A Yiddish King Lear is about hard choices, hopes, dreams, racial persecution, and love! It tells of the moment Judith realized that her grandfather, Oscar Markowitz, an actor in the Yiddish Theatre at the turn of the 20th Century was her role model as a Storyteller. Remembering her grandfather’s background, gave her the courage to pursue her dreams. A Yiddish King Lear is set in the emotional, artistic and actual geographic crossroad of Second Avenue in New York City in the early 1900’s and in the 1970’s. (more…)
Linda’s grandmother lived in what her sisters and she called “The Plastic Palace.” Her grandmother covered everything with plastic. Everything … chairs, tables, lampshades … and, of course, her living room couch, including the throw pillows. Plastic is fun, right? But who would suspect that it could also set off a painful memory of the Vietnam War for Linda’s father?
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Plastic-Glory
What intrigues you about the home of your grandparents or other older people? What do you smell, taste, hear, or touch when you visit their homes?
How does the description of food add to the visual image of the dining room scene?
Were you surprised at the twist near the end of the story? How did her father’s reaction to the popping sound affect you?
Do you know someone who has fought overseas in a war? Have you ever talked with them about their experiences? If you could, what would you ask?
The term ‘shell shock’ has been changed to ‘post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What do you know about it?
The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You about What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War by Kevin Sites
Once a Warrior–Always a Warrior: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home–Including Combat Stress, PTSD, and MTBI by Charles Hoge
What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes
African American/Black History
Family and Childhood
Living and Traveling Abroad
Hi, I’m Linda Gorham and I remember my grandmother’s obsession with plastic. She covered everything with it: furniture, accessories. Now, I know this was universal. I meet a lot of people tell me that their family covered things with plastic. When I was young though, back in the 60’s, actually, I thought it was a black thing. But I learned that it’s pretty universal. I loved visiting my grandparents’ house because there was no dust. There was no dirt. There was no stain in her house, at least not under the plastic, you know what I mean.
But when I would go there, well, I would go on plastic hunts to discover all the ways that she had used plastic. It was really, really cool. In the living room, there were white lamps, you know. Regular lamps with big white shades? Those white shades were covered in plastic, of course. In the hall closet there were wooden hangers, all of those wooden hangers were covered with a plastic bag from the cleaners. I remember the hallway to my grandparents’ house. It was a long hallway that started at the foyer and it went all the way back to the kitchen. And covering that hallway was a gray hallway rug but to protect the rug it was covered in plastic. You see where I’m going with this, right?
In the dining room, there were dining room chairs. They were gorgeous and they had cushions on them that were kind of paisley. But to protect the cushions, they were covered in plastic. You know something cool about plastic cover,s dining room chairs when you sit down on them? They exhale. Aah. then, when you get up they inhale. Ooh. It’s kind of cool jumping up and down on them. Aah. Ooh. Aah. Ooh.
But the thing I remember that was the most fun, was the living room couch in my grandparents’ house. Yes, it was covered in plastic but this part I will never know how this happened, the pillows, throw pillows, they were covered in plastic too. But…I figured out a way to jump on that couch and to make a loud noise like POP. And I called it the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I loved making the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I love saying the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My grandmother didn’t approve. But that’s another story.
Well, when I was about 12 or so, my father, who was in the military, announced that he was being transferred. No actually, when I think about it, I was probably more like eight. And so, we moved from New Jersey, where he was stationed, up to Alaska, and then to Fort Benning, Georgia – two transfers. And then while we were in Georgia, my father said to me that he was being, well, not transferred. He used the word I had never heard before – deployed. He was being sent to Vietnam and while he was gone, he told my mother and my two sisters that I had at that point, he said, “You’re all going to go back and live with my parents,” he said. My grandparents, his parents, my grandparents. And the next thing I knew, my father was shipped off to Vietnam and I was back in the plastic palace. That’s what I called it.
Now, I was a little bit older – that’s when I was about 12. But my sisters, well, they didn’t really remember all the plastic stuff so I took them on a hunt, you know, to show them that the things; the, the chairs and the, the plastic on the hangers and all the things that my grandmother covered in plastic. The best thing was that couch because you know what I taught them. How to make the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My youngest sister, Carol loves being able to say “fart” out loud. But I was older, and truthfully, I was the only one who really understood where my father went. And I guess, it’s also fair to say, I was the only one of the children who realized that he may not come back or he may not come back the same. So, plastic took on a different, it just it was different for me. I wasn’t interested in all the other things that Gail and Carol liked.
I remember before my father left, he gave me a plastic globe and he showed all of us where Vietnam was. And I remember sitting in my room, at night, trying to put my finger approximately on New Jersey and try to stretch my thumb to Vietnam. It was a long way away. But somehow, just touching that plastic globe made me feel closer to my father.
I can remember every night, at 6 o’clock, my mother and I would sit on the living room couch, our bodies stuck to the plastic, and our eyes glued to the television set. Because every day at 6 o’clock, on the news, we’d watch. We’d watch to see if my father’s unit had been in battle. And we watched those names of fallen soldiers scroll down the screen. More names after more names after more names; too many names.
I can remember the day that my father came home. The doorbell rang his special code, three rings. And my sisters and I screamed, “Daddy’s home!” And we went running and slipping down that long hallway runner and into his arms. I think, and I don’t really remember, but I, re, kind of think he picked all of us up at the same time. And there was so much laughter and joy and tears in that foyer. It must’ve lasted forever. But I remember when he finally put us down, and did all the kissing and hugging, he, he walked down the hallway runner hung, his coat up in the closet. And then he walked over to the dining room table ’cause there was lots of food on that table. macaroni and cheese. My grandmother made the best macaroni and cheese in the world! I didn’t know back then, the most fattening macaroni and cheese in the world. But hey, who cared. And a whole stack of steaks. My father sat down on those plastic cover dining room chair cushions. And cushions, exhaled. Aah. Daddy’s home.
We had so much fun that day! At the dining room table, we ate, we talked, we laughed. And when Gail and Carol were finished eating, I remember, they excused themselves, which is a good thing to do, you know, and went into the living room. Now I wasn’t going to go over there where that couch was… you know, what I’m saying? And it wasn’t long before we heard it. POP, the ultimate plastic couch fart. I started to laugh and a few other people did too. But I looked at my father. He had jumped up from his seat. His eyes had just grown in size and his head was gyrating from side to side and his whole body was shaking. And I was scared for him. And I was scared for me. I learned a new word that day, shellshock. And I learned that, well, my father had come home from the war, but, unexpectedly, the war had come home with my father.
Now, I don’t remember how long we had to be quiet around him. It was weeks or months. I don’t remember but he did recover. That’s the good news. But I will tell you that, that night after everybody went to sleep, I helped my grandmother take the plastic off that living room couch and those dining room chairs. Because at my grandmother’s house, even though plastic used to be cool, now, plastic took a back seat when it came all too real.
Learn what the term “Shadowball” meant if you were a person of color who played baseball in segregated America in the 1920’s and 30’s. Bobby brings to life famed baseball players such as Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige, as he explores their triumphs and sacrifices.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Shadowball
Compare and contrast the career of “Cool Papa” Bell to that of a white player of the same era. What white player would be comparable to “Cool Papa” Bell?
How would Satchel Paige be treated if he were playing in major league baseball today?
Was Satchel Paige “the first” to lobby as a free agent before Cat Fish Hunter and Curt Flood?
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns – DVD by PBS
African American/Black History
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hello, my name is Bobby Norfolk and I will be doing an excerpt from a piece, a one-person show called Shadow ball.
Hello, my name is Bell. James “Cool Papa” Bell. Ha, ha, ha! I get to that in a minute.
But they had this thing back in the Negro National League, back in the day called shadow ball where the players would pretend in a pantomime. They’d be throwing balls from the mound connecting with the ball, catching pop flies and running bases. They call that shadow ball because Negro baseball players had to play ball in the shadows of white segregated America back in the day. Understand this, for 60 years, major league baseball owners and baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis bought Negro players in a so-called gentleman’s agreement.
But I joined the St. Louis Stars, back then a Negro baseball league. Heh, heh, heh! And I didn’t get my notoriety because of just my speed. I started off as a baseball player as a pitcher. You got that right, a pitcher.
I have knuckle ball that could tie batters up in knots. Now you gotta throw a ball softly without any spin or rotation on the ball. Get them batters all confused.
But then I got notoriety by my speed. I can run the base past in 12 seconds flat! Jesse Owens, that track star, he wouldn’t race me. He said, “Man, you one of the fastest men on the planet. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!
But one time, Oscar Charleston with the Kansas City Monarchs, on my same team, ooh, he was a no prisoner taken kinda dude. Klux Klan headed him down south and one day a Klansman took him up on his offer to confront Oscar Charleston. Oscar Charleston hit it to third. Pi-yow! Now he was runnin’ them bases and, all of a sudden, here’s the Klansman standing there, face in the sheet. “All right, boy! Whatcha gonna do?”
Oscar reached up, snatched the hood off the Klansman head. “Huh! You ain’t so big and bad now without your face being hid.”
“Ah,” people up in the bleachers, “Ah, that’s Mr. Gilmore from the city council.” He ran back behind some bleachers, boogity, boogity, boogity!
Huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh! They also call our circuit the Chitlin’ Circuit. Yeah, because we had to stay in the rat and roach infested hotels and motels. We couldn’t stay in them white places. We could rip the white stadiums but couldn’t wash up in the white showers. Had to go down to a colored YMCA down the street.
And you better not turn off them lights in them ole nasty motels because rats and roaches and bedbugs will come all out. Ooh, ooh! Turn on the lights. Could not sleep under those conditions.
But then, 1945 came. People started speculating that they were looking for a Negro player to make it into the majors and people couldn’t figure out who was gonna be. Was gonna be Satchel Paige? Judy Johnson? Was gonna be Josh Gibson? Me? And then they saw that young black cat Ollie.
UCLA, X- Army Lieutenant Jack Roosevelt Robinson. Jackie Robinson took no prisoners either. Oh, yeah, he had a temper. But Branch Rickey Branch, Rickey who owned the St. Louis Cardinals and then owned the Brooklyn Dodgers., he told Jackie Robinson that for three years, he could not fight back or talk back. And for three years, Jackie Robinson held all that anger in him no matter how many people dogged him out and, uh, gave all of them nasty comments to him.
And even in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was out there and people were throwing things out on the field. And then that white boy named Pee Wee Reese came up out of the dugout, put his arm around Jackie Robinson and whispered something in his ear. And all the haters stopped hating. Right there with that Kentucky-Cincinnati boy hug.
And when Jackie Robinson put on that uniform of the Brooklyn Dodgers, that was the greatest day of my life. We finally could prove that we could hit, catch and run with anybody in the white major leagues. But by that time, after 22 years, my knees was wearing out.
You know, there was a baseball competition and some people said that the New York Giants scouts was looking. And so, Monte Irvin, another player with the Kansas City Monarchs, young boy, about half my age. You know what, I held back and let Monte Irvin win that title. That’s how he got chosen for the New York Giants.
But I tell you what. After I retired from the Negro Leagues, August 12th, 1974, I got inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Worked as a custodian, worked as a night watchman in St. Louis City Hall. When I retired, I got a stipend from the baseball commissioner’s office and from city hall, St. Louis. But some people say that I was born too early. Huh, huh! That’s not true. They opened them doors too late. But I was a good father, good husband, good baseball player with the Negro National Leagues. And I am the one who all these other guys making thirty million dollars a year, they stand on my shoulders and that’s all I can tell you.
Linda’s father had a little black book. He said it was written just for her and he said it was full of all the values she needed for a successful life. Linda loved it. She believed in it. But it took time to understand just what a gift it was.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Book
Do your parents or caregivers have ‘words of wisdom’ they repeat all the time? What are they? What do they mean?
Do you have favorite sayings? What makes them important?
Linda’s father told her he had plans and dreams for her. What are your plans? Your dreams?
Why is it important for adults to encourage young people?
Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
The Arms That Are Needed: Daughters Reflect on Fatherly Love by Landra Glover
If: A Father’s Advice to His Son by Rudyard Kipling
African American/Black History
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Hi, I’m Linda Gorham. I want to tell you about my father. He had a little black book. Now, my father told me that the little black book was written just for me. And he said it had all the rules and the values and the morals that I needed to grow up to be a responsible adult. And I believed in the book. And whenever I did something wonderful something that, you know, made my father proud, my father would smile the sweetest smile. His right index finger would rise up in the air and my father would say, “It’s in The Book.” And I believed in the book. I believed in the notes and the morals and all the sayings in that book. To me, they were like notes to beautiful songs. And I was determined to sing those songs for the rest of my life. Now, I didn’t have to remember those words and values and morals in the book. My father repeated them over and over and over again.
I’m going to tell you three of them. He would say, “Education is paramount to success.” He would say, “Go to church every Sunday.” Now you know something interesting. My father only went to church on three times a year Mother’s Day, Christmas, and Easter. But he insisted that my sisters, my mother, and I go every single Sunday. That’s something else my father used to say, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.” Right? And then there was a thing my father said all the time. He said it all the time. “Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.”
My mother got so sick and tired of hearing him say that, that one day she whispered in my ear, “Pretentiously pompous planning, ticks me off.” The list went on and on and on. And I did everything I could to see my father smile and to hear my father’s famous four words of praise, “It’s in the book.”
But you know something? It wasn’t until I was an adult, married, and about to have my first child that I actually sat down with my father at the kitchen table. That’s where things happened, you know, the kitchen table. And I said, “Daddy tell me about The Book.” Oh, man, I’ll never forget it.
That smile came back on his face, his right index finger rose up. But this time he used it to adjust his glasses and he bit down hard on his pipe and he said, “Well, The Book. Did you know it came from my father?” He said, “Your grandfather?” And then my father said, “You know your grandfather was born in 1898 and died in Georgia.” And then my father went on to tell me a lot of other stuff.
Now, I knew everything he was telling me. I remember as a child when my parents would tell me stories, maybe this has happened to other people, you just sit and be quiet. You listen to them telling the story over and over and you hope that they one day add something new. And then he dropped it on me. He said, “Did you know your grandfather’s father was white?” Oh, boy! Now I was really listening. He said, “His mother was 14 years old, a black teenager. She and her family were sharecroppers. His father was the white landowner. It was not a consensual relationship.” And then my father said, “You know, his mother died in childbirth and your grandfather was raised, as they say, by a village of family members, assortment of family members.” He said, “You know, he only went to school until third grade and only when there was no work to be done in the fields picking cotton. Did you know your grandfather never learned to read until he was an adult? He taught himself.”
Now, I have to tell you, my brain was racing at this point. All these details coming into my head. Fourteen years old, died in childbirth. Father never acknowledge his responsibility. Raised by assorted family members. Third grade. Taught himself to read, only after he was old.
But I remembered something. Because you see, when my grandfather would leave the kitchen table after eating breakfast, he would go into the dining room. And he would spread out two newspapers, “The Jersey Journal” and “The New York Times.” And he would read them every morning cover to cover. And also, in the corner of the dining room, there was a great, big stack of “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines, you know, black people do not throw out “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines. Oh, no they don’t! And I can remember my grandfather turning to me on more than one occasion saying, “Education is paramount to success.” Reading the newspaper every morning.
And then my father went on with his story. He said, “You know how your grandfather told you that he left Guyton, Georgia, about age 15, and walked all the way to New Jersey? It’s not true. He took the train. And it’s a good thing,” my father said. “He got a job as a Pullman Porter. It was hard work. He had to carry the luggage of all those travelers. He had clean cars, railroad cars and sometimes he even worked in the kitchen and he didn’t get much respect. But he managed to eke out a good life for all of us.”
And then I remembered something else about my grandfather. You know, I remember him sitting on the front steps of 4075 Oak Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, his long legs crossed. And my grandfather would sit there in his rocking chair on the front porch. And anyone who walked past that house, he would smile and he would tip his hat, “How do?” he would say. “How do?” And I remember my grandfather turning to me on more than one occasion saying, “Treat everyone with respect even if they don’t treat you that way.”
Well, my father went on with his story. He said, “You know, your grandfather had no one to teach him. He learned by watching the men on the train, and the men in his neighborhood. He watched how they interacted with their children and their wives. He watched how they talked about investments and life and living and learning. And he wrote it all down in a little black book. Your grandfather passed that little black book on to me,” my father said. “And now, I have passed it on to you.” Now I never held that book in my hand. The way I looked at it, my father passed that book directly to my heart.
Now, I have to tell you something, I didn’t always live too close to my father because of where, you know transfers and things, so I would talk to him all the, all the time while our sons were growing up. And now our sons are 27 and 28. They’re, they’re great! They’re warm, they’re witty, they’re friendly, they’re smart and, yeah, they’re handsome too. But I will tell you, every time I talk to my father and I tell him about his grandsons and all the wonderful things they’re doing. Now, I can’t see that smile because we’re usually on the phone, and I can’t see that index finger because I know it’s a little shaky from Parkinson’s, but I can…I can know it’s there. Because I, I can sense that finger going up and I can sense that smile in his voice and he says, “Of course, my grandsons are doing well. It’s in The Book.”
In 1804, Lewis & Clark crossed The Great Plains and dangerous Rocky Mountains to finally see the Pacific Ocean for the first time! One person who was part of this Corps of Discovery was an African American man named York. While York was not always credited with his part in the Western exploration, his contributions were a large part of Lewis and Clark’s success. (more…)
At age 16, in 1855, Jane’s great-grandfather sailed from Long Island, N.Y. around the Horn to San Francisco where he was stranded! He took a job with Wells Fargo as a treasure agent in the Sacramento-Shasta Mining District…the home of the Shasta Indian Nation. In 1860 he rode the first leg east for the Pony Express. He was also a member of San Francisco’s Vigilance Committee, a group of 6000 men, committed to establishing “law and order.” How do we seek understanding of both the pride and the discomfort our ancestor’s stories? (more…)
Storyteller, Connie Regan-Blake, was invited to come to Uganda by “Bead For Life”(www.beadforlife.org), an NGO helping women lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Many of them are displaced people from the horrors and atrocities of civil war in northern Uganda and are dealing with the ravages of AIDS. Connie was welcomed into their homes and hearts as if she was family and she listened to their profound and transformative stories. This is Namakasa Rose’s story. (more…)
Storyteller, Kate Dudding, tells the story of Iqbal Masih, a 12-year-old boy in Pakistan who led thousands of children to freedom from 1993-1995. Even after his death, Iqbal went on to inspire other children and show that even the youngest among us can make a difference. (more…)
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. (more…)
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.
What is a WASP and why is that word part of American history?
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?
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?
Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
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?”
“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.
Storyteller Jim Stowell tells how an immigrant woman is faced with trials and hardships, and how she established a sense of pride and dignity for herself and her family.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Spring
What is an “illegal immigrant?”
Why is a first home a dream come true? How does owning a home possibly change a family? A community?
What is the difference between hope and dignity? How are they the similar? How does “hope” and “dignity” show up in the story? In your life?
Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants by David Bacon
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Living and Traveling Abroad
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name is Jim Stowell. And the story, “Spring,” is from an evening of stories I did entitled, “Joe,” that was produced by the great American history theater.
Spring. See a woman’s face. See her face. Hmm, late 30’s early 40’s, dark skin. At one point in her life, she was an immigrant. At one point in her life, she was an illegal immigrant. Oh, illegal immigrants much maligned these days.
See her face as she looks at her first house. She’s never owned a house before. She’s never owned anything like this before. See her face as she looks at her first house and you will see joy. A joy that’s so intense it makes her cry. Now watch, as she walks up to the front door of her house and the door opens and we see the empty rooms of the house. See her face as she sees her first home.
See her face and you will see pride. But this is not the kind of pride that goes before the fall. This is the kind of pride she has earned and has every right to. When she crossed the Rio Grande, she was carrying the baby and her husband helped with the two younger children. And they crossed from Mexico into Texas, and, somehow, they ended up in Minnesota. And then, alas, as too often happens, the husband was the one that had the most trouble making the adjustments and he started to drink. He became a drunk. This was not him in Mexico. And then, he started to hit her. And he beat her, and he threatened her, and he threatened the lives of her children.
She made another decision and she left. And she went from house to house, to keep her children safe. And she was desperately poor, living in an apartment with friends, selling tortillas. And one of her friends came to her and said, “You know, there’s this place in Minneapolis called, “Project for Pride and Living,” PPL, maybe you should go there because they have a job training program. She went. She took the program. And when it was over, the people at PPL said, “Well, you know, we don’t just train you how to work. We help you get a job. How can we help you?”
And she said, “I’m going to work here.”
And the people at PPL said, “We love that, we do. We like you. But we feel there’s no jobs there. So, how can we help you?”
And she said, “I’m going to work here. If you’re putting me out the front door, I’m coming in the back. If you put me out the back door, I’m coming in the front. I’m going to keep coming in the door until you finally hire me. Because I have to work here. Because I want to help other people the way you helped me.” They hired her as the receptionist.
Now I see her face as she sees her first home. Her first home as an American citizen. See her face and you will see pride.
Now hear the voices of her children as they run past her into the empty rooms of the house, filling the rooms with life. See the face of that little boy or that little girl as they look in their own room, now no longer sleeping three to a bed. They not only have their own bed, they have their own room. See that child’s face. You’ll see joy all right. Their own room, oh, you’ll see joy all right. But…You’ll see pride there as well.
Now see that woman’s face as she sees the look on her child’s face and, oh, you’ll see joy. A joy so intense…it makes her cry again. See her face as she sees the look on her child’s face.
See her face…and you’ll know what dignity looks like.
This is the true story of storyteller, Laura Simms, telling a deeply traumatized boy – an ex- child soldier from Sierra Leone, West Africa – a story in a taxicab in New York City. The story within this story relieves his misery and, in the process, Laura discovers the power of the tale and the boy’s innate and potent resilience.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Sudden-Story
Would you have tried to keep the young man from Sierra Leone with you?
Why was a story and this particular story helpful to the young man who was about to get on a plane to go back to his war-torn country?
Did you expect the ending to the story? Why was this young man able to go on to have a family, an education and career success? How do you think he was able to rise above his experience as a child soldier?
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Folktales from Around the World by Jane Yolen
Website – The Children Bill of Rights, 1996 http://www.newciv.org/ncn/cbor.html
African American/Black History
Education and Life Lessons
Living and Traveling Abroad
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
name is Laura Simms. I’m from New York and this story takes place in New York, in 1996.
I was hired by UNICEF and Norwegian Peoples Aid to be a facilitator for a conference called Young Voices. And there were 53 kids from 23 third world countries there to create a Children’s Bill of Rights. So, my job, of course, as a storyteller was to listen to stories and help kids tell stories. And I heard stories that, literally, changed my life.
So, I became really close to two boys from Sierra Leone, West Africa, who, on meeting them, their voices were gentle and sweet. They were skinny. It was snowing out and they’re wearing summer clothes. When I heard their stories, it was something else. They were ex-child soldiers. They had committed atrocities. It was an amazing experience. And one boy, Aluzin Bah, fantastically, beautiful boy asked me to keep him in New York. And I was up every night, “Could I keep him in New York? How could I send a child back to war?”
I thought about if it was 50 years ago and I was in the Holocaust and somebody brought me out and then sent me back. At any rate, UNICEF heard about this. The boy told me, “Don’t tell anybody,” but he was 15, so, he told everybody. And ha ha. So, I, um, was told, “No conditions could I keep him in New York.” Actually, both boys, I’m still very close to. And the other boy Ishmael is now my adopted son.
We were in the last day of the conference. In the morning, the kids were getting ready to get on the bus to go to JFK. And Aluzin was furious with me for not letting him stay, suddenly began to sob. But it wasn’t just sobbing, it was a kind of, almost like, an earthquake in his heart. And I begged someone at UNICEF to just let me take him to JFK on my own, in a taxicab. And, of course, he didn’t trust me. So, I was side by side with a tall, Norwegian, sort of Viking, humanitarian. So, the three of us were in the taxi. And Aluzin was crying. And I thought to myself, “If he can’t get on the plane, he can’t go back to war in this way because it would make him in danger.” So finally, when he was heaving and heaving, I just said, “Aluzin, I’ll do everything I can. Everything. To stay in touch with you, to see if I could get you out of Sierra Leone. But I have to take you back. Tell me what can I do for you now? I can’t keep you here. What can I? You can’t go on a plane, traumatized.”
And he stopped crying. And he looked at me and he said, “Tell me a story.”
It was as if every story that I knew just sort of flooded out of my body. And I was…”What do you, what do you do?”
You have like five minutes. It has to be a story that means something. And then a story just arrived up the back of my legs and I had no idea if this was appropriate or not but I thought, just go for it. And I tell this story.
It’s about a boy, a poor boy who had no money. It’s a story from Morocco. And he went to market place he saw everything in the market. He wanted everything. He couldn’t have anything. But in the middle of the market, there was a magician performing a magic act. The magician had a magic finger. Anything he touched, turned to gold. Everybody came, applauded, left. But the boy was like, Wha! The magician said, “Ha, ha, ha, ha. You like my magic.”
And the boy said, “Yeah.”
Magician said, “Do you want some gold?”
The boy said, “Yeah.”
A little mouse came by, the magician touched it, turned to gold. He said, “Here.”
The boy said, “No, I want more.”
The magician looked. There was a huge table with, with plates and brass objects he turned to gold. He said, “Here.”
The boy said, “I want more.”
“Oh.” The magician said, “Come with me.” He took him. There was a field filled with cows. He turned all the cows to gold. “Here.”
The boy said, “No! I want more.”
The magician said, “What do you want?”
The boy said, “I want a magic finger.”
Shuli, my Viking guard, said, “Why did you tell that story?”
Honestly, I wasn’t sure I knew. But Aluzin said, “I know. Because that’s what I want.” And I knew, that if this boy survived, he would more than survive. He would live because he wanted his own life force.
We got to JFK. He got on the plane. He went back to Sierra Leone. I called him every Friday morning, as I could, until the rebels attacked and it was hard to reach him. And then I called him again.
And I’ll tell you one tiny incident more, which is so beautiful about these kids. It was one Tuesday, I called him, was actually my birthday, and, selfishly, what I really wanted to do was have a cappuccino and get back into bed. So I, with my cappuccino, did get into bed and did make the call and I wasn’t going to tell him it was my birthday. I thought how lucky I am.
And when I called and, you know, there were two phones in Freetown through Sierratel, and I would say, “Aluzin Bah.” And everybody would call out Aluzin!”
And then I would hear people calling, “Hello, hello.” Hundreds of people waiting just in case somebody might call them. And he got on the phone. He said, “Laura, how are you?”
And I blurted out, “It’s my birthday!” And Aluzin, crying and laughing, called out to hundreds of people and said, “It’s Laura’s birthday!” And in the middle of the war, all these people sang “Happy Birthday.” And I realized that it would have been the most selfish thing if I hadn’t told him and given them the opportunity for joy.
Then the story… I’ll just tell you the great thing. That Aluzin graduated from college this year. He’s working in a bank so he could bring his childhood sweetheart to Montreal, where he lives. And he’s working for the benefit of children. And to me that’s a great story.
A bridge collapses in Minneapolis and the media is there. Suddenly, watching the stories of all the heroes from that day, Kevin is aware of the great diversity in his city. Citizens of every color and creed were there to rescue and help people in the midst of this tragedy. Another friend of Kevin’s tells him how upset he was when people from other countries showed up to work in a local factory. Then, this same friend hears his grandmother being interviewed on the radio as a “first generation” American and realizes that we are all immigrants.
My friend, Al Baker, is an Anishinaabe medicine man and he come from Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation. And he said, “You can survive anything with a sense of humor or sense of self.”
Sense of humor. Ah, I think it comes from a region or, more specifically, I think it comes from weather. There’s a story that I tell when I travel. And it really tests if people have the same sense of humor.
It happened back in 1965 when seven tornadoes hit the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. And I remember, everybody was outside; nobody was inside where it was safe. They’re all out trying to spot a tornado. And these tornadoes hit, and I remember, it changed my life forever. And I, I was listening a while back, you can download, off the radio station, these old broadcasts, and I was downloading one of the broadcasts. And the announcer was saying, this is before Doppler so people were just calling in reporting tornadoes, and the announcer was saying, “Yeah, call in, call in, if you’ve got a story!” And a guy calls and he says, “Yeah, I was in my car. I was driving down the road, and all of a sudden, I seen a tornado coming my way. So, I hunkered down on the floor, and a tornado came through, and blew out all my windows!”
And the announcer says, “Man, are you OK? Are you all right?”
The guy says, “Yeah, that’s not why I’m calling. The school carnival has been canceled.”
Ah, sense of self. I think a sense of self comes from family, from community. There’s a strong Midwestern sense of self, I find, in Minnesota. When a tragedy happened somewhere, you really find out what you’re made of. You find out the essence of your community.
When 9/11 happened in New York. You could just see the “New York-ness” come out of people. “We’re not going to let this get us.”
And there was a bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis on 35-W. When I grew up in Minneapolis, it was a very white community, the one I grew up in. There was no person of color in my school. And when I saw that bridge collapse, when a tragedy happens, you’re either there or not. It’s not selective. So, whoever was on that bridge got it. And when they showed the people that were on the bridge, it was such a mix of colors, such a mix of ethnicity. It really surprised me. And when the heroes, um, came into focus, they were people of all colors, of all racial backgrounds. But they were Minnesotans. ‘Cause when they tried to come and interview, the reporters tried to find them for interviews, no they weren’t there. They’d saved people, then they went home for dinner. Um, so they were hard to be found.
Ah, there was a buddy of mine, Dave. He lives in Worthington, Minnesota. He’s… his family farm is always on a plaque at the Minnesota State Fair because it goes back over 100 years. And they’re, just they’re ensconced in, in the countryside. And a while ago, the rendering plant in town threatened to go under. And so, what happened, they got people from all over the world, people from Haiti, East Africa, Mexico, to come in and save the plant. And all of a sudden, that town is full of people from other countries.
And Dave said he was listening to the radio, the other day, and they had a special show on about first-generation Americans and the problems they faced. And he’s listenin’ to the radio, all these different stories, when all of a sudden, his grandma comes on. And he forgot that she was a first generation American. And he heard her telling stories and laughing in a way he’d never heard in his life. And this one girl got on and she was talking about going on a date. And she was from Mexico, her family was from Mexico, and she went on a date with this farm kid. And their car got stuck in a ditch, buried the axles, and they couldn’t get it out. And when this kid finally got her home late, she said her dad was furious, just screaming at this kid in Spanish. All of sudden, Dave’s grandma starts cracking up. And she says, yeah, the same thing happened to her but it was a horse and buggy and her dad was screaming in Swedish.
The “Indian Experiment” in education, the government boarding schools, is unknown to many Americans, yet affects us all. Following forty years of study of these stories, Dovie knew she had to share what she’d learned that would be essential to her daughter, and all of us. She weaves history, biography, autobiography and personal reflection in this story that she never “wanted” to tell. But there are some stories that need to be told… (more…)
RaceBridges highlights a short video for
your viewing and inspiration. .
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…)
In a recent magazine article, storyteller Arif Choudhury wrote : .
“Are there any other Mulsim storytellers out there ? We should start a club with funny hats and monogrammed shirts. All kidding aside, since 9/11, people have been curious about Muslims.
As an American-born Muslim of Bangladeshi descent living in Chicago’s predominantly Caucasian northern suburbs, I am asked lots of questions. What do Muslims believe ? What are their traditions and customs?
Emily 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…)
For years, Olga emphasized the American part of her Mexican-American identity. Then, in college, she heard Cesar Chavez talk and was inspired to go to Mexico. There she discovered the many accomplishments of her ancestors and that Mexicans came in every shape and color. She then stressed the Mexican part of her Mexican-American identity. Later, she was introduced to her Indian heritage and began to identify herself as Chicano. Today Olga embraces all aspects of her identity. The richness of her cultures gives her strength and pride. (more…)
September 11th marks the 10th Anniversary of the terrible terrorist attacks on US soil.
Remembrance will happen in many ways. Healing from those events still continues. PBS Newshour is presenting a special report called America Remembers 9/11 and a 9/11 Video Quilt asking diverse Americans on what has changed since 9/11. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/
We invite you to reflect on the following short RaceBridges videos.
From a Moslem American view, and from the account of a woman caught up in the hostility towards a mosque that followed 9/11. These short stories are told by professional storytellers. They provide perspectives of “another view”. They are food for thought and a way to pass on the challenge to search beyond stereotypes for our common humanity. .
When Lyn was young, “Finding Josephus” was a “legend” told by her father. But curiosity and research brought forth its reality, and a connection both to the lesser-known history of the Underground Railroad and the heart of her father’s story. (more…)
Empathy grows from sharing stories; this story was shared to encourage others to know, to understand, and to remember. This is a personal journey tale from Lyn’s childhood living next door to a Holocaust survivor and, then, her adolescent small but mature steps into the greater Civil Rights Movement. (more…)
Alegria is Spanish for “happiness” and “joy.” Listen as Leeny Del Seamons sings of what happens when we respect everyone in spite of our differences. In this original song, Leeny reminds us that we are all connected and equal. Together, we are one voice working towards peace to build a better world.
Leeny shares stories of her colorful, beloved family. Meet her charming Cuban Dad and his zany wife, Lorraine. Hear what happened when three-year-old Leeny receives an unusual souvenir from Cuba. (more…)
From voluntary busing to being called an “Oreo”, Emily navigated the color lines of her elementary and high schools until she finally landed with the “theatre kids” who moved more easily between different groups. Attending Yale University, Emily studied African American Intellectuals with Cornell West and she came more fully into herself, finally accepting that she, like everyone, deserves the best. (more…)
As a child, each summer Diane’s family drove from California to Louisiana to visit family. Diane remembers her father responding with increasing frustration whenever her brother asked if they could stop to get something to eat, each time promising “next town.”
Finally, the family stopped at a restaurant. Just as she is about to open the restaurant door, her father stops her. There is a “whites only” sign above the door. Diane’s family must go around back to eat in the kitchen. Diane learned about prejudice that day but also about how her family kept their spirits high no matter what they faced.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Next-Town
What did you think the title “Next Town” referred to when you first read it? How do you react to the title now that you know how it was used?
Diane’s parents left Louisiana to escape the segregated south, which oppressed African Americans with Jim Crow laws and threats of violence. Why do you think they returned every summer? Why do you think some African Americans stayed in the south?
Diane learns significant lessons on the day she describes in this story. She learns that people can hate her without even knowing her and that there are people such as her parents who maintain their integrity even in the face of such hate. When have you faced irrational prejudice in yourself or others? How did you deal with it?
The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
A Guide for Using The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 in the Classroom by Debra Housel
African American/Black History
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, my name is Diane Ferlatte, and I am a storyteller. I’m gonna tell you an excerpt from a longer story of my life, a true story. In the 1940’s and 50’s, many black people just left the south because of Jim Crow laws. They were just sick and tired of Jim Crow laws and the segregation in the south, and my family was no different. My daddy put us on a train and we left Louisiana, going all the way to California, where I live now. And things were different in California.
I liked living in California. But, guess what? Every summer, my only summer vacation, my whole family would get in the car and drive all the way back to Louisiana to visit family, you know, grandma and grandpa. But can you imagine that? Driving thousands of mile across that desert, in all that heat, in a car, with no air conditioning. And we couldn’t stop, you know at hotels, get a nice rest, take a quick shower. No, the only time we stopped is to get some gas or to use the bathroom, you know, to get rid of some gas! We couldn’t stop at restaurants either to get something to eat because we didn’t have a lot of money. But before we left, my mother would fry chicken; we had sandwiches, we had cookies, we had grapes, we had apples—I mean, the car was stacked up with food and pillows. We were on our way, to Louisiana! It was me in the back seat, next to the cookies, my two knuckle-head brothers, my mama and my daddy, and off we went.
But before we left California of course the food was gone. As soon as the food was gone, my brother started hollering, “Daddy, I’m hungry. Can we stop and get something to eat?” My father said, “Next town.” But the next town, “Hey, Daddy, there’s a place! Can we stop, can we stop?” He said “Next town,” and pretty soon there we are at the next town. He said, “Daddy, Daddy, I’m hungry! Can we stop, daddy?” He said “Next town, boy!” I don’t know what happened, my daddy, he must have got hungry himself because he finally stopped and when he stopped, my brother was Mr. Happy, “Oh man, I’m gonna have me a hamburger, I’m gonna have me some French fries!” And I said, “I am having some biscuits!”
I jumped out of the car, I ran to the front door of that restaurant. I opened the screen door, I was just about to go in and get my biscuits, and my daddy said, “Get away from that door, girl, can’t you read that sign?” And I looked up, and there was a sign above the restaurant door that said: “Whites only.” Black people couldn’t go in. I was ten years old when that happened. Ten. And I got so angry, I picked up a rock and I was gonna chunk it at that sign and my daddy said, “Put that rock down. Don’t you pay any attention to that sign. Don’t you worry, we’re going to get something to eat. Put that rock down. Put it down!” My daddy took me by the hand and he led us around the side of the building all the way to the back of the restaurant. It was so hot outside, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.
My daddy was talking fast, like he does when he is upset and he made me a little nervous. When he walked through the back door of the restaurant, he had a big smile on his face. He walked in and he said, “Morning, how’s everybody doing this morning?” But I looked around: we had to eat in the kitchen. We thought it was hot outside, try eating in that hot kitchen! Because, see, all the fans were up front in the restaurant, for the white customers. We sat down at two old, wooden tables in the kitchen, and I will never forget what happened next. It was a tall, brown-skinned woman, my color skin, standing behind the stove. She was the cook, you know, apron tied high, scarf tied around the hair so that the hair wouldn’t fall in the food she was cooking, and there was a window behind her that went to the restaurant, and the waitress would call all these orders to her through that window. She would say, “Eggs over easy! Bacon crisp! Biscuits!”
But the cook looked over at me, and she saw my lip was poked out, and my daddy was trying to calm me down. And she said, “Biscuits not ready yet!” Then she looked back at me and said, “Don’t you worry, baby, I’m gonna feed you all first.” So who got the first biscuits that day? We did. But as a little girl, I learned a lot about prejudice. As a little girl, I learned a lot about how people can hate you, they don’t even know you! But I also learned how some people handle it, because even though my daddy was just as angry as me inside, he didn’t let prejudice spoil his day or his meal. And we did get something to eat. My daddy was just like he liked his eggs—sunny-side up. Everybody liked my daddy, who took time to get to know you. He was always able to keep on the sunny side of life—because there is the other side! But that’s the story, a true story from my life.
While sitting alone in a restaurant having lunch, Ferlatte notices an older white man also eating alone and looking sad and worried. When she tries to be friendly, the man responds with a grunt. Ferlatte starts labeling him in her mind as a “mean old white man.” Later, she corrects her own thinking by reminding herself that she doesn’t know anything about the man. Later, as he leaves the restaurant, the man pours out his story, sharing that his wife of 61 one years has recently died. The two end up having a brief conversation, and Ferlatte realizes the importance of reaching across barriers of race, culture, and generations in order focus on the person right in front of you.
What do you think inspired Ferlatte to speak to the old man? How would you have felt if you had been Ferlatte, and the old man had grunted at you? What would you have thought about him?
Have you ever tried to reach across a barrier (race, age, language, class, etc.) with someone you didn’t know? How did it go? Did you learn from that experience?
Ferlatte manages her own initial reaction against the man. How does she do that? Have you ever had to talk to yourself to get yourself to think differently? When? Did it work?
The Nature of Prejudice: 25th Anniversary Edition by Gordon W. Allport and Kenneth Clark
African American/Black History
Education and Life Lessons
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, I’m Diane Ferlatte. I’m a storyteller. I’m gonna tell you a small excerpt from… a longer story but it’s a true story.
I was going to a school to tell stories. In the morning, I had two assemblies, had a quick lunch break, two assemblies in the afternoon. Well, I finished my two assemblies, rushed to a restaurant nearby and I told them I was in a hurry.
“Oh, don’t worry. We’ll seat you right away, ma’am.”
She brought me in, set me at a booth, gave me my menu. I made my order and I sat there to wait. While I’m waiting, I get a little warm. Whoo! So, I get up, I go to put my coat down on the seat opposite my booth. And when I do that, uh, I looked up and I see an older white man sitting in his booth, facing me and his eyes look blank. You ever see folks like that. He looked very worried and very sad.
So, I say to him, “Penny for your thoughts!”
And he kinda comes out of it and he said, “What did you say to me?”
I said, “Penny for your thoughts.”
He said, “Aah!”
And when he did that, I sat down with an attitude! All the little prejudices we all have, begin to bubble up. And I said to myself, “Mean old white man, why does he have to be so rude and so grumpy. I’m just trying to be friendly. Uh huh, mean old white man.”
But the more I sat there, I thought, “What are you doing? Why did you have to say, ‘mean old white man?’ Why even think that. You don’t even know what’s going on in that man’s mind. Why he might be looking so sad or worried. Chill out!”
So, I did. And I always bring a book to read looking for another story. His food comes first and then my food comes. So, I’m sitting there, you know, reading and eating, and reading and eating, reading and eating.
He finishes first and he gets up to go pay. But to go up front to pay, he has to pass my booth and when he gets to my booth, he stops. And I think, “Oh, oh!”
And then he leans over and he said, “What did you say to me?”
And I said, “Penny for your thoughts.”
He said, “Young lady, if you only knew. My wife died three weeks ago and I don’t know what to do.
I said, “I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what to do. I thought maybe I should say something.”
He said, “Well, you sure got that right. You believe, we were married 61 years!”
I said, “What! You were married 61 years… to the same woman!”
And that made him smile. Then he came really close to my face and he said, “You believe, I’m 90 years old?
I said, “What? You’re 90 years old? Let me touch you. I want to live to be that old.” I said, “You’re 90 years old, married to the same woman 61 years.” I said, “You are blessed; you are blessed. You don’t have to worry about a thing. Everything’s going to be all right.”
That old man tapped me on my left shoulder like this and he said, “Thank you, young lady. Thank you.” And he left.
But, you know, that old man didn’t have to stop and say anything to me. But he did. I didn’t have to say anything to him. But I did. Two cultures coming together in that one little moment of life. Two generations really, coming together in that one little moment of life. But you know what they say, “The most important person in this world is the one you’re with right now.” It’s a true story from my life. We all got ’em, ha!
Bartholomew, an African American man who is the church custodian is a familiar figure to the congregation at Mary Gay’s church. However, when it’s rumored that African Americans are coming to their church and will be asked to be seated, suddenly the pleasant veneer of acceptance is exposed. (more…)
As part of a service project, Mary Gay and her best friend are to start a Girl Scout troop at a notorious reform school in New Orleans. As an adult, Mary Gay wishes she could go back to the school and ask for more for the girls. (more…)
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. (more…)
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
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?
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?
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?
Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki
Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps by Michi Weglyn.
Education and Life Lessons
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.
The true story of Alton’s journey to the Minidoka Relocation Camp site at Hunt, Idaho and of his encounter there with an 89 year old former internee. She was 23 when she left this Japanese American incarceration camp and this was her first visit back to the site after 66 years. She tells Alton about a boy she knew, who went to fight in Europe over 60 years ago, and who never came back. (more…)
In high school, Sue went to her first overnight away from her Chicago home and neighborhood and met people from different ethnic and racial groups. In learning that there’s more to people than she originally thought, she discovers layers of herself she was long ignoring. (more…)
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.
Do you think Antonio is white or brown? What does he think he is?
What could Antonio have done when he was teased about speaking Spanish? Have you ever hidden parts of your cultural background to “fit in”?
Does each group who comes to this country eventually lose its culture? What is gained and what is lost from assimilation?
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent by Julia Alvarez
America Is Her Name by Luis J. Rodriquez
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
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.
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. (more…)
Antonio recounts all the difficulties he faced to get a Visa to come to the United States from Brazil. Going the “legal” route is filled with red tape, bureaucratic inconsistencies and plenty of suspicion. That seemingly insurmountable document became his ticket to his current life as a professional storyteller in America.
Many stories resolve themselves in threes (morning – afternoon- evening). Some resolve in four (The four seasons, for example), yet others in twos (day and night). What hardships in your own life have unfolded in a three step set up? Any in four? How about two?
Our perception can move life incidents into negative or positive outcomes. How has a bad experience been a positive step in your life’s journey or vice-versa?
Have you experienced any form of racism that has brought you closer to who you are in a positive way? What sorts of prejudice do you have? How could you free yourself from them?
Antonio’s Tedx Talk, Transitions in Eloquence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pzwtxk23Es
Education and Life Lessons
Living and Traveling Abroad
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name in Antonio Rocha, and here is the story about dreams coming true. Just imagine you want something so badly and you have it on your hand and somebody takes it away from you and you just like . . . You know, um, like the sea that longs to see the desert, or the desert that longs to have rain, or the turtle who wants to know how to fly? Something that you really don’t think you can achieve, and all of a sudden, hey, maybe I have a possibility here, you know?
I was on a bus going to an American consulate with a free ticket to the United States, a letter of invitation to come to this country in 1988, that’s twenty-two years ago, to learn mime—a dream I had. I had the grant, I had the ticket, I had the letter of invitation, I had the note from the director of the organization. Go to the American consulate, and they will give you a visa. Bring your valid passport. Four hours by bus overnight to the next town, not the next town, followed by bus several towns through. I get there, and the man looks at the letter of invitation, he looks at my proposal, my grant. I show him the government ticket. It was a ticket: I could fly coach, I could fly first class. I was sure to get the visa, and he said, “Well, we need a form. You are missing a form. We need an I-20.” And I said, “I-20? What is an ‘I-20’? “It’s a form when people go to study. You need an I-20 in order for us to give you a student visa.” I said, “but I’m going to a private studio. This man is a master mime; it’s not a college.” “Well, you need an I20.”
So, I leave. I take the four-hour bus back to where I live and I call the company, the organization in Washington, DC and ask for an I-20, and the man said, “I can’t give you an I-20. You are not going to college, it’s a private studio we can’t just give you an I-20 like that! I’m going to send him a telex and explain what this organization is all about; maybe he is not understanding what this organization is all about.” I’m like, okay, great. So the telex is there, just go and call them and make sure everything is okay. So I get that cue I call the American consulate: “Yes, we got the telex.” So I said, “Can I come down, take the bus, come down for the visa?” “We got the telex.” I get on the bus overnight: four hours to get there at 4’o clock in the morning, got to wait, drink coffee, get on a cab, wait in the waiting room, queue up. “Okay, Antonio?” ”Yeah, so you got the telex?” “Yes. We didn’t ask for a telex, we asked for an I-20.” I said, “But, I thought . . .” “We asked for an I20.”
And there I saw my dreams take off, away from me, not towards me. I had a free ticket, I had a letter of invitation, and they wouldn’t give me the visa. They are asking me for something I could not produce. I was shaking. I left, I didn’t make a scene, I go to a pay phone, I call collect from the streets in Brazil to Washington, DC. “They still insist on an I-20. I don’t know what to do and I am already late for the trip. I was supposed to be already in Maine and I am very sorry but I . . . .” I was crying; I was completely out of it. He kept asking, “What? Do you know English?” because I was speaking in English, I knew how to speak in English. He was like,
“Where did you learn English? You have never been to United States before? You never left Brazil before?” “No, I have never.” He kept going around these questions. I took the four-hour bus back. I go home, and one of my sisters looks at me and says, “You know why he is doing that to you, don’t you? Color.” I don’t know. I don’t want to say he was prejudiced, but he wouldn’t give me the visa.
So a doctor is coming down, through the same organization, he is coming down, and they call me up and they say “We are sending an I-20.” I’m like, how are they doing this? But any way, but the doctor gets there. There was a torrential rain, water gets into his briefcase, he gives me the I-20, it’s smudged with water. One of my sisters decides to go to the consulate with me because she was afraid I would just collapse if they denied me the visa. An American professor was there at the same time and said “I will go with you.” And he takes the 4-hour overnight bus with me, a theater professor from the University of Maine, Minor is his name and he takes the bus with me. I am walking and I am shaking. I have lost weight by now because this thing is not happening overnight. Okay? I am looking at the form and I don’t see a signature on it. I’m like,
“They didn’t sign this, this is not going to work,” and Minor said, “Don’t worry about that, let’s walk in there.”
I walk in there, wait, everything all over again. I am praying and I am doing everything I can to funnel the energy to the right direction. They take my stuff in, they come back and what the man says exactly is, “This is not valid, there is no signature.” I am like, “They didn’t sign the I-20. Minor, they didn’t sign the I-20!” Minor was taking a nap- 4 hour overnight on a bus, so he is like snoozing. “Minor, there is no signature.” Minor stands up and takes a pen out of his pocket and signs the thing in front of the consulate secretary. The consulate secretary goes, “You have the power to do this?” and he rushes in and Minor says, “Yes, I do, I am here representing the organization.” They rush inside, “Well, the Consulate would like to have a word with you, Sir” they tell Minor. I stay outside with my sister. Minor is gone for a minute, two minutes, three minutes. I am shaking and I can even feel it now telling you the story. I am like, what is going to happen? He has signed a thing he has no power signing.
Ten minutes…the door opens, Minor comes out! I look at him like, “Huh? Did you get it!?!” He grabs my elbow, he is like, “Let’s leave right now.” My sister gets up, we start walking across the lawn towards the gate, and he hands me the passport and says, “Welcome to the United States.” I open it, and there is my visa, there is my visa!
“How did you do this?” He said, “Well, I told him what the organization was all about, I told him that such and such a politician would be very thankful for his help in assuring that people can go across borders in this organization without any issues and I told him that I would make sure that you would come back in three months.” Ha, ha, ha! It’s been 22 years! The I-20 he insisted on having, it was from a university that I actually enrolled myself in with a four-year scholarship. That was just the beginning. I have been in here in United States for 22 years telling stories. Thank you.
Solly Ganor, a Lithuanian Jew, was a boy when Germany invaded his country in1940. He was eventually sent to Dachau and was rescued by members of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all-Japanese American unit. Fifty years later he once again meets the man who saved him. (more…)
..This month we highlight the insightful and funny stories of Muslim American Arif Choudhury, who shares his experiences being “the other”—and reminds us that there’s much more to a person than his race and religion.
How do you know you’re different? When do you realize that you’re an “other?”
For Arif Choudhury, our featured storyteller this month, that discovery has been a process. American born and raised in Chicago with his Bangladeshi Muslim family, Arif realized he was not like everyone else in his kindergarten, when one of his white friends looked at his dark skin in the sandbox and asked if he was black.
“I don’t know,” Arif told his friend. “I’ll go home and ask my mom.”
Years later, taking the SAT, he was asked to fill in his ethnic origin for demographic purposes. His choices: white, black, Hispanic or other. As he filled in the box for the only option he had, he truly began to feel like “the other.”
Lisa Derman, the late president of the Illinois Holocaust Memorial Foundation and Holocaust Survivor, died at the Illinois Storytelling Festival (July 2002) while telling her story of survival of the Nazi atrocities in Poland when she was a young girl (http://bit.ly/LisaDerman). She had told this story thousands of times to schoolchildren and other groups all over the country and abroad.
Her words to the audience that day, “I might not be here much longer but the story must continue on to the next generation; the time will come that you will have to answer the call, and stand up to do the right thing” were uttered moments before her sudden fatal heart attack. Lisa died in mid-story, telling the story that had defined her contributions to the fight against anti-Semitism, as well as against genocide the world over.
Trail Guide For A Crooked Heart by Jim May (pp. 42-44 and 84-90)
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood Lessons
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
For 20 years, I was artistic director of the Illinois Storytelling Festival, which is now in its 25th year. We started in 1984 and very soon in our history, we became committed to the idea that we needed to have elders telling their life stories. Not professional story tellers, just people who had lived interesting lives and had something to say. Civilian story tellers, I always called them.
So that started with some of my uncles and aunts who lived in Spring Grove and then we expanded over the years, and we included anyone we could find with an interesting story and, so, some of our most notable years were when we featured some of the original Tuskegee Airmen who came and told us the stories of their experiences in World War II.
And in 2002 we had invited Holocaust survivors and camp liberators to come and tell in what we called our elders concert or our traditions tent with the idea that almost every family has some kind of storytelling tradition, almost anyone who has walked on this earth has some body of stories that they tell about their life’s experience.
So, it was Sunday afternoon, and Lisa Derman was our storyteller, a Holocaust survivor. She had escaped Poland in her teens, was a resistance fighter during World War II, and she and her husband Aaron had come that warm July day. Lisa had been very active; in fact, she is one of the key people who had lobbied the state legislature in Springfield. I believe Illinois was the first state to require Holocaust Studies, at all middle school and high school levels.
So, a real celebrity, a real power house. She had told the story thousands of times and she told it to us that day. Things started out on a great note; we had a piece of music that Jim Pfitzer a pianist played on a portable piano off stage that was music composed in the ghettos, lyrics and music composed in the ghettos during World War II. It had been translated by Bresnick Perry, another storyteller who was there that same day. There was a real sense of love, all things coming together that day.
And Lisa told her story. In a village in Poland where she and her family lived that was occupied first by German soldiers and then they noticed that a new group of soldiers came with different uniforms and that was the SS, or the equivalent of the SS; I’m not completely sure.
And then the extermination began. And she and her sisters escaped the first wave of it. She talked of running through the woods and hearing the shots and not being sure what they were, and then coming upon a scene in a clearing where 10,000 villagers were machine gunned in seven hours, she said. Her mother, and I believe one of her brothers, were among the group who died that day.
But she and her sister escaped because, while many turned them away, there was a particular Christian woman when her and her sister came to the door of the Christian part of village, she opened the door and said, “You don’t need to tell me why you are here; I know why you are here. God has sent you to the right place.” And she hid them in the spring works under the hide-a-bed.
And that’s how Lisa and her sister survived that first encounter, and at that point she looked at us and she said out to the audience: “There will be a time when all of you will have to stand up and do what is right. The call will come. And you must care and stand up and do what’s right. I may not be here much longer,” she said, “but my story must go on.”
Well moments after that, when she was literally describing her escape and she was, Aaron her husband who was sitting next to her that day in Spring Grove at our storytelling festival, he was just a teenager, that day that they escaped from Poland, that day Aaron was on top of the train car, and Lisa was waiting to catch the next train. Aaron had gotten up on the train, and other people who were helping them escape, there was a Gentile who had organized this.
Lisa said, “I was waiting there, the trains were coming, and I knew, I looked, and I could see the last train, the last car, was coming. I was the last one to grab on to the car. Aaron and others were up on the top, and I had to make a decision that I had to grab one of these, but there was no ladder. But I jumped on that side of the car anyway.”
So she was holding on, apparently to the door latch, and she said, “I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I might die.” But she kind of smiled when she remembered. She smiled, “When I heard footsteps, they were coming back for me” or words to that effect, and then she just sort of stopped and put her hand on her chest, looked and Aaron and said, “I hope I’m not having a heart attack,” and then she just nodded her head, and it was over.
It was that sudden and that peaceful. And then we had a fire man, a paramedic, chief of the fire department of Spring Grove in front row and they started CPR and they had a defibrillator there, but the doctor said that she had a massive heart attack right at that moment.
Then after the ambulance left, there were prayers in Hebrew and in English and American sign language, and that spot is a sacred spot to anybody who was there that day. And so the continuation of that story is that the Illinois Storytelling Association, we’re working to raise money to put a bronze with Lisa’s story in that spot.
We have already secured a donation from a nursery for a Burr Oak. We planted it a year later. Not only is planting a tree a Jewish custom, but the Burr Oak tree is what survived the Illinois fires. So the Burr Oak is the survivor of the great fires that used to cross the great plains in the Midwest for centuries and destroy most everything but helped the Burr Oak survive and establish all kinds of beautiful native flowers.
So it is this beauty created after the survival, and we thought that would be appropriate tribute for Lisa. So that’s the story. We are hoping we’ll continue that, that when people come to see that bronze, hear Lisa’s story, they will think about her last words which truly were: the time will come for all of you to care, to answer the call, and to stand up. And when we hear a story like that—and there are thousands—to me there is no more powerful way to move people to action, to move people toward justice and peace.
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. (more…)
Sue grew up hearing about “them” – the people who would come and take her and her neighbors’ homes in their all-white neighborhood. When her family watched the Friday night fights, it was made clear who was “the other” and who was “us.” (more…)
(Please be patient as the video may take a few moments to load.)
Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. Her action galvanized the growing Civil Rights Movement and led to the successful Montgomery bus boycott. But even before her defiant act and the resulting boycott, Ms. Parks was dedicated to racial justice and equality. Linda Gorham tells the story of those times through the eyes of three people: Claudette Colvin (a 15-year-old who refused to give up her seat nine months before Rosa Parks), James Blake (the bus driver), and Rosa Parks herself.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Rosa-Parks
Given the climate of violence Rosa Parks faced, would you have had the courage to do what she and the other people of the Civil Rights Movement did? Have you ever stood up for something you believe in? What happened?
Would you have been one of the people involved in the Civil Rights movement? How would you have helped?
Many Whites thought things were unfair in this country and supported the Civil Rights Movement yet were afraid to say so to their own spouses, families or neighbors. When have you felt afraid to share your beliefs?
Film – Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks by Hudson & Houston produced by
Teaching Tolerance and Tell the Truth Pictures.
Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins. In this straightforward, compelling autobiography, Rosa Parks talks candidly about the civil rights movement and her active role in it.
Rosa Parks: A Life by Douglas Brinkley. Historian Douglas Brinkley follows this thoughtful and devout woman from her childhood in Jim Crow Alabama through her early involvement in the NAACP to her epochal moment of courage and her afterlife as a beloved (and resented) icon of the civil rights movement.
African American/Black History
Civil Rights Movement
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
“If you miss me at the back of the bus and you can’t find me no where, Come on up to the front of the bus ’cause I’ll be riding up there.” Those words come from a song written by James Neblett. And he said, in that song, that he was celebrating all the accomplishments that African-Americans had made during the 1950’s and the 1960’s in the civil rights movement. And one of the very basic accomplishments, which is unbelievable that it was not possible to do, was for African-Americans to be able to sit anywhere on a public bus. You know, for 68 years in this country, there were laws called Jim Crow laws. And those laws, well, they were mandated to separate the races. Now, they did a good job of keeping the races separate but they sure didn’t do a good job of keeping things equal. Separate but equal, they called it. No way. Not at all.
Well, all that changed in 1955, especially on the buses. The buses, you know, they used to have the front rows for the white people and African-Americans had to sit in the back and if the white section filled up and a white person was standing, well, don’t you know, an entire row of African-Americans would have to get up and move to the back. It was totally unfair.
But in 1955 that’s when Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old woman, from Montgomery, Alabama, she was ordered to stand up on the bus and give up her seat. And Rosa Parks refused. Now I will tell you, her dignity stood up. Her commitment to ending bus segregation stood up. Her inner spirit and, I’m sure, her soul stood up. So, Rosa Parks could make the difficult decision to remain sitting down. Now, there have been many books written about that day and the ensuing year. But I think Rosa Parks said it best herself. So, from excerpts from her autobiography and the many interviews that she had, I’m going to tell you Rosa Parks’ story in mostly her words.
When that bus driver came back at me, waving his arms, yelling at me saying, “Make it light on yourself. Give up your seat.” I was ready. I was not going to give up my seat. I had prepared for that moment for a long time.
You see, it was December 1st, 1955. Ha! The newspaper reporter said that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired. Ha. I’ll tell you what I was tired of! I was tired of seeing men, women, and children disrespected because of the color of their skin. I was tired of Jim Crow segregation laws. I was tired of being oppressed. You see, my feet were not tired, my soul was. The United States of America was supposed to be the land of the free; the land of equality. But it seems to me, the only people who are equal, well, are people with white skin. And I too am an American and I too deserve respect.
Hmm. Those newspaper reporters… well, they said that I was just a seamstress. No, I am a tailor. I work downtown for the Montgomery Ward Department store. I tailor men’s clothes so they fit nice. I do a great job! But that’s not all I do. You see, I’m also a volunteer secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. We call it the NAACP. I’m also the head of their youth group. I will tell you, many times I’ve sat in those meetings taking the minutes and I hear about all the horrible crimes against Negro people. White hate crimes we call them. Where Negroes are cheated, and abused, and harassed, and murdered, and lynched, and much, much more.
You know that young girl, Claudette Colvin? She was 15 years old when she didn’t give up her seat on the bus. Oh, I was very proud of her. What she did was hard and brave. She could have gotten killed for that small act of defiance. I invited her to talk to my youth group and we talked about her case many times at the NAACP meetings. And you know, after hearing what she did and after thinking of all that I’ve been through, well, I’ve made up my mind I was never again going to give up my seat on any bus.
Now I will tell you, I rode that bus to work, five mornings a week, five evenings a week, four weeks out of every month. And each time I try to sit as high up as I could in the Negro section and each time I said to myself, “If I’m asked to give up my seat, I will NOT.”
Hmm. When that day came, and that bus driver came running after me waving his arms, I rapped my determination around me like a quilt on a cold winter’s night. And when the police came on that bus, I looked up at one of them and I said, “Why do you push us around?” And I’ll never forget what he said to me.
He said, “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you are under arrest.”
Now I will tell you, they didn’t push me around like they did with Claudette. They were very polite. One took my purse, one took my shopping bag, and they escorted me off the bus. And once off the bus, we got to the squad car, and they opened the door, and I got inside. And actually, once inside, they gave me back my purse and my personal belongings.
On the way to City Hall, one of those policemen turned around and he looked at me and he said, “Why didn’t you give up your seat when the bus driver asked you to?” I didn’t tell him a thing. I was silent all the way to City Hall.
Now let me tell you, after my arrest, the NAACP called for a boycott of the buses. And all the Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama who had been silent or who had been afraid or who had been fearful or who had been angry, we all came together. And we said, “We’re going to boycott the buses until the laws change. We’re just not going to ride.”
Hmm. You know, there were 17,000 Negroes that rode those buses every day and they made up more than three-quarters of the ridership. And when we stopped riding those buses, the bus company lost money. It was hard on them. But let me tell you that, was nothing compared to how hard it was on us.
We walked. We walked everywhere. We walked to church. We walked to school. We walked to work. We walked to visit friends. We walked to buy food. Now, the NAACP did set up carpools – 300 of them. And they did run on a regular basis and that was helpful, especially for those who were older or infirmed. Most of us, we just walked. No matter what the weather. No matter how we felt. No matter how many bundles we had to carry. No matter how many children we had in tow. We walked and not for a day, and not for a week, and not for a month. We walked for 381 days. Three hundred and eighty-one days.
Well, finally after all that walking, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. Look, I have to tell you, what took them so long. Well, in any case, the Negroes of Montgomery, Alabama walked for 381 days so that Negroes throughout the United States of America could sit anywhere they wanted on any trolley, any train, and any bus. It wasn’t easy.
Many of us have ambivalent relationships with our mothers. In this story, Nancy dives into that ambivalence trying to understand what has been so difficult about it and why. Her journey is colored by the differences between Chinese and Western values and behaviors making it even more difficult to understand. But in the end, there is a final discovery that brings peace, love and reconciliation with her Chinese mom. (more…)
This story follows the journey of Nancy Wang’s ancestors who arrived in California on a junk boat in 1850 and started the fishing industry of the Monterey Peninsula. However, both legal and illegal violence ensued against them for generations. This story reveals how a group of immigrants rallied with resilience and ingenuity so that the 7th generation of Chinese Americans thrives today. (more…)
An American family gathers for a reunion with laughter, memories, and good ol’ corn beef and cabbage. Suddenly, the father kneels before his family and sobs apologetically, “Your country has betrayed you.” With the launch of Executive Order 9066, the unconstitutional mass incarceration of over 110,00 citizens of Japanese ancestry begins. Now this American family, deemed the “enemy race”, must ask, “What will happen next?” (more…)
Looking at high school yearbooks, Shanta reflects on the “change” in her neighborhood from mostly white to all black. As a child, Shanta could not understand when the adults told her “the white people are running away from us”. Even as an adult with a larger understanding of the times – blockbusting and other societal and economic pressures – the sting of being “the other” remains. (more…)
Gospel is a blend of spirituals, blues and African rhythm. How do musical forms morph into their next evolution?
What was happening in the U.S. and for African Americans as Gospel music evolved? How did Gospel music provide comfort and artistic expression for African Americans?
People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music by Robert Darden
Thomas A. Dorsey Father of Black Gospel an Interview by Robert L. Taylor
Mahalia Jackson: Born to Sing Gospel Music by Evelyn Witter
African American/Black History
You talk about the development of American roots music and how much wonderful music came out of the blues. But probably one of the most… least, understood styles to come out of blues would be gospel. That you had piano players like Georgia Tom Dorsey who played these little ditties like… (Singing)
I got a gal who’s crazy about me.
She’s just as crazy as a gal can be.
Well, she ain’t crazy. She’s just funny that way.
And this was in the 1920s – a kind of music called hokum. It had a lot of really suggestive lyrics and double entrendres and stuff like that. But he went back to church in the midst of the Great Depression. He went back to Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago and started playing for his father off doing the revival. He had settled down, he had married the girl of his dreams, and they were waiting the birth of the first child when he got a telegram that told him to come home. Your wife has died. And he comes home. And, already devastated by the fact that his wife was gone, he found out that the baby, who they had managed to save in childbirth, had died as well.
And he talked about putting them both into the same casket and being devastated. Not being able to play anything. Blues, nothing. Spirituals, nothing. And then one day, he’s sitting diddling around on the piano, and following those same old chord changes that he played for blues. But he slowed them down and sort of gave birth to another style of music we call gospel.
Those chord changes weren’t enough. Thomas Dorsey had a kind of a light, high voice. He needed a powerful voice in order to sell his music. So he found a woman by the name of Mahalia Jackson. And Mahalia and Georgia Tom Dorsey, now known as Professor Thomas A. Dorsey, made gospel music what it is with songs like this.
(Guitar playing and singing)
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m so tired, I am weak, I am worn
Lord, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me home
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m so tired, I am weak, (I am weak) I am worn (Lord, I am worn)
Lord, I am worn
Through the storm, (Through the storm) through the night (through the night)
Rev. Jones describes how American Roots Music tells a story. He plays a harmonica piece by Sonny Terry called Lost John. Lost John tells the story of a man who escapes a chain gang trying to get home to see his family. In the song, you hear the hounds chasing and the train a’ coming. (more…)
Is it possible to be emotionally neutral when your family has been hurt by someone else? How do we channel rage in productive ways?
What did Syd discover in himself that surprised him?
What did Syd mean that there were “no victors” during this demonstration? Do you think Syd wishes he had made other choices that day? If Syd could do the day over, what would you advise Syd to do or not do?
When the Nazis said they were going to speak at Evanston at Lovelace Park, at first I didn’t think much about it. They said they were going to march in Skokie a few years earlier and it turned out to be a publicity stunt. But as the time went on and it seemed like it was actually going to happen, I got more and more upset. I mean, being a Jew had never been a problem for me. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. There were synagogues, delicatessens…on High Holiday, school was empty. Everybody was out. And when I went to college, I went to Harvard, a liberal community. Now there was some anti-Semitism there. There were some final clubs that I couldn’t join but they had a lot of Jews. And when my wife and I decided to settle down, we picked Evanston – a large Jewish population, a large black population.
And so being a Jew who had never been a problem.
And now the Nazis were going to invade my territory. Our Rabbi said, “Don’t go there. We’re gonna have a counter demonstration at the lake. Don’t give them the honor of a crowd.” But I had to go. I didn’t want the Nazis to say, a mile from my house, you can kill Jews! Now, I didn’t know what I was gonna do. I’m not a violent man. I thought, “Well, I could yell; maybe we’d just drown them out so we can’t hear them.”
Now when I got there, you got a 60’s feel first. I mean, some people were singing, some people were doing horas. There were groups all over. Jewish groups; Never Again. Black groups; the Nazis hated blacks too. Women’s groups; equality is genderless. Ecology groups; save the whales. Everybody marching around with signs. And a guy walking through the crowd, probably more, there were probably a lot of guys walking through the crowd saying, “Ok. No violence. No violence. You know what we’re going to do. We’re gonna yell. When they speak, we’ll drown them out but remember no violence.” And he walked by me and there was a big guy standing there and he looked at me and he said, “No violence? Did they say that at Warsaw? Did they say that in Jerusalem? You know what I’m gonna do? As soon as a Nazi begins talking, I’m gonna rush down there and I’m gonna choke him to death.” And then he walked away. And then I thought, “There are crazies in every crowd.”
Now as the day went on, it got more and more serious. More and more police came. Their cars lined the park. There was a police helicopter in the air. And I saw what was going to happen. There was a maintenance building at the edge of the park. And I could see that the Nazis could park by it and take up a space in front of it and the maintenance building will cover their back. And there was like this concrete opening in front of it. And I figured the police would stand there to protect the Nazis. So we got the police, the Nazis and the building. Now when the riot police came, that’s when it got really serious for me. They came off a bus and they looked like gladiators. They were wearing helmets and they had shields and clubs. Then, sure enough, they took up that space in front of the maintenance building. They had five rows of ten. I was standing right next to a yellow rope they had used to cordon off the area. And next to me was this little man and he was talking to himself and he was muttering and finally he looked at me. And he said, “Look, look, I was in the camps in Germany. They could do whatever they wanted. They were in power. But here… here we’re gonna protect them?” His wife said, “This America. Everybody gets to say what they want.” He says, “I can’t believe. I can’t believe it.”
Now all of sudden, somebody yelled, “They’re coming!” And a chat began, “Nazis no, Nazis no, Nazis no!” And I looked up and you know what I saw? I saw a junker. A junker. Its fender was dented, its bumper was tied up with a rope, it was burning oil. And I thought, “This what we’re so excited about? Five guys in a junker?” And then they stepped out. It was like electricity went through the crowd. They were wearing Nazi uniforms. Two were in SS uniforms. And the chat changed, “Kill the Nazis! Kill the Nazis! Kill the Nazis!” And they did something that… I don’t know… it was like I had seen it before. They just stood there in a circle ignoring us. Smoking cigarettes and talking. And then finally they formed a line and one stepped out with a blowhorn and he began to speak. Now the crowd got louder and louder but you could still hear that blowhorn over all of our yelling. Rocks began to fly through the air. That man with the blowhorn stepped back and everyone cheered. And then he stepped up again. He began to speak again, and again we were screaming so loud and yet you could still hear him. It was as if he was gaining strength from all the hatred around him. And then a brick flew through the air and hit a policeman, knocked him down. And the chant changed to, “Kill the pigs, kill the pigs, kill the pigs!”
And then, on my left, I saw a guy get under the rope and start to run to the Nazis. It was that guy! He got through the first two lines. I think they were surprised that he would actually do it. And they clubbed him to the ground when he reached the third line. And then a second man went under the rope and he was clubbed down. And then a third and then a fourth and both those were clubbed down. And then the little man on my right yelled, “Never again!” and he was under the yellow rope. And his wife, she dove at him, she grabbed his leg. He was dragging her along the ground. She was wearing a wig, you know, that was now coming off. She was yelling, “Stop ’em! Stop ’em! They’re gonna kill ’em! They’re gonna kill ’em!” And I was under the rope… And it wasn’t to save that old man… I wanted to kill the Nazis. I wanted to take that blowhorn and shove it down the Nazi’s throat… Well, thank God, by the time I reached the police, they knew they had a potential riot on their hands. And so they had already bundled the Nazis into their car. And when I hit that first line, the policeman gave me a bear hug. And he yelled, “Ok. It’s over. It’s over. Calm down. It’s over. They’re leaving.” And I looked up and sure enough, they were driving away. And then in minutes, the crowd left.
They would write this up as a victory. We had stopped the Nazis from speaking. But there was no victor on that field. I knew that, as I stood there shaking from adrenaline in me and feeling the rage, that only victor on this field was hate. I looked over and the men who’d been clubbed to the ground were leaning against the maintenance building field. An ambulance had arrived bathing the park with those blue and red lights. The old man, he was still sitting on the ground. His wife was smoothing his head. She kept saying, “It’s ok, it’s ok. It’s over. It’s over. It’s ok.” But he didn’t answer her. He just sat there staring off into space.
In this story a Jewish girl and her friend sneak away from the forced walk of the Nazis toward… they don’t really know. They hide in a haystack and a farmer helps them until the drums toll. In the face of this innocence, what motivates the Nazi soldier? What compels the farmer to help? What does this story say about the capacity of human beings for good and evil? (more…)
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. (more…)
Antonio’s father listened to classical music that transported him back to his beloved Cuba. Antonio thinks of listening to music in the future with his son and the memories and scenes the music will evoke.
Why do you think Antonio’s father rarely talked about his time in Cuba?
How did the music make it possible for Antonio’s father to share a little bit of his childhood memories?
What music moves you? What pictures does it create in your imagination?
The Vintage Guide to Classical Music by Jan Swafford
How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture and Heart by Robert Greenberg
Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
My Dad used to have a state-of-the-art alarm clock, and I feel old describing it to you. It would play music AND wake you up, and it had an incredible feature called the sleep button. You could hit it, music would play, and 29 minutes later it would actually turn off! It was amazing! The problem was, you had to wait the whole 29 minutes to see it work its magic, but that wasn’t too bad, because you could watch the numbers change on the clock, and I mean actually change. Each minute of the hour and every hour itself was its own little plastic tab that actually flipped down or folded over the other number, an interior dial of time perpetually flipping forward, clicking, keeping perfect rhythm, lit by a little light, just bright enough to see the numbers themselves change.
It was endlessly fascinating to watch the numbers flip, time flipping forward, and wait for the sleep button to magically shut off the music.
I loved sitting in my parents’ room listening to the music that played on the only station my Dad listened to before bed, WJBR, Just Beautiful Radio. My Dad’s from Cuba and my Mom’s family is Irish, but they both loved classical music and this station played only classical music, 24 hours a day. My Dad would hit the magic sleep button, the music would start, and I would watch the little plastic tabs click off the time until it was time for bed, but hopefully, not before the sleep timer did its things. My Dad would often stand, transfixed, in front of the radio. I always thought he was looking at the numbers as well, but he would close his eyes, sway very slightly and say, “Mijo, can you hear that?” I strained toward the radio. “What?” I asked.
“That, right there, and there again? There, right on top of the piano, the violin?” I couldn’t hear anything. “And now, the clarinets, and the drums rolling in the back, like thunder over the hills? It reminds me of Cuba, right before a storm, can you hear that?”
I could never hear anything he heard, but I loved watching him go to the place where the thunder rolled over the hills. The only time he ever talked about Cuba was when he listened to classical music, otherwise it was just too painful to talk about being forced to leave and all the family had lost. Then, the sleep button would do its things, and he would scoop me up, and bring me to my room.
When I was about 10 years old, my Dad gave me that radio. He got a new one with a sleep button that could actually be programmed to any amount of time he wanted, from one minute to 59 minutes, and with numbers that actually glowed, floating like green fireflies, silently changing with no click at all to tell you that time still moved, whether you saw it or not.
I asked him what I could listen to, and he said whatever I wanted. Over the course of the next few months, I listened to every radio station my hometown carried. I listened to pop and country and late night baseball broadcasts from far away – 29 minutes every night – but none seemed as mysterious and as beautiful as the classical music station that transported my Dad back to Cuba.
I began to listen to it, and while I never heard drums rolling like thunder over the hills, I pretended like I could, hearing something that only adults could hear, and the complexity and the beauty of the music would make me forget about time falling down and I would fall asleep.
In my home town, WJBR doesn’t play classical music anymore, but where I live now, there is one station left that still does. Now that I am older, I can hear the drums underneath the violins, and the swelling music reminds me of egrets landing in shallow water.
I have a son now and, someday, when he is older, I will stand in front of the radio, or whatever new music playing device we’ll have then, and say, “Mijo, can you hear that? The piccolo over the strings? Like butterflies landing on flowers? No? Can you hear that? The piccolo over the strings? Like butterflies landing on flowers? Can you hear the strength of your grandparents and great grandparents coming from Cuba and Ireland to start a new life here in America? Can you hear that? Don’t worry. When you get older, you will.”
Occasionally, Antonio brings his friends and family to Catholic mass, not always with the results he hoped for. However, in Los Angeles, he goes to church with Mexican-American families where he finds people who are deeply into the ritual and their passion for their religion makes him proud. (more…)
After her Grandmother passes, Sue searches for her Grandmother’s story. Her exploration takes her into Irish American history and, eventually, to Ireland to find her Grandmother’s childhood home.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Grandmas-Story
Have you ever interviewed a family member to collect family stories? Is there someone in your family you wish you had talked to more who is no longer with us?
How would you feel if you had to support a family who lived somewhere else?
Why did the British hate the Irish? How do groups who are Insiders justify their exclusion of the Outsider?
Do you think it’s a positive or negative thing that so many groups lost their culture in becoming American?
The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan
Family and Childhood
Living and Traveling Abroad
My grandmother never wanted to come to America. That’s the story I heard over and over again. Her older sister, Mary, was the one who should have gone. But on that early morning of departure 1887 Mary woke up sick or so she said. She took to her bed crying, moaning. She couldn’t possibly go. Now my grandmother was just 13 years old. Hard enough to go to bed and know that you would never see your older sister again. You got to understand, there were no airplanes back then people didn’t fly back and forth. Hard enough to go to bed that way, but instead she was woken up and told, “No, you’re the one to leave. You’re the one who’s never going to see her family again.” Now back then, you see, you couldn’t waste a ticket. It has taken the family years to save up enough money for one ticket. So, my grandma had to wake up, quick, hurry around pack a few things in the carpet bag suitcase her mother had made for Mary and say goodbye to her three sisters and her younger brother Patrick, her mom, and her dad. Because somebody had to go get work in America, send money back home because the family was starving.
My grandmother set out for Dublin, a two-week journey by foot, with another aunt who was supposed to have watched Mary. And as they went down the road, there would have been hundreds of people joining them because millions left Ireland in the 1800s. And all the time they walked, these, these horse-drawn caravans, these carts piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables, would have passed them by. Because the British who were running Ireland at the time, were taking all the food for themselves.
Now, you may have heard of the Great Famine in Ireland. But I found out when I went to visit Ireland, a lot of people call it the Great Starvation because there was food. The Irish just weren’t allowed to grow the food, I mean, to eat the food they were growing. The food they grew had to go to the British. They would ship it over to England. So, all the time my grandma’s walking; of course, there were no fast food restaurants back then, nor did anybody have any money if there were any restaurants. So, they started eating weeds and cabbage leaves and grass to try to stay alive. By time they got to the docks in Dublin, some British writers wrote that their faces were stained green. Their mouths were stained green. And this showed just how subhuman, animal-like the Irish really were.
Well, my grandma, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. She sailed in what they called coffin ships, like caskets because so many people died on those voyages. Hundreds of people were packed in the bottom of the boat. And there were so many diseases back then… diphtheria, typhus; things like that… cholera. See, the people could only be allowed up on board for maybe an hour or so because they couldn’t let people be getting in the crew’s way. So, they had to be down below and you can imagine the stench because there were no toilets back then. They used tin cans or buckets for chamber pots. And there was no electricity and you certainly wouldn’t want to light a candle; that would be too dangerous. So you just sat in the dark and all this stench. And then people would sleep on these little narrow bunks – three or four people to a bunk. Sometimes sleeping with somebody you didn’t know. Nobody could shower and there was lice and all that.
And I tried to imagine my grandmother just 13 years old with this, this aunt and we don’t know too many details, but we found out this aunt got sick who was supposed to be taking care of my grandmother. My grandma was taking care of her. And I just think of here sitting in dark like 23 hours a day. Sick people all around us like… six, seven, eight weeks like this. Well, she got to America. Thank goodness! And she worked day and night. And all the time she would send money back home. Now, when she left, her parents said, “Now, don’t worry we’ll save up some money. We’ll send one of the other sisters to help you out.” But no sister ever, ever came. My grandma was just alone doing all of that work. And I think about what people have gone through to get to this country, or what they’re still going through to get to this country or people who were captured and brought to this country, or people who already lived here but their lands and their way of life were taken. And I think about what a huge debt of gratitude we owe them. I know that my life could not be the way it was if it wasn’t for my grandmother’s sacrifices. So sometimes I find myself whispering a little prayer. Thank you, Grandma. Thank you.
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. (more…)
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, demonstrations against Muslims arose in different parts of Chicago. One group of Chicagoans on the southwest side of the city decided to support their Muslim neighbors. This support grew into a massive rally and teach-in at Chicago’s Navy Pier. Sue witnessed people willing to learn from and about each other and how much taking a stand could mean.
For print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Other-911
Why don’t we hear the stories of what is working?
The teachers taught the students about other times in history when people were stereotyped and scapegoated. Give an example of what they might have taught.
Were the adults correct in keeping the students away from the (peaceful) demonstration of support? Was their alternative way to involve the students effective?
Why is it important to show support to groups of people who are under attack?
September 11, 2001: A Record of Tragedy, Herosim and Hope by Editors of New York Magazine
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Two days after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, found herself in trouble. She was driving down east on 95th Street when she unwittingly drove right into an anti-Muslim demonstration. Crowds were milling about, cars would zip across the intersection at 95th and Harlem. Then across again and again and shouting, “White power!” They held signs that said, “Choose what side you’re on.” “This is the beginning and the end.” They were just ignoring the police. They were trying to keep all that traffic going but pretty soon everybody just kind of ran their cars into the middle, just took the intersection over. There were guys in the back of pickup trucks, huge American flags with long poles, looked like jousters ready to ram somebody. And she found herself caught in the middle of all this.
Took over an hour and a half to get through that gridlock. Now just the night before, this angry mob had marched on the mosque at 92nd Street. Only because the police got there moments ahead and threw up barricades did it keep the windows getting broken or maybe worse. I’m sure it was fresh in the police people’s minds because just a few years earlier the Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed. And two days later the mosque in Springfield, Illinois was burned to the ground. So they saved that mosque but the demonstrations went on and on. And Sister Margaret Zalot finally got home safely but she remembered that saying, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” She’s like, “I’ve gotta do something. What can we do? Oh, what we can do?”
So she went out and she found some other people with the same concern, the same sense of urgency. She went to swop… S.W.O.P, Southwestern Organizing Project. This represented 27 community groups on the southwest side of Chicago. And they were also asking what can we do? It didn’t make sense to meet violence with violence? What can we do? They came up with a brilliant plan. They said, “Lucky the police got to that mosque with the barricade just in time to save it. We’ll make a human barricade.” What they decided to do was next day… was Friday, like a Sabbath for Muslims, Friday afternoon prayer, Jumuʿah prayer. They said, We’ll make a human barricade around the mosques and we’ll protect the people inside.” And that’s what they did.
Now some people didn’t even know there were mosques in their neighborhood on 63rd Street. You know, you can just not pay attention to something that doesn’t concern you? And these are little storefront kind of places of worship. But the next day, even though it was a workday, Friday workday, 150 people showed up. And they stood arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder and they had signs from their religion like, “Pax Christi,” Peace and Christ, or “Shalom,” the Jewish tradition word for peace. And people were so glad that they were there. In fact, a newspaper accounting talked about the president of one of the mosques saying how much he appreciated the people being there. How Islam does not teach that kind of violence. That they were all grieving over the tragedy of 9/11. And certainly, the president of that mosque, Khatam Pharez, was grieving because his cousin was on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center when that first plane hit that first tower.
And the paper also talked about this young man on his way to Friday prayer when he saw all these people demonstrating in front of the mosque. Well, he knew about the threats to his mosque, there were death threats , and should he go? Was that the smart thing to do? Should he go just back home? And all of sudden one of the men turned around. It was an older man with snowy hair, and on the sign he was carrying, it said, “As-Salāmu Alaykum,” the Arbic blessing; peace be unto you. The young man knew those people in front of his mosque weren’t there to hurt him but to protect him.
Well, unfortunately, the violence continued that next week after 9/11. So, the people decided that they were going to have a circle of peace again. And Sister Margaret Zalot, principal of Maria High School, had gone back to her school that whole week. And they suspended many classes and worked with the kids. They told them stories about, through history when people have been turned against each other, when people have been used to hate one another to somebody else’s benefit. So, maybe if kids heard these stories, they’d think. So they couldn’t be used against anybody or any other group. And then they told them stories when people had stood together and the kids really learned. Because when they heard Sister Margaret, they got it! Some of the teachers were going back the second time to make circles of peace. You can imagine what they said. “We want to go, too! Come on, you’re teaching us about justice and standing together and universal diversity. We’re gonna go too!”
But these really were dangerous times after September 11th. The teachers couldn’t take the students somewhere there might be violence. So, they came up with an alternative because they didn’t want to discourage the girls. They said, “Why don’t you write letters to your Muslim neighbors? Tell them how you feel.” So, that next Friday, double, triple the crowd showed up at those mosques to make their human barricade, their circle of peace. And when those folks came out from prayer that Friday, they were handed letters from the Maria High School girls. And the letters said things like, “You are our neighbors, we love you. We stand by you and for you.” And people read those letters out loud and, I tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye off the street. People were huggin’ and crying.
Well, through the months of that winter 2001 and 2002, Southwest Organizing Project joined with community groups from all over Chicago and decided to have a Muslim/non-Muslin dialogue. But, you know how winter can be any who live in the north. Oh my goodness! You get a nice day and everybody just wants to be outside. It was one of those kind of days, a Sunday afternoon. They wondered would anybody show up to talk perfect strangers on a beautiful day in Chicago? They had rented Navy Pier Ballroom. What if there was nobody coming at all and it was empty? Four thousand people showed up to share, to dialogue and even the high school girls modeled how to talk and dialogue with each other. They asked each other questions and, I remember, the Maria High School student asking a girl from the Islamic school, “You know, I have to admit, I saw those hijabs, those headscarves you wear, and I thought it was kind of weird but then we girls got talking. You know, you can have a bad hair day, that hijab would come in handy.” And the Islamic girl said back to her, right in front of everybody, “You know, you have bad hair days, we have bad hijab days. Sometimes you just can’t get those scarves to sit on right.”
So they would model or they would have some other people come up from Southwest Organizing Project would model talking to each other. And then we in our small groups, they’d give us a discussion question. Well, you can imagine the noise in that room with four thousand people! You had huddle in close to hear each other. I had a Muslim man, I had a teenage boy from the northwest side, I had two cab drivers who just heard about it and came driving on in and we huddled real close. As we shared our lives and our hopes and our dreams, it’s like the energy just emanated out of Navy Pier up and down the lakefront, all across Chicago. Because after that all, the white power and other demonstrations just stopped.
What does it take for ugly history not to repeat itself? It takes people who are willing to go and stand in front of places they’ve never been, to protect a religion they’ve never practiced, to listen in their classrooms or in their community groups to different people’s stories so that we can cut through all that ignorance and fear, so that we can speak and we can celebrate the truth. We are one.
Dr. Martin Luther King marches through Sue’s southwest side neighborhood in Chicago in 1966. Her family’s and neighbor’s reaction plus her own conflicted feelings rise just as the KKK makes its appearance. (more…)
Would you hide a family fleeing the violence during a riot?
What led up to the riots? How were people turned against each other? Who benefitted from the separation of black and white?
What choices confronted the city leaders after the 1919 race riot? What choices did they make? What were the consequences?
What does it mean that segregation was “forced”?
Race Riot: Chicago in Red Summer of 1919 by William M. Tuttle
African American/Black History
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
In the summer, between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, I took a special summer course with a focus on housing. I had an internship where I was assigned to a community organizer named Lee whose specialty was Chicago housing. Now, I guess today we would describe my mentor, Lee, as an aging hippie. He was in his 40s and his long hair in a ponytail went all the way down his back, only the top of this head was shiny clear skin. It’s as if the ponytail was pulling the hair right off the top of his head. I’d never seen a man with so much hair, going bald.
Now from Lee, I learned one of the most startling facts I’ve ever heard up to that point in my life. That the city of Chicago had not always been segregated. Lee mentioned this fact, oh, just casually, one day as if it were common knowledge. We were on our way to go get a pop. Now this shows you I’m from Chicago. Not soda pop or soda but a pop. We are going to Max’s Barbershop. Because at the front of Max’s shop, he had a vending machine where he sold soft drinks. And Lee opened the door for me and the little bell, to give a little ding-a-ling, announcing our arrival. Lee mentioned again, just kind of casually, you know about Chicago before it was segregated. I liked flipped out. I said, “Chicago was integrated once? When?”
Well, we got our pops. We settled onto the torn leather couch at the front of Max’s shop and Lee lowered his voice so as not to start a racial diatribe in the barbershop. And he told me at the turn of the century that blacks were less segregated in Chicago than Italians and other European groups. He said, oh, maybe by 1910 or so there were a dozen or so all black blocks in the whole city. You know, because families would want to move in near each other. Near somebody they know. But it wasn’t like those blocks were adjacent to each other. There wasn’t what we would call black and white part of town. “Well, what changed things?” I asked.
He said, “More and more African-Americans coming up from the south. They were trying to escape the injustice of the migrant farmer system or crops would fail so there was no work. And it was perfect for the factory owners, the business owners, ’cause they could set one group against the other and the competition would keep those prices low.” And I realized I knew something about this because my grandfather told me over and over again while I was growing up, all the times he’d lost jobs to black men. My grandpa had worked construction, worked at the stockyards. And I told Lee about this. And he said that, oh yeah, it was true that my grandpa could have lost jobs. But the real reason was because all kinds of black workers were shipped up north, I mean, by the train load. Unsuspecting. Because the business owners could use them to bust up the unions. The white workers, they’re working conditions were deplorable too. They were trying to form unions. And sometimes we’d bring those trains right into the stockyards. They didn’t know, the black workers didn’t know, they were busting unions. But he told me the biggest thing that started the segregation in Chicago was the Chicago race riot of 1919.
One summer day in 1919 a young boy was floating on a raft in Lake Michigan. His name was Eugene Williams. Now, Eugene liked school well enough, he did well enough. But, awe, how he loved his summers! And he loved to hang out at the beach even though he wasn’t a very good swimmer. Now, some of you know Lake Michigan. It can get pretty wavy, almost like an ocean sometimes. It was one of those kind of rough sea days and it was wavy. And Eugene, some of his friends had made this makeshift raft. And the waves pushed Eugene across this imaginary line that some people thought of as the white part of the beach. And some white men and boys saw Eugene. They got mad. They started throwing stones and rocks, boulders, planks of wood, anything. And they knocked Eugene off and, as I said, he wasn’t the best swimmers, it was a wavy day. And Eugene drown.
Now some black people spotted some of the white men and boys who had thrown the stones and planks at Eugene. They ran up to a white police officer, the only kind of officer there was back then. And said, “There, those guys! Those are the guys that killed Eugene! They murdered Eugene!” But the police officer refused to make an arrest and a fist fight broke out.
That fight spread up and down the beach. It spilled out onto the streets on the South Side of Chicago and then to the middle Chicago to the North Side of Chicago. It’s like all that, that tension that was simmering there because of the competition over housing and jobs, it just exploded. It took four days and the National Guard to finally stop the violence. At the end, hundreds were injured. Scores of men and boys, mostly black were killed. Many right in their own homes, at the hands of their very own neighbors.
I sat on that torn leather couch looking out the door. I had heard absolutely nothing about the Chicago 1919 race riots. And all through my high school years, there had been race riots in Chicago. Just the year before, in my senior year, when Dr. King had been killed, there was unrest all over the city. Why hadn’t I heard these stories before?
I was so stunned by what Lee told me that I actually talked to my Grandmother McHugh that night about race. It was a subject I usually avoided with her at all cost. It was my turn to make dinner that night at our girls apartment for this special summer program. So, I called my grandmother get her spaghetti and meatballs recipe. That’s that famous Irish spaghetti and meatballs. And she was giving me her instructions, I guess it couldn’t get out of my head would Lee had said, and I just blurted out to my grandmother, “Ma did you ever hear of the Chicago race riots of 1919?”
“Oh yeah,” she said. Then there was this long pause and then she added, “I remember a family that hid by us.”
“What do you mean, hid by us?”
“Oh, they were a Negro family,” she said. “They had children. I think they lived a couple blocks away. And well, the city had come through and rounded up all the colored people and taken them to one area like a safety zone, you know. But they must’ve missed this family. And they were hiding in the gangway, next door to us. They were just too scared to move.”
I said, “Ma, how, how long this go on?”
“I don’t know, maybe three, four days. But, but my mom had me feed them. She would make sandwiches and she’d wrap it up in newspapers. She’d have me go out by the garbage cans like I was going to throw the newspaper away, but I tossed the sandwiches to them.”
“So you fed them? How long?
“Well, like three, four days,” she said again. “They were too scared to move through the neighborhood.”
“So now, why didn’t you ever tell me any of this before?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “It happened a long time ago. Besides what good does it do to talk about it?”
Well, Lee and I were talking about it and I wanted to know everything. I said, “And what, what happened after the 1919 race riots?”
And he said, “It was like after that the race riots. You just couldn’t run a city like that with wholesale violence, people punching each other and killing each other in the streets. So the leaders their… their focus became on keeping the peace.”
Now, this is where Lee said the city could have gone one way or the other. Keeping the peace could have meant standing up to everybody and saying, “Hey, we are going to learn to live together.” But instead the politicians, the business owners, they came up with a strategy to separate whites and blacks in more civilized ways. Lee told me, he said, “For instance, in the city council, they invented what we call restrictive covenants. It said that certain areas of the city, and this is a quote, ‘could only be occupied by people of white or Caucasian race.’” And then Lee said, “In certain areas they were trying to make all white, they’d go knock on the doors, they’d invite the black people to leave. They’d offer money or they’d make threats. And then they go to the store owners in that area and they threatened them that they’d better not sell anything to black families. I’m talking even a loaf of bread,” Lee said. “Or even stamps at the postage office, at the post office.”
Now Lee was some kind of working class scholar. Every quote, everything I heard that summer, he would make me look up, you know. Do research, get primary quotes, get my statistics straight, even if the quote came from him. So I looked and I looked and I found all kinds of tidbits. Like a 1920 Hyde Park neighborhood association newspaper and it put a big ad in there. And said, “Every black man who moves into Hyde Park knows he is damaging his white man’s property. Therefore he’s declaring war on the white man. If store owners and businesses should refuse to give a job to any black man that stays and resides in Hyde Park, well, that would show very good results.”
I’d always been told that blacks live with blacks and whites with whites, browns with browns, because everybody preferred their own kind. But that day I learned that segregation had been forced. I sat on that leather couch, sipping my orange Nehi pop, staring through the door and out at the barbershop pole. It’s red and white stripes twirling around each other but never, ever touching.
Michael’s mother models the importance and love of reading, but, mostly importantly, the value of kindness. When Michael tours in Brazil, he discovers that his mother was teaching the students there as well. (more…)
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.
What were the motivations for the school walkout?
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?
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?
Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin
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. (more…)
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.” (more…)
Growing up in his New York City Jewish neighborhood was a world of homogeneity for Gerry. But an occasional intrusion of “alien nuns” could be truly scary to a young child unfamiliar with other religions.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Nuns
Have you ever reacted with the same kind of fear that Gerry and his friends had when they saw nuns? What could the adults have done to help the children understand who the nuns were?
What allows someone to react with curiosity rather than fear to someone or something that is different?
Does every group have prejudices and biases? Does being discriminated or misunderstood yourself lead to your being more open-minded about others?
Catholic and Jews in Twentieth-Century America by Egal Feldman
Stereotypes and Discrimination
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.
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. (more…)
How did Arif come to realize that there were “different kinds of white people”?
Why weren’t the students also studying Arif’s religion?
Growing up, what did you learn about Islam? Was Islam presented as one of the world’s major religions or as “an other”?
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
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
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.