The White Boys: Korean-Puerto Rican Girl Seeks Anybody

by Storyteller Elizabeth Gomez

Story Summary:

In The White Boys, Elizabeth tells of her struggle to be comfortable with her own identity outside the boundaries of the racial norm. She tells of the normal awkward struggles of adolescent love with the addition of struggling to find acceptance of her own racial features.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The White Boys-Korean-Puerto Rican Girls Seeks Anybody

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have any of you been asked “what” you are”? How did it make you feel?
  2. Do you find people attractive based on their skin color? Do you think people do the same to you?
  3. What do you find most unique or beautiful about your features?
  4. When do you identify who you are as a person based on your racial makeup? When is it not a factor?

Resources:

Beauty Begins: Making Peace with Your Reflection by Chris Shook
The Beauty of Color by Imam

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand/Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Gomez. I must have been about 37 when he walked into my life. He was about 10 years my junior and built like a god. Actor Ryan Gosling is everything I ever wanted in a man. He was tall and blond and perfectly sculpted, and, not to mention, he was white.

So. So, white. Ryan Gosling represented, to me, everything I never thought I could have in a man. He was white. You see, white boys don’t kiss brown girls – not brown girls like me, brown haired, frizzy bo…, frizzy-haired, chunky bodied, acne scarred skin, totally obsessed with Ted McKinley because one day we were going to actually get married on the Love Boat. Girls like me! White boys liked white girls and this is the way of the world.

I realized this as I sat in my fourth-grade chair turning over my letter that was marked no. I spent the night before working on this letter so hard. I made sure my handwriting was festive and straightforward and, yet, feminine. I made sure that every box on the wo… note were straight lines, sharply angled, square boxes, so that you could mark yes or no, so that your potential new lover would be able to tell you that you could or could not put his name all over your notebook.

Tyler was the whitest boy in school. He was a kind of white that was almost transparent. Near summer re… near summertime when we went to recess, I always thought it was very irresponsible for the teachers to let him out because the moment he hit the sun, his face would turn a vivid, bright red. And his neck looked like it was just burning, but I would stand there and bathe in the radiance of Tyler’s strawberry glow.

As I sat turning this letter over and over in my hand and looking at that box marked no, I noticed these notes next to it, which said, “You’re ugly.” But I knew exactly what he meant. When he said I was ugly, he was talking about my broad nose and my crazy, dark, thick hair and the fact that I didn’t even have Adidas from, like, a real store. They’re the K-Mart kind with the two stripes. What Tyler Jackson didn’t realize that he had did was set me on a path of destroying all white men. I mean, not really destroying all white men, but I was definitely set to crumble some hearts.

A year later, my next potential bu… bo… boyfriend, when I was in the fifth grade, was a guy named Jason McCleary. That’s not his real name. Okay, it’s totally his real name! I think he should know that because, you know, I’ve grown into quite the lovely lady. My skin is cleared up and I’ve really pulled my stuff together. Jason was everything I wanted in a man. He was white. I watched him every day and I imagined myself looking at him and just spending hours and hours and hours looking into his oceanic blue eyes and just talking about Megadeath and doing our hair together with hair spray. And I knew he was going to be my next boyfriend.

I also knew that if my Korean mother found out that I had a white boyfriend that I would be like “top notch, gal.” For example, my mother said to me that she didn’t care who I ever dated as long as he wasn’t Puerto Rican because my father was Puerto Rican. Also, she wanted him to be white.

Growing up in a small town in Virginia, I was the token “what are you girl.” It was, basically, that I didn’t know very many people of color. So, everyone who looked at me was like, “She’s not white and she’s not black. So, what are you?”

As a kid, it never really bothered me but as I was growing up and as a well-rounded adult, I look back at that and I wonder if that was really kind of the core of my problems. What are you? What are you? Is that the reason that I felt this need to be, like, neatly labeled and categorized and put into this box. Like, if I could do that, would it make me somehow justified or my presence or my life a r… given, uh, validation.

So, a year later I’m sitting at the desk again, looking at another note that says “no” and Jason flirting with Kim Cullerton, a petite, blonde, long hair girl. Kim Cullerton is not her real name. It totally is because she should know that she ruined my life.

Anyways, years and years later, because I didn’t date anyone in high school, I was afraid of being rejected.  I was standing in my dormitory, my college dorm, when I hear this, “Come on, Liz, Elizabeth. You know you got it like that.”

I was standing with Tyrone, my new boyfriend. He wasn’t white. He was dark, dark, dark, dark with like this beautiful body and this Barry White voice.

And he looked at me and he’s like, “You know, guys, they got a thing for Asians. Latin girls too. You got it all. You know, you’ve got that thing, Elizabeth. You know, you got that thing.”

“Thing. What thing are you talking about? Why have I had this thing and no one’s ever told me about it? Did I catch that when I was in the gym bathroom without my flip flops? What is this thing, Tyrone? I wanna know and I need to know now.”

Tyrone laughed at me, he laughed at me ’cause he thought I was funny. He thought I was charming. He said that my hair was great and that a big, fat, broad nose looks good on me. He told me that it didn’t matter what I looked like because I had so much other stuff. But I definitely had that thing, whatever that thing was. He kissed me, and everything was wonderful.

The next day, I kept thinking to myself, “What am I doing? Why is it that I’ve been wanting to be white this whole time? You know, white like my friends, like the Keatons on Family Ties, like Olivia Newton-John. What was white going to make me that I wasn’t already?”

At that moment, Ty opened a whole world for me, where I could realize that there are so many beautiful, colored people that I could love. And he did the best thing for me. He made me realize that it doesn’t matter what my color was or what I… my features were like.

But that I had that thing and I like that thing. And I would always have that thing. His warmth and his honesty made me feel accepted and made me understand a lot about what I was going through.

Look, I still like white guys, especially, if they look like Ryan Gosling – even if they look like Seth Rogen. But my insecurities are no longer about my race or my face. But really, it’s about me finding the way to love who I want, when I want.

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.

My Life as an Engrish to English Translator: Learning to Accept My Korean Immigrant Mother

 by Storyteller Elizabeth Gomez

Story Summary:

A story about Elizabeth, an “Army brat”, who must navigate the world for her Korean immigrant mother. Through this process she learns to stop being embarrassed by her mother and shifts to fighting for her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: My-Life-as-an-Engrish-to-English-Translator-Learning-to-Accept-My-Korean-Immigrant-Mother

Discussion Questions:

  1. How many of you are recent immigrants or have immigrant parents?
  2. What are the daily struggles you have or that you see your parents and other family members going through?
  3. If you have immigrant parents, are there times you are embarrassed by them? Can you share examples and reflect on from where the embarrassment comes?
  4. What steps can you take to make you and/or your parents’ transition in America easier?
  5. What do people who have been here longer need to understand and how can they be a support to new immigrants?

Resources:

Learning a New Land by Carola Suarez-Orozco
Korean Immigrants and the Challenge of Adjustment by Moon H. Jo

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Languages
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Gomez. It was 1983 in Virginia. I was laying in my room in the dark with the covers over my head listening. She was yelling and I was only nine years old so I wasn’t really sure what to do. My mother and I had been here before, just listening to her struggling and screaming. I pull the covers tighter over my head when I heard, “Risa, Risa, you come here. You come here now!”

As I walked out of my sanctuary, my eyes widen and I slumped into the kitchen. She stood there in a polyester robe with a brown phone dangling from her hand.

“Risa, you speakie to him. He no understanding me.”

I stood there flushed with embarrassment, and took the phone from my mother’s hand, “Hello.”

“Hi, ma’am.”

“Could you just help us get your mom’s account number. We’d really like to help her.”

“Mom. What’s your account number?”

“Oh, you terr him, you terr him, jero-jero-sex-sex-four-eight-sex.”

“It’s 0-0-4-8-6.” (0-0-6-6-4-8-6)

“As I talked to this man, my mom walked around in the kitchen. She was pacing back and forth, getting angrier and angrier. She didn’t understand why Americans didn’t understand her when she spoke to them, especially because she’d been in this country for over a decade. I watched her pace through the kitchen, back and forth, her small Asian frame just blowing in and out, and in and out until she was rounded out like one of those monsters from Where the Wild Things Are.

After I completed the phone call, I hung up. I looked at my mom. This lady demon who was slowly morphing back into this four-foot-something Asian lady.

“Why they don’t understanding? Why don’t understanding me? I speakie good Engrish.”

I watched my mom sit at the kitchen table and I put my hand over hers. I looked at her as her face was beginning to worry and her body started to fill with self-doubt. At that moment, I decided I have… I had to stop. I had to stop running away and hiding and I had to really commit to being her English (Engrish) to Engrish (English) translator for the rest of my life. And it was always like that.

My father was a Puerto Rican-American, U.S. citizen, who served in the military. He met my mother in Seoul, Korea. They married; they had kids. Most of my mom’s life, as a military wife, was traveling abroad and she spent very little time in America. While she was here, she did okay. But when my dad was gone on duty or training missions, my mom had to make her way through and I was rela… relegated to just, basically, being her translator.

I spent tons of time just, like, watching her try to talk to sales people and clerks and merchants, just trying to get what she needed. It was like watching a Charlie Brown episode where the teacher’s talking to Charlie Brown and all Charlie Brown can hear is this muffled sound of nothingness. And I would just stand and watch my mom wave her hands around, and gesticulate, and try to convey what she needed, without being able to tell them in the way that they needed to hear it.

And every time, I’d be broken up with this sound, “Risa, Risa, you terring him, you terring him right now, Risa. You terring him, ‘Me want to buy fridgey.’”

“She wants to buy a fridge.”

“You terring him we need to move to Browning Street.”

“You mean,”

“She wants you to know that we live on Brown Street.”

“You terring him, ‘It’s too expenses’.”

“She means it’s too expensive.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, she named me Elizabeth. She doesn’t even know how to pronounce Elizabeth, so she started calling me Lisa, which she also does not know how to pronounce. In addition to that, my mom would have to go to conferences, like, parent-teacher conferences, and those were the most embarrassing, humiliating, and petrifying moments of my life. There they were, these well-articulated, ecedga… educated teachers looking at my mom with these plastered smiles, just nodding their heads, trying to understand what she was saying.

And my mom is basically screaming at them, trying to convey, “Oh, Risa, she so razy.”

In addition, I couldn’t have any friends. Anyone who came into my house, got pinched by my mother when she would say things like, “Oh, you so fat!” Or, “Oh, why your eyes so big?”

Every single friend I ever made, who came to my house, basically, never came back and I accepted that. That was my life. I was gonna be the town recluse and I always was gonna have this rude mother.

Late one night, I could hear my mom talking to someone on the phone and it was my dad’s new girlfriend. I dropped my blanket and I walked to the wall that separated my room from my mother’s. And I could hear her just softly begging this woman to let my father go. And I heard her say, “Prease, prease go way. We have kids.”

I listened for a long time, and my heart started pounding as I felt for her. And I just listened, as she kept begging and begging. And I didn’t even really like my father and, up ’til that point, I’m not sure I liked my mother that much either. But at this moment, I felt what was going on with her, and I understood that this was painful. And I pressed my head closer against the wall as I listened to her hang up the phone and sob and cry. And I wanted to go to her but I couldn’t. I could just listen. And I did. I listened until I fell asleep to the sounds of what pain was for her.

A few, a few weeks later, after months of not seeing my father, I was really surprised when he came to pick up me and my brother to go to New York and see my grandmother. Not only was I surprised to see him, I was surprised that I was allowed to leave with him.

“I don’t wanna go.”

“Risa, you take good care of Ab-e. You be good girl, okay?”

“No! I don’t want to go.”

“You go.”

As we drove up to New York, my father stopped at a rest stop. He went to go use the phone booth. And as he was in the phone booth, I could tell that he was just being himself – super charming, and laughing, and flirtatious to someone on the phone. Eventually, he started walking toward our car, and I felt a little weird. And I wasn’t sure what was going on. So, he said for us to come over and, uh, talk to this person on the phone. And I pick up the phone and, huh, I hear this voice come over.

“And she says, “Hello, Elizabeth. It’s me, Jane, your dad’s friend. How are you?”

At that moment, all the anguish I had for my mother, the loss of my father, the not understanding of what had been going on with my whole family, this whole entire time came rushing at me. My heart pounded. My ears… like sounds of, like, waves came through my ears. And I felt nothing but anger when I replied, “I know you’re not my father’s friend. You’re his girlfriend! As a matter of fact, you keep calling my house, and I hate you for hurting my mother.”

And I hung up the pho… er, I dropped the phone and I ran back to the car. And I watched as my father, like, fumbled around with this phone and he’s spewing out apologies. And then he comes back to the car, he slams the door shut, and smacks me across my face. And he starts talking, just talking about something or another, and I have no idea what he’s saying because I don’t care. I just didn’t care.

All I knew was that, at that moment, I had been able to tell this woman the things that my mom wanted to say to her. And in some small way, this 9-year-old was able to score a big point for my mother.

After our trip was over, we came home. I could hear my mom and my dad arguing out in the front porch about this or that or what the kids knew or didn’t know. And I was pretty sure as I was standing in the kitchen, that when my mom came back, she was gonna spank me or discipline me for re… disrespecting my father. Instead, she walked in with these bloodshot eyes, mascara tears dried on her cheeks. She looked at me. She made me a bowl of hot ramen noodle soup. She smiled and then she went back into her bedroom.

I still translate for her to this very day, especially with my own family. I mean, huh, we’re still not used to the idea that when you get pinched, and to be told, “You’re fat,” that that actually means, “Hey, are you hungry?”

We’ve learned to communicate in ways of, like, laughter and shared experiences and gestures. And now, when my mom asks my husband and I if we’ve bought a condom, I know she means condo.

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.

Black & White: Stereotypes and Privilege

by Storyteller Diggsy Twain

Discussion Questions:

  1. What would you do if you were in Diggsy’s place on the train? Would you get involved? What if you were the White woman or another passenger?
  2. Does your answer change if the passengers are black or white?
  3. What does it mean to you when the storyteller says “I realized Jason was white?”
  4. Do black people have to take on stereotypes? What stereotypes are made about white people?
  5. In what ways did the storyteller stereotype his white classmate?
  6. How are stereotypes about Diggsy and his white friends different? Why are the stereotypes different?
  7. What does Diggsy’s reference to things “not always being so black and white” mean to you?
  8. How/Why are the articles (ABC and Chicago Tribune) about the train stabbing different?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Black-&-White-Stereotypes-and-Privilege

Resources:

Two articles about the train stabbing to which Diggsy refers in his story:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-red-line-stabbing-20160623-story.html

http://abc7chicago.com/news/woman-stabbed-to-death-on-cta-red-line/1398582/

Themes:

  • African American/Africans
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

In 2014, I was driving. I was in the car with my best friend Jason and we were driving to a high school reunion. Yes, it was 2014, and we’re going back and forth, just catching up a little bit and he asked me, “So, how’s Chicago?”

I said, “Man, I’ve gotta tell you about the train. So, a few weeks before, I was sittin’ on the train, I look over and there is a sign that says emergency exit only, um, do not enter. There’s a black man that walks through that door. And it was surprising to me because the train’s still moving, so he walks into the middle of the train car. And he stops and he makes his announcement, ‘Change, change? Anybody got some change? Fifty cents or a dollar? Help me get something to eat. Change, change? Anybody got some change?’”

“The train’s normally quiet and subdued. Everybody’s kinda looking at Facebook and their U-Tube. So, no one’s really paying attention to him, which I thought was surprising because he made this big announcement. So, he’s scowling up and down, looking around and then he starts to walk to the next train car. Then he stops. He turns around. He makes eye contact with this middle-aged, white woman.”

“‘Woman, what you lookin’ at? Don’t you be lookin’ at me! You lookin’ at me? Don’t you be… you think you’re better than me? You ain’t no better than me!’”

“Awkward. So, I, uh… Chicago has, uh, closed down some of the mental health facilities and he kind of looks like he’s off his meds. I don’t really know what to do. There’s a seat to the left of her, left of this white woman. And I go and I sit down next to her just to give myself options. I don’t know if I’m gonna do something or I’m not gonna do something but I wanted to make sure that I had some options. And I look over at him and he’s still going off.”

“‘Woman, don’t you be looking at me.’”

“So, it’s not lost on me, on this same train, just a couple of days before, there was actually a black man that had stabbed a woman to death. And I’m wondering if that’s going to be like a continuation here. So, I’m watching him just yell, yell, and, finally, nothing happens. He walks to the next train car and it’s calm.”

I’m telling this story to my friend Jason as we’re driving to the, uh, reunion. I said, “Well, at least we now gave that white woman, um, options. She doesn’t have to just stereotype me along with this, uh, angry, black man.

And Jason looks at me and says, “Why do you think that she would stereotype you with him? You’re your own person. He’s his own person.”

And I just… it kind of surprised me that he said that. Because it was at that point I realize, “Wow! Jason’s, Jason’s white, um, because he thinks that I don’t have to take on this stereotype that if she… if, if a black man stabs somebody on the train that I don’t have to associate myself with him.”

He said, “If Justin Bieber pees in a mop bucket, no one would ever associate me with him.”

I said, “Yeah, but if a black man stabs somebody on the train, people may associate me with that black man.”

And it was just interesting, just epiphany, that, wow, we come at this from different perspectives. Um, he was surprised that I had to take on certain stereotypes. I was surprised that he didn’t have to take on certain stereotypes.

So, we’re driving. Um, we finally arrive at the, uh, high school reunion. Uh, when we walk in, there’s this guy, his name is Paul but I’ve always call him Dean. And, Dean, just to me, represents the stereotype of just white privileged. Uh, his dad was, like, the mayor of the town. So, he just represented all of those types of stereotypes to me.

So, um, after, after we’re done smoozin’, um, there’s just the three of us left. We sit down, uh, we sit down at a table and I’m having a conversation with Dean. And it surprised me a little bit, um, because I’m asking him, “Uh, how did, how did life go for you after high school?”

And he tells me that he went, um, on to go play, uh… He was the star high school football quarterback and now he’s gone on to college to become a star, uh, football player as well.

And I thought to myself, “Okay, you probably got this ’cause your daddy, right? You’re white. You’re privileged. It just goes along with the stereotype.”

And then he told me… I said, “So, so, how did you get to college?”

And he told me that he actually put together his football tapes, that he was the top 10 passing quarterback in Ohio. And he went to exposure camps on his own, and he met with coaches on his own, and it kind of surprised me.

And I thought, at that point, I’m, I’m never going to call him Dean again because I’m undercutting all of his success and stereotyping him just as a white privileged guy. And it just hit me as all three of us were sitting there, that it’s easy to make things seem so black and white when they’re not always so black and white.

Fit In or Stand Out: An African-American’s Battle to Fit into White Culture

 by Storyteller E.B. Diggs

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the similarities between the storyteller’s hometown and the legal community?
  2. What is the importance of the storyteller expressing his individuality in the white culture in which he finds himself?
  3. How do the storyteller’s opinions compare to his barber, Mr. Matthews, on standing out from the white culture?
  4. How do the storyteller’s opinions compare to his coaches on fitting into the white culture?
  5. Compare the 8th grade coach’s opinion to the high school coach’s opinion on standing out and fitting into the white culture.
  6. What are the similarities between high school coach’s position on his dyed hair and storyteller’s position on the black girl’s dyed hair? Why is the storyteller conflicted about hiring the black girl with the red dyed hair?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Fit-In-or-Stand-Out-An-African-Americans-Battle-to-Fit-into-White-Culture

Resources:

Black Faces in White Places: 10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness by Randall Pinkett
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Themes:

  • African American/Africans
  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

I grew up in a small town right outside of Columbus – Delaware, Ohio. It was 95 percent white, 5 percent black and we all, or most of the black people lived on the southside of town.

Um, there was a barber. His name was, uh, Mr. Matthews and I loved Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews used to cut our hair, um, cheap, $3; he used to cut our hair for $3. All the other haircuts were 10, 12 dollars.

He had this idea that, um, he wanted to make haircuts affordable but he also wanted to give you your own style, your own personal style. And I just loved that. So, uh, as I was transitioning from seventh grade into eighth grade, from, like, band geek and brainy guy to, uh, basketball superstar, I was gonna play on the basketball team and be a star.

“Mr. Matthews, um,” I said, “Man, cut, cut Diggs in my hair and put the dollar sign in it, right! And it was kind of funny ’cause I was poor but I had a dollar sign on my hair. So, I did it and my eighth-grade basketball coach, Mr. Webb, it was amazing.

He used to, uh, just allow you to be an individual, um, which is very important. Um, as a black person on the southside, you can kind of get lumped in together. And having your own unique haircut and your own unique style allows you to break through some of those stereotypes and to be seen as an individual. And Mr. Webb would walk up, call you brother, can… give you the pound. Um, he would dev…, he developed some one on one plays, allowed me to do what I do best, to go one on one. But he also showed me the importance of fitting into the collective, how me, one of, uh, two black people on a p… white dominated, uh, team, how I needed to fit into that collective. But I could still be an individual, and I loved Mr. Webb for that. I loved him so much for that. Um, I was hoping, as I went from eighth grade to ninth grade, that it would be the same thing in high school.

So, I devised this plan. Everybody was looking to fit in, um, fit in with whatever group they were gonna be in high school. And I was looking to stand out. So, in the living room with my mom, I devised this plan.

I said, “I’m going to put red tips on my hair.”

And she said, “Why don’t you just dye your whole hair red?”

I said, “Mom, why don’t I dye my hair blonde?”

She said, “Why don’t you dye it silver?”

I said, “Mom, I’m gonna dye my hair silver!”

So, that day, we went, we got the hair dye. We sat in the living room. She sat on the couch. I sat in between her legs and she put this hair dye in my hair. And it… I could smell the chemicals mixed in with my hair, the ammonia. It just smelled so good. I was becoming Diggs; I was becoming my own person. I just loved it. I went to school. Everybody knew me.

“Hey, who’s that guy with the, uh, silver hair?”

“Oh, that’s Diggs! That’s Diggs.”

I was my own person and I was hoping the coaches would accept me as well. So, a week… the weekend before we were starting basketball, we’re going to have our first game. Um, we’re in the gym. I’m standing against the wall, waitin’ for my turn to go in, to run the drill. And there’s a coach. One of the coaches is about four steps away from me.

He says, “Hey, Diggs, I, I like your hair. You gonna keep that for the season?”

And I was like, yes, yes! This is so awesome! The coaches are accepting me for who I am. They’re gonna allow me to be an individual and fit into this collective. A black man fitting into this white culture. This is amazing.

I said, “Yes, coach. I’m gonna keep it.”

His voice dropped a little bit. He took two steps towards me. The conversation became a little more intimate.

“You’re gonna have that out of your hair before the season starts, right?”

No, no. I’m going to do it this year. I may do it next year. Uh, why did you just ask me that? But I figured because he asked me the same question again, he wanted a different answer. So, I just didn’t say anything. He takes two more steps towards me and now we’re almost face to face. His voice drops even more and the conversation became very intimate.

“You’re gonna have that out of your hair before the season starts, right?”

Ohhh, okay. Maybe he doesn’t accept me as an individual and maybe he just wants me to fit in. Okay, I see what the coach is doing here.

“Um, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I, I’ll have it out.”

And, uh, that day… we had the weekend to dye my hair back so, I went and told my mom. She got this jet-black hair dye and, um, I sat in the living room. She sat on the couch, I sat between her legs and the chemicals, huh! She put this hair dye on my hair and I could smell this disgusting ammonia smell as the chemicals were mixed in with my hair.

And I could feel my individuality just being stripped from me and I loved playing basketball in high school. But after that, I liked playing just a little bit less. And, uh, after my sophomore year, I just… I, I felt like I was losing myself. So, I, I didn’t, I didn’t try out for my junior year.

Going into college, I started to find myself again. I started finding my writing voice and started figuring out who I was. Um, I knew that I wanted to help people and maybe I was just like Mr. Matthews. Um, going into law school, I realized that, um, I needed to figure out how to fit into that new collective, that new legal, uh, community. So, after I graduated, I moved out here to, um, Chicago. And I started my own law firm and I realized that the, uh, the legal community is primarily white. It was just like my old town; it’s primarily white with speckles of, of black. And I needed to figure out how to be an individual but also to fit into that collective.

A few years later, my law firm started to take off. It was amazing and I had an opportunity to, uh, make my first hire. It was this black girl and she had, um, long hair and it was dyed red. And I wanted to tell her that, um, you can’t have your hair dyed like that; you’re gonna stand out too much. I felt like my coaches. You can’t have your hair dyed like that; you’re, you’re not gonna fit in. You’re going to stand out too much and we already stand out. And if I take you into court, we’re gonna look ridiculous and no one is going to take us serious.

Then I thought about my coaches, and I thought about if I told her that, I’d be stripping her of her individuality. So, when she asked if she could work for me, I said, “Yes.” And I decided I was gonna allow her to figure out how she wanted to fit in or stand out.

My Names: Gender Expectations for a Taiwanese Woman

by Ada Cheng

Story Summary:

In this story, Ada Cheng explains the meanings of her Chinese name: Shu-Ju. She explains the connection between her name, her parents’ expectations for her as a daughter, and the cultural expectations for her as a daughter. She details why she chose to stay with the name Ada and what Ada means to her life and her identity.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Names-Gender-Expectations-for-a-Taiwanese

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do parents come up with names for their children in Taiwan? What do names represent?
  2. What does Ada’s original Taiwanese name tell you about gender norms in Taiwan?
  3. Why is changing her name important to Ada, her identity and her life?

Resources:

Growing Up in Three Cultures: A Personal Journey of a Taiwanese-American Woman by Dora Shu-fang Dien 
Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience by Carolyn Chen
Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Languages
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

Hi! I’m Ada Cheng. Ada Cheng. Let me start with my original name. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and I was born Chen Shu-Ju. In Taiwanese culture and some of the Asian cultures, Cheng, we put our last name in the first place so Cheng is the family name. Shu-Ju, um, that’s my given name. In Taiwanese culture, when parents give children their names, uh, it represents, uh, their expectations in terms of what they want and what they hope for their future. It can be about their life; it can be about their career. Shu-Ju. Shu, the character means like a lady.  Ju means good luck.

So, I can just imagine my mother going to a fortuneteller and trying to find the right characters for me. Um, and, eh, she would probably talk to my father. “I think it would be great if we give our daughter, uh, this wonderful name and we hope that she will be gentle and… and… and quiet and polite and respectful. Like a lady with a lot of good luck.

So, now imagine my being a little girl, like a tomboy. And then my parents’ expectation was that they wanted me to be respectful, polite, quiet and… and gentle like a lady and I didn’t like my name when I was growing up. Um, here’s the thing, this is what my mother’s… as I was growing up, this is what my mother would say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! You got to wash dishes. You… you’re a girl; you have to help out in the kitchen. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! Close your legs! You’re a girl! Come on, you can’t do that anymore. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! You can’t beat up your brother. He’s a boy. You’re a girl! Ah, Shu-Ju, what’s going on with you? You can’t run around naked anymore. You’re a girl! Ah, you can’t play with boys. Please do not talk back!”

Let sink that, think, sink that, sinking for a while. I grew up like playing, running around, tomboy, climbing, liked to climb trees, climb things, fight with boys. And as I was growing up, I hated my name because how did you… could you convince me to love a name that I knew I was going to fail my parents’ expectations. That there was no way for me to fake it, right! Often time you fake it until you make it! There’s no way. For me to know I can fake it until I make it. And… and there’s no way for me to… when I was a little girl, I thought there… there’s no way for me to make it as a woman in this society.

And I rebelled; I refused to do anything required me as a girl. Um… which also very interesting is that I… my mother also gave me another nickname. Um, in Mandarin, it’s called Zhi Da Bien. In Taiwanese, it’s called Gay Sei. In… in English, it’s called Chicken Poop! That’s right! My mother called me Chicken Poop. Eh… and it was… so, um, I asked my mother, “Why would you call me such name?”

And she say, “Because you were so small; just like a chicken poop, right?” She thought it was very, very  endearing to call me this. Um… ah, she didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. But the thing when… as I am older and think back, would she call my brother such a name?

So, I remember when I was 8 years old and I was playing  with, uh, neighborhood children. And I was the smallest one in the neighborhood but I was the one, the strongest one with the strongest opinions. I liked to order people around and I would say, “Line up! Do this and do that!” So, often time, after school the children would just stand there and play. So I remember that day, that close to dinnertime, and I was gathering people and say, “Hey, hey, hey! Please, uh, gather up, we’re gonna play the game (whatever the game was). We’re gonna play again!”

And as I was ordering people around and, uh, I was the smallest one, my mother suddenly appear at the door and then she said, “Zhi Da Bien, Zhi Da Bien! Shi wăncān!”  So, the English translation is “Chicken Poop, Chicken Poop, it’s time for dinner!”

And I just froze! And I turn around and I look at my mother and I was exasperated. I was being authority figure, standing in front of a group calling the shot and then, I say, “Five minutes, give me five minutes!” Ah! In my back, I heard children giggling, right! And when I turn around, the kids just started to laugh at me. “Ah, Zhi Da Bien, Zhi Da Bien, right! Your name is Chicken Poop, Chicken Poop! And then I was… I just… I was so mad! I was so frustrated! And I… I just left. I ran away. I said, “You know, I’m not going to play with you guys!” and left.

And when I went home, I finished dinner and I didn’t talk to my mother. And that was pretty much the day I kind of lost my status in the neighborhood. I mean, think about it, how many boys will want to play with a girl and to be ordered around by a girl whose name is Chicken Poop, right! Um, and I realize nobody wanted to play with me. Um, when my mother saw me this small or given me this small… um, and later on, uh, you know, my mother and I, ah, my family and I – we stopped talking with each other.

And, um, because I was trying to be my own person, um, wanted to search my own life, um… And it was actually October, 1976, I was in junior high school. We… everyone started to learn English and so one day when I’m home, we have this very small dictionary. And I thought if I started to learn English, I am going to have an English name so I can immerse myself in with… into the environment so I flipped through the dictionary. I found this name list and I looked through the names. In our textbooks, we have Mary, we have Susan, we have… have all these names. I thought I got to find a name that nobody has heard. So, I looked through it and I saw the name… I saw Ada, right! Ada is for the first place, the first name listed under the alphabet A. And I looked at it and I thought, “That’s it, Ada! That’s the name for me!”

Because at the age 12, the only thing I want to be was number one. So, I thought I wanted to pick the name Ada so I could be number one then and number one forever. So, I pick that name and I stick with it, uh, forever. And I started to introduce myself to everyone as Ada and that’s the important part is that when I picked that name, I also wrote a different story for myself. Thank you.

To Prove You Are Legal: Immigration from Taiwan

 by Storyteller Ada Cheng

Story Summary:

In this story, Ada Cheng explores her experience with the U.S. citizenship ceremony. She discusses the institutionalized vulnerability that immigrants are subject to during the process of becoming Americans. She also compares her experience as a naturalized citizen with that of one of her invited guests, an older African American man.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: To-Prove-You-Are-Legal-Immigration-from-Taiwan

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does this story help you understand the vulnerability immigrants face in the process of immigration and U.S. citizenship application?
  2. hy doesn’t the legalization of citizenship status necessarily help reduce the prejudice and discrimination immigrants might face?
  3. What does it mean when the storyteller says her story and her African American colleague’s story are connected yet very different? How?
  4. How does this story help you understand the citizenship process better?

Resources:

Growing Up in Three Cultures: A Personal Journey of a Taiwanese-American Woman by Dora Shu-fang Dien  
Getting Saved in America: Taiwanese Immigration and Religious Experience by Carolyn Chen 
Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir by Eddie Huang

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Identity
  • Immigration

Full Transcript:

I’m Ada Chen. So, um, after being a green card holder for 10 years, I finally decided to apply for American citizenship last year. And two weeks after I did my citizenship interview, I received a notice from the Citizenship and Immigration Services of Homeland Security (and I have to say that clearly) and notifying me that my citizenship application was approved and my swear in ceremony was on May 27th, 2015. Um, and I was excited. I was very excited! Um, I have to say, though, my citizenship application was absolutely smooth.

Uh, the only problem I had was the way the USCIS staff handle the mail. They actually mailed it out without sealing the envelope. Um, so, the notice with my legal name, social security number, green card number, uh, and address was sticking out of, the… out of the envelope in the mailbox and I was just floored. I thought, you know, what if… what if this – one of the most important documents -was lost. Um, but, uh, you know I’m just excited. So, I invited my partner… and my then partner and the chair of my department at the university where I was a faculty member to, uh, join me for this important event. Um, and on May 27th, we arrived at the USCIS building right before 1:00 p.m. Um, we got through the security check, um, took off our shoes, went through it and I, actually had to throw away my, uh, camera and recorder because they would not allow any kind of recording, uh, devices. And we went up to the third floor and there was a open waiting area and a lot of people were waiting there. And so, after half an hour I was called to stand in line… all of the people who, uh, will be sworn in that day. So, we were standing in line, standing in line and moved to a bigger, uh, ceremony hall.

Uh, and so, as we walked toward, uh, the ceremony hall, there was a long desk, uh, right at the entrance of the ceremony hall and three agents were sitting there. Um, so, the first agent took my green card and my notice. And the second agent examined the documents and threw them into the big yellow envelope, and a third agent took my name off the list.

And then my heart sank when I turned in my green card. Uh, this was, actually the only legal documentation in my possession to prove that I was documented or shall we say the term legal in this country. And I didn’t bring my alien ID with me so I didn’t have any, uh, ID that day to prove where I was. But then the thing is that it really didn’t matter because any form of ID would not prove, uh, your legal status.

So, at that moment I was without legal documentation and I became illegal in a moment! So, I started to panic when I walking to the big hall. And you have hundreds of immigrants like me…  had already been seated. None of us had any… none of us had any legal documentation. And I have to say, I was, uh… it was very, very scary to be with hundreds of people in that big room and it was as if we were waiting for our collective sentence. We’re just waiting for them to process people and, theoretically, um, without any documentation, we could be arrested. Um, locked up and deported. Right? Right there and then.

And then I started to think. Okay, deported back to where? I’m from Taiwan originally. I was born there 52 years ago. Um, I came to this country 25 years ago. The last time I went back was 17 years ago. So, my question I asked myself, “Where is home? Right?” Um, I still have family there and it hasn’t been home for more than two decades. Um, so, going back there, is not necessarily going home. It has been… I’ve been away for two decades. But then that’s what raise the question, “Then is Chicago home?”

Um, so, I was sitting there. And every time an agent walked toward me, I panic because I started to wonder, okay. “You have so many people that are undocumented in one room. Is this just a trap? Right? Is the Asian walking toward me and are they going to tell me, ‘Okay. There’s something wrong with your application. We change our mind about naturalizing you, right?’ ” is…  I would… they are going to say and did not believe me when I indicated on the application form. I told him during the interview and the list of questions that he asked, for example. Um, well, I didn’t engage in genocide. I didn’t torture anybody. I was not a Communist… Communist. I was not a terrorist. I did not intend to overthrow U.S. government. I was not a gambler. Uh, I was not an alcoholic. Uh, I did not force anyone to have sex and I did not solicit sex.

And so, these are the list of questions that, uh, the immigration, um, officers will ask you when they… during the interview. And I just started to wonder, wow, are they not going to believe me and, uh, are they going to change their mind. So, then I was starting to think, well, if that happens, uh, what is going to happen. Uh, but then after a while, I saw my friends coming and, uh, they took their seat. And the USCIS director went up to the podium and say we will start, uh, the ceremony. So, we started the ceremony.

The ceremony included, uh, watching documentaries, uh, eh, and we have to pledge loyalty to the flag. Uh, listen to speeches and, uh, then we, uh, received our certificate of naturalization. One thing I have to say, though, during the ceremony, the documentary talked about how it was that we, like generations of immigrants… that we were so fortunate to come to this country and, uh, escaped war and poverty, uh, and political and religious repression and to receive American citizenship. I actually felt very terrible that I invited, uh, the chair of my department who was 70 year-old African-American man. Um, at that time, many people were protesting the police brutality in the United States, um, and his ancestors didn’t come to this country voluntarily. And when I was thinking about this, that war is not just out of the United States… it is right here in the United States. And so, for me when I was celebrating, um, he was not necessarily celebrating with me. Um, and I feel very ambivalent about that. Um, but eventually I received a certificate, um, of naturalization and when I got home, I immediately locked it up in the safe because that was now the only legal documentation to prove I was a legitimate American citizen. And, believe it or not, a few weeks ago when I applied for affordable care health insurance, they, actually asked for numbers from that documentation, um, when I identified myself as a naturalized citizen. So, this kind of thing never ends even after you become naturalized. Um, but, regardless, I have to say I’m very excited about the process and it has been a long journey to become American.

Complexions of Love: Biracial Children and Folks Who Are Just “Too Dark”

by Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary:

This story speaks to the cruelty of the imposed mental conditioning that inspires people to come to despise their own natural attributes. Mama Edie refers to her father who was considered “too dark” to marry her mother by Mama Edie’s great aunt. Mama Edie also reflects on her Mexican American cousin, who thought she looked “too light” or “too Mexican” to feel like a truly loved member of the family. The story explores how this toxic conditioning has often led to people seeing themselves as being “less than,” not as “beautiful” or well-loved. It further explores the impact this can have on family and other relationships, such that Mama Edie’s cousin felt that she didn’t quite belong anywhere.  It ends with a song segment sung in Spanish by Mama Edie that celebrates the beauty and strength of so-called “people of color.”

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Complexions-of-Love-Biracial-Children-and-Folks-Who-Are-Just-Too-Dark

Discussion Questions:

  1. Consider these statements: “She’s dark but really pretty,” vs. “She’s dark and really pretty.”  What do you think the inferences are when stated either way?
  2. Discuss the pros and cons of interracial or intercultural marriages.
  3. Discuss the pros and cons of interracial or intercultural adoptions.
  4. Would you find it odd to see a European-American girl with locks, African braids, corn rows or beads in her hair? Do you find it odd when you see an African American girl with straightened hair when you can tell that it’s probably not her natural texture? Discuss the implications of your responses to both.
  5. How might the way that people see themselves affect their sense of personal value, empowerment, their relationships or success in life, however that success is defined?

Resources:

This article in the April 2016 issue of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology speaks to the rapidly growing number of mixed race families, as well as cross-cultural adoptions and the psycho-emotional needs these families face:

http://www.aacap.org/aacap/families_and_youth/facts_for_families/fff-guide/Multiracial-Children-071.aspx

Collection of 88 Games and Activities to Celebrate Diversity Month (for youth and adults): http://www.sbhihelp.org/files/Diversity88Ways.pdf

This excellent 4 ½ minute film begins with President Barack Obama speaking on his pride in claiming all of who he happens to be. It is followed by several young people of various cultures who speak to their experiences of being of mixed heritages in America. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21H9lA6MLHM

This 4-minute film features a mixed heritage couple raising twin boys and their aspirations for the children to grow up happy and well-supported. They speak to the artificiality of “race” as it is often referred to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa3Ospkeyng

This is a 1 ½ minute slide show with background music that features photos of mixed heritage couples that demonstrate the attraction of men of other cultures to African American women.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOAW4SH-2Vk

This TED Talk on YouTube was performed by Mama Edie’s niece, Kelli McLoud-Schingen, and is entitled “Identity:  The Story of Me”.  It is 18 minutes long and helps to sensitize the viewer to possibly unfamiliar issues of identity for African American women. Kelli happens to be married to a German American. The couple has two children.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2nKENGttB0

Themes:

  • African American/Africans
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

My name is Eddie McLoud Armstrong.

My first home in 1951 was in a neighborhood called Bronzeville. It was named Bronzeville because of the varying hues of the people who lived there. It was a predominantly African-American community on the South Side of Chicago. And Bronzeville was actually considered the Mecca of African-Americans in this city. And there were many areas in major cities around the country like Bronzeville because during that time, during the Great Migration when African-Americans had been coming to major cities and even smaller cities. This was a time of great promise. It was still a time of struggle but there were people who were able, they were able to find jobs. Some of them, they weren’t that happy with but they were happy to have a job. They, and they were willing to do anything. They were willing to do the laundry, sweep the floors, open the doors, raise white children, and see their own children whenever they could sometimes only on weekends. But some people were even able to start their own businesses. And that was a wonderful thing as well.

Well, in the midst of this resurgence, this renaissance, if you will, of African-American life, there were people who were also great performers. There were writers and authors who were informing us and inspiring us, to lift ourselves up. To lift each other up. To hold on to hope and to keep on keeping our eyes on the prize. And that was a wonderful thing but, you know, we had a little something going on within the African-American community. And this was not only within African-American communities. This was something that happened among children of African descent around the world. And it had to do with color.

Now, one might say, “What does color have to do with anything?” Unfortunately, it can have something to do with a lot of things. We had been conditioned to believe that the lighter you were, that the straighter your hair was, the more beautiful you were. So that means that if you were dark and your hair wasn’t so straight, that means what? You couldn’t, you could never qualify for being beautiful? That thinking was not very healthy. And for generations, people grew up thinking that way.

Sadly, we have to acknowledge that there are people today, especially among women, who have never become comfortable enough to allow other people to see the natural texture of their hair. They will wear a wig. They wear a weave. They’ll put chemicals in there to get it straight, to get it curly, to look like somebody else’s hair. Now, seeing situations like that have now become normal. Would it be as normal to see a white woman or a Euro-American woman with cornrows? Little white girls with beads in their hair? Some of them are doing it these days with locks, with an afro wig. Oh, yeah. There are people who would buy afro wigs. But would it be as normal for us to see white women emulating the kind of hair that we had. And if not, why not? In my mind, it should be no more normal for one than the other. The color thing, the hair thing; it’s the surface of what goes beneath. What, it has everything to do with how one feels about one’s self.

Now, when you have a situation, for example, where there are people of color, who are biracial. And even not just biracial, who are obviously mixed, though, with other heritages, when it becomes a big deal, it makes a person uncomfortable. We put too much focus on the exterior of the per… person. And when you have so much focus going on the outside of the person, then you shift focus away from the things that really matter. And that’s serious. So, this color situation has social, psychological, and even economic ramifications.

I have a cousin whose father was Mexican and her mother, my mother’s sister, was of course African-American. Now, on my mother’s side of the family they were very light complexion. Now, my dad was very dark. And so, in fact, my dad was one of those examples of people where, for example, when he came to talk to my mother’s great, great aunt, who cared for her because my mother’s mom had passed away. And so, she had brought Daddy to the house to let him talk to her because he wanted to propose. But Mommy had Daddy wait in an adjoining room but he could hear part of the conversation. And my aunt told my mother, “Well, you can’t marry Jackie. He’s a nice man but you can’t marry Jack.”

And mommy said, “Well, why not?”

She said, “Because he’s, he’s just too dark.” My mother was crushed and she thought that it was a cruel thing to say. My father happened to be handsome. But it’s an interesting thing because sometimes we may hear people say something like, “Well, he was dark but he was handsome.” You get a different spin on things if you say, “He was dark and handsome.” Saying it differently means something. If you say he was dark but handsome, it means that you don’t expect that he can be handsome because he’s dark. And again, there’s something wrong with that kind of thinking. And so, my father, I feel like my father, ended up feeling for the rest of his life that he had to prove his worth, to prove his value because of the color of his skin, because of the complexion of his skin. And it really had nothing to do with it. I can tell you that my father stayed married to my mother who came to be a rheumatoid arthritic and could not walk. Raising four children, putting them through Catholic schools, working two jobs. They stayed married for 47 years, until my mom passed away. If he had something to prove, he did it. I’m just sorry for the reason why.

I was starting to tell you about my cousin. Now, my cousin was a little bit of a different story. Kind of the same story but just from another direction. Because I didn’t realize that, first of all, she looked more Mexican than she did African-American. We didn’t care about that. We thought she was pretty. I thought she was beautiful. Of course. I was one of those people who thought, well, she light, she got long, straight hair. I know she’s beautiful. So, I felt like I wanted to look more like her. I didn’t find out until years later she wanted to look more like me. She even told me that she wasn’t comfortable at all with the Mexican side of her heritage.

And I told her I said, “Well, why? I don’t understand.”

And she said, “Because I guess, it’s because I don’t really look so much like anybody else in the family. And I, kind of, feel like I don’t belong. And maybe not as well loved.”

I said, “Carlotta, did we ever say or do anything to have you not feel loved?”

She said, “No.”

And I said, “Well, what make you say something like that?”

She said, “Edith, I really don’t know.”

I said, “Well, girl, we got to do something about that.” I said, “Now, I live in a community where there are a lot of Mexicans. There are a lot of people from African countries, from Caribbean countries, we’ve got Asians, we got everybody up in my neighborhood.” And I said, “I have Mexican friends. You need to come to Chicago.” She was living in Niles, Michigan at the time. I said, “You need to come to Chicago, meet some of my friends. Let’s explore the Mexican side of your heritage so that you can find the things that there are to love about that part of who you are. This is sad to me.”

And she said, “Well, I guess so. I guess, maybe, I’ll come now.”

Now, we were both adults at this time. I guess I was in my early 30’s and she’s about six years my senior. But she never came and eventually she moved to Denver, Colorado with her three children. Her marriage had dissolved and she was married to a very light complexion young man. And, but she went to Denver, I suppose, looking for some place to be comfortable with herself and who she is. And somehow, we lost track of her. We can’t find her anymore. She became so uncomfortable with us, in being part of our family, that she really just kind of disappeared. And that’s a pain that I have. I feel like there’s a hole inside my heart. I miss her. I still love her. And I’m very sad that we live in a nation that would have media participate in the kind of propaganda that would pit us against each other – light skin against dark skin.

And it was almost going back to the slave times, you know. The slave, the field worker versus the, the house worker. Divide and conquer, doesn’t get it for anybody. And children from biracial families, who are struggling with this, they need to know that we love them no matter what their complexions are. And nobody is too dark. Nobody is too light. We can just be too little loved.

And so, I share that story to remind us all that love really shouldn’t have any complexion. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just be the flowers in a garden? Like a song, by Tite Curet Alonso, “Las Caras Lindas,” he talks about the beauty of my black people. Just a tiny bit, I’d like to share.

(Singing)

Las caras lindas de mi gente negra

Son un desfile de melaza en flor

The beautiful faces of my black people are like a parade of molasses in bloom. How beautiful. Let’s be the flowers and let’s encourage each other to bloom.

Navajo Code Talker

by Storyteller Gene Tagaban

 

Story Summary:

 During WWII the Navajo Code Talkers created a code that was never broken. The Navaho were forced off their reservations into boarding schools where they were told not to speak their language or practice their culture. But when WWII started, the United States military reached out to the Navajo to help them create a code using their previously forbidden language.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Navajo-Code-Talker

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why did the U.S. switch its policy toward the Navajo’s native language?
  2. The Navajo were not allowed to speak of their role in WWII until 1968. What effect do you think it had that those fighting alongside American Indians during the War were unaware of their critical contribution?

Resources:

  •  The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila
  • Code Talk: A Novel About the Navajo Marine of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Gunalchéesh! My name is Gene Tagaban. My Tlingit name is Guy Yaaw. I’m of the Takdeintaan clan. The Raven, Fresh Water Sockeye clan from Hoonah, Alaska. I’m a child of a Wooshkeetaan, Eagle, Shark clan Káawu huna in Juneau, Alaska and I’m a Tlingit, Cherokee and Filipino. And I tell people I’m a Cherotlingipino. It’s good to be here.

Ah, you know our elders are precious. In fact, we often refer to them as our, our precious objects. I mean… but they’re more than that, our elders, and we hold them in reverence and honor. I had the opportunity to travel around the country with a man; his name is Andrew Osano from Cochiti Pueblo, USA.

Now Andrew was a medicine man or, you might say, Andrew was a holy man. But when you’re from the Pueblo or the reservation, things just move slower. And I was telling Andrew, “We’re going to New York.” I said, “Andrew, when we get to New York, everyone’s going to be moving really fast. And so you need to just move just a little bit faster than you’re used to.”

He goes, “Oh! OK, OK, OK!” And so when we’re flying into New York, he’s looking out the window and his perspective on it was, “Oh, look at that! New York City! All the buildings looked like headstones. Interesting, eh!”

So I’m walkin’ through New York with Andrew Osano and we go to the top of the Empire State Building. And it was a time when Hale-Bopp, the comet, was going through. And so Andrew, he takes those binoculars and instead of looking at New York City, he looks up into the sky, “The comet! Oh! Ah!” And he starts to say some prayers, singing a song and everybody around him starts looking at Andrew Osano, Cochiti Pueblo, USA, medicine man, holy man.

A few years later after that, I drove to Cochiti Pueblo to see Andrew and he goes, “Oh! Oh, Raven T! Oh, it’s good to see you. I need a ride. Ah! We go see my uncle.” And so we’re driving to another pueblo, to see his uncle. And as we’re going through certain areas, Andrew stops, closes his eyes sings and says prayers. “Spirits all along this road,” he says. So we pulled up to a small house. He goes, “My uncle lives here. My uncle, he is a Navajo Code Talker.”

“Navajo Code Talker? Ah!”

“Come in, let’s visit.” We walked in and there’s a small Indian man there, wrinkled skin, dark. And I look into his eyes and they’re just deep, dark brown.

We share a little bit of coffee and I ask him, “Navajo Code Talker! What was it like?”

And he goes, “Oh! You see, I grew up out here, out here, taking care of the land, taking care of our animals, livin’ on the land. And then the government comes in and tells us we can’t speak our language, sing our songs, practice our culture. They took us to schools to teach us a new way.

And then World War II came along. And they called on our services. You see, they wanted us to fight and defend our country but they wanted us to use our language to create a code. Our language that was forbidden! Our language that they told us that we can no longer speak! They wanted us to create a code to help them win the war. Many of the Navajo people enlisted.

And they wanted us to go through basic training. You see, they didn’t think that we could make it through basic training. They thought that maybe we were too fragile. But once we got out there during basics… ah, we scored the highest on everything!”

“Well, this is simple,” we said, “because this is our life. We live out here.” So we went out there. And we developed a code through our language. Nobody broke that code! And for 20 years after the war was over, we were taught never to reveal what we did. And we kept that commitment.

I asked him, “When you came back, what did you do to heal?”

And he goes, “Ah! You know, not like nowadays. Those young men, they come back, they’re on a plane. They close the eyes. They wake up. They’re back in the city.

Back then, we had time to jump on a boat, a ship and we were together. A brotherhood to take care of each other, to talk, to hold each other, to cry. And then when I got back to our reservation, you see, amongst our people, we are not home yet. We are just spirits until we go through a ceremony and then… we become whole again. That’s what’s missin’ in this country nowadays is that ceremony.”

You see, we just sat and had coffee, ate some cookies and just shared stories. And it was an honor for me to sit there amongst a true hero of this country. For if it was not for the Navajo code, we may never have won that war. Huh…! Helps me appreciate who we are as a people. Navajo Code Talkers! Huh!

My Parents’ Three Migrations

by Storyteller Kiran Singh Sirah

 

Story Summary:

 Kiran shares the stories he heard about his parents’ three migrations from India to Uganda to England.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Parents-Three-Migrations

Discussion Questions:

  1. If a story plays a part in your identity – what is it and why do you use it to state who you are? Is there more than one story we can use to claim or identify who we are?
  2. What is your family migration story?  Does it matter or not?
  3. What are some of the challenging moments in your life? How did you handle them? Could the challenges you faced and the solutions you created be a story that you tell?
  4. Can you describe the story of a world you’d like to see and live in?

Resources:

  •  Idi Amin: Lion of Africa by Manzoor Moghal
  • Immigrants Settling in the City: Ugandan Asians in Leicester by Valerie Maret

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

So, my name is Kiran Singh Sirah. And this story is about my parents.

How do you eat a mango? You hold a mango in your hands, you caress it, you squeeze it, and you soften the pulp from the mango, and then you suck out the juice from the middle. I know how to eat mango because my parents told me how to eat a mango. They came to Britain in 1972 from Uganda as Ugandan refugees, and I was born in England. But they told me how to eat the mango because that’s what they did in Uganda. Mangoes flourished in their garden. And we eat mangos every day. But there are so many other stories from Uganda and Kenya.

There were stories about how my mother, when she grew up, she was sitting in an elementary classroom, and, she picked… a cobra, walked into, came into the classroom, and she picked up a hockey stick and killed the cobra. And still to this day, that cobra is in a jar and in the school museum with a label on it, “Killed by Pravina Korga Tora.” There were so many other stories from East Africa, from Kenya, and Uganda, where my family grew up. Stories about how they’d make popcorn and go to the drive-in cinema. Or stories of how they would pick food from the garden and make bugga or baquarda, bagia. Or how they make African food and combine that with Indian ingredients like ugali.

There was even a story once that my mother told me that the Bisaya people used to come on trains with vegetables and fruit and sell these vegetables to the houses. And one day, a young boy was knocking at the door to sell vegetables. And my grandma opened the door and invited this young boy in. And he became a friend of the family and as he grew up with my mother.

There was a story about my grandfather that one day, he looked out and he saw so many people walking past thirsty, they had no water. So, he went out with his own hands, he built a well so they could drink fresh clean water. There are many stories such as this and I know them because my parents told them to me and I had never been to Uganda.

But in 1972, in the summertime, Idi Amin, the then dictator of Uganda, announced on public radio, that Ugandan Asians had to leave the country in three months or they be executed. Now, you can imagine the panic. People were scared. But they had no time to fuss around. They had to pack up what they could, put their possessions into bags, and then leave the country, or obtain the visas so they could leave the country. A sociologist once described my people as the thrice migrant community. A community of people that had migrated across three continents in one lifetime. Thousands fled the borders. Some moved back into Kenya or Malawi or Tanzania. Well, my family were kind of lucky because they were born as British citizens. Originally, my grandparents came from India to East Africa to build the railroads from Mombasa to Jinja, the source of the Nile. The British needed the British railroads to keep control of the British Empire. They needed an access from the sea to the source of the Nile, to keep control of the Suez Canal. So, they sent for migrant Indian skilled workers to do this. And when it became an independent country, both Kenya and Uganda, the Ugandan Asians, they stayed and they settled and made Uganda their home.

On route to Britain, though, in the winter of 1972, things weren’t all that rosy. When the plane tried to land at Luton Airport, the airport was stormed by far right fascist groups that tried to stop the immigrants from coming into the country. And this was spurred by Enoch Powell’s “The Rivers of Blood” speech. Enoch Powell was a politician that talked about the blood of migrants is going to ruin our country. Many of the refugees settled in refugee camps. But my father got word, because he was a young architect in Uganda, that sister branch in a town called Eastbourne, sent word that any Ugandan refugees that were going to come to England had a promise of a job. So, my parents moved to Eastbourne.

The front page of the headline of the Eastbourne Herald Newspaper read, Uga, “Eastbourne  Welcomes Ugandan Refugees,” and there was a picture on it of my parents. A young, cool Indian couple. My father wore a bright red turban. My mum even, even bright red sari and they carried a little baby, my older brother.

Eastbourne was where they grew up. It was also where I was born. It was a town that welcomed my family in. There was so many stories about those early years. I remember, my dad told me once, when he was walking down the Eastbourne promenade, a young boy called out, “Look mum, aliens!” My dad loves to tell that story. I once asked my dad what was it like. You left Uganda at gunpoint. You came to England, you had, your plane had to reroute. You started a new life. You had no possessions, no houses, hardly any money. The only money they brought into the country was jew… wedding jewelry, stuffed into my brother’s diaper. They had to start life from scratch. Must’ve been really difficult.

And my dad was like, “No, Son, it was fun. It was an adventure. And you know why? Because we’re doing it together. We had a sense of community. We helped each other out.”

When they came to Britain, alls they had was minimal possessions but what they did have was the power of the stories that are passed on to them and the power of stories that they passed on to me. I’m so grateful for the stories that were passed on to me by my parents. And the strength and this belief that I believe. That to tell a story in this world is more than a human right. It’s actually an act of love that can change the world. And I’m grateful for the stories that have changed my world and made me realize the person I could be.

The Complexity of Our Street – Burying the Unspoken

by Storyteller Laura Simms

 

Story Summary:

 Issues within the same religious group or ethnicity are complex and rarely discussed. Laura grew up on a street in Brooklyn with many kinds of Jews – Orthodox, Conservative, Sephardic, cultural and so forth. As different as they were, they had one thing in common: no one talked about World War II and the Holocaust. Two young children (one from an Orthodox family and Laura from a Conservative background) find a way to memorialize the unspoken through a make believe graveyard. In doing so, they strike up an unlikely and forbidden friendship.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Complexity-of-Our-Street-Burying-the-Unspoken

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a child, what games did you play with other children?
  2. When you were growing up did you play with children from other races, gender or culture? What was the best part of getting to know others?
  3. When challenges in life and even deaths go unspoken how does that still affect the children?

Resource:

  • God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors by Menachem Z. Rosensaft and Elie Wiesel

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcription:

Hi, my name is Laura Simms. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I was born after World War II. Everyone on my street, in Brooklyn was Jewish. It was after the Holocaust, which was a huge conflagration, a genocide, the murder of millions people.

People in my neighborhood spoke seven languages, they had different customs, they wore different clothing.  There were Conservative Jews, like my family. Those were Jews who went to synagogue once in a while and on the holidays, ate Kosher food. There were Orthodox Jews. They were seriously religious. They wanted nothing to do with Hebrew. They spoke the language from their old country of Yiddish. They wore medieval clothing. I was fascinated by them. There were Reformed Jews. Those were the more political Jews. Everything had to happen in English. And then there were Sephardic Jews from the Middle Eastern countries like Spain and Greece. They, they had different languages and different food. It was very exotic.

The one thing that everyone had in common was that everyone in my neighborhood spoke Yiddish. Oh, and then there was one other thing that everyone had in common. No one spoke about the war that had just happened. But I was a child and as a child, you feel everything.

My father was the neighborhood dentist, and in the back of our house, in the kitchen, that was the place where he was responsible for making important announcements. One afternoon, coming in at lunchtime, my father said, “Lohala, we have new neighbors. Next door, there’s an Orthodox family from Poland. They have a daughter just your age. Her name is Leahala, just like your Hebrew name.” At birth, I was given my name Laura and also a Hebrew name, Leah. I got, as usual, very excited. My father, as usual, tried to dampen my excitement. I think it was something about, “Don’t get too happy. You’ll be disappointed.” But he said, of course, “Don’t get excited. She won’t be your friend. They’re Orthodox. they don’t think we’re real Jews.” Now, I accepted it, the way I accepted everything as a child. Kind of taking it in, thinking about it and somewhat forgetting about it.

Next to my house, right, actually, under my bedroom window, was a small alleyway of dirt. Nothing ever grew there. The sun didn’t shine. It was where I had my secret graveyard. I loved to bury things. I had pieces of dolls’ clothing, my mother’s single sock, an earring. I stole little plastic toys from my father’s dental office. My favorite things to bury, actually, were Chinese food and pieces of pizza that were not kosher. We had strict Jewish dietary laws. My father didn’t allow those foods but when he wasn’t home, my mother would bring it in and say, “Don’t tell your father.” So, I would bury a piece of pizza in a wax paper and then I’d cover it with dirt and put little stones on, like I’d see my parents and grandparents in the graveyard do. I would leap over it or I would throw make believe salt over my shoulders and sing pieces of Hebrew prayers. “Adon olam, asber malak.”

I had a favorite doll of all my dolls. This one was crippled on the left side, one eye hanging out, was completely bald. I dressed her in rags and sometimes even put dirt on her. Her name was Lefty Louie, strangely named for my father. I would put the doll against the wall and then I would tell stories about the history of this lost abandoned, destroyed, unwanted object that I had saved, buried, sanctified, made holy.

One afternoon, suddenly, the window from the next-door house opened. I looked up. And there was a little face. I knew who it was it was. Leahala. She held up her hand. She had a wadded sock. She threw it. I caught it. I buried it. And then, when I was covering it up with dirt, putting little stones around it, she called out in a high-pitched voice, “Kaddosh, Kaddosh, Kaddosh.” Holy, holy, holy. We became best friends. We buried something every day. Our funerals were fabulous. But our entire friendship occurred with me on the ground and her at the window.

And Saturdays, the holy days, the Shabbats, when everybody in the neighborhood promenaded up and down our street in their best clothes, they would talk to each other politely in Yiddish, regardless of what they said about each other in their own languages at the kitchen table. And when my parents would meet Leahala’s parents, Leahala and I would look at each other, turn our backs, pretend we didn’t know each other. Our friendship was a secret. In fact, we had a secret mission; perhaps even a bit of secret to ourselves. When I looked back at it, I realized we were little priestesses; digging; burying; sanctifying; telling stories. We were burying all the dead whose stories were unspoken in our neighborhood. It wasn’t only Jews in the Holocaust. There were Christians, there were gay people, there were political activists and poets, they were gypsies, anyone considered different.

Then, we both turned 12 and our friendship just disappeared. Leahala went to Yeshiva, an all-Hebrew girls school. My mother told me that she was already betrothed to the rabbi’s son. That at her wedding, she would have her hair shaved, she would wear a wig, she would wear long sleeves in August. It’s unbelievable to me. I was obsessed with my hair. My hair hung low, long, curly down my back so I could dance to Elvis Presley and gyrate on my back porch. My skirts were getting shorter. I wasn’t devoted to religion. I gave up burying the dead. I was devoted to rock and roll.

But I grew up. I moved. Israel on the news, often. And I went back to my neighborhood. I had lived in an old farmhouse, the largest house on the street. It was gone. And there were five, three story buildings, with four families in each. My entire neighborhood had become Orthodox. It was like a shtetl, small village in eastern Europe. And the graveyard, I couldn’t find it anymore. It was buried. And I would look into the faces of people walking down the street. They never looked directly at me. After all I was not really a Jew. But I looked for Leahala. I could barely remember what she looked like.

But then one night, when the sun was going down, I was in an airport in London, about to come back home. And there were a group of religious Jews in their black medieval hats with fur and long, black coats of silk. And they were praying, rocking back and forth, facing the sun that was going down. And beside them were two African Muslim young men on prayer rugs. And I stared out the window at the sun. And it dawned on me.

That sometimes, sadly, history creates a gap that maybe, at another time, would not exist but that remains. Getting wider between the Leahala and Leah. But that place, we all pray to, regardless. And that underneath it all, my friendship with Leahala, always exists. And whenever I tell the story about her, there it is. Palpable and real. And I pray all the time that people only bury as we did. And that the constant burial of the dead from wars and racism, that should come to an end.

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.

Mr. D’s Class

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MR. D’s CLASS
By Antonio Sacre


Introduction:

Some of the most poignant and beautiful writings are created by students simply sharing their life circumstances with one another. Powerful and moving, this story told by Antonio Sacre is a true personal experience that shows that anything is possible and that all students should dream big. Listen as Antonio relates his time spent with a class of high school seniors, the connection he made with them, and their remarkable achievements.

Summary:

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?

Classroom Reflections & Activities:

  • Big project: have students create a class anthology of their own. What would their story be?
  • Introduce a poetry assignment to students that talks about who they are – struggles, talents, dreams, etc. Bio-Poems are great examples of this type of work.
  • Brainstorm with students several questions they think would be important to know about someone. Then, have students interview each other. Interviewing sessions could be videotaped and class biographies could be created.

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Watch the video now

 

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

RaceBridges Studio Videos

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..

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Explore our many other RaceBridges Studio videos and lessons

for Asian American month or any time of the year.

 

The Story on Our Skin: Looking for Identity Beyond Appearance

 

Story Summary:

 From when we humans first became aware, we began to paint our skin with colors and symbols of who we are. Were we telling the world “look at my skin to see who I am”, or saying that since appearances can change, then true identity must lie deeper within us?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Story-on-Our-Skin

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think that people have painted themselves since the beginning of human culture?
  2. Do people have different reasons for why they paint or mask themselves in different cultures?
  3. Is wearing makeup the same as painting a face? How do people paint themselves today?

Resources:

  • Transformations! The Story Behind the Painted Faces by Christopher Agostino
  • How Art Made the World: A Journey to the Origins of Human Creativity by Nigel Spivey
  • Tribes by Art Wolfe
  • Body Decorations: A World Survey of Body Art by Karl Gröning

Themes:

  • Identity

Full Transcript:

As we humans first became self-aware, we began to paint our skin. Aware of who we are. Aware of our place in the world. Why did we paint ourselves? The answers may be lost in the black charcoals and the white ash of our first fires. In the ochre colored earths where we first lived, these are materials that are still used as makeups. Was it in colors such as these that we first saw our skin as a vehicle of identity?

The color, red, signifies power and vitality, embodies our traditions around the world. From the faces of the heroes of the Chinese, the Japanese theater to the red ring that surrounds the face of the Masai warrior. How long has this been true?

When we first marked our skin, was it merely as a decoration or were they marks of identity? Were they meant to be read like the swirls of Maori tattoo or the iconic symbol worn like a name badge by the Plains Indian, Bull Buffalo? Were we saying, “Look at my skin to know who I am!”

In celebrations of who we are, we still paint ourselves today. From modern birthday parties to village festivals in the Omo River Valley of Ethiopia. The young men of the southeast Nuba would paint their full bodies every day in original designs, celebrating the beauty of the human form. For we are so beautiful, we deserve to be art. From ancient rituals and the theater born of them, to modern incarnations like Halloween and Hollywood movies, the makeup artist brings our dreams, our gods to life, and our nightmares, too, giving form to our aspirations, raising us beyond our identities into the supernatural.

As a modern face painter, I’ve learned that what I paint on someone’s face is not as important as how the painting makes them feel as people see them anew, transformed. Our skin is the edge of who we are, where we touch the world. When we mark our skin, we are changing the way the world sees us, to take control of our identity.

But there’s a duality of understanding in this transformation. For if we can change our identity by changing our appearance, then we should come to understand that all appearance is transitory, beautiful. Identity lies deeper. It’s a fundamental function of masks and body art in world cultures. To prove that forms are transitory, to prove that forms can change, then to understand the true nature of the world, we have to look deeper, to the spirit behind the mask.

No matter how many faces I’ve painted and what I’ve painted on them, one element always remains the same. The eyes. The human eyes that look back at me through the painted mask. And I’ve come to see that everyone’s eyes look the same, the way, I imagine, they’ve always looked since the very beginning when we first became aware.

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.

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.

Chinese New Year’s Frogs: A Collision of Culture and Nature

 

Story Summary:

“Ranger Linda” describes her encounter with a group of well-intentioned Chinese Americans bearing bullfrogs. This surprising incident illustrates how cultural differences can have unintended consequences and how cultural awareness can lead to greater understanding and a better outcome for all.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Chinese-New-Years-Frogs-A-Collision-of-Culture-and-Nature

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you do when cultural customs clash?
  2. What is more important – cultural beliefs or environmental protection?
  3. Have you ever encountered a similar situation where a cultural practice clashed with what was best for the environment?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Linda Yemoto. And for many years I worked as a park naturalist at a nature center in the hills of Berkeley, California. And I want to share with you an incident that happened and that brought home to me how cultural differences and beliefs and practices can have unintended environmental consequences. But first I begin with a very brief folktale.

Long, long ago in China, a Buddhist monk was traveling from temple to temple. One day, his travels took him deep into the forest where he came upon a small, wild pig that had been captured in a hunter’s trap. Now, the pig was squealing and squealing with fear. And the monk felt compassion for the pig and so, he released it. Now, according to the laws of the time, that monk was guilty of theft. Now, when the matter was brought to the attention of the Buddha, the Buddha pondered for a bit and then said, “According to the Dharma, the teachings, the monk is not guilty for he acted out of compassion.” And that simple act of releasing the pig over hundreds and hundreds of years became a Buddhist practice called fang sheng. The releasing into the wild of an animal that would otherwise be eaten.

Now, fast forward about 2,000 years, a Saturday, in February 1994, five minutes until closing time. As the naturalist on duty at the Nature Center that day, it had been pretty busy. Lots of nature walks and snake talks and puppet shows. And we were ready for the day to be over. We were just about ready to lock the glass doors of the nature center, when a visitor came rushing in from outside rather out of breath saying, “There’s a big group of Asian-Americans walking down the road to Jewel Lake.”

“OK,” I thought.

“They’re carrying two big, cardboard boxes.”

“OK,” I thought.

“Full of bullfrogs.”

“Oh, no,” I thought.

“And they’re going to release them into the lake.”

“Oh, no!” So, I asked Lauren, one of our interpretive student aides to lock up the building. Eveline, the other one, and I jumped into the park truck, drove down to the lake as quickly as we could. And all the time I’m thinking, “What the heck do they think they’re doing? Don’t they know bullfrogs are not native to California? Don’t they know what’s going to happen when they release them? Oh, I hope I can get here on time.”

So, we parked the truck and strode up to the lake and sure enough there were probably 20 or more Chinese Americans standing around the edge of the lake. They were chanting; they were singing. They were looking very happy for all these bullfrogs that were hopping around their feet and swimming away across the lake.

“Who’s in charge here?” I asked.

“Ah, I guess, I am,” a middle-aged man approached me. “Ah, why?”

“Ah, well,” I said. “I guess you didn’t realize that bullfrogs are not native to California and when you release them into an environment like this, they can completely decimate our little native Pacific Chorus frog population. You see, bullfrogs can get as big as dinner plates. And they will swallow anything they can get their mouths around. So, there go our frogs, our snake, our fish.”

“Oh, no!” said the man. “We didn’t know! We had no idea. But,” he said, “we didn’t release the turtles that we bought.”

“Oh, good,” I said. “What do you mean, ‘turtles that you bought?’”

“Well, we went down to Oakland, Chinatown, to two different markets.” And they bought as many bullfrogs as they could possibly afford. And then they brought them down to Jewel Lake to release, in celebration of Chinese New Year. They were practicing fang sheng.”

“Oh,” I said. “How many bullfrogs do you think you bought?”

“Oh, maybe two hundred,” he said.

“Oh.”

With much apologies, they said they would take their turtles and they would leave the park. They didn’t look like they wanted to touch the bullfrogs, much less help us recapture them. But Eveline and I looked at each other and looked at all these frogs hopping about and some of them did not look too good. They’re kind of hopping sideways and flipping over. And you can capture some of them pretty easily. So, she and I decided that the best thing to do would be, we had to recapture as many bullfrogs as we could that night before they had a chance to recover.

Now, luckily, Eveline’s family lived close to the park and they owned two kayaks. So, she rushed home to get the kayaks. I went back to the office and called my family, told my husband what had happened. He turned to our two boys, their ages 7 and 4 at the time, and said “Hey, do you want to help your mom catch bullfrogs tonight?”

“Yeah!” they said. So, they came on down.

I think we spent six hours on the lake that night. Eveline and Lauren were in the kayaks. They were each holding a flashlight in their teeth. And they were paddling slowly around the lake When they’d spot a bullfrog they’d shine the light in its eyes, which stuns it. They’d put down the paddle, pick up a long-handled net and scoop the bullfrog out of the water. And then they’d stick it in a garbage bag, which was at their feet inside the kayak.

Now, that worked pretty well until I saw the bullfrogs started getting loose. And I could hear them across the lake, “Ooo, aaah, ooof!” I was in a small flat bottom row boat with my two boys. They had their flashlights. I had the net and their father was very slowly rowing us around the lake. Well, about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, we decided we had to quit. We had recaptured 98 of the 200 bullfrogs. We put them in two large, five-gallon tubs with lids, put the lids into a storage room in the nature center, and we went home for the night.

Now, unfortunately, during the night those bullfrogs were hopping so vigorously against the lids they popped them open. So, when I opened the storage door there were those bullfrogs all over the place. We had to recapture them, put them in their tubs, put on the lids a little more tightly, and we took them down to the East Bay Vivarium, which is a store that raises and sells amphibians and reptiles. Now, they knew they couldn’t sell the bullfrogs but they were thrilled to have them because they were going to freeze them, which is actually a humane way of killing the frogs. And then, over time they were going to feed them to a large South American snake that they owned.

Now, as Chinese New Year’s rolled around again the next year, we knew we had to do something. We couldn’t let this happen again. So, we posted some signs that said, “We honor your practice of fang sheng but releasing of any animals into our regional parks is strictly prohibited. And we appreciate your cooperation.” But we also got in contact with some of the larger Chinese Buddhist churches in the area. And we had a really good discussion with them about their Chinese New Year’s practices and what happens when you release non-native animals into the environment. And I think, in the end, we had a much better understanding of each other’s perspective. However, it did take us over 10 years to get rid of those Chinese New Year’s bullfrogs and all their generations and generations of offspring.

Now, you may wonder, “Well how do you know you got rid of all those frogs?” Well, bullfrogs sound like, Ba-rump! Ba-rump! Ba-rump! And our little native chorus frog, they have that more classic ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribet. So, for years you go down to the lake and you would hear mostly Ba-rump! with a little bit of ribbet. But now if you go down to Jewel Lake on a spring or summer evening, you’ll hear not a single Ba-rump! But just ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet, ribbet.

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.

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.

Will You Please NOT Marry Me? – Adventures In Cross-Cultural Dating

 

Story Summary:

 When a single girl from Eastern Europe goes to the USA to study, she has to face certain assumptions made about green cards, marriages of convenience, and other things no one prepared her for. Culture shock comes in many shapes and sizes, and graduate school orientations never tell you what “the L word” really stands for…

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Will-You-Please-NOT-Marry-Me-Adventures-In-Cross-Cultural-Dating

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a ‘marriage of convenience’ and why do people think it is beneficial for an immigrant?
  2. How would you describe marriage in your own culture? List marriage customs and traditions from other cultures that are different from yours and speculate about the reasons for these differences.
  3. What do we find out about the definition of ‘love’ from the story? What other definitions can you think of?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Csenge Zalka. When you are an Eastern European girl studying in the USA, especially if you are single and, uh, you are in your early twenties, a lot of people automatically assume that you are here to marry an American guy for a Green Card. And they never tell you that at the orientations.

The first time I was in the United States, that was in 2007, I had to go through a series of orientations. One before I arrived (back in Hungary) and then two after I arrived. And they tell you a lot of important things at these orientations. They tell you, um, about the education system, about taxes, about driving in the USA, about drinking or not drinking in the USA and, most of all, they always, always tell you about culture shock. What they usually say is, “You are going to have it. You will go to the USA and there shall be culture shock. You are going to be there with a lot of people who speak a different language, listen to different music, eat different food. And you will feel lonely, and you will feel homesick, and you will feel depressed. And then you will know that you are having culture shock.” Everybody does, except I didn’t.

I had been studying English for about 20 years and I never had a problem with people speaking it around me. And people were listening to different music and eating different food but that was part of the fun. And I never even felt homesick. It felt like a year-long vacation that was exciting and new, and there were things to explore. And every time somebody brought up the topic of culture shock, I just said, “No, I never had it!”

And then, I started dating. They don’t tell you a lot about dating at the orientations. What they usually say is, “Use protection” and “Going Dutch means that the guy is not going to pay for your food.” And the rest, I just had to figure out for myself.

So, I had been dating this guy for about a month and then questions started coming up in conversations with people. Questions that I didn’t expect but they kept coming up over and over again. And the first one was always, “So, what’s going to happen when the semester’s over?” meaning that my visa was going to expire and my scholarship was over and I had to go back home.

“That’s what international students do” and that’s what I always answered.

And then came the second question, “But you could stay here if you married him, right?” And, at first, I just laughed at that because I’ve, I’ve never seen American students ask American students if they were going to marry their boyfriend of four weeks. But it kept happening and I always answered that legally, if I had an American husband, I would still have to go back to Hungary when my visa expires.

And then the conversations usually went on and then they circled back and came the next question, which usually was, “But do you think you would marry him if you could stay?” And that was the point when I started realizing what culture shock was. It was the feeling of being treated differently just because you were not from around here. Of course, when I go to France, they never ask these questions or, if they did once, they’d never ask again.

Um, but the situation got worse when some people started asking my boyfriend the same question. They started asking him if he would be willing to marry me so I could stay here. And imagine a guy in his early twenties having to face that question. I started to feel like those pop-up windows on the internet that say, “Find your beautiful Russian brides today,” or “Eastern European beauties waiting for rich American men.” And it just got really annoying.

But, interestingly enough, the brunt of the culture shock did not come from the Green Card questions. It came from one single word.

I had been dating this American guy for about 2 months and we were out on a date. It was a really nice day. We were happy; we were silly. And he did something romantic, I don’t even remember what it was. Maybe he bought me a flower or he said something nice. And I laughed and I just said, “See, that’s why I love you!”

And he just froze up! I watched his face go blank and I didn’t know what was wrong. And two days later, he broke up with me. And I was heartbroken and I was sad and I was upset but, most of all, I was very confused. “What have I done?”

So, a few days later, one of my friends took me out for lunch and he was a guy, so I asked him for his perspective on what just happened. And I told him about the date and about the weird reaction of my ex-boyfriend to that particular, uh, thing that I said. And my friend just froze up the same way and he said, “You said the “L” word?”

Here’s the thing. In Hungarian, “I like you” and “I love you” are the same phrase. And, of course, I’d seen American movies, romantic comedies where “I love you” is always said in pouring rain with flowers and a full orchestra playing in the background. And I always thought that was a movie cliché.

And it took my American friends a while to explain to me how “I love you” in English is a lot more serious than “szeretlek” in Hungarian. Here I was, Eastern European, in the United States. It was okay to ask me if I was going to marry the guy that I had known for a month but it was not okay for me to say that I loved him. And that was the culture shock!

So, the next time I started dating an American guy, I did two things. One, on the very first date, I looked him in the eye and I said, “Listen to me because I will only say this once. I do not need to marry you for a Green Card.” And, two, I waited ’til he said, “I love you” first.

And these days, I am one of those people doing the orientations and I still talk about the education system, and taxes, and driving in the USA. But when it comes to talking about culture shock, now I have a lot more to say.

Taylor Made Family: An Aunts Tale of Transracial Adoption

 

Story Summary:

When Nancy’s sister adopts seven-year-old Taylor, aunt and niece find kindred spirits in each other. This story explores what makes us family and when the color of one’s skin does and doesn’t matter.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Taylor-Made-Family-An-Aunts-Tale-of

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Transracial adoption, while becoming more common, remains controversial. What issues can you imagine experiencing (or have you experienced) if you were adopted into a family that doesn’t look like you? How might it be different in an urban area vs. a rural area? How might it be different if the adoption is in infancy or as an older child? What are potential problems? What are potential benefits?
  2. How would you want your differences acknowledged and handled by your adoptive family? How could they support you, make you feel welcome, and find the balance of becoming part of the family while honoring the culture(s) of your birth? How can you imagine asking for what you need and want? What can you imagine a supportive, productive family meeting looking like?
  3. How would you want your friends/classmates to support you if you are (or were to be) part of a transracial, biracial or multiracial family? What are things they might say or do that would be helpful? What are things they might say or do that would be hurtful? How would you want them to ask you what you need/want in way that feel supportive? How could you bring it up to them?

Resources:

  •  In Their Own Voices, Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories by Rita J. Simon and Rhonda M. Roorda
  • Inside Transracial Adoption, by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name’s Nancy Donoval and I want to tell you a story about the best present my sister ever got from me.

I was looking into her eyes and she was looking straight into my mine, clinging to them like I was her life raft. And if I looked away, she would drown. Splinters are painful at any age. I knew that personally. But when you’re 8 years old and one’s been festering in your foot for two days, it’s excruciating. And the fear of the pain getting worse when you take it out is even more so. It was Christmas and my sister said, “This is coming out.” And then she came up to me and said, “I can’t get her to let me take it out. Help me.”  And I went, and took Taylor, eight years old, sat her on the couch, and said, “Honey ,when I was your age I got so many splinters and it was so hard. And this is going to hurt but it’s going to be better after. When I was a kid, the only way they could get me to sit still to take the splinter out was, it took three people to do it. My dad would take the needle and he would do the digging. My mom would hold my hand and my brother, your uncle Jack, he would sing to me.

That’s what family does. And that’s what we’re going to do right now. We’ve got three people. Your mom’s going to get the needle. Roy’s going to hold your hand and I’m going to sing to you.” And I did what my brother had sung to me. “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Papa’s going to buy you a mocking bird.” Ah, she was so brave. And it took forever but the splinter came out. And in that moment of the echo from this memory of my childhood, I knew she was fully, completely my niece.

And I remembered that day my sister had called me the year before, (Taylor’s 15 now so, this is about eight years ago), my sister called me, the day Taylor moved in with her. They’d been having visits but this was the day Taylor moved in. And she said, “Oh my, I’m adopting you!” Well, my sister is nine years older than I am. She’s the oldest. I’m the youngest. She has a Masters in Business Administration. I have a Masters in Fine Arts. We are different people. And she had adopted me and she really had. Taylor and I are so much alike. It’s amazing to me. We both are theater nerds and she loves the arts. And all her emotions are right on the surface. And my sister is pretty much driven by logic, probably not as much as she thinks she is, but still pretty much driven by logic. And Taylor and I are both driven by emotion. And, oh, we just chatter away to each other. Sometimes I feel like her aunt and sometimes, because her mom was a little bit like a second mom to me, I kind of feel like we’re the two sisters goofing off in front of our mom.

Taylor said to me one day, “Aunt Nancy, I feel so lucky. I don’t think a lot of adopted kids end up in a family where there’s somebody who’s so much like them. Somebody who actually gets them.”

And I said, “Taylor, sweetie, I know for you that’s about being adopted, but I gotta tell ya, it’s pretty rare for somebody who was born into the family to have somebody who really gets them. Who really sees them. I’m just as lucky to have you.” I was really lucky to have her. My mom was always the one who really saw me, understood me, loved my storytelling, was emotional like I was. But my mom had Alzheimer’s and she was disappearing in tiny degrees. And life is so funny, the day I moved our mom, in an emergency move to a nursing home from assisted living, was the day Taylor’s adoption was final. As one who had gotten me came out of the family, one who got me – the one I got – who was like me, came in.

Now, of course, Taylor and I are not the same person and we’re different from each other. She has moved a little bit away from performing. She loves story like I do but she writes and writes and writes and writes. She told me that she feels like “writer” is the key to her identity and it has been the thing that has formed her since she was in sixth grade. She’s about to start sophomore year of high school. She has seven books she’s written. And she writes them and rewrites them in composition books. And then she types them and then she edits them. I would never have that. I tell stories out loud. I don’t write them down. Oh, we both love story.

She is taller than I am. She makes friends in grade school easier than I did. And we don’t really look alike. She’s tall and thin like the boys in our family are. The girls in our family are a little bit more, um, round. And also, we do not have the same skin color. I have to tell you, I make my sister, well…Let’s put it this way, my sister makes me look deeply tan. And Taylor is a rich, rich brown. And again, she makes friends so easily. She is in a grade school where there are kids of every color in the world. My grade school, oh sure, we had people who were German and Italian but the big difference between us and the rest of the world was we were Catholic. And there were other people who were public.  I didn’t really think about black and white. Probably because there weren’t really any black people in my family. And here’s Taylor. Not in my family, in my neighborhood, in my school, in my life, they just weren’t. And here’s Taylor, who’s in this school with all these different colors. And I’m seeing pictures with her with all her friends. And, oh, she’s dating this boy and she’s dating that boy. Well, I’m not quite sure what that means in sixth grade, but she’s dating this one and dating that one. And they’re white, they’re black, they’re Asian, their everything. And I asked her if she ever got any flack from the kids in school about, you know, being with somebody of a different race.

Because when I was in high school, I ended up having this guy I met at Junior Achievement camp and he was black. And we weren’t really dating, but we enjoyed each other. And he asked me to his homecoming dance and I was excited to go. I liked Cal. And his parents said, “No, you can’t go! You can’t go to the dance with her.” Because they were afraid for him that if he brought a white girl, now this was the 70s, but still if he brought a white girl, they thought he would be in danger.

And here’s Taylor with all these different people mixing around colors and I asked her if she ever got any flack. And she said, “Well, not like that.” She said, “But every now and then, people will be like, ‘No, no, no, no, you two don’t look good together. You would look better with him and she would look better with him,’ and that seems to be about what color people are.”

We have most of our really good talks in the car. I live in Minnesota now, she lives in Chicago, we talk on the phone, we do Facebook, we do messaging, we text. But our deep talks are in the car or at slumber parties at my friend’s house in Chicago. Taylor comes over and we have a big party. But in the car, somehow facing outward, we talk about hard stuff. And I told her once that I was thinking about doing a story about her because I tell stories. And I tell stories from my life and she’s so important to it. And I asked her what it was like to have been adopted into our family? And what it was like to be the one black person in a really white family?

I remember her first Christmas with us, just looking around the room, our a little clump of people, maybe only 8, 10 people in the room. And she just looked up and said, “All right, we need more black people in this family.” And, ah, she wasn’t wrong but it wasn’t like we could mail order someone for her. I was already dating someone, the other ones were already married, we didn’t have an opening. But most of the time, we don’t talk about race. But I asked her and we had, just had this big Christmas party at my cousins’. And my cousins, there’s thousands of them, and that seems like an exaggeration but when I’m in the room with them it feels true. My first cousins, four them, had 22 kids. There’s all these grandkids. I can’t keep track of them. They all live in the same neighborhood. They all go to the same school. They all know each other so well. I go to that party, I feel out of place and I’m related all of them. I’ve known them since I was a kid, since they were kids. But they have such a family dynamic. And I remember when Taylor was little and first going to those parties. She just ran around playing with all the other kids. But as she’s gotten older, she’s ended up being a little more separate. She doesn’t feel comfortable at the parties anymore. And I asked her about it and she said, “Well, I think as you get older, your heart gets smaller. I think you get more judgmental. Not everybody but some people do. And you see the differences more, nobody really says anything. But I just feel really different there all the time.” And I asked her if she felt that way with us and just our small family. She said, “No. No, not with you guys. But there I always know I’m different.”

And we talked about how much of that was her color being different, and how much of that was her being adopted, and how much of that was just simply the family dynamic of all these kids who go to school together and know each other really well and they don’t know her. But it turned out people do say things sometimes. She had one person at the party she really liked. She’s great with the kids, and she has one second cousin something or other removed, Claire, who she loves playing with and watches at the party. And they were going to play princess. And Claire said, “OK. I’m going to be the princess and you’ll be my servant.”

And Taylor said, “Ummm. I would like us both to be princesses.”

And Claire said, “Umm hmm, not how it works. I’m the princess because I’m white and you’re the servant because your black.” Claire didn’t mean anything by it. She was going from what she’d absorbed from TV, from movies; you look at the casting. She loves Taylor. But Taylor went in the bathroom and cried.

And then she came back out and said, “Claire, we are living in a castle with no servants at all. We are in a castle where the princesses take care of themselves.” But it’s harder for her to go to those parties because, though she still loves Claire, Claire was her safe zone, and her zone doesn’t feel safe anymore.

My sister tries so hard. It’s trans-racial adoption, how do I make her feel like she can fit in? Taylor told me my sister was asking her, “Do you want to celebrate Kwanzaa? We could celebrate Kwanzaa. I could look up how to do it.” And Taylor’s like, “None of my black friends in school celebrate Kwanzaa. No, I don’t care about celebrating Kwanzaa.”

You know, “Do you want to go to a traditionally black African-American school? Do you want to, we can go to all the museums?”

And Taylor’s like, “Thank you. I appreciate it.”  And she does appreciate it. But she’s like, “You know, mom doesn’t force it on me, which is great. It’s not like, ‘No, you must be African-American.’” Taylor said, “I don’t really think about color that much, unless somebody brings it up. I mean, I know, I know I’m black. But I don’t think about it. I don’t really see color very much. I just…I’m just me.” She’s so good at being just her and it’s how I am. I know I’m white but I don’t think about it very much. Except, I really worry that there’s going to come a time in her life, because she’s black, she is going to have to think about it. And I want to protect her from that. And I want a world where we really cannot be color blind because her color is beautiful. But where we can be like Taylor and I try to be. People who see the inside. People who just enjoy people and make friends easy.

I asked Taylor if she had any advice that she would give to someone who was going to be adopted into a family of a different race. And she said, “Hmm. I don’t know. I guess I would tell ‘em, keep an open mind because no matter what color they are, they’re gonna be your family.” And Taylor…Taylor has connected me to my family so much more deeply. She really is the best present my sister ever gave me.

When Summer Came: Summer Vacations in the Segregated South

 

Story Summary:

 During the 1950s, Gwen’s mother, like many African American parents, ritually sent their children down south for the summer. Gwen remembers the rich experiences with her grandparents on the farm but also many painful and dangerous racist encounters which greatly impacted her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: When-Summer-Came-Summer-Vacations-in-the-Segregated-South

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would African Americans send their children back down South in the summertime, after they had left behind the discrimination and mistreatment they often endured while living there?
  2. Have you ever experienced or seen others experience racism or discrimination of any kind?  Describe the experience and how you reacted or coped with it.
  3. What are some ways that people can become advocates or builders of acceptance of others who are discriminated against in our society?

Resources:

  •  The Gold Cadillac By Taylor, Mildred (Ages 10 And Up.)
  • Born Colored: Life Before Bloody Sunday By Erin Goseer Mitchell. (High School)
  •  The Rosa Parks Story – DVD (2002)

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

My name is Gwen Hilary.

When summer came to Chicago, when I was a student in elementary school, I never got a chance to spend summers there. Each summer I was sent South to be with my grandparents and to spare… experience life on the farm. Now, during those years, when summer came, my mama worked from midnight until 8 o’clock in the morning. She would get home in time to see us off to school, and then get up again at 12 o’clock to fix lunch, and again at 3 o’clock to spend some quality time with us, from 3 until 7. That meant that she rarely got more than five consecutive hours during those working days.

So, when summer came, my mama got a chance to rest. She would prepare us a big shoebox full of food; chicken, bread, and cookies, and other things to take with us. But we didn’t know it was because she knew there would be no place along the route where we could purchase something to eat. I remember, one summer, when we were going South, that my sister and I had ridden the Greyhound bus for so many hours that we had to go to the bathroom, desperately. We bolted off the bus and rushed into a waiting room so we could get something to drink after going to the bathroom.

Now, we noticed that as we walked through, the men lowered their papers and some looked over the top of their glasses. When we got into the bathroom, the women stepped aside to let us go in, we thought that was quite nice. And then, we went to the bathroom, and we went to the stalls, and we washed our hands, and fixed the hair. Thought we looked kind of cute, as a matter of fact. And then, we walked through to where we could get something to eat and drink.

When we got to the counter, the waitress looked at us as we approached and said, “We don’t serve your kind here.”

Your kind? And we looked around and realized we had gone into the white only waiting room. We were so embarrassed and a bit afraid and we asked, “Where do we go to get something to drink?”

“The colored waiting room was around the back, over yonder.” And we walked out and saw an old dilapidated waiting room that said “Colored only.” And that’s where we purchased our beverage.

When summer came, we experienced racism in the South that we had never known. But there were wonderful days. You see, we went to school all year long. Black children in the South didn’t get out of school during the summer. Their school day ended or their school year ended, at the end of September maybe in October. It was then, that they would harvest the crops, pick cotton, and help the family raise money. My grandmama was a teacher in one of those schools down South. A one-room schoolhouse that housed students from grades 1 through 8. There were long benches and each grade was assigned a bench. And there was a potbellied stove that would keep the students warm in the winter. And over in the corner, was a table that held a bucket full of nice cold water and you could get a dip if you needed it. Now, there was also something else in that room.

There was a switch. Now that switch would make sure there was no disorder. But it also made sure that you attended to getting those lessons done. The worst time was when you were called to the front to spell those words that you had to learn each night. If you missed a word, you got a lick, smack, right in your hand. There were some mighty good spellers coming out of that school. When integration came, that one-room school was closed and all of the black children boarded yellow school buses each day, to ride to the brick, large schools in town.

When summer came, racism occurred in a way that I never knew existed in the South. I remember, that Emmett Till went down South with me. We were in the same school. Now, I don’t know if we were in the same homeroom, but we had classes such as art or music together. My name was Tarpley and his was Till. And as we sat in alphabetical order, he would have sat behind me in the seats that were bolted down. Six rows of eight seats, in each class room. I remember his eyes. Oh! Beautiful, beautiful brown, light brown eyes and a big smile. And he was jovial, always happy. Everyone liked him. But, you see, he had never gone South before and didn’t really understand what the South was like and the rules, that were very strict, for black child growing up in the South. His mama didn’t want him to go, but he begged because all of us were going. This was a ritual for many black families who had come North from the Great Migration to make a better living for themselves. They would send their children back to the farm, back to the family, to experience life. And so, Emmett Till went to Mississippi. I was in Arkansas that summer.

Now, while I was in Arkansas, my grandmother had sent me inside of the drugstore to purchase some items for her AND told us we could get some ice cream. Oh! It was so exciting! My sister went to purchase the items and I sat on a little, red stool, spinning around. And I said, “Black walnut, please.”

The young, white boy looked at me and he didn’t serve me. So, I spun around and I said it again, “Black walnut, please.”

Just then the door burst open and my grandmother rushed in and took both of us by the arm and she said, “She didn’t know any better. She didn’t know any better. We’re leaving, now.”

I couldn’t imagine why my dignified grandmother, who was a teacher, would give such respect to this white, teenage boy. She told me when we get outside, “Baby, baby, I should have told you. You can buy your ice cream in that store but you can’t sit down in there. You have to eat it outside.”

I remember we would go down to Mr. Tucker’s store on the corner. Mr. Tucker was a nice white man. But Mr. Tucker did not understand why we would not say “Sir” to him when he spoke to us. And I would say, “Mr. Tucker, I want a whining ball. Give me a red one.” Those were big, hard candies.

He said, “And?”

And I would say, “And, please?”

“And!” But I would never say “Sir” but he would always give me my whining balls.

When summer came, we had a chance to spend so much time with our eight cousins in our big frame house. We would make mud pies, roll car tires down the road. We could race each other and they’d look like big black donuts. We would grab the branches of the weeping willow trees, and swing out onto the water, and fall in with a splash. We would take lightning bugs, and put them on our ears, and we also would play with frogs. But when that lightning and thunder came, we children were told to sit absolutely still on the enclosed sunporch. My grandmamma said God was doing his work.

Well, those days are long gone, but will never be forgotten. The black community in the South was a special, nurturing place. It was a place where the wealthy and the poor, the highly educated and the illiterate, and those who were pillars of society and the derelicts, lived together in a community that nurtured and took care of each other. Now, the houses are gone. The barns have been torn down, and the land has been divided among the heirs. And we now rent that land out, and people raise soybeans and other crops on it. I’ll never ever forget those special days in the South when summer came.

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.

Mattie’s Story: From Darkness into the Light

 

Story Summary:

After dreading spending the summer with her strong willed grandmother, a young Earliana learns the true strength in “black beauty”. She finds that no matter how different we may look, we all have the capacity to feel and, more importantly, be kind to one another.

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Matties-Story-From-Darkness-into-the-Light

Discussion Questions:

  1. Within a family, how do the (significant) adults teach a child to ‘look at’ or ‘see’ the world?  In this family how did the grandmother teach the child?  How did Miss Mattie teach the child?  Might the understanding have a different outcome?
  2. In the story there was emphasis on the color of the child’s face and neck, and on the contrasting colors of Miss Mattie’s skin. Is this a story about perceptions of skin color and race or is this a story about family?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Earliana McLaurin. And this is an excerpt from a st… uh, a larger story entitled Miss Mattie’s Story: From Darkness into the Light.

Uh, the story takes place in Lockport, Illinois circa 1995, so that would make me 11 at the time. Uh, I was staying with my grandmother during the day because my mom, she worked. She worked during the day. My grandmother, at the time, was knocking about, I dunno, 65, strong as an ox and mean as a bull if you got on her bad side.

I remember that day was a hot June morning. I know… I remember it was hot because we’d been outside all morning.

First, we put the laundry “on the line” complete with old school wooden clothes pins. Then we cleaned off the lot next to her house that she owned. And then we were weeding the garden behind hers house… her house when I just, I had to stop.

“I, I’m getting thirsty, I said, then I handed her the shovel.

She had on this big, uh, sunhat and I remember she looked up and she said, “Well, I suppose it is getting’ hot. And it is about lunchtime,” and she walked in the house.

“Thank you,” I whispered and I followed behind her.

Now at my granny’s house, you couldn’t sit down for a meal until you “washed up” and this wasn’t just like washing your hands. You had to wash your hands, you had to wash your face and you had to wash your neck, which was a big bone of contention with both my mother and my grandmother, like, my entire life.

If you can’t tell, my, uh, skin on my neck is a little darker than the rest of my body. My grandmother, however, interpreted this as dirt and has been —- bent on lightening the skin around my neck. So much so that every time we would get into it, I’d just say, “Maybe it’s just that way.”

You know, ha, as a kid, I never thought about, oh, this is darker. It must be bad. I gotta get rid of it, you know. You know, I’d always considered my skin to be brown – beautiful shades of light and dark brown. Yet that day, before my butt even hit the chair, my granny checked the back of my neck.

“Oh, after we eat, I think we’re gonna walk on down at Thelma’s to see how her tulips are doing.” My grandmother said, making her famous tuna salad sandwiches.

Now this was good news. Miss Thelma was my… one of my grandmother’s friends. She lived down the street and she had converted her garage into a candy store. So, naturally, I was excited to go.

“Well, you know, we got to swing on past Mattie’s first.”

Uh, Miss Mattie. Miss Mattie’s house, I was not excited to visit. Miss Mattie was my grandmother’s best friend, who lived, uh, directly across the street. Earlier that year, Miss Mattie had suffered a stroke. And so, one side of her face was kinda, kinda droopy. And so much so, that when she smiled, only one side of her face moved. And, uh, to an 11-year-old, I’m sorry, that was just kinda creepy, like Halloween mask creepy. So, I did my best and I tried not to stare. — forbid, I get caught by my grandmother, starin’. So that day, uh, we, you know, finished up lunch, and my grandmother grabbed Miss Mattie’s plate, which she always did. I never understood it. Miss Mattie could walk; she could use her hands so I didn’t understand why we had to always take her a plate.

But, you know, like we did almost every day, we make a short trip across the street to her house. My granny calls for her, she comes to the door, and I remember looking up and looking  at the left side of her face and thinking, “Man, she’s dark but kinda pretty.”

Because, see, on the left side, Miss Mattie’s face was this smooth unblemished dark chocolate color. And it was always a little shiny, not like greasy, but like, like the chocolate swirls you see in candy bar ads on TV. But I also remember that day, looking up at the right side of Miss Mattie’s face and all I could see was the droopy Halloween mask. So, of course, I immediately put my face down. You know, we were almost to Miss Thelma’s. You know, it’s just right down the street.

And I hear my grandmother say, “Oh, we got tuna today with some tomatoes from my garden.”

I’m thinking, “Why is she’s so happy?”

And I look up, I chance a look, and she has this great, big smile on her face. Now this was sayin’ sumpin’ for my grandma. She only reserved this big smile for, like, Christmas and birthdays. So,  I was confused. But, you know, I just kept my head down. She, you know, bid her goodbye and off we went down the street.

We walked about ten steps before my grandmother said, “Earliana LaTish McLaurin. You were starin’ again.

“I’m sorry!” I said, trying to keep up with her. “She just looks so weird.”

“Weird? Earliana, Mattie’s sick. She can’t help the way she look. It’s part of her sickness. Mattie’s, wha… still same old Mattie, uh, laughin’ and smilin’. As I recall, changed quite a few of your diapers when you were a baby.”

“But will she always look like that, I said.

“Well, it’s affecting her whole body now and her medicine is so expensive.”

“Oh, but her family helps her, right,” I said, because, you know, back then that’s what you did. Even if you weren’t related. Black families helped other black families.

And my grandmother, at this time… by this time, we had gotten to Miss Thelma’s and we were right in front of her gate. And she looked at me and she said, “Mattie ain’t got no family, baby. You know her. What little money she gets has to cover her medicine and all her bills. Don’t you worry about old Mattie. She got plenty of family. Me, you, de folks at church. Mattie goin’ be just fine.”

She handed me a dollar and went on around back to Miss Thelma’s flower garden. I went over to candy store and I remember just standing there, you know. Normally, I’d be poring over each candy. But that day, I remember just standing there, and thinkin’ about Miss Mattie because, see, you know, as an 11-year-old, huh, I couldn’t imagine being so sick and alone all the time. Every day. Every night. I remember going back and handin’ my, my grandmother the dollar and just tellin’ her I didn’t feel much like any candy.

Later that night, we were eatin’ dinner and Miss Mattie was still on my mind. My grandmother could tell because I was just pushing around my mashed potatoes.

And she said, “You, you okay, baby?”

And I said, “Yeah, I’m just thinking.”

And she said, “Well, when you done thinking, uh, you want to watch some Wheel of Fortune?”

And she started clearing up the dishes and the food. And I remember sitting up and droppin’ to the floor. I was like, “We, we’re not going to take Miss Mattie a plate?”

And she said, “Well, you know, I try to give Miss Mattie her space.”

“But, Granny! What if she’s hungry right now!”

You know, in my mind, how did I knew this information. It was like, if Miss Mattie didn’t have any family, then we were her people and, and we had to help. We had to.

“Well, you know, if Mattie was hungry, she’d call and.”

“What if she’s too sick to call, Granny? Why, she’s all by herself. I can take it over there. Let’s just take her plate.”

And I get up and I start to get a plate down from the cabinet. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t too happy about walkin’ in the dark in Lockport, Illinois in the mid-90s but I felt like Miss Mattie needed us more. So, you know, we get the plate and off we go. Mis…she called for her.  Miss Mattie comes to the door. And this time, I remember looking her right in her face, right in her other worldly, chocolate, slightly droopy, chocolate face.

And I said, “Here you go, Miss Mattie. It’s meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. I made sure Granny put some meat… some gravy on the meatloaf and the mashed potatoes because that’s the best. Ha, ha.”

Miss Mattie, not used to me sp… actually speaking, heh, sorta chuckled. And, you know, she said, “Why thank you, baby,” and turned to my grandmother.

You know, up until that moment, I had never even thought about it but I realized that beauty, beauty had to be more than just the color of my skin, you know. That as crazy as it sounds, Miss Mattie’s face was kind of like my neck. A little dark, maybe weird to some but it certainly didn’t need to be scrubbed away or hidden. Miss Mattie had always been perfectly nice to me. And after knowing how she struggled, and what she was going through, I could no more deny her beauty than I could her dignity as a human being.

The last thing I remember was handing her the plate, and puttin’ my head down, kinda looking at my granny ’cause I was just waitin’ for her to chastise me because, you know, you supposed to let the adults talk first. And I remember looking up, and all I saw was this great, big smile on her face. That same, big birthday smile. Except this time, it was just for me.

Angels Watching Over Me: Transforming Years at St. Sabina School

 

Story Summary:

 During the Civil Rights Movement, Patricia’s family moved to the Auburn Gresham community on the south side of Chicago. Hers was one of the first African- American families to integrate the parish school. Over time, Patricia witnessed white friends quietly moving out of the neighborhood as they transferred to new schools. Before long, Patricia understands the meaning of “white-flight” and its effects. Fortunately, because of a few good angels, she was not severely hurt by the negative behavior surrounding her.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Angels-Watching-Over-Me-Transforming-Years-at-St-Sabina-School

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the social and emotional effects caused by the decision of whites to abruptly leave a school rather than to figure out how to make integration work?
  2. In what respect has integration failed and why is there still so much negative reaction to this practice?
  3. Time alone has not taken care of the race problem; what steps are needed to begin the healing process?
  4. Who are the people in your life, outside of family, who have been brave enough to stand up for what is right? What have they done to demonstrate their courage?

Resources:

  •  Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison
  • Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
  • Dear America: With the Might of Angels by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Both Sides Now: The Story of School Desegregation’s Graduates by Amy Stuart Wells

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neighboroods
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Patricia Redd. And in a storytelling world, I’m also known as Serenity and I’ll be sharing a personal story about my experiences at St. Sabina.

I went to Catholic schools all my life. First grade through college from 1959 to 1976. But I have to tell you the most dramatically, transforming time for me was when I went to St. Sabina in my fifth through eighth grade years. I remember that 1964, my parents moved us from Englewood, which was a Southside community with people that look like me, to a predominately white neighborhood in Auburn Gresham. I had never seen so many white people in one place at one time. And when we went to the school, my mom was just comforting to me. And I knew in my heart that everything was going to be all right.

My parents went to so many community meetings back then. I was just a young’n but I remember that they would talk about how, as African-Americans, we just wanted to be able to go and live and be at peace. We just wanted to be able to go places and do things without folk telling us to go back to Africa. And we wanted to be able to walk around in the neighborhood without people shouting at us to get out of our neighborhood. It was our neighborhood. We lived there too.

There were three transforming, life changing events, that happened to me during that time. The first happened when I was in fifth grade. And we had just moved into the Auburn Gresham community. And had been at St Sabina, probably starting in September, and now it was May. September had the pract, ah, ah, St. Sabina had the practice of having a statue of Blessed Virgin Mary travel around from one person’s home to the next. And apparently, somebody had the bright idea that we should have a turn that this. That didn’t go over too well for some folk because there must have been a great deal of ruckus happening. But I tell you what, between my mom and the powers that be, we did have the statue of the Blessed Mother in our home along with all of the regalia.

The second transforming event changed my life forever though. On January 1st, 1965 at nine o’clock in the am, we got a phone call from St. Bernard Hospital that my mother had died. What? Oh my! My parents had just gone to a New Year’s Eve party the night before. And to my knowledge she hadn’t been sick. And then we get the word that she died of a cerebral hemorrhage. I had a hole in my heart too big to bear. What was I going to do? Here I was in a new school, in a new neighborhood, with people that didn’t really seem to want to have us around. But you know what? My mom must’ve really been looking after me though. Because in my sixth grade year, I had a teacher named Sister Kent that was not like any other teacher I ever had. Now I had been with nuns since the first grade, so that wasn’t it. There was something about her where she had a heart for me and I had a heart for her. She kind of looked after me. She watched out for my every move.

Well, on this day it started out like any ordinary day except I ended up with a splinter in my finger. Sister Kent rushed me over to the convent, and I’ve been wanting to go in this place forever, but now here I was, in it for the very first time. She sat me down at this long, yellowish looking table and disappeared. I waited with bated breath. Where, where was she? Well, when she came back, she came back with a bowl of water, a needle and some matches. All to take that splinter out of my finger. When she put my finger in the water to soak it she said something that changed me again. She said, “I can’t believe how white my skin is against yours.” I didn’t feel like she said that to hurt me. It wasn’t like some of the things that I heard my classmates saying or their parents saying whoever made of the mantra, “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words would never hurt you.” They didn’t know what they were talking about because some of the stuff that came out of their mouths was really ugly. But I didn’t get that sense from sister Kent. She loved me. That’s what I felt.

Well, in my seventh and eighth grade years, it seemed like every time I would come into the classroom, there was a desk vacant. There was a student sitting there the day before but now they were gone. And this happened repeatedly throughout, throughout those two years until eventually, St Sabina was no longer predominantly a white Catholic school. It had become a predominantly black Catholic school. And I realized that they were leaving just because of people like me. The color of my skin scared them. I thank God for my teachers but especially Sister Kent because through those years, I believe that they did everything they could to shield me from the ugliness of racism. But more than that, I believe that they picked up where my mother left off. They were the angels watching over me.

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!”

 

Learning Long Division and White Superiority from My “Sweet” Third Grade Teacher

 

Story Summary:

 In the early 1960s, at a time when the hierarchy of race was evident in much of the country, a Black student feels relief to encounter a White teacher who operates without apparent bias. However, as the school year progresses, the student discovers that, in spite of her kind heart, his teacher unknowingly perpetuates White superiority by unselfconsciously promoting cultural and social standards that are rooted in “White” cultural and social norms; norms that might have worked for her, but not for everyone. It’s a lesson that is even more valuable for today’s “colorblind”, “post-racial” society.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Learning-Long-Division-and-White-Superiority-from-My-Sweet-Third-Grade-Teacher

Discussion Questions:

  1.  One of the major points of this story is that in the United States “Whiteness” acts as an invisible, unspoken, socially unacknowledged set of cultural, political, educational, etc. standards by which we all are forced to live. Since those standards aren’t talked about, they are perceived to constitute a neutral, normal, and (if you are White) benign quality of life. As the story relates, that doesn’t work for everyone.
  2. Try this: If you self-identify or are socially identified as “White” – Over the next day, without forcing the issue, try to make a mental note of how many “White” images you see versus images of everyone else. Look for things like “White” mannequins in stores, “White” people on product labels, images of “White” people in books and magazines, on medical charts and TV shows, in ads on billboards and buses. Before hearing the author’s story, were you ever self-conscious of those things?
  3. To read and do: Roger Bannister is credited with being the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. Matthew Henson is purported to be the first man to reach the summit of the North Pole. Read a book or a few of the numerous online accounts of each of these men’s lives. Why do you suppose absolutely none of the literature on Bannister ever calls him the first “White” man to run a sub four-minute mile? In contrast, why do you suppose all of the literature on Henson calls him the first “Black” (or African-American) man to reach the North Pole?
  4.  Did you know? . . .  The first woman in space (1963) was Russian Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova. Twenty years later, the first American woman in space was Sally Ride. Consult a variety of sources and read their stories . . . Notice that there is absolutely no mention in any of their histories about them being “White”.  The first Black woman in space was Mae Jemison in 1992. The first Latina in space, in 1993, was Ellen Ochoa. The first Japanese woman in space was Chiaki Mukai in 1994. Consult a variety of sources and read about them. Notice that every single account of their stories mentions their “race”. To what do you ascribe these different treatments?

Resources:

  •  The Right Hand of Privilege by Steven Jones, PHD. jonesandassociatesconsulting.com. Jones & Associates Consulting, Inc.
  • Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America by Stephanie M. Wildman (Introduction, Chapter 1Making Systems of Privilege Visible”, and Chapter 7 “The Quest for Justice: The Rule of Law and Invisible systems of Privilege”
  • Understanding White Privilege from the Teaching/Learning Social Justice series (Chapter 2 “What’s In It For Us: Why We Would Explore What it Means to be White”)
  • Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children by Louise Derman Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force
  •  Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practical Guide to K – 12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development by Lee, Mankart, and Okazawa-Rey
  • Eight Habits of the Heart by Taulbert Clifton

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is La’Ron Williams and I want to share with you just a tiny, little piece of a much larger story that I wrote about 12 years ago. It was a story examining the role that race played in shaping the structure of the community in which I lived. The original story is about 55 minutes long but this is, like I said, just a tiny, little piece so I hope you’ll stay with me through the whole thing.

A long, long time ago, way back when I was growing up, there was a story that I used to hear over and over and over again about the way that America thought of itself. Now, it didn’t come as a straight-out narrative. It came to me in tiny, little snippets and you’ll probably recognize some of these. Things like, “land of the free and home of the brave,” or “with liberty and justice for all,” or “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” That kind of thing. And taken in the aggregate, taken together, they constitute a kind of a narrative that says that this country is free and very equal and equitable place. And so, I grew up with the notion that that it should be like that.

But when I was a boy, way back when I was born in 1951. Jim Crow segregation was still the law. It was very, very obvious and very, very thorough in some places like Georgia where my father was from. And in some places like Flint where I was from, Flint, Michigan, it was not so obvious. Not so brutal, not so open but it was there, because it was everywhere. It was all over the country. So, I’m one of those people who remembers drinking from the segregated drinking fountain, for example, or having to sit in the balcony of the segregated movie theater, or having to swim on one side of the segregated swimming pool. And I, especially, remember, one time when my family took a trip to Washington D.C. and we weren’t allowed to eat in a restaurant. We were greeted at the door by a man who simply, very matter of factly, told us that we couldn’t eat there because they didn’t “serve Negroes.” And I remember my brother, as we walked away, said, “That’s okay, because we don’t eat them.”

I didn’t read about those things in books. I remember those things. They constitute a part of my upbringing, a part of my lived experience. And you may notice that my lived experience didn’t match the stories that I was told about the way this country was. And so, what that meant was, that, that I was kind of like I was two people. There was the person who really, really wanted to be free and equal and to believe the stories I was being told. And there was the person who knew that it was a lie. And these guys didn’t always trade places. I mean, sometimes I would be both of those guys at the same time.

Well, the fall of 1959 was when I went into third grade and my teacher that year was a woman named Mrs. Paris. Now that’s not her real name but for story purposes, Mrs. Paris was my third-grade teacher. And at the school that I went to, most of the teachers were black. Most of the students were black. It was, it was a largely African-American school and Mrs. Paris was the first white teacher that I had ever had. So, when I walked in the door, I felt a sense of trepidation. I mean, ’cause, because I didn’t know what she might be like. She might be like that guy who told us we couldn’t eat in the restaurant. So, I was ready for anything but my heart was also open because I was two people and one of them wanted to believe that things could be fair.

Well, as the year went on, I learned that Mrs. Paris really was a pretty good teacher. She taught us a lot of things and she always had a smile on her face and I like that piece of it. And I love the fact that she, she loved to sing. She was always singing songs in class. She taught us long division. She taught us how to say the Pledge of Allegiance, every, single day. She was a very loving and kind teacher who never, ever, ever gave up on any of her students, even those students that were considered slow. She would take special time with them to make sure they caught on with all the lessons.

Well, now, there was one time when the entire class was working on painting, a huge banner mural. And Mrs. Paris had taped this kind of really thick butcher paper up all around, all the walls of the room. And each student was assigned a part of the butcher paper to draw on. And so, we had to draw our part of the painting before we started painting. Now, I was a pretty good artist and so I finished my part of the banner before anybody else. So, Mrs. Paris came over and she gave me a number of different cups of paint that she had mixed up beforehand. And she’d labeled all of these cups.

So, I picked up one of the cups of paint and I started to paint one of the people in my portion of the mural but I didn’t get very far because one of my few white classmates standing right next to me, suddenly became, like, super exasperated. She put her hands on her hips, (disapproving breathing), and she’s going like this, (exasperated look), and only in a way that only a 8 year old kid can do. And I thought she was out of her mind. What’s going on with you? What are you doing? And, and she looked at me and she says, “You’re not supposed to use brown to color history people.”

I had no idea what she meant. I just looked at her and I started to say something. But before I could say anything. She called the teacher over. She said, “Mrs. Paris, he’s using the wrong color.”

I can almost hear all the heads turn of all my fellow students as they looked to watch Mrs. Paris walk over. Mrs. Paris walked over, she reached down, and she took the cup of paint that I’ve been using. She picked up another cup of paint and just handed it to me. And then she walked away without saying a word. So, I took a cup of pain and I turned it around and I looked at it and the label said, “flesh.” Now, I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know what flesh colored paint was. I had used flesh colored paints and flesh colored crayons hundreds of times before that. I mean, I didn’t mind using them. I knew it wasn’t the color of my flesh but it was the color of a lot of people. It was the color of Mrs. Paris, basically, and my classmates, and people that I admired on TV, like the whole cast of “Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet” and I didn’t mind using it. It’s, it’s just that this time, with this teacher, for the first time, I became aware of how bad I felt not to use that color.

Well, as the year progressed, there were a lot of incidents like that. I mean, times when Mrs. Paris would be talking about something and my white classmates seemed to know what she meant even in advance. Times when we would sing songs from our school songbook and all the white students seemed to know all the words in advance. I mean, at home I sang songs by The Drifters and the Shirelles and pop tunes like that. And sometimes spiritual songs and gospel tunes. And I knew all those words by heart and half of them I still know. But somehow, none of those stories or songs ever seemed to appear in my school books. I mean, it’s not that I was upset that I didn’t know the school stuff sometimes. It’s just that for the first time, with this teacher, I became aware of how bad I felt that they did know it.

I didn’t have the words to describe it back then but I know now that, without meaning to, without even trying to, Mrs. Paris was teaching her black students to feel ashamed of the way that they did things. I mean, she was a good teacher and there was no malice in her heart. But she was teaching us to be ashamed. Just by using the school books and the school curriculum in the way that it was intended, she was teaching her black students shame. But there was something else that was going on too. Because at the same time that we were learning shame, she was teaching a lesson to the white students. She was teaching them superiority. Only none of us thought of it that way. I didn’t. Mrs. Paris didn’t. My classmates didn’t. It had been going on all our lives. But to them, to me, to her, to all of us, it was just normal, just standard, just the way it was, kind of like TV, a kind of an official story.

It was because of TV, it was because of shows like, “Father Knows Best,” that I knew what the suburbs looked like. It was because of programs like, “The Lone Ranger” that I knew what Indians, “How!” talked like. TV and Mrs. Paris and the movies and all kinds of things, the school books, gave me a kind of standard that was rooted in white culture, rooted in a white European way of thinking about things. But without naming it, without even talking about it, it was just considered standard. But in a way, I was lucky because when it came to what Mrs. Paris and the movies and the books and things had to say about being African-American, I knew that it didn’t even come close to matching the reality that I was living.

But what if I had been one of my white classmates? What if that paint that Mrs. Paris mixed up, at least came close to matching the color that I was? What if a Johnson’s Band-Aid didn’t stand out like a glaring beacon of mis-coloration whenever I stuck it, whenever I stuck it on my arm? What if everything around me told me that I was the standard, that I was just normal, just the way things should be? And what if everything around me reinforced that notion? What if I lived in a community where practically everybody looked like me and I never even heard a different point of view?

You know, crayon manufacturers no longer make a crayon that they call flesh but there are pantyhose that are called “nude.” And the color of the nude pantyhose is the same color that the flesh colored crayon used to be. I wonder whose nude are they talking about?

There, there’s also a color of makeup that’s called blush. It’s the same color that the flesh colored crayon used to be only it’s a little bit redder. And there’s a color of makeup that’s called suntan. It’s the same color that the flesh colored crayon used to be only it’s a little bit brown there. So, I’m left to think, in what ways is the flesh colored crayon is still with us? In what ways do you notice that we still live surrounded by flesh colored crayons?

THE OTHER BLOCK

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THE OTHER BLOCK

erica

A short story told by
professional storyteller
Erica Lann-Clark

Easily identifiable, Erica Lann-Clark tells of childhood dreams and friendships. We all have that special friend whom we were so close to in our youth. The one with whom we shared secrets and time. Ms. Lann-Clark discloses a story of her close childhood friend, Miriam. Both being Jewish and from neighboring blocks, these girls shared a bond of friendship that allowed Ms. Lann-Clark to grow in her understanding of her own Jewish heritage. Not having the devoutness that Miriam possessed, she was fascinated with the orthodox practices of her friend. She relished the opportunities to discuss and experience being Jewish in the fullest sense.

Listen and relate to the innocence of childhood, and to the closeness of having a good friend. Cherish the memory of that special friend of your youth, but recognize that childhood friends rarely extend beyond adolescence. They do, however, last forever in our recollections and make us smile with fondness.

Listen and learn from this beautiful story:

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Other-Block

Full Transcript:

 

Hi, I’m Erica Lann-Clark. When I was a little girl, we were dirt poor immigrants, new to America, so we lived where the poorest of the poor lived, in Bed-Stuy. Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Bed-Stuy had dangerous gangs, so, everybody had to have their own block. The Irish block was over here. The Italian block was there. In between, was the Polish block, but the Jews had to have two blocks. Our block was right around the corner from the black block and it was where all the regular Jews lived. But way over there, was another Jewish block where the Orthodox Jews lived.

Now, everybody only played with their own group on their own block, except for me because I didn’t have a group. I mean, my parents, they were Jewish but they weren’t regular and they weren’t Orthodox. We were Holocaust escapee Jews or, as my mother would say, “You know vhat escapee Jews.”

She never used the H-word. But, on account of that, I got to play with every group on every block. And it was completely okay for my best friend to be Harold. Our apartments were right around the corner from each other. They were on the same floor. I was on the Jewish block. He was on the black block, and our fire escapes faced each other, kitty corner. And we would go out and stand on our fire escapes, and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk.

And one day, I said to my mother, “I love our fire escape. It’s my private Harold telephone.”

And she said, “Erica, in zis life, vhat you do on the fire escape, does not count.”

I thought she was prejudiced against Harold. But then she said, “Vhat counts in zis life, Erica, is zat our door is open on zis Jewish block, zis modern Jewish block, and not on zat Orthodox von.”

Oh, yeah, my mother, she didn’t believe in God, and she didn’t believe in old fashioned stuff like keeping Shabbat, and going to synagogue, and, and keeping kosher, and talking Yiddish. But for me, all of that stuff, well, there was something about it.

And then, in the school, I got a new seatmate, Miriam. And Miriam came from that other Jewish block, the Orthodox one, where they had a synagogue, and they even talked Yiddish on the street. And I was so excited.

And Miriam became my secret, sacred, s… second-best friend, and sh… her stoop became my synagogue. We’d sit there, me and her and her county… Kodak Brownie camera. And, uff, she took pictures of everything, Miriam. And, in between, she taught me how to be Jewish.

“You want to know who gets bar mitzvahed. Not us, only the boys. You know what we get?”

“What?”

“We get, when we get married, we get to wear a wig.”

“No!”

“Yes. You want to know all the secret, sacred names of God, even the secretest one you could never, never say it ’cause terrible things might happen. God might come and you wouldn’t know what to say to him. And when you write it, you have to leave one letter out. You want to learn it?”

“Yesss.”

And just then, the whole street went completely silent. “Is that God coming?”

“No, it’s the Lubavitchers! Look, they’re way Orthodox.”

And there they came, the Lubavitchers, two abreast. And they were lookin’ straight ahead like they didn’t see anybody on the street. They were wearing their long, black, shiny coats and big black hats and their payots, their sideburns hung down to… And they never cut their beards, never shaved all the way down.

And Miriam grabbed me, and grabbed her camera, and we lunged in front of them and she… Snap. Click. Took their picture but they didn’t even care. They parted around us like we’re a couple of boxes. And then from behind their backs, they wiggled their fingers at us like, ooh, waving! I was so thrilled. Finally, I had seen real Jews. I ran home, burst into the apartment.

“Ma, I finally saw real Jews, the Lubavitchers, and they waved at me.”

And she turned, “Zo, Erica, from my experiences in ze you know vhat, ve are not prejudiced. You know vhat I mean. But, in zis life, you cannot play paczki, paczki viz everyone.”

“What are you talking about, Ma?”

“I’m speaking of zis Miriam, who you like so much. And you like zees Yiddish zings zat she teaches you but you zink because you are both Jewish, you are the same. Huhhhh. Look vhere she lives. It’s like a shtetl. And look vhere ve live. Our people left the shtetl many years ago. Ve come from Vienna, a great city, and ve live on zis modern block and, you mark my vords. Von day, ve vill get out of here. But your Miriam? Ahhh! Vhen she is an old woman, an alteh bubbe, she vill still be zer on zet Lubavitcher block in her vig!”

And as she said that, Miriam shriveled into an old Jewish woman, who schleps her folding chair down from her apartment to the mischpoke of folding chairs on the sidewalk. And in the winter, they all chase the sun, and in the summer, they all chase the shade.

And I never sat on Miriam’s stoop again. And my mom was right. We got out.

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See many other short free videos like this
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Searching for My Appalachia: A Modern Jack Tale

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SEARCHING FOR
MY APPALACHIA:
A Modern Jack Tale

kevin-cordi

A short story told by
professional storyteller
Kevin Cordi

Its hard not to picture the stereotypes associated with terms like “redneck” or “hillbilly.”  These stereotypes are often the butt of many jokes.  But like any stereotype, these are often labels unfairly placed on people. In his story, Searching for My Appalachia: A Modern Jack Tale, Storyteller Kevin Cordi takes a closer look at his mountain roots thanks to a chance encounter with a modern day “redneck.”

Having spent time in the mountains of West Virgina as a child, Cordi is no stranger to the Appalachian tales of a silly hillbilly, Jack, who sealed up the northwest winds or climbed a beanstalk in search of his fortune.  To Cordi, being called a hillbilly simply meant holes in your overalls.  But when he shares this with his mother she states that he shouldn’t make fun of people or let what people call him determine his future. It is not until years later when he moves away and gains employment as a traveling salesman that Cordi learns who he really is and can take pride in his mountain heritage.

In this chance encounter, Cordi meets someone others classify a “redneck.”  Puzzled by the reluctance and fear of others to connect with the so-called “redneck,” Cordi knocks on the door and begins a short conversation with a very pleasant man named Jack.  Jack explains to Cordi about the nature of the term redneck and states, “When did dirt and hard work become something bad?”  It is then that Cordi suddenly realizes that stereotypes exist because it is easier to be afraid of someone “different” rather than to see them for who they really are.  And in that moment, Cordi realizes that he’s now found his fortune and longs to go back home.

This touching story demonstrates that while stereotypes may be part of society, we must be ready and willing to peel back their layers to get to know the real person who is often hidden behind them.

Watch this revealing story that shows that people are so much more than labels:

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See many other short free videos like this
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I AM SOMEBODY

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I AM SOMEBODY

linda
A short story told by
professional storyteller
Linda Gorham

 

Reflecting on her family, storyteller Linda Gorham raises powerful images in celebration of her ancestors in “I Am Somebody.” Told in a relatable and interesting manner, Linda easily engages the listener with her words.

From a proud and determined father to a strong and devoted mother to a dedicated and intelligent grandfather, Linda shares bits of her life and family with listeners. As the story continues, it is clear that family has made her who she is. It is clear that family is most important to her.

As we celebrate Black History this month, Linda Gorham reminds us that the gifts of our own family and family tree evoke gratitude, whatever our ethnicity or identity.

Take time to reflect upon your own family and values. As Linda states in her telling, “We are all a product of those who came before us, and we are the preparation for the future.”

Linda Gorham is an engaging storyteller who regales listeners with poignant stories of her life. She believes that there are no limits to what people can achieve. Storytelling to adults and children alike, Linda is drawn to the power of story. She enjoys the creativity involved in her work, and thrives on the challenge of storytelling.

 

Take a moment to be touched by this beautiful tribute to family:
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I Am Somebody

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: I-Am-Somebody

Full Transcript:

I believe we all have a story to tell. We are all a product of those who came before us and we are the preparation for the future. I am somebody. And so is everyone else I know. As you listen to my story, I hope you are inspired to tell your own.

I am somebody.

I am the daughter of a man who believed that dinner was to be served at 6 p.m. sharp and every place setting was to have a fork, a knife, and a spoon, whether they were needed or not. My father would wake us up every morning on Saturdays and Sundays, by playing referrer, revelry. “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning.” Try listening to that at 6:00 a.m. on the weekends. But my father believed that children should be productive and should get up early, have a good breakfast, and get on with their day.

He also believed that children were probably only one reason to be on the face of this earth and that was to get a good education, to go to college, and then to have a good career.

My father also believed that fried chicken and pizza should be properly eaten with a knife and a fork. Now, I can understand a deep-dish pizza but have you ever tried eating a chicken wing with a knife and a fork? In my house, there was something called the 1969 fried chicken rebellion. But that’s another story that I’ll tell you at another time.

My father told me his proudest moment was after I turned 18, and he took me to the polls to vote in my first national election. We had to get up early. We had to be there at 7:00 a.m. My father was always first in line. And that day we were too. And I will never forget the look on my father’s face when he stepped aside to let me, his oldest daughter, vote first. I will tell you I have never missed an election since.

I am somebody.

I’m the product of a woman who was a light skinned African-American who married a dark skinned African-American man, back in 1949. Now, black people have always known that we come in all shades and all colors but not quite then. And especially not with white people who thought that my parents’ union was an interracial marriage; something quite taboo and very rare back then. Well, I will tell you, it was a long time before I understood how hard this was on my parents, especially my light skinned mother when she would walk down the street holding the hands of her three brown skinned daughters. And it was even longer before I understood my mother’s disdain for people who judged her without ever getting to know anything about her.

I and somebody.

I’m the daughter of a career Army officer who graduated from officer’s candidate school in 1946. It was a proud day. He and five other African-Americans were among the graduating class. Well, that pride turned to utter disappointment when they learned that they would not be able to attend the graduation party because it was going to be held in an all-white officer’s club.

I am somebody.

I am the daughter of a woman who believed there were two keys to a successful marriage. Soft feet and long hair. OK, I’ve never had long hair but I’ve had soft feet for all 28 years of my marriage but it doesn’t matter. I have a wonderful husband. And we have two fine, young men as sons. And they’re full of intelligence, and creativity, and wit. And I can’t wait to see how our sons take on the world.

I am somebody.

I’m the niece of a woman who was a tireless, well-loved educator. And when she retired, an entire new wing was built on to her high school. And that wing was named after her.

I am somebody.

I’m the niece of a man who in 1952 won two gold medals in the Olympics in track: the 200 meter dash and the 400 meter relay. It was a proud moment when he came home to Jersey City, New Jersey and had a ticker tape parade. The first African-American man to ever have such an honor. And four years later, he went back to the Olympics and won a silver medal.

I am somebody.

I am the granddaughter of a matriarchal woman who was strong and proud and held her family together with good values. And during the one year that my sisters and I had to live with her, she made us take a teaspoon of cod liver oil, three times a week, in the wintertime. She said it would keep us healthy. Have you ever tasted cod liver oil? Swallowing it is horrific. I would rather chew on the head of a dead fish. But the worst part about it is, all during the day it keeps coming up as burps. You try to be in seventh grade, trying to make new friends, and burping cod liver oil. This was not pleasant.

But I am somebody.

I am the granddaughter of a Georgia man who had a white father and an African American mother. The mother was only 14 years old. Her family was forced to live on the father’s land as sharecroppers. It was not a consensual relationship. The mother died in childbirth and my grandfather’s father, well, he never acknowledged his responsibility as a father. And my grandfather was raised by, as they say, a village. And he only went to school until third grade. And he only went to school when there was no work to be done in the fields. But that man left Georgia. He went to New Jersey. He told us, he walked all the way to New Jersey. My grandmother said he took the train. And I believe the train because a train saved his life. Because my grandfather became a Pullman Porter on that train. And my grandfather, he learned by cleaning the, the that the train cars and by carrying the luggage and by listening to the conversation he learned about what it meant to be a family man.

And he turned out to be a fantastic father and an even better grandfather. And he taught himself to read as an adult. But this very proud, intelligent man, like so many other Pullman Porters was forced to endure being called, “George,” instead of his first name because the travelers refused to call him, “Sir.”

I am somebody.

I’m the granddaughter of another man, whom I don’t know much about, but I know he had a large family. I know he saved up to take his family to the circus and as they stood in line of the circus, he held his tickets up high and someone snatched the tickets and they never went to the circus. But I have a story to tell about him.

I am somebody.

I am the great, granddaughter of a full-blooded Mohawk Indian, whom I’m told, wore a red feather in her long, straight, jet black hair.

I am a product of a family who was intelligent and smart and witty and clever and creative. But a family who was limited in so many ways, will never know all of the potential they could have had, because they were not judged by their potential. They were judged by the color of their skin. But in spite of that, they did amazing things. And they and I are all related to and descended from people called many things African-American, Afro-American, Negro, black, colored, slave…and much, much worse.

Now, I don’t know all their stories but I know some. And I tell their stories when I can because that’s my past and I am creating my future. And I feel their pain. And I feel their angst and I feel their determination to survive. And I want to pass that on to my children.

And ironically enough, I am also the multi-generational granddaughter of Richard Stockton, proud signer of the Declaration of Independence, the very document that should have forbid slavery.

I am somebody.

 

Be moved by some of the other storytellers in our free line-up on our Showcase Page.

America, The Land of Miracles

 

Story Summary:

 Noa grew up in Jerusalem, where America was the most exotic place other than Mars. In the 5th grade, Noa’s family left their home in Israel. She arrived in America speaking very little English. But miracles do happen…

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: America-The-Land-of-Miracles

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever been a foreigner in a country where you didn’t speak the language? What were some of the strange or incomprehensible things you encountered? What was funny, scary or most difficult?
  2.  Do you know anyone for whom English is a second language? Can you imagine what it would feel like to not understand everyone around you?  What are some things that you can do to help them feel more connected and welcomed?
  3.  Besides words, humans use many non-verbal ways to create and convey meaning. Discuss the ways we communicate meaning other than spoken words? What impact does our tone of voice, facial expressions and attitude have on our words?
  4.  Different cultures have different communication norms. What do you think are some of the norms that we have in America? Are there certain phrases or gestures that every culture uses?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Languages
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Noa Baum but when I was a little girl growing up in Israel, my name was Noa Kohen-Raz. I grew up in Jerusalem where America…America was just about the farthest, most exotic place you could go to, other than Mars. And in the summer, before fifth grade, 1968, my father announced that he was invited to a two year sabbatical at Stanford University in a place called Palo Alto, California. Which is just another complicated way of saying America. We were going to America! America… How can I describe to you…is…it’s the land of miracles! It’s the place where my mother said everyone had cars and televisions and machines and actually washed your clothes for you and everyone there spoke English…and that’s when it hit me.

We were going to start English as a Second Language in fifth grade and I was going to go to fifth grade in America where everybody already spoke English. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go at all. But to call my panic, my father gave me a two week crash course in English, which included all the letters A, B, C, D, all the way to Z. And as we flew across that endless ocean, I chanted my entire English vocabulary over and over. “Hello. How do you do? My name is Noa Kohen-Raz. I come from Israel.” And armed with this, I entered my first day of school in America, the Land of Miracles.

Well, the first thing that was evident was how strange and different everything was. I mean, my school in Jerusalem was a three story building with corridors and narrow windows and lots of stairways. We had a single little slab of concrete outside and it functioned as gymnastics, assembly court, basketball, soccer, chased the boys field, all in one. Here in America, the school was just one story high. It was shaped like an L and all the doors were green. And they, they faced an enormous playground, beyond which was an even bigger area filled with grass. I mean, it was bigger than my entire neighborhood in Jerusalem!

And then my mother deposited me in front of one of those green doors, the fifth grade. There was the teacher Mr. Frieburg. He had a bald, shiny head, big round belly and a smile that gave instant meaning to the phrase, “From ear to ear.” He said, “Hello!” and I was smitten.

“Hello. How do you do? My name is Noa Kohen-Raz. I come from Israel.” He shook my hand.

“How do you do?” And he laughed so hard, the tie was bouncing on his belly. He led me to my desk. He pointed to a piece of tape on the corner, “Name.” I knew that, my father showed me. I practiced my name. I wrote it, N-O-A. I’m so proud.

The girl next to me was writing two names. My last name. My last name Kohen-Raz. My father showed me but I never practiced. What am I going to do? What am I gonna…I mean…I mean, even if I knew the words to ask…I mean…how can you ask somebody else how to write your own last name? I mean, I’m in fifth grade.  And how much stupider can you get? I wanted to evaporate and die. I prayed for a miracle. And it happened.

All of a sudden, Mr. Freiberg said my name out loud, “Noa Kohen-Raz” and somebody asked, “Uh?” And he turned around and he wrote it on the board. N-O-A, K-O-H-E-N, dash, R-A-Z! All I had to do was copy it and I was saved.

Another miracle happened when the bell rang. Recess. Everyone was rushing to me. I was never so popular in my life. I was standing in the middle of a circle, surrounded by pushing eyes and bodies and they all had thousands of questions. (Sounds of gibberish talking.) What could I do? I answered with all of my English. “How do you do? My name is Noa Kohen-Raz. I come from Israel.” But there was more. (Sounds of gibberish talking.)  “Yes,” and they laughed. (Sounds of gibberish talking.) “Yes,” and they laughed again. This a miracle. I was funny in English.  And to this day I have no idea what it was I said yes to.

But right after the bell rang, Mr. Freiburg wrote a word on the board, C-H-O-R-U-S, and then he clapped his hands, “Chorus!” And everybody said, “Yeah!” And they were all putting their bags… in their bags and everybody was banging their desks and rushing to the door and I figured we’re going somewhere. And so, I to… put my books in my bag and I, and I, and I got up to go to the door. By then everybody was gone and Mr Freiberg was standing there with his big smile, “Chorus,” and pointing out and I said, (nods head), and I started going out to the playground…and, and there was nobody there. They all disappeared so fast. I was facing an endless line of identical green doors. My entire class disappeared behind one of them but which one? And what was that word? Cha-What is it? The only logical conclusion I could come to was that it was some sort of a secret club only for Americans. I mean, why else would they run so fast and leave me behind? Because I’m not invited. And it was quiet. You know, the way it is after the bell rings and everybody knows where this was to be except me. And there was a lump in my throat swelling to the point of pain and… I just decided to go home.

Well, the sixth grade guards stopped me at the corner and they started to talk, and they took me by the hand, and they started to lead me back to the line of green doors. And I wanted to say I don’t want to go to this place that had things only for Americans and I’m not invited. But even if I had the words by then, I couldn’t talk; I was just crying. But they kept walking and then they opened one of the green doors. And there they were, my entire class standing around a big piano. An Asian looking teacher was sitting there reading names. She turned to me, “What’s your name?”

“My name is Noa Kohen-Raz. I come from Israel.”

“Oh, Israel! Chanukah!” And she waves her hand in the air and they all start to sing in Hebrew! Shalom, chaverim. Shalom, chaverim. Shalom. Shalom.

To be honest…they had a lot of work to do on their Hebrew. But for me that moment qualifies as a miracle. My third miracle in America, The Land of Miracles.

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.

 

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

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.

I Wanted To Be an Indian

 

Story Summary:

 Stories about our ancestors help us understand who we are. Encountering troubling revelations about her forebears and their Indian neighbors in colonial New England, Jo asks what it means to tell – and live with – her whole, complex history.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: I-Wanted-to-be-an-Indian

Discussion Questions:

  1. People say that in history, the winners get to tell the stories. How do we look beyond the winners’ points of view to understand the past?
  2. What are the legacies of the early conflicts between Native Americans and Europeans?
  3. Is the Abenaki story of the Kcinu a viable model for bridging cultures? In practical terms, how might we treat “the other” as family?
  4. How might white Americans think about redressing past wrongs and responding to the contemporary situation of First Nations?

Resources:

  • New England’s Generation: The Great Migration and the Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century by Virginia DeJohn Anderson
  • White Devil: A True Story of War, Savagery, and Vengeance in Colonial America by Stephen Brumwell
  • “Reading Abenaki Traditions and European Records of Rogers’ Raid,” by Marge Brucha Download from http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/childrens-books/malians-song/additional_resources/rogers_raid_facts.pdf
  • Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America by Victoria Freeman
  • Journals of Major Robert Rogers (1769) repr. in The Annotated and Illustrated Journals of Major Robert Rogers, ed. Timothy J. Todish and Gary Zaboly. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mt. Press Ltd., 2002.
  • www.nedoba.org (information concerning Wabanaki People of interior New England)

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Jo Radner and this is an excerpt from a long story called “Braving the Middle Ground.” When I was a child, I wanted to be an Indian. I practiced being silent in the woods of western Maine.

I knew there’d been Indians there ’cause my Uncle Bob found arrowheads in his cow pasture but somehow they had disappeared. And now we were there. My grandmother told me that my English ancestors had founded several towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and Maine. I was proud. I thought we’d been here since 1635. But then when I studied history, I realized what it meant to found all those towns. My ancestors had been among the first people to take the Indians’ land, to cut down the forests, to fence the fields, to feel entitled to destroy the way of life of native people.

And then when they studied my own family history later on, I found more things I didn’t want to know. Some of my ancestors had been members of Rogers’ Rangers, the special forces of the 18th century British army trained to use Indian woodcraft against the Indians. Indian killers! I’d heard about their famous 1759 raid on the Abenaki mission village of St. Francis in Quebec.

The heroic story! A select troop slogged 150 miles through untracked wilderness. Nine days wading in icy waters in a spruce bog to carry off a dawn raid that destroyed the village of St. Francis, from which the French and Indians had launched so many raids on New England.

And then my Abenaki friends told me the not so heroic stories. Most of the people that Rogers’ Rangers killed in St. Francis were women and children. One ranger was walking past an Indian baby lying on the ground. Major Rogers told him to kill it. “I can’t!” he said.

And Rogers snarled, “Next will be lice!” and crushed the child’s head! My ancestors were Rogers’ Rangers. I was relieved when I discovered that my most direct Ranger ancestors John and Stephen Farrington had been too young to go on that raid. The story of John Farrington, my great-great-great-grand uncle haunts me.

When he was a 10 year old boy, tall and strong working in a field, a party of Abenakis burst out of the woods, captured him and carried him off quickly toward Canada. When they stopped on the way, they dressed John in Abenaki clothing. They painted his body and then to finish the ritual, one of the young Indians took a finger full of red paint and told John to stick out his tongue so he could paint a stripe on it.

John obeyed. But when the Indian put his finger in his mouth, John bit it and he wouldn’t let go. And the Abenakis were startled and then they burst out laughing. They said, “He’ll be a good Indian!”

And they took him to St. Francis. He was adopted by an Indian family. They treated him kindly; he grew up playing games and hunting with the Indian boys.

He lived for eight years as an Abenaki. In that time, he married a daughter of a chieftain. I don’t know anything about his wife. I know nothing about children. But I do know that he wanted to leave; he tried twice! The first time, his own wife apprehended him as he was walking out of the village dressed as an Indian woman selling baskets.

The second time he was in Quebec City (which had fallen to the English) serving as interpreter to a party of Abernakis. And then he jumped into the middle of a troop of English soldiers and said he wanted to go back to New England. They argued; a merchant ransomed him. He stayed for eight months in Quebec working off his ransom. Went back to New Hampshire and joined the Rangers. He never fully lost contact. Family memoirs say that for the years, Abenakis from St. Francis came to visit him in New England. But he changed from Indian husband to Indian fighter. And I think that it was because of the stories that he heard when he was a young child in his own English family.

You know, it’s all in who gets to tell the stories and what stories they choose to tell. John’s ancestors had been treated kindly by Indians but his family didn’t tell those stories. The stories he heard were about how savages had murdered his great grandfather, had abducted his great aunt, had slaughtered four of her first six children. And when he was a toddler, his mother had held him up to see the massacred bodies of his uncle’s! A family memoir says, “It would seem only natural that in later years, John became a terror to the Indians far and near.” Only natural?

There is an Abernaki legend about a cannibal monster with an icy heart who comes to devour a small family but the mother of the family welcomes him as if he is her father. She washes him and dresses him. She and her husband tell him family stories. They treat him like a beloved relative and the monster sits surly for three days.

And then… he drinks a kettle of boiling grease. It melts his icy heart. It purges all the evil he’s done and after that, he lives with the family and takes care of them. I wish my family had been able to live kindly and peaceably. I wish history had taken a different turn. John Farrington was an Indian fighter all his life. But in some sense he was still an Abenaki. His son Samuel wrote that in his last years, John’s early Indian life came back to him and he would take his blanket out into the woods without shelter and lie quietly for the night.

Do I still want to be an Indian? No. I want to learn to live well with my whole history, to recognize the monstrosities and the kindnesses that lie behind me. To make family of all kinds, to melt my own icy heart!

Passing for WASP

 

Story Summary:

 Carol 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Passing-for-WASP

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a WASP and why is that word part of American history?
  2. Why are many students who are identified as “white” unaware of their ethnic heritages? It seems from the story that there is a hierarchy of “whiteness;” is this accurate in your experience?
  3. The storyteller accepted many last names in the story – her original name, her father’s name-switch, her husband’s name. Finally, she went back to what name and why? Why is so much consideration given to a name?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, there. I’m Carol Birch. And you know I think I must’ve been 27, 28 years old before a woman said to me, “I have no idea why people are ashamed of being Polish. It’s such a rich culture.” And I didn’t know that I was ashamed of being Polish but I certainly never claimed that I was Polish. I never advertised that I was Polish.

My father was born in 1905. His name was Edmond Paul Buczkowski, B-U-C-Z-K-O-W-S-K-I. And when he went out as a young man to look for work, the only thing he found were signs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that said, “Polish need not apply.” So, he changed our name. He changed it from Buczkowski to Birch.

What’s Birch? So interesting because, you know, my mother… If you met my mother, and you told her your name, after she said, “Oh, hi, Carol Birch. Birch, what kind of name is that? My mother always asked that. Mm, Pittsburgh’s a very ethnic city.”

Well, my father, I thought, you know what, it was just like a WASP name. Nobody really knows what Birch is. And I never really thought about it.

Now my brother Bob was born in 1938. He went to Arsenal Elementary School, right in the inner city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And he was sitting in class one day. It must have been like second or third grade. He was young and the teacher was going around, “What nationality are you? What nationality are you?”

Well, he was sitting beside his best friend. Mm, his best friend was Manny. Manny had come from Greece so Manny said, “I’m Greek.”

“Robert, what are you?”

“I’m American.”

“No, you’re not!” She pounced on him; she sneered. He remembered feeling very attacked by her.

“You. What are you, an Indian? Uh, ha! If you don’t tell us what you are tomorrow after you’ve gone home to see your family, you’re gonna go to the principal’s office.”

So, my little big brother came home and asked Daddy, “Who are we? What are we?” I wasn’t born yet so this is all hearsay. You know, it’s all a story.

And my father said to my brother, “You’re an American. If you tell that teacher you are anything but an American, when you come home, you’re going to get a beating.” This is not a child abuse story.

Anyway, um, my brother, rightly, I think, chose to oppose this teacher, not our father. And when he went to school and he didn’t say that he was anything but an American, the teacher was so offended by his defiance, she sent him to the principal’s office. (Now I wish I knew this principal’s name and I am going to find it out again because he was a wonderful man. All my first attempts have failed.) When my brother went into the principal’s office, my father was already there and the principal said, “Bob, you go back to class. Don’t you worry. I’monna take care of your dad. And I’m gonna take care of your teacher.”

Well, I went to Arsenal Elementary School. I didn’t have that teacher. Didn’t have anybody who asked me what nationality I was but I was there in 1954. In fact, I was there when Salk had the first polio vaccine. That was my class. I was standing there on that day in February 1954. But that’s another story.

Anyway, um, my life changed. I went to Arsenal Elementary School. But when I was in the fifth grade, we moved from the inner city to the suburbs.

Now it seems to me that the Irish and the Italians and the Polish were always jockeying for position, some idea of hierarchy, who was closest to being a WASP. I really don’t think any of my friends would have been my friends in middle school or high school if my name had been Carol Buczkowski. I never heard anyone say anything slanderous against those whose names ended in S-K-I but my friends were Nancy Davis, Sharon Nixon, Susie McGregor, Christine Larson. Huh! Now, I went to college. I got married. The man I married first, ha, ha, ha, was a man whose last name was Norwegian.

I always felt like Carol Birch sorta sounded like clip clop, just such a nn… bitey sort of name. And now my name was Carol Nermo. Huh! I thought that was so wonderful. You know, there’s no stigma in being Norwegian and, and aren’t all Norwegians beautiful and tall and clean and good. And now maybe was I all those things, suddenly tall, suddenly beautiful, suddenly good.

And when that marriage ended in a divorce, who was I? I wasn’t Miss Nermo. I wasn’t Professor Nermo so I put my family through all kinds of misery. I was gonna change my name for a short time to legally just Carol ’cause you have to have two names to own property and I hoped someday I’d have property. And then I said to my mother, “You know what? I’m a storyteller and, oh, Mother, ethnics in. I’m gonna go back to being Carol Buczkowski.”

And my mother said, “You’ll kill your father.” My mother was Scotch Presbyterian. My mother and my father had what was then known as a mixed marriage. I don’t think it would have killed Daddy and here’s why.

I divorced in 1975. Not long after that, my father who left school in the fourth-grade ’cause he punched a nun and climbed out the window. My father didn’t have a formal education but he was smart and he read a lot. And he was on a senior citizen’s cable show. The cable show, hav…, it was a kind of trivial pursuit, asking questions and then a panel from this senior center or panel from that senior center would compete at getting the right answers. There was a very, mm mmm… well, she was very flirtatious, very attractive young host and she asked a question and the answer was Paderewski. And she went over to my daddy and she flirted with him and she went, “Oh, Mr. Birch, you must feel a little bit Polish to know that answer.

And my father, my father looked at that pretty, young girl and he said, “I’m not a little bit Polish, I’m all Polish!” with his arms thrown wide.

Negotiating the Narrows

RaceBridges highlights a short video for
your viewing and inspiration.

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Negotiating the Narrows

A short video story by Storyteller Susan Klein

Themes : Religious Differences.  Recognizing the various kinds of “isms”.  Hope for societal change that embraces diversity.

(Please be patient as the video may take a few moments to load.)

…….
As a young child Klein was intrigued by the mysterious practices of her Roman Catholic friends and neighbors. In the 1950s the Roman Catholic Church was still seen as somewhat foreign and was largely unknown or misunderstood by Protestant America. Although she was raised in the Methodist church, Klein was dazzled by Rosary beads, statues of saints, and the very mysterious Sunday Mass she attended with her best friend Debbie.    (more…)

I Deserve To Be Here

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I Deserve To Be Here

A short video by Storyteller Emily Hooper Lansana

THEME:  Crossing Color Lines to Reach For Your Best

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emilyEmily Hooper Lansana’s story tells us about her educational journey growing up in a house where her parents always wanted her to have access to the best.  Growing up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, she learned a lot about the ways that kids of different races were separated, and separated themselves, at school.    (more…)

STORY SHORT: The American Visa: A Saga in 3 Acts

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THE AMERICAN VISA: A SAGA IN 3 ACTS
by Storyteller Antonio Rocha

www.storyinmotion.com
Approximate Length of Video and Audio: 8 minutes.

______________________________________________________________________________

THEME
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Persistence in pursuit of a goal, along with a little kindness from strangers, can lead to success.
(more…)

IN BELFAST

By Storyteller LOREN NIEMI

 

 

Story Summary:

 Loren travels to North Ireland and is continually asked, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?” By the way that question is asked and answered, layers of cultural assumptions are revealed.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: In-Belfast

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is the fundamental assumption contained in asking, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
  2. What is the function of the joke in the context of the story and in relation to the larger issue of identity?
  3. How and why do people need to shed the assumptions of culture to “wage peace” or reconcile after loss?

Resources:

  • Lost Lives by David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeley and Chris Thornton
  • Religion, Identity and Politics in Northern Ireland: Boundaries of Belonging and Belief by Claire Mitchell and Aldershot Ashgate   – Helping People Forgive, David W. Augsburger

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

This is Loren Niemi.

In 2005 and 2007, every time I go to Belfast, and I’ve been to Belfast a couple of times, it’s always the same thing. I’m always introduced the same way. I’m introduced as, “This is our American friend.” And the first time it happened, I was kind of curious about why, or why that particular greeting. And they said, “Well, it’s a way of sidestepping the dance.” And I realized that, when upon observation, that in fact, in every conversation in Belfast, the first few minutes, there’s this gentle probing. No one really wants to ask directly. But there’s this little probing about, where do you live or where did you go to school? Or, you know, and it’s all about geography. What they really want to know is, are you Catholic or Protestant? And geography tells you whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, most of the time. And what they really want to know is, not only are you Catholic or Protestant, but, but where you are in relationship to the history and the nuance of the troubles?

Thirty-seven years of war based on religion and, as they say, 10 years of waging peace. And that’s what they call it, “waging peace.” And still no government they trust. And every conversation is about the same thing. It all begins the same way. Are you Catholic or Protestant? Now, me, I’m standing there and I’m looking at the city. And what I’m seeing is a city that pretty much looks the same regardless of where you are. And people who very much look the same, you know. They sound the same. They, they do the same jobs. They, they wear the same clothes. I cannot tell the difference between Protestant and Catholic.

But it’s interesting. I’m looking at a street. And on each side of the street, there are three story brick, row houses. Now, in some neighborhoods, it’s real clear because there are murals on the walls, right. Bobby Sands and the Hunger Strikers. Well, that’s an IRA, Catholic neighborhood. Or the end of a row of flats, you, you get, um, the Provos with their rifles and their masks. And you go, oh, this is a Protestant neighborhood. But most of the time it’s more subtle. You have to look at things like the curbs. Orange curbs in the Protestant neighborhoods and, and green curbs in the Papist neighborhoods, you know. And what I mean, is one side of the street is orange and the other side of the street is green. And these are not wide streets. So, sometimes when I would be asked, directly, eventually someone would say, “”Well, are you Catholic are or you Protestant?”

You know, I would say, “I’m Buddhist.”

And one guy he looks at me and there’s a pause. And then he says, “Well, would that be a Catholic Buddhist or Protestant Buddhist?” And we would laugh and it would be funny. It would be funny…except for the suffering and the death. Because that’s what I had come to Belfast for was to, you know, work on the reconciliation. To work on hearing the stories of suffering and death. And it made no difference whether you are Catholic or Protestant. There was suffering and death on both sides.

And when you hear the stories, when they all come out, when you’ve got a roomful of people and you get down to, “How did you survive? What did you do?” You know, we find the common humanity. Every story might begin, or every introduction, might begin with, “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?” But if there’s any hope for the future, if there’s any hope for reconciliation, it can’t end there.

MILWAUKEE B-B-Q

By Storyteller LOREN NIEMI

 

Story Summary:

 Loren who is white goes to a BBQ place in an all black neighborhood and comes to understand prejudice in a direct and personal way.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Milwaukee-B-B-Q

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does prejudice play out in the day to day in this story?
  2. What role do the police play in this story and what role do the police play n your cultural experience?
  3. When have you found yourself to be the wrong person by virtue of color, religion, ethnic origin or sexual identity in an uncomfortable circumstance?

Resources:

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Civil Rights Activism in Milwaukee: South Side Struggles in the 60’s and ’70’s by Paul Geenen

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

I’m Loren Niemi.

In the summer of 1968, I was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was working with a bunch of Catholic Worker folks, at a place called Casa Maria. Anti-war, war on poverty, you know. It was all the same black, white, Latino, Irish immigrants, interestingly enough, Jesuits, we were all in it together.

So, this one day, ah, this big, black, teddy bear of a guy, Tommy, comes up to me and he says, “Hey are you interested in some barbecue?”

And I said, “Yeah, I love barbecue. So, so, we get in the car and we drive to this place, a little bit west of 28th Street. It’s not a good neighborhood. It was, ah, after Martin Luther King’s assassination and you could see the effects. Vacant lots of burned out buildings. There was a rundown house just across from where we parked. Ah, kids sitting on the steps, nothing to do, idle, as if the house was collapsing around them. The barbecue joint itself was done in post-Wright architectural style. I mean, you know, bricked up front, little tiny window space up on the top, covered with chain link fence. There was um, ah, this steel plate door with “Barbecue,” kind of like graffiti on it.

We walk inside. Inside in the back, there’s a pool table, five, six guys shooting pool, drinking beer. Couple of tables back there. Up front there’s a counter. There’s a menu on a piece of cardboard, “Barbecue, rib tips, chicken, collard greens.” A guy standing behind the counter.

I go up. I, I say, “Can I have a half slab of ribs?”

He turns around and looks at me. Looks at me, long and hard he says, “Are you sure you’re in the right place?”

I look at him. I look around, “I think so. Ah. I want some BBQ. This is a barbecue place. I think I’m in the right place.”

All of a sudden, he, he reaches out with a pair of tongs and he snaps them at me and he says, “Are you sure you are in the right place? Look around. What do you see?”

“Barbecue sign. Beer sign. Some guys in the back, shooting pool.”

“Those guys in the back. What color are they?”

There’s a moment of hesitation. I’m thinking. OK, so let’s say negro. No, definitely not negro. African-American. Well, maybe. But the problem is, is that’s really not a color. Black. I guess that’s where we’re at. So, I go, ‘Black.”

And he says, “Ya. And what color are you?”

“Oh, I don’t know, tan, pink, white.” And he looks at me. And I go, “I’m with him,” pointing to Tommy.

And he says, “Oh, he may be in the right place but that doesn’t mean you in the right place.”

About this time, all the guys in the back had stopped shooting pool. They stopped drinking beer. They’re all looking our way.

And Tommy says to me, “Go wait in the car.” So, I do. I go outside. I get in the car. I roll down the window. I light up a cigarette. I’m sitting there, I’m smoking. I’m looking and I’m thinking, for the first time in my life, I was the wrong color. For the first time in my life, I was the guy who was in the wrong place. The, you know, the one who didn’t belong. Who didn’t know what the rules were. Who didn’t know who I was or what was expected.

About this time, a, a bus comes by. The driver’s white but every face behind him, that, all the windows are black. A car goes by, white guy behind the wheel. I can even, even from where I’m sitting I can see his white knuckles. I can see him staring straight ahead. I know his doors are locked. I know his windows are up. He’s riding on fear through the neighborhood. He doesn’t know if he’s lost or just trying to get out.

And I think to myself, “You know, this is a one-time thing. I mean, I can just walk out of the neighborhood and this will go away. But for those kids, those kids sitting on the stoop across the way this is every day. Every time they walk into a room and the white faces turn to them, you know, and go, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”

About this, about this time, Tommy comes to the car and he gets in and he laugh and he says, “You almost got me in a lot of trouble in there.”

“How did I get you in trouble? I’m the guy who wasn’t supposed to be there.”

“They all wanted to know, what I was doing with a dumb, white honky like you. And I told them I was going to rob you and they all approved.”

“Tommy, are you going to rob me?”

“Well, you’re paying for the Q.” And so, we start the engine. We start to drive away.

We don’t get more than a block, when, when a squad car comes the other direction. A squad car comes and he slows down as we pass. He looks at us. A black guy and a white guy in the car together. And he just circles right around and drops in right behind us. And I expect to get lit up at any moment. And Tommy says, “You got any outstanding warrants?”

And I go, “Not that I’m aware of.”

And he says, “He’s running our plates. You know, you got any trouble, he’s stopping us.”

I keep looking in the rearview mirror. I keep looking in the rearview mirror. After a couple of blocks, the cop turns off and we drive a little further. We pull into a city park. We’re just getting out of the car when another squad car pulls in. The cop in that squad car, he looks at us getting out of the car with our bag of barbecue and he motions, “Move on, move on.” So, we get back in the car.

And we start to drive. One mile, two miles, we have to go out into a county park on the edge of the city before, you know, before we can sit down and eat. We don’t even get out of the car. We just roll down the windows and let the sound of nature, kind of, filter in, and we have barbecue and collard greens. And we think to ourselves, how long will it be before this is taken for granted?

BETWEEN WORLDS

By Storyteller OLGA LOYA

 

Story Summary:

At school Olga was taught to be American first and not to speak Spanish. If she did, she risked being punished. At the same time, Olga’s Japanese-American friends went to an after school program to learn the Japanese language and to study Japanese culture. Olga wondered why she didn’t have something like that and how she could straddle multiple worlds.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Between-Worlds

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some different ways of being in Nepantla (between worlds)? For example, a teenager is neither a child nor a full adult. A child of divorced parents may feel as if he or she travels to different planets as he/she moves from one house to another.
  2. How do people keep their sense of self when they feel they are between worlds?
  3. What is your Nepantla?

Resources:  

  •  Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Evangeline Anzaldúa
  • Nepantla: Essays from the Land in the Middle by Pat Mora
  • I am Latino: The Beauty in Me by Sandra L. Pinkney and Myles C. Pinkney

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos

Full Transcript:

Hi. My name is Olga Loya and this is an excerpt from a longer story called Nepantla: Between Worlds. This story takes place in the late 1940s and early 1950s in East Los Angeles.

English . . . Spanish. American . . . Mexican. Spanish . . . English. Mexican . . . American. All my life I felt like I was straddling worlds and I could never seem to find my balance. I had never even put it into words but I knew I didn’t quite fit anywhere.

One day I met a woman who was putting up an art show called Nepantla.

As we talked I asked her, “What does Nepantla mean?”

She said, “It is a Nahuatl term. Nahuatl is the ancient and still-used language of Mexico. It is the language that the Aztecs spoke and speak. Nepantla means “between worlds.”

I stared at her for a while, just thinking.

Nepantla,” I repeated. “Nepantla—between worlds.”

For the first time, I had a word for what I had been feeling all those years!

I thought, “I have been in a state of Nepantla all my life.”

Where I grew up there were many Mexicans and some Japanese and Jewish people. I knew I wasn’t Japanese or Jewish but I wasn’t sure about being Mexican. I was six years old when I went to my mother and asked her, “Mamá, am I Mexican?”

She looked at me for a long time and then she said, “Yes and no, Mijita, little one.”

“Yes and no?”

“Yes and no.”

“What does „yes and no’ mean?”

“You are Mexican but you are American. You were born here in Los Angeles, California in the United States. You are a Mexican American just like your father and me.”

“Oh, okay, Mamá.”

I decided to ask my Grandma Loya, too. Of everyone in the family, I trusted her the most. I loved being with her and I wanted to see what she had to say.

I went to my abuelita, grandmother, and asked her, “Abuelita, soy Mexicana, Grandmother, am I Mexican?”

Making the sign of the cross, she said, “Que dios te bendiga, May God bless you. Ay si mijita, oh, yes, my little one, sus bis abuelos, y yo y tus otro abuelos vienen de Chihuahua, México. Ay, si, mijitia, eres Mejicana. Your great grandparents and grandparents and I come from Chihuahua, Mexico. Vives aquí en America pero eres Mejicana! You live here in America, but you are Mexican!”

“Okay, Abuelita!”

I was living in East Los Angeles where everyone spoke Spanish. Well, at least the adults spoke Spanish to each other, but they didn’t speak Spanish to us children.

They didn’t speak Spanish to be mean or to deprive us of our cultura. They wanted us to fit in, not to have an accento. They wanted us to be Americanos!

It was the 50’s and schools didn’t allow you to speak Spanish either. If a student spoke Spanish, the teachers scolded, “Don’t speak Spanish in school!” If a student continued speaking Spanish, the student got sent to the Vice Principal. The Vice Principal made the student wait and wait. Finally, the Vice Principal called the student into his office and said, “Didn’t we tell you not to speak Spanish in school!?! Why can’t you people understand?”

If a student kept speaking Spanish, the Vice Principal came to the classroom and stood in the front of the room. He said to the one who had been speaking Spanish, “Come to the front of the classroom—now.”

The student would go to the front of the classroom shaking. Then the student put his or her hand out for what was going to happen. “Whap!” The Vice Principal hit the student on the hand. If the student moved the hand away, the Vice Principal hit again, even harder.

I thought to myself, “Chihuahua, this Spanish is dangerous!”

At the same time that I was not allowed to speak Spanish, I was hanging around with my Japanese friends. All through elementary school, at least once a week they went to a Japanese after school program. Sometimes I went with them. I sat and listened to the lessons about their culture and their language.

As I listened I wondered, “So, where are the Mexican after-school programs? How come nobody is showing me about my culture and my language? What’s wrong with us that everyone acts so ashamed?

I was filled with questions and I didn’t know who to ask. When I tried to ask my family questions, everyone said, “Don’t ask so many questions. You don’t need to know that stuff.”

I was in the sixth grade and still didn’t have a sense of myself.

I just didn’t know where I belonged, but I wanted to find out.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO GO TO COLLEGE?

By Storyteller OLGA LOYA

 

Story Summary:

 In high school, Olga was told by her counselor that her family was too poor for her to go to College.  Hear how she found a way around this negative advice.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Why-Do-You-Want-To-Go-To-College

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever had someone give you negative advice?  How did you respond?
  2. What is a good way to handle negative advice?
  3. What were the “favors” Olga’s counselor and shorthand teacher did for her?
  4. Why did the college students make fun of Olga?
  5. What was Olga’s reaction?’

Resources:

  • Growing up in East Los Angeles by Olga Loya
  • Land of the Cosmic Race by Christina A Sue
  • Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena
  • Who Are You? By Mimi Fox

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi. My name is Olga Loya and this is an excerpt from a longer story called Nepantla: Between Worlds.

The story takes place in East Los Angeles in the 1950s. When I went to high school, I realized I wanted to go to college. I talked to my girlfriends about it, and they said, “Why do you want to go to college? Don’t you want to get married and have children?” My parents said the same thing. My mother was always saying: “We want you to get married and be happy.”

It took me a long time to get my nerve up to go see the school counselor. I was in the 10th grade when I walked into the counselor’s office. The counselor was sitting behind a big desk. He motioned to a chair across from him and I sat down. I could hardly speak I was so nervous. I just sat there.

Finally, he said, “What can I do for you?”

I gulped and said in a scared voice, “Do you think I could go to college?”

I hoped he would say, “Yes, there is no problem. You can surely go to college!”

Instead he said, “Oh no, Olga, you can’t go to college. Your family is too poor. You’ll never make it. This is what you should dostudy shorthand and typing. That way you can work and then get married.”

I just sat there, staring at him. I couldn’t believe he had just told me I couldn’t go to college. Finally I got up and left. I thought, “Well, he said I can’t go to college. He should know. He’s the counselor.” Then I went to the bathroom and cried.

So I started to study typing and shorthand but I wasn’t interested in getting married. I didn’t want to be married; I wanted to have some time to myself. I wanted to figure out what I wanted in my life. In my senior year, my best friend got married. There was a joke in her family about me because when they took pictures of her throwing her bouquet, I calmly stood there with my hands behind my back as all of my other friends were reaching out for the bouquet. That’s how much I didn’t want to get married!

One morning in my junior year of high school, I woke up and thought about the advice the counselor had given me. I thought, “What kind of advice was that? Why can’t I go to college? I’m not dumb and I can work. How dare he say that to me? To hell with him—I’m going to college!”

I didn’t say anything to anyone but I began to study hard. Just before I graduated from high school, I found out I had received a small scholarship to go to the local community college. The day after I got my scholarship, I was walking down my high school hall feeling good. Then I saw my shorthand teacher. She had always been nice to me, and I was excited to tell her about my scholarship. I waved to her, and she came towards me. She was short and round with beady eyes. Before I could say anything to her, she walked right up to me and got so close that she spit in my face as she hissed, “What a waste. You shouldn’t have that scholarship—you’ll never even finish college!”

I felt like she had kicked me in the stomach. Anger washed over me. I felt my face getting redder and redder. I thought, “Don’t say anything. Olga. You are almost out of school. Don’t get into trouble now!” And I didn’t. I thought to myself though, “We’ll see.”

As it turned out, that school counselor actually did me a great favor. I would never have made it through college without . . . shorthand. I worked my way through school.

As for the teacher who treated me so disrespectfully, well, she did me a favor, too. Every time I felt like quitting I remembered her beady little eyes and how I thought, “I’ll show you.”

And I did! I got a scholarship; I graduated from college and became a teacher.

ONARA

by Storyteller ALTON CHUNG

 

Story Summary:

This is a true story written by Mako Nakagawa and told by Alton with her permission. A young girl wonders about the difference between “hakujin” (white people) and “nihonjin” (Japanese people) while in an internment camp in WWII. She speculates as to why hakujin do not onara (a euphemism for “passing gas”).

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Onara

Discussion Questions:

  1. You have been ordered to move out of your house in two weeks and can only take one suitcase weighing 50 pounds. You will be gone for an unknown period of time for an unknown destination. There are no stores where you are going, no Internet or cell phone or cable service, and very little electricity. What will you take with you?
  2. Meals in the camps were served in large mess halls like the cafeteria in your school. What would be the advantages and disadvantages of serving meals in this way? How would you feel about eating in a cafeteria for all of your meals for the next year?
  3. The incarceration (internment) camps were surrounded by guard towers, barbed wire fences, and soldiers with rifles. Do you think such measures were necessary? Why were they implemented? How would you feel if you had to live under those conditions?  How do you think it would change you?

 Resources:

  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki
  • Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps by Michi Weglyn.

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hello. My name is Alton Takiyama-Chung.  The story I have for you is called “Onara.” It was written by a woman by the name of Mako Nakagawa. It is with her permission that I can tell it. It’s in a collection of stories that I call “Kodomo No Tame Ni.”  (For the Sake of the Children) Now, “Onara.”

For the first five years of my life, I grew up in Seattle and I was surrounded by friends and family, mostly Japanese people. See, we were Nipponjin, Japanese people, and I didn’t know much about white people or know very many of them. We called them Hakujin. And I knew there were differences between us Nipponjin and the Hakujin. I mean, they were foreign, “strange,” and very large!

Most of what I knew about Hakujins came from magazines or movies.  I mean, they were filled with Hakujin people.  But even as a child I knew that the Hakujins were the ones with the power. That became very evident when they came and took my dad and threw him in jail, after Pearl Harbor.  And again when they took me and the rest of my family and put us in Camp Harmony in Puyallup, Washington in 1942. Later in Minidoka, Idaho and Crystal City, Texas.

All the teachers and all the guards were all Hakujins. We learned to be wary of them. One day about a dozen of us second graders were all gathered together making a sound of onara. Oh, we were having a wonderful time, making all these wonderful sounds using our hands and our fingers and our lips. We knew if the adults caught us, we would be in big trouble, but it was so much fun being naughty.

Each kid had a different sound and we critiqued each sound. we tried to imagine what kind of person would make that kind of sound. And then, Akira made what we considered to be, hands down, the best onara sound ever. We fell on the ground laughing, our sides were hurting. You know, “onara?” (Sound made through blowing in hands that sounds like gas.)  “Onara!” And then one kid said, “How come the Hakujin don’t onara? Huh?”

Hmm. Half of us thought they did. Half of us thought they didn’t. I always wondered what it would be like, not to onara. One person said, “No no, no, they have to, they are human beings!”

“Oh yeah, if they did, wouldn’t they have an English word for it?”

“Yeah . . Hmm.” Since none of us could come up with an English word for onara, we concluded the Hakujins didn’t do it. Then my friend Janet said she thought she heard one coming from her teacher, but she wasn’t sure because her teacher moved her chair at the same time. Hmm, inconclusive. I mean, who could we ask?

The only Hakujins we knew were our teachers and the guards, and we didn’t think it was a really good idea to ask them anything. It seemed strange to me that they wouldn’t have an English word for onara. I knew there were differences between us, but we weren’t that different. I decided to ask my mom, see what she thought. My mom, she looked at me, and then she smiled and said she had no idea. I don’t think she wanted to know the Hakujins that well.

Anyway, one day, again, I was playing with my best friend Janet, and the whole idea came up again. We finally concluded that onara was the result of what you ate. Logical! And we knew that the Hakujins ate differently than us. Therefore, the Hakujin food must not produce onara. But when I was in camp, I ate a lot of Hakujin food and I still onara. I never discovered the non-onara-producing Hakujin diet, but I did discover the meanings for certain key phrases, such as “angel whispers,” “breaking wind,” and “cutting the cheese!” Hakujins did do it! That’s when I realized, maybe we’re not so different after all.

LOOKING FOR PAPITO

by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Looking-for-Papito

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think Antonio is white or brown? What does he think he is?
  2. What could Antonio have done when he was teased about speaking Spanish? Have you ever hidden parts of your cultural background to “fit in”?
  3. Does each group who comes to this country eventually lose its culture? What is gained and what is lost from assimilation?

Resources:

  •  How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez
  • America Is Her Name by Luis J. Rodriquez 

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Antonio Sacre and this is an excerpt from a longer story called Looking for Papito. Spanish …When my father left Cuba he didn’t speak any English at all … and when he came to the United States he met a woman who didn’t speak any Spanish at all … and the two got married. And they had me. That meant I grew up speaking Spanish with my father and English with my mother.

Now I was born it was just me — and life was perfect and on my very first birthday my mom and dad gave me twin baby brothers. My mom was up to her ears. My dad said, “Three boys in one year that’s the man that I am you know!”

We were a handful for my parents of course, and so my dad did what very many other Cuban men would do in the same situation he called his mother. Spanish. My Cuban grandmother came to live with us. We were growing up in Delaware at that time. And so, in my house our first language — my two brothers and I — was Spanish. So, we

spoke Spanish with my dad, Spanish with my grandmother and of course we learnt English from my mom and we all learnt each other’s languages.

Now, it’s typical in Cuban families for the first-born male to have the nickname – Papito … and I was given that nickname by my grandmother Papito. It means little man … little boy. But in my family, it reminded her of my grandfather who died right after they came from Cuba and so it was honor to have his name. And when we got out of diapers my grandmother moved back to little Havana in Miami Florida.

 

Now my first day of kindergarten I was five years old. I was so excited to go to school to get out of the house with those two other boys and my mom was sad and my dad was happy — “my boy was going to school you know”.

I get to this school and I see all those kids and I am nervous and excited and I looked at them and I spoke in my first language I said … Spanish … And the kids looked at me and said — what? — Spanish … And my teacher … she was very sweet … and she said, “Honey nobody speaks Spanish here we only speak English”.

“Oh, that’s OK I speak English too.”

“Hi everyone, my name is Papito.” And one boy in the back said “Pa-Papido sounds like Dorido!” “No, no its Papito” “No, no its Dorido!”

Now he is just a five year old having fun with the nickname that he never heard before, but obviously I didn’t like it so much. I went home and spoke to my dad. Now if you don’t speak Spanish don’t worry I will translate what I said but this is what I said … Spanish … and my dad said … Spanish… I told my dad I didn’t want the Cuban nickname that my grandmother gave me I didn’t care it was part of the family I wanted to be called a more American sounding name I wanted to be called Tony. My dad said okay.

A couple of days after he dropped me off at school and he said “Adios Papit..aa, Tony adios” “OK Papa, Adios”

And one of those kids is in the playground … he was maybe third or fourth grader — he looked like a giant … he came up to me and he said, “What was that language you were speaking?” “Spanish.” “Sounds stupid.” “Are you stupid?”

I didn’t know what to say and I went home I did what I lot of other kids do from immigrant families I said … Spanish … I never want to speak Spanish again” … Spanish … “No from now on — only English.” And when my father spoke to me in Spanish I answered back to him in English. And after a while he spoke to me in Spanish. I pretended like I didn’t understand until he only spoke to me in English and little by little my first language was slipping away.

And when I turned eight my parents got divorced… there is a long story behind that part of … with their cultural background and part of the way it just the way it worked. And so, my dad moved out and I didn’t have anyone to speak Spanish with anymore.

But it didn’t matter to me everyone at school spoke English. Everything on TV was in English. Movies were in English. My grandmother was in Miami and maybe I’d see a couple of times a year maximum. And the older I got by the time I got into the high school it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t know any Spanish.

Now in my first day of history class…American history in high school … I will never forget the teacher was reading roll call. He said, “Antonio Bernardo Sacre who’s that?” “Ah…that’s me but…my name is Tony” “What kind of a name is this??” “Well its Cuban” and the whole class turned and looked at me and I said “I am not Cuban. I am American. I was born here. My father, he’s Cuban” he said, “Oh yeah…where is your mother from?” “Well she is an Irish American” what kind of a combination is that?” and the whole class laughed – he was just, you know being funny. It was okay.

Now, at lunch there was a kid who came up to me and said “You are a Cuban and Irish huh? I guess that it makes you a spic – mick – or maybe a “mick-spic”. And soon in my school that’s the nickname that I got even though I had long ago stopped speaking Spanish, even though I fell and looked as white looking as everyone in that high school, that’s what I became known as — I was the “other” in my high school.

Now, what was happening at the time was there is the movie “Scarface” had come out and there is the stereotype that all Cubans were drug dealers and bad and was just this odd thing was happening.

Lucky for me my grandmother wanted to see me this summer after my first year of high school. And my brother was there that whole summer and when I got in to her house (in Miami) and she saw me she threw her arms around me with a beautiful hug. I was so happy to see her and she started speaking and I couldn’t understand her.

And she said … Spanish … she’s screaming at me yelling at me and my brother said “What’s the matter? You can’t speak … you gotta talk Spanish with your grandmother.” The whole family is in a big consternation yelling at me and my grandmother said …Spanish … “You need to learn how to speak Spanish.” So every day she would sit me down and drill words into me tell me stories about my dad.

And every night … not every night… but every now and then my brother and I would go out to these big Cuban dance parties. He knew the salsa and dances. He could dance with all these girls I would be dancing by myself. Whenever we walked down the street the old Cuban men would say to my brother…. Spanish … “You speak Spanish perfect what’s the matter with your brother? He needs to learn Spanish you know!”

And soon in that little Havana neighborhood in my family I was called … “El gringo de la Familia‟ …the Gringo of the family…they were calling me names and my family — the gringo of the family. And so it was odd for me because I don’t fit in with my family. I don’t fit in my high school. I didn’t know what was going on you know and by the end of the summer.

I was jealous of my brother because his Spanish is perfect he looks more Cuban if there’s such a thing. I couldn’t understand my uncles when they are telling jokes with my grandmother, and I said in my halting Spanish “I don’t feel very Cuban in this family” and she said, “You are never gonna be fully Cuban or American” she said “You are Cuban American.” And she said you have to speak Spanish with me because I am too old to learn English and you have to speak English in this country.

And at that point I realized that it was worse to be called gringo in my family than to be called names in the school I didn’t really care about. And so I tried the best I could that summer to accept the gain as much of that language as I could. And sat with my grandmother while she told stories of the family she told me jokes — some silly, some a little racy, some beautiful little stories.

Some of the jokes became basis of the stories that I tell now all these years later. One is just a little joke — a “barking mouse”. There is a cat who chases a family of mice and the mother barks at the cat and the cat runs away and she says, “You see kids it pays to speak another language.”

And I think about my grandmother every time I think about that little silly beautiful message about the importance of speaking another language.

And I went back to my school proud to be the school’s only Cuban Irish American. There’s one of my friends who calls me – a “Leprachano”. And so now I embrace both parts of it. And I still am not fully Cuban in little Havana — and I am still not fully whatever American means or … whatever the words you would say… but I am somewhere in between the both. And I know now, in all my travels around the country, there are many, many other people just like me and we have lots to learn from both sides. And that is just the part I wanted to do.

FASTER THAN SOONER

by Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 While studying to become an actor, Sacre happened into storytelling through a class at Northwestern University. Because he found that he was often excluded from acting jobs because he was seen as either “too ethnic” or “not ethnic enough,” he took on storytelling performances to pay the bills. He started to understand the power of his bilingual storytelling and remembers an encounter with a grade school bully where learning the other boy’s story made all the difference.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Faster-than-Sooner

Discussion Questions:

  1. Antonio described how surprised he was to learn about the history and culture of many Latin American countries, but especially Mexico. What have you learned about another country or culture that surprised you or made you think differently? How might you do more of that learning?
  2. When Antonio tells stories switching back and forth between English and Spanish he sees students becoming more engaged. What might be the advantages of a fully bilingual education?
  3. When have you learned another person’s story that has caused you to change your mind about him or her? How might you listen to others’ stories more? How might you tell your own? How might we better encourage sharing our authentic stories?

Resource:

  • Be Bilingual: Practical Ideas for Multilingual Families by Annika Bourgogne

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Identity
  • Languages
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • Workplace

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Antonio Sacre and this is from a larger story called Faster Than Sooner.

In 1990, I decided I was going to be an actor and I moved to Chicago to study at Northwestern University. And it was fantastic. I had a very difficult semester once and the easiest class I could take was a storytelling class. There were no books to read, there was no tests to take, exams to do … and so I took it. It was just something that was fun, passed the time but I liked it and I found out that if I would tell the stories before a big audition I would feel better.

Now, even though I was comfortable with the fact that I was a Cuban Irish American man like my friend says — a “Lepricano” … I never really felt quite at home in the acting world. There were times while I was doing auditions and they would say to me “you are too ethnic for this part” and then times I do the other audition they say “you are not too ethnic enough,” I was constantly falling through the cracks. Maybe I was just a terrible actor, I don’t know, but I started to tell more stories in the neighborhood that I was living in Chicago. I was living in Logan square.

And I was at one of the schools telling stories, telling one of the only stories which I knew at that time which is the tall tale from the American West — Davy Crockett …   And I am telling the story to 300 3rd graders and I’m noticing that its going pretty well except that off to the right there’s a class of maybe 50 kids they don’t seem to be paying attention at all. I wonder what’s going on.  I look.  And at the back of my head I think, maybe they understand Spanish better than English and since I think in both languages anyway.

I switch the Davey Crockett story into Spanish. And as soon as I did those 50 kids their eyes got big. They were so excited to be hearing their language from the stage and I was so into the story that I just started telling the story in Spanish to them, but then the English speaking children why you speak English here, oh yeah then I switch back to English, but the Spanish children …Spanish … I switch into Spanish and soon I am telling the story simultaneously in English and Spanish. Davey Crockett said ..Spanish … and the kids started laughing together and I tell one part in Spanish, these kids translate it to English speaking kids and I do another part in English and they translate for Spanish speaking kids.  And it was for me one of the most exciting and fun performances I ever had. It’s usually one all Spanish — and all but to do both at the same time, the principal recognized it.

And she came running down to me and she said “that was amazing, you know how many schools in Chicago need somebody like you?” I said “No, I don’t” she said “a lot” and she actually wrote out the names and numbers of the principals I had to talk to and she told me how much money I could charge which was more than the money I was making as a waiter at that time, so by default and by accident and also because it was fun, I became, almost overnight, a professional bi-lingual story teller. Which was hard because I knew only that one story you know.

So, I began to study much of other stories because I was living in Chicago was a lot of people from Mexico and Puerto Rico at that time, so I began studying those cultures and I ended up travelling to Mexico and I ended up finding out things that I never taught ever. I never knew things about Mexico, the fact that there are pyramids there. That are incredibly large and some of them are the largest pyramids in the world. You know as a kid I learned pyramids are in Egypt, but Mexico right here? So close to the United States and I learned all the rich history and culture and the clash between the Indian and the native population in Mexico and Spanish, all the other cultures that came to Mexico and all the different states.. it was incredible.

I have learned one just small example — the Day of the Dead celebrations that the Mexicans have the beautiful honoring of the ancestors that happens on the same time when Halloween happens, and it’s interesting to see how the Day of the Dead celebration is coming up for us, and we are learning how to honor our ancestors from this culture right or not , but it’s part of our country for sure so this is what is all happening while I was becoming a story teller.

I like the money, I like the finding about all the cultures, I love that I was broad in my mind view and one day I was telling stories in this school and I never forget this, teacher came up to me. He was this granola dude …he was in Birkenstocks. He said, “You were great man …  It’s cool to hear about Mexico.. yeah , you know.” I started to talk like him you know, yeah what’s up…he said “storytelling can save the world” ….  I’m like rock on dude …yeah. I’m totally wantin’ to goof on this guy, want to go and tell all my friends about this crazy volunteer and I am thinking story telling can save the world??

Then I thought about it..the power of knowing somebody else’s story and then it reminded me of the time when I was in 4th grade. We had a class bully, his name was Larry Sergeant. He was three years older than everybody else because he was held back because how stupid he was we all said you know and he would beat up all of us you know.

One day he just came around and started beating up on Binkey Meyer, he was youngest in all of our class; because he was so smart he was promoted. There was Larry 4 years older than Binkey, five feet taller it seems, giant beating up Binkey and now I decided to do something about it. I stepped in between the two and tell Larry, “Larry you should pick on someone your own size.” Now I thought he would go finding the 7th graders because he was as big as a 7th grader, but no. Larry with a pea brain decided to pick on me, I much shorter than him anyway; we started fighting — it was terrible.

We ended up getting separated by the teachers and we both got major detentions. But I felt a little bit like a hero for sticking up for Binkey — but still you know it was just a bad situation. And while we were sitting in there, I saw Larry has started to cry and I couldn’t wait to tell the playground the next day that Larry was such a cry baby and I was going to make sure … but then he started heaving, sobbing it was awkward for my age you know may be eight or nine years old in the 4th grade. I am like what’s the matter? It’s not a big deal, it’s just a detention. He said “No, this is my third detention which means I’m going to get expelled.”

I am like “yeah yeah…I get the school bully kicked out, they ride me around the playground the next day you know. But he started crying even harder, I said “wat’s the big deal” he said, “Now I’m gonna go home and my dad gonna beat me.” At 4th grade I didn’t even understand what he is talking, you get grounded you get in big trouble. “No, my dad will beat me, he’ll keep me out of school until my bruises heal and put me in another school, that’s why I have been held back all these years.”

And at that moment I was so ashamed to have been the one to pick a fight with Larry… to have stepped in the fight and ashamed to send him home for another beating by his father and if I had known his story… maybe you know… honestly now, I don’t know anything would have been different about it, maybe Larry can be just kicked out anyway.

But I know, if I had known his story I would have acted differently that day. I don’t know if knowing someone else’s story can save the world …  but I know that there is great power in that. I think the more that we can learn each other’s stories and have the courage to tell our own stories … the more that we can begin to find some sort of solution.

JOHN HENRY

By Storyteller Jim May

 

Story Summary:

 This is a true story set in rural McHenry County, Illinois in the 1920s and 1930s about John Henry Higler, a man who claimed to be former slave who assimilated into an all white farm community.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: John-Henry

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you imagine living and working in a community where there was no one who shared your background and “race”?
  2. Do you think this account of John Henry being a beloved member of a white farming community in the early part of the 20th century is hopeful or simply a story that whites told to assuage their guilt about white privilege?
  3. Have you ever gone to a graveyard and imagined the stories behind the people buried there?

 

Resources:

 

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity

Full Transcript:

I grew up in Spring Grove, IL, a little German Catholic farming community about 60 miles northwest of Chicago. And my family has been there for about five generations; they came probably in the 1840’s.

Growing up, I had heard off and on the story of, it seemed to me perhaps like a legend at that time, of a black man buried somewhere in Spring Grove in one of the cemeteries. And there was talk that he had been held in slavery in some time in his life in Tennessee. I probably forgot about that story for years and years. But when I got interested in family history and storytelling, I started digging around a little bit and came across the very person to come across, an 80-year-old man, Tommy Madden, who had been one of my father’s best friends. And Tommy and another acquaintance of his, Jim Holderman, had known this gentleman from Tennessee.

They all referred to him as John Henry, which of course is ironic: John Henry is the mythical hero of black American folklore who won the race with the steam hammer and maybe that’s why John Henry took his name. I’m not sure, but he had come out to Spring Grove, a little side-tracked town, come off of Chicago apparently.

In fact, the story was that he had left Tennessee, either been emancipated at the end of the Civil War perhaps or had escaped, no one knew for sure. But he had come out to Chicago, which makes some sense. But he had told everybody that he met in Spring Grove that he found things too “sportin’” in Chicago.

So he was looking for a quieter place, and he found the right place: in Spring Grove there wasn’t much sporting going on. Nearly 200 people and four taverns and two churches, that was about it. But he worked for farmers there; he was a hired hand, a live-in hired hand. And he found one family, the Stevens family, that particularly took an interest in him, and he lived with that family and worked with that family for years and years.

In fact, he worked often in the farm house helping Mrs. Stevens, and the story was Mrs. Stevens said she just couldn’t part with John Henry, that she would send her husband down the road before she let go of John Henry. He was so helpful to her, he loved children. There was a story that he would sit around the big dining room table, big farm family, and he always liked sitting next to the baby. He liked feeding the baby. And he would read the newspaper; he couldn’t read, but he would hold the newspaper and make up the story. One of the boys, the youngest, I was told by his brother, just wouldn’t go to sleep, wouldn’t go to bed, until John Henry helped him take his boots and shoes off and got him ready for bed.

But there was more of the story, of course. Things couldn’t have been easy for John living out there, the only black man for miles around. I remember this one story where they had a threshing and there were some day laborers hired from out of community to work. There was extra work to do when the grains had to be threshed, and a couple of these fellows were up high on a straw stack and they saw John below, maybe working on the machine, maybe oiling the machine, doing some kind of work beneath them, and they got the oil can and they squirted some oil on him as a joke.

I remember Tommy Madden saying, “John didn’t complain, he never wanted to bother anybody.” Of course, that was the internalized reality of being a slave: if you bothered someone, that might mean your life, your family might be sold down the river. But when the boss, the man who owned the farm found out about it, as they gathered around this big, incredible spread of food for the threshing crews, when the boss Mr. Stevens found out, he fired the two day laborers on the spot after what they had done because they humiliated John.

And old Tommy, who was 88-years-old, told me that story. I remember he was sitting on his couch there on a February afternoon and he had bib overalls on, and he was telling me that story about these two fellows that humiliated John being fired and he kind of raised his fist. I remember that he had a kind of gun metal blue nail on his fist and I remember him punctuating his word and saying, “That was the end of those fellows for what they did to John.”

“He felt a sense of justice there. I think perhaps the uniqueness of having someone who had been once held in slavery, the uniqueness of having a black man in the community, there was a certain deference paid to John. But I remember also hearing my relatives say that he would dance with the girls at church functions, and some of them wouldn’t like that.

He, even with the Stevens family whom he loved and they loved him, they would ask him to come into the front room after dinner in the kitchen, and, no, he would always sit alone in his rocking chair in the kitchen, not in the front room. Things must have been lonely for him, but the story of course was fascinating, and when I heard Tommy that day, that February day when I got this story from Tommy, he said, “I know where he is buried.”

This was new information to me. I heard he was buried somewhere in the county line, but I never met anyone who knew where he was buried. Tommy said he’s in the old cemetery on Wilmot Road. Down along the fence line, over in the north east corner, you’ll find John’s grave.

On that February day I said goodbye to Tommy and left Wilmot, Wisconsin and drove along Wilmot Road looking for the cemetery and found it of course. I knew where the cemetery was. But I walked back and forth, back and forth amongst those grave stones that late February afternoon and did not find the John Henry grave.

And thinking about his life and even so far away from anything that would have been a familiar experience for him of being a helping hand in slavery in Tennessee, far away from family, there was no family that anyone knew of, and I thought, finally, now, his grave is gone too. Even the memory was gone, kind of punctuating the loneliness of his life or that aspect of that life.

And I literally had given up looking for the tombstone and was heading back to my car, I almost stumbled on it. You know, how you give up looking for something and you find it? There at my feet was a very proper granite stone. I knew he had died in the county home and, so, I had already concluded that perhaps there was no marker at all. Perhaps a wooden cross that had rotted or nothing to mark his grave, but there it was: a very proper granite stone that said John Henry Higgler, and he died in 1947, the same year that my grandpa died.

The best of my memory was 1947, there on the stone. There was no birthday, because there was often no birthdays recorded for slaves, but there was a very proper stone and in front of that stone was a bright red, fairly new plastic flower.

And it occurred to me that those people who lived up there in that prairie, the English prairie, north of Spring Grove, had found a way to transcend race and culture and geography, and the monument to that connection that was made across all those challenges was that red rose, that red plastic rose that was there on that cold February day.

And perhaps that’s kind of a metaphor for our country, our culture. Racism is solid still, frozen like the ground was that February day. But here and there we see these patches of red, these signs of life and flowering. Thinking about it, now with the last presidential election, we have kind of a garland in a snow bank, you know we got Obama in the white house. That’s why they call it the White House, I guess. I don’t know. So, it’s still there in the old cemetery, John Henry, if you want to go, if you want to go check out the grave.

IF ONLY YOU WERE MEXICAN …

By Storyteller Antonio Sacre

 

Story Summary:

 A director tells Antonio that he would produce his play if only he was Mexican. This makes Antonio reflect on the importance of listening to stories outside our own ethnic groups. Antonio travels to Mexico and learns Mexican folktales to share with the community.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: If-Only-You-Were-Mexican

Discussion Questions:

  1. It’s important for communities such as Mexican-Americans to see plays written, directed and acted by Mexican-Americans. However, it’s important to hear stories from other cultures as well. How does a teachers, parents and community theater directors balance both concerns?
  2. Do you know the folktales and history of your family’s cultures? Did you hear them in school? From the adults around you? From books?
  3. How did knowing and learning the stories that have existed in your culture for hundreds of years affect you? Does it make you curious about other groups’ stories?

Resources:

  •  Mexican Folk Tales by Anthony John Campos
  • Momentos Magicos/Magic Moments by Olga Loya
  • Mexican American Theatre Then and Now by Nicolas Kanellos

 Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Identity
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

“We might be able to produce the play if you were Mexican.” The artistic director of a medium sized theater in Los Angeles told me this recently. As an actor and a playwright faced with the tantalizing possibility of actually getting a play that I’d written produced in an established theater, my first reaction was… I can be Mexican! Just as in the past being rejected from numerous acting jobs, I have said, I can play tougher! I can be shorter! I can grow my hair! I can shave it off! I can buy a wig! I can be a woman! I can be older! I can be younger! I can be anything you need; I’m an actor, that’s what I do!

But I found myself constantly wrong, as an actor in Chicago. I found I was too ethnic looking for many of the parts I would audition for, and not ethnic enough for others.

But instead of being angry with that artistic director, I asked him gentle questions. “Why couldn’t you produce a play about a Cuban-American?” He told me he went to the local organizations, the churches, and libraries, and school, and they told him they wanted a Mexican production.

Even though it angered me, it made sense to me. I thought of my relatives in Little Havana. They are much more likely to see a play by one of their own, too.

I thought, good for the community, to state what they want, to finally say your theater’s been in our neighborhood for 10 years, and you’ve rarely presented what we want to see. We can fill a house, we can make you some money, we can sell you some tickets, just listen to what we want right now.

And good for the director, to listen to them. It’s not so common yet for artistic directors of English-speaking theaters to reach out to their Spanish-speaking audiences unless they are after some grant. For all their talk of outreach, theater in the places I see theater in (Chicago, New York, LA and San Francisco) and the size of theater I usually see (small) remains as segregated as many of the Churches I’ve been to across the country.

So I said, “If you are going to work in a community, it seems that you should listen to what they want.”

I thought, “How does anybody learn anything? How can these walls be broken down or at least scaled for a moment to view the other side?” The only small answer that I have found is learning and listening and sharing each other’s stories.

As a storyteller, I listened, I read, I traveled to Mexico, I learned the amazing stories they grow up with there. The Nahautl creation and war stories, La Malinche and her daughter, La Llorona, La Mano Peluda, Alacrán de Durango, Callejón de Beso, and the snake girl from the hills of Guanajuata, Las Momias, Perfecto Luna, tales of wonder in Oaxaca and I walked the pyramids of Teotihuacan.

I travel between these worlds Cuban and American, Mexican and American, Spanish and English, and report what I hear, what I see.

So, instead I offered to the director my talents as a bilingual storyteller, offering to do community outreach for him, to serve as a bridge between the cultures.

I said, I’ll go to their churches, their schools, their meeting places and then share their stories with them, and then listen. Listen to them tell me, “No, that’s not how La Llorona sounds, she sounds like this, AAAIIIIIEEeeeeeee.” Hear them tell me, I heard that one too, but it goes like this…watch them tell their children and each other old Pepito jokes, thankful that they listened, grateful to be included, to be trusted with their story.

The director got excited. He went back to the community, and they got excited. So, I’ll probably have to wait a little longer to get my play out here, but I’m patient. But, in the meantime, did you hear the one about the Cuban-American that tried to be Mexican?

He asked for Congi y Picadillo with his burrito, and they just haven’t stopped laughing.

THE OBERLIN RESCUE OF 1858

By Storyteller Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 John Price escapes from the Kentucky plantation where he had been enslaved. He plans to go to Canada but when he arrives in Oberlin, Ohio and sees Black shopkeepers and Black students going to college, he decides to stay. However, he doesn’t know that a slave catcher under the protection of the Fugitive Slave Act is coming for him.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Oberlin-Rescue

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why was the Fugitive Slave Act enacted in 1850? What did it require of citizens and what was the punishment for disobeying this law?
  2. The Supreme Court upheld the Fugitive Slave Act. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices participated in slavery. How do you think their involvement with slavery affected their vote? Do you think it would have been possible for the judges to remain “impartial”?
  3. Why did President Buchanan’s administration decide it had to make an example of the Oberlin Rescuers? In what ways did the federal government’s plan to punish Oberlin backfire? What actions did the public take to show their support of the Rescuers?
  4. Susan tells a story set in the period when slavery existed in America. She tells this story without ever using the word “slave” (except to refer to the already-named Fugitive Slave Law). What difference does it make to talk about “a person who escaped slavery” or “a person who was captured and enslaved” rather than “a slave”? How does language hide responsibility? Give other examples such as calling an area a “ghetto” instead of a “dis-invested neighborhood.”
  5. Do we have a responsibility to make things “better”? What would you like to change? What would you be willing to do to make a difference?

Resources:

  • Oberlin, Hotbed of Abolitionism: College, Community, and the Fight for Freedom in Antebellum South by J. Brent Morris
  • History of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue by Jacob R. Shipherd

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Slavery was invented. We often don’t think of it that way but it was created step by step and law by law. At first, you know, somebody could be enslaved only a certain period of time but they changed that.  And it used to be that the children of people who were enslaved, they wouldn’t be enslaved, they were free. Well, they changed that. And it used to be they would give rewards to people if they caught somebody who escaped but that wasn’t working because so many people were escaping slavery. So they tried punishment. In 1850, they patched… passed the Fugitive Slave Law. Now, it said if you knew somebody was escaping and you didn’t assist in their arrest, you would get fined. If you helped, you’d get fined and you would be sent to jail.

But one town, Oberlin, Ohio, said, “Uh, uh, we’re not doing it.” Now it had been known as a pretty progressive town, they refused to celebrate the 4th of July. And they said, “How can we celebrate Independence Day when we have people on our land who are enslaved?” And they’re the first folks to send men, women, and blacks to college. And they were the first folks you had, um, had more… um, everybody could vote there before that was true of the rest of the nation.

So, some people said that the Civil War almost started earlier in Oberlin because of something that happened in 1857.  Here’s what happened. There were two people who are enslaved down in Kentucky. They’re just a quarter mile, two blocks away from the Ohio River that separated the South and the North. But they had been enslaved by a man named John Bacon, and their names were John and Dinah. And they wanted to be free. Now this was very risky business because, of course, you’ll be shot, killed, maimed, whatever, trying to escape. And that was kind of the lucky ones because if they caught you and brought you back, ah, your life could really be hard.

But John and Dinah didn’t care. They were two cousins who wanted to be free. And they saw their chance.  One night, when John Bacon went off to visit family, and the man who was put in charge to watch the enslaved people on that plantation, kind of had a reputation of being somebody who fell asleep on the job.  Well, word spread that he was asleep. And then, John and Dinah, they crept into the barn. Now can you imagine how hard it was to keep two horses quiet? They managed to get the horses out of that barn and then they rode in the opposite direction. Now it wasn’t that they didn’t know where they were. Now, this happened to a lot of people. You get captured in Africa, you get brought here. It’s not like somebody showed you a map of where you were. But it wasn’t because they didn’t know where they were. They were doing something very brave. They were going the opposite direction to go get their friend, Frank, who also wanted to escape. They picked him up, two on one horse, one on the other. They raced back to the Ohio River. Got across with no problem because it was winter and the river was frozen. When they got to the other side, they couldn’t find the path up that bank.

Now remember, this was back in the 1800’s. There were no electric street lights or whatever.  Pitch darkness; scrambling all night in the freezing cold. They didn’t have coats or anything. (That was one of the ways they kept people who are enslaved from running is that they take their shoes or heavy coats at night.) Scrambling, trying to find the path up and couldn’t find it. And they knew that if the sun came up that morning, oh, my goodness, they’d be so easy to spot. Three people, two horses on the bank. So they kept on all night. And finally, they find their way up.

And then John did something,to me it’s kind of amazing.

He said, “Nobody can own me, but John Bacon owned these horses.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’ve been working free all my life, and my mom had been and my grandma had been, I’d be thinking these horses belong to me. But he hit them on the rump and sent them home. And then they went on their way. They split up. Dinah went with somebody from the underground railroad and Frank and John headed up to Oberlin. Now, the plan was they’d be in Oberlin and wait for Lake Erie to thaw and move up to Canada. When they got to Oberlin, it must’ve felt like a fantasyland. There were black storekeepers. There were black people going to college! They got a job with a farmer paying a dollar a day. Well, after working for free, that seemed like a lot. So they decided to stay. And John took the name John Price.

What he didn’t know was that slavecatchers had been sent after them. A man named Anderson Jennings was a professional slavecatcher. He could get as much as a thousand dollars, a lot of money back then, if he caught somebody. So, not everybody was progressive in Oberlin. He found a family he knew that he could count on, the Boyntons, and this is a great name. He got their son, 10-year-old boy, Shakespeare Boynton, gave him twenty dollars and told him to go pick up John and Frank. So, Shakespeare took his buggy and went to the farm where John was working. “Hey, my dad’s paying two dollars a day, twice as much, come and help.”

Now, John, he was a loyal friend. He said, “No, my friend, Frank, is kind of sick. I can’t go.” Good!  But then he said, “But I know somebody who really needs the money.  I’ll show you where he’s staying.” And he got in the buggy with Shakespeare. And Shakespeare started driving the wrong way and John’s like, “No, my friend’s over here.” Drive them into the woods. And, all of a sudden, another buggy comes tromping up behind. Men jump out with rifles, grab John, tie him up, throw him in their buggy and off they go!

Now, Anderson Jennings and his men knew they weren’t going to try to get on the train at Oberlin. That town was not a friendly place for them. So went nine miles south to Wellington and they rented the third floor, like, attic, because it wasn’t coming… a night train was coming, and they had to wait. They could see from that vantage point iF anybody was coming, if there was any trouble. Well, luckily, an Oberlin student saw all this going on, saw John get captured, and went running into town.

“They’ve got John! They’ve got John Price! Hurry!”

People went out on horses, on their buggies, they went to the livery station and rented some, they went out on foot to go the nine miles to Wellington. And imagine Anderson Jennings surprise when he saw a hundred people show up in front of that Wadsworth Hotel where they were waiting. And then two hundred people in the square. Three hundred, four hundred, five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred people came down. Remember all these people were breaking the federal law, the Fugitive Slave Law. All of them could be in prison but they were shouting, “Give us John Price!  Give us John Price!”

Well, Anderson Jennings got kind of nervous. He sent one of his men to the telegraph office to send a wire, sending for soldiers because it was federal law. Sent for the federal soldiers to come help them. And the rumors spread in the crowd.

“The soldiers are coming. We better make our move.” So one group went up the front of the hotel, the other went up the back.

But now it was kind of light, and they couldn’t see where they were going. All of sudden, the group that went up the back, saw Anderson Jennings’ men there with rifles. And one of the Oberlin (Anderson Jennings’) men took his rifle, ready to shoot. And just at that moment, then the Oberlin man hit that rifle, and it hit – the bullet went right up into the ceiling. He said, “No! No violence!” Now this was an African-American man who had the lashes down his back to prove that he could have been out for revenge but instead, he said no violence. But that was enough to scare Jennings’ men. They went running off. That group went up the back steps, they met the group that had gone up the top steps. Remember, there’s no lights, electricity, back then.  It was getting dark. So it’s kind of like, I don’t know if you saw the old comedy of the Keystone Cops; doodalum, doodalum; kind of running into each other, trying to figure out where is the room John might be in. And just at that moment, Anderson Jennings pulled his head back and looked through a hole where an old stove pipe he had been, trying to see down the dark of the hall; who’s making that noise.

Just then one of the Oberlin men took his rifle and put it down that hall and bonked, bonked Jennings on the head. He fell to the ground and let go of the rope he was holding. That’s all they were using to close the door, wasn’t even locked. The door swung open. The Oberlin people came in. There was all this confusion. But they knew they had John when they heard the cheers outside of,  “Yeah, John!” of the whole crowd cheering.  And they whisked him off. We don’t know where exactly. Some say Canada. I like to think he and his cousin Dinah found each other.

Well, the federal marshals came marching into town. They arrest 37 people – legislators, farmers, a 74-year-old man – none of them had previous records except one who had been fined $1 for smoking a cigar on the Oberlin street. When they came into the classroom to arrest one of the teachers, this little first grader stood up and he said, “Why our teacher had more goodness in his little finger than your entire carcass!” And they jailed these people, 37 Oberlin people, at maximum security in Cleveland.

They said, “We’ve got to make an example! These Oberlin people have always been pushing against the laws.  We got to make an example.”

But it backfired. Four thousand people came to visit them. School children wrote letters. People wrote articles calling them the new patriots. And Jennings came up to that trial; which was completely rigged by the way, you can’t believe what they did in that trial; when Jennings, Anderson Jennings the slavecatcher, came up to that trial, the Oberlin people kidnapped him. And they made him sign something that said he would never come trying to catch enslaved people who had previously been a slave before. And after that, the government‘s case just completely fell apart and they had to release them. And when they did, bands met them, people played Yankee Doodle Dandy, cannons were shot up, they got on the train in Cleveland, and they went to Oberlin. And when they got there, this little town of under 2,000 people, there were 5,000 people there to greet them. And they had a huge rally, and at that rally, everybody stood up and took a pledge that nobody would ever be caught in their town again. And nobody ever was.

That’s the kind of people we come from. That’s our legacy. We come from a group of people who have always stood up for each other. People who said they would risk anything for freedom. People who have refused to be divided and said, “No!  We are one American family!”

VINDICATION

by Michael McCarty

 

Story Summary:

While in high school, Michael and some classmates make demands of his school to include more Black History in the curricula. The students hold a walkout and Michael is expelled. Decades later as an adult, Michael is brought back to the school to receive his high school diploma and the school’s gratitude.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What were the motivations for the school walkout?
  2. What inspired Greg Meyers, who hadn’t had any contact with McCarty or Tyler for decades, to create a movement to get St. Ignatius High School to apologize and give them their diplomas?
  3. Was the walkout the best way to get the school to listen? Was making their point and getting expelled worth the victory McCarty and Tyler experienced years later?

 

Resource:

  •  Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin

 

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

WHY AM I A JEW?

By Storyteller Gerald Fierst

 

Story Summary:

 Gerry Fierst is someone who would describe himself as “spiritual”, but he also says: “I also love the ritual of religion which connects us to all who have gone before and all who will come long after we are gone.” Especially as Gerry got older, he realized der pintele yid lived inside of him as he could hear the words of his ancestors and pass the tradition of the blowing of the shofar on to his children.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Why-Am-I-A-Jew

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How important is it to you to have a conscious spiritual life?
  2. How important is it to you to express your spirituality in a religious community?
  3. What do you know about the great diversity of expression and experience within Judaism?

Resources:

  • An article about being culturally Jewish: http://circle.org/cultural-jews-release
  • In Every Tongue: The Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People by Diane Tobin

Themes:

  •  Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews

Full Transcript:

So why am I a Jew? Why do I identify myself as a Jewish American instead of a Nothing American? Especially when somebody asks me if I believe in God and I hesitate. God? War, famine, genocide. Why would God create such a world?

And then, and then I hear the blowing of the ram’s horn. In the week between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, the period is called The Days of Awe. The story goes that the Gates of Heaven open. And in that week, you’re supposed to repay your debts. You’re supposed to ask anyone you’ve harmed for forgiveness. And you’re supposed to look inside your own self, at your own failings. And you are supposed to restore yourself with prayer and with fasting. And then at the end of the week, you have Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. All day long, you fast and you pray. And God, who has taken down the Book of Life, writes your fate in that book and then puts it back up on the shelf. And then at the end of that day, that day, which I used to hate as a little boy because you had to admit to all the petty jealousies and all the resentments that are just normal to everybody.

At the end of that day, the ram’s horn is blown. A great bony, curly thing. It’s sound is the sound of the ages. It’s the sound of Moses coming down the mountain, the sound of the children of Israel leaving Egypt. It’s the sound of Abraham, the father of all three of our religions.

I used to thrill to hear that sound. Then, as the sound of the horn vibrated through my body, I would realize that the Gates of Heaven were closing. And quickly, I would mumble, “Forgive me, God.” And the new year would begin. And we would go home. And we would break the fast with a wonderful meal that my mother had prepared. Smoked fish, lox, bagels, white fish, herring. And we would have apples and honey for good luck. My mother would always say, “May we all be here again next year.”

Well, there’s no stopping time. My mother died six years ago. I had just come back from out-of-town, and the phone rang. My mother had collapsed. She had fallen to the floor saying, “Bye, bye world.” My son and I rushed to her bedside. “Mama, Mama, I’m here.”

She opened her eyes. And she reached up and touched me on the cheek. And then she fell back against her pillow, and never awoke again. At the end of the day, when I went home, exhausted from the emotions and the duties of death, I threw myself into bed but I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and I turned. And then, suddenly, the whole room went cold. I couldn’t move. My arms and my legs were heavy. I couldn’t breathe. And I realized my mother was in the room. She couldn’t leave. “It’s ok, Mommy. We’ll be all right. It’s okay.” And I felt all the energy flowing out of the room like a current of water. Was it a dream? Did I imagine it? I lay there, and then I heard the creaking of the door to the attic in the hallway. The wind had blown it open, and I went to close it. And when I got to the hall, the door was there – open. The stairs went up, and at the top of the stairs, a light.

The Jews don’t believe in heaven. When we die, our body goes back to dust. But where does the life force go? What happens to the energy? When I was a little boy, I asked my mother, “What happens when someone dies?” And she said, “A little bit of us goes to everyone we love.”

When New Year comes, I go to synagogue with my friend, Annie. We go to the Yizkor service, the memorial for the dead. And then we wait until the ram’s horn is blown. There’s an expression in Yiddish, di pintele yid, the spark of a Jew. I’m not an observant Jew. I don’t keep all 613 commandments. But the spark that my parents put inside of me, it lives. And as best I can, I try to retain the heart of my tradition.

ALBUQUERQUE

By Storyteller Jerry Fierst

 

Story Summary:

 Growing up in New York City, Gerry never understood that Jews were such a small percentage of the world’s population. In his neighborhood, one could go for blocks and blocks and never meet anyone who wasn’t Jewish. But when Gerry went to visit cousins who had retired to Albuquerque, he discovered that “we all look alike when we are the other.”

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Albuquerque-We-All-Look-Alike

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Did you grow up in a neighborhood of people who were very similar to you? What are the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in homogenous communities?
  2. Why did the police officer not see that Gerry and his cousin looked very different from each other? How is it that we can look but not really see a person?

Resources:

  •  A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson
  • Anti-Semitism in America by Harold E. Quinley and Charles Y. Glock

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

I think of myself as an American. But every so often, I discover that I’m still the “other.” And I’m always shocked by that discovery.

I was visiting with my cousins in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I’d worked in the local school, and I got home mid-afternoon to find that my cousins had gone out, and locked the door. Well, I knew where the key to the side door was hidden. So, I went, and I got it, and I opened it up, and there was a chain on the door. I looked around. I found a wire hanger in the trash. I straightened it out. I was so smart. I reached in, and I jimmied the chain, and opened the door. I had broken in. I went, and I changed out of my business suit. And I went, and I got iced tea.

And I sat down in the kitchen, cooling off from the desert heat when I saw a police cap moving across the high window over the kitchen sink. The neighbors had called the police. They’d seen me breaking in. I got up. I went to the front door even before the policeman rang the bell. I opened the door, and he jumped three feet.

“You live here?”

I tried to reassure him. “Uh, no, it’s, it’s my cousins’ house. I’m just visiting.”

“You got I.D.”

“Yeah, sure. But I took off my clothes. I left my pants in the bedroom and I’ll go get my wallet.”

“Well, I’ll follow you,” he said. And so, he walked in behind me, and down the hall, where the family pictures were up on the wall.

“Hey, is that you?”

He pointed at the 13-year-old cousin, who was having his bar mitzvah. Red hair, long face, hooked nose, prayer shawl, kippah.

“No,” I said. “That’s my cousin.”

He looked at my face. He looked at my cousin’s face.

“You look just like him. Hey, you don’t need I.D. You’re Okay.”

And the officer turned and left the house. And I knew, that to him, we all look alike. We all look like the

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

By Storyteller Arif Choudhury

 

Story Summary:

 Bangladeshi-American Muslim storyteller, Arif Choudhury, shares stories about growing up as the only “brown-skinned boy” in the neighborhood and how 9-11 changed how others might perceive him and his family.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Where-Are-You-From

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What’s the difference between an interrogation and a conversation? How do we be curious about one another but not pressure someone to represent their whole group or feel that they’re being examined and objectified?
  2. Did you ever wonder about your own identity? How did you resolve your questions and confusion?
  3. Has your understanding or behavior towards Muslims changed over the years? In what ways?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims

Full Transcript:

History leaves us all with prejudices. For 2000 years, the Jews have been chased from country to country. They’ve always been the “other.”

“Well, my family, they fled Russia about a hundred years ago. The Czar of Russia had encouraged his subjects and his soldiers to kill Jews. One day, the Cossacks, the Czar’s horsemen, were riding into my little village the Zubkova.

My cousin heard the horse’s hooves in the street, and she ran out to get the children inside. But she wasn’t quick enough. There was the Cossack, sword drawn, coming down the street. She threw herself on the baby, and the sharp blade came down, right across her back.

And that night, my grandmother said, “Enough! We’re going to America!”

And so, we came to America, where we could be safe, where we could live with other Jews. But memories like that, they don’t go away. They’re in our culture. They’re inside our genes.

One day, when I was about five years old, I was sitting on the steps. My sister and my cousin were with me. We were playing, when suddenly I saw them. I’d never seen anything like that before, but I, I knew that they were dangerous. I knew it, in my DNA.

They were big, and they were black. And they seemed to be flying down the street, with big white wings that came out of their head. My sister, my cousin, they saw the look on my face. And then they looked, and then we three were all frozen in fear, as the monsters came, closer and closer.

“Where they going to kidnap us? Or maybe even worse?”

They reached us. They started to reach out their hands towards us.

“Good morning, children.”

Aah, aah, aah, aah, aah! And we ran inside. Escaping from the nuns.

SEEING THE OTHER

by Storyteller Arif Choudhury

Story Summary:

One day, 5-year old Arif learns how to play with a dreidel and learns about the differences between Christians and Jews.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Seeing-the-Other

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did Arif come to realize that there were “different kinds of white people”?
  2. Why weren’t the students also studying Arif’s religion?
  3. Growing up, what did you learn about Islam? Was Islam presented as one of the world’s major religions or as “an other”?

Resources:

  •  No god by God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam by Reza Asian
  • A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Armstrong

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims

Full Transcript:

When I was a kid, I saw white people in my neighborhood. I saw white people on TV. I saw white people at my school. And I, basically, thought that all white people were the same. I didn’t know any better.

But then one day in school I learned that there were two ways of being white. There were Christians and there were Jews because that day the teacher stopped the lesson plan to teach us how to play with a small top called a dreidel. And now I had played with tops when I was a kid but g… only boys played with tops with a string around it. And if you pull the string, then the top keeps spinning and spinning and spinning. But this is a little more involved. This top had four sides with strange markings on each side and would fall over and you would find out if you got to play… to win some candy, those wrapped, uh, those gold coins.

And that’s why I got excited because this game was better than a board game Candy Land. You, actually, got to win candy. And then later in music class, I learned the dreidel song, “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel. I made it out of clay, And when it’s dry and ready. Oh, dreidel, I will play.”

Now the funny thing was at that time I didn’t learn that playing with the dreidel and singing the dreidel song was part of Jewish custom. I just thought it was a game for white kids, cause it… something I didn’t do at home. But then I realized my classmate Christopher didn’t know much about dreidel either. And I asked him why he didn’t.

And he said well that’s because he was Christian and not Jewish. And that was the first time I really heard those two words. And so, I started to talk to Christopher about what it meant to be Christian. And then my other friends who were Jewish and I began to learn about their different faith practices and the cultural traditions.

And I kind of felt that my Christian friends had stacked the deck in their favor because they had cooler holidays. They had candy for each and every holiday. They had candy canes and Christmas cookies for Christmas. They had marshmallow peeps and chocolate eggs for Easter. My Jewish friends didn’t have candy for all their holidays. And my Christian friends had cartoon characters and mascots for each holiday. They had Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and elves and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. My Jewish friends didn’t have any cartoon characters or mascots. Actually, the disparity between my Christian friends’ really kid-friendly holidays and my Jewish friends’ not so friendly holidays was really apparent in the springtime when my Christian friends were coloring eggs and eating marshmallow peeps and my Jewish friends were eating unleavened bread for Passover. Santa Claus. Now during the winter, Santa Claus is everywhere.

And one year my grandmother came to live with us from Bangladesh. She’d never left a Muslim majority country and lived in America, which was mostly a Christian majority country. And so, when she saw this image of Santa Claus lit up on lawns and on billboard ads and on television, she kept seeing this robust man with a big flowing white beard and was covered in clothing from head to foot. She thought that Santa Claus was a Muslim imam because many imams on TV when you see them, they could have beards and they’re covered from head to foot. I spoke to my grandmother that, no, Santa Claus is not a Chicago imam. He’s this man who brings presents to all the kids during Christmas. And she looked at me as though I was odd, I was strange, I was confused and I realized my grandmother had never really lived in a Christian country. And she was seeing all of this through her Bengali Muslim filter. And I realized that what I was from my family was an explorer, a cultural anthropologist who would go out into the indigenous population and gather data and interpret it for my family.

Now my family came from Bangladesh, which had been part of India, which was once part of a British colony called British India. And so, they were aware of Christianity and many Christian customs. So, they knew about Easter and that that was the day when Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead. But when they saw Easter in practice in America and saw the Easter Bunny everywhere, they asked me, “Arif, what’s the Easter Bunny for?”

Well I didn’t know. So, I talked to my friend Christopher and said, “Hey, Christopher, what’s the Easter Bunny for?”

And he said he didn’t know but he would go home and ask his mom.

JUST NOT MUSLIM ENOUGH

by Storyteller Arif Choudhury

 

Story Summary:

Sometimes we forget about the diversity that exists within a faith and within a family. In this story, Arif is reminded of how he is different from some of the relatives in his Muslim family.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Just-Not-Muslim-Enough

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why would those within a similar group judge each other as to whether they are Muslim enough, Black enough, Manly enough and so forth?
  2. What are some of the differences within your ethnic or religious group? What is most misunderstood about your group?

Resources:

  • All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim by Wajahat Wali and Zahra T Suratwala
  • Muslim Communities in North America by Yvonne Hadda and Jane Idleman Smith

Themes:

  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims

Full Transcript:

For many years, I was the only Muslim boy in my class. That meant I was the only boy who was studying the holy book, the Koran, after school and fasting every day for the month of Ramadan and learning how to pray five times a day as Muslim kids do. So, naturally, I felt a little different from my classmates who are Jewish and Christian but sometimes I realize, on occasion, I would feel different from other Muslims. Now, when I sat in Sunday school, I learned that there are over 40 countries around the world with a Muslim majority and then all these Muslims were very, very different from each other. The Muslim world was very diverse. There are African Muslims and Arab Muslims and East Asian Muslims and European Muslims, even Muslims Latin America and Muslims from South Asia like the country of Bangladesh where my family was from.

But I didn’t realize all this diversity when I was a young boy. I just thought that all Muslims were like me, short, skinny and brown. So, on Eid… Eid is a very major holiday for Muslims, and there are two Eids and they were very important, high holidays like Christmas and Easter for Christians or Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for Jews. So, on Eid, my father and I would drive in his big Oldsmobile from Northbrook, the suburb of Chicago where I was growing up, all the way to downtown Chicago to McCormick Place, a very large convention center. And we were going there to congregate with other Muslims from around the Chicagoland area to pray together.

But one year, we learned that there was actually a mosque in Northbrook, just two miles away from my house. We no longer had to drive 20 miles to downtown Chicago to pray. And the reason why we didn’t realize that there was a mosque there was because it looked a lot like a municipal building, like a library or the city hall. But when they built the dome and the minaret, that tower where the call to prayer is given, it started to look like a mosque. So, one day when I was in fifth grade, that Friday for our prayer, my father and I went to go pray with the other Muslims. When I entered the building, I looked inside and I saw that everybody in the building was Caucasian. There were white. I said to my father, “I think we’re in the wrong building.”

He said, “Why do you think that?”

“Because everybody here is white.”

My father said, “Don’t be silly! There are Muslims like us. They just happen to be Caucasian because they came from Bosnia, from the former Yugoslavia. They were fleeing Communism and they came to America to study and practice Islam so they could have freedom of worship like the Pilgrims had.”

And I… that was very surprising to me. And I sat down with my father on the floor on our prayer rug and I listened to the sermon. And for a long time, I didn’t understand what was going on because the sermon was in Bosnian and I don’t speak any Bosnian. But later, when the sermon went to English and then to Arabic, I could follow along.

And that opened up my mind to how diverse the Muslim world was. But you know, even in my own family, there’s different ways of being Muslim and sometimes I feel a little out of place. Like, for example, I grew up in Chicago as a Muslim in the 70s and 80s. But my cousins from Bangladesh came to America in the 90s and they grew up going to Muslim parochial day school. Now, most of what I learned about my religion as a kid, I learned from books and my mother. But my cousin Nadia goes to a Muslim parochial day school and learned how to read the Koran and study Arabic and Islamic history along with gym and geography. So, you can say that she’s more formally practicing than I am. I think sometimes my behavior shocks her.

For example, at a family function once, she was sitting in the kitchen eating a halal shish kebab. Now, Nadia’s family follows strict Islamic dietary guidelines, which means she only eats halal meat. That’s meat that’s been slaughtered by a Muslim butcher in a prescribed manner. Now, I grew up eating fast food. So, at that function while she ate her shish kebab, I was eating a Whopper Jr. with cheese. And as I placed that Whopper Jr. with cheese into my mouth, I saw my cousin Nadia’s eyes grow wide, as big as saucers. And she looked at me and then the burger and then at me and then the burger and I wondered what she was picturing in her mind. Was she picturing me roasting in hell like her halal shish kebab? To my cousin Nadia, I just wasn’t Muslim enough.

EVACUATION

by Storyteller Anne Shimojima

 

Story Summary:

What if the U.S. went to war with your country of origin? Anne Shimojima tells of the difficult days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, when her Japanese-American family were forced to evacuate their home. Could it happen to you?

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine that your family had to leave its home in ten days. You can only take what you can carry. You may never return. What will you take and why? What will you have to leave behind that will break your heart to leave?
  2. What can we learn from the experience of the Japanese-Americans at this time when Muslim-Americans face so much prejudice?
  3. Being an American citizen gives us certain rights. If you lost your rights as the Japanese-Americans did in World War II, what are some of the actions you could take in response?

 

Resources:

  • Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project – The Densho Digital Archive contains 400 videotaped histories (fully transcribed, indexed, and searchable by keyword) and over 10,700 historic photos, documents, and newspapers. www.densho.org/
  • Personal Justice Denied; Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. The Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and University of Washington Press, 1997. Available at: books.google.com  and

 

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Bullying
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • War

MORE ALIKE THAN NOT

Featuring Storytellers Arif Choudhury, Gerald Fierst and Susan O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 Through exploring misconceptions and common threads such as immigration and disagreements within their own religions, these three tellers bring alive their distinct histories and our common humanity to illuminate the experience of being an American in a time of religious tension, change and possibility.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  More-Alike-Than-Not

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What were you taught about other faith traditions? Were you given accurate information or misinformation?
  2. What groups do you identify with? Do you ever feel as though you don’t fit in in your own group?
  3. Why do people condemn, fear or stereotype people from different religions?
  4. Is there a religion you’d like to learn more about? What similarities between the major world religions might surprise you?

Resource:

  • Religious Tolerance and World Religions by Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Identity
  • Interfaith
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript: 

More alike than not.  When the three of us started working together, Gerry, Arif and me, Susan, one thing we discovered, over and over again – we are so different. For instance, man, woman, black hair, red hair, less hair, brown skin, white skin, raised Muslim, raised Catholic, raised Jewish, white collar.

My father was a doctor. My father was a doctor too. Now my family, blue collar workers, mostly manual laborers, but we did have one teacher. Big family, small family, medium family. Ah huh, younger. Okay, older. But Gerry and I, we like to exercise every day and we eat healthy. Huh, and I consider potato chips a vegetable. So, you can see, we’re really different.

In fact, sometimes the three of us would look each other and we’d say we’re so different. How could we ever be friends? But then we kept working on our show. We started discovering how similar we were, for instance, how all-American our upbringings really were.

All of our families celebrated the Fourth of July. How more American than that can you be? Yeah. We celebrated Fourth of July and we had a barbecue – tandoori chicken! Ha, ha!

Food seemed to be the common element for all of our holidays. For instance, on Thanksgiving, my grandmother would always make her prized, lime green Jell-O mold with those little miniature marshmallows suspended mid-mold.

Yes. And my family for Thanksgiving, amongst all the other foods, we also had Jell-O mold but we used the recipe from Julia Child with Grand Marnier.

Now see my working class, beer and peanuts family, we would not know what Grand Marnier, I can’t even say it, Grand Marnier liqueur was. Ha, ha, ha! And in my Muslim family, we didn’t even drink alcohol so I don’t even know what a liqueur really is.

And all of our families were baseball fanatics. My teams were the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. And Arif and I, we’re Chicago kids so we are waitin’ for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series. Go Cubs! Oh, and that’s a real definition of faith!

Yeah, but then we kept talking about our faith traditions. We came to one major similarity –  that we all pray to one God. And it’s the same God, the God who spoke to Abraham.

And in all of our religions, at one time or another, the women covered their hair as a sign of respect and dedication, devotion. And in Judaism, the men also wear a skullcap when they pray and when they’re indoors.

Yeah. Muslim men often cover their hair for prayer as well. And in all our faiths, we learned another language to practice our faith tradition. I had to learn Arabic to read the holy book, the Koran, and I learned Latin and I learned Hebrew. And we all have religious leaders. For Muslims, it’s called the imam.

Now Catholicism, there’s the priest, the bishops, the cardinal and then the pope. The Jews have a rabbi. Similarity though, in our religions most of the top leaders are men. Ha, ha, ha. And then sometimes we discover somp’in’ that really surprises. For instance, Catholics, we believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and so do Muslims. And, see, we didn’t know that.

But all of our religions have times for prayer and for fasting. I remember when I was a little kid, on Yom Kippur, we’d spend the whole day praying and fasting. Uh, All I wanted to do was to go home and eat.

Ha, ha, ha. For me as a Muslim, as a kid fasting, then sleep deprivation, every day for the 29 or 30 days of the holy month of Ramadan, I’d wake up before sunup to eat an entire medium cheese pizza and half of two liters of Diet Coke. So, I go that day from sunup to sundown with no food or drink.

And say the thing about how you sometimes you get stuck out traveling, you still have to pray when you’re on the road. Right. Practicing Muslims pray five times a day no matter where you are. So, a few years back my uncle and I were driving on a rural highway in Illinois heading up toward Chicago. The sun was coming down, was time for Maghrib prayer. So, my uncle pulled the car into the gas station. We took our shoes and socks off, threw our coats on the grass nearby as prayer rugs and we bowed facing east to the holy city of Mecca. Just a few feet away from the gas pumps and the highway.

Now prayer for us meant all 12,000 of us parishioners of St. Thomas Moore Parish going to one of the many Sunday masses. I used to go with my grandma and she’d always bring her crystal rosary. And sometimes the sun would stream into the stained-glass windows, hit that rosary and spray rainbows up and down the pews. I thought my grandmother’s rosary was made of magic diamonds.

As we were learning about all our faith traditions and the different facets and elements of our faith practices, we were showing all these flip charts and all the categories and the yellow sticky notes were posted with different pieces of each of our faiths. And the more that we looked at all those little slips of paper and the more we told the stories behind all those little yellow slips, the more we realized that really, we were more alike than different even though our families came from very different parts of the world.

My family came from New York City. I grew up in Brooklyn, in a little neighborhood called Borough Park. Borough Park could have been called Sholahova, which was the name of the little shtetl town or Jewish town that my family had come from. The avenue of Borough Park was lined with all the old Jewish merchants – the pickle man, the poultryman, the kosher butcher, the shoemaker, the baker – everybody was Jewish. I didn’t even know that the whole world wasn’t Jewish until I went to public school.

I lived in a house with my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my great aunt Tillie, my great-uncle Sam, my aunt Alice, my uncle Sidney, my cousin Jenny, my mother, my father, my sister and me. Next door were my cousins, down the street were more cousins. The doors were always open. Everybody came in and out all day.

My first crib was a dresser drawer. That way whoever was in the house could take me up and down the stairs and whoever was staying there would watch me. Every month, the whole family came to our house for the family meeting and we discussed whatever problems anybody had. Did they need a job? Did they need a loan to start a business? Do they need to get married? Whatever problem you had, the family would help. And that ethic went out into the big world. When we were very little, my great-grandmother, she would give us a dollar bill and she would say, “Go get milk and butter but I don’t want you to go to the big store. I want you to go to the little man. If we don’t help the little man, who will.”

Nowadays, well, the family still gathers. We celebrate holidays and life passages. And if we ever need help, we turn to each other and we know that there will always be help out there because if we don’t help each other, who will.

Now I grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. My neighborhood was only 90 percent Irish when my grandparents came from Ireland to Chicago. They moved to an inner-city neighborhood of Chicago in the early 1900s that was just about 100 percent Irish. And coming from another land, they must have felt some comfort in being in a city that had politicians with names like Kennelly and Kelly and Daley. Now many years later in the 1950s, I was born and when I was 10 months old, my parents took us out of that mostly 100 percent Irish type neighborhood and moved us to a new development on the outskirts of the city.

They felt like pioneers. There were no streets, no sidewalks. We didn’t get mail delivered. And suddenly, they had new neighbors, some of whom had names such as English names or German names or Italian names. Now to my grandparents, this was a very dangerous situation because mixed neighborhoods could lead to… mixed marriages. And, sure enough, in high school didn’t I go and date a boy named Jim Worpinski. A Polish boy. This was interracial dating back then. Now we may have been many different kinds of white ethnic groups but the thing that held us together is that neighborhood was 99 percent Catholic. If someone asked you were… where you were from, you would say your parish on the southwest side of Chicago. I would say, “St. Thomas Moore.” I didn’t know that the official city name for my neighborhood was Wrightwood ‘til I was about 20 years old. Someone asked me where I’s from, I said Tommy Moore because we’re on a nickname basis with our St. And it did feel like ours. It was our St. Our neighborhood, our city.

When I heard Gerry talking about Borough Park, I realized that he and I have something in common. I also grew up in a Jewish neighborhood except I wasn’t Jewish. And when I hear Gerry and Sue talk about growing up in their ethnic and religious enclaves, I realize how different my story really is because I grew up in a suburb of Chicago as the only Muslim boy… as the only Bangladeshi boy.

My parents came to America from a country called Bangladesh, a small country just between India and Myanmar. My father first came to America because he wanted to study medicine. And then he hoped to go back to Bangladesh when it would be safe for him to have economic and educational opportunities there. But his father, my grandfather, told him to stay in America because there might be civil war brewing. At the time, Bangladesh was called East Pakistan and it might be war between East Pakistan and Pakistan for Bengali freedom. So, my father stayed in America, made money, sent it back home to the family where my mother’s family lived through the war. One of her cousins were… disappeared. The Pakistani army came and took him away. They never saw him again.

But later my father returned to marry my mother and they came and settled in Chicago where my dad, my dad got a job as a neurologist at Veterans Hospitals and we lived in this one high-rise, apartment building, because three other Bangladeshi families lived in that building too. So that was kind of our ethnic enclave. My mom and dad wanted to live there because they could share their language and their customs and their shared history and their shared loss from the war with those other families. But then one day, my dad decided to move away and buy a house in Northbrook. Now when I was living in that high-rise apartment, every morning our fathers would go off to work and our Bangladeshi mothers would gather those kids together and they would spend the day and they would trade each other’s specialty, Bengali recipes like chicken korma or roshgulla, a nice dessert. But they also taught each other new American recipes that they were learning from box tops and the sides of ingredients boxes like spaghetti with meatballs or macaroni with cheese or tuna fish sandwiches. And the other kids and I would watch Sesame Street or Electric Company.

But then we moved to Northbrook and then we were isolated from those families. Those families became my surrogate aunties and cousins and… to us. And now I didn’t see them very often, only on Saturdays at parties. And I lived in this… big house with my younger sister and my mom. And my sister and I played out… indoors quite a bit. I didn’t play outside with the other white kids. They all seemed older and they seemed to know each other. They had all gone to preschool together. I didn’t go to preschool with them so I didn’t play with them and I was afraid of being different. There was always constant reminders in our house about how different we were. There was patriotic Bengali music on the record player and each house had a… each room in the house had these woodcuts of balishi vistas, rural fishermen fishing and farmers farming. When I, later, got older and had white friends and I went to their houses, they didn’t have any of that stuff so I didn’t want to be different. But I was and I came to accept it. My parents had always thought that we would eventually go back to Bangladesh once my father was settled and had more opportunity there but that never materialized. And it was a young country with a lot of political turmoil. And then I was born and my sister was born. And my, my younger brother was born and my parents decided that kids are American. Let’s stay in America.

So, we wanted to share some of our stories with you today from our longer piece as long as everybody keeps in mind that nobody can speak for his or her group. I can’t speak for all Catholics, which certainly means I can’t speak for all Christians and I can’t speak for all Jews. And I can’t speak for all Muslims. These stories are just part of who we are.