day make a difference. This resource centers on the hurdles African Americans face today because of the institutional racism of the past.

Have students work in teams to search these papers for facts on disparities in testing, economic mobility, school discipline and suspensions and the like. The victories and achievements African Americans continuously make despite ongoing discrimination is a cause for celebration and inspiration for all Americans.

WEEDING OUT ANTI-INDIAN BIASES FROM SCHOOL MEDIA

NativeAmericanSunSymbolsAs we move into a month of celebrating the First Nations of our country and the world, a few helpful hints from Oyate, the children’s literature review site, can keep us from doing more harm than good. To turn a critical eye toward any books, videos or films to which we expose our students here are a few guidelines of what to include:

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  1. Show only media that present Indians as full human beings, not primitive or simple tribal people. Avoid media that objectifies Indian people such as “counting” or “playing Indians” (Would you have your student “count” or “play” white people?).
  2. Select media where the full range of Indian customs, cultures, dress, religion, language and architecture is shown.,
  3. Show media that has authentic, not generic design. “Indian looking” is not accurate. Use books, films and so on that have paid full attention to detail..
  4. Select media that shows the variety of physical attributes Indian people, like all people, display. Avoid books that simply portray Indians as white people with darker skin..
  5. Select age appropriate media that are honest about the genocidal policies of the U.S. government. Watch for media that subtly blames Indians for their own dwindling numbers. Show that Native nations actively resisted their invaders..
  6. Show Indian heroes other than those who “helped” European conquerors..
  7. Share media that shows present day First Nations as complex, sovereign nations who are not dependent on charity, take care of their families and are creating their own future..

For a fuller list of Dos and Don’ts go to:

http://oyate.org

Or buy and read the book:

“How to Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias”

by Doris Seale, Beverly Slapin and Rosemary Gonzales

This November Expose Your Students to New Perspectives on the Native American Experience

With November just around the corner, Americans are preparing to celebrate not only Thanksgiving but also National American Indian Heritage Month.

For educators, this is the perfect time to explore new perspectives on the history of indigenous peoples in the U.S., as well as to discover the history never heard.  One way to do that is to get students thinking critically about what they don’t know — and why they don’t know it.

Of course, students know some things about American Indians. At a young age, they probably learned about wigwams, teepees and other culturally obsolete trappings of early “Indian” society. And all of us were taught about the first Thanksgiving – how the Pilgrims dressed and the “friendly Indians” brought corn to this peaceful gathering of fellowship and gratitude.

But then most of us found out, at some point in our adult life, that the Thanksgiving story was highly mythologized, and that the real history of indigenous people in the U.S. was marked by removal, slaughter, and forced assimilation.

So why don’t we teach that in school? That disconnect between what we teach and what we ignore provides a golden opportunity to expand students’ understanding of the true, historical Native American experience.

Wondering how to spark this discussion in your classroom? Here are some creative ideas:

  • Start simply by asking students what they’ve been taught about American Indians — their history, their culture, perhaps even their role in the traditional Thanksgiving story. Depending on what you hear, you may want to probe further into their knowledge of Native American genocide.
  • Next, try exposing them to true stories from the Native American perspective. One you might consider: “The Spirit Survives“ by First Nations storyteller Dovie Thomason.   It’s a personal account (available in audio and text) of her family’s painful experience in the Indian boarding schools,to which many American Indian children were taken by force, away from their families, to be assimilated into white culture. Dovie’s story and the associated lesson plan, available free and printable by clicking, exposes students to historical events that aren’t taught in most schools. It also touches on themes of cultural identity, inclusion and exclusion, and the power of forced education to oppress people.
  • After the introduction of this new perspective, you can encourage students to think critically about what they haven’t been taught. Get them talking with these questions:
      • What did you learn from this story that you didn’t know about the history of indigenous people in the U.S.?
      • Why do you think you never learned this in school?
      • Why do we need to explore this neglected part of history?
      • Why bring up stories that are painful or hard to listen to? What good does that do?

Whether you simply engage in classroom discussion or facilitate small-group presentations, exercises like this enable your students to explore more fully the history and experience of Native Americans.  And as we prepare for Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays, lessons such as this will help students consider who’s been missing from the “American table” and how they can literally and metaphorically make a difference.

Download this lesson plan

The Spirit Survives: The American Indian Boarding School Experience: Then and Now

by Storyteller Dovie Thomason

This lesson plan presents a rarely heard part of American history — a true story about the crimes of forced assimilation of Indian children in the American Indian Boarding Schools.smdovie_lessonplan-1_Page_01

Kiowa Apache and Lakota Indian storyteller Dovie Thomason weaves a fascinating story of struggle, survival and inspiration as she tells her own daughter of a history that must not be forgotten and that presents lessons for all of us today. Texts, audio-download segments and classroom activities and resources are all a part of this powerful Lesson Plan.

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AN AMERICAN INDIAN STORY OF STRUGGLE, PAIN AND PROUD SURVIVAL . . .

This is a printable Lesson Plan with audio-excerpts looking at the original inhabitants of our land and some of the shattering events that were forced upon them.

Dovie Thomason, a Kiowa Apache and Lakota Indian, weaves personal narrative, the history of Indian schools, and the story of Gertrude Bonnin (later Zitkala Sa), the Sioux Native American woman who went through the Indian schools and afterward became a writer and activist for Indian rights.

This Lesson Plan with printable text and downloadable audio-segments presents Thomason’s original story about the inhuman practice of forced assimilation of American Indian children in painful and shameful attempts to “change” them into “white children”. Included in this Learning Unit are classroom activities and a list of recommended Resources for Teachers and Students to discover further histories and contributions of our American Indian peoples.

There are four segments to Dovie Thomason’s story. This Lesson Plan can be best used in presenting the story in two distinct sessions or classroom periods. It can also be presented with audio and print-text in one longer study-reflection session. This lesson plan is ideal for use in Native American Heritage Month, November, and around the Thanksgiving Holiday, (which often has distorted images of American Indian events) . . . or any time . . . as it seeks to reveal American Indian events that are rarely found in our history books.

THE SPIRIT SURVIVES can also be used in social studies and as part of the reflection and study of indigenous peoples and their challenges and struggles . . . yesterday … and even today.

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Lesson Plan

Download the The Spirit Survives lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Spirit Survives lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 – Track One — 9:06 minutes

Excerpt #2 — Track Two– 9:39 minutes

Excerpt #3 — Track Three — 14:43 minutes

Excerpt #4 — Track Four — 10:56 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

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About Storyteller Dovie Thomason

Dovie Thomason is an award-winning storyteller, recording artist and author, recognized internationally for her ability to take her listeners back to the “timeless place” that she first “visited” as a child, hearing old Indian stories from her Kiowa Apache and Lakota relatives, especially her Grandma Dovie and her Dad.  From their voices, she first heard the voices of the Animal People and began to learn the lessons they had to teach her.  For these were teaching stories that took the place of punishment or scolding, showing her the values that her people respect and wanted to pass on to her.

Her love of stories and culture set her on a path to listen and learn and share the stories—to give people a clearer understanding of the often misunderstood, often invisible, cultures of the First Nations of North America.  The product of a “mixed” background that is urban Chicago and rural Texas, Internet and ancient teachers, elders’ teachings and university classrooms —Dovie began telling stories “publicly” while teaching literature and writing at an urban high school in Cleveland.  So, she began telling those first-heard old Indian stories—stories about making choices—stories that could become a blueprint for a personal value system.

We All Have A Race : Addressing Race and Racism

This lesson plan helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This lesson provides a substantial, educational way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month and the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Can also be used at any time of year.

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WE ALL HAVE A RACE

A Lesson Plan that Helps You Teach Your Students about Race and Racism

We offer a lesson plan: We All Have a Race: Addressing Race and Racism—in time to be used during African-American Heritage Month. This lesson plan helps students to understand the concept of race better, to distinguish between prejudice and racism, and to learn ways to stand up against racism and to act as allies with students of different races. This lesson provides a substantial, educational way to celebrate African-American Heritage Month and the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

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Black History Month: Prominent Leaders of the Culture

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As February and Black History Month approaches, it is important to take time to consider the successes of very prominent leaders of the black community. Without these people and their accomplishments, our country would be a very different place. A place sorely lacking in richness of culture, brilliant achievement, exploits of bravery and triumph, and sheer strengths of character. 

Schools and teachers should take an opportunity this month to explore the feats noted about some very prominent leaders of the black community. Where can you start? Who are notable people in black history with great stories to tell? Below are a few names to start with and what they are known for. Create a research project for students. Study the names as a class. Get them actively involved in the process.

  • Hank Aaron (baseball player)
  • Muhammad Ali (boxer)
  • Maya Angelou (writer)
  • Louis Armstrong (musician)
  • Arthur Ashe (tennis player)
  • Chuck Berry (musician)
  • George Washington Carver (chemist)
  • Shirley Chisholm (congresswoman)
  • Nat “King” Cole (musician)
  • Bill Cosby (actor)
  • W.E.B. DuBois (writer)
  • Langston Hughes (writer)
  • Michael Jackson (musician)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (activist)
  • Carl Lewis (sprinter and jumper)
  • Thurgood Marshall (US Supreme Court justice)
  • Rosa Parks (activist)
  • Sidney Poitier (actor)
  • Jackie Robinson (baseball player)
  • Sojourner Truth (abolitionist)
  • Harriet Tubman (abolitionist)
  • Tiger Woods (golfer)

Check out this website for further easy researching:  http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmbios1.html

Black History Month: Influential Artists of the Culture

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There is no way to celebrate black history month without including some of the most influential artists of the culture. The musicians, the actors, the dancers and entertainers. The writers, the painters and sculptors. What a dull world we would have without the profound contributions and talents of these great artists. Schools should celebrate these people year-round, but especially during black history month.

How can teachers call attention to these artists while utilizing the required curriculum and state standards?   Below are a few tips for teachers.

  • Create a research project that allows students to present their findings through the work of the artists rather than through a written product.
  • Show some footage of the actual artist doing what they do or being interviewed.
  • Study the Harlem Renaissance period – a booming time for black artists.
  • Read literary works by black authors. Consider using Hughes, DuBois, or Stowe. Or more current authors like Myers, Angelou, or Grimes.
  • Take a field trip to a museum celebrating or showcasing black artists.
  • Bring in an actual artist from the culture to share experiences with the students.

 

Black History Month: The Civil Rights Movement

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The Civil Rights Movement was a pivotal and important time in our country. What better time to explore its happenings and outcomes than during black history month?

Schools and teachers easily fit this vital time into academic lessons. The weighty issues and activities changed our country forever for the better, but many struggles took place to gain the way of life we have today. Do students of today truly grasp the agony and hardships endured for freedom?

How can teachers and schools explore this movement more fully? Below are a few tips: 

  • Invite a guest speaker in who was an activist for the civil rights movement. The time will soon arrive when those who lived through this movement and walked the path of a civil rights activist will not be here anymore. Any chance to hear directly from a source is of great value in the classroom.
  • Use technology. Skype with an activist – past or present. Research using a search engine.
  • Watch films about the movement, particularly documentaries. Watch short sections of the material at a time – 10 minutes or so. This keeps the students engaged more than sitting for an hour doing nothing interactive.
  • Check YouTube. Yes, this is usually a banned site in schools (for good reason). However, you would be amazed at the material that is available to view online – for free. There is a huge amount of student/school appropriate material that would enhance a lesson.
  • Interdisciplinary. When studying this in social studies, read from an author of the time in language arts.
  • Create group research project – written and a 3D board of some kind. Then, have students present to the class their findings.

 

Check out this website for further easy researching: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/civilrightstimeline1.html

Black History Month

kentecloth

Significant Events that Changed Our Country

 

With February focusing on the great achievements and heroes in black history, it is important to recognize them in our schools. Students of all races and cultures benefit from these accomplishments, and it makes sense that schools should make the effort to include these happenings in academic lessons.

Use technology to help students research a timeline or a specific event. Have students write a taxonomy of important events in black history.

As a teacher, how do you decide which events students should study or research? Check the time period of whatever you are studying. If you are reading Langston Hughes poetry, research the Harlem Renaissance. If you are learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., research the civil rights movement.

Below are a few key events to get you started:

  • Underground Railroad
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin published
  • Dred Scott Case
  • Civil War
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Lincoln assassination
  • KKK is formed
  • 13th amendment is ratified, prohibiting slavery
  • Black Codes
  • NAACP is founded
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Brown vs. Board of Education
  • Emmitt Till
  • Rosa Parks
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Malcolm X
  • Black Panthers
  • Affirmative Action
  • Barack Obama

 

Check out this website for further easy researching:  http://www.infoplease.com/spot/bhmtimeline.html

 

Being Mexican-American : Caught Between Two Worlds–Nepantla

  smOlga_Lesson_Page_01by Latina Storyteller Olga Loya

In these warm and engaging story-excerpts professional Storyteller Olga Loya relates some of her life-story and her attempts to reconcile the two worlds and realities of ‘American’ and ‘Mexican American’. Audio-segments, story-text and classroom activities will engage students in exploring what it means be fluent in more than one culture at a time. The unit assists teachers to move beyond the Mexican-American experience to anyone who has been caught between two worlds and two identities. Use this unit to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month or to practice storytelling skills and to probe issues of difference and belonging.

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Storyteller Olga Loya tells of her experience growing up Mexican American in Los Angeles, trying to choose between the Latino and Anglo cultures, and realizing that she might belong to even more than two cultures and that perhaps there was a way to live with all of them.

This is a perfect lesson plan to use with students while talking about immigration, issues of being bicultural, or about how to use personal stories to address an issue.

A great lesson especially for Language Arts and Social Studies classrooms!

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Lesson Plan

Download the Nepantla: Between Worlds lesson plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Nepantla: Between Worlds lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Story Excerpt #1 — Nepantla: Between Worlds2:35 minutes

Story Excerpt #2 — Spanish is Dangerous2:14 minutes

Story Excerpt #3 — Grandma Talk2:28 minutes

Story Excerpt #4 — Why Do You Want to Go to College? 3:26 minutes

Story Excerpt #5 — But You Don’t Look Mexican3:45 minutes

Story Excerpt #6 — What Does a Mexican Look Like?2:47 minutes

Story Excerpt #7 — My Own Rhythms – 1:41 minutes

Story Excerpt #8 — Mezcla: The Best of Both — 1:22 minutes

Story Excerpt #9 — Bridge Between Worlds — 1:46 minutes

(Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.)

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About Olga Loya

Storyteller Olga Loya was captivated by the vivid stories her Mexican grandmother and father would tll. Absorbing all of their secrets and following the tendrils of memory that bind people and families, Olga fashioned and invented herself, out of her own substance and imagination, a stirring universe of creation. Growing up in a up in the barrio of East L.A. where family rituals and traditions were the center of her emotional life, the young Latina, performing improvisation as a girl, has mastered the vocabulary of artful storytelling. With her poetic eloquence Olga’s stories are an impassioned quest to keep alive not only the fabric of her family but the larger Latino culture, richly robed in folktales, ancient myths, and history.

Are You Unintentionally Offending Someone

Because of how most of us were raised, we can all un-intentionally hurt others or even discriminate against them. The point is: are we willing to learn when someone takes the time to point out our mistakes and, after that, do we behave differently? In this video, storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston’s feedback on how black students are being treated at her school falls on deaf ears.

Do you know how you come across to other people?

What you think of yourself and how others see you might be two very different things. What’s funny is that many of us are shy or downright scared of asking for feedback. But what people think of you is still there, right?

We can’t do something about something if we don’t know it’s there. Especially when it comes to race relations, how are we going to improve if we don’t know what to improve?

It takes a lot of confidence to say, “That was my mistake” or “I can do better” but it makes you a much easier person to be with and others will see as a reliable and approachable friend and ally.

 

The Hmong People – Who are They?

flowercloth

The artistic textile tradition of
Paj Ntaub (“Flower Cloth”)
of the Hmong culture.

Although a large population of Hmong is centralized in the mid-west and California, the background of this culture is often a mystery or is misunderstood by many Americans. So, who are the Hmong people? How did they arrive on American shores? What are their hardships?

Below is a brief bit of history of these courageous people, highlighting some struggles of both their past and present circumstances. Included also are some tips for teachers when working with Hmong students and families.

Who are they?

  • The Hmong are often mistaken as being Chinese or Vietnamese..
  • Mainly from Laos, the Hmong in the U.S. came as refugees after the Vietnam War..
  • They have religious beliefs in animism (the use of shamans for guidance, healing, and ceremonies)..
  • Asian Hmong have backgrounds in agriculture..
  • They are relatively new to the U.S., as Hmong arrival to the U.S. was only around 30 years ago..

How and why did they come to America?

  • Much of the older Hmong generation fought for America in what is known as a secret war, recruited by the CIA to battle powerful communist forces..
  • When America left Vietnam (after the Vietnam War), the Hmong people were left behind. Trusting the U.S. promise that they would be taken care of because of their service to the U.S., the Hmong felt abandoned when America left. The North Vietnamese marked them for extinction. What followed were torture, murder, and desperation..
  • Many simply fled for survival, and many perished in the harrowing escape. Others were trapped in the hillsides and mountains of the country..
  • Arrival to America meant safety for the Hmong, but new challenges immediately emerged..

What are their struggles – past and present?

  • The older generation of Hmong carries with them chilling tales of survival and horror of life before coming to America..
  • Upon arrival, many Hmong endured neglect in refugee camps and separation from family members..
  • Culture shock only added to the scarred and tragic background of the new arrivals, as Hmong culture is vastly different from that of American culture..
  • Language is a significant obstacle for the Hmong people in America..
  • The older generation fears the loss of Hmong heritage as they try to fit into American culture..
  • Most Americans do not know the story of how/why the Hmong people arrived to the U.S., and many are insensitive to the culture..

For Teachers and Leaders working with Hmong students and families:

  • The language of the Hmong people is very different from that of English. The language itself is a tonal language, and it is not known if there was ever a written language of the Hmong. Because of this, words and sentences are formed unlike that of English. Plurals, articles, and others nuances will be noticeably misplaced in writing samples. It is a language issue, not an inability issue..
  • Have translators available for school functions: phone calls home, conferences, meetings, etc..
  • Understand that family is vitally important to the Hmong, even at the cost of education. Older generation members often have had little to no schooling prior to coming to America..
  • Many of the older Hmong feel that their heritage has been (or is being) lost as a result of fleeing to America. Try to bridge this gap by welcoming families to the school/classroom. Have a cultural day, and invite families to school for the day..
  • Encourage the sharing of stories, as this is an essential aspect of Hmong culture..
  • Recognize that English will likely be a second language to students, and that it will likely not be spoken at home. Homework will be difficult to complete at home, as parents will probably not speak that language or be familiar with the work..

Check out these websites for further information about the Hmong people:

http://www.jefflindsay.com/hmong.shtml

http://www.jefflindsay.com/Hmong_tragedy.html#tragic

http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Hmong-Americans.html

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Source:

Lindsay, J. (2009). http://www.jefflindsay.com/Hmong_tragedy.html#class. Retrieved 1 21, 2012, from http://www.jefflindsay.com/Hmong_tragedy.html#class

Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy

The stories offered here—Immigrant History and Mom’s Story—come from Chinese American storyteller, Nancy Wangs longer story Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy. In this story, Wang explores the history of her own family, beginning with the immigration of her great-great-grandparents from China to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.

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This lesson plan uses two stories by Nancy Wang, a dancer, storyteller, playwright, and practicing psychotherapist. Wang studies ethnic dance and has written plays focused on Asian American themes. The stories offered here—Immigrant History and Mom’s Story—come from her longer story Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy. In this story, Wang explores the history of her own family, beginning with the immigration of her great-great-grandparents from China to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Through this story of her own family history, Wang uncovers the generations of discrimination against Chinese immigrants—both stealth and legally sanctioned—as she explores the relationship in her family, including her own relationship with her mother.

This unit comes with a teacher guide, text of stories & audio-download of stories as well as student activities.

Lesson Plan

PURPOSE

  • To expose students to the experience of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.
  • To explore the little-known history of exclusion of and discrimination against Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • To examine the connections between family history and personal development.

OUTCOMES

By the end of this lesson, each student will:

  • Be familiar with the tension among immigrants in California in the 19th and early-20th century.
  • Understand why marginalized groups might exploit and oppress each other rather than working together to achieve their rights.
  • Respond to the issues and themes of the stories
  • Relate their own experiences to the stories

Download Bittersweet Lesson Plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

The following MP3 tracks are story excerpts for use with the Bittersweet lesson plan. Please note that these excerpts are protected by copyright and are exclusively for educational use.

Excerpt #1 — Immigrant History– 9:16 minutes

Excerpt #2 — Mom’s Story– 14:27 minutes

Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts?  Click here for directions.

About Storyteller Nancy Wang

Nancy Wang, together with her storyteller husband Robert Kikuchi-Ynogo founded Eth-Noh-Tec in 1982. This is is a kinetic story theater company based in San Francisco, weaving [tec] together distinctive cultural elements of the East and West [eth] to create new possibilities [noh]. Eth-Noh-Tec produces and performs contemporary presentations of traditional folktales from the many countries and cultures of Asia through storytelling, theater, dance, and music.  Nancy Wang is available for performances in schools and colleges solo, or with her husband as Eth-NohTec.

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Full information : www.ethohtec.org.

Honoring Asian Americans and Their Contributions

asianfabricAs spring settles in and the school year winds down, it is important to consider the amazing contributions of some very significant leaders in the Asian American community. May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and there are many notable Asian Americans worthy of study. Their dedication to discover and to strive to reach the stars proves that anything is possible, and that dreams do come true. Teachers and schools should take the opportunity to celebrate and honor their accomplishments. 

Below are a few names to start with and what they are known for. Create a research project for students. Study the names as a class. Make up a guessing game or quiz that gets the students actively involved! Share the names with your students, and see how much they know!

  • Chawla, Kalpana, astronaut
  • Chow, Amy, gymnastics
  • Chung, Connie, broadcast journalist
  • Curry, Ann, TV news reporter
  • Gabriel, Roman, football
  • Hirabayashi, GordonKiyoshi, activist
  • Ho, Don, Hawaiian entertainer
  • Jen, Gish, novelist
  • Johnson, Dwayne (theRock), wrestler, entertainer
  • Jones, Norah, musician
  • Kahanamoku, Duke, swimming, surfing
  • Kapany, NarinderS., physicist
  • Khorana, HarGobind, biochemist
  • Kingston, MaxineHong, writer
  • Kuniyoshi, Yasuo, painter
  • Kwan, Michelle, figure skating
  • Lee, Brandon, actor
  • Lee, Bruce, actor
  • Liliuokalani, Hawaiian queen
  • Liu, Lucy, actress
  • Louganis, Greg, diving
  • Ma, YoYo, cellist
  • Midori, violinist
  • Mori, Kyoko, poet, novelist, and nonfiction writer
  • Morita, Pat, actor
  • Ono, Yoko, singer
  • Park, Grace, golf
  • Shyamalan, M. Night, film director and screenwriter
  • Tan, Amy, novelist
  • Underwood, Robert Anacletus, congressional delegate
  • Wang, Vera, fashion designer
  • Woods, Tiger, golf
  • Wu, David, U.S. congressman
  • Yamaguchi, Kristi, figure skating
  • Yep, Laurence, writer

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Source:

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/asianbios.html. (n.d.). Retrieved 1 22, 2012, from infoplease.com: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/asianbios.html

Asian Americans and their Gifts to America

blackpondHave you ever wondered what America would be like without the creativity inspired by other cultures? Ours is a nation of diversity. We have the unique capacity to design and create, to dream and build, to explore and experiment – all because we have so many different people, customs, cultures, beliefs, talents, and backgrounds on our shores. 

Let’s all take a moment to celebrate our Asian American citizens and their tremendous accomplishments. Share these not so common facts below with your students, and see how many facts they recognize. Make it a trivia contest or a game!

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Item Where it Came From
 The story of Cinderella China
 Chutes and Ladders Game Hindi
 Kites China
 Hello Kitty Japan
 Rock, Paper, Scissors Game Japan
 Yoga India
 Nintendo Japan
 Soccer China
 Hula Native Hawaii
 Scooby Doo created by a Japanese-American
 Umbrella China
 Wheelbarrow China
 Tie-dying India
 Pajamas India
 Bandana India
 Compact Disc (CD) Japan
 Cultured Pearls China
 Cotton and Calico India
 Tattoo Tahiti
 Ketchup Malay
 Ukelele Polynesian
 Brainwashing China
 Shampoo Hindi

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How did you do – how many did your students recognize? Can your students think of any other items in our country created by Asian Americans?

During the month of May, America celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Honor these brilliant people by encouraging your students to dream big and work hard.

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Source:

Wang, F. K.-H. (n.d.). Asian Pacific American Heritage Month for Kids. Retrieved 1 22, 2012, from IMDiversity.com: http://www.imdiversity.com/villages/asian/history_heritage/wang_asian_heritage_month_kids.asp

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

ASIAN AMERICAN HERITAGE
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RaceBridges pays tribute to the immigrant generations of Asians and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and continue to contribute to the nation’s future.

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RaceBridges invites you to explore some powerful Asian American stories.  Use them and their related lesson plans with your students. 

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See the Lesson Plans and Videos of some unusual short stories told by professional storytellers . . .

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.STORIES, VIDEOS,
IDEAS & RESOURCES
CELEBRATING ASIAN AMERICAN
HERITAGE & LIFE
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SHORT VIDEO STORIES

Told By : Alton Chung :

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Told By: Nancy Wang :

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.Told By: Anne Shimojima :

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.Told By: Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo :

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A Day of Celebration or of Mourning ? : The True Story of Thanksgiving

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Each year in November, many students learn of the Thanksgiving story. They hear of Pilgrims and Indians, of the hardships, the food, and the bond established between the two peoples. A table is set for feasting and for celebrating the day of America’s discovery. Many, unfortunately, do not learn of another aspect of that time – that Native Americans see it as a time of mourning. How do schools and teachers cover the Thanksgiving story sensitively and with accuracy?   Below are a few tips to get started.

  • Be informed. Check out these websites that offer the Native American perspective on the holiday, as they are more than valuable resources. Extension activities, as well as true history accounts are given here:
  • Invite a guest speaker to talk to students about the perspective in an age and school appropriate manner.
  • Find books or other resource materials that depict actual happenings.
  • Talk about why Native Americans would feel mournful at this time.
  • Avoid stereotypical plays, clothing, speech, food, or behaviors.
  • Share what happened in the years after the First Thanksgiving (age and school appropriate, of course).
  • Create a new Thanksgiving story.
  • Focus on gratitude.
  • Allow students to share personal experiences...

A White Girl Looks at Race

superohStoryteller Susan O’Halloran weaves three short true stories of her life growing up in Chicago in the 1960s.

The three short stories offered here—“Davy Crockett,” “Us vs. Them,” and “The Dr. King March”—all explore Susan’s experience growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s when the relationship between blacks and whites in the United States were tense and changing quickly.

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7 Myths and Stereotypes About Asian Americans

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This list is written for RaceBridges by our colleagues from Ethnohtec Story Theatre

 

1. “Asian Americans are nerds, geeks”

Not so. All you have to do is recognize Jackie Chan, kung fu actor and comedian. There’s Bruce Lee, martial artist actor, Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, gold medalist ice skaters. There are also other medal winning skaters Kim Yu-na of South Korea, and sister-brother team, Danvi and Vu Pham, Vietnamese – to name only a few. Like in any population, Asians are a broad spectrum of personalities. There are many more Asians who could not be nerds or geeks even if they wanted to be!

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2. “Asian women are sexy; Asian men are not”

Stereotypes ? What is this based on? A biased attitude, seen from a narrow point of reference, and personal preference.If one looks at characters and images in movies, magazines and on TV, what is reflected is the creation of a white male industry portraying what is to be considered ‘sexy’, and it is is usually white. Asian women are chosen to fit that white stereotype with an added racist Asian-woman-seductress element. It’s all made up by a few white men and all of us, not just Asians, have been hypnotized by it. How can there be no ‘sexy’ Asian men? Statistically this is impossible. And the same goes for Asian women. All Asian women are ‘sexy’? Please. No more than all white women are ‘sexy’!

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3. “Asians are petite and short”

Like any population, there are many sizes. Sure many Asians tend to be shorter, but not all. There are many Asians peaking beyond 6 feet tall. Anyone can gain weight! Take a look at Japanese Sumo wrestlers or for height, there’s Yow Ming, Chinese basketball player at 7’6” and his girlfriend Chinese basketball player at 6’2”. Asians are 60% of the world population and in these populations there is a mixture of many faces and sizes just like in other groups.

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4.   “All Asian Americans are well educated”

The data tells a different story. In fact, Southeast Asians have the highest high school dropout rates in the country. 33% of Asian Americans students in public high schools drop out or do not graduate on time. 24% of Asian Americans over age 25 do not have a high school degree. The illiteracy rate of Asian Americans is 5.3 times that of non-Hispanic whites. http://www.asiannation.org/modelminority.shtml

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5.  “Asian Americans have made it to the mainstream and have become part of the accepted  American ‘melting pot”

In fact, Asian Americans in the first hundred and more years of living on American soil (as early as 1849) were singled out and victimized by discriminating behaviors and laws by European settlers. They were lynched, murdered, rounded up and marched out of communities. They were not allowed by law to stand witness against any white man in court, could not own land, were forbidden to immigrate, imprisoned in government internment  camps, forbidden to marry out of their own ethnic group and more.

All the above is even more alarming since there is evidence that the Chinese first arrived on the western shores of America as early as 2500BC and the eastern shores years before Columbus in the 1400s. Filipinos arrived in Louisiana in the 1700s.  Many Asians  were earlier Americans than Europeans. But this does not count.

Today,  research shows that Asian Americans are the fastest growing victims of hate crimes in America. 17% of Asian American boys in grades 5 through 12 reported physical abuse, as compared to 8% among white boys, and 30% of Asian American girls in  grades 5 through 12 reported depressive symptoms, as compared to white girls (22%), African American girls (17%), or Hispanic girls (27%), 46% of Asian American households do not have anyone over age 14 who can speak English well.

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6.  “Asian Americans are economically stable and successful”

In fact, 14% of Asian Americans live below the poverty line, compared to 13% of the U.S. population. In addition, while jobs pay Euro Americans $522 per every additional year of education beyond high school, Asian Americans make $379 per every additional year of education. In California, almost 40% of all Vietnamese refugees are on public assistance and in Minnesota and Wisconsin, an equal number of  Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotians also receive public assistance. In New York City, 52% of Asian American births in 1999 were paid for by Medicaid, indicating that their mothers are poor or near poor, more  than double that of 1990(22%). According to the  U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Asian-American men born in the United States are 7 percent to 11 percent less likely to hold managerial jobs than white men with the   same educational and experience level.

Informative sites :

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7.  “Asian Americans are passive, compliant and weak”

Well, there’s Mao.  There’s Chinese mothers!  American film most often depicts Asians as being mysterious, passive,China Dolls and as usual casting non-white men as being unattractive for women.  Look at all the Hollywood pairing of Asian women and white men: Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh in the James bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies”; or look at all the female Asian newscasters, but rarely an Asian male newscaster; or the movie ‘The World of Suzie Wong” – a prostitute  who is paired with William Holden, a white  business man.  The women are either Dragon Lady types and the men ugly  fierce gang  or martial arts murderers, or they are the unattractive passive and weak.  Asians are rarely portrayed as just regular human beings.  Too often in films, the Asian passive  beauty is set as the standard as to how to attract and keep a man.  And never is an Asian competition to romantically win the leading man or woman.

Further Informative sites:

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The above list is written for RaceBridges by our colleagues from Ethnohtec Story Theatre : www.ethnohtec.org

  • We hope this list will energize you to explore the role of Asian Americans in this month of May, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month..
  • This list is not meant to be all-encompassing. All Asian-Americans are not all from Pacific Asian origins. The continent of Asia is vast.  We hope the above list will stimulate discussion and exploration of an American ethnic group that we often classify with one name, but has many splendid and shining differences..
  • These stories of triumph, resilience and persistence speak of the many gifts that the Asian American peoples have brought to America.

 

Ripples: From a Field in Mississippi to General Motors in New York

 

Story Summary:

 April 4, 1968 may have been the end of one dream with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, on that day, another began in a young woman who pushed past despair, journeying from Mississippi to New York City, to discover that the “dream” lived on in her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Ripples-from-a-Field-in-Mississippi-to-General-Motors-in-New-York

Discussion Questions:

  1. Dr. King is associated with bringing together people of various ethnic backgrounds. While the message of equality was a theme of the Civil Rights Movement, a critical part of the movement centered around employment – compensation, fairness, availability, and equity. How are there still struggles around employment issues in the U.S. and the world?
  2. Each person has been given a talent – teaching, preaching, engineering, drawing, you name it! What are the talents you have been given and how have they helped someone else or you in an unexpected way?
  3. Travel can reveal a new perspective about one’s self, others, and places. Where have your travels brought you? How has something you experienced or seen changed your perspective?
  4. The Great Migration refers to the exodus of African Americans from the American South, seeking a variety of opportunities, new beginnings, and work during the 20th century. This departure from “home” enabled families to unite and offered a different future to the next generation. What sacrifice did those who left the South make for the next generation? What opportunities did future generations have? In your family, how did one generation make a sacrifice that benefitted the next generation(s)?

Resources:

  •  America Street: A Multicultural Anthology of Stories edited by Anne Mazer
  • Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson
  • Voice of Freedom – Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Diane Macklin. There are moments in history that are like a rock thrown into the lake of time. The ripples reach all the way to the shore even if you cannot see them.

It was May 1968. Barbara Jean stood at a Greyhound bus station staring across the street. The bus wasn’t there yet but her siblings were, her two sisters and her youngest brother. They were holding hands, watching her, hoping that maybe she would walk to them. Maybe she would head back home to the shotgun shack. She wasn’t going to. She looked down at her freshly polished shoes, saw the little bit of dust on them where she could wipe it off. She had her suitcase. She was determined. She was going to go. Nothing could keep her in Mississippi. Barbara Jean pulled out of her purse the clipping from the newspaper. “Hard working young women needed, live-in maid, New York City.” She folded it up again and put it back in her purse. She was going to go. This was May.

A month earlier, April 4th, 1968 a shot rang out in Memphis Tennessee. A hundred miles north of where she lived, and it came shatterin’ all the way down to where she lived. And she knew the dream was gone. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. The dream that work would come to the South, that work would return to Mississippi. People that knew the life of sharecropping, people that knew how to work the land, would have work again. But without Dr. Martin Luther King, who was trying to help people to get work, she would never find work, and nor would her children, even though she had no children. She had to go. She had to go to New York. There was work in New York. The bus came. She looked down at the ground. She might stay, if she looked at them again. She got on that bus. She got on the far side away from where her siblings were standing there. The bus pulled off, and she could not look at them. But they stood there until the bus was out of sight. She rode that bus all the way to New York City with that $24 ticket that she gave to that bus driver. She got off and was met with people she’d never seen before.

Women with hair, women with no hair. Women with short hair, women with long hair. There were all sorts of people from all sorts of places from the world. It was a lot of movement, a lot of sound. And she made her way all the way to her employer who brought her to the house that she was going to work. Now as a live-in maid, she knew hard work and this was nothing compared to the work that she did on a farm. At four years old, she learned how to pick cotton. And then at 12 years old, she could pick 300 pounds of cotton. And by the time she was 15, she could pick 600 pounds of cotton, take care of her brothers and sisters, help them to pick because she was determined to make sure that their family picked more cotton than anybody else.

She knew hard work, but there was another work that she did that was harder than dusting and mopping floors. At night, she would sit in a backroom quiet, listening to her employers. They’re from the North. And then she would go back to her own bedroom, sit on the bed, and start to train her tongue not to speak like she was from the South. She felt that people would not think that she was intelligent. They would think she was unintelligent if she sounds like she was a Southerner.

But one day she met this man. He was charming, he was a taxi cab driver. And in his charm, he convinced her to give her… give him, her phone number and she did. She didn’t want to lie.

So, she gave him her phone number but she gave him all the wrong numbers in all the wrong places. But they were the right numbers but all the wrong places.

But he spent two months trying every single combination of those numbers until he reached her. And he courted her and she fell in love. And this man worked for General Motors, hmm, General Motors. There weren’t many women that worked for General Motors. So, she asked him, well, should she apply and he didn’t think it was a good idea. It was a man’s place. It was a man’s job. Required someone who was strong, who could work hard.

He didn’t know her very well. Her father was a blacksmith. She would shoe horses with him. She would make fence posts and put up fences. They would go out and glean for metal. She knew metal and she knew hard work. So, she applied. They continued to court.

She got a job on the assembly line in 1974. And a lot of folks came up to her and told her, “You know, this isn’t your kind of work, so you can stay on the assembly line but that’s about it.”

But she took classes and she did well. She excelled more than any other student. Some folks thought that they didn’t like this so much. Some folks thought that they needed to turn her locker upside down to discourage her. Some folks thought they needed to put glue in her lock to discourage her. Some folks thought they needed to meld all of her tools together to discourage her.

But she knew something! A skilled trade was one of the highest paid positions at General Motors, at that plant in New… Tarrytown, New York. She was going to shoot for that. She took course after course, credit after credit, certification… certificate after certificate. And eventually she became the first woman and the second person of color to work at the skilled trades at Tarrytown General Motors plant. And, eventually, she did have two lovely children, and they had an opportunity to live in New York, with opportunities that she felt she did not have. And one of those children have told you the story of their mother, Barbara Jean Macklin.

Just Hair: Finding Out the Importance of Your True Roots

 

Story Summary:

 A chance encounter is an unexpected blessing for a teenager, who discovers that true strength is rooted within, extending down into the roots of the ancestors.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Just-Hair-Finding-Out-the-Importance-of-Your-True-Roots

Discussion Questions:

  1. There are many forms of laughter: discomfort, joy, fear, amusement, sarcastic, etc. What type of laughter would you attribute to the students in the library? What dynamic did it set up between them and Diane? What are a few responses you would have had to the situation?
  2. Invisibility is a much-desired attribute among superheroes. However, there are times when we, too, search for the cloak of concealment. When have you ever wanted to be “invisible”? In what situation and for what purpose?
  3. The themes of belonging, identity, shame, and protecting one’s self can be found in the story of each human being. What other themes did you connect to in this story? Did the story help you to remember something that is or has happened to you?

Resources:

  • Every Tongue Got to Confess by Zora Neale Hurston
  •  African American Folk Tales for Young Readers by Richard Young and Judy Dockrey Young
  • Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Diane Macklin and this is a story, Just Hair.

If you’re driving down Route 82 in Hopewell Junction, New York in 199… in 1986, you would go past this ranch white house with green shutters, and you would think it was just a house. No indeed. This was the place where anyone with African roots could get their hair done by my mother. And that was me because we were the second black family to move into our neighborhood. My mother was the oldest of 12 children, and she did everyone’s hair. So, my hair was always done perfectly. There was no need in town for a Jet magazine or even anyone who could do anything with my hair. But it didn’t matter.

And as I grew up, well, things started to change a little bit. In high school, I no longer wanted the perfect parts, the braids, the ponytails. I watched this show on TV called The Facts of Life. My favorite show and there was this character Tootie. Now she would roll around on her rollerblades. She had these cute little pigtails and she had a brown complexion like me but she looked young. But then there was Blair and she had this flowing blond hair. And she was sophisticated; she was so much older. I wanted to be like Blair. So, one morning when my mom was doing my hair I said, “Mom, can you do my hair so it’s out. This is my ninth-grade year, Mom. I really want to wear my hair out.”

Now, my mom is from Mississippi. She’s from the South. She never says, “No.”

She goes on about her back. She goes on about this, that and the other until you’re saying, “No, Mom, that’s ok, that’s ok. Don’t, don’t worry about it.”

But she looked at me. “No.” I thought maybe she had a bad night at work. Maybe she woke up on the wrong side of the bed. That was okay because I could wait her out. I did wait a couple of weeks.

“Mom, I was thinking that maybe you could do my hair so it’s out today.”

But, again, she looked. “No.”

Now, I’m in high school, ninth grade and I ride a bus. It takes a while to get to school. I knew that if I took my hair out on the bus, and remembered where she had parted it, how she had braided it (whether it was over or under), I could take out my hair on the bus and put it back. She’ll never know.

So, one morning I got on the bus and I scooted down in the seat and started to take out my hair. Now, my friend across from me saw what I was doing and she just watched, and watched. And then we pulled up at our high school. Now always in high school, you did not go inside until the bell rang. Whether it was snow, sleet, hail, rain, everyone stood outside the building until the bell rang. But as soon as the bus pulled up and stopped, I stood up. And I heard, “Aah!” ’Cause back then no one had seen hair like mine, this rich hair, out because you didn’t even see it on TV. You didn’t even see it on commercials, and I felt like a million dollars.

I even had my own music playing, my own soundtrack, ’cause as I walked on the bus everyone just followed me. “Uuh!”

And I was going, “Oom, aah, and, Oom, aah!” I just felt… I had never felt like that before actually. And I struck a pose before I got off the bus, and they just sat there staring. They couldn’t believe it. I walked off the bus and then, who0om, everyone parted like the Red Sea and my friends came over.

“Can I touch your hair? Can I touch your hair?”

“Are your hands clean?”

And all day, I rode this cloud nine. And then, towards the end of the day, though, I had to go to the library to get a book out for research purposes, and I saw that there were some lower-class rooms from the middle school. They were visiting. They hadn’t seen my hair. So, I walked in, I struck a pose, and they no longer stared at their teacher. They stared at me.

“Yeah! They never saw hair like this.”

I walked in and then I heard, “Ah, whoo, whoo, whoo, ha!”

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Then the whole class broke out in laughter. Then I started to hear the words. “Afro Puff.  Brillo Pad.”

They were talking about my hair. And there were other names, that, even now, I don’t want to repeat.

I couldn’t remember what I went in that library for but I wasn’t going to care. I went to the shelf, picked up a book, checked it out, walked out, had my head up high, looked at them, so they knew they didn’t get me.

But as soon as I left that library, my head dropped. On that bus, I remembered how she parted it. I turned my head a little to the window because, you know, how you do sittin’ down, it’s easier.  A few tears fallin’ down. I went inside. It was as if I never took my hair out.

And I decided, I was going to wear an invisible armor and from that day on, I did. I pr… constructed an armor that you could not see me. Worked so well that, one day I was at the grocery store, and I was juggling more groceries than I needed to in my arms and there was a woman and her daughter. Her daughter looked, and young people can see past the invisible armor. They have a special vision. She saw that if she moved her groceries up, on the conveyor belt, I could put mine down. That’s what that young lady did. But the mother turned around and, well, I had my invisible armor on and she couldn’t see me, because she took her arm and she moved those groceries back in place, so I could not put my groceries down. The young lady, she turned beet red. She looked embarrassed. I tried to let her know it was okay because she didn’t know, I was wearing my armor. I wore it for many years and then one day, I was in that store and I heard someone comin’ up behind me. And this time I was smart; I did have a cart.

“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in the store.

“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in store.

“Young lady.”

I turned around. There was a woman with a rich, mahogany complexion like mine.

“Do you know where you’re from?”

“Hopewell Junction?”

“No! Where you’re from in Africa?”

My school didn’t teach us anything about Africa. And even during Black History Month, there was maybe a book in the library, on a shelf, but that was about it.

“You need to find out where you’re from ’cause when I saw you, I said, ‘She looks like a Mandingo warrior woman.’ Do you know that the Mandingo have warrior women?”

I didn’t know anything about Mandingo. I didn’t even know what to say. I was speechless.

“You need to find out where you’re from?”

And she turned the corner. And I stood there for a moment absorbing what she told me and then I went to find her ’cause, clearly, she knew more than I did. And she was gone. I couldn’t find her anywhere.

And to this day, I feel like she was a little angel, came to send me a message because now I could take off that invisible armor. And I now have as my defense, as my weapon of choice, to love, to love through story, as a storyteller.

The Immigration Process vs. Pre-Wedding Bliss

 

Story Summary:

 Listen and move as this spoken word piece takes your mind and body through an insider’s/outsider’s understanding of immigration, identity, and family. The story began when Arianna and her now husband wanted to get married and had to prove, with evidence, that their love for each other was real. Complexity arose as they entered the immigration process better known as: K-1 Non-Immigrant Visa. As they hit barrier after barrier, they quickly learned how unpredictable the U. S. was about immigration,

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Immigration-Process

Discussion Questions:

  1. Where in your life have you had to navigate the U.S. government to solve a problem?
  2. How does Arianna manage the immigration process in the United States? What steps does Arianna take to manage the immigration process?
  3. What evidence does Arianna use to show she is “in love?” What evidence do you have that would show you love someone in your family?

Resources:

  •  http://madeintoamerica.org/  (A Collection of family stories)
  • Immigration Stories by David A. martin and Peter Schuck (Non-fiction)
  • Mama’s Nightingale: A story of Immigration and Separation, By Edwidge Danticat

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Immigration
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

My name is Arianna Ross. It was 2006. I was watching the sunset – the sky was a wash of purple and peach. I, I turned to face my boyfriend, Alexandre. He was smiling; there was a twinkle in his eye.

Right behind him was a statue of the Madonna holding baby Jesus, awash with the same colors as the sky. He looked at me, “Você quer você orar comigo? Do you want to pray with me?” We held hands and we took a deep breath in and were silent for a moment.

When I opened my eyes, he was looking at me hesitantly. And then he said to me in a very tentative voice unlike his normal voice, “Você quer ser meu noivo? Do you want to be my fiancé?”

“ABSOLUTELY!”

For the next 24 hours, we were in pure wedding bliss. We discussed where we were going to get married. The kind of food we were going to eat, the type of music we were going to have and, of course, the most important part for both of us – the ceremony. We decided that my parents would say prayers in Hebrew and that his parents would say a few prayers in Portuguese. And we would have a master of ceremonies run the entire event.

We were excited until we sat down in front of the computer. We decided that we were going to spend the first half of our life in the United States and the second half of our life in Brazil, which meant that we had to get married in both places. We turned on the computer, we loaded the USCIS website, the Immigration Services website, for the United States.

We looked up the K-1 fiancé visa. There were nine pages of instructions.

Step number 1, fill out the I-129F document in dark ink. Step 2, gather evidence that proves that you are planning on getting married and staying married. That proves, essentially, that you are in love. Evidence that proves that we are in love?

I called Immigration Naturalization Services. I asked them, “What exactly do you mean by evidence? What kind of evidence or what form of evidence? I mean, I recognize that there are people who try to dupe the system. We’re not one of those people so I would appreciate clarification?”

And the man over the telephone calmly explained to me, “Excuse me, you need, essentially, to provide simple evidence, simple evidence that proves that you are in love and you are truly planning on getting married and staying married.”

“Sir, I get that. It states that in the document, in the instructions. But what do you mean by ‘proves that we’re go… in love’ in evidence? What kind of evidence?”

“Anything you deem necessary.”

All right, I went home to the United States and I started to gather evidence. I gathered photographs, receipts, letters from my parents, letters from his parents, letters from all of our friends. I had two hundred and fifty pages of evidence when I turned in our application. I crossed my fingers and I waited.

Six months passed and we received a letter. They were telling us we had made it to the next step. We needed to turn in more documentation and more evidence. I mailed in 150 more pages and we crossed our fingers and we waited. One year and two months later, we received our interview date in Rio. I got on a plane. I met my now fiancé there and we arrived at 7:45 am at the consular office. Our appointment was not until 11:30 but I didn’t want to be late. We sat and we waited patiently. Eleven o’clock rolled around, 11:30 rolled around, 11:45 rolled around, 12:25. All of the couples had gone in and out, in and out. There was only one consular office left in the entire room when he motioned us in. We sat down and the first thing I noticed was that he was behind a Plexiglas bulletproof window and then he smiled. He had his hand…  a stack of papers.

“Here are three hundred and fifty of your four hundred pages of documentation. I would like to return them to you because I really don’t want them clogging up my filing cabinets. If you have more evidence with you, which I’m sure you do, please don’t give it to me. I believe that you are going to get married. I believe that you are in love. I would just love to know how the two of you met.”

“Ach! How the two of us mmmet?

I was ready to screech at the man! My hands actually balled into fists! And then, suddenly, I felt my normally nonverbal husband reach down and relax my fingers. He looked at me. He looked at the man and he began to tell our story. The story that we had documented in all those photographs and all those letters. By the time he was finished, I was surprised. He knew all those details.

The consular office reached underneath his desk. He grabbed his stamp and in one fell swoop, he stamped my husband’s passport.

“Welcome to the United States. I can’t give you your passport. I need to mail it to you. Do you have the self-addressed stamped envelope?”

“Yes.” We handed it to him.

He explained to us that it would arrive in five to six days and then he hoped my husband had an excellent journey. One year and six months later, my husband got off the plane. He looked at me and he smiled – a twinkle in his eye. He was wearing my favorite T-shirt. I knew that we were ready to bring joy into our world and to start our pre-wedding bliss.

A Link in the Circle: Learning to Lean on My Indonesian Family

 

Story Summary:

 What is it like to be so immersed in a culture that a lady on the bus becomes your adopted “Aunt” and a bus driver your “Brother? While Arianna Ross travelled alone through Indonesia, she discovered that sometimes family is defined by a connection and not blood. Many days Arianna lived with only the support of total strangers. Witness the similarities and differences between Arianna’s culture and theirs.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  A-Link-in-the-Circle-Learning-to-Lean-on-My-Indonesian-Family

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Where in your life have strangers become family?
  2. How do the people in the island of Banda Aceh, Indonesia define family?
  3. When the police stopped the bus that Arianna was on and searched people, what were they looking for and how did “strangers” protect Arianna?

Resources:  

  • Folk Tales From Bali and Lombok by Margaret Alibasah
  • Folk Tales from Indonesia by Dra Aman

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Arianna Ross and I am a storyteller who has lived all over the world. During this journey, this story, I was living in Indonesia. It was two o’clock in the morning and I was exhausted.

The police officers had been getting on our bus every 30 minutes on the dot. I was taking the bus from Banda Aceh all the way to Medan and every 30 minutes the bus would stop. The doors were open. A police officer would get on the bus. He would walk up the bus. He would walk down the bus with his AK 47 in his hands and then he would walk off the bus… and the bus would begin again.

Usually the bus driver, he would check the people on the bus to make sure that we were OK. He would smile. He would nod his head as if to say, “Are you ok?”

I always responded with a nod back, “I’m fine.”

At two o’clock in the morning, I pulled my sarong over my hand and I leaned up against the Plexiglas window and I fell asleep for one hour.

Suddenly I felt this stabbing sensation in my arm. I heard the sound of my name being shouted and I heard the sound of a man speaking to me in a language I didn’t understand Acehnese. (I spoke Indonesian). Then suddenly, a soft voice broke through the screams. It was the woman sitting in front of me; she was saying, “It’s ok, my child. He just wants to see your passport.”

I took the sarong off my head. I reached inside my money belt and I handed my passport to the man. He swung his AK 47 in front of my face and he reached out to grab my passport, flipping through it, reading out names of countries I’ve been to and then he threw my passport back at me and turned and walked off the bus.

The bus driver, before sticking keys in the engine, he turned and he looked at me. “Are you OK?”

And I responded, “I’m fine.”

All of the people on the bus, they all seemed to be looking at me asking me with their eyes and their smiles, “Are you OK?”

And I responded, “I’m fine.”

The woman sitting in front of me, she was in full burka, black from head to toe. She smiled, her eyes peeking through her face, masked by the black. “It’s ok, my child, your Indonesian family is here to protect you.”

I reached inside my money belt and I took out a tiny turtle, one that was made out of seashell and coconut shell and I held it in my hand. I closed my fingers around it and I took a deep breath in… and I let it out…

I remembered what my adopted brother had told me. You see, I had been living on the island of Pulau Weh, just north of the city of Banda Aceh. I had been living in a home right next to my adopted little brother. He became my adopted little brother because his mother used to feed me on a daily basis. She invited me to their home for breakfast, lunch or dinner and the last night I was there, she cooked all of my favorite foods.

She made coconut soup, pumpkin curry and a special sticky rice dessert. And at the end of the meal, he took me out to the beach and he handed me that turtle. “Look down! What do you see?”

“A turtle?”

“Uh, uh. Family! A connection! If you ever need anything at all, just think of us. Hold that turtle in your hand and take a deep breath in and let it out.”

I held that turtle in my hand all night long as I packed, even as I walked the next day to the docks where I was taking the boat to Banda Aceh to catch the bus. I sat down in my seat and I thought to myself, “Saya mau sendirian. I wish to be alone.”

I managed to be alone for approximately 30 seconds before I felt this soft tapping sensation on my arm. I turned and I looked. It was this woman, she was in full burka, head to toe, in black. She held in her hand a dragon’s egg. Not a real dragon’s egg. It’s a type of fruit from Indonesia. The outside is a thick, hot pink leather and the inside, a delicious white fruit. “kau mau mau makan,” she said to me.

“No. Saya mau sendirian. I wish to be alone.”

“Kau mau mau makan. you wish to eat!” I realized that there was no arguing with her so I began to share her fruit. And before I knew it, we were talking. And then she looked at me. “You look exactly like my daughter.”

Huh! I was wearing khaki pants and a tie-dyed T-shirt. “How did I look like her daughter?”

“My daughter, she’s the first one in her family, in my family to go to Banda Aceh University. She is now an English teacher.” Before I knew it, we had actually reached the city of Banda Aceh.

We stepped off of the boat and I reached down to grab my bags and say goodbye. When I felt this hand on my arm, this grip on my wrist. “Come, I take you to the bus stop!”

“No, it’s okay. I can go by myself.”

“T, t, t, t, t, t, t, t, I take you!”

I followed her down this long maze of roads through the marketplace. We stopped in a sarong shop. She needed to buy something for her daughter. In the end, she just bought one item… for me. It was a beautiful sarong with flowers all over it and then she handed it to me. She told me, “It’s for your daughter.”

“I don’t have a daughter, Auntie!”

“You will; one day you will have a daughter! This sarong is blessed by the imam, the highest of holy men in the mosque. He does not care that your child is not Muslim. He blesses all children.”

I packed that sarong neatly in my backpack and I followed her out the marketplace to the big bus stop to the ticket shop where I bought my ticket. The woman, Auntie, she explained to the man selling the tickets that I was her daughter and it was his responsibility to sell me the correct bus ticket. He explained to me that for his sister, he would do anything. He also explained that the bus wasn’t leaving for another four hours and if I so desired, I could sit next to him and wait. I didn’t have an opportunity to respond.

Auntie, she grabbed my hand and said, “Come, you eat dinner with me!”

Huh?” I found myself being dragged onto a little bus. I found myself getting off the little bus in what seemed like the middle of nowhere and there appeared to be a group of houses to the right and jungle to the left. The houses didn’t even look like they were complete. Auntie, she explained to me that her husband’s job was security. He watched all of the houses and when they were finished, they would move to a new location where he would protect the rest of the unfinished houses in Banda Aceh.

I had to duck in order to enter her house.

I noticed that there were no pictures on the walls. Just one poster in Arabic. I asked her what it said and she smiled. “It is a phrase about family, that strangers should be family and always welcome in your home.”

I asked her where exactly all the photographs were. I was used to my mother’s house where there are photographs everywhere. She pointed underneath the bed. There was a box. I took the box out and I started looking through the photographs and I found one of her daughter at her daughter’s graduation.

I asked her how her daughter was doing today and she grinned. “My daughter is perfect. You keep that photo.”

“Why would I keep this photo, it’s yours?”

“T, t, t, t, t, t! You keep the photo. I have the memory.”

I put that photo in my money belt. Before I knew it was time to catch the small bus back to the big bus stop.

She waved down a small bus and she explained to the small bus driver that I was her daughter. He nodded his head and said for his niece he would do anything and he did. He, actually stopped his bus at the big bus stop, something I never seen before. He got off the bus explaining to all the passengers that they would have to wait as he escorted me to the big bus stop.

He explained to my bus driver that I was his niece and that he, my new bus driver, was to make certain I arrived in Medan safely. The big bus driver nodded his head and explained to me that for his grandchild, he would do anything. Just before the bus leaved, just before he stuck the keys in the engine, he turned and… me… looked at me. Without any words, he seemed to ask me, “Are you okay?”

And I responded, “I’m fine.”

About three years later, I was sitting on my grandparents’ bed in Florida – Tampa, Florida, to be exact, when a news flash came on the television. News flash –  tsunami hit Banda Aceh. I wrote down immediately the phone number at the bottom of the news flash.

I ran to the telephone and I began to call and call and call and call until, finally, I made it through. And when I did, the woman’s response was, “We have no idea if the island of Pulau Weh (that tiny island I lived on just north of Banda Aceh), if it even existed anymore.” And in terms of Auntie and Uncle, unless I had their address, there was no way that she could help me. I simply had to wait.

I couldn’t, wouldn’t be able to know what happened to Auntie. I didn’t have any way of communicating with her. No cell phone number, no nothing. But I did send an e-mail to my friends at Pulau Weh and I waited.

I finally received an email one month later. When the ground began to shake, the people in Pulau Weh ran up to the highest point on their island. Only one man died. He was trying to rescue his fishing boat. The rest survived. I went into my keepsake box and I found the turtle and the photograph. I put them together in my hands. I took a deep breath in… and I remembered and I had hope that Auntie was okay.

Martin and Me – A Coming of Age Story

 

Story Summary:

 Growing up, Steven was involved in Boy Scouts and his church and as a teen he advocated for community development in his New Jersey neighborhood. But could he get involved in the rising black militancy of the late 1960s?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Martin-and-Me

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why was Steven called “too white” by some of his friends? What is “acting white” and how has racism perpetuated these no-win choices of how white or black someone is?
  2. Steven’s neighborhood didn’t have comparable city services such as garbage pickup and water and sewer service. How did the city justify this uneven treatment and what was Steven’s Youth group able to do in the face of this discrimination?
  3. If you were African American in the 1960s would you have become involved with the Black Power movement? In what ways might you show your pride in your African American heritage? For what reasons might you become involved in peaceful protests such as school walkouts or be tempted to participate in more militant actions?
  4. Do you think Steven made the right decision to go to school after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968? How did Steven’s family influence his decisions?
  5. In what ways are we still reaching for Dr. King’s “beloved community”? Do you think it’s an attainable ideal?

Resources:

  •  Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin
  • Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Year by Tavis Smiley and David Ritz
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Stephen Hobbs. I’d like to share a part of a story about growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Right down the highway from Newark.  In the 1960s, at a time when there was great political, cultural racial and social changes.

I blame it on James Brown. In 1967, he came out with a song, “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!” That could have been the theme song for the black consciousness movement of the 60s. When we black people were really in love with the color of our skin. We grew our hair out afro style and we wore dashikis from the motherland. But was I really ready to jump fully into the black consciousness movement? I mean, they were talking about revolution. Already people were frustrated with the slow progress. Even with Dr. King’s great movement of nonviolent resistance. Cities like New York and Cleveland and Detroit erupted in flames of riots during the 1967 summer.

But, as a young teenager, I was involved in community development work. I was a member of a civic organization called The Somerville Manor Youth Association. Somerville Manor was the black neighborhood that I grew up in. It was the only black community in Bridgewater. We advocated for sewer lines and water lines in our community. Most of us, most of the families, had outhouses and some even had wells outside and they used to have to work with hand-pump. We also tried to get trash collection and a place for us to play.  But was I really ready for that liberation stuff? I mean, how could I be a radical? My grandmother didn’t like that term. She thought, she thought, one summer when I grew out a beard, she wouldn’t let me into her house because I looked too much like those militants in her, in her our community. And I always wanted to please my grandmother and be a good boy.

Still some of my black friends thought I was trying to act white. Like I was not black enough. Whatever that means. I mean, was it mean, I was an Oreo or because I had too many friends like my buddy, Lougoo Gueotto, who was Italian kid who lived up the street from me? It probably didn’t help my cause, the fact that I was I had a white girlfriend named Elizabeth, with her beautiful blue eyes. In the fall of 1967, I entered high school. And I was elected freshman class president, which is a pretty good thing, considering of the twelve hundred students in my high school, only 26 were black. And I got good grades and made the honor roll.

But still that militancy stuff really got me worried. And then, on April 4th , 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Oh, President Lyndon Johnson asked for calm throughout the country. But the voices of anger, rippled across the land. “No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!” And cities all across America erupted in riots and flames. We kids and some of old men are still around street corners wondering what we should do. Somebody suggested we should go to the nearby mall and trash some of those stores. But at a meeting of the Somerville Manor Youth Association, it was decided that we would boycott school the day after Dr. King’s funeral. Well, I was at the meeting but I really wasn’t feeling it. Skip school? What would my grandmother say?

Well, the day of the boycott I went to school, in part, because as freshman class president, I was invited to participate in an in-school memorial service for Dr. King. Speaking to the entire student body over the intercom, I read a poem that I had composed in memory of Dr. King the night before. The poem went like this:

It’s not how long you live, it’s how well.

Did you give forth your best effort every day?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you travel along the honest way?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you lend a hand to another?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you love all of your brothers?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

After that, Somerville Manor Youth Association met quite a bit. We talked about our dreams and what our positive response would be. We decided that we would build a youth center where we would have recreational activities and afterschool programs. And a place where we can get mentoring for college and career planning. And, most importantly, we would build it ourselves. We would raise the money. And we, we had car washes and fish fries and barbecues. Someone came up with the idea of having a musical review. We called it The Soul Show. In which everyone would participate if they could, playing Motown music. People who can sing or dance or play instruments, auditioned. I couldn’t sing and I didn’t have any rhythm, so I didn’t get a part in the show. I had to watch from the sidelines. But the show was successful nonetheless. It raised a number, a bit of money, and more importantly, we raised some friends. Our minister Reverend Hodge, he started inviting white clergy to our meetings. And soon we were telling our story at some of those, those pastors’ churches, getting more support.

Then we, we figured we could organize a nonprofit corporation to build the center. At the first official meeting of the nonprofit, I didn’t want to go because it was at the Plukemin Presbyterian Church and I guess my tail feathers were still a little ruffled about not being in the Soul Show. But my girlfriend, Elizabeth, encouraged me to go. And I was elected youth representative for the Executive Board. Oh, we had dozens and dozens of meetings. And I worked closely with the president of the organization, Mr. Richard Theale, a white lawyer who inspired me and showed me how lawyers could use their skills to work for social justice.

By the time I left to go to college in the fall of 1971, the plans had already been made. The architectural drawings rendered and the construction schedule set for the spring of 1972. By the fall of ’72, the doors of the youth center opened with volunteer programs for the kids in the area. On April 8th, 1973, we have the official dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King Youth Center. I was asked to speak and I read the poem I had written five years earlier. Someone read a letter from Mrs. Coretta Scott King. We had a crowd there of people from 23 churches and synagogues in the area. It truly was the embodiment of the vision Dr. King had in his dream of blacks and whites, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Christians, holding hands, singing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Now that was revolutionary.

Taming the Fire: A Black Heritage Search

 

Story Summary:

One day an angry black teenage girl – Sheila – stormed into her History Class and demanded to know why she had never heard about black inventors. Her favorite teacher, who happened to be white, was faced with a decision, but in making that decision an entire classroom of students was changed and history was given more relevance.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   Taming-the-Fire-A-Black-Heritage-Search

Discussion Questions:

  1. Was Sheila right in demanding to be taught more about people in her heritage?  Why or why not?  Should her teacher have changed her curriculum?  Why or why not?
  2. What is an activist?  How do you think you can be an activist in your community?
  3. Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference?  What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
  4. What is your heritage?  Make a list of the people from your heritage that you have learned about in school.  Compare your list with other students.  Who do you know on their list?  Choose someone from another student’s list who you do not recognize and research them.

 Resources:

  •  Lazarus and the Hurricane:  The Freeing of Rubin ‘Hurricane Carter by Sam Chalton and Terry Swinton.  About a young man who finds a book that “calls” out to him, and through a series of letters and visits helps to free a wrongly jailed man.
  •  The Black Book by Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, Ernest Smith and Bill Cosby.  This is the actual book that Sheila read and is available in bookstores.
  •  50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet by Dennis Denenberg

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Sheila Arnold. I have to give you two names: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.  Those were the only two people, the only two black people I ever learned about in my elementary and middle school years in the 1970s and 1980s. How was it! But somewhere around the beginning of my high school years, in 1979 or so, I began to look for my people. I don’t really, know truthfully, why that, was the trigger for that but I think it’s because I started paying attention to the news.

I can remember sometime early in my 10th grade year, I think about 1980 or so, I went over to the March on Washington to ask for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to be a national holiday. I remember that myself and some of my classmates we skipped school, got on some buses, and some subways, (I lived in Annandale, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington D.C.) and we got over to Washington D.C. I remember that, that the mall, the Washington National Mall, was just filled with all these black people. I’ve never seen anything like that before. And I, I heard every word, every speech; I felt it does come all into me. It was wonderful. And then Stevie Wonder got up and started singing. We all sing with them. “Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to ’im. Happy Birthday.” We loved it.

Well, I started learning more and more around that time of my life. I remember, that there were times that I started looking at other parts of African-American history. One of the things that was happening is my mom was introducing me to other arts and plays and things like that. That was when I found “For Colored Girls That Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” into Ntozake Shange, the play that was in Washington D.C.. Oh! She got me a copy of that script. And then we went to go see “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” And we went to go see “Bubblin’ Brown Sugar,” about the Harlem Renaissance artist and the musicians. And I was in love with learning more. I had been working as a library school assistant since I started high school and I worked in one of my classes at study hall and then whenever I had a free moment, I was in that library. And while I was working in the library, I began to come across other African-American writers I never knew anything about. I already knew about poet, the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and, of course, I knew about God’s Trombones writer, James Weldon Johnson, because we presented their pieces at the church that I went to. But when I came across The Anthology by Arnold Adolph, I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks. And I met, I, I met Nikki Giovanni, Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day. Ah, that was one of my favorites. And James Baldwin…that one even got banned from my high school and my mom went and bought it for me. It was great.

So I started learning all of these things but it was like a, a quiet learning. And although a fire begun, it was a quiet fire. One that, one that had to do with just reading and maybe sharing with people at the black church that I attended. And sometimes doing some pieces for my forensics team at school but very quiet. Well, one day I was bored and I was looking for something to read because that’s what I do, when I’m bored. I was looking for something to read and I usually do. I started looking to my parents’ things. Went through my mom’s stash, ya, nothing. Went to my dad’s always cluttered, never clean, room but always filled with books.  And I started looking. And I came across a book. I came across a book that shocked me. The Black Book. I started looking at it and I could put it down. First, I was disgusted and just appalled at some of the images that were there. They were, they were pictures of, of black bodies hanging from trees, of men smiling as they saw what was being, a person that was beaten on the back, the welts on their back. A group of white gentlemen posing for the picture proudly as they surrounded the smoldering body of a black man that had been burnt.  As visceral as those pictures were and as disgusting, in the book I also found great amusement and delight.  Colorful ads for skin lightening. Cures, using voodoo charms and Hexis. That was kind of cool, some of the things they used to do. I was amazed by this book and I couldn’t put it down.

Then, I got to the middle of the book and I found patents. P-A-T-E-N-T-S. Patents. Yes, patents. And patents, I knew, I knew what patents were. Patents were what you did if you made something. If you were an inventor.  And I looked at them. Patents. You mean, black people have been inventors? Oh, I was hot now. Mm, hmm.  All that fire that was a small little campfire, it rose up with me and it was a bonfire, wildfire. I was angry and I went back to the beginning of the black book and I started looking through it again. But I had new eyes this time. My eyes were feeding. What information I had not learned?!

Well, the next day that fire had not gone away at all. I arrived at school with the book in my hand. I couldn’t wait to get to my favorite class, history class. And I couldn’t wait to be able to talk to my teacher, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Elliott, she was my history class teacher. She also happened to be a white teacher. I walked into the classroom. I was the epitome of mad, black, teenage girl. Most people hadn’t even seen nothing like that in my school. There were 13 blacks at my school out of 2,000 students. I walked in that classroom. Other classmates would just walk in along with me. But I walked in. I had that book clasped around my chest. I walked in, walked right up to her desk, slammed the book down on her desk, and said “Why aren’t you teaching us this?”

All the air went out of the room. My classmates were completely quiet. They had never seen anything like this. I was angry and I demanded an answer. I had no idea what to say but I knew somebody better tell me something. Well, unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Elliott had been taking black history classes every summer for the last few summers. She was fascinated with black history. And she had a deep desire to teach it at the school but she had no clue how she, a white teacher, was going to teach black history at a predominantly white school when she would only see black students every once in a while. And so, she looked at me and she said, “Do you really want to learn this?”

“Yes I do.”

“OK then.” And right then, right then, at that very moment, Miss Elliott changed everything in her classroom and she began to teach black history. She brought in videos and images. And she had us look through all kinds of books and hear different things. This was completely different. Everybody in my class was excited because they had never heard it either. I was the only black student in that class but we all were learning. Miss Elliott even brought my mother in, and my mom talked about segregation. She talked about how she had to drink from a colored fountain. The kids looked at my mom, my mom who most of them knew, they couldn’t believe that she’d had to do that. That she’d had to go all the way into Washington D.C. just to go to an all black school. That she had had to go to the bathrooms, colored only bathrooms.

It changed all of us. But Miss Elliott didn’t just stop there. She started teaching all kinds of cross-cultural things. We learned more about other cultures than we had ever learned before. And we were a group that was eager. And as classmates, we couldn’t wait to learn more about diversity. It was amazing. Well, one of the girls came in and she had found out that they were killing chimpanzees in one of the countries in Africa. Immediately, we all got on board. We contacted the World, World…I can’t remember it…WWF and World Wide Wildlife Federation…I think it was World Wildlife Federation. We contacted them immediately and we said, “Can we do something?” Well, right then we started a fundraiser, we went and visited with the head offices in, in Washington D.C.  It was exciting and we became burgeoning activists. Wow! It as an incredible year but Miss Elliott didn’t stop with our year. She kept right on teaching for as long as I knew her. Teaching all that she could about all cultures.

I have to tell you, I was a raging fire when I walked into that room. I had been a campfire and I turned into wild wildfire and I was ready to burn everything in my path and hurt as many people as I could along with it. But Miss Elliot, she was a great teacher and she tended that fire. And she, she helped that fire to grow in the right places. And she made sure that the fire could live but that it wouldn’t burn wildly. Most of all, she ensured the fire would never go out.

A Black American Son’s Survival Lessons

 

Story Summary

A frantic call from Sheila Arnold’s son during his freshmen year in college turns into a moment to remember all that she had to teach him about growing up black, and, in turn, all he had also learned about crossing bridges in spite of people’s perceptions.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Black-American-Sons-Survival-Lessons

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever had someone treat you differently because of your color, sex, or religion?  How did it feel and how did you respond?
  2. Why do you think that people treat people differently because of color, sex or religion?  How do we help people to change?  Can legislation change the way we treat others?  Why or why not?
  3. Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference?  What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
  4. Do different groups sit together in the cafeteria at your workplace or school?  Do different people interact with each other?  If not, do you think people should mix at least part of the time? What can you do about it?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Sheila Arnold. One day I got a phone call. “I want to come home!” It was my son.

“What’s going on? What’s going on, Chris? Talk to me!”

“I want to come home. I want to come home now.”

Now this was my mild-mannered son, the year 2004, and he was a freshman attending DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He never got flustered. “What’s going on, Chris? Talk to me!”

“I want to come home! I want to come home now!”

And we stay on the phone a little bit longer but then he wouldn’t give me any more details. And he had to get off the phone. And I called his grandparents and I said… told them what was happening and they said, “Ah, just give it a day or so. It’ll be all right.”

The next day, he called. “Mom, I want to come home! I want to come home now! Can you bring me home? Why can’t you just bring me home?”

I said, “Baby, just talk to me! What’s going on? Just talk to me!”

“But. Mom, I just want to come home! I hate it here! You just don’t understand! I just want to go home! I know, I know things there.”

“Chris. I just need you to talk to me. What’s going on, baby?”

“I just want to come home!”

Again, the phone hung up and he hadn’t told me what was going on. I started preparing for things to get ready to come home, trying to work some things out. The next day he called again and this time he wanted to come home still but he gave me a little more information.

He said, “Mom, people here – they’re racists and I know what racists are. I’m from the South. I know that! Mom, they’re racists here; they’re prejudiced! I just want to come home.”

“Hmm!” And then he began to tell me what had led up to this moment. First off, he had a roommate and his roommate was a true Irish boy all the way down from this head to his toe. It was Danny! And Danny readily admitted on the first day that they met that he had never said more than hello or goodbye to an African-American.

They got along wonderfully and became the best of friends and were always together. But Chris began to notice things, you see, when Danny and him would go into the Greek neighborhood that was around DePaul University and they would buy in the stores that were there. The words that were thrown at them became more and more unkind to both him and to Danny.

And then Chris began to notice that when he went through the lunch line that the ladies behind the counter would laugh and smile and joke with him and double his portions on his tray, which was a delight. But when Danny came, often right behind him, they wouldn’t smile. They only put on there what he was required to get. It changed.

Then another incident! Both boys, Danny and Chris, run the track team together and one of the… some of the kids were running and practicing early and my son was up in the stands waiting for his turn to practice or to run. And he was sitting with some students and he looked down and someone on the team had done something good that was down practicing and he got up and he cheered for them. All of the students he was sitting with, which just happened to be all black athletes, and… and teammates that he was sitting with went, “Why are you cheering for him? He’s white!”

But the last straw was the last incident. He had gone into a local drug store that was right there; he had been in the store often before. And he’d gone in looking for an alarm clock. And being a true young man, he didn’t ask directions to where the alarm clock was.

He just logged up and down the aisles and he wasn’t in a hurry so he just kind of slowly went up and down each aisle. At some point in time, a police officer came in; he noticed him but it didn’t… wasn’t a big deal. After a while, he realized that there was no alarm clock sold in that store and so, he went and bought a pack of gum and went out the store. The moment he walked out the store, the police officer came out right behind him and told him to stop immediately, show identification and empty his pockets. And Chris did. And he took his I.D. out. He was flustered and took out the piece of gum. He was demanded that the receipt be shown. He showed the receipt and the officer said, “Well, we had a report there… that someone was stealing from the store.”

That was said to Chris while white people who had been walking in and out of the store went right by him. That was all he could take!

As my son relayed the story to me, it brought me back to when he was born. When my son was born in 1986, the statistic was that for an African-American born in a single parent-led home he had a 51 percent chance of being dead by the age of 21. And there were even higher statistics of him being either in jail, on drugs, and addicted and/or having a child out of wedlock. That statistic determined in my mind that I was, not only going to make sure that my son was educationally just ahead of the game and achieved, but I was going to teach him everything he needed so he could survive.

And so, I made sure he could read early. And I can tell you my son’s ability to articulate and negotiate were clearly formed by the time that he was in fifth grade and he did very well in school, particularly in mathematics.

But I also taught him how to live on the streets. I said, I told him, “You don’t go running down, and exercising and jogging on some street with your hoodie over your head. You don’t do that! And you don’t worry about the fact that you might get stopped and pulled over if you’re driving a car, even if that car is your grandfather’s brand new Mustang and he bought it with flat cash.” I told him that when a police officer says stop, you stop! “He says, ‘Show you his I.D.’  then you do. But you make sure when you show him your I.D., you tell him everything you’re doing when that wallet comes out. ‘Sir, I am taking the wallet out of my left pocket. I am pulling the wallet up with my right hand. I am bringing my left hand down to now take the wallet so I can then take my right hand and take out this I.D. to show you.’ ” And that may sound funny but I knew that’s what he had to do.

I made sure to tell him not to worry about when people look at you funny when you go to a store.

Just keep your hands out of your pocket and where others could see them. I told them that there were times that he was going to be stopped for driving, walking and just flat being black. That’s the way it was. He didn’t react to it.

I told him that when he got to college, he was going to meet all kinds of women. And because he was an athlete, he was going to have all kinds of women of many cultures trying to date him. And others were going to be upset that he dated anybody outside of his own people and they might try to set him up. He was to be careful.

I talked to him about survival and staying alive as much as I talked to about English and math and history and biology. This was important for his life. And all those talks I had, everything I ever did, I still couldn’t prepare him for what would happen in his heart when it would be so blatant. I couldn’t help him when that racism hit him full frontal.

I couldn’t prepare him for the anger and the bitterness and the confusion. Now I had to sit and watch and hope he would make a decision that was good on how to deal with this. I wondered…  I wondered how he was going to react. I really did!

I wondered if he was going to be like some of the men I know… some of the people I know that are just bitter at the white man, the Man. Are we taking our jobs, are we taking our things… bitter and angry and, truly, just as racist in return. Or was he going to be the stereotypical black activist that only do for your own. Don’t help nobody else! Take care of your own. It’s all about you; it’s all about us! We are one people. Don’t worry about anybody else!

Or was he going to be like his… like his great grandfather who was called “boy” by young men much younger than him when he was an old man but he still became the vice president of a large insurance company. Or was he going to be like his grandfather who joined the Army and when he was young as an officer in the Army, he still couldn’t eat in certain restaurants unless he went to the back door. But his grandfather still became a general officer.

Or was he going to be like his grandmother who oft times was looked at as the maid coming to work in someone’s house as she visited other officers’ homes. Or was he going to be like his mom, like me, who became the first black student body president at her high school where there were more others than there were blacks. And set a precedent for years to come! What would he do?

I began to make preparations. Then on day four, he called me back. He said, “I don’t need to come home!”

“All right. What happened?”

He said, “I don’t need to come home. I got this! I decided I’m not going to let them change me. I know who I am and I don’t have to be what they want me to be. I don’t even think, Mom, they know that they are prejudiced and it’s not just blacks and whites. They don’t like where people come from even if they’re the same color skin! Jamaicans versus African-Americans. Irish versus Italians. Oh, my goodness! Even Cubans and Puerto Ricans!”

He said, “Nah, I’m going to be better than that. Hey, I’m from the South. I got this.” And then he said, “I love you, Mom!”

I hung up! I hung up the phone, and smiled and I called his grandparents.

The Bus: Traveling from England to India, with the Hells Angels

 

Story Summary:

 As the new Protestant Chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, Geraldine quickly realizes that the midweek Bible service has been overrun by the Crips – a violent, largely African-American gang – and that if something isn’t done quickly the Correctional Officers will close down the service. Going to the root of the problem, Geraldine meets with the head of Crips in her office, but she soon sees that as the two of them are so completely different she will have to establish some common ground before asking for his help with the problem. Will telling him a story of a thug-filled six-week bus trip from London, UK to Delhi, India, that she took decades before, be enough to win his trust? Can the midweek Bible service be saved?

For a print friend version of the transcript, click here:  The-Bus-Traveling-from-England-to-India-with-the-Hells-Angels

Discussion Questions:

  1.  America has more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world (both in number and per capita).  Why do you think this is?
  2. According to an FBI report, in 2011 there were approximately 1.4 million people who were part of gangs, and more than 33,000 gangs were active in the United State.  These numbers have since grown rapidly. What do you think has happened in this country to allow gangs to flourish?
  3. What do you think that you as an individual can do about both of these problems? What do you think that we as a nation can do about both of these problems?

Resources:

  • The Outsiders by E. F. Hutton
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Geraldine. Geraldine Buckley. And in 2007, it never crossed my mind, when I was training to be the chaplain, at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, that after just a few weeks on the job, I would be sitting in my office, across my desk from the leader of the Crips, which is a largely African-American violent gang. And that I would be asking the head of the Crips for his help with a problem.

Well, when that day came, I did what I do best in those situations. After all, you’ve probably realized by now, that I was born and brought up in England. Well, I made him a cup of tea. But I really did have a problem. The midweek Bible service that had about 240 men and…, it had become a meeting place for the gangs, particularly the Crips. Now, the front of the service was fine. That’s where men were opening themselves up to the love and forgiveness of God. And so, they were able to extend that love and forgiveness to other people. Incredible things were happening. But it was just at the back of the chapel that I had such a problem. That’s where the gang members, particularly the Crips, were passing things and they were talking loudly. Well, goodness knows what they were plotting. But they were disturbing the service and I couldn’t have that. And there was another level to this problem, and that is, if the correctional officers realized what a serious gang problem we actually had, they’d close down the service and we might not get it back for months.

Well, I went to the, the head of the, the inmate leaders of the chapel. Ah, we had a church of 600 people behind the walls. And, ah, the leaders, many of them, had theological degrees and I asked them for their input and they suggested that I take all those Crip leaders off the list. In other words, ban them from the service. But I didn’t want to do that, because to my mind, unless they sat under the Word of God, what hope would they have of changing? So, that’s why I decided to go to the root of the problem, which is how I find myself in my office, across my desk from the head of the Crips. Let’s call him El Jefe. Well, he was about thirty-three years of age. He was African-American. He came from Baltimore. And I knew, I only had him in my office for 20 minutes because he’d arrived at half past two and he had to leave by 2:50 in order to get back to his cell in time for count. And if he wasn’t there, he’d be taken off to the segregation unit in chains. I thought, how am I going to establish any common ground, any mutual understanding, or any hope of cooperation, in such a short amount of time.

After all, we were so different. I mean, for a start, he was a man and I’m a woman. He’d been incarcerated for years and he’s got years to go. And I’m relatively new at all this. And then, he was a Crip and I’m a Pentecostal. And then, I had an idea. And I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.” I have, but first of all, I said to him, “Jefe, I think I have a really soft spot for gangs.” Well he was, at the time, he was slumped in his chair and he was gently tapping his fingers on the edge of my desk. And he was looking at me through half-closed eyes and I knew then that he was not buying it. So that’s when I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.”

“When I was 21, I went on a bus trip from North Finchley tube station in London to Delhi, India. It was called Budget Bus. It was bright pink. It was decrepit. It was held together with duct tape. But it was cheap. Now, I went for two reasons. First of all, I wanted something on my resume the following year, that would make me really stand out from my, my fellow graduates. And the other thing is I really wanted to irritate my mother.”

“Now, I was really concerned about who my fellow travelling companions were going to be because we would be travelling together for six weeks. We would be eating together by the side of the road. We’d be sleeping in tents together. So, we would in effect, be a mobile travelling capsule. And so, I was very concerned when I first stepped on the bus, and my immediate impression was one of a strong smell of unwashed bodies. Well, I tried hard to not let that show on my face but I looked to see where it was coming from. And it was a small group of men who were very thin, they had hollow eyes, and they had track marks up and down their arms. These were drug addicts. And one of them was going to die on a beach in Sri Lanka.”

Well, I looked over at Jefe, and I’d noticed that he’d stopped drumming his fingers, and he was sitting up straight. Good. I had his attention, so I carried on. “So,” I said, “of the other 25 or 30 other men and women on that bus, there was another man who immediately, I immediately, noticed. he was a small man. He was in his mid-20’s. He had shifty eyes. And he sat right at the back of the bus. And I knew straight away, he was Australian because of his accent, And I found out later that his name was Wayne. Well, from that very first moment of getting on the bus, he kept up a loud, continuous monologue of the filthiest language I have ever heard before or since.”

“And then, there was another group of men who stood out to me. They were wearing denim and leather and chains. They had shaved heads. They were covered in tattoos, and they had a really hard look on their faces. These were the Hell’s Angels. Now, it must be said, that these were English Hell’s Angels, so they were a little more refined than their American counterparts. But they were still Hell’s Angels, and they terrified me. Particularly, their leader who was called Grila. Now, Grila was an enormous man. He couldn’t read or write. He had his name tattooed on his knuckles. G-R-I-L-A. And he had this huge tattoo on his arm of a gravestone with the names of men in it. And I looked at those names and I thought, ‘Are they the names of the men he’s killed?’ Oh, that man, Grilla, absolutely terrified me!”

“Well, that bus was far worse than I could have ever imagined on that first day. Wayne and his new group of friends discovered that down the aisle of the bus, there was a trap door that went down to the road. And when the bus was moving, they would have urinating contests. And if anybody objected, they would turn the flow on them. And then, for some reason, Wayne thought it would be great fun to pick on me. And so, for hour after hour, he kept up another loud monologue describing, in vivid detail, what he imagined I did as extracurricular activity.”

“Well, I was only 21 and this went on for day, after day, after day. Well, one of those days, I was sitting near the back of the blus… back of the bus, playing Scrabble with Wayne’s new girlfriend. She and I shared a tent for the first few days of the bus. Well, he said something really crass to her. Really revolting. And, stupidly, I defended her. So, he pushed me back in my seat. And then, he picked up his big fist to hit me. When all of a sudden, over my shoulder, came an enormous hand and it grabbed Wayne’s wrist. And a voice said, ‘No, you don’t. You’re not hitting women. Not on my turf!’”

And Wayne just crumbled and he said, ‘No!’ He said, ‘Don’t hurt me! Don’t, don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me.’”

“Well, I looked around to see who he was, who’d come to my help. It was Grilla! Grilla had come to help me. Well, that night I was sitting on the bus by myself. All the others were setting up the camp and, and Grilla came to find me. And he was shuffling his feet a bit, and he had his cap in his hand, and he was twisting it, and he kept his eyes on the ground, And he said, ‘Geraldine, I’m really sorry I didn’t do more to help you on that bus today.’ He said, ‘But if we men start eating each other, someone’s going to get killed.’”

“Well, several things happened from that incident. The first thing, was that Wayne kept really quiet at the back of the bus, which was wonderful. And then, that was the first time that I realized that, although it’s best for men and women to work together, sometimes you need a man to stand up and do what’s right. And when that happens, it’s like a key turns in a lock and evil turns to good. And then the other thing that happened was, that Grilla and his group of Hell’s Angels friends, they took me under their wing. And I became the little sister the gang. All very innocent.”

Well, at that moment I looked over at, ah, at Jefe and his eyes were as big as the bottom of s… of buckets. And I said, “I know, isn’t that incredible, Jefe, that a woman who was not long out of a convent boarding school, would end up being the little sister of a gang of hens… Hell’s Angels. But what that meant was, that I got to spend time with them. I got to see who they really were. And I saw that they, they really cared for each other. They had each other’s backs. They were family.”

“So, one day I asked Grilla about that enormous tattoo on his arm, the one of the gravestone with the R.I.P. and the names of men. And he said, “Oh, Geraldine.’ He said, he said, ‘They’re my fallen comrades. They’re my dead friends. If we don’t look out for each other, who will?’”

Well, at that moment, a shadow came across the glass in my office door. It was the correctional officer. And he opened the door. He said, “Chaplain, you’ve got three more minutes with this man, and then he’s got to get back to his cell in time for count.”

I said, “Thank you, officer.” Three minutes. How was I going to get my last point across in such a short amount of time? Tick…tick…tick…And then, I had another idea. I said, “Jefe, you and your, your Hell’s Angels, your, you and your, your Crips friends. You’ve been teaching me such a lot since I’ve been here. You’ve been teaching me about gang warfare and streets and, and gangs. Now, tell me if this is right or not, but from what I understand, you’d never let another gang come in and take your street corner. Is that right?”

He said, “Oh, that’s right, Chaplain.” And he said, “That’s never gonna happen. Never gonna happen.”

I said, “Well, Jefe, this mid-week Bible service, this is our land. The leader of these, this chaplain and mine. And if you continue what you’re doing with your Crip friends, you’re going to draw the attention of the correctional officers. And if you carry on doing it, they’re going to take it away from us. Now, it would break my heart to take you and your fellow gang members off the list. In other words, ban you from the service. But if that’s what I’ve got to do, I’ll do it. Because no one is taking this land away from me.”

And we just stared at each other. Tick, tick. A shadow came across the door in the office and then, and then, Jefe said, “It’s all right, Chaplain.” He said, he said, “I get it. There’ll be no more trouble. I give you my word.”

And you know something? Jefe kept his word from that moment ’til the time I left, two and a half years later. There was no more gang trouble in the Protestant chapel. No more trouble on my turf.

1966 Caracas, Venezuela: Day One of Junior High For An American Girl

 

Story Summary:

 Moving to Junior High school opens Angela’s eyes to a society and culture that she had been living in (Caracas, Venezuela), and yet one from which she was separate. Angela’s story tells a universal truth: we think we are the only ones telling ourselves “ We do not belong here.” That statement is what we have in common.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Were there times at school when you felt out of place?
  2. Who helped you and what specifically did they do? What kinds of things did you do to help yourself?
  3. How could you help others at your school, workplace, place of worship, neighborhood and so on feel that they belong?

 

Themes:

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

Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman

 

Story Summary:

 In 1991 in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Jewish Cantor and his family were threatened and harassed by the Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. Here is the remarkable story of how they dealt with the hatred and bigotry, and, in the process, redeemed a life. Based on the book, Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman, by Kathryn Watterson.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Not-By-the-Sword-How-a-Cantor-and-His-Family-Transformed-a-Klansman

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is this a story about religious transformation or about how isolated people need caring relationships?
  2. What does this story say about the power of words and the means of spreading those words? How does anonymity protect the speaker? How do the cantor’s ‘public’ words spread his message?
  3. Would you have considered inviting the former KKK member to live in your home? How was the family able to open their door and their hearts to a man who had hurt so many?

Resource:

  •  Not By the Sword by Kathryn Waterson, Simon & Schuster, 1995; University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Pippa White. The story I have for you is a true story. It’s about an incident that happened in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1991. Actually, it’s a much truncated version of a wonderful book called Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman. That book was written by Kathryn Watterson. And I’m very grateful to Kathryn for letting me tell this story. Actually, there are two people in the story, Michael and Julie, who I know. So I’m grateful to them too. And I’m going to tell the story from Julie’s point of view. I am now going to become Julie.

We had encountered anti-Semitism before. My husband was a Jewish cantor, he had had other appointments in other synagogues in other cities. Anti-semitism was not something we were unfamiliar with but this was different and especially upsetting. We had just moved into a new home in Lincoln, Nebraska after two years of renting. And one afternoon, my husband answered the phone to hear this harsh, hate-filled voice saying, “You’re going to be sorry you ever moved into 5810 Randolph Street, Jew boy!” Two days later we received a package in the mail. On the outside it said, “The KKK is watching you.” Inside there were all these flyers, dozens of brochures and flyers, with ugly caricatures of Jews with hooked noses, African-Americans-race traitors, all of them being shot or hanged. And another message, “Your time is up and the Holo-hoax was nothing compared to what’s going to happen to you!” This was too much. We called the police.

The police came and said they were 98% sure it was the work of one Larry Trapp, the state leader and Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Larry and his Klansmen had terrorized many Jews, blacks, and Vietnamese in Nebraska and Iowa. And said the police, “He’s dangerous. We know he has explosives.” Now they explained that he was in a wheelchair. He had lost both legs to diabetes but they said he had firebombed four or five African-American homes in Lincoln and the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Center in Omaha. And, unbeknownst to us, the police felt Larry Trapp was planning to bomb the very synagogue where my husband was the spiritual leader. Last thing the police said was, “So lock your doors and don’t open any more unlabeled packages.”

Well, we didn’t get any more packages nor did we get any more phone calls. But Larry Trapp had done his work very well. We had been terrorized. We couldn’t open the mailbox without wondering if there was a letter bomb in there. We worried about our three children and every time a car drove slowly by the house, we had a little panic attack. Larry Trapp had done his work very well. Perhaps because of this, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. But it wasn’t just the fear, I was also fascinated. I kept asking myself what makes someone like that? I found out his address and I used to drive by his apartment every afternoon after work and wonder, what makes someone like that? And how lonely he must be isolated in all that hatred?

Not long after this we found out that Larry Trapp was on television. He’d gotten himself on some local cable access channel and he would sit there spewing all these white supremacist hate. It made Michael so mad that he said, “He called us.  I’m calling him.”

So he called this, Vigilante Voices. All he got was an answering machine but he said, “Larry, why do you hate me? You don’t even know me. So how can you hate me?” Next day it was, “Larry, don’t you know that you’re going to have to answer to God someday for all this hatred?” The third day it was, “Larry, why do you love Hitler so much? Don’t you know that in Hitler’s Germany, one of the first laws the Nazis passed was against people like you, people with disabilities? Don’t you know that in Hitler’s Germany, you’d have been one of the first to go?” Every day Michael left a message. One day Michael said to me, “I wonder if he’ll ever pick up?”

I said, “If he does, offer to do something nice for him. You watch, it’ll throw him completely off guard.”

One day in the midst of this message, “Larry, when you can get rid of all the hate, there’s a world of love waiting for ya,” Larry Trapp picked up, “What #@&%* do you want?!”

“I just want to talk to you, Larry.”

“Why #@&%* are you harassing me? You’re harassing me! Stop harassing me!”

“I’m not harassing you, Larry. I just want to talk to you.”

“Are you black? You sound black.”

“No I’m, Jewish.”

“Well, what do you want? Make it quick!”

And then my husband took my advice, “Well, Larry, we know you’re in a wheelchair. We wondered if we could help you in any way? Take you to the grocery store, that kind of thing.”

Long pause. Michael says when Larry spoke again his voice was different. “That’s OK. That’s nice. That’s been covered. Thanks anyway. Don’t call this number again.”

“We’ll be in touch,” was the last thing Michael said. I think it must have been Larry Trapp’s time in life to be bombarded with love.

A nurse wrote him a letter, and because of his very poor health he was in and out of doctors’ offices all the time, and she said, “Larry, if you could embrace God the way you’ve embraced the KKK, He would heal you of all that hurt, anger, hatred, and bitterness in ways you won’t believe.”

And one day when Larry was leaving the eye doctor’s office, he felt his wheelchair being pushed from behind. He turned around and there was a beautiful young woman.  And she said, “I help you. I help you. In elevator.” A Vietnamese woman. And Larry and his followers had been brutal to the Vietnamese community in Lincoln Nebraska.

Michael kept leaving messages and one day, mid message again, Larry picked up. “I’m rethinking a few things.”

“Good,” said Michael, “Good.” Two days later, there he was on television, on the cable access channel, ranting and raving about…well, using every horrible, racial epithet you can think of. Made Michael so mad that he called and say, “You’re not rethinking anything and I want an explanation.”

“I’m sorry,” said Larry. “I’m sorry. I’ve, I’ve, ah, I’ve talked this way all my life. I can’t help it. I’ll, I’ll apologize.”

That night, at the synagogue, Michael asked the congregation to pray for someone who is sick with the illness of hatred and bigotry. “Pray that he can be healed.”

And across town, Lenore Letcher, an African-American woman who had been on the receiving end of Larry’s hatred, prayed, “Dear God, let him find you in his heart.”  And that night, the skin on Larry Trapp’s fingers burned and itched and stung so badly he had to take his Nazi rings off.

The next night, Michael and I were just sitting down to dinner when the phone rang. “I want out and I don’t know how.” Michael suggested we get together and break bread together. Larry hesitated and then he agreed.  We were rushing around, packing up the food, and I thought to myself, we should take him a gift. And I found a ring of Michael’s that he never wore.

It was a silver friendship ring. All the silver strands wound together. Michael said, “That’s a good choice. It’s always reminded me of all the different kinds of people in the world.” To me, it represented something twisted could become something beautiful. The last thing we did before we left the house was to call a neighbor and say if we’re not back in a reasonable amount of time call the police.

We got to Larry Trapp’s apartment knocked on the door, the door swung slowly open. There he sat. In his wheel chair, bearded. On the door handle on his side, hung an automatic weapon, behind him was a huge Nazi flag. Michael reached forward and touched Larry’s hand. He winced as though a jolt of electricity had gone through him. And then he began to cry. “Here!” he said. “Take these! take these! I don’t want ‘em anymore!”  And he put the Nazi rings in Michael’s.

We were speechless but not for long. I remembered my gift. I got down on my knees and slid the ring on his finger saying, “Here Larry, look, we brought you a ring.” He began to sob and sob, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, for all the things I have done.”

We hugged him and pretty soon there were three people crying. We left Larry Trapp’s apartment four hours later, with the Nazi rings, the Nazi flag, all his KKK paraphernalia including the hood and the beret. And we left with all his guns.

Over the next few weeks, Larry Trapp’s transformation was so complete that the KKK began harassing him. He began to write personal letters of apology to many of the people that he had threatened. He joined the NAACP. He began to go to schools to talk to school children about tolerance. And he and my husband, Michael, were interviewed by Time magazine.

On the very last day of the year, Larry learned from his doctors that he had less than a year to live. We asked him if he wouldn’t like to move in with us. He agreed. Now this was not easy. We had three teenage children, a dog, a cat. I gave up my job to stay home and take care of Larry. But we all chipped in and, and made it work. As Larry grew weaker, he would listen to books on tape. He listened to books about Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Malcolm X, and he began to read and study Judaism.

And one day he surprised Michael and me when he announced that he wanted to convert to Judaism. We said we thought it was wonderful that he wanted to embrace a faith tradition at this time of his life. But if he wanted to embrace a faith tradition closer to his own roots we would understand that. “No. Judaism.” So in June of 1992, in a beautiful ceremony, Larry Trapp converted to Judaism in the very synagogue that a year earlier he had planned to blow up.

In September of 1992, Larry Trapp died in our home. Michael and I were with him, each holding a hand.  Before he got too weak, Larry was asked to speak at a celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. This is what he had to say, “I wasted the first 40 years of my life bringing harm to other people. But I believe that God sent Cantor Weisser to me to show me that I could receive love and I could also give love. I’ve learned now that we’re all the same. White, black, brown, there’s no difference. We’re all one race.”  Larry Trapp, the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan said there is only one race.

My Long Hair

 

Story Summary:

 Motoko tells a story about her own experience of sexual harassment in Japan, how she was trapped into silence imposed by her culture, and how storytelling helped her break the silence and heal herself.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Long-Hair

Discussion Questions:

  1.  As a teenager in Japan, Motoko had times when she did not feel safe. What kept her from feeling safe?
  2. Do you feel safe? What precautions do you take for your own safety?
  3. What can each of us do to help others feel safe and live safely?

Resources:

  • Like a Lotus Flower: Girlhood Tales from Japan by Motoko. (Audio CD,www.folktales.net; 2009)
  • Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women edited by Roberto Uno

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Motoko. As a teenager growing up in Osaka, Japan, I was not pretty or popular but my hair was. Yes. I used to have this long, shiny, silky, black hair, straight down to my waist. So much of it I would obsessively brush it to an arresting sign. During the school day, the rules dictated that I had to keep it in a single long braid. As soon as the school let out, I would untie my braid and the shake it loose into a simmering cascade. What a glorious feeling!

I was a good, studious, student. By the time I was in the 10th grade, I was attending what we call, juku, a cram school. After the regular high school, three nights a week, for extra math and English lessons to prepare myself for the college entrance exams. On those days, I did not get to let my hair down until much later because those classes did not finish until 9 o’clock at night. Then I would take the commuter train home, get home about 10 o’clock, eat dinner, and do my homework. One night I was on my way home, as usual the commuter train was jam packed with business men and laborers, some drunken and boisterous, others tired and sullen. A few of them leered at me, a girl in the school uniform with long hair in a single braid. I sat with my knees together with a heavy book bag on my lap.

By the time I finally got off the train, the crowd had thinned a little. I walked toward the bicycle lot at the back of the station away from the blaring music and the neon signs of karaoke bars and pachinko parlors. I found my bike and dropped my heavy bag in the red wire basket attached in front of me. With relief, I untied my braid and swung my head letting the spring breeze cool down my scalp. “Nice hair,” a man’s guttural voice from right behind, startled me. I spun around into reeky fumes, so hot, drunk breath. A stranger’s sneering too close, sallow cheeks and a stubby chin, a dark green shirt. The next thing he was grabbing my waist pulling me hard against him. No, I did not scream. I was too stunned to even make a sound. The whole thing seemed somehow not so real, like a scene from a silent movie. I struggled to free myself and the man suddenly let loose. I staggered back and bumped into my bike. The bike fell and I fell on top of it, scraping my leg against the pedal. My books are scattered everywhere. Then the man suddenly started to laugh hysterically as if he had never seen anything so funny. I ride at my bike and without looking back pedaled as fast as I could. When I finally reached my house, I realized that I had not breathed the whole time. I got off my bike and bent down to breath as if I had just sprinted a mile. My heart was beating so fast, in my head, I could not hear anything else. No, the man did not follow me. I only had two bruises and a long scratch on my leg. My blouse had come untucked, so I tucked it in.

I was OK. Nothing happened. I opened the door. The glaring fluorescent light and the smell of the dinner and the loud noise from the TV in the living room overwhelmed me. “Tadaima, I’m home,” I said softly, suddenly realizing that my throat was tight.

My mother came out of the kitchen and said, “What happened to you?!”

I suddenly realized that, I remembered that, I had left all my books scattered around in the bicycle lot. With trembling voice, I said, “Oh, some weird guy tried to grab me and I ran away. I’m ok,” as nonchalantly I could.

My mother looked on me and said, “Look at your leg! You are bleeding! Otōsan, please come here.” Now Otōsan literally means, father, but that’s how my mother used to address her husband.

My father came hurrying out of the living room. “What happened?”

“Some man attacked her on the way home,” my mother explained.

“Yeah, but I’m ok. Nothing happened. I just have a scratch. See!” And as I was showing him, tears came to my eyes. I hastily wiped them away.

My mother looked anxious, “Should we call the police?”

“No, we don’t call the police,” my father said with a grim expression on his face.

“But why not? He might have followed her. It’s very dangerous.”

“No. She’s ok. If you call the police, people will talk.” He looked angry. Was he angry at me? He looked at me and said, “Motoko, you should have been more careful. It’s your fault, coming home this late, swinging your long hair.” I blinked. Was he saying that I was to blame? My father scuffled back into the living room and turned the volume up on TV. My mother sighed, fussed over me, gave me some bandages to put on my leg. Then I went upstairs to the bathroom and I wrenched. No one ever spoke of this incident again.

The next day I went and got a haircut. I never wore my hair long again. I never forgave my father either until a few years ago when I started telling this story. After that incident, there was a long period of time when he and I just did not talk much. Then I moved away to go to college and eventually immigrated to the United States. When I became a storyteller and started sharing my life stories, I discovered that many women in the United States have had a similar experience to mine. By listening to those women, I learned how sharing helps us heal. And it takes honesty, courage, and wisdom to speak up for ourselves and not be cowed into silence. Telling this story also made me realize that, my father’s gruff voice directed at me, was actually his way of acting out his anger at the man in the green shirt. And his frustration for not being able to protect me. In any culture, storytelling is what breaks the silence.

Loving Someone Tall: A Conversation With My Father About Race

 

Story Summary:

When Laura fell in love with Kevin, she was certain her liberal family would love him, too. After all, he was smart, handsome, educated and kind; that his skin was a different color didn’t matter, right? Imagine her surprise when Laura and her father needed to negotiate his discomfort with her sweetheart’s differences.

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

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think Laura’s Dad felt during their conversation? What do you think Laura’s Mom thought?
  2. Do you think things are any easier for bi-racial couples today?
  3. What do you think Laura should have done when her parents were upset about the German man she was dating? Do you think her dad had a point?
  4. How would you feel if your child married someone of a different race or religion?
  5. Do you think Laura should have told Kevin about the conversation?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Laura Packer.

I was born in 1967, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a nice, liberal, middle-class, Jewish family. I was raised to believe that you judge people based on their actions not on the color of their skin. My mom, she always said that people are the same inside. So, when I brought home my elementary school best friend, Carla, she’s African-American, my parents treated her just like their own daughter. It was great. Everything was fine until I was an adolescent. And then, on top of all of the usual adolescent woes, I was dating. And then I brought home the German guy. For my parents, who were born during World War II, American Jews, this was really hard. After a while, they asked if I would stop dating him. And in my adolescent angst, I stomped my feet and I said, “No, he’s not like that.”

Honestly, I think we all were relieved when the relationship just kind of petered out. They didn’t have to keep biting their tongues and I didn’t have to feel defensive. I think, it’s really hard for parents. You raise your kid you, love them, you want the best for them, and you try and teach them everything that you know is right about the world. It can be kind of a problem when they actually listen to you.

When I was in my early thirties I started dating Kevin. Kevin is funny. He’s smart, he’s tall, he’s handsome, he’s well educated. He has a doctorate from MIT. He was everything I could want in a man. It didn’t matter to me that he was African-American. And it certainly wouldn’t matter to my parents. Right?

Well, maybe six or seven months into our relationship, I went home to visit my family. By now, it was clear that things with Kevin were really pretty serious. It was a good visit, although I could tell there was something in the air a day or two before I was supposed to leave.

My father said to me, “Laura, I’d like you to run some errands with me.” Now, in my family, that’s code. My father and I sometimes have a, kind of, difficult relationship and I’ll do something, inadvertently, offending him. He will have his feelings hurt and he needs to talk to me about it. He needs to let me know and describe everything in great detail until I apologize.

I thought, “Oh, great. What did I do now? Sure, Dad, let’s run some errands.”

So, we went out and we ran an obligatory errand or two. And then he pulled the car into the Denny’s parking lot and I braced myself. “Okay. Here it comes. I’m going to hear what I did wrong and I’ll apologize. We’ll get it over with. It’ll be fine. This happens every month or two.”

Instead, my dad was quiet. He just sat there looking out the window of the car. I glanced over at him. He wouldn’t look at me. Then he took a deep breath. Then he took a deep breath. “Laura,” he said, “your mother and I are concerned.”

“Concerned? What are you concerned about, Dad?”

He glanced over at me. I could see all this shame and love in his eyes. “Laura, we are concerned about Kevin.” How could they be concerned about Kevin? He was smart. He was a good man…Oh…I felt this churning in the pit of my stomach. I began to grind my teeth and I waited. “Yes,” My father said. “We’re concerned about Kevin.”

I looked at my dad. “Dad, why could you be concerned about?” I said. “Is that the Ph.D. from MIT? I mean, I know that’s a big educational gap between us but he respects my mind. Oh, oh, I know, is it, is it that it’s a doctorate in science not in medicine? I think science is pretty cool. Or maybe, maybe,” I said to my father. “Is it because he’s so tall?” I know that when we look up at him we do get kind of a crick in our neck.”

“Laura,” said my father his face turning red. “Laura, that’s not what I mean, and you know it. I’m concerned about the racial difference between the two of you.”

Ah…I have been foolish many, many times in my life, over and over again, I react when, maybe, I shouldn’t. I get angrier than I really need to be. And every once in a while, there is this moment of clarity. And I listen to it. I reached over and I took my father’s hand, “Dad,” I said. “I know that you were concerned that Kevin’s African-American and that I’m not. But I love him and he loves me. Honestly, Dad, I think that you should be proud. You should be proud that you raised a daughter who can love someone regardless of their education or their height or the color of their skin.”

He was quiet and then he glanced over at me and said, “He is awfully tall, isn’t he?

“Yeah, Dad he is. Honestly, I think he gives us all something to look up to.”

We went home. And honestly, I can’t say that being in a biracial relationship has not had an impact on my life. But every relationship has had an impact on my life. Kevin and I, eventually, got married and my father he loves Kevin. When we come and visit, my dad beams with pride as he introduces his handsome, smart, funny, kind, educated, tall, African-American son-in-law to his friends. And honestly, why shouldn’t he be him? After all, what parent doesn’t want their daughter to marry a doctor?

No Aguantara

Story Summary:

The differences were easy to see, Catholic/Jewish, Brown/White, Spanish-Speaking/English-Speaking, Mexican/American, rural/urban. When Carrie Sue and her fiancé decided to marry there were many who thought their relationship would not last long – including the representative from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico who was handling their Visa.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: No-Aguantara

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you judge people on when you first meet them? Have you ever made a judgment about a person only to realize when you get to know them better that you were completely wrong about them? If so, did you discover anything about yourself?
  2. Do you think that we learn things about ourselves when we meet people who are different from us? Why do you think that?
  3. Many people, including the American Visa Clerk objected to Carrie Sue and Facundo’s relationship. Why do you think it mattered to the other people?
  4. Why do you think many were surprised that their families did not disapprove of the relationship?

Resources:

  •  In Their Own Words: Drama with Young English Language Learners by Dan Kelin – a resource for anyone working with 2nd language learners
  • The Earth Mass by Joseph Pintauro and Alicia Bay Laurel (Carrie Sue and her husband used a poem from this collection in their wedding ceremony and still try to follow its advice.)

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Immigration
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Carrie Sue Ayvar and just after I graduated high school, I went from Pittsburgh, PA to Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. (No aguantará) It’ll never last! That’s what they said! (No aguantará) It’ll never last! They were like wisps of rumors, never said to us directly but rumors that wisped around and spoken always in concerned tones, mostly to our families and friends.

It was 1973. I was only 17 when I met Facundo but there could hardly have been a more romantic setting. It was a warm, sunny day that January morning and it was on a small island just off the west coast of southern Mexico. The air was filled with (breathing in fragrance) mango and coconut oil, salt sea breezes and pheromones.

I watched as a muscular, strong young man, probably about 20 years old, carried several scuba tanks up onto the beach. Oo! The salt water and the sweat made his coppery skin glisten and his long dark hair had streaks of red and gold in it from days in the sun. Oh ho… I had never seen a more beautiful, gorgeous human being in my entire life! Like an Aztec Adonis emerging from the waters! When I could finally catch my breath again, I remember thinking, “The guy’s gotta be a jerk! I mean, no one is that good looking and nice too!”

But (como dice el dicho) as the saying goes, (caras vemos el corazón no sabemos) we see the faces but we do not know the hearts. Now on the surface, Facundo and I had very little in common. He was a Spanish-speaking, Catholic, indigenous, brown-skinned Mexican from a very small fishing village and he lived on a beach while I was a fair-haired, green-eyed, English-speaking, Jewish, white American who lived in a three-story brick building in a very large city.

And our experiences growing up were completely different. I mean, while I watched Tarzan’s adventures on TV, he lived them slicing green hanging vines for cauldrons of water, climbing tall palm trees to gather coconuts, diving off cliffs into beautiful blue tropical waters. I mean, while I went ice skating, he was free diving. From my father, I learned how to make flower arrangements. From his father, he learned how to build dugout canoes.

Para cemos conocemos! But we did get to know each other. And we got to know each other’s stories and each other’s hearts. (E descubrimos) We discovered (las dos querer) that we both loved (el mar) the ocean and the feeling of weightlessness during those underwater dives. (El savor) the taste of salt on our tongues when we came up for air. (El sonido) The sound of the waves drumming against the sands. (E también descubrimos) We also discovered (los dos querer) that we both cherished (familia y mis les) family and friends (mas que) more than everything. (Nos conocíamos) we got to know each other (e nos enamoramos) and we fell in love.

Now it was amazing how many people were there to tell us, “No aguantará, it will never last!” From both sides of the border, there were so many people who disapproved. They would say things like, “Oh, you know he’s only using you to get a green card.” Or (Ay, esos gringos de como de es sabe) You know how those gringos are, man! (rico e consentido) They are rich and spoiled, (ya sabes) you know! Or “Ah, what a shame! She couldn’t find a nice Jewish doctor?”

But all of those things didn’t really phase us! Even when we finally announced our engagement and, to our surprise, we heard rumors of a pregnancy that we knew nothing about! But, as I said, all those doubts and criticisms didn’t really bother us. I mean, we were happy and, to the surprise of many, so were our families. I mean, Facundo had actually met my parents a year before I ever met him; they’re the ones who actually introduced us to each other there on the island. Jesus, his papa and his parents –  (madre tomas su propia hija) they treated me like their very own daughter. Dona Christina, his mother, used to say ,”(Tenemos que cuidado de ella)  We have to take good care of her.  (Sus propios padres están tan lejos) Her own parents are so far away.”

So really, what did it matter to us what other people thought? I didn’t think it mattered at all… but sometimes it does. Since it was hard for my grandparents and other elderly relatives to travel to southern Mexico where we lived, we decided that we would have the wedding in my home town of Pittsburgh, PA.

Now after a 12-hour overnight bus trip, we finally arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Under a smoggy, gray sky, we waited for hours and hours to finally speak to an American visa clerk. And when we finally did, instead of helping us, instead of telling us what kind of visas we were eligible for, this unfriendly, unhelpful, unhappy little bureaucrat of a man lied to us. Lied to us repeatedly and began to make things up. Let me ask you, do you know how hard it is to get a copy of a form that doesn’t actually exist? Oh, yeah, he knew that he controlled the information and the situation.

But much to his dismay, we did not give up and go home like he wanted us to. Ah, ah, every time we went back, he looked more put out, like, like he was sucking on sour lemons or smelled something foul in the air. I mean, he was, quite frankly, openly disapproving of us. He told us that we were too different and finally, he dismissed us with an arrogant look! “Just go back to your own kind! You are young, poor, powerless and you don’t even realize that I’m doing you a favor!”

(Sigh) Well, (pobres) We were poor; we had little money. (E jóvenes) We were young! Powerless? (Las caras vemos corazones no sabe) You see the faces but you do not know the hearts! His attitude only strengthened our determination – pulled us together! Facundo and I, we found our voices and our power! We did not give up; we went back to that embassy again and again until, at last, we found someone who would listen. Though I will admit, it did take months, a career ambassador, a 3-star general and a United States senator to finally resolve our case!

But we did get a visa and we did get married. Now maybe we were naïve, I don’t know. I know as it was pointed out to us again and again, we looked different and we sounded different. We had different religions and we came from very different cultures and experiences. And (nunca sabes) you never know; there are no guarantees in life anyways. But I do know that we just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and, yeah, we’re still happy! (Como dice el dicho) As the saying goes, “Look at the faces and see the hearts!”

Soul Food in a Southern Swamp: Bumming Fish and Crossing Boundaries

 

Story Summary:

 After fishermen in the Okefenokee Swamp give Elliott two fierce looking mudfish, he finds himself on a hilarious cross cultural journey learning how to cook the fish, and later meets a number of challenges learning how to tell the tale.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Soul-Food-in-a-Southern-Swamp-Bumming-Fish-and-Crossing-Boundaries

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is “good ole boy” an ethnic slur?
  2. What does food and traditional cuisine mean to people in different cultures?
  3. What is soul food?  What is a favorite food from your ethnic background?

Resource:

  •  Everybody’s Fishin’- A Cross-Cultural Fishing Extravaganza   CD by Doug Elliott

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Doug Elliott and I’m a freelance naturalist and herbalist and storyteller and I’m interested in cultural diversity. I’m interested in how different people relate to the natural world and different cultures. But, you know, sometimes it’s a challenge to tell a story that celebrates cultural diversity without being culturally insensitive even though that’s not what I want to do.

Well, I want to tell you a kind of a fishing story. And, uh, and then, I’ll tell ya how I came to tell it the way I did.

Well, I was down in the Okefenokee Swamp. And I’m, I’m a kind of naturalist. I love to get out in the swamp and I’m always kind of sc… foraging and scavenging and trying to, and trying to keep my budget low. And, and, you know, I’m not always that good at fishing.

But, but, um, but I love to talk to the fishermen and, inadvertently, over the years, I’ve learned, uh, that I can often get a fish dinner if I just kind of lay a few hints out there, and just sort of say, say, “You know, if you get too many fish, let me know.” And a lot of times fishermen are glad to share a little of their catch with them, eh.

And so, one day, we were out there. We were, we were paddling out in the Okefenokee swamp. And it’s this mysterious watery wilderness, you know, swamps and cypress trees and water and wading birds. And a lot of people fish there; you know, we were paddling out. We’d paddled out all day and I was coming back. And I see these two, these two, two white guys sittin’ in a boat. And they’re, uh… they looked like they were local boys. And they looked like they knew what they were doin’. They were dropping their fishin’ lines in among the bonnet waterlilies there.

And I said, “You fellers catchin’ any fish?”

And they, “Wo, we gittin’ a few.

“Well, now, if you git too many now, lemme know.”

And these, one of these fellers says, “Well, we got these old mud fish. Now, you know, you don’t want dem, do ya?”

“Mud fish? Are they any good to eat?”

He said, “Well, a black folks eat them but we don’t.”

I thought to myself, “Soul food? You know, we’re talking about cornbread, collard greens, fish, chicken. I, I eat soul food all the time. I thought, “Well, yeah, I’ll, I’ll take those fish!”

And so, I pulled the canoe up there and let me tell you. He flopped these two fish in there. One… the biggest one was about a foot and a half long.

And, let me tell you, this was a beast to be reckoned with. It looked like the, it looked like the essence of swamp, congealed and personified, right there. I mean, this fish had a big fan shaped tail. It had, it had this, this, this shaped like a, like a wood splitting wedge. And it had, had thick armor-like scales and a huge mouth – big, wide mouth like a catfish ’cept this, uh, this mouth had just jaggly, snaggly teeth in it. Had these two little tentacles sticking out, from out of his nose. I mean, this was a creature to be reckoned with.

I said, “Oh, it is quite a fish here.” I said, I said, “You guys don’t know how to cook them?”

“No, black folks eat them but, but, but now we, we, we don’t, we don’t.” And then the guy out in the back of the boat says, “Well, actually, you know, Daddy had a recipe for mudfish.”

And the guy looked around, he says, “He did?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.

I said, “Can you tell me?”

He said, “Yeah, but it’s kind of complicated. C… You got a good memory?”

I said, “Here, I’ll write it down.” I reached in my, in my backpack there and I pulled out my sched… my, my notebook and I started, I started writin’.

And he said, “Well, now what ya do is you get ya a nice, soft pine board. And ya just cover it with barbecue sauce and ya lay a bunch of onion rings all over the top of it. Sprinkle it with some garlic and some herbs. And take that fish, you split that fish open. You lay ’im out there on the board, and you put some, put some more barbecue sauce on top of that. More onions, more garlic, pick some herbs. Oregano is really a good herb to put on there, and then, and then some… and a little mustard, a little ketchup. And you put ’im right there against the fire and then you just cook it. And, and you just let it cook ’im ’til he’s really crisp. Then you scrape that fish off and eat the board.”

“Oh, ha, you guys!”

They started laughing.

I said, “Ha, well, thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate that recipe. I’m a go hunt me a board. I’ll go see if I can cook these fish, you know.”

And I’m paddling off, down in a canoe, down there, kinda embarrassed, you know.

I hear them guys. They’re just still laughing. “Ha, ha, did ya see that? He’s writin’ it down, ah, ha, ha!”

So. So, finally, finally, I get down, I get down. and I’m thinking, “Well, man, I’ve got these fish. I want to cook these fish but th… I gotta figure, I gotta find someone who will know how to cook these fish. And I’m going into the dock there and there’s boats going in and out. And there’s people in the concession there selling tickets and things.

And I’m thinking, thinking, “Wha…who is going to know how to cook these fish? Who would tell me, you know?”

And then, all of a sudden, I look. An over on this little, this little spot of land there, there, she is, that wise woman we’ve all been wanting to talk to – a large African-American woman. She’s sittin’ there in a folding chair. She had her fish bucket on one side and her cooler on the other side. She had three fishing poles, I think. Oh, there she is, that wise woman! She has been way… been sitting there in solid, focused contemplation all day. Been contemplatin’ this vast, watery wilderness before her. Those fishing poles, like sensitive antennas, reaching down, probing the depths, bringing home food and sustenance for her family. Oh, she is that wise woman! She would know how to cook a f… a mudfish but can I get her to tell me?

Well, only thing I do is just go over and ask, you know. And she’s a fair distance away there, you know. I start walkin’ over and this… I just go over and talk to her and see what, see what she will tell me, you know.

I see her lookin’ over at me, ya know, kinda lookin’ like, I can almost hear her thinking, “Uh, what’s this white boy want with me?”

Ha…and, ha…and I just kept walkin’ over there and then I see her look back.

“Oh, Lord, he’s still coming.”

She’s adjustin’ her fishing poles, you know, adjustin’ her fish… I came up to her respectfully as I could and I said, “’Scuse me, ma’am. Can you tell me how to cook a mudfish?”

She looked up from under that broad-brimmed straw hat of hers, ah, ha, ha, kinda suspiciously, and she says, “How? Ha, ha, huh, huh, huh, huh, ah, huh! huh, huh, huh!”

I can just see her thinkin’, “This white boy wants a tell ya how to cook a, cook a mudfish.”

You just laugh. Let him tell ya, ya know.”

I said, “No, ma’am. Uh, these fellers gave me mud fish and I don’t know how to cook them. I thought you might tell me.”

And she warmed right up. She said, “Well, honey lamb, they aren’t hard to cook. Now you can’t scale ’em. You have to skin ’em like a catfish. And you take ’em, you put ‘em in a pot and you steam ’em for a while and that meat’ll come off the bones. You take yo fork and you take de meat off de bones. She said, “And then you take and git you some, git you some corn meal and some aig, a little bit a pepper, a little bit a onion. Ya chop ’em up. You make fish balls, fish patties outa ’em and you fry ’em.” She says, “They good!” She said, “They good as a mullet.”

And I thanked her so much. And, you know, we went back to camp. We did that, you know; we made these fish cakes. They were better than any sa… salmon croquettes, better than any crab, fancy crab cakes, I ever had. It was some of the best fish I ever had.

And I was so glad that I had just been brave enough to just go talk and… to this wise woman. And she gave me that good advice. And, you know, I got ta… and I’m thinkin’ about tellin’ this story. And I’m thinking about how some people, you know, these, these white guys, they were, they was, they really kinda thought that this food was, like, beneath them, you know. And of course, of course, that’s, uh, interesting because different cultures have different relationships on that.

And, um, we… later on, that same trip, you know, I was down on the, down on the coast. And I see these two guys fishin’ and they, they had the big, the big surf castin’ rods. Two young black guys. And, and I see ’em castin’ out there and, and these guys knew what they were doin’. Now,  I…well, I gotta go talk to the fishermen. So, I went over and talked to ’em and, ha, one a ’em catches a fish.

Oh! I love to be there when someone catches the fish. And he starts, he starts winding this fish in and in comes a big ole catfish, big ocean catfish. Big elegant, long, long fins and, and, uh, long whiskers. And he takes it, takes it off there. Just tosses it down there in the surf like… it, it starts swimmin’ back.

I said, “Don’t you want your catfish?”

He says, “No, we’re fishin’ for sea trout.”

And, uh, and then next he’ll catch another fish. “

“Yes, see that! That’s what we’re looking for.”

And he took that up, put it in his cooler. And he catches another one, another catfish.

“Ah, can I have your catfish?”

“Yeah.”

You know, and I took those catfish back and I was cooking them. And as we ate those catfish, I kept thinking what if someone asked those, asked those black guys, “You know, are those, those catfish any good ta eat?”

And he goin’ say, “Oh, them ole, white hippies, they eat ’em but they ain’t no good. Ha, ha”

So, okay, so, I’ve been trying to tell that story and I’m been trying to just figure out, figure out how to tell it in the most culturally sensitive way, you know. And I remember one time asking an African-American buddy of mine (he was, he was a storyteller) and asked him what… I was just trying the story out.

And I just said there’s these two guys sitting in a boat when I describe the first two guys. And later on, he said, he said, “Well, you know, you white folks seem to think of yourselves as normal, you know. And that anybody you describe, unless you describe them with an adjective, we just assume is normal, you know, and as white.” “And, uh, and,” he said, “You know, you know, that’s really, you know you just have, to have to think about that. You didn’t give those first guys accents.”

Well, you know, when I tell the story now I give ’em an accent because they were southern. They were southern, southern Georgia good ole boys.

And, and, and um, and, and, um. And so. So, I thought, “Well, how… you know, I don’t want to describe them just southern rural white guys sittin’ in a boat. Uh, you know, it just, it just doesn’t seem like a natural way to talk, you know.”

So, so, I was thinking, “I was just remembering talkin’ to one, one ole b… one ye…one ole fa… ole Georgia, Georgia guy and he was saying, ‘Well, you know, I bone ’n raised ‘round here.’ He says, ‘My granddaddy came down here with a mule and a ba… and a wagon. Law, he’s crackin’ a whip the whole way. You know, I’m jus’ a ole Georgia cracker.’ And lot of people from so… north Georgia, and south Georgia, and north Florida, they call themselves “crackers” because that’s how their… that’s with their ancestry.

And so, the next time I told the story, I said, “Well, there’s these two Georgia crackers; they’re sittin’ in their boats there, you know.”

And, and I always kind of check out the audience and, particularly, if I’m going to tell racially based stories. I want to just make sure I’m not offending anybody. I see. I see this, uh, this one, one black woman in the crowd and I sought her out later on.

And I said, I said, “Did anything, put… anything bothering you about that story? Is that all right?”

And she said, “We need to talk.”

And I said, “Oh, yeah?”

And she said, “Yeah. Yeah.” She said, you call those white guys “crackers.”

“Um, uh, uh.”

She, she said, “Well, you know when I realized it, in the north “crackers” kind of like a, like an, like a racial epithet used by blacks against whites.”

And she didn’t like me callin’, callin’ anyone by a racial epithet.

And, uh, I thought, “Well, uh.”

So, we talked about it a little bit and she said… I said, “What can I call ’em? I just don’t want to say white guys, and, you know.”

And she… I… She… well…

I said, “Well, how about good ole boys.”

She said, “Yeah, I think good old boys would work.

So, next time I told it, I told it, you know… “These two good ole boys sitting there, uh, and in the boat and, uh…”

And then some people say, “Well, good ole boys sort of, sort of implies that these are southerners, sort of a stereotype that applies to certain southerners that has kind of racist overtones.”

Now I don’t know if I agree with that but you know it’s one of those processes that we’re just trying to work on, you know. And so, so, um, so, so, you know, and, and, one of the, one of the things that kinda, kinda gets me sorta realizin’, realizin’ in the course of following this thing, how much privilege I have because I’m white.

And I realized, I realized, sp… especially the kind of livin’… the way I make my, make my livin’ and, you know, I’m always kinda sneakin’ around somewhere, you know. And I look for some fruit trees or, or going someplace I’m not exactly sure.

“Oh, sorry, Officer! I didn’t realize that the fruit orchard there was posted. I didn’t realize there’s no trespassing there. You know, I’m sorry, uh, you know, uh.”

And I realize I can get away with that. What if I was black or what if I was Hispanic and I was caught somewhere like that? It would be a whole different experience. And so, you know, and I realize even, even, like, like when my son, my teenaged son, he’s going, “I’m going to go out,” with one of his black buddies and goin’ out at night, you know.

I said, “Well, just be careful. It’s a whole ‘nother level of prejudice you’ve got to deal with.”

And, uh, and so, so, um, so I’ve been trying to work on this all the time and sometimes I’ll mess the story up.

And, and, uh, and, and, you know, it…but what I realize is that, is that, is that…one, one, one of my, one of my, my African-American coaches says to me, he says, “Look, the main things, man, is that you care.”

And, you know, that’s where everybody’s at. Just the main thing is that we care. So that’s what I’d like to leave you with. So, thanks.

Hauntings: Journey of an African American Teenager to a Southern Plantation

 

Story Summary:

 This is a true story of the writer and the haunting experience she had at age 13 on a southern plantation near an old tree by the side of the road.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hauntings-Journey-of-an-African-American-Teenager-to-a-Southern-Plantation

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine ways by which the existence of slavery, with all of its imposed conditions and traditions legally ending over 150 years ago, might still be culturally, socially, politically and spiritually impacting the lives of Black people today.  Please describe.
  2. What are some of the differences and similarities of how slavery and colonialism in general affected the lives of Black people in the US as compared to enslaved people in places such as Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico… and Africa itself, even to this day?
  3.  How can being a descendant of enslaved Africans – born in ANY country – affect the ways in which Black people see themselves and others outside of their cultures today?
  4.  How do you think Black people might feel when repeatedly over the years they hear, “Slavery?  Oh, that was so long ago.  Why don’t you people just get over it?”
  5.  Have you ever felt moved, affected or “haunted” by a person or situation that existed before you were even born?  If so, please describe this experience and how it affected or even continues to affect you to this day.

Resources:

  • The Book of Negroes, a novel by Lawrence Hill that describes the life of a young girl born into a Muslim family, living happily in a West African village.  While enjoying a walk with her father through the forest, showing off her ability to balance the Qur’an on her head, they come upon people who looked quite different than they do.  Little Aminata Diallo’s life was forever changed…
  • Pre-Colonial Black Africa, by Cheikh Anta Diop.  This book provides a comparison of the political and social systems of Europe and Black Africa from antiquity, demonstrating the African contributions to the formation of modern states and to the development of Western civilization.
  •  They Came Before Columbus, by Professor Ivan Van Sertima.  A journey through hard evidence reveals an African presence in North, South and Central America describing how Africans from the ancient empire of Mali came to these locations as merchants as early as 1311, prior to European arrivals and the slave trade.
  • When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, edited by Norman Yetman.
  •  The Souls of Black Folk, by WEB DuBois.  An inside look at how the spiritual tendencies of Black people have often contributed to both their strength and wisdom – before, throughout and beyond slavery – and yet a naiveté and trust in human nature that allowed for conquest.

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLoud Armstrong but most people just call me Mama Edie. You know, we can be haunted by many things but ‘hauntings’ are not bad. We can be haunted by a love that we once had that we will always, always remember. We can be haunted by the melody of a song that just won’t seem to go away. We can be haunted by many things. Let me tell you about a time when I was 13 years old and took my first trip to the Big Apple, New York City.

My sister Diane, who we now call Deanna based on her Spanish influence, she was living there with my aunt Bill, (Wilhemenia), and we stayed in Harlem on 156th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Not too far from St. Nicholas Place where my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, used to live and participated in the Harlem Renaissance. So, this was a time where I got a chance to connect with not only my sister but the spirit of my grandfather.

And I got to go to Harlem. I had heard so much about Harlem. I’d heard some scary, scary things about Harlem but when I got there, I loved it. I mean, the kids were great. They knew where all the best comic books were; we got all the best Superman and Archie comic books. And we got all the wonderful records. And even when I got back to Chicago, my friends thought I was hot stuff because in the east, in those days, the music hit those areas before they came to Chicago. So, I had music that hadn’t even hit our charts yet. So, I was really popular, you know. Well, New York was great. But then, after a couple of days, my Aunt Bill decided to take me to D.C. She offered to, “You wanta go to Washington?”

“Yeah, I would love to go to Washington.” Where the president lives and all these wonderful monuments I had only heard of or seen on TV.

So, we took a train and when we got there to the station, I had never been on a train ride before. And the sound the vibrations of the engines, thundering, just vibrated all through my body, and hearing the bells, and whistles, and everything. It was so exciting. And, and hearing people laughing and chattering and seeing little children pulling their little suitcases behind them. It was the cutest thing. And I was having a ball just being there. Well, we got to D.C. and we went to visit Aunt Bill’s friends. And they were very nice and they were very accommodating. And then the next day, Aunt Bill took me on a bus tour and with this bus tour, we went all around D.C. and saw all the different monuments and what have you. And then, we started leaving the city and going into Maryland and Virginia and we started coming upon these beautiful, arrogantly, sprawling plantations.

And there was one particular plantation though, that we went to, where we were going to stop and get off the bus and go inside. And everyone was going to look around. So, while we had pulled up there near the entry way, the bus driver was giving us a bit of a history about it. And he was talking about the flowers, and most of the people on the bus happened to be older white women. And I think they must have been from some organization or something. They all seemed to know each other and they were excitedly chattering and talking about the beautiful gardens. And they couldn’t wait to get off the of, of the bus to just, kind of, walk around the grounds and see. So, they began to make their descent from the bus. And Aunt Bill also got up. She was sitting in an aisle seat right beside me so she got up and she started going towards the door to also get off. When suddenly, she turned and realized that I had not moved. I was still sitting there in my seat.

So, she came back to me and she said, “Come on Edith. Don’t you want to get off and go see the grounds?” And I couldn’t. I told her that I couldn’t go.

And she said, “Why, what’s the matter?” And she sat down beside me. And all of a sudden, I just began to cry. These quiet tears just began to come down. What had happened was that, just beyond my window there was a tree that looked so sad. And it had branches that seemed to extend upward and outwards as those longing for something. And I knew as I had been looking at that tree even before Aunt Bill got up to get off the bus. And I’m looking at this tree and everything within me told me that someone had been hung from that tree. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that people were often hung from trees on the sides of the road as a warning to the other blacks and Native Americans who would dare to consider escape. So as Aunt Bill was sitting beside me, I couldn’t, at 13, explain to her what I had been feeling but it was as though she knew. She put her arm around me and as I cried, she just rocked me. And we simply sat there in silence. I realized that day that…sometimes when people share a history some things just don’t need to be explained.

My Brother’s Keeper: A Teenager Works to Free Manuel Salazar from Death Row

 

Story Summary:

 Can a teenager make an impact in a world full of injustice? Jasmin looks back at the roots of her involvement in social justice issues when she joined the cause to free the young Mexican-American artist, Manuel Salazar, who sat on death row falsely accused of killing a police officer.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Brothers-Keeper-A-Teenager-Works-to-Free-Manuel-Salazar-from-Death-Row

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What forces in Jasmin’s life caused her to care about the young prisoner on Death Row named Manuel Salazar? Who played an important role in helping her to volunteer in the ways she did? Why did she choose Art and Theater as her vehicle for action?
  2. The play Jasmin and her group created encouraged people to sign a petition to support Manuel’s Freedom. What technical advancements exist today that were not available in the 1990’s that could help in creating civic action and discourse?
  3. This legal case had two clearly different narratives depending on whose perspective was being considered. Can you compare and contrast these different perspectives? How do we decide what’s “true”?

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Jasmin Cardenas.

“He shot a cop!”

“No, he didn’t. It says the gun was in the officer’s hands when it went off. Some forensics test shows that.”

“Then why did he run, Jazz?”

This was my friend Mari and me going back and forth about this young Mexican-American guy. His name was Manuel Salazar and it was 1993. He was on death row and we were sophomores in high school. We were trying to decide if we should tell his story at this young Latino leadership event. Mari wanted to do a merengue dance.

“Come on, Jazz! I think we have enough guys to do a bomb-diggety-sexy merengue!”

“I know, but this guy’s innocent and he’s on death row! We should tell his story. Besides, this would be totally different from anything everybody else is gonna do.”

Our friend and fellow club member, Ali, had met Manuel’s lawyer. She told Ali, that he had international support for his freedom. That there was people from all the world behind him. And that, and that he had been represented by a shady lawyer. This guy who had totally rigged his first trial.

“C’mon, you guys, we should do this. We could, we could tell his story and, and people would be amazed.  He was just driving in a car with other Latino and black kids, minding his own business. The cops stopped him for no reason. And then they beat him.  And, and now he’s on death row! I mean, we should interview the lawyer. Tell his story.”

“That’s such a downer, Jazz. Why don’t we tell the story of the Taino Indians and we could dance and get costumes! That’s awesome!”

“You guys, this could have been any one of us in the car with our friends.”

Just that summer before, my brother, Favian, and I had been driving down the street and I saw a friend of mine walking down the road. And I laid on the horn to get her attention. When we got through intersection, this car in front of us, a white Caddy, stopped, all crazy about it. And his older white guy, in slacks and a white shirt, came out and was yelling at us, raging mad. He was F this, and F that. You stupid Mexicans, (we’re actually Colombian), Favian started opening the window to explain. And the guy was having none of it. He punched my brother in the nose. Broke his nose. I couldn’t believe it. We, we, we put out a police report. And my parents took him to the Chicago Children’s Hospital and they did nothing. He got away with it.

“This could have been ANY one of US!” I told my girlfriends.

I got them to agree that at least, at least we’d go talk to the lawyer and learn a little more. So, we went to her office.

It was in the Pilsen neighborhood, in Chicago, 18th Street and, uh, Blue Island. There was a big sign, this banner that said, “For the defense of Manuel Salazar,” hanging outside. We got inside and the room was full of people working the phones, doing paperwork. The lawyer, Marlene Kamish, told us all about the case. She told us about how the official police report had stated that the car was suspicious because there were Negroes and Hispanics in the car together. How the, the, the, Manuel had a, a, a gun in his gym bag and, and he was nervous because it was unregistered but he had been target practicing that day. So, he ran from the car with the gym bag. And how the officer chased him. And when he realized he had nowhere to go, he threw the gym bag, with a gun still inside, over the fence so that the cop wouldn’t get the wrong idea. And turned around and surrendered. But then the cops started to beat him. Even as Manuel was saying, “I give, I give!”

And how Manuel had acted in self-defense. The autopsy report shows that there was gunpowder in the officer’s hands, proving that the gun was in his hands when it went off. It was starting to feel like a movie. My friends and I were sitting on the edge of our seats, listening silently. Then, Manuel ran after the gun went off. He ended up at his friend’s house. He was unrecognizable from the beating. They said he looked like Frankenstein. Then the police department, put a “shoot to kill” order out on his life. Manuel was just 18 years old and scared. He ran to Mexico. And in Mexico, he was sleeping one night, when these masked men came and kidnapped him. They dragged him back to Illinois and couldn’t, put him on trial. This violated an extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico. But still, he was put on trial. Meanwhile, he had no idea that his lawyer had been working for the same police department of the officer who had died.

That lawyer failed to represent him and bring in witnesses and even, he didn’t even show that critical evidence of the toxicologist report that showed that the officer had a high blood alcohol level, proving that he was drunk. Manuel was convicted and sentenced to death. And while on death row, he found out that that shady lawyer had been disbarred. No longer allowed to practice. Marlene said that the British parliament, Amnesty International, even the Pope, was behind the support to free Manuel Salazar.

She showed us paintings. He had started painting while in prison. He had been doing all of this self-taught. And he painted this beautiful piece called, “My Brother’s Keeper.” My friends and I all were teary eyed. We were convinced we would tell his story.

We decided to use the facts of his case and we created a play. That and his paintings and his poetry. And we used our bodies as, as characters like the police officers and, and, and the narrator, and, like, the prison bars. And we created a dream sequence where we would show how he ended up on death row. The final line in the play, the last line, was from his poetry his paintings. “Let us stop blinding ourselves to the suffering from others and take the time to care.  For I ask you, to ask yourself; Acabo no soy yo el guardian de mi hermano?..Am I or am I not the keeper of my brother?”

The Latino youth leadership organization loved it. We got a standing ovation. Better yet, Marlene Kamish, the lawyer, loved it. She organized new performances for us and we went everywhere with his paintings. We toured public events, private events, Latino events, youth events. We even marched in the Mexican Independence Day Parade with Manuel’s mom.

I got more involved. I started volunteering for his case, making phone calls, stuffing fliers. I became pen pals with Manuel. And over the course of a year and a half, we toured his, his production, “Reflections: the story of Manuel Salazar,” everywhere his paintings went. And I even got to know him. I visited him in the Pontiac Correctional Center with Marlene. But as things go, senior year hit, and with school, homework, after school clubs, practice for basketball and soccer, and then college applications, I just kind of lost track with Marleen and with Manuel’s case.

But then, my junior year in college, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, a high school predominantly Mexican-American, on the southwest side of the city, in Pilsen, contacted my university. They were looking to add an afterschool drama program. And my professor said that I should take it on as a project. The kids were fantastic. We had so much fun together and when we were nearing the end of the afterschool program, they wanted to perform. So, I suggested “Reflections” and they loved what it was about. It got me thinking, what had happened to Manuel?

My mom helped me locate Marlene, the lawyer. She was so surprised to hear from me. She said that Manuel had gotten his second trial and he had won and he was, in fact, free. She gave me his phone number. I called him right away. His voice was so soft spoken. He was so calm. He was so happy to hear from me. He told me that he was still living with his mom in Joliet but that the police department was harassing him and his family. They were angry that he’d been released. They, uh, they were harassing so much, that he was thinking of moving out of state. He also told me that his paintings were, were being looked at by people from the Art Institute. I told him about the play. I invited him to come see the show he had never gotten to see. He didn’t hesitate. My insides were exploding!

The day of the performance, I sat in the audience – super anxious, feeling like a teenager again. But afterwards, Manuel’s eyes were so warm and inviting. He was telling me about how much it meant to him, all that we had done. I couldn’t believe it. He was sitting there in the seats of my university with a buttoned-up collar shirt and a big sweater, hiding his muscular body from working out in prison all those years. And yet, his presence was so quiet. “Gracias, Jasmin. I can’t believe you did all this. This is something else. Something else.”

I might not be the British Parliament and I might not be the Pope but I know that what we did mattered. And to Manuel, while he was standing behind prison bars, what we all did to support him made all the difference. So, yeah, I am my brother’s keeper.

To Live or Not to Live in La Villita, Chicago: A Latina Struggles with Civic Responsibility

 

Story Summary:

 Jasmin struggles with the decision of where to live: a culturally vibrant Mexican-American community that struggles with safety or a picturesque middle class neighborhood where her son might be the only brown boy on the block. How does this educated Latina seek out community? And how, as we grow older, do we stay true to our values of making a difference in the world?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  To-Live-or-Not-to-Live-in-La-Villita-Chicago-A-Latina-Struggles-with-Civic-Responsibility

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What are the pros and cons to Jasmin moving back to the La Villita neighborhood?
  2. Do you believe we have a responsibility to offer role models to others?
  3. How and why are Jasmin’s and her husband’s perception of the Mexican American neighborhood different? How do couple’s negotiate their cultural and other differences in respectful ways?

Resource:

  • Famous People of Hispanic Heritage: Contemporary Role Models for Minority Youth
  • by Barbara J. Marvis

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Housing
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Jasmin Cardenas. And this life struggle is part of a larger story.

I am Latina, first generation Columbiana-Americana, and my husband is a first-generation Mexicano-Americano. He was born and raised in La Villita, a vibrant Mexican community on the southwest side of Chicago. He’d still live there if it wasn’t for me. His family is there and all his friends are there. I, on the other hand, was born on the north side of the city in a very mixed community of Asians, Latinos, whites. And I wasn’t allowed to go to La Villita. When we were younger and we drive into La Villita to visit a mon… one of my mom’s friends, she would reach over to us, over our bodies, to manually lock the car doors of our station wagon, when we drove into that community. So, when Jesus insisted that we live there for our first year of marriage, I was very resistant. We lived there for six years and for most of that time, I didn’t want to live there. I wanted to move. But then, the charm of the community started to grow on me. And then I started to relax into it. But then I got pregnant. And so, we moved two months before Mateo was born.

But still, as an artist, an educator, and an activist, I still do meaningful work there in La Villita. So, the discussion has come up several times. Should we move back? I don’t know. I’m not sure what to do. So, I make two columns. Plus: We move back. Minus: No way, we stay put.

Minus: My familia doesn’t want me to move there. “Eso esta muy peligroso por alla!” My mom and dad thinks it’s too dangerous.

Plus: Years ago, I used to work with these teen girls and they’d say to me, “Hmm, must be nice to drive in your SUV and then go home while we got to deal with your ideas of peaceful conflict resolution on the streets. What a joke!” They were right. It was totally unfair to the girls. Commitment means being in it for the long haul.

Another plus: My neighbors. My first summer there, I met David. Baggy pants, big white T-shirt, gold chain, beer can in one hand. “You plantin’ plants?”

I was on all fours, weeding my front garden. “Yeah. Do you go to school?”

“Nah. Not since I got shot. School’s stupid.” Major minus, right? But then, Snowmagedon happened. And what happened, I was out there shoveling, and David showed up with his gangbanger, tattooed brother, or no, cousin. They pulled out shovels and shoveled right alongside me. I had assumed the worst, but when I got to know my neighbors, who they really were, I realized, they were amazing. They were a great reason to stay in the neighborhood.

But minus: Pow, pow, pow. Gunshots. A car speeds by, shouts, silence, the air conditioners buzzing. “Jesus, did you hear that?”

“What?” my husband yells from the living room.

“The gunshots. Did you hear that?”

“No, Babe. Those are just fireworks.”

“No, I know what I heard.” I can’t go back to that.

But then another minus: I’m on all hands and knees, all fours, and this big, hairy rat darts across my fingers. Rats the size of cats! And they’re everywhere. You can’t go outside and hang out in a relaxed summer night without seeing them. I knew that city services weren’t the same but was this is an example, they just don’t bait the same in La Villita as other parts of the city? I don’t know. I wanna fight for equality in city services but I could, could I move back to living with rats? Funny thing is, I left the rats on the south side but on the north side we have snakes. Another plus: My neighbor, my neighbor kids, they couldn’t believe that I was 28 years old and still didn’t have kids. It hits me. I can be an example that you don’t have to be 18 with kids. I mean, when I was growing up, didn’t I have examples of, of people that helped me make it? When I was in high school, I had a 4.0 GPA. But when I went to my African-American counselor to tell her that I wanted to apply to colleges, she suggested that I apply to one city college.

“Set realistic expectations,” she told me.

This Latina, from a youth leadership organization, she told me to apply to as many colleges as I could. And she even gave me vouchers to, to, so that I didn’t have to deal with the application fees. My neighbor kids, they’re just like me. I should live there. I should stand up for them.

But the minus: I have this friend who lives a block over from our old house in La Villita. Her brother was sitting on the front porch. He’s, he was college bound, college, a college student and now he was in rehab. He got shot while sitting on his front porch. It scares me to think that I could be walking down the block with Mateo in a stroller and bullets might fly. I mean, that’s not safe for him but it’s also not safe for my neighbor kids. But what’s safe?

Growing up in a nice, safe, middle-class neighborhood, my friend Socarri got shot. He was college bound and he lit up the hallways of Lane Tech with his smile. And now he’s gone, mistaken for a gangbanger. So, what’s safe? Is there just safer? What if Old Irving Park, where I live now, is safer but it’s not safe enough?

But Plus: I want Mateo to speak Spanish. I want him to be surrounded by our culturo, Español, in the smells and sounds of Latino life. La Villita, you can buy tamales on the street for a buck. Kids grow up with their cousins, surrounded by familia. I want him to be just one of the brown kids on the block. Not the only brown kid on the block.

Minus: No, no. Plus: I don’t know. You decide. One of my neighbors in La Villita, a friend of ours, Rob. He almost had his house firebombed. These gangbangers threw a firebomb on his front porch and instinctively, he went outside to confront them. He told them that this was his house and his block and he wasn’t going anywhere and they couldn’t scare him. And him and his wife, they didn’t run away. Instead they started a mentorship sports program that reclaimed city parks and gave it, and returned it back to the neighborhood. I should do that. I should be like him.

The thing is, I tried. One summer, while I was living in La Villita. I ran a summer theatre arts camp. But the minus is that nobody showed up. Well, not nobody. None of the kids that I ran the camp for, my neighbor kids, not a single family showed up. But the plus is that all the kids who did show up loved it and they loved learning about being green and performing. With the minuses is that I ran the camp two blocks over from my house. And I didn’t know that when you pass Central Park, you pass gang territory. But the plus is that now I lived there, so I know that. If I hadn’t lived there, I wouldn’t have that. And now I could plan around that. So, I don’t know.

I tried dividing my decision into two columns. But it’s, it’s, it’s mind boggling. And my mind, it’s spinning. Both neighborhoods have pluses and minuses and maybe I should move back to the old neighborhood. We have great friends, doing hard work towards change. But I’ve gotten to know some of my new neighbors and they’re really nice. And it’s so peaceful here. But…I should be a person that works towards the betterment of our community. How do I make choices so that I’m doing what is best for my family and keeping us safe but also living up to my expectations for life, my values? How do I change the world without being a sellout? Ultimately, I’m left with questions. Bigger and better questions.

A Voting Booth Built for Two: Election Enthusiasm from a Cuban-American Mom

 

Story Summary:

 The small Southern town where Carmen’s parents live is a-buzz with political acrimony. Carmen’s mother, Esther, a spunky octogenarian–– and Cuban refugee–– regards her right to vote a hard-won, American privilege. As she finishes casting her vote, she is more than happy to remind her husband, Carlos, of “their views” on local elections. Carlos’ reaction to his wife’s enthusiasm is a hysterical and poignant civics lesson for all who are lucky enough to be casting their vote at Rocky Springs Elementary School that day.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Voting-Booth-Built-for-Two-Election-Enthusiasm-From-a-Cuban-American-Mom

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How does a family’s history contribute to their daily lives?  What made this family so interested in voting?
  2. What are some of the choices this Cuban American couple made about how to live their lives?
  3. How does the humor in the story help us think about social justice?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Immigration
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Carmen Agra Deedy. And this story is called “A Voting Booth Built for Two.”

The morning did not get off to a promising start. The phone rang and I answered it. Sleepy, almost knocking it off the dresser, “Hello.” “Carmita, it’s your mother.” Oh my goodness! Nobody calls me before seven o’clock in the morning! Not if they have a well-refined sense of survival …anyone except Esther, my mother.

“Mami, what’s going on? Is everything ok?”

“Everything is ok. I just want to remind you that today is voting day!” Today is voting day. How could I not know? She put it on my calendar, she called me the evening before, she sent smoke signals up like at dusk. The only thing I didn’t have were carrier pigeons!

“Mami, I know. Nine o’clock.”

“No, listen! 9 o’clock is no good for me.” And before I could say another word, my husband, (sigh) who lay beside me chuckling, plucked the phone from my hand and saved me from something I or my mother might regret. By saying, “Mami,” (oh, you should’ve heard him cooing into the phone), “No…everything…she’ll be there… no, everything’s fine…I’m making her coffee right now.” I elbowed him. “No, no…Oh…Of course…I will tell her. Love you too, Mami.” He hung up and grinned. “She said 9 o’clock no work for her. She’s going to be ready in 20 minutes. You better get moving.”

I sat bolt upright, “Twenty minutes! I haven’t even showered!”

“Come on, Sleeping Beauty, get up and save us both a heap of misery. I’ll make the coffee. Nineteen minutes.” (She snarls.)

By the time I picked up my mother, I was in a lather. They were on the front porch looking freshly washed. There’s something about that generation that just always looks so dapper. My father was wearing his best shirt, starched. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and he smelled like Ammen’s, it’s a deodorant powder, and the cologne of my childhood – Old Spice. Ah, still makes me shudder. My mother, of course, looks at me and says, “You are late. You don’t got no kiss for your mama?”

“I don’t kiss people who wake me up before seven o’clock in the morning!” And then I leaned over and gave her a buss on the cheek. I can’t help it. I’m like a sucker for old ladies in polyester. Well, I walked them to the car. We made it over to their voting station, which was a local elementary school. (Sigh) And she was right. She was saying all along the drive that the line would be around the block. And, dad gummit, wasn’t she right! It was snaking along the side of the building and disappeared.

“What I say to you?”

It is not easy being the daughter of Cassandra, a Cuban Cassandra. In case you don’t remember, children, that would be the Greek goddess of myth who told the truth and no one believed her. Boy, I believed her now.

“Ay, mami, por favor. We’re gonna be here all day.”

“It does not matter. Today is voting day.”

Let me tell you something. You don’t know someone until you know their backstory. You know when you read a book, and you’re reading about a character and reading about a character and they don’t make any sense and then suddenly you get to chapter 17 and you learn the rest of the story? Well, Esther and Carlos, they were in Cuba from the time they were born, of course.

1931, 1924. They lived through Fulgencio Batista. President Batista, when faced with the re-election that he knew he was going to lose, pulled a coup. Cancelled elections indefinitely. The Cuban Revolution was not about literacy. In fact, by the 50’s, Cuba had the sixth largest literacy rate in Central and South America. It wasn’t about socialized medicine. Batista figured out that one of the things he could pacify, do anyway, to pacify people was to pass socialized medicine. It was brilliant. It worked beautifully but still no elections. And then Fidel came. Fidel Castro. A young revolutionary and he promised democracy. He promised an end to brutality and he promised elections. The country swept him into Havana on their shoulders. And the streets were strewn with flowers, many tossed by my own mother and about 90% of Cubans. Four years of brutality and no elections later, my parents decided maybe it was time to try another place. They were heart-broken when they left their country behind. But when my mother arrived here, the first thing she wanted to know was how she could vote. Well, she wasn’t a citizen. When she became a citizen, the first thing she did was vote!

This may seem very sweet. It isn’t! She drives us nuts! Any, any election, it doesn’t matter how inconsequential, the woman is there. I mean, we’re talking, we’re going through K-Mart and they want you to figure out, they want to vote on something that has nothing to do with any of us. This particular election, this day, this wasn’t a national election. She didn’t wake me up at 6:45 to vote in the president. It was some lousy, dodgy water project and a new superintendent. (Ok, maybe that was important.) She even, I’m telling you, she even worked over our postmaster.

We had a young postmaster at the time, who innocently told her that he didn’t really vote, that he hadn’t voted in years. And he became her mission. She, I’m tell’n ya, she would make trips to the post office with nothing to post.

“Oye, Frankie come here. No, we are not finished. Look you an official, ay, you work for the government and you no going to vote, honey? What’s the matter with you? Don’t… well, you see the post office, you see how few peoples are here? Nobody write letters no more. When they shut this place down, you got nothing to complain about, ok.”

He would look at me and I’m like, “You’re on your own, pal!”

Imagine the day when we walked in and old Frankie was waving, I mean from the door we saw him, waving his absentee ballot. Because one of the reasons he didn’t vote was because he usually couldn’t get away.

I tell you that so you understand what she is like but why it mattered. And as we stood in that line, that snaking line, my father with his cane because he wouldn’t bring his walker. I had given him a walker. He turned it into a tomato trellis. That’s another story; we don’t have the time. A young poll worker saw us, and among all the septuagenarians and octogenarians, my mother and father were clearly the oldest and the most frail. And she offered to walk us ahead of the line. And this group of people (almost all of them old, by the way) ‘cause I wondered, who comes to these dinky elections that nobody ever hears about. Ah…Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. That’s who goes… because they know what it means. And as they inched along, most of them waved or smiled as we went to the front of the line.

We got to the room, the voting room, and there were new machines. That’s all we needed! Throw something new at Esther. She adapts at glacial speed. “What is this? Where are the little paper things?”

I said, “Ma, give me five seconds; they’re gonna teach me how to use them. You and Dad just sit, just, just for a minute. I found two chairs. You know those plastic chairs, those ergonomically made chairs made for maximum… discomfort, I think would be the word. And then they explained how to use the machines. It was really fairly simple. It was a sliding mechanism so I left my father, figuring that my mother would be the diciest, and walked her to the little, you know, sorta, little booth with the curtains, took her inside. And she’s a quick study; in five seconds, she was confident and she shooed me out. I sat next to my pop who seemed to be enjoying the blessed silence. And then… the silence was broken. And we’re not the only ones in this room, mind you; people are voting all around us.

When we hear, “Carlos, Carmita, come here; it’s your turn!” The woman could punch a hole in an eardrum at 20 paces.

My father looked at me, “Do something!”

I jumped up (whispering), “Mami, por favor. Please, shhhh. Other people are voting.”

“What and you cannot talk?”

“Please, I’m begging you.” I hooked her by the arm and nearly took her…made her airborne as I propelled her across the room. Sat her gently down next to my father and said, “Please just stay here for like two minutes. Let me explain it to Pop, I’ll come back and sit with you.

I walked my dad across the room. I opened the curtains, I took him through the same tutorial. He looked at me and he, again, is quick as can be. He’s got a mind like a Cuban machete, it can cut through anything. He said, “I have it.” I stepped outside but to my, well, confusion, someone passed me. As I was going out, someone was pushing their way into the voting booth to join my father. I whipped around to see my mother’s face for a split second before (swish) she closed the curtains. Now other people had noticed too and were turning to look.

And the next thing we heard was, “Ok, Carlos, listen! This water project, here, we don’t like that, ok? And this superintendent we no voting for him. Better say, no. He’s a Philistine. Remember what he…”

On the word Philistine, the most remarkable and beautiful thing happened. The curtain went “swish!” My father, a little Cuban man, was bringing my mother, a little Cuban woman, who was resisting every step, out of the voting booth. He leaned over, everyone (I mean you couldn’t hear anyone breathe) watched riveted as if they were passing an incredible car accident that you want to look away from but you just can’t tear yourself from. And he said, “Estercita, I love you but I did not leave communist Cuba to come to the United States of America to have you follow me into a voting booth and tell me how to vote!” And the room broke into thunderous applause.

I love this story!

My Father the Whiz: A Cuban Refugee’s Response to Jim Crow

 

Story Summary:

 In 1964, Carmen’s father, a Cuban refugee, went to work at a steel manufacturing plant near Atlanta, Georgia. When, on the first day of work, he asked to take a bathroom break, he was faced with two choices: before him was a “white” bathroom . . . and a “colored” bathroom. Carmen’s father’s solution would foreshadow how this inventive man would ultimately teach his Cuban-American daughters that, in matters of conscience, we need not accept the only choices placed before us.

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Father-the-Whiz-A-Cuban-Refugee-Response-to-Jim-Crow

Discussion Questions:

  1.  In 1964 ‘white only’ and ‘colored only’ signs designated Southern public restrooms, water fountains, etc., and these divisions were legal. When Papi confronts the signs, he doesn’t protest their legality, but chooses a creative response.  When he says, “I did what any decent man would do,” what does he mean?
  2. How do you think the factory workers viewed their new colleague before the incident and after the incident? Do you think he continued to ‘whiz’ outside?
  3. How does the use of humor in this story help us look at a difficult social issue?

 Resource:

  • Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Carmen Agra Deedy. The story I’m going to tell you is called, “My Father the Whiz.”

I grew up hearing stories everywhere I went. It was inevitable, really. I grew up a Cuban refugee in a small southern town. My family came to this country when I was three years old and the little town that embraced us was called, and is called, Decatur, Georgia. Now, back then you couldn’t go three steps without stumbling into a story. You see, turned out, Cubans and Southerners were not all that different. They worship their ancestors, they gathered around food and they were unrepentant, chronic talkers. And so, the stories that I learned told me more about the people than anything I was ever taught. One of my favorite stories ever is about my own father. Now by the time I was 16 or 17 years old, I thought I‘d heard every story my father had to tell. Oh, the hubris of the young. But one afternoon my mother called me to the kitchen and said, “Carmita, take this cafecito to the men outside. They’re playing Dominoes; they’re gonna be out there for the next five hundred years. And then come back inside ‘cause you gotta help me with the dishes.” Which insured I was staying out with the men. Well, I walked out, (screech), opened the screen door, and saw all these Cuban men in their crisp guayaberas, tightly gathered in a circle around an old folding table littered with domino tiles. They were not under a banyan tree or a mango tree but a Southern Magnolia. Life is just weird when you’re a refugee.

I started to walk towards them through the miasma of cigar smoke, when I heard my father begin a story. Like I said, I thought I knew every story my papá had ever told. But you see, stories are funny. Stories are like, well, sometimes, they are like a fine wine. You don’t uncork them until the person who’s going to drink, is going to be able to really savor it and know how good it is. My dad must have decided I was ready. But first he called out, “Do I smell coffee or would it be that I am so light-headed from thirst that I am hallucinating?” Now, the Irish may have saved civilization but I assure you the Cuban gave you irony and sarcasm. I plunge towards the men and then they all said, Niña, cómo estás?” And I kissed everyone, it is the way of my people. And as the coffee was passed around, my father continued his story, as though I was not there. I wasn’t going anywhere.

I leaned into the tree, and he said, “And so you know, we had only been here for a few weeks,” less than a month, it turned out before my father finally found work. His English was cursory. He had been an accountant in Cuba. Now he came here with little understanding of the language. He was so grateful to have found work. Well, the first job he found was at a steel manufacturing plant. He was so eager the first day of work that he showed up an hour early and so nervous he drank nearly an entire carafe of coffee before he walked in. Now he was coupled with a man who was supposed to teach him welding—basic welding. (Google, figure it out. It’s a verb.) As he was learning to weld, Big D, a big African-American man, and my father found a way of communicating. Using hand signals and a few words my father knew in English. My father knew, like I said, not only little English, he knew almost no Southern black English. Big D didn’t speak Spanish. And yet, they soldiered on…or soldered on. In any event, within a small space of time, an hour or two, my father said he was starting to get the hang of things, And then, BAM! Like a hammer on an anvil, his bladder just felt like it was gonna burst—all that Cuban coffee he had! Well, he tried to ask Big D…well…This is how he said it went. “Ah, por favor, uh, please, Mr. Big D….ay….ti, ti ti…Cómo se dice? Dónde está baño?”

“What’s that you say, Mr. Carlos?”

“Ay, ay, ay…El baño?…Ah…,” my father unscrewed his thermos, and then he tipped it upside down to show it was empty now. Big D seemed relieved, “Hold on, Mr. Carlos.” And then disappeared around the corner. When he came back, he brought his own large, green thermos, which he unscrewed, and he began to pour my father another cup. “No, no, no!” My father looked like he had just been offered a live rattlesnake. And Big D, thinking that it was he that had offended him, ‘Well, if you don’t want to drink from my cup…” “No, Señor, no, no, no!” My father also increasingly frustrated being thus misunderstood, said, “No, eh, Señor, por favor,…Cómo se dice?” And then he realized, he knew just what to do. He unzipped, an imaginary zipper, fly, and then he made the international symbol, um…for emptying the male bladder. And Big D started to laugh out loud. And then he stopped. And he cocked his head, sort of like the RCA Victor dog and mumbled something to himself. Which my father said to this day that he’s not sure of the words. But it sounded something like, “not my problem, not my problem.” And finally said to my father, pulling him by the shirt, pointing, “Right there.” And he pointed down a long row of men, machinists at work at their stations. At the very end of the corridor, there was what looked like a hallway or corridor. My father thanked Big D and he gunned it. He started, at a clip, down that line of men and as he passed them,..now remember this is the first Latin man in this all black and white factory, the year was 1964, the men started shutting down their machines. And it got quieter and quieter except for the footsteps of the men behind him. Now, my poor father had only been in this country for a short amount of time. He was learning the customs. He wasn’t sure. This thing was uniformly odd. Where he came from men took care of this sort of business by themselves without spectators. When he reached the hallway, however, the crowd began to swell. And it looked like they were everything from laborers to two supervisors, black men, white men. And then he found himself confronted with a conundrum. A puzzlement. At the end of the hallway were two doors. Some of you know where this story is going. One said white and one said colored. And though his own tragic and troubled country had had many problems, this was not one that my father was familiar with, not in this way and he didn’t know what to do. And at this point he heard in the back, someone begin to laugh. And a man called out, “Hey, Mr. New Man, you pick whichever one you want but when you pick one, you stick with it.” My father looked at the men, looked at the doors. And he caught sight of Big D’s face in the very back watching him curiously, studying him. Now this the point in the story where I interrupted. Remember the tree…me leaning against it. I couldn’t stay there anymore. “Papi, what did you do?! I mean, did you quit, did you…”

“Carmen, just a moment, when you have to go you have to go. But, you know, I had come from a country where I had learned sometimes you have to follow your conscience. You cannot go left, you cannot go right. You have to find your own way.”

“Pop what does that mean…”

“Uno momento!” Now the men had leaned forward too.

“Carlos, what you did you do?”

“Can I please finish my story?” And he said, “I did the only thing a decent man with a full bladder could do. I push my way through that crowd of men, I go outside and I whiz in the woods!”… Si!

My Father’s Race Against Discrimination: Anti-Semitism in the 1930s Track and Field

 

Story Summary:

 Carol’s father is told he is not permitted to run on his college track team at the University of Pennsylvania. Two Jewish runners in the 1936 Berlin Olympics are not permitted to participate in the 400 relays. All three are Jewish and all three have the same coach.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: My-Fathers-Race-Against-Discrimination-Anti-Semitism-in-the-1930s-Track-and-Field

Discussion Questions:

  1. In the story, Jesse Owens spoke up and told the coach, “Coach, I’ve won my 3 gold medals, I’m tired. Let Marty and Sam run.”  The coach pointed a finger at him and said, “You’ll do as you’re told.”  Why do you think the coach wanted the Black men to run in the Olympics but not the Jewish athletes? By deciding not to let Marty and Sam run, of what do you think Coach Robertson was afraid or resisting?
  2. What could Stanley’s teammates have said or done to enable Stanley to race in all the track meets in which he was not allowed to run? Would you have been willing to stand up against discrimination even if it meant not running for the team?
  3. The ending quote in the story by William Lloyd Garrison was important to Stanley.  How do you think its importance related to the discrimination he encountered?
  4. Do you think what happened to Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller could ever happen again in today’s Olympics?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Carol Kaufman-Kerman. It was 1927 when my father was nicknamed Speedy. Speedy Stan. Now he got tagged Speedy for being the slowest runner at Camp Lenox. Camp Lenox is a boys’ camp in the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts. Oh, it could have been worse. He could have been nicknamed “Wizzy” or “Leaky.” He peed in his bed every night. I mean, he was five years old. And so, every morning his counselor would wash out his sheets, hang ’em out to dry on the front porch, then drag out that mattress for everybody to see in camp. My father was humiliated. He was humiliated; he wanted to keep this a secret. He just wanted his parents to come, take him back home to Brooklyn. I mean, gosh, eight weeks at summer camp for a five-year old. It’s like a sentence.

Now my dad didn’t know it at the time that he’d be feeling, later on in his life, these same icky feelings of feeling different. Back in the 1930s and the 1940s, anti-Semitism was on the rise, not just in Europe. It was also on the rise in America as well. Now this was 12 years after my father was nicknamed Speedy for being so slow. He actually had earned a spot on the track team of the University of Pennsylvania. But unlike the other player… unlike the other runners, he was relegated to the bench. He was never put in any meets at all and it wasn’t because he was slow. It was actually… he was very, very fast and everybody knew it. His coach knew it, his teammates knew it. He more than proved himself during practice. But it was because he was Jewish. Now his coach knew that he was fast but his coach didn’t want this Jewish boy to shine.

His coach was none other than Lawson Robertson. Now Lawson Robertson was the United States Olympic track coach. The one that took the track team to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It was a very controversial Olympics. It was where Hitler had grandstanded his, his strong Aryan German athletes. And we had two runners, the American team had two Jewish runners on their track team. There was Marty Glickman and there was Sam Stoller and, uh, they were slated to run in the 400-relay. A day before the race, Coach Lawson Robertson and the other coaches, well, pulled all the kids in.

And he said, “Ah, there’s going to be a change. We have to pull out Marty and Sam; they can’t run in the 400. We, we ha… we’re doing this because we heard reports from the Germans. They said that they are practicing in secret and that they’re saving their top, top sprinters for this 400-race so we, we have to pull out Marty and Sam. I mean, the reasoning just… it didn’t make sense. I mean, Jesse Owens and Ra… Ralph Metcalfe were put in instead of Sam and Marty. And, granted, we all know that Jesse Owens, I mean, he ordered… already won at that point, the gold for the 100 and the gold for the 200 so he was fast. Nobody could be faster than that. But there was another reason he, he wanted to put in this other player from the team. But this runner clocked consistently slower times than Glickman and Stoller. So, the whole thing didn’t make sense.

Now Jesse Owens, at the meeting, he spoke up. He said, “Ah, come on, coaches. Let them run. They’ve been working at this for over a month. I mean, I’ve already gotten three golds. I’m tired. Let them have their chance.”

And the coach said to him, “You’ll do as you’re told.”

And so, Glickman and Stoller, they didn’t run. And, of course, the, uh, the Americans came in first. And, well, Glickman and Stoller, they knew why they weren’t running because they were Jews and they knew that Coach Robertson wanted to spare the fear or the embarrassment of having two Jewish boys up on the winning podium. Now if my father hadn’t told me about his experience at University of Pennsylvania, I may not even have known about Coach Robertson during the 1936 Olympics or maybe what I would have thought that it was just a one-shot deal and that he had redeemed himself afterwards.

But three years later, my father was on the team and he wasn’t allowed to one… run in one meet. It was the day of the Penn Relays, the big, big race and the coach’s star runner got injured. Coach looked at my father. He said, “All right, Kaufman, off the bench. You’re running today.”

My father, he knew what opportunity this was. He knew that this was a, a moment that he could prove himself. And I have to think that he was also running, not just for himself, but he was running for Glickman; he was running for Stoller. He was, he was running for all those Jewish athletes that had qualified for the 1936 Olympics but it had boycotted them. Now none of the students or the community knew who my father was. He was, he was a benchwarmer and they were baffled why the… they would even, eh, let him run. But there he was and he had his chance and he got set on the mark. And when that gun went off, my father shot out of there.

He was fast; he was a sprinter. He was really good. And he took off and he was in the lead and all he wanted to do is win that race. I mean, his fraternity brothers showed up to encourage him… and the ladies from the sorority. But he wasn’t thinkin ’about them; he wasn’t thinkin’ about the coach. He was just thinkin’ about winning. He was thinking about beating the best time and he was thinking about breaking racial barriers. And so, his biggest contender was another guy from an Ivy League school. And as they were coming into the finish line, they were neck and neck. And then at the finish line, against the Harvard resentment of Coach Robert Lawson (Lawson Robertson), my father won. And all the reporters from the Philadelphia papers, they came running up to him and they said, “Who are you? Where did you come from? What’s your name?”

And then they went over to coach Lawson Robertson and they said, “How come you never played this Kaufman kid before?”

And he looked at them. He stared at them and then he stammered out a bold-faced lie and he said, “Ah, he’s been sick.”

His excuses never got any better than the 1936 Olympics. But after that, my father, well, there were articles in the paper. I mean, the coach had to play him. There was too much pressure from the alumni, from the community. They wanted to see my father run. Now the coach never really did mentor him like the other players.

And my father said, “He never acknowledged me.”

I’d like to end this story with a quote. It’s a quote that my father had taken to memory and he used in his life when he was up against an obstacle or he wanted to encourage us kids. And he’s… he said, “Well, I want to tell you, it’s a, it’s a quote by an American abolitionist. His name is William Lloyd Garrison. And my dad would laugh and say, “That guy, he was really a stubborn guy like your old dad.”

My father’s right. He is stubborn. He’s stubborn and determined to take a nickname like Speedy given to him because he was so slow and to turn it around to be called Speedy because he was so fast. And he’s stubborn and determined and patient to wait for his opportunity to run against discrimination. The quote, “I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard.”

Worn Out Blinders: A Soldiers Story After D-day in Normandy, France

 

Story Summary:

Talking about World War ll was hard for Carol’s father.  As a recipient of three Purple Hearts, he shares his story of anti-Semitism at boot camp, his sense of Jewish identity with a stranger in Paris and how he mentally stayed strong and survived the front lines by wearing “blinders.”

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Worn-Out-Blinders-A-Soldiers-Story-After-D-Day-in-Normandy-France

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think Carol’s father, and soldiers today may not want to talk about their experience during war?  Should we respect their silence or encourage them to talk?
  2. Carol’s father talked about wearing “blinders” to get through the hard times.  Have you ever had a time in your life when in order to move ahead, you had to “wear blinders?”
  3. The Red Cross volunteer handed out Mezuzahs and Crosses to the injured soldiers.  What comfort was she hoping to bring them from these objects?
  4. Carol’s father shares that his Sargent asked him to take off his helmet so he could see his horns.  Many commentators say that this myth of Jews having horns started with a mistranslation in the Bible.  Why do you think rumors and anti-Semitic myths are perpetuated today?
  5. St. Lo was flattened in one night and the writer Samuel Becker described it as “The Capital of the Ruins.”  Besides the physical city being destroyed, what other type of ruins exists from war?

  Resources:

 Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Carol Kaufman-Kerman. My dad didn’t talk much about being in World War II growing up. I mean, when I was a child I actually thought it was because he was invincible. I just… I saw the scars but I wanted him to be my superhero, my superman. And I felt so protected behind his fortified walls. Now I think, he also enjoyed me adoring him, looking up to him, but at what price. He had this knobby, sunken scar on his left shoulder. He said that that’s where they had removed a lot of the shrapnel. But he told me that they couldn’t get it all until they would be still some left in his body forever and I thought well that’s a heck of a souvenir.

My whole life I remember my dad saying, “Talk to me in my good ear, my good ear, Carol.”

Well, sometime during the war, his first, second or third injury, he had lost the hearing in his ear. Now as far as his emotional scars, those were harder to see. He had gotten three purple medals for being injured three times and he kept these medals in a box, in a drawer, in a room that hardly anybody ever used. I asked him once, “Dad, did you ever encounter anti-Semitism during the war?”

“I don’t know. Not rea… yeah, there was this one time at Fort Benning, Georgia. My commanding sergeant said, ‘Jew boy, take off your helmet. I want to see your horns.’ But, you know, he was from Arkansas and he had never met a Jewish person. It wasn’t really his fault.”

And I said Dad, “What about sensing your Jewish identity, feeling it over in Europe. I mean you were fighting Hitler. He exterminated six million Jews.”

That’s when he told me about his bold escape going AWOL, absence without leave.”

“Wait, Dad. AWOL, isn’t that illegal? Why did you do that?”

He said, “Well, to tell you the truth, Carol, I had been released from a hospital in Paris. They were scheduling me to go back out onto the frontlines. I didn’t know if I’d ever live to see Paris. It was Rosh Hashana and the first place I went was Rothschild’s Synagogue. It was closed but the Shammas was there. The Shammas is the person that takes care of the synagogue and he let me in and you know it felt good. I was missing family and he was there for me.”

Well, many years later, after I’d been married, my father told my husband and I both, he said, “You know, I remember when I was in a bunker. There were shells and fire all around and my buddy was sitting next to me. We were just inches apart. And I looked back over at him and his head was blown off.”

I looked at my father. I mean he said it so nonchalantly. But you know he would have had to have been holding back details and emotions.

He said, “Carol, this is the way I survived World War II. I just had to put on my blinders and keep ’em on. There was a time my captain and I, we were lying next to each other on our bellies and I had the radio strapped on my back. It was my job to radio back to our artillery the captain’s orders of where to aim the fire. And I believed that as long as I had that radio strapped to my back that I would be okay. You had to think like that, Carol, or else you’d crack.”

Well, about two and a half, three years ago, my dad and I were talking and he said, “Carol, I remember when I was in a hospital in France. We were four men and five legs.”

And that image just seared into my mind and I realized how impenetrable his blinders had to have been. I mean it was easier for him to talk about the good times, like the time that he was on a hospital train. There was a Red Cross volunteer. She was a famous actress from England. She was Alfred Hitchcock’s first icy blonde. Her name was Madeleine Carroll. And she was beautiful. Now she had made a radical change in his… in her career. She actually had stopped acting after her sister was killed in the London Blitz. And she just wanted to help the wounded soldiers.

My father said that he had seen all her movies and that he was madly in love with her. So, can you imagine, she’s walking down the aisle. I mean my mom… my father must have thought it was an apparition. It was an angel from heaven or something. She had in one hand crosses and she had in the other hand mezuzahs. A mezuzah is a casing with a Jewish prayer inside. And she came walking down; she stopped where my father was. She took a mezuzah and gave it to him and then she kissed him on the forehead. Oh, my gosh! He must have thought he died and went to heaven. He told me, he said, “I needed family and she was there.”

Well, now my dad fights a different kind of battle. He has prostate cancer. He’s softer now, more gentle. His blinders don’t work anymore and he can’t protect his fortress. His fortress that had kept our family so safe with his belief that if we all stayed inside the fortress, nothing could penetrate and hurt us.

Well, those weren’t on anymore, the blinders or the fortress. and last November my husband and I went to Normandy. We went and we saw all the things that he had lived through.

We would call him every single day and we’d compare the sights we had seen with what he saw. And we said, “Dad, today we went to see the beaches of, of D-Day. We saw the bunkers, the German bunkers. And my husband even called him from the American Cemetery. “Dad, tomorrow we’re going to go to St. Lo, the place where you got injured the second time.”

Now St. Lo was taken over by the Germans and totally destroyed. In fact, the writer Samuel Becker describes it as “The Capital of the Ruins.” It was that decimated and devastated.

When we got to St. Lo, we went right to the information tourist office and we asked, “Are there any World War II memorials?”

She told us that they were all closed for the season. We told her all about my father and how he had been injured in St. Lo. And she said, “Come back at five o’clock. I’m going to take you there myself.”

And so, we did. We came back at five and she introduced us to this small, little, French elderly man. His name was Mr. Letribot. And he introduced himself and said, “I am the curator of the World War II memorial. I would like to take you there myself.”

It was beautiful. It was in a 12th century chapel, La Chapelle de la Madeleine. He told us that it was the first time in his life he had ever had a piece of gum, given to him by an American soldier. It was the first time he ever had an Americ… eh, had a cigarette too. Also given to him by a soldier. And we told him about my father. He told us about the 29th. We had learned a little bit about how the 29th American Military Division had come in and they had liberated St. Lo during that July of 1944. And we told them how my father was in the 28th and they came in afterwards to relieve them. He smiled. He said, “It was your father’s division that had liberated my sister’s village not far from here. What your father did for us.”

And it made me think, “Did my… was my father ever thanked by anybody or soldiers ever thanked?”

And I looked over at my husband and there he was dialing my father in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He said, “Stanley, we’re here in a World War II memorial and there’s someone that would like to talk to you.”

Monsieur Letribot got on the phone and he said, “Thank you so much for what you did for me and for my people. You came all the way over from America and you didn’t even know me. Thank you.”

And my father, oh, my father said, “You’re welcome. It was my pleasure. I did what I thought was right. Nobody has ever thanked me before.”

68 years later this conversation took place, 68 years after my father left France. Inside of a chapel whose walls are adorned with the military… American military flags with American medals with the… with the pictures of photographs of American fallen soldiers. And here was a liberated Frenchman saying, “Thank you” to a Jewish American soldier. And my father, well, he wore no blinders to protect his feelings… and he cried.

A Window of Beauty: A Story of Courage from the Holocaust

 

Story Summary:

 Nancy tells an excerpt from “A Window of Beauty,” a story inspired by the experiences of a young girl, her remarkable teacher and their secret art classes in the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia during World War II. It is a tale of courage, friendship and the power of artistic expression to sustain hope and light the way during the darkest of times.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Window-of-Beauty-A-Story-of-Courage-from-the-Holocaust

Discussion Questions:

  1.  The story of Friedl and Rutie tells of the deep relationship between teacher and student. One child described the experience of being in Friedl’s secret art classes in the concentration camp at Terezin: “Friedl. We called her Friedl.  Everything was forgotten for a couple of hours. We forgot all the troubles we had.” What was Friedl’s legacy as a teacher? What memorable teacher in your own life was a rescuer or a life changer for you?
  2. How does a human being survive a tragedy such as the Holocaust?
  3. In what way is artistic expression – the creation of poetry, art or music and so forth – a form of resistance against oppression? How does it compare to the uprising of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII?

Resources:

  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, 2nd edition, 1993.
  • Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker Brandeis and the Children of Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin,
  • Art, Music and Education as Strategies for Survival: Theresienstadt 1941 – 1945 edited by Anne. D. Dutlinger

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Nancy Shapiro-Pikelny. When I was 11 years old, I received this book as a gift. It’s a collection of poetry and art that was done in the concentration camp Terezin. It was created in defiance of Nazi brutality. The name of the book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. It was created by children, secretly and courageously. Now in that book there was only a brief mention of a drawing teacher, nothing more. And for years, I wondered who was this brave teacher and who were her students? I recently discovered a story of one student, a girl whose nickname was a Zuti, little rabbit. A name that was lovingly given to her by her friends because of her enormous buck teeth. Her real name was Rutie Shaffner. The Nazi sent Rutie Shaffner to the concentration camp in Terezin.  And she was put in building L-410, room 28, along with many other girls her age. And there, the children suffered from disease and starvation. But Rutie’s life was lifted up out of the horror of the Holocaust through art, because of her teacher an artist. A woman named Friedl Dicker Brandeis.  I want to tell you a story, an excerpt from a story that I call, “A Window Of Beauty,” that I created by gathering remnants of history and also by imagining the missing pieces. Imagining all of the lost threads, in the winter of 1944, in the concentration camp in Terezin, Czechoslovakia.

One day Rutie Shaffner decided to go on a hunt to find any art materials that her teacher Friedl could possibly use in their secret art classes. She began her hunt at the first light of dawn. She went into an alley and found a box and she grabbed it away from a rat that was chewing on the corner of it. And in that alley, there was charcoal and string and wire. She filled the box and then she headed out from the alley when she saw, in the distance, a group of Nazi soldiers crossing the street, coming in her direction. She didn’t know what to do, so she slipped into the doorway of a building. She crouched down low. Her heart was pounding. What if they see me? What if they find me here? Well, the building seemed empty and so Rutie dared to go inside. And in that building, Rutie made a wonderful discovery – paper. Paper! Stacks of ledger paper, office paper that had been left in that abandoned building. Rutie filled the box. And when the soldiers had gone, she ran all the way to her building L-410, room 28, up those three flights of stairs and she brought that box of treasures to Friedl. And from the odds and ends in that box, Friedl was able to teach those children the art of collage making. Rutie cut the shapes, and she tore them, pasted it on that ledger paper, and when she had finished, Rutie had created the sunrise in Terezin.

Well, the snows of winter eventually melted. And in the spring the Nazis needed to make a plan – how to fool the International Red Cross. You see, the Red Cross was coming to Terezin in the summer for an inspection. And so, the Nazis needed to make that concentration camp look beautiful for one day – the day of the inspection. And so, the Nazis ordered the Jews to paint the fronts of buildings, to clean up the garbage in the alleys, to build a playground. A playground that would be used for that one day only. The day of the inspection. And the last part of the Nazi plan, so that the Red Cross would not see the overcrowded conditions and Terezin, the Nazis increased the number of transports to the east to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

It was on a Thursday that they posted the next list. And among the 2,000 Jews on that list was Rutie Shaffner, little Zuti, little rabbit. She was only 13 years old. Now nobody, none of the people on the list, knew what it meant to be sent on a transport to the east. And so, they hurried to find anything that they could take with them on the train. A spoon, a tin cup, or a prayer book, a ragged blanket. And there was tremendous commotion and fear as the Nazis called out names and numbers and pushed the Jews into the cattle cars. And there stood little Rutie in that crowd. And she remembered her friends up in room 28. How they had loved her and protected her for the last few years.

She was trembling when she heard Friedl calling her name. And she looked up and saw that Friedl was making her way through the crowd. Friedl came up to her and said, “O,h Rutie, I came to say goodbye and I’m glad I found you. And I want you to take this with you on the train. One of the last drawings you did as my student. Look what a wonderful artist you have become, Rutie.” And when she heard that her face broke wide open into a huge smile those buck teeth in full view.

“No, Friedl, I want you to have the drawing. You keep it.” And Friedl did. Friedl and the girls of room 28 never saw Rutie Shaffner again. She was taken to the gas chambers of Auschwitz where she died on May 18th, 1944.

Now in September of that year, Friedl asked a friend of hers to help her fill suitcases with the many drawings collages and paintings from the children that she had saved for the past two years. They filled those suitcases, carried them up to the attic above room 28, and hid them there. In the following month on October 6th, 1944 the Nazis sent Friedl and hundreds and hundreds of children, and women, and men on cattle cars bound for the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Their lives ended there but their story did not. Because when the war was over, those suitcases filled with all their artwork… they were discovered, and taken to the Jewish museum in Prague and eventually published some of that artwork was published in this book. Now in the latest edition of this book, there appears Rutie’s sunrise collage. In Hebrew, we say zekher tzadik livrakha, may their memories be for a blessing. And I hope that we can make their lives a blessing by telling these stories about real people who had names and faces and a love for beauty and creativity. People like Friedl and Rutie.

Special Blends: A Youthful Perspective on Multi-Cultural, Multi-Ethnic Heritage

 

Story Summary:

 Amber, Misty, and Autumn – three multi-ethnic sisters – offer a sneak peek into their thoughts about self-identification. These storytellers also share a medley of emotional experiences about how they have sometimes been viewed by others. From skin color to hair texture, from humor to poignant reflection, these dynamic young women personify Dr. Maria P. P. Root’s, Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Special-Blends-A-Youthful-Perspective-On-Multi-Cultural-Multi-Ethic-Heritage

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should agencies require people of mixed heritage to check one box for their “race”? Why or why not?
  2. Does not choosing just one race imply that a person of multi-ethnic heritage is somehow denying any one part of his or her heritage? Explain.
  3. What are some challenges that may arise for multi-ethnic siblings?
  4. Some believe that since the number of people of mixed heritage has increased, that being “mixed” is no longer a “big thing”. Do you agree?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi! My name is Amber Saskill and these are my sisters.

This is Misty (Hi!) and this is Autumn Joy (Hi!) and we are affectionately called the Sass Lasses and we’re a multi-ethnic background. So our story today is called “Special Blends.” It’s a youthful perspective of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic heritage.

Now we’re a blend of Jewish, African-American and Native American heritage. And the interesting thing about our three blends is that at one point in time, they were all persecuted or oppressed. For example, there was the Jewish Holocaust. There was the captivity enslavement and enslavement of our African ancestors and then, too, our Native American people. They were massacred and their land was taken away from them. But the interesting thing about people who have been enslaved, persecuted and oppressed is that they become stronger, more resilient people and we’re products of that. And even though, personally, I’ve been able to relate always to my different… my different cultures, piece by piece, it was interesting how by watching two films that really helped me to see the plight of mixed people in other areas of the world.

For instance, in South Africa there was a film during apartheid. And apartheid was racial segregation that took place from 1948 to 1994 and that’s during my lifetime. It wasn’t my mom’s generation or my grandmother’s generation; that happened in my lifetime. And to know that people of mixture were persecuted and oppressed because of the way they looked, that really touched me. And in this one film in South Africa, it talked about a girl who looked mixed and she associated herself with that even though that her parents looked visibly white. And even though she associated herself as being mixed, she was outcast from society and disowned by her very own family. And that really touched me on a deep personal level! And, in addition to that, I watched a film that took place in Australia. And it was the true life story of… in the mid 1900’s how the Aborigines and Australians, how they mixed together and had children that, later on, were actually discriminately called half caste. And these half caste were corralled and put into re-education camps where they were tried to be bred out of existence by being sort of diluted so that there was never any evidence that they ever existed before. And that’s called, actually, “the stolen generation.” And to think about these people that were actually sought after because they were mixed, that touched me so deeply!

That is so scary! In an attempt to eliminate a visual reminder of such a union, you know. And on a different level, that’s kind of what happened to my mom and me. We were getting ready to perform for this great storytelling festival. And before we could even get started, the festival coordinators, they slapped this big old sensor bar right across two of our stories. My mom was going to perform a story; it was a really funny fiasco of what happened when she and my dad first got married. (OK, I love that story!) And I was going to perform a story called “My Two Grandmas,” which is really close to my heart. And it’s a story where I bring to life memories of my Grandmama Rose and her Afro-Choctaw background and my Gram Blossom with her Russian-Ukrainian-Polish-Moroccan-Jewish background. And it’s one that tells of how they are from two different worlds but at the end of the story, you see that they’re really dynamic women. And they taught us, their granddaughters, to be dynamic women ourselves. But they did ask us remove the story and those two stories. And so we did; we’re professionals. But we did write a formal letter of complaint and we received a written apology back. But at the end of the day when the sun had set, we had been asked to compromise. And that’s pretty much my life. I’m mixed. I am asked to compromise.

And, really, as surprising as it may seem, as mixed people, we have to compromise all the time. It actually makes me think of something that happened to me not too long ago. A couple of years ago, I went to the DMV to apply for my learner’s permit and I filled out all the paperwork and I turned it in. And the woman behind the desk curtly informed me that I had forgotten to choose a race. And I politely told her that there was no box that says multi-racial so there was no box that I thought was appropriate for me to check. And she impatiently told me that I should just pick one of my races. And it’s funny this… this question comes up so often as… as people with mixed heritages. The infamous question, “What are you?” ((Right!)

And my first inclination is to say, “Well, I’m a human. I’m a woman. I’m a teenager. I’m a musician. I’m a student. I’m a sister, a daughter and a friend.”

Now I know if I ever really responded like that, their response would probably be, “No, really! What are you?” But, really, this is a really difficult question to answer because what I am or rather who I am involves so much more. Who I am is not… cannot be defined by checking black or white or any other box. Who I am is a complex amalgamation of my cultural influences, my experiences, my family, my friends, my beliefs and my interests. Some of these things change all the time. So for me to choose one of those boxes would be not only labeling myself but forcing me to identify with only one of my ethnicities. And that’s something I refuse to do because I identify with all my ethnicities. (And really it’s so true! Why would you forsake mother or father?) (Exactly!)

Yeah, and on a different note, in any typical family, siblings might look different and have different likes and dislikes. And I think in our family, we’re the same way. My sisters and I, we have differences; we have similarities. And I think that my two sisters, actually, they kind of favor each other a little more and I feel like I look a little bit different. So I think that our experiences as mixed children are different as well, especially my experience. I think, depending on where I go, I’m described as different ways. Like in some cultures, I’m described as the red-toned one. In other cultures or countries I’ve been to, they describe me as la morena or the darker one. But still in other cultures or societies I go to, I’m described as the light-skinned one. So there you go! I’m red, I’m dark, I’m light but still depending on where I’m at, my experiences are different than those of my sister… my sisters. And too, I really feel that because I look a little different than them, I would shudder to think that if that caste system, that racial segregation still existed to this day, what would happen with us? Would we be segregated from one another?

That’s something to think about. You know and if we’re not being judged by our skin or eye color, then we’re being judged by our hair. (Yeah!) And as you can plainly see, we’re curly girls and we’re very proud of it. And what do they say? “You don’t talk politics, you don’t talk religion and you don’t talk hair texture. (Right?) And titles like good hair versus bad hair is just unfair. We believe that all hair types and textures are beautiful and to be celebrated. In fact, a singer India Arie… she sings a song.

Oh yeah! Is that the one that goes something like this? “I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.”

(Very true words.) Yeah! I couldn’t agree more. And a friend of mine got married to a man of another race and so they had a bi-racial daughter. And she inspired me to write this kind of lighthearted book geared towards tween… tween girls. You don’t even have to be mixed, just have curly hair to appreciate it. And this is an excerpt from that book,

I got into a fight one day, a rough and tumble with my hair.

I hadn’t combed it in two weeks so all would stop and stare.

My comb jumped in and tried to help but the fight just wasn’t fair.

It wrestled, it teased, it lost some teeth, got lost up in that hair.

The more I pried, the more I cried, the bigger it would grow.

I could not deny, from each side, it had turned into a fro.

And then I passed the mirror and I sucked my lip back in.

An idea began to gather and I grabbed some bobby pins.

My hands twirled and tucked those curls and, much to my surprise,

They calmly let me shift them, shape them into a design.

No longer were they rebellious. No nothing of the kind.

It was I who needed to see; it was I who had been blind

To the great beauty these curls so majestically possess.

Yes, with African-Cherokee-Choctaw-Iroquois-Jewish, I’ve been blessed.

So from that day forward, I pledged a pledge that with our hair or eyes or skin,

Never again would I define my heritage to fit in

With other girls

Who have no curls.

No, I’ll never feel chagrined.

They say the eyes, color aside, are the window to the soul.

So, too, this hair, curled everywhere, is gorgeous, free and bold!

(Woo! Love that bold) (Me, too!)

Well, I’m sure that my sisters agree with me that although as people with mixed heritages, we face so many difficulties but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. We’ve been called names like Oreos, mutts. We’ve been even called mulatto, which is actually a Spanish term for a mixture between a donkey and a horse. So we’ve been called many names but thanks to our parents Rick and Sadarri Saskill and our grandparents, we truly have been able to see that each of us are a deliciously concocted, “special blend!”

 

Unsung Hero: How My Uncle Was Saved from the KKK

 

Story Summary:

 Sadarri retells a story of heroism that her mother, Rose, remembered as a child. The story takes place in Holly Springs, Mississippi in the late 1920’s when Sadarri’s Uncle Carl was set to be lynched for “speaking out of turn”. This story is about the unlikely hero who saved the life of Carl Esko Lucas who was truly a Black man dead and resurrected from the dust.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Unsung-Hero-How-My-Uncle-Was-Saved-from-the-KKK

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What effects did the jailing of Carl and the actions of the KKK have on his family?
  2. Why is the story called Unsung Hero?
  3. Was the deputy the only hero in the story? Explain. What does being a true hero mean to you?

Resources:

  • They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
  • Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case, (By Chris Crowe)
  • Simeon’s Story: An Eyewitness Account of the Kidnapping of Emmett Till
  • (By Simeon Wright and Herb Boyd)
  • Online Resource: http://www.myhero.com/go/home.asp

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • European American/Whites
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Sadarri Saskill. It’s about 1992 and my mother, she went back to her hometown of Palm Springs, Mississippi to visit. And she hadn’t been there, ah, very recently and so she was taking pictures all around. And finally, my mom and my dad ended up downtown. And my dad took a picture of my mom in front of this plaque. And on this plaque were the names of war heroes that were engraved right there.

And so they came back to, to Naples, Florida where we lived, and they showed us the pictures. And when we got to that particular picture, it was crystal clear. And I remember, my mom and I, we read the names that were on the list. Then, all of a sudden, I noticed that my mother had a look in her eye and it was a look that I couldn’t quite put a bead on. I didn’t know what it was about but I knew that there was a, one last name that was on that plaque that ended up sparking a story. And it was a story about my mother’s brother, Carl.

My uncle Carl who was almost lynched by the KKK, by the mob, by the Klan, okay. I had never heard this story before. And when I did I was horrified. I, kind of, bristled up and everything. But then when I turned and I looked at my mother, her expression was somehow softer. So I got to thinking, well, maybe it was a long time ago or maybe she was kind of numb because of all the emotion and everything. But then she told the story, I figured that couldn’t be it because she was telling you so vividly, you know. She talked about the, the white mass against the dark sky and, and she talked about remembering the smells and the sounds that were in the air. It was something else that was going on.

Well, as she told the story, she told that, my uncle, he had been accused of talking to a white girl. And sometimes in some places in Mississippi, that was punishable by death. And here he was, he spoke to a white girl the wrong way. And so people decided that they were going to be able to take action. Now what happened was that same day they put my uncle in jail. And here he was in the jail and there was a deputy that was going to watch over him.

But in the meantime, the mob was so upset, that they wanted to make an example out of my uncle. That what they did was, they decided that they were gonna storm the jailhouse. But they did not know who they were reckoning with! Mm hmm! Because when they got there, my Grandfather Bill, he had gotten together a black posse of his own. And he was going to stand toe to toe with the Klan. Now that’s not something that happened in the 20s and 30s in Mississippi. It didn’t happen that way. But he stood there face to face with this formidable group of people.

Well, it seemed like all was lost. And the numbers were just not even, so that the number of blacks that were there. I remember that I started thinking about them with my mother and what she was telling me the story.  And I thought these men, that were black going against these men, who were white. At the time, that was something else because they were going to put their lives in jeopardy. They were going to put their families lives in jeopardy. And I remember telling my mother that these men were real heroes. And they were, because you mess with the Klan, mm hmm, and not live to tell about it. You didn’t do that because the Klan, they meant business.

So here they were face to face. And the mob, they could see that they were outnumbered. So the people in the mob they decided that what they were going to do was, they were going to go back and they were going to regroup. And they were gonna come back with more men before dawn because the next day, that’s when the trial was going to happen. This so-called fair trial was supposed to happen that next morning. And so when all of this happened, each group, the black group and the white group, they went in their separate directions in order to regroup. Whatever the outcome is gonna to be, we knew from this story that was being told to the family, that was going to be a whole lot of bloodshed before the sun came up.

Anyway, at dawn my grandfather, he came with all of the men that he had. But guess what? The mob had beaten them to the punch. They were already there at the jail house. And then, my mama, she, kind of, had a little smirk on the side of her face. And she told me that the mob and the deputy were fit to be tied. And you know why? Because my uncle, Carl Esko Lucas, had escaped like Houdini. They said that Carl, he was gone like a turkey through the corn. That’s the way my mother put it. That he had escaped!

So you can imagine the relief, the relief that my mother’s family felt. They feel so happy that he was safe. But they were a close family and they knew that Carl would always manage to be able to get a little message or something to them. But there was none. There was nothing. They waited a little bit longer. And there still was no message. So they got the wondering and they started thinking that wait a minute. And then rumors started trickling in. You know how rumors are. And the rumor had it that maybe, maybe Carl had  not actually escaped. Maybe the mob had actually killed Carl and dumped his body someplace because it was plenty of rivers and ravines in and back woods that they could hide a body, you know. And the reason for that would be that my mother’s family, the Lucas’s, they were a good  family. They were an outstanding family. They were a respected family. They never did anything wrong to anybody, in fact, they always lend a helping hand. Didn’t make any difference if it was black, if it was white. They were going to help out. And so maybe the mob got to thinking that they could kill him, have their vengeance, you know.  But they can appease the townspeople at the same time. And it would be a win-win situation.

Well, you know, time went on and what we ended up finding was, as the time passed, the angrier my mother’s family got. Weeks went by, months went by, years went by. In fact, my grandmother, Miss Etta, she died. And then about 10 years later, look who came like somebody resurrected from the dust, walking up the road. Nobody else then Carl Esko Lucas. And when my mother told me that part of the story, I said, “What? Who? He did what?” And she said, “Yep.  He came walking up the road with enough information to set the story straight.”

And so Carl told the truth. He told what exactly had happened that night long ago. Long ago when those two groups of men, the white group and the black group, when they separated and they were there alone in the cell. It was the deputy that ended up helping my uncle escape. He gave ‘im some food, he gave ‘im a little money, he gave the names of, of white folks that could help him on his, on his trip up north. But the two men, they had to make a solemn promise. They couldn’t tell a soul so that nobody’s family would get killed. And my mom said that her brother told her, my uncle, that they sealed it with a hug and they never saw each other again. And it wasn’t until that deputy and the members of that angry mob, until after they had either died or they moved on, that my brother, my mother’s brother, Carl, felt that it was safe to be able to return. And so they could recognize that it was because of love of family that he left and it was love of family that brought him back.

Now you remember that plaque? Mm hmm. The one that my mother showed the picture of? It was that last name that was the same as that deputy’s name. It was that name that was right there that triggered all these memories. And I remember, my mother, she told me that there’s good and there’s bad in every race. And my mother told me, she says, some people are recognized for the good deeds that they do and their names are put on, maybe, a plaque just like this. But there are other people that step up to the plate and they become heroes without anybody ever knowing about it at all. And that’s when I recognize that, that look that was in my mother’s eye. It wasn’t the look of horror. It wasn’t a look of disgust. It wasn’t a look of hate. It was a look of gratitude. Gratitude for a man who was bold enough to do the right thing.

DIWALI — From Darkness to Light, Hindus in America—Happy New Year!

 

Story Summary:

 A Goddess inspired story of the adversities faced and overcome by Archana’s family as they move form India to America. This is a story of identity, assimilation and race relations that ultimately honors different paths of healing and different religions. Overcoming health issues and life and death challenges, from Darkness to Light describes the embodiment of the Indian festival of Lights/Diwali that welcomes in the “new” in each and every one of us in a beautiful way.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: DIWALI-From-Darkness-to-Light-Hindus-in-America

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What other cultures include goddesses and talk about embodying the goddess energy? What does that mean?
  2. What is Diwali and what do people do on that day?
  3. What are some ways we can practice religious inclusion: as an individual, as a school or workplace and as a nation?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Interfaith

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Archana Lal-Tabak. My family is from the Pakistan side of India before the partition in 1947. In fact, my father was born in Burma and my mother was born in Kashmir and yet they had to flee again when they were young children. Burma is right by China on the east side of India, and near Tibet is Kashmir, which is in the northern state of India. They were persecuted there by the Muslims and the Communists and so they had to flee again in their young adolescent years. And they went to central India, north central India, a place called Kanpur. This is where they eventually met.

My father was there teaching medical school and my mother was a student at the medical school. And the patients all around were noticing that this gentleman was following my mom around and they said, “See that doctor who is looking at you?” And she had not noticed that he was looking at her. But, finally, he asked her out for an ice cream, which she could not really, even have because her stomach had been upset for many years and this is what had taken her into medicine. It turned out that later on, my father diagnosed that she had a retrocecal appendix many years later. And it must have been a sign of true love that he kind of knew what was going on and she was struggling. For two people who loved medicine, this was a true love story.

Actually, theirs was a love marriage. Back in those days, people in India did not cross over into different social castes or social hierarchy. They found that they were in north central India, however, and here people of different castes and different social status would, actually talk with each other and there were many faiths present. Finally, in this part of India they were able to practice their Hinduism without oppression and persecution. It turned out that my father, being rather poor in India, moved several times and I, myself, moved ten times by the time I was 13 years old. I was in Vietnam, in India, in America and back in India again.

And it so happens that one of those times when I was in India, I was about nine years old in 1972, staying with my favorite auntie and uncle and it was my favorite festival. This whole oppression of darkness to light, of… that my parents had been through reminded me of this festival Diwali, the Indian New Year, the Festival of Lights. And this festival was going on at the time that I was visiting India with my aunt and uncle. And at this beautiful festival, it turns out everyone decorates all of their houses with little tiny diyas – little tiny lights. They’re little ceramic pots that are decorated and they’re decorated with ghee or clarified butter inside with a little cotton wick coming out. Beautiful, beautiful lights and the whole house is decorated – inside and outside.

I was just totally amazed and intrigued by this beautiful festival. And I was playing with all the diyas, all the candles, all the wax, all the… all the little tiny tea lights and then, all of a sudden unbeknownst to me, I had been lit aflame. My uncle came over and put out my dress. I had, apparently, set myself on fire. And if I had not been careful or mindful and my uncle had not been watching, I would have been a burning girl somewhat like those women in India that used to throw themselves in their husband’s funeral pyre, back in the old days. Something I cannot even imagine. Now it turns out that this beautiful festival of Diwali, with the whole house is decorated, it’s cleaned, you’re wearing new clothes and eating delicious foods – complete multisensory experience – comes after these nine days of darkness. This nine days of the dark goddess Durga. And the goddess Durga is nine days of honoring how we ourselves transform internally from darkness to light. And there’s actually a ceremony where this huge statue that’s wooden and paper mâché of the evil god Raman, it’s burnt. This demon is burnt, publicly, like a huge burning man. And it, it’s amazing to me how many people were involved in all this when I was growing up. Pretty amazing!

Now when I was in India, I went to many different schools. Mostly, I went to the rector convent and different convents like Catholic schools run by nuns, that were English medium. But there was one time that I was in an Indian boarding school and in this school, the matron was a Sikh woman. It turns out that my father’s oldest brother was a Sikh as well. Apparently, in India, the oldest Hindu brother becomes a Sikh to protect the border because Hindus are mostly pacifists. Even though they have four castes and one of them is a warrior caste, they still have more pacifist tendency. So, the Sikhs protect the border. And I would sit with my matron in my boarding school and meditate with her and pray with her, with her Punjabi texts, just the way I used to sit and pray and meditate with my grandmother, Mummy Ji. Ji is a sign of respect in India, so often we’ll have names after a Ji. Mummy Ji and I would meditate and pray and so did I with this beautiful Sikh matron.

I loved looking at different cultures and religions. I went to the synagogues with my Jewish friends. I went to churches with my Christian friends and, of course, beautiful temples that were 5000 years old in India itself.

Now eventually my family moved to the states and we came here when I was 13 in 1977. When we came here, I went to a public school, which was a very interesting experience, culturally, as well. And I dated a few, maybe just a few Christian and Jewish men, you know, because Indian girls were supposed to have arranged marriages and not date. But I did. And I, actually married my first husband, who was Jewish, and then later on I met my current husband Jim. And although Jim was Greek and Slovakian, he had been doing yoga and meditation for several decades and we had a lot in common. We were meant to be together. He, actually, prepared an ayurvedic meal for me on one of our first dates. Now how many American men cook ayurvedic meals? Not many. Ayurveda, actually, is the knowledge or science of life in India. It is 5000 years old and I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

But, basically, what I found was that through the oppression and the persecution that many, many generations and cultures have gone through, often that is transmitted in the families. And my own family, I found, had suffered a lot of adversity and several had died way too young. In fact, in my 20s, I, myself, suffered from debilitating illnesses including a serious autoimmune illness. And, at that time, I was led to studying Indian medicine and the western field of psycho neuro immunology. My family is all physicians. They’re all trained in western medicine and I found that I was able to completely heal myself through the psycho neuro immunology using some natural lifestyle factors, which I later learned were present in ayurveda.

And when I did workshops and this, my mom would come and say, “Well, that’s how we live. We eat this way, we dress this way, we behave this way, we walk like this.”

And it’s, basically, so much a part of the Indian culture. This knowledge or science of life is a part of the whole Indian culture, part of the Hindu religion so that the people would do it. So, they have fasts for detoxification during Navaratri, which was that… the goddess Ji I told you about. And then they have celebrations like Diwali with the multisensory experience of eating. In fact, my mom always said, “Make sure there’s every color of the rainbow in every meal.”

And it turns out, holistically, that is the best way to eat to get all your anti-oxidants, to get all your nutrition. Now I hope that as I’ve raised my son who is now 17 years old and (his name is Anand, which means bliss) that I can teach him some of these things that I have learned.

And we have raised him with yoga and meditation and some new thoughts, Christian traditions and other traditions. And, in fact, since we are cross-cultural couple and interfaith, we really honor all paths. And at our son’s school, we’ve often tried to take in the Hindu culture and the foods and the multisensory experience but often met resistance, at times, because people didn’t understand that the Indian Diwali, Festival of Lights, the Indian New Year was similar to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, and even similar to Christmas and the winter solstice. It was a winter festival of light.

I imagine that someday, perhaps, people would understand this more and they would be a little tiny stamp just like those other stamps for the New Years and the festivals of light, that there would be a Diwali stamp, as well, a stamp that would have a little tiny diya, beautifully decorated with a little cotton wick in the ghee coming out to celebrate the Indian New Year and the Festival of Light.

I often find that when I need some help, I turn to the goddesses because in India, people have many gods and goddesses. It’s polytheistic, pantheistic. There’s a god and goddess for everyone. And even as I was developing this beautiful story for you, I found that I was stuck at times and I needed some prosperity, abundance, inspiration, creativity. So, I called in the goddesses. I had goddess Durga helping me from the inaction and darkness and paralysis of the trauma that my family went through to the light. I had goddess Lakshmi with prosperity and abundance that is celebrated during Diwali. And I had goddess Saraswati and she was the one with the creativity and the arts, came in to help me with the story. So, in India we embody all these gods and goddesses and thank goodness for Ganesh, the elephant god, who removes the obstacles along the way. And I’m so grateful to be here with these gods and goddesses today, embodying them and honoring the divine in all of us. Thank you.

The Spark of the Jew

jerry-story.
Over centuries, Jews have created a vibrant folklore—a rich body of stories that reflect the humor, heart, wisdom, and pain of a remarkable group of people on the path of an extraordinary history. Keeping alive this tradition are modern storytellers like Gerald Fierst, whose stories speak to the wonder, joy and sorrow of growing up Jewish.

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For Fierst, the approach of the High Holy Days always stirs vivid memories of childhood. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, a day on which Jews look back over the past year and forward to the year to come. It’s followed a week later by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As a child, Gerry hated these “Days of Awe,” which required fasting, prayer, and owning up to one’s failings, petty jealousies and transgressions.

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But at the conclusion of the Day of Atonement, the ram’s horn—the shofar—is blown in the synagogue to announce the new year. With that, the slate is wiped clean and the fast is broken.

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The sound of the ram’s horn inspires in Fierst a powerful sense of wonder, and a deep feeling of connection to the lives and faith of his ancestors. “It sounds the sounds of the ages. It’s the sound of Moses coming down the mountain, the sound of the children of Israel leaving Egypt, the sound of Abraham, the father of all three of our religions.”

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The High Holy Days also bring memories of loss and sorrow. Each year when the new year comes, Fierst attends the memorial service for the dead in remembrance of his mother. Again, he waits for the ram’s horn to be blown. And that sound calls to mind a conversation Fierst had with his mother when he was a little boy. He wondered aloud what happens to people when they die, “what happens to the life force, the energy?” His mother answered, “A little bit of us goes to everyone we love.”

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And that reminds Fierst of a Yiddish expression: “the spark of the Jew.” Though he may not be an observant Jew or follow all 613 commandments, “the spark that my parents put inside of me, it lives.”

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Storytelling, according to Hasidic teaching, is a holy activity equal to Torah study or prayer. For storytellers like Gerald Fierst, it’s a way to retain the heart of traditions, and to stay connected to his ancestors, faith and community.
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How Do You Say Blueberry in Spanish?

 

Story Summary:

 Antonio explores the challenges and joys of trying to raise a bilingual child. As anxious new parents, Antonio and his wife ask, “Are two languages better than one?” and find humor along the way.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: How Do You Say Blueberry In Spanish

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Antonio and his wife begin to doubt their choice of raising their son to be bilingual?
  2. What is the advantage of speaking more than one language?
  3. Two-way Immersion (TWI) classes or bilingual immersion classrooms are springing up in many urban/suburban communities where people new to America settle. What used to be a rare challenge for the public schools has become mandatory. Also, many English-only speakers want these programs because parents understand that their children’s world is much more global than the world in which they grew up. Would you put your child into classes that teach core subjects in a language other than English?

Resource:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Antonio Sacre. Have you ever felt in your head that what you were doing was right but in your heart, you weren’t so sure? When my son was born, my wife and I decided we were going to speak to him in English and Spanish. So, my wife would sing and talk to him in English, and I would sing and talk to my son in Spanish.

And as the months went by and he began to crawl, we began to think, “What will his first word be? Will it be in English? Mommy. Or Spanish? Papa. Cat or Gato?”

And when he was about 9 or 10 months he said his first word. “Ba.” I said to my wife, “What did he say?” She said, “I think he said, ‘Ba.’” Ok, it wasn’t English or Spanish but it was a clearly enunciated syllable.

And we knew from our parenting books that real speech was not too far behind. And it was cute. The first few things that he said was “Ba” for everything. Cat-“Ba,” dog-“Ba,” Mommy-“Ba,” Daddy-“Ba,” fire truck-“ Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba.” And we would laugh. Now after a while, it was still just “ba” and I was beginning to get a little worried, although I didn’t say anything about that to my wife.

Then our neighbor, Catherine, came over. She’s a high school teacher in the Los Angeles school district and she has a couple kids. She lives just, lives a couple homes up; we love her. And she asked, innocently enough, “So is your son speaking any words yet?”

I said, “Yeah, yeah. Watch this. What do baseball players play with, Honey?”

“Ba.”

“That’s right. A bat. And what you take before you go to sleep? A…”

“Ba.”

“That’s right a bath. And what’s on the other side of your chest?”

“Ba.”

“What’s the opposite of good?”

“Ba.”

“What’s Ebenezer Scrooge’s favorite word?”

“Ba.”

“What’s the chemical symbol for Barium?”

“Ba.”

“What difficult exam do lawyers need to pass?”

“Ba.”

“See Catherine, my son is a genius!” and we had a huge laugh about it. And Catherine left and that night, though, I sat my wife done after we put our son to sleep. And I said, “Ya know? Maybe we’re not doing the right thing. Maybe he’s confused? Maybe we should just speak to him in English and then he’ll learn Spanish as he got older?”

My wife said, “No, absolutely not! We are going to raise him bilingually.” I love that about her. Things that, in my heart, I wasn’t sure that we doing the right thing for our son. And I decided that we would continue to speak to him bilingually at least until we saw our pediatrician in a couple of months.

Now the reason that this was part of our discussion about raising our son is that my father is from Cuba. And when he came here, he didn’t have any English and it was so hard for him. And all my life growing up I heard about how great it would have been if he had been bilingual. He did learn English eventually, and he met my mom who is Irish American. So, I’m Cuban Irish American. Or like a friend of mine calls me a leprechauno.

I grew up speaking both Spanish and English because my grandmother lived with us. She came from Cuba, as well, and only spoke Spanish. So in my life, I was bilingual. When I got to be about 6 or 7, I stopped speaking Spanish because kids at school made fun of me. And when I got older, that precious gift of speaking those two languages, was gone. Now luckily for me, my grandmother made sure that I continued to speak Spanish. And as a high school student, I learned Spanish from her. And so all of this was part of my background. We wanted to raise our son in these two languages. I knew how important it was but I still was worried about his ability to communicate.

So then we went to see the pediatrician. Dr. George is so sweet and he looked at our son and checked him out. Everything was fine. And then I said to him that I was a little worried about his language. And he said, “No, no, no!” He was adamant that we raise son our son in two languages. He said that kids that have two languages, of course, get to communicate with more people. But, also, there is a lot of research that supports that when they are raised bilingually, their brains are actually stronger in many other functions; not just language.

I had doctor’s orders. Raise my son in two languages. That made me feel a little better. And a few weeks after that visit, my son actually spoke his first word. He said, clear as day, “ball.” Oh, we were so excited! And it was a few… couple days after that, he began to speak more words and then it came in like a flood. Words in both English and in Spanish. It was fantastic! And whenever he said a word in English, I made sure that he knew the Spanish equivalent. So when he said “ball,’ I said “pelota.” And when he said, “Thanks,” I said, “Gracias.” And when he said, “Fire truck!” I said, “Camión de bomberos.” And when he said, “Blueberry,” I said, “Variedad de arándano que es azul.” Why does Spanish need thirteen syllables to say blueberry? I called my dad, “How do you say blueberry?” He said, “Mi hijo,” which means my son, “we didn’t have blueberries in Cuba.” So I looked it up in the dictionary and it says variedad de arándano que es azul, a variety of cranberry that is blue. Ah! It’s driving me crazy!

But there are some words in Spanish that are so beautiful in Spanish they don’t translate into English. And the way my father says to his grandson, “Mi tesoro, mi vida, mi alma, mi corazón,” my love, my heart, my treasure, my soul. It really means, Sweetie or Honey but it doesn’t really translate. And the specificity of English is amazing. We have blueberries and boysenberries and blackberries and raspberries and strawberries. And in Spanish they are just arándanos (berries). So I want my son to have those two languages.

It was pretty exciting! And as we are going along, my son and I would make up our own vernacular. So I have a little watch alarm and it went off one day and my son says, “Oye, Papa, que es eso?” (What is that?) And I didn’t know how to say the watch alarm that chimes on the hour.

So, I said, “Suena las campanas.” It just came to my mind. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. And a few weeks later, I was with my dad and my son and my little watch alarm went off.

And my son said, “Abuelo, suena las campanas.”

And my dad started laughing. I said, “What, what did he say?”

He said, “Mi hijo, it doesn’t really translate but what your son said to me was, ‘Granddad, the bell tolls for thee.’”

So now whenever we hear a bell or a bong or a horn, my son says, “Suena las campanas, the bell tolls for thee!” And so my dad now calls my son, Campanas, (Bell). The first of many nicknames my son is gonna have from my dad as he grows up – a Cuban tradition!

Well, now that my son is older and we’re beginning to think about school for him, I have discovered dual language programs. Dual language programs are when the kids study half the day, or more or less, in one language and half the day in English. It could be Spanish or Japanese or Chinese – whatever it is. Now in Los Angeles, ironically, there are a lot of dual language programs but none close to our house. And the ones that we can get into in other districts are very far away. But I still thinks this is what’s right. I actually did some research and I found out that the research team of Thomas and Collier state that kids’ tests scores are actually higher in junior high if they study in both languages. And we wanted that for our son. Well, I mentioned that to Catherine, our neighbor, and I said, “You know what, the waiting lists are really long and they are really far away.”

And she said, “Oh, no! Your son doesn’t have to be on the waiting list because he speaks both languages already. He’s at an advantage because of that.” And then I knew in my heart we were doing the right thing. And then she said, “Why don’t you send him to our local elementary school?”

And we said, “We’d love to but it just doesn’t have a dual language program. That’s a huge part of what we want.” A week later she called us and said she had marched down to the principal’s office and said that if they wanted, they could institute a dual language program. I never thought…it never even occurred to me to do that. And here’s this neighbor doing that for us, for our family. And a month after that, there was a meeting at the school about possibly instituting this dual language program. I was moved by Catherine’s desire to help us, to help the neighborhood. Now will that dual language program go? I don’t know. But I’m moved by Catherine’s work and by the neighborhood and the principal.

And like my dad said, “Centavo a centavo se llena elsaco.” Penny by penny, we fill the sack.

The Restaurant Story: A French American Becomes More Visible

 

Story Summary:

As Franco-Americans from Quebec assimilated into the larger Anglo culture in the United States, they became, as a result of that effort, more “invisible.” The story that Michael tells, as Jean-Paul Boisvert, shows a couple’s resistance to that “invisibility.”

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Restaurant-Story-A-French-American-Becomes-More-Visible

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you know when “your people” came to the United States? If you do not, is it because, in their effort to assimilate, they also became “invisible”?
  2. Were “your people” able to assimilate successfully? Or did they accommodate to the Anglo culture to the point where they became “invisible”?
  3. Did your grandparents or parents ever speak a language other than English? Were they able to learn English and also continue to speak their “native” language even if it was a dialect of the language rather than the “standard” version?
  4. Have you ever had to “bite your tongue” to fit in, or assimilate into a culture? Do you think it was wise of the narrator of the story not to “bite his tongue” and speak up?

Resources:

  • The Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn by Mary Rice-DeFosse and James Myall, The History Press, Charleston, S.C. 2015.  (A lively exploration of the challenges of the French-speaking immigrants from Canada who came to work in the textile industry.)
  • The First Franco-Americans by C. Stewart Doty, The University of Maine Press, Orono, ME 1985. (Well edited New England Life Histories from the Federal Writers’ Project.)

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Michael Parent. A few weeks ago, I was in residence at one of the elementary schools in my hometown of Lewiston, Maine. And I couldn’t help but notice that the kids there was so visible and so audible. Many of them are African immigrants from Somalia, from Sudan, from Cote d’Ivoire, and they were visible. The girls in their colorful clothing. The boys and girls, both of them, both the boys and girls, had wonderful speech. They were all dark skinned so they really stood out. They were visible and audible. And it led me to think that my own people, the Franco-Americans, who came down from Quebec a few generations ago, had become invisible and inaudible.

So, I started thinking about this, when they arrived from Quebec mostly, to work in the textile mills of New England, they were visible and audible. Well, they had Catholic religion. They had their French accents and their French language. They loved to get together in family gatherings. They loved loud singing and dancing, music, loud conversation in large groups. Now, my grandparents and my great grandparents were part of this immigration of about 1.5 million French Canadians who mostly came to try to find work in the textile mills of New England. Many of these people thought they would come down work for a few years and return to Quebec to revive their sagging farms. Well, most did not return. And the people who stayed, banded together in their own neighborhoods called, Peu Kanata, Little Canada. And in those neighborhoods, they tried to preserve their language and their traditions. And this slowed their assimilation into the larger, predominant, Anglo culture for quite a long time.

French was the language most spoken. When they went to church, the masses were said in Latin and French. When they sent their children to schools, I was one of those children, we had school half in French and half English. Well, on Sundays, we went for family gatherings and French was the language that was mostly spoken, then. We never, ever addressed my grandparents, my Mémé and Pépé, or our aunts and uncles, my tante and my oncle, we never addressed them in English. It was considered really impolite to do so.

My father, Gerard Parent represented the voice that said, “Deux langues sont deux fois,” which meant, Two languages is twice as good. But the prevailing majority voice was, “Le boss ne parle français,” the boss does not speak French. So, these people had to assimilate in order to survive in an Anglo culture. Some people changed their names to do so. Cluse became Clukey and Boisvert became Greenwood and so on. Now the older generation seems to be saying to the younger generations, “Listen we’ll never belong here in the United States but we will do anything that we can so that someday you will belong.” So, in order to assimilate into the Anglo culture many of these immigrants steered their children away from their heritage language. With the assimilation came a loss of language and culture. And with this loss of language and culture came invisibility. The story I’d like to tell you now is a, an excerpt from a larger story called, One More Thing. And it’s being told by Jean-Paul Bavare, who was an immigrant, who is retired from the textile mills and he’s going to tell about an incident that took place in his and his wife’s life.

Oh, yeah. Irene. She was my oldest daughter you know. Still is. I had five kids. Irene, I was so proud of her. That kid. But she always reminded me I never went to her college graduation. Hmm. I just didn’t feel comfortable with those college people. Hmm. Irene, she was mad she didn’t understand that at all. And oh, yeah, yeah. She liked to remind me how I was a big sour puss at her wedding. Well, it’s true I couldn’t wait to get outta there. Malcolm, my son-in-law, he was what I called, an Episcopagen.  But anyway, his people, all they talked about was their stocks and bonds, and their country clubs, and all the rest of that. Oh, gee, I couldn’t wait to get outta there. Irene, she was mad about that.

But here’s what I’m talking about. See, my wife felt the same way about all these things. We never hardly went out. My wife, she liked to stay home. She liked to have company come to her. So, one time, I had this boss, his name was Bill Lawler, Bill Lawler. Bill was a good guy, you know. He was one of my first bosses at the mill and he treated us workers fair and square. Well, he heard my wife was a good cook, you know. So, I invited him and his wife, Mildred, over for supper one time. And they kept coming maybe once or twice a year, but, you know, we never went to their house. Marie Louise, my wife, she did not like to go, you know, to other people’s houses. She liked to have company come to her, you know. She’d like to be with her own people mostly. Anyway. So, one time at one of our anniversaries I managed to convince Marie Louise to go out for supper. And we went to Chez Robert, oh boy. When we get to the restaurant, who do we see sitting there? But Bill Lawler and Mildred and a couple of their friends. Well, we go over there, we chit chat a little bit, you know, and Bill, he’s a nice guy, so he invites us to join them. Well, I didn’t know how to wiggle out of it, you know. So, we sat down. Well, these friends of the Lawlers, this other couple, they start talking about how they just adore speaking French. And they start blabbing away in their a high-class, college French about their trips to Paris. The wife of the other couple, she asked Marie Louise if we ever went to Paris. Marie-Louise says, “No. No, we usually go on vacations up to Quebec to visit some of our relatives. Well, the husband of the couple, he pipes in, and he says, “They would like to go to Quebec but they didn’t think they would understand such a strange accent.”

So, I said, “Hey, listen. Come on. There’s all kinds, different ways to talk French. Just like there’s all kinds, different ways to talk English.”

And he thinks about this for two, three seconds and he says, “But isn’t Quebec, was a peasant French?”

Oooooh! I could have bit my tongue, you know. Here was my boss. These are his friends and we were always taught to bite our tongues. I suppose in case they sent us back to Canada, I guess, I don’t know. But no, instead I said, “What’s wrong with that? If it wasn’t for us peasants, you aristocrats wouldn’t have a thing to eat.” It got very quiet that all the food finally came, thank goodness. And we started eating.

After a little while the wife of the other couple, looking down her nose at Marie Louise says, “Mrs. Bavare, do you make your own dresses?” Marie Louise takes her napkin and she folds it up. She puts it on the table.

She looks at me and she says, “Laisse nous partir!” Let’s go right now. And she stands up. And she looks at that woman right in the eye and she says, “Yes, I do make my own dresses. Thank you so much for asking. But now we have to leave because I have suddenly developed a big pain in my neck.” And she walks out of there like a queen.

I was so proud of her! But I never told.

Vietnamese Refugees: An American Immigration Story

 

Story Summary:

 The true story of a Vietnamese teenager who makes it to America after a harrowing boat journey and refugee camp. At a commemorative storytelling event honoring Vietnamese Americans, Sue witnesses the transformative power of story as this young man shares his American immigrant story. The community of listeners that storytelling creates makes a new country feel like home.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Vietnamese-Refugees-An-American-Immigrant-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1.  America and Canada represent a moral ideal for some people in other parts of the world. What is that ideal?
  2. Even in miserable surroundings people seek friendship; what does this say about our human need for connection? Neal and Tom were friends, yet Neal had no idea of his friend’s torment. How do we choose what to share and what to keep private from our friends?
  3. Why had Neal had not told Tom’s story before the storytelling workshop? How did it help him to share his story?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Suzanne O’Halloran and I started to learn what home could mean to people on a whole other level when I was involved in an oral history project in 2005.  April, 2005 was the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War.  And I was hired by the Society of the Divine Word to collect stories from some of their brothers and priests… about 25 folks who had escaped from Vietnam after the war.  Well, the story gathering was gonna happen in the day and then in the evening, we were gonna have a public concert… part of our Just Stories-Storytelling Festival.  Now, the first man I interviewed, his name was Neil.  When Neil was 16 years old, his family helped him escape from Vietnam.  But, unfortunately, he wound up, he ended up, in a not so nice refugee camp that wasn’t run by the U.N.  Neil said that the guards were mean.  I mean, they could just throw you in the blockade, no due process whatsoever.  Neil, every night in a platform tent with 27 other people, like, lined up like sardines.  And they would just get a little bit of food… like a bowl of rice, maybe a little fish, couple of vegetables and that had to last for several days.  And most of all, you had to be really careful that nobody stole your food.  But Neil made a friend, a boy a couple years older than him named Tom.

Tom had escaped Vietnam when he was 14 years old.  And Tom and Neil met in a Bible study class.  And as they got to know each other, Tom slowly told his story to Neil.  Now, Tom escaped as well, in the bottom of a boat; 64 people hiding at the bottom of a boat.  And this captain put fishing tackle, you can imagine all the smelly things, on top of them to hide ‘em.  And they motored out this channel and they stopped.  And everybody was so scared.  They figured they must have paid off some guards, ‘cause they kept on going.  Now, they got out to sea and things were going pretty well.  It was just a day or two trip over to Thailand.  And then the motor died.  And there they sat for two days.  Now they hadn’t brought food.  People escaped with what they had on their backs.  Now luckily the captain was bringing some hot sauce to a friend of his in Thailand.  And they had that case of hot sauce.  So each day, a couple a times a day, they’d lined up to get just one little dollop of this hot sauce to lick and that was it.  No water, nothing!

Well, finally, they saw a ship.  They were so excited!  “We’re over here!  We’re over here!”  But when that ship came closer, they discovered it was pirates.  We think of pirates like, you know, Peter Pan or something.  It just means pirates at sea.  And those men just hopped on board and they took… if people have watches, if they had any money on them, any food, and they even took that motor in case they could fix it.  But worse than that, they stabbed all the people so there would be no witnesses and threw them overboard.  So Tom found himself in the middle of the ocean.  Now, he had the presence of mind, there he was stabbed and bleeding, to take off his pants; kind of like these pajama kind of pants so they had cloth to them.  So he blew air in either and tied a knot in either end of the legs and used it like an inner tube to hang on.  Now, he doesn’t know for sure ’cause he was in and out of consciousness but he knows he went through a night so he was probably hanging there for a day.

And then another day went by and he was having to fight off fish.  And finally he thought, “This is it.  I’m giving up.” And he let go, he started sinking down to the bottom.  And he heard this voice inside him say, “No.  It’s not your time.” So he kind of bobbed back up just as he saw this big, red, plastic gas can floating by. So Tom climbed up on that and he hung there for a whole other day.  And then another ship came by and this time, thank God, it wasn’t pirates.  It was Thai fisherman.  But Thai fisherman had been told that if they picked up any more Vietnamese refugees, they would be in some big trouble.  They would lose their license.

But what are you going to do if you see a kid hanging on a gas can in the middle of the ocean?  Thank God, they did the right thing.  They stopped and picked up Neil. (Tom) Now, he had hypothermia by then.  They tried to warm him up and he were trying to tell them there were 63 other people.  And they went around, they motored around, they couldn’t find.  It seemed Neil (Tom) was the only survivor.  So they got him as close to shore as they dare because they didn’t want to lose their license.  They put him back in the water and Tom, I’m saying Tom, swam back to land.  And all kinds of stories but he finally made his way to the same horrible refugee camp.

Now, when they got there, they’d be questioned.  “Are you a Communist? Are you a spy?”  Because, of course, he showed up with no ID on him.  And how you got sponsored if you got out to another country, depended on how you answered these questions and, of course, with this kinda refugee camp, if you had a little money to grease the wheels.  And Tom had neither so he had been there for 4 years already when Neil met him.

There’s this one day, right before Bible study and they were sitting there talking.  And, well, Tom was really down but that wasn’t unusual.  You can imagine, in this kinda refugee camp, people got very depressed.  And Tom excused himself to go to the bathroom.  Now the bathroom at this refugee camp was just a hole in the ground with little trees around it for a little bit of privacy.  Well, Bible study started.  Tom didn’t show up.  Neil got worried.  He went looking for his friend.  And he found him.  Tom had hung himself.  He just despaired of ever getting out of that refugee camp.

And Neil said to me, “Well, they burned his body and sent his ashes back to Vietnam.  He finally made it back home.  He was caught in limbo all those years; he couldn’t go home, he couldn’t go forward.  And Neil said to me, “When Tom died, it was like a part of me died.”  And then he looked right at me and said, “I’ve never told anybody that story before.  I have never spoken of Tom before!”

Now, this was my first interview, and like 25 more to go!  And I heard these incredible stories of escape and family sacrifice, and idealism and loss.  So we got an idea.  That night was supposed to be the professional storytelling concert.  So I asked some of these brothers and priests if they would be willing to share their stories.  So that night the professional tellers did their marvelous, usual wonderful job and then these brothers got up and shared their stories.  And I’m telling ya, they stole the show!  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  They got a standing ovation.  And afterwards, Neil came up to me and said, “You know, it was very painful to share these stories today but important.  I have been here for almost 20 years but because of the way this audience, these people, listened to our stories, I feel like I’ve finally arrived in America.  I feel like I’m finally home.”  And that is the power of sharing and listening to each other’s stories.

A Yiddish King Lear

 

Story Summary:

 A Yiddish King Lear is about hard choices, hopes, dreams, racial persecution, and love! It tells of the moment Judith realized that her grandfather, Oscar Markowitz, an actor in the Yiddish Theatre at the turn of the 20th Century was her role model as a Storyteller. Remembering her grandfather’s background, gave her the courage to pursue her dreams. A Yiddish King Lear is set in the emotional, artistic and actual geographic crossroad of Second Avenue in New York City in the early 1900’s and in the 1970’s.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Yiddish-King-Lear

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who in your family is an unsung hero or heroine? 
How has this person influenced your life and/or helped you make important decisions? What might you like to learn more about this person?
  2. If you have ever moved, gone to a new school, relocated to a new country or community, what have you brought with you? Why are these things important? These things can be memories, values, traditions – intangibles. A few special objects are often passed down from one generation to another and are cherished.
Does your family have any of these items? If so, tell their stories! 
You can also discuss what you left behind and how that affects you.
  3. Describe a time when you have either experienced feeling like “the other” or perhaps excluded others. What prompted these situations?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Jewish Americans/Jews

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Judith Heineman. Did you ever want something so badly that you were willing to give up everything for it? This is an excerpt of a longer piece about my grandfather called, “A Yiddish King Lear.”

When I was eight, I played Snow White and the prince refused to kiss me. I lay there waiting, my heart palpitating, “Psst. Kenny you’re supposed to kiss me, now.” I lay there on a hard, narrow, wooden bench taken from the seating area in the social hall. “Psst, Kenny, now.”

Well, I may not have known what the word “improvised” meant, but I arose from my poisoned slumber and I chased Kenny Eppstein, the cutest 9-year-old in camp, around the wishing well. My Prince Charming was not escaping without a kiss and he kissed me on the cheek. This Snow White took place in a summer bungalow colony, in the Catskills, in New York. And my grandfather, Oscar Markowitz, who was about 75 at the time, was taking care of me. My mother worked in the city and came up on weekends. We lived in the first bungalow, a tiny unwinterized, rented cabin. And we came home for lunch. And after rehearsal, I was so excited that I ran into the house and I said, “Grandpa, Grandpa, when I grow up, I am going to be an actress.”

He turned from the stove with a blackened frying pan in one hand, a dish rag in the other. And he just looked at me, with the strangest look. He didn’t say anything. And then he turned back to burning my lunch.

That weekend my mother came up to see me as Snow White. And I said, “Mom, when I grow up I’m going to be an actress.”

“What do you want to be an actress for? You’ll never make any money as an actress. Forget this narish, this foolishness, and do something practical. Be a teacher.”

Something must have penetrated because I did become a teacher. I became a high school English and journalism teacher in New York City. And I was teaching near the East Village, in the West Village. The heyday of the off, and off, off Broadway movement. So, I would teach during the day, and I would audition after work. And I would perform in strange places, in storefronts, and black boxes, and sub-sub-basements. And so, I would perform and I would think, “Why am I doing this? This is so difficult. Why am I hitting my head against the wall? I have no role models. There’s nobody in my family who is an actor. What’s possessing me like a dybbuk or a demon or something, where I have to do this?”

And there I was on Second Avenue, New York City, going into a sub-sub-basement of an experimental theater, and my foot froze on the stair. How could I have forgotten? How could I have forgotten? And his voice came flooding back to me. My grandfather, Oscar Markowitz, he of the burning lunches, wasn’t always Oscar Markowitz. He was Oschar Marko, an actor in the Yiddish theater from Romania. And he wasn’t just any actor, he was a very good actor. He had to have been a good actor because he was sponsored by the Rothschild banking family, the banking family that dominated all the capitals of Europe in the 19th century. The Rothschilds were sponsoring Jewish actors to escape from Romania, to travel across Europe, and come to the United States. And it wasn’t just an international tour. No. They were helping them to escape the religious persecution, the poverty, and the bloody pogroms that were plaguing Eastern Europe and Romania at that time, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, a bloody pogrom, a government sanctioned race riot against Jews.

What kind of future did he have? And in 1893, when he was 12 years old, laws were passed that said no Jewish child can have a public education anymore. And then, as if overnight, new laws were passed, that if you didn’t have government rights, and Jews didn’t, the men couldn’t pursue careers. And 40 percent of them lost their jobs. But even still, how could he possibly leave everything that he had known, his family and his country for an uncertain future? But he was an actor and he came to the United States and finally found his way down, down, downtown to Second Avenue, New York City, the home of the Yiddish theater.

And his voice came flooding back to me singing in a language that I didn’t understand. And he said he was singing King Lear in Yiddish. Now, you have to understand, this was not Shakespeare’s King Lear. This was a Goldfadden King Lear. This was a guilty King Lear. This was a suffering King Lear. This was a Jewish King Lear. And when immigrants came to the theater, they didn’t sit back to just be entertained. Oh no. The theater was a temple of learning, this was education. They would grab their children and they’d say, “See, see that man suffering on stage? That’s what you’re doing to us, you ungrateful first generation American children. Can’t you respect us? Respect the old ways? Respect our traditions?”

And there, on the Lower East Side, he met a landsman, a neighbor, a friend. Her name was Dora. And they fell in love and he asked her to marry him. And she went to her father and said, “Papa, Papa, this is Oschar Marko and he’s asked me to marry him. He’s an actor. A very good actor. An actor in the Yiddish theater.”

And curses in Yiddish spewed forth from her father’s mouse, mouth and he said, “An actor! No daughter of mine is going to marry an actor! An actor is a gun of a thief a no-goodnik! The lowest of the low! The devil!”  “And you,” he said to my grandfather, “if you want to marry my daughter, you have to get a respectable profession!”

What could he do? How could he choose between his acting that had saved his life and the woman he loved? That would be the only family he would know in this new world. Would King Lear have to be silenced? And he chose. And he became a respectable and often unemployed house painter. Adorning other people’s dreams while designs for his own lay tattered in a Sienna portfolio, a still life unframed with forged signatures. And he was bitter and frustrated for the rest of his life except…when he would sing to me in a language I didn’t understand. And I would sit by his knee and he would hold court in his third floor, rent controlled, Bronx apartment. And I would sit at his knee. And his chest would rise and he would sit on his throne, a gray brocaded armchair with fringes along the bottom, and his chest would rise, his hands would rail to the ceiling, still steady in his 90’s. And he would become a young man of 19 again in the year 1900. The dawn of a new century with all the promise of anything he could have imagined before him. And he would sing all the frustration and pain and sorrow of King Lear. And, although, I did not know what each word meant individually, his song still sings inside me in mame loshn, a mother tongue, and needs no translation.

Plastic Glory

 

Story Summary:

 Linda’s grandmother lived in what her sisters and she called “The Plastic Palace.” Her grandmother covered everything with plastic. Everything … chairs, tables, lampshades … and, of course, her living room couch, including the throw pillows. Plastic is fun, right? But who would suspect that it could also set off a painful memory of the Vietnam War for Linda’s father?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Plastic-Glory

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What intrigues you about the home of your grandparents or other older people? What do you smell, taste, hear, or touch when you visit their homes?
  2. How does the description of food add to the visual image of the dining room scene?
  3. Were you surprised at the twist near the end of the story? How did her father’s reaction to the popping sound affect you?
  4. Do you know someone who has fought overseas in a war? Have you ever talked with them about their experiences? If you could, what would you ask?
  5. The term ‘shell shock’ has been changed to ‘post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What do you know about it?

Resources:

  • The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You about What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War by Kevin Sites
  •  Once a Warrior–Always a Warrior: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home–Including Combat Stress, PTSD, and MTBI by Charles Hoge
  • What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Family and Childhood
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Linda Gorham and I remember my grandmother’s obsession with plastic. She covered everything with it: furniture, accessories. Now, I know this was universal. I meet a lot of people tell me that their family covered things with plastic. When I was young though, back in the 60’s, actually, I thought it was a black thing. But I learned that it’s pretty universal. I loved visiting my grandparents’ house because there was no dust. There was no dirt. There was no stain in her house, at least not under the plastic, you know what I mean.

But when I would go there, well, I would go on plastic hunts to discover all the ways that she had used plastic. It was really, really cool. In the living room, there were white lamps, you know. Regular lamps with big white shades? Those white shades were covered in plastic, of course. In the hall closet there were wooden hangers, all of those wooden hangers were covered with a plastic bag from the cleaners. I remember the hallway to my grandparents’ house. It was a long hallway that started at the foyer and it went all the way back to the kitchen. And covering that hallway was a gray hallway rug but to protect the rug it was covered in plastic. You see where I’m going with this, right?

In the dining room, there were dining room chairs. They were gorgeous and they had cushions on them that were kind of paisley. But to protect the cushions, they were covered in plastic. You know something cool about plastic cover,s dining room chairs when you sit down on them? They exhale. Aah. then, when you get up they inhale. Ooh. It’s kind of cool jumping up and down on them. Aah. Ooh. Aah. Ooh.

But the thing I remember that was the most fun, was the living room couch in my grandparents’ house. Yes, it was covered in plastic but this part I will never know how this happened, the pillows, throw pillows, they were covered in plastic too. But…I figured out a way to jump on that couch and to make a loud noise like POP. And I called it the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I loved making the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I love saying the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My grandmother didn’t approve. But that’s another story.

Well, when I was about 12 or so, my father, who was in the military, announced that he was being transferred. No actually, when I think about it, I was probably more like eight. And so, we moved from New Jersey, where he was stationed, up to Alaska, and then to Fort Benning, Georgia – two transfers. And then while we were in Georgia, my father said to me that he was being, well, not transferred. He used the word I had never heard before – deployed. He was being sent to Vietnam and while he was gone, he told my mother and my two sisters that I had at that point, he said, “You’re all going to go back and live with my parents,” he said. My grandparents, his parents, my grandparents. And the next thing I knew, my father was shipped off to Vietnam and I was back in the plastic palace. That’s what I called it.

Now, I was a little bit older – that’s when I was about 12. But my sisters, well, they didn’t really remember all the plastic stuff so I took them on a hunt, you know, to show them that the things; the, the chairs and the, the plastic on the hangers and all the things that my grandmother covered in plastic. The best thing was that couch because you know what I taught them. How to make the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My youngest sister, Carol loves being able to say “fart” out loud. But I was older, and truthfully, I was the only one who really understood where my father went. And I guess, it’s also fair to say, I was the only one of the children who realized that he may not come back or he may not come back the same. So, plastic took on a different, it just it was different for me. I wasn’t interested in all the other things that Gail and Carol liked.

I remember before my father left, he gave me a plastic globe and he showed all of us where Vietnam was. And I remember sitting in my room, at night, trying to put my finger approximately on New Jersey and try to stretch my thumb to Vietnam. It was a long way away. But somehow, just touching that plastic globe made me feel closer to my father.

I can remember every night, at 6 o’clock, my mother and I would sit on the living room couch, our bodies stuck to the plastic, and our eyes glued to the television set. Because every day at 6 o’clock, on the news, we’d watch. We’d watch to see if my father’s unit had been in battle. And we watched those names of fallen soldiers scroll down the screen. More names after more names after more names; too many names.

I can remember the day that my father came home. The doorbell rang his special code, three rings.  And my sisters and I screamed, “Daddy’s home!” And we went running and slipping down that long hallway runner and into his arms. I think, and I don’t really remember, but I, re, kind of think he picked all of us up at the same time. And there was so much laughter and joy and tears in that foyer. It must’ve lasted forever. But I remember when he finally put us down, and did all the kissing and hugging, he, he walked down the hallway runner hung, his coat up in the closet. And then he walked over to the dining room table ’cause there was lots of food on that table. macaroni and cheese. My grandmother made the best macaroni and cheese in the world! I didn’t know back then, the most fattening macaroni and cheese in the world. But hey, who cared. And a whole stack of steaks. My father sat down on those plastic cover dining room chair cushions. And cushions, exhaled. Aah. Daddy’s home.

We had so much fun that day! At the dining room table, we ate, we talked, we laughed. And when Gail and Carol were finished eating, I remember, they excused themselves, which is a good thing to do, you know, and went into the living room. Now I wasn’t going to go over there where that couch was… you know, what I’m saying? And it wasn’t long before we heard it. POP, the ultimate plastic couch fart. I started to laugh and a few other people did too. But I looked at my father. He had jumped up from his seat. His eyes had just grown in size and his head was gyrating from side to side and his whole body was shaking. And I was scared for him. And I was scared for me. I learned a new word that day, shellshock. And I learned that, well, my father had come home from the war, but, unexpectedly, the war had come home with my father.

Now, I don’t remember how long we had to be quiet around him. It was weeks or months. I don’t remember but he did recover. That’s the good news. But I will tell you that, that night after everybody went to sleep, I helped my grandmother take the plastic off that living room couch and those dining room chairs. Because at my grandmother’s house, even though plastic used to be cool, now, plastic took a back seat when it came all too real.

Shadowball

 

Story Summary:

 Learn what the term “Shadowball” meant if you were a person of color who played baseball in segregated America in the 1920’s and 30’s. Bobby brings to life famed baseball players such as Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige, as he explores their triumphs and sacrifices.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Shadowball

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Compare and contrast the career of “Cool Papa” Bell to that of a white player of the same era. What white player would be comparable to “Cool Papa” Bell?
  2. How would Satchel Paige be treated if he were playing in major league baseball today?
  3. Was Satchel Paige “the first” to lobby as a free agent before Cat Fish Hunter and Curt Flood?

Resource:

  • Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – DVD by PBS

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Bobby Norfolk and I will be doing an excerpt from a piece, a one-person show called Shadow ball.

Hello, my name is Bell. James “Cool Papa” Bell. Ha, ha, ha! I get to that in a minute.

But they had this thing back in the Negro National League, back in the day called shadow ball where the players would pretend in a pantomime. They’d be throwing balls from the mound connecting with the ball, catching pop flies and running bases. They call that shadow ball because Negro baseball players had to play ball in the shadows of white segregated America back in the day. Understand this, for 60 years, major league baseball owners and baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis bought Negro players in a so-called gentleman’s agreement.

But I joined the St. Louis Stars, back then a Negro baseball league. Heh, heh, heh! And I didn’t get my notoriety because of just my speed. I started off as a baseball player as a pitcher. You got that right, a pitcher.

I have knuckle ball that could tie batters up in knots. Now you gotta throw a ball softly without any spin or rotation on the ball. Get them batters all confused.

But then I got notoriety by my speed. I can run the base past in 12 seconds flat! Jesse Owens, that track star, he wouldn’t race me. He said, “Man, you one of the fastest men on the planet. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!

But one time, Oscar Charleston with the Kansas City Monarchs, on my same team, ooh, he was a no prisoner taken kinda dude. Klux Klan headed him down south and one day a Klansman took him up on his offer to confront Oscar Charleston. Oscar Charleston hit it to third. Pi-yow! Now he was runnin’ them bases and, all of a sudden, here’s the Klansman standing there, face in the sheet. “All right, boy! Whatcha gonna do?”

Oscar reached up, snatched the hood off the Klansman head. “Huh! You ain’t so big and bad now without your face being hid.”

“Ah,” people up in the bleachers, “Ah, that’s Mr.  Gilmore from the city council.” He ran back behind some bleachers, boogity, boogity, boogity!

Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh! They also call our circuit the Chitlin’ Circuit. Yeah, because we had to stay in the rat and roach infested hotels and motels. We couldn’t stay in them white places. We could rip the white stadiums but couldn’t wash up in the white showers. Had to go down to a colored YMCA down the street.

And you better not turn off them lights in them ole nasty motels because rats and roaches and bedbugs will come all out. Ooh, ooh! Turn on the lights. Could not sleep under those conditions.

But then, 1945 came. People started speculating that they were looking for a Negro player to make it into the majors and people couldn’t figure out who was gonna be. Was gonna be Satchel Paige? Judy Johnson? Was gonna be Josh Gibson? Me? And then they saw that young black cat Ollie.

UCLA, X- Army Lieutenant Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Jackie Robinson took no prisoners either. Oh, yeah, he had a temper. But Branch Rickey Branch, Rickey who owned the St. Louis Cardinals and then owned the Brooklyn Dodgers., he told Jackie Robinson that for three years, he could not fight back or talk back. And for three years, Jackie Robinson held all that anger in him no matter how many people dogged him out and, uh, gave all of them nasty comments to him.

And even in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was out there and people were throwing things out on the field. And then that white boy named Pee Wee Reese came up out of the dugout, put his arm around Jackie Robinson and whispered something in his ear. And all the haters stopped hating. Right there with that Kentucky-Cincinnati boy hug.

And when Jackie Robinson put on that uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers, that was the greatest day of my life. We finally could prove that we could hit, catch and run with anybody in the white major leagues. But by that time, after 22 years, my knees was wearing out.

You know, there was a baseball competition and some people said that the New York Giants scouts was looking. And so, Monte Irvin, another player with the Kansas City Monarchs, young boy, about half my age. You know what, I held back and let Monte Irvin win that title. That’s how he got chosen for the New York Giants.

But I tell you what. After I retired from the Negro Leagues, August 12th, 1974, I got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Worked as a custodian, worked as a night watchman in St. Louis City Hall. When I retired, I got a stipend from the baseball commissioner’s office and from city hall, St. Louis. But some people say that I was born too early. Huh, huh! That’s not true. They opened them doors too late. But I was a good father, good husband, good baseball player with the Negro National Leagues. And I am the one who all these other guys making thirty million dollars a year, they stand on my shoulders and that’s all I can tell you.

Through the Eyes of York

 

Story Summary:

 In 1804, Lewis & Clark crossed The Great Plains and dangerous Rocky Mountains to finally see the Pacific Ocean for the first time! One person who was part of this Corps of Discovery was an African American man named York. While York was not always credited with his part in the Western exploration, his contributions were a large part of Lewis and Clark’s success.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Through-the-Eyes-of-York

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did York’s experience of the Expedition vary from that of the other men?
  2. How was York instrumental to the success of the Expedition?
  3. What was Sacagawea’s impact on the success of the trip?

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Bobby Norfolk and I’d like to do a piece from a one-person show called “Through the Eyes of York” based on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Hello, my name is York. That’s right. Just York. Y-O-R-K. Born in Virginia around the year 1771, they tell me.

Now somebody asked me, “Why did they name you York anyway?”

Huh, huh! Good question. I was born New York town, New York County, near the York River. Now y’all do the math. Now my mama, her name was Mama Rose. My daddy. Huh, his name was Old York.

And I had no idea when I was a kid back in Virginia, I was the property of William Clark. You know, I was his body servant, fancy name for the slaves that worked in the house instead of out in the field.

While I was racing with William Clark one day, I was a fast runner, y’all, boogity, boogity, boogity. Ha, ha, I beat him. He got mad. “Mmm, I’mon beat you!” Hit me! Bam! Whoa! I hit him back. Boom! The overseer saw it.

“Boy, you hit Mister Clark’s son!” Hit me with a whip! Pi-yah! Oww! I ran to my mama. “Mama Rose, Mama Rose! That man hit me with a whip.”

“What man?”

“That man ova der.”

What did you do?”

“Nuthin.”

“York, we are owned by the Clark family. We are their property. You can’t knock that white boy down. You gon get us all killed; are you a fool? Now, if you hit him, you better not come back to this house. You don’t hit him back!”

“Yes, ma’am.” I had to sit down and think about that. Property? Owners? I knowed you can own cows, pigs, horses and chickens. How can you own another human being?

But I grew up. William Clark grew up. Then we became young men in our early thirties and a friend of William Clark named Thomas Jefferson. Oh, yeah! He lived up there in Virginia with another man named Meriwether Lewis. Well, Meriwether Lewis got this letter from Thomas Jefferson said he wanted us to explore this new territory altogether. And so, Master Clark took me.

So, we started off. May 14th, 1804 exploring the Louisiana Purchase territory. Science lesson.

We put our keelboats and pirogues in the water. Splash-ah! Going noff against the mighty current of the mighty Missouri River and so we put our poles into the river and we pushed the pole south. The boat, we goin’ noff! Oh, it was back breaking labor!  Kkk-kuh! And that mud was so thick, it kept getting my stick stuck. They call the Missouri River “Big Muddy” just because of that river.

Then, y’all, we got up into Noff Dakota. It was wintertime, ooh! Seven or below zero. We stayed with the Mandan Indians. The Mandan Indians did not live in tepees; they lived in earth lodges made out of earth and wood. So, they started to interpret back and forth to spend, ah, winter of 1804-1805 and, all of a sudden, the Mandan chiefs saw me. Unggg! They started pulling at me. I said, “What? What’s that? What’s their problem?”

They had never seen an African-American person before. All the thousands of years that the plains people have lived on this continent, York was the first African-American person they had seen and they thought my skin color was paint. They thought I painted myself brown. The bravest warriors, the most powerful warriors, the most courageous warriors in all the Indian villages would paint themselves with brown paint so they thought I were real brave. They thought I had been dipped in chocolate (pp – set to dry) ’til the chiefs tried to rub off my paint.  At the interpreter, “What are they doin’ rubbin’ off paint. Heh, heh, heh, heh! Tell them this is skin.”

They rub harder. Paint! I say “Oww! You gon start a fire in a minute. This is not paint!”

And they thought, at that point, I was a supernatural creature. They thought I was a shapeshifter sent down by the Great Spirit of a great mystery to visit and they called me Big Medicine, Big Medicine. They started following me around like I was supernatural. Big Medicine, he’s the one. Lewis and Clark said, “This is gettin’ otta hand! They think he’s the leada. York, York! York, York!”

“Yessir, what’s up?”

“Tone it down, tone it down, boy! You gittin’ too big for your britches!”

I couldn’t tone it down too much because the Indians knew if I would ever attack them, it would be the end of the Indian nations! Big Medicine would retaliate.

Well, one time, y’all, we wa goin’ over the Rocky Mountains and headed down into the colder regions and down into Montana and, all of a sudden, a big huge storm broke out and that storm was capsizin’ canoes. And we started swimmin’ back and forth and I saved all them supplies and I got some respect from them white boys after that. I was not just a body servant.

It’s about da time we finally got to Astoria, Oregon, we had to vote to say where we would spend our campsite in. I got to vote. Sa-cag-a-wea, which some of y’all call Sac-a-jaw-ea, she got to vote. First time that an Indian and an African-American person had voted in a government sanctioned election.

But we returned back to St. Louis, September 23rd, 1806. Only lost one man in that whole expedition, from appendicitis. The men, they got 320 acres of land, double pay – thousand dollars. I went to Mr. Clark. “Sir, mission accomplished. I may not get land or money. What about my freedom from slavery?”

He said, “York, I can’t give you your freedom. You still my slave!”

I said, “Sir. I beg to differ. I’ve worked with you for two years to get over the Rocky Mountains, go through the Indian Territory, get back to St. Louis. Give me my freedom, sir!”

“York, back up off me, boy! Can’t give you your freedom!”

I didn’t back off. I got insolent and sulky, according to him. He had overseers tie me up and whip me with 50 lashes across my back. I say, “Well, let me see my wife, sir. I haven’t seen her in two years. I’m the only man that was married in the Corps of Discovery.”

“How ‘bout y’all go see your wife down in Louisville, Kentucky. Mo… By the way, she gonna be sold off to another master in Natchez, Mississippi so you will never see her again anyway. Find yourself another white boy. And if you don’t come back to St. Louis in two weeks, I will send the slave catchers after ya and send you down to a severe master in New Orleans, Louisiana.

York returned back to St. Louis and it took five years for William Clark to give York his freedom. Somebody said his wife was in Nashville and he went looking for her in Tennessee instead of Natchez in Mississippi. Other historians claim that he died of cholera in the big cholera epidemic in St. Louis.

But I tell you what, long after York passed