At 14, storyteller Laura Packer visited friends living in the rural south and encountered negative assumptions about Judaism for the first time. How she responded could have made the situation much worse, but she found a way to keep her dignity and maybe break down some ancient, inaccurate beliefs at the same time. (more…)
Someone once called her a humanitarian. “I’m not a humanitarian,” she replied. “I’m a hell-raiser!” And she was. She was over fifty years old, she weighed one hundred pounds, and she was under five feet tall. And yet she was called by the United States Government, “the Most Dangerous Woman in America.” Come and hear what she has to say. Come and hear how she changed the world. (more…)
In 2010 when the members of the Memphis Islamic Center bought property on the street nicknamed Church Road, they thought they’d have a hard time proving to their Christian neighbors that they were a peaceful community. When the pastor of the Methodist church across the road learned of the purchase, he didn’t know what he should do. (more…)
While Joseph’s father and his neighbor debate whether a good Jewish family in a New York suburb should have a Christmas tree, 6-year-old Joseph plots how to ride the family’s English setter, Freckles, the way cowboys ride horses in the Westerns. Joseph succeeds – for about a second and a half – but then the tree, the decorations, the lights, the jar full of pennies, the glass and the cat go flying! Joseph’s neighbor, a conservative Jew, surveys the disaster and pronounces that this is proof the Sobols should not have had a tree!
What is the difference between orthodox, conservative and reform Judaism? Jewish identity can have religious, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and national components to it – what does it mean that Joseph’s father was raised in a non-religious, sectarian Jewish household? Are you a member of a religious or cultural group that has different ways of practicing within it?
Why would Joseph’s family want to have a Christmas tree even though they weren’t Christians?
Joseph mentions people who were his father’s heroes – Emma Goldman, Tolstoy, Gandhi? What did these people have in common?
Who is a Jew? An Introduction to a Complex Question by Rabbi Juan Bejarano-Gutierrez
The Many Faces of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform by Gilbert S Rosenthal
Family and Childhood
My name is Joseph Sobol.
And let’s say it’s holiday season, 1961. My dad and our neighbor Harold are arguing over the true meaning of Christmas for Jews. Harold is saying, “So what’s with the… What’s with the Christmas tree? How’s a nice Jewish boy like you having the Christmas tree in the living room?”
Harold is our close friend and adviser on all things Jewish. He’s the most conservative Jew we know in our neighborhood. Conservative on a spectrum that runs from orthodox to conservative to reform to us.
My dad is a psychotherapist and a militant proselytizing agnostic. “Agnostic,” he says, “is someone who is not afraid not to know.”
Well, Harold has some different opinions on this. He works for the United Jewish Appeal in New York City. His wife runs the nursery school, of which I’m a recent graduate. It’s 1961, a.d. year of somebody’s lord.
Dad says, “The tree is for my son so he doesn’t miss out.”
Harold’s not satisfied with this answer. So, they sipped their cognac. They smoke. They talk on and on about these questions. Meanwhile, his son, me, I’m over in the corner of the room playing with the tree. The tree is magnificent. I adore the tree. The tree to me is like a god. If by god, you mean something immeasurably magnificent and powerful that’s been chopped down and stuffed into a space too small for it, like a church or a living room. But we don’t go to church. We don’t even go to synagogue.
So, all I have is this once a year encounter with the sacred tree. But I’m six and I don’t know how to worship sitting still so, I’m playing with the tree. I’m hiding behind it; sneaking around it. Sneaking up on our dog Freckles curled up on the rug in front of the tree. I mean to ride him!
My mother sticks her head out of the kitchen and says, “Danny, back up. You can’t ride the dog!”
I turn around. I disagree. I think I can ride the dog if they let me train him. Freckles is an English Setter, white with orange spots. He’s the least Jewish dog that’s ever been bred. Goyish is the term for Yiddish. He’s the most goyish dog in the world but they sent him to obedience training school to learn all these useless things like sitting down, lying down, standing up, fetching a stick. Why can’t they let me do the most natural thing in the world? Ride my dog. He’s big enough; I’m small enough. He loves me. I know it. He lets me know this every day when I come home from school. What more gracious act of love than to take me upon his back?
So, this is my plan, my training model. I’m going to catch him while he sleeps. I’m going to sneak up behind him, preferably while he’s sleeping in front of the Christmas tree ’cause it’s easy to access. I’m going to put one foot behind his back; one foot in the curl of his belly. I’m going to reach down, take him by the collar and pull, “Giddyap!” And off we’ll go like the Lone Ranger and Silver across the living room. Hi-ho, Freckles! And awaaay! After that, I have no plan.
But before I can get to him, out of the kitchen rumble’s Lilly, the Glaswegian au pair girl. She’s solid muscle. She’s got a righteous leer and a Chesterfield hangin’ out of the corner of her mouth. She’s on fire. “Git away from that dog, ya creepin’ divil!”
And I take off behind the couch. Freckles jumps up, runs back to the laundry room where he was born a year and a half ago in a box by the sink. That’s his safe place.
Lilly grabs me up from behind the couch by the collar, plants me between Harold and my dad and said, “Sit still and listen to yer elders. You might learn, learn somethin’!” Well, off she goes back to the kitchen.
Harold and Dad are still arguing about the tree. “So, what’s with the goyish tree again? Ya haven’t explained.”
Dad says, It’s not a goyish tree, Harold. We converted it.”
Harold says, “How do ya figure that?”
Dad says, “We cut the tip off before we put the star on top.” Bada-boom.
Harold says, “But it’s a five-pointed star not a six. And anyway, why can’t you be content just to worship Hanukkah like the rest of the Jews?”
Dad says, “It doesn’t appeal to me.”
And I understand this. Hanukkah really, when you come right down to it, is sort of a second-tier Jewish holiday that’s been promoted by American Jews. They have something to go up against the Christians at Christmas. But decoratively and narratively, it’s a little bit lacking. Decoratively, I mean, consider the optics. What’s with that little chintzy eight-pointed candelabra next to this magnificent indoor tree?
And then, the story line is the same story as every other Jewish holiday, one after another. It goes basically like this. Jews just want to be Jews. And everybody else wants them to knock it off and fit in with the rest of them. So, the Jews call upon their God and a whole lot of people get smited, one after another. It’s Persians. It’s Egyptians, it’s Greeks. It’s Romans, it’s Nazis, it’s soldiers of the Inquisition. When is it gonna end?
And, Dad, when you come right down to it, he just wanted to fit in too. He was brought up in a secular Jewish household where their heroes were people like the anarchist, Anna Go… uh, Emma Goldman, or pacifists like Tolstoy and Gandhi, not to mention that funky Jewish community organizer from Galilee named Jesus.
Dad says, “I don’t have a problem with the birth of Jesus, Harold. Who can object to peace, love and understanding. It was a great moment in Jewish radical politics.”
Harold says, “Tell it to the Nazis. Tell it to the KKK. Tell it to the John Birch Society.” And he’s winning the argument.
But I’ve stopped listening the moment I see Freckles’ long, spotted nose come out from behind the end of the foyer there, back into the living room. I see him sniff both ways for Lilly (sniff, sniff). And now he shambles up, back into the living room, clickety clack across the floor, over the white rug, to his favorite spot in front of the tree. He turns himself around two and a half times. And then folds up in a nice doggy ring, puts his face on his paws and starts dreaming of chasing pheasants.
And the moment I feel myself ignored, I slip off the couch between Harold’s knees and the edge of the coffee table, over to the hearth of the unlit fireplace, across the hearth. Past the giant glass penny jug where my parents toss their pocket change when they come home from work every day. Over to the tree; and then I make the turn and I start toward Freckles. This is my chance; everybody’s busy.
I hear Lilly and my mom in the kitchen. I hear the clinking and clanking of pots and pans, the clunking of cabinet doors. I smell the roasting meats and the baking pies. I hear the drone of Dad and Harold and their endless Talmudic disputation.
And it’s just me and the dog. I’m the Secret Agent. I am the Lone Ranger and the Invisible Man. And this is my moment. I’m going to get to him. I’m going to plant one foot on the front of his belly, one in the small of his back. Then we’re gonna go. And I get there, I’m right there. I’m gonna ride him and I do… for about a second and a half. I get my feet planted. I reach for his collar. I, I shout, “Giddyap!”
Up he comes. His bony spine right in the middle of my crotch. Ow! Freckles leaps up. He starts bolting! He starts rearing back just like the Lone Ranger’s horse and he throws me backwards across the living room! Crash, onto the rug! Harold and my dad jump up, start running around the coffee table. Lilly and my mom come crashing out of the kitchen toward me. And Freckles, in a panic, leaps straight into the Christmas tree! In mid-air, he does a little flip and he manages to hit the tree, just a glancing blow, with his rump and his tail. But he’s got his big floppy paws caught in the wires of the Christmas tree lights so the tree rocks backward and forward. Freckles bounces off, goes careening into the penny jug, which hits the wall and explodes! Pennies and shards of glass all over, careening, spinning all across that part of the floor!
And now, in a slow, stately swoon, down comes the tree in a shower of spruce boughs, tinsel, little colored balls, flashing lights. It’s just like a beached whale, covers the whole end of the room.
Freckles is gone, back to the laundry room. There are four adults standing stock still, gaping at the destruction. I’m lying on my back with the wind knocked out of me, my eyes shut tight, waiting for a certain death.
And Harold, our Jewish neighbor, friend and adviser intones in his best rabbinical voice, “Terrible and mighty is the judgment of the Lord.”
Because she had grown up in a predominately white community during the turbulent Civil Rights years, when Mama Edie’s new friend, Renee, went to college she learned the pain of being treated as an outsider by some of the other African American students. But Mama Edie and Renee both learned that a strong sense of identity can combat bullying, provide a sense of direction and belonging and create meaningful bonds that can last a lifetime. (more…)
When Mama Edie and Mother Mary Carter Smith, Co-Founder of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. enter the dark dungeons of Ghana, West Africa, where people were imprisoned for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, unexpected things begin to occur. This story speaks to how one can perceive and be guided by just a small beam of light, finding strength, hope and direction despite barbaric and seemingly hopeless situations. (more…)
Noa arrived from Israel to America in 1990 the month Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to attack Israel. She arrived from a place where everyone walked around with boxes of gas masks in case they were attacked with mustard gas, to the quiet peaceful college town of Davis, California. To call it culture shock would not do it justice…
Here is the story of crossing over and learning to live in a culture where the perceptions of time, space and values are completely different from your own. (more…)
Noa grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. In America, she met a Palestinian woman who also grew up in Jerusalem, only on the “other side”. Their friendship inspired her to tell the stories of their families that echo the contradicting national narratives of their people. Noa continues to use the transformative power of storytelling for peacemaking through her memoir A Land Twice Promised: An Israeli Woman’s Quest for Peace.
Jumana and I met on the green grass of America. It was a family potluck. I was holding my baby boy, she was holding hers. And she had the kind of dark beauty that I recognized immediately from home. So, I walked up to her. “What’s his name?”
“Tammer. And yours?”
“Ittai. Where are you from?”
“Jerusalem. Near Ramalla, actually.”
“I’m from Jerusalem too.”
Her American husband stepped right in, “My wife, is a Palestinian, you know.” As if I didn’t know. But I didn’t know she’d want to talk to me, and she didn’t know if I’d want to talk to her.
You see, I grew up, in Jerusalem. A divided city where the buildings are made of chiseled stones, white, cream, gray. And when I was a little girl before 1967, there were always places at the edge of the city you couldn’t go to. It was the border. Once my mother took me to such a place. There were rusty, orange signs, “Caution: mines,” “No man’s land,” “No passing beyond this point.” And she took my hand and we climbed on a heap of stones and stopped in front of the large roll of barbed wire. And through it, I could see a vast field with slabs of concrete and iron beams sticking out like crooked fingers. And beyond them, filling the entire horizon was a wall, that almost looked like the walls from the fairy tales, with rounded roofs and minarets peeking behind it.
But I didn’t like it there. I wanted to go home. I was scared of them. The Arabs. When my grandmother hears the word “Arab,” she says, (Spits), “Yimach shermam, may their name be erased. They took my Yaakov. Yimach shermam.” Yaakov was her son. He’s gone. Where I come from, we say he fell.
I come from a place where the news is on the radio every hour, 24 hours a day. And on the buses, the drivers turn the volume up and all conversations stop. There is always something. Bombs in the market place. Buses blowing up and wars. But there’s no choice. That’s what I grew up with. “There’s no choice.”
“We don’t want wars but there is no choice.”
“There’s no choice.”
“They want to throw us into the sea.”
“There’s no choice. This is our only home.”
Jumana and I watched our children grow up on the green grass of America. Tammer and Ittai spend hours being Pokemon. And we watched them grow without the fear. And no one put it in words. But each of us knew. Back home, my son would grow up to go to the army and check ID’s at roadblocks. Her son would grow up to arrive at the checkpoint and throw stones at the oppressor.
Slowly, over the years, Jumana and I started to talk. But for many years it was just, you know, the kids and diapers. Mom stuff. But then one day, I started working on a story about my memories from third grade, the 1967 war. And I realized I’ve known Jumana, this Palestinian woman for seven years. And she grew up in Jerusalem, just like me, not even five miles away from where I grew up. And I never heard what that war was like for her. Did they sleep with all the neighbors together in the furnace room when the bombs were falling? Did they even have a bomb shelter?
I called her up and a new chapter in our relationship began. I asked questions and I listened. And for the first time in my life, I heard what it actually feels like to be a Palestinian growing up under Israeli occupation.
She told me how when she was 10 years old, she saw a 13-year-old boy being beaten by Israeli soldiers and that was the first time in her life she understood the meaning of the word hate. Hearing this was like somebody just kicked me in the gut. Those soldiers, that terrified and haunted her entire childhood, were my people. Our boys, our symbols of security. everyone that I knew that turned 18 and went to the Army, including my brother. It was so painful. But I continued to listen because she was telling me her story.
And eventually, we started talking about difficult stuff. You know, the history of our people. And she would say something that was history, the truth with a capital “T,” that she learned in school. And I would look at her and say, “But that’s not true at all. That’s, that’s Arab propaganda.”
And then I would say something that was history, that was the truth with a capital “T.” And she would look at me and say, “But that’s not true at all. Zionist propaganda.”
And we would argue. And then she’d say, “Look at us. We’re getting defensive again.” And we’d laugh. And then I pick up the baby so that she could go make the soft-boiled egg for the other kids. And we continued to talk. And there was never a moment when I felt, “I can’t talk to this person.” And this experience, of being able to talk despite differences, the way our stories helped us hold contradicting points of view, this experience of being able to hold onto our compassion through all that, was so powerful that I decided I had to do something about it.
And being a storyteller, I created a storytelling performance called, “A Land Twice Promised.” And I tell the stories of our families. And I tell the stories that echo the contradicting national narratives of our people. I’ve been performing it now for more than 14 years. I recently wrote a book about it that tells the journey of my transformation from the, the black and white narratives of my childhood, to learning how to listen to the other, and using storytelling for building bridges for peace.
And over the years I’ve heard so many responses. There are those that say that I’m a traitor to my people because I tell the stories of the Palestinians. And there are others that say that, oh, I’m telling only the suffering of the Jews. I can’t begin to tell the story of the Palestinians. And there are those that come say, “What’s the point? What’s the point of all this storytelling? How can you even believe in peace? Can’t you see what’s going on in the world?” And I don’t always know what to say.
But I keep thinking about what my Palestinian friend recently said to me. She said, “I consider it a privilege having gotten to know you as a person and hearing her stories. Before hearing your side of things, the Israelis were just the enemy, the abuser, the one who took away my rights, rolled over me, terrorized me. The soldier, the settler, that’s what I knew of as Israelis. So, getting to know you and hearing your stories made a huge difference.”
And I think, about March of 2002. It is called in Israel Black March because almost every day there were suicide bombers exploding. And my most peace activist friends could not utter the word Palestinian, wouldn’t even let me say the word Palestinian But, my Palestinian friend kept calling. “Hey, Noa, I heard about that bomb in Netanya. Is your family all right?”
And I couldn’t help call her. “Jumana. I just heard about those tanks in Ramala. Is your brother OK?”
So, to the cynics and the naysayers I say, we heard each other’s stories. Why do I believe in peace? Because we heard each other’s stories and we have no choice. We have no choice.
Robin was in middle school. Basil Houpis had just moved to the U.S. from Greece, and he was different. He barely spoke English, wore mismatched clothes and smelled funny. Everyone picked on him mercilessly. It was not until Robin went to her 30th high school reunion that she was able to take a stand. (more…)
Heather tells of the odd twist of fate that saved her father’s life when he, along with all the other Jewish teenagers in his neighborhood, gave up their personal life plans and enlisted in the U.S. army to go fight Hitler in 1942. (more…)
The true tale of how storytelling inspired a group of diverse religious leaders in the town of Huntington, NY, to dig up their congregational lawns, grow vegetables tended by congregants, and then donate the produce to local food pantries. (more…)
As a child, Brenda visits her Grandfather who collects, dries and sells seaweed along the coast of California. When she is older, she helps him with his work. Brenda finds his ways strange and the work hard, but the two find unique ways of talking and enjoying each other’s company.
What service did Brenda’s Grandfather provide? Why do you think he lived the simple life he did?
Do you have any relatives whose language, cultural customs or ways of making a living are very different from yours?
Do you have any relatives you wish you had spent more time with? If you had an extra few days with them right now, what would you ask them? How would you want to spend your time with them?
Chinese Americans: The Immigrant Experience by Peter Kwong and Dusanka Miscevic
Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present by Judy Yung and Gordon H. Chang
Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans by Jean Pflaezer
The Chinese in America: From Gold Mountain to the New Millenium edited by Susie Lan Casel You can read an excerpt from the book and on page 161, you can see a photo of Brenda (the teen with the glasses), her younger sister, her aunts and her Grandmother with her Grandpa, George Lum, drying seaweed. There is a picture of How Long on page 163. In the actual book, on page 167, the little boys in the photo are Brenda’s uncles. Excerpt and photos at: http://bit.ly/SeaweedGatherers
Civil Rights Movement
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
I’m Brenda Wong Aoki. And when I was a little girl, I used to wish that I could trade in my grandpa because I felt like I got cheated ’cause I know what grandpas were supposed to look like. You know they have, like, white hair and twinkly eyes and you go to their house for, like, Thanksgiving or Christmas or something. Except my grandpa wasn’t like that. My grandpa didn’t have any hair, and he didn’t even have a house. So, I, I, ss… he was Chinese. But now that I’m older, I wish that I spent less time thinking about trading in grandpa, and more time getting to know him.
My grandpa lived in an old, tin roof shack. It was built out of tar paper and pieces of wood he’d just find on the beach. He had no electricity, no running water. He never really learned English, and his strange gruff ways used to scare me.
I can remember my first trip to Grandpa’s was 1959. I was six years old. We were in our old Chevy station wagon, and along the way I saw a sign that said, “How Wong” ’cause I just learned how to read. How Wong. That confused me. But my mother explained that How Wong was Grandpa’s best friend. They had come together from Canton, China when they were only 18 years old.
And then I saw a dwarf, right out of Snow White. It was Grumpy. No, it was Grandpa. Inside his shack, he had frogs big as my head, living in his sink and they were ribbiting. (Ribbit! Ribbit!) My mother gave me some flowers to give to Grandpa, a bouquet of flowers. He wouldn’t take it (giggle). “Moano zhu tou! Zhu tou! Stupid bamboo head!”
It turns out, bamboo head, that’s what you call ABCs. American-born Chinese, because we’re hard on the outside and hollow in the inside and Grandpa thought I must be a stupid ABC if I didn’t know that cut flowers are an omen of death. He thought I was trying to kill him or somethin. That summer, that night, Grandpa laid down blankets on bales of seaweed and blew out the kerosene lamp (whooo). We are at the edge of the ocean. There are no streetlights. Nothing. You can’t even see your hand in front of your face. And I didn’t remember seeing a bathroom. Mom hands me a metal pail. “What’s this for?”
“Um huh! We call it a thunder bucket.”
When we left, our car was covered with pigeon droppings like icing on a cake. I had never seen anything like it. And that’s what I remember from my first trip to Grandpa’s. And after that, we would return to Grandpa’s every summer, and help him gather seaweed ’cause this is how Grandpa made a living. He would gather seaweed, spread ’em out to dry. Then later on, cut ’em into little pieces, put ’em in packages and sell ’em to Chinatowns throughout California, and even over to China.
When I was 16 years old, we returned to Grandpa’s. This time the sign said, “How Wong is the Chinaman.”
My mother explained, “Somebody must have written that because they were being racist.”
That summer I found myself wearing men’s galoshes, Grandpa’s overalls and this big coolie hat. I looked totally f.o.b. (fresh off the boat). And after they left me at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, whatever time the tide was low, his little green flashlight leading the way, we climbed down the cliffs on these little steps my grandpa had hewn out of the rock. Now I was slippin’ and sliding trying to keep up with Grandpa’s short, stocky legs. He was just like buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, buh, and down. And I was hangin on for dear life. When we finally get down to the bottom, there was tidepools but tidepools like you can’t see anymore. Tidepools that were like jewels with pink and green sea anemones, orange starfish, little baby crabs,
golden fish, eh, gorgeous! But there was no time to look.
Grandpa would say, “Fai Dee! Fai Dee! Hurry up!”
Oh, the tide would not wait. So, twist and pull and throw in the basket. We gathered seaweed. Twist and pull and throw in the basket. Not the green one, not the brown one, just the black one for sushi. That kind. Twist and pull and throw in the basket, twist and pull and throw in the basket. This was terrible on my fingernails! Twist and pull and throw in the basket. This was not the way I was supposed to spend my summer. I have a new, brand-new bikini with white polka dots. And I was supposed to be on the beach, listening to the Beach Boys with my transistor radio instead of here with him. And he can’t even understand English. Twist and pull and throw in the basket! Twist and pull and…
“What are you talking about? Watch waves.”
Ah! This was really dangerous work. There’s no lifeguards out here. Ah, huh! When we were done, the beach was covered with all these big baskets full of wet seaweed. My grandpa would take this big pole and he’d put the baskets on either side, and he’d just climb up the cliffs. Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Buh, buh, buh, buh! Uuh! Buh, buh, buh! Uuh! Buh, buh, buh, buh, buh! Uuh! They must have weighed about 200 pounds easy, those two wet baskets. And when he was finished, I was up there spreading ’em out, spreading ’em out, spreading ’em out ’til we had, like, I dunno… seemed to me like a football field full of thick seaweed. Then when we’re finished, Grandpa would go into the shed, into his shack. He’d light a fire in the stove. (Shhhh!) Shoo the frogs out the sink. “Go now. Go. Go!” and they’d hop away.
He’d take a great big wok and make dinner. (Shh, hhh, hhh!) Sometimes on special occasions, Grandpa would bring out a Chinese delicacy, pickled chicken feet. Little toenails clicking, he’d walk them across the table towards me. Eeheeheeheeh! He loved to do that. Heh, heh, heh, heh! After supper, Grandpa would take 180 proof Chinese whiskey, pour it in a teacup, and in another, he’d pour me tea.
He’d say, “This fo’ me. This fo’ company!”
He’d light a big stogy, (ooh, whoo), look me in the eye and say, “Ooh, whoo, ah, Blenda! Blenda! How’s skoo?”
Brenda, how’s school? That was Grampa’s favorite American line. You see, in Chinese, words take on different meanings if you change the intonation. So, my grandpa would change his tones and think he was saying a whole bunch of American words. Our conversation used to sound something like this.
“Ah, Blenda! How’s skoo?”
“Grandpa, tidepools are cool.”
“Ah, Blenda! How’s skoo?”
“Tomorrow can we take a day off?”
“Blenda! How’s skoo?”
We used to talk like that for hours. At the end of the summer, Grandpa poured gasoline on the rocks and torched them. I remember standing with him watching the flames burning on the waves. He said that was so the old seaweed could die and the new seaweed could grow.
When my parents picked me up, I gave my grandpa a big kiss on his bald head, right between his big, floppy ears (smooch). And he said to me, “You go now! Go! Go!”
And he stood there all alone in the cow pasture with his little green flashlight. And that beam never wavered until we’d gone all the way up the mountain and dropped over the crest.
My grandpa died when I was in college, and we buried him up near San… up near San Francisco in the Chinese cemetery. Cem… cemeteries were all segregated. And the Chinese cemetery is right behind Home Depot, so I can always find it. Everybody put cut flowers on his grave, but I remembered and brought a small green plant that still had its roots.
Recently, my Uncle Victor passed away, and I found out that my grandpa was one of the last seaweed gatherers off the coast of California. This was a community that had been there for 100 years. They’d escaped the purging of the Chinatowns when Chinatowns throughout California were burned down. And fleeing Chinese were shot or lynched or put on barges and left out in the open sea without water or food. Grandpa and a bunch of men and their families, they, they gathered seaweed quietly on the coast. And they were respected because they weren’t in competition for the ranch hands, uh, jobs or anything. They also had money. They were merchants. They sold to China; they sold to Chinatown.
And I interviewed one of the ranch hands, and she said that my grandpa had saved them during the Depression. She said, “We were starving. The ranch hands were starving but your grandpa came with baskets, and he brought us Chinese food. It was the first time I’ve ever had Chinese food.”
And I thought, “Chinese food and baskets.”
She said she’d never had fish or crab before in her life until grandpa came and saved them during the Depression. So, my grandpa was a well-respected merchant. Georgie Wong, the Chinaman.
Brenda recounts a story that was told to her by a woman who was a nurse and who, along with 120,000 of other Japanese Americans, was forced to leave her home and all she and her husband owned to be imprisoned in Incarceration Camps during WWII. A baby who should have been in the hospital is placed on board the train to the camps with her mother. The nurse does all she can to help the mother and baby but the end-result is out of her hands.
If you had to suddenly leave everything you owned and loved behind and could only take one suitcase with you, what would you take?
How was it that American citizens could suddenly lose their citizenship rights to own their homes, their businesses and receive due process before being imprisoned? Do you think it could ever happen again?
How was the propaganda against Japanese American citizens during WWII like the fear and prejudices against Muslim American citizens we see today?
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project – archives of over 400 videotaped histories of Japanese Americans
Hi, my name is Brenda Wong Aoki. This year, 2017, is the 70th anniversary of the Executive Order 9066, which was responsible for putting 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were United States citizens, in incarceration camps throughout the country. Now these people, two thirds of them were United States citizens, they lost everything. They lost their jobs. Their bank accounts were frozen. They never got ’em back. Their homes, their businesses, they had to sell for, for, for peanuts because they only had a week to sell everything. And they could only bring what you could carry, which was usually a suitcase and a small child. And some of these people were in these incarceration camps for up to five years, three to five years.
So, recently, uh, my sister-in-law said there was a woman she knew, an Issei woman, second generation Japanese, who had a story that she wanted to tell me, Brenda Wong Aoki, because I am the official, in her mind, Japanese storyteller. And she wanted me to have this story because she wanted me to tell it to the world. It goes like this.
I am a United States citizen, born right here on Grady Avenue. My father fought in World War I. My two brothers were drafted and fought in World War II. I am a nurse. Still am. This year we’ve helped so many friends die. Ne papa? My husband, he is 87. I am 84, so we think it’s time we told this story. It’s about the train ride.
It was 1942. We were newlyweds with a week-old baby and a houseful of brand new furniture. Birds eye maple bedroom set, new refrigerator, sofa. We had one week to sell everything. We had 50 bucks. We ran down to the train station with mainly just the clothes on our backs and baby stuff. We didn’t know we would be there for five years. When we got to the train station, there were soldiers everywhere. They separated the men from the women. They put me on the train with all the mothers and babies, and this is what I wanna tell you.
I see my friend Michi. She and I had just had our babies together over at General (Hospital), only Michi’s baby was so sick. The doctor said it would die if it left the hospital. So, Michi got on the train without her baby. But just as we’re about to pull out of the station, some soldiers come and throw a baby in one of the empty seats.
All the mothers are, “Whose baby, whose baby?”
Do you know, it was Michi’s baby! Those soldiers had gone into the hospital and taken the baby out of ICU against doctor’s orders and just dumped it on the seat. So Michi sat next to me because, as I told you, I am a nurse. I took one look at that baby. Its cry was so weak. But Dr. Takeshita, the doctor I worked for, he told me he was gonna be on the train, just one car ahead of us. And if anything should happen to any of the mothers or the babies, just go get him. So, at the first stop, I get off the train and a soldier points a bayonet at me. I said, “A baby is sick! A baby may be dying!”
He said, “The next one goes right through you!”
I got back on the train. It was so hot in there because they nailed the windows shut and painted them black. And the ride took almost three days, and they only fed us one time. But I remember the food. Spoiled milk and green bologna, left on the platform like we were animals or something. With nothing to drink, my breast milk was drying up, and my baby was crying and crying. (Wooo!) Everybody’s baby was crying and crying. But Michi’s baby was so quiet. Then I noticed… it was dead. But Michi didn’t seem to know. I mean, she knew, but she just… (rocks and sings, ooh, ooh…)
When we finally arrived, we were in the middle of nowhere, nothing. We are city people. We never been to a place like this, the desert.
In all the commotion, Michi slipped away. They couldn’t find her for hours. They had to get a jeep to go get her! There she was, walking through the desert with her dead baby in her arms. She was still trying to find a hospital!
My breast milk never came back and my daughter would have died too because all she had to eat the first two weeks in camp was sugar water. But Mac, the Hakugin pharmacist back home, a white guy, he heard about our situation and he sent us formula the whole time. Never charged us nothing!
Decades, decades have come and gone since the train ride. My daughter has had health problems her whole life because of those first few weeks in camp, but she survived. My husband, he married into Michi’s family, so he sees her from time to time. But me, I can’t come. She won’t see me … because my face reminds her of the train ride.
Brenda performs a children’s song in Japanese and is told to stop using “demonic language” and is called “a witch.” She is told by a producer that he is disappointed she isn’t a “real” Japanese. Unfortunately, the bias and ignorance Brenda encounters on the road is also visited on the next generation as Brenda learns that her son is mistaken for another Japanese American student who looks completely different from her son.
Why do some people approach differences with curiosity and respect and others react with ignorance and hate?
What would you do in Brenda’s place if you had been confronted with similar statements and actions? Have you experiences similar slights and biases?
Brenda is disappointed that her son is experiencing similar prejudices and invisibility? Do you think race relations are improving or getting worse? Why or why not?
Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives by Howard J. Ross
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
I’m Brenda Wong Aoki, and I’m the first nationally recognized Asian Pacific storyteller in the United States. I’ve been doing this for a living for the last 40 years. So, I wanted to share with you some stories about being on the road. Uh, one of the stories is about being called a witch. I was doing this song for a bunch of children in a school. It goes like this. It’s about a big fish and a little fish.
Okina sakana, suiei, suiei
Chisana sakana, suiei, suiei, suiei
Okina sakana, chisana sakana
You get the idea, right. So, I’m doing this story. And, um, the person around me says, “Don’t do that.”
And why… I’m, like, “Why?”
And he said, “Well, because the mothers think you’re doing a demonic incantation on their children. Please don’t do that.”
I said, “Okay.”
So, then I did my public concert and there were women in the audience with signs that said, “Witch, go home!”
I think they’re talking to me but I’m a professional storyteller so I go on. And I start telling my story and they start chanting, “Witch, go home! Witch, go home!” And they start pulling their kids out of the assembly, and the kids are crying and everybody’s… There’s chaos and they’re chanting, “Witch, go home! Witch, go home!
Witch, go home!”
And I just freak out, run into the dressing room, and I’m so shocked. And I look in the mirror. And I think, “Huuuh! Maybe I am a witch because nobody out there looks like me.”
So, I called my friend Eric, who is a priest, and I say, “Eric, you gotta come out here because people think I’m a witch out here.” Now Eric is a circuit rider in Nevada. This happened in Nevada. So, he has lots of churches, and he usually wears a Hawaiian shirt, and he’s in a big open jeep. And I said, “But don’t come like that. Come in your cossack. Come with your cross; you know, come looking churchy.
So, Father Eric puts… comes. And he looks like Jesus Christ on the back of a jeep. And he’s got his black Cossack, he’s got his cross, his blond hair was flying in the breeze, and he screeches up to where I’m performing. And all these people with placards go, “Oh, my xxx, the witch has the anti-Christ with her.
So, all Eric said, “Let’s just go get a beer.”
But that was one of my experiences. It happened several times to me throughout the country being called a witch, but it was a very innocent song. Another time I was at a reception in my honor, which was before the show, which is awkward because usually a performer likes to be preparing, warming up their voice. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah! That kinda stuff, right. But if you’re at a reception before your performance, you can’t be doing that.
So, I’m trying to be polite and thank everybody for having me. And one of the society ladies comes up to me. You know the kind, starved to perfection.
She says, “Goodness, Brenda! It has been a delight working with you because, let’s face it, you speak such good English.”
And I said, “Well, thank you. I was born here.”
And she goes, “Uuuuh! Oh! No, no, no, no, no. I thought we bought a real one!”
And then she took me to the guy who paid the big bucks and he kind of looks like a great, big toad. He says to me, “What part Japan you from?”
I said, “I’m not from Japan. Actually, my name is Brenda Jean. I’m Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and Scotch, and I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah.”
And he goes, “What part of Japan is Salt Lake City, Utah?”
I said, “It’s not in Japan; it’s in the United States.”
He goes, “Oh, that’s why your eyes aren’t as slanty as the rest.”
And I’m thinking, “Am I supposed to say thank you?”
Now I have to tell you another story. I’d just finished performing in New Orleans at the New Orleans Contemporary Art Center. Wonderful, standing ovation! I was doing Japanese ghost stories. And after the performance, this woman comes up to me and says, “You know, we’re having so much problems between Vietnamese and blacks that could you come to East New Orleans and tell some Japanese ghost stories?”
So, I go to the high school and it’s, like, one of those high schools, you know, with, like, like, guards everywhere. And they got German Shepherds sniffin lockers to look for drugs and things. And I go to the auditorium, and there’s hundreds and hundreds of kids and I look at them. They’re all wearing baseball caps and baggy clothes and they’re just kinda… uh, un. And they’re all Vietnamese, and I’m thinking, “Well, where’s all the African-American kids?” But anyway, I start my Japanese ghost stories.
And you couldn’t… there’s just silence, absolute silence. And when I’m finished there’s, like, one applause (clap, clap) and they can’t wait to get out of there.
And I’m thinking, “Wow! Great! I do a free performance and I bomb.” And I’m sitting there. I think, “What a waste of effort!”
And this girl comes up to me and she’s typical f.o.b., fresh off the boat. Immigrant young girl with glasses and books. And, you know, over… her clothes are too big. And I think, “Great! Not only did I have to do a free gig, but now some bookworm’s gonna ask me for a dissertation on Japanese theater. Uuh, huh!”
And she goes, “Miss Aoki? We don’t means to be dissing you but this is East Nawlins. Here we don’t gots to be Vietnamese. We gots to be black.”
And that was like, bam, slap, slap, slap, slap, enlightenment! I should not have been sittin up there tryin to tell these kids Japanese ghost stories. I should have been tellin ’em what it was like for me growin up in my mom and dad’s store. Bein the eldest kid, havin no money and bein poor. And knowin what it felt like not to have money, and havin people look at you. And it woulda been so much better. Sometimes the personal is so perfect.
The last story I want to tell you is about MaK.K. I have a son Kai Kane. Well, he grew up in an all African-American neighborhood. Very ghetto, crack house next door, arms dealer across the street. We all get along. It’s just that K.K. was the only non-black kid on the block. So, all of his friends didn’t want to call him by his real name, which is Kai Kane. And they said, “We’re just gonna call you K.K. So. K.K. grew up playing basketball and, you know, everything with African-American kids. Then he gets a scholarship to this fancy, white school on the other side of the bridge. Suddenly, there’s only two, uh, boys of color in his entire school. It’s Masashi, who’s from Japan, who’s very, very tall with straight hair and glasses. And K.K. who’s, uh, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Scotch, and looks like a cherub with all these curls. And he’s very, very short and kinda chubby. And the school cannot tell ’em apart. They can’t tell the difference between Masashi and K.K. So, they just decide to call him MaK.K. So, from kindergarten to eighth grade, he’s MaK.K. along with Masashi. MaK.K. So fast forward.
My son is a dancer, and he’s dyslexic, and he’s got ADHD. So, he gets a scholarship to Stanford because they’re looking for another Steve Jobs and they thought that, you know, with all these learning things, he might be the new Steve Jobs.
And he just graduated with a Master’s in Cultural Psychology. And he tells me, at the celebration, there’s only four kids who graduated with a Master’s in Cultural Psychology at Stanford. This just happened a couple of weeks ago. The four kids: one’s an African-American girl, one’s a Filipino girl, two Asian boys – one’s from China, and one’s my son K.K. Okay, the boy from China is very, very short. K.K. is now very, very tall. And K.K. tells me, the whole time they’re in the Psych Department getting their Master’s, the secretary of the department, who controls everything, you have to be on her good side, could not tell him and Larry apart the whole time. And this is Stanford University, the best Psych Department in the country, and this is Cultural Psychology. So, isn’t it funny and sad how some things never change.
Kucha’s Grandfather had a marketable skill and a spiritual home in the South after the Civil War. With a large family and plenty of hard work, life was good in Mississippi. But, one incident changed everything. Suddenly the whole family became immigrants – packing up and moving out of Mississippi.
Would you pack up and move in hopes of a better life?
Would you move quickly if you thought that you might be in danger?
What would it take for your family to suddenly move out of state with no job offer or place to live already secured?
Is there a bully in this story? If so, who? Is it the wealthy land owner? The renter? The ‘white sheets’? Someone else?
Why do you think the whole family moved and not just Paw and Mama Ella?
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells and Alfreda M. Duster
My name is Kucha Brownlee.
When I was younger, we spent our summers in the South. When we were there, my father’s brother and sister-in-law, uncle Phil and Aunt Viola Brownlee, they would pick us up and they would take us to visit all of the aunts and uncles on the Brownlee side. My father was from a big family. Seventeen children to be exact. Well, I knew that the Brownlee family had all been born in Senatobia, Mississippi. We lived in Chicago. But all of my father’s siblings lived in Tennessee. None of them had moved to Chicago. and I was thinking about that and I was curious, so I asked. How it happened if all of the Brownlee’s were born in Mississippi, they all live in Tennessee now? And this was answer.
My grandpa was born in 1862. That was a few years before the end of the Civil War. Now Mr. Brownlee, he thought he owned people, so he had purchased some people to work his fields. And one of them was Susie…Susie, and by default, her children. And one of those children was my grandfather, Richard, or as we affectionately called him Paw Brownlee.
This is the story. See, the Brownlee’s were renters, not sharecroppers. Now at the end of the Civil War, many, many of the workers who were now newly freed, ended up working at this, on the same plantation. I mean, they had nowhere to go, nothing to do. They needed a job. They knew farming. And so, they took the chance and worked on this plantation. In Mr. Brownlee’s case, he encouraged his children to stay, when in fact, he was not allowing them to be taken away. Now, he did teach his black children to read. But unlike his white children, they did have to work the fields. Good thing was he taught my grandfather carpentry. So, my grandfather had a marketable skill.
Once he was grown, and he moved out, he became a renter, because he had a marketable skill. Having this skill was great because he could rent. He also was the head carpenter building the black church that he went to. And because he could read, he used to teach reading in that church while the watchers from the church pretended to work in the fields. This is important to me. Because, you see, the reason, he had, they had to have watchers, even though slavery was over, the Jim Crow laws had set in. And so, it became dangerous to teach reading. So, the watchers would watch and if anyone white was coming, they would make it back to the church and that reading class would become a Bible study. So, my grandfather, (the teacher), met Ella McKinney, (the watcher), and they became husband and wife.
Anyway, they were renters. And they rented a huge, huge farm. And as the children got to be adults, they would give them a big sus… section of the farm to work. Well, there’s a difference between renters and sharecroppers. Renters own everything. They just rent. So, their livestock they bought. Their seeds they bought, their clothes, their furniture. They own everything. On the other hand, if you’re sharecropper, you have purchased everything on credit. And you don’t own any of it. The way you find out what you can own, is at the end of the harvest, there’s a reckoning. And they tally up everything you’ve made and put it against everything you owe. Now if during that season while you working that land, you have a cow that is, um, has a calf. The owner still owns that cow, so he can come and take that calf.
So, here’s what happened. Brownlees are renters. Their cow babed a calf and this white man, not a Brownlee, that they were renting from, came and tried to take that cow. Like Paw was a sharecropper.
Paw said, “Na, no! You’re not going to take that cow.”
And he said, “Watch me.”
Paw said, “Boys!” There were plenty of grown Brownlee men living on that farm. And they start appearing from everywhere. And all that man heard was chee, chee, the sound of shotguns. He froze.
And Paw said, “Now you can take calf if you want to but I don’t think you’re gonna too far.”
So, he let that calf alone, and he backed out, and left the farm empty handed. Yes. But later Paw and his sons, they had a talk about this. And they decided that before he had a chance to round up the white sheets, they better leave. You see, the KKK was still active in Mississippi. And that’s what they did. They packed up everything and they moved to Tennessee. Because in Tennessee, it was a little bit better for black families then it was in Mississippi. Then my father moved north to Chicago.
Kucha was born in the North, but her Southern family values and ties came North with her family. In this story, Kucha wonders why everyone feel the need to pigeon hole other people? She knows that a strong family defies stereotypes and grows love. (more…)
A poster appeared and words were being spoken on the school yard. “Tewas Go Home”! After hearing these words from other students and seeing the poster at the Trading Post, she needed answers. In a state of confusion, Eldrena asked her Tewa-Hopi grandmother, Nellie Douma, what those words meant. Why would her Hopi relatives talk that way? Was this land that they lived on in Arizona not their homeland? Go home to where? These were the questions she could not answer on her own.
Eldrena had never felt uncomfortable about going to school or where she lived. But after hearing these words from other students and seeing posters at the Trading Post, she needed to find out answers. This way of talking confused and scared her. But after hearing the “hand me down story”, it gave Eldrena a sense of pride and taught her about integrity and keeping one’s word no matter how much time passes.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Tewas Go Home
Have you ever heard of the Tewas from Arizona or New Mexico?
Have you ever heard of Trading Posts? Do you know their purpose?
Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable or scared because of your heritage?
Do you know your family stories? Has a story ever given you a sense of empowerment?
When you have questions that make you uncomfortable, who do you go to?
How do you think Eldrena would have felt if she did not seek wisdom from her grandmother?
Resistance to Acculturation and Assimilation in an Indian Pueblo, p 59 by Edward P. Dozier
Language Ideologies and Arizona Tewa Identity, p 350-351 by Paul V Kroskrity
Education & Life Lessons
Family & Childhood
First Nations/Native Americans
Stereotypes & Discrimination
Taking a Stand & Peacemaking
Hello, my English name is Eldrena. My Tewa name is CooLu Tsa Weh. It means blue corn. I come from three Southwest Pueblo tribes in the United States. They are the Laguna, the Tewa and the Hopi.
I would like to share with you a personal story that occurred many years ago. It was during a time of awakening for me. It empowered me and gave me a sense of pride and belonging. It was a gift that I realized, later on, that my Saiya, which means grandmother in the Tewa language, she gave me so many years ago.
It happened when I was out on recess in the fourth grade. And all of a sudden, through the chattering and laughter, I heard, “Tewas, go home.” And I looked around, and I thought, “Why would somebody tell us to go home. School is still in session. If you go home, you could get in trouble.” So, I just didn’t pay attention.
But then later on, when my grandmother and I, Saiya, we were walking down to the trading post. It was a long ways from our house. It took about a mile of walking, and we lived in desert country so it was very hot. And when Saiya and I got to the trading post, she took her pottery in to sell. And the owner determined how much that pottery would cost and give her an idea of how much she could spend on groceries or whatever else she needed.
And as we were leaving the building, we started to walk up that long hill. Now remember, I said I was living in the desert country. So off to the left, there was, uh, sand that when you walked in it, it’s almost like it took you forever to go anywhere, so soft! And there were brush and cedar trees and not very many rivers or creeks. And if there were any, they were dry.
My Saiya… when we were leaving I noticed on a wooden post, there was stapled… This post held the streetlight. We didn’t have very many. So, it kind of stood out like a blinking light. This poster and it said, “Tewas, go home.”
I, I mentioned that to Saiya and I pointed it out to her. But when she read it, all she did was put her head down. She nodded; kinda made a sigh. And we walked on, but it would never leave me. They could never leave me, those words, I didn’t understand them. I was just a young girl, and so later on that evening, I brought it up again. I said, “Saiya, what does it mean by ‘Tewas go home?’ Isn’t this our homeland? Isn’t this where we come from?”
And she said to me, Granddaughter, “I’m gonna tell you a story that has been passed down among our people for over hundreds of years. Now sit and, and I will speak it to you.
A long time ago, there was a war that was called the Pueblo Revolt. And it happened where New Mexico is right now. That is where we Tewas came from. Now this war was not very good at the time. And when it ended, everything was peaceful. And so, our group of Tewas, our community, we were living with all the rest of the people.
But then the Hopis, where we live today, they were being attacked by raiding tribes. And they needed help. They remembered us as a warrior tribe. And so, they came a long ways to seek us out. And when they found us, they asked us to come and help them. But it took them several vili…visits before we understood what they were asking of us. This was gonna be a long journey of our people of long ago. And when an agreement happened, and the Tewas said, “Yes, we will come,” we had to leave behind the rest of the Tewa people from many different Pueblos. And so, we journeyed to the west to go make our new home among the Hopis. And the job that we were given was to protect them.
Now when the people came to the Hopi land there was one mesa that we came to. It is called First Mesa today, and on fa… First Mesa, there was only one village named Walpi. No other village was up there. It was high off the ground. The Spaniards used to call these things, uh, they call them today, mesas because they look like flat tables from a distance. And so, Walpi was on top of one of these mesas. Now, when the raiding tribes came, our people took care of them. It didn’t take long before they knew they were no longer going to keep attacking the Hopis because the Tewas were there now, and they were their protectors.
Now before our people had traveled to this land of the Hopis, they were told that they would be given new land. And, um, they would be taught how to grow crops off the fields… in the fields, and, um, they would be given clothes to wear until they could make their own.
Well, the Tewas thought that was gonna happen, but after a while, when everything started to settle down and no more fighting took place, the Hopis, um, started to rethink about what they had spoken. And instead of good land, they didn’t give us very good land. They didn’t take care of us at first very well. They didn’t give us food to eat that, that could nourish our bodies. And so, the Tewas began to think, “Well, maybe we need to move on. These Hopis are not keeping their word.”
Well, somehow, they say, the Hopi men found out about this, and it worried them. So, there was a meeting that was called between the two groups. And the Tewas thought about it and they prayed about it. And in the end, they decided that the only way they were going to stay, there at First Mesa, something had to happen. And so, they dug a hole right in the middle, and they asked the Hopi leaders to spit inside that hole. The Tewas spit on top, and it was covered up.
To this very day, there are rocks placed on top of each other to mark the spot. The Hopis asked, “Why was that done?” And they were told that the only way we would stay is from here on out, we will keep our word to never leave this land and to always be your protectors. But from here on out, you Hopis, even though we live side by side and we speak two different languages, you will never know our language. You will never know the ways of the Tewa.
And so, you see, Granddaughter, even to this very day, that word is still true. Now in my young mind, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s just a story. How could that still be true even to this day? Because up high on the mesa, the, the Walpis lived on the southern end and they gave land, uh, to the northern end of the mesa. And in the middle, the people got married and they built their houses there. And there was a combination of Tewa and Hopis that lived in that middle village. How could they not learn each other’s language?”
And then I remembered my aunt was married to one of my favorite uncles. And so, I went down, and I asked him. And I told him the story that Saiya said to me, and I said, “Uncle, is that true? You’re a Hopi man. You live with my aunt. She speaks Tewa and Hopi. Have you not learned anything from her?”
And then he thought about it and he said, “Now, Drena, whenever we are in the house, and I’m in the house, and your relatives come to visit, what language is spoken?”
I said, “Mmm, Tewa?” (“Yes” or… I’m sorry, not Tewa) “Hopi.”
“Yes, that’s right, Hopi. And so, when I leave, then what do they speak?”
“Um huh! So that is how they protect the language. As long as a Hopi is around, they do not speak Tewa. They speak the language of the Hopi, and me, I am not Tewa. So, I do not take part in anything that the Tewas do because that is not of my understanding, and it’s not for me. And that is why I don’t participate in the Tewa ways, in the ceremonies. Those are for your people, and I honor that.”
Well, that story happened a long time ago. And all I remember is my Saiya, when she finished her story, she said, “Drena, you know these things happened so many years ago, over 100 years ago, hundreds of years ago but this story is still told. It’s told in words, and it’s told in song. One of these days, we old ones are gonna be gone. And this story has to live on. The people have to be reminded that no matter, no matter how many time, uh, passes that we have to remember that our word is kept. And our people remain strong. And even though we’re separated from the Tewas of New Mexico that our cultural identity still stays intact. And all of these things, Drena, I give to you to pass on and to carry and to continue to tell.”
In kindergarten, Linda dressed in green for St. Patrick’s Day, was told by a teacher, “My, my, I’ve never seen an Irish N-word before!” In 7th grade, Linda was told by her classmates, “You act white! You dress white! You have white people’s hair…” And then, the taunting began, “Linda is a white girl, Linda is a white girl!” It took Linda a long time to understand what it means to be Black. (more…)
Karin never dreamed about marriage growing up because of her Japanese parents’ unromantic arranged marriage. But when her father had a severe stroke and fell into a profound state of dementia, her mother, who had very bad knees, struggled through her pain to go to the hospital every day for two months to teach him how to read, write, and talk again… until a miracle happened and Karin learned to appreciate her parent’s relationship.
Have you ever observed your parents’ marriage style? What do you think is the secret of a successful marriage?
Have you ever researched your family history? Are you interested in finding out about your parents’ childhood or your family roots?
Did you find any cultural differences between Japanese and American cultures in Karin’s story?
Japan-Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by Paul Norbury
Picture Bride by Yoshiko Uchida
My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhoods
Hi, my name is Karin Amano. I have been living in the U.S. for 26 years and I’ve been observing, uh, married American couples. And, uh, many of them meet each other, uh, when they are young, and get married, grow older together, but then they go different directions, and later, they divorce. But then, they meet the new partner and remarry.
And American married couples remain passionate towards each other even though they are middle aged. They kiss and hug, holding hands together, uh, unlike Japanese married couples. Uh, I never see my, my Japanese parents, uh, kiss and hug and holding hands together. Uh, many cases, Japanese couples marries and then they leave their relationship from, uh, deek… relationship behind to focus on their children. So, when I was young, I never, uh, dreamed of marriage growing up seeing my parents, uh, unromantic, arranged marriage.
Uh, well, my father used to tell me, “Well, when I was a about to meet your mom at the blind date set up my… by my relative, I expected that a pretty lady, uh, is showing up because I heard she was a student from, uh, Miss Bunka Fashion College. But when she showed up, I thought, ‘Wow! This woman has a unibrow!’ And I wasn’t attracted to her. But, um, my relatives are bugging me, saying, ‘Hey, you’re already 29. Why don’t you settle down!’ So, I reluctantly married your mom.”
So, uh… Well, my father was born in 1930, aa, as, uh, 10th child out of, uh, 11 children. He was smart and, um, handsome, very popular in his hometown. He went to a good college and he got the nice, nice job as a chemist at a big, a Japanese company. And, uh, at some point, he left his job and he started his, uh, own business, a shop for wrestling fans in Tokyo. And it was successful, so he became very wealthy.
And meanwhile, my mom was born in, uh, 1934. She was tall, and athletic, and very popular at school. Uh, she learned uh, uh, dressmaking at a fashion college. And when she met, my mom, uh… my father at the blind date, she thought, “Okay, he’s an intelligent and handsome man so I’m going to marry him. That’s okay.” So, they got married.
And at that time, my father had a girlfriend. They used to dance together at the dance hall. And they loved each other but my father knew he was not allowed to marry her because she’s not from a good family and she didn’t go to a good school. So, my father chose to marry my mom. And, uh, before long, he got the, a job and then my parents moved to a bigger city. And then, you know, uh, uh, the… they’re doing okay.
Uh, well, when I was 9, I remember my father had an affair. Um, he went back to his hometown for a class reunion and ran into, uh, his ex-girlfriend. And he felt sorry for her and, uh, she seemed miserable so he had an affair. And my mother seemed to be upset, but she didn’t divorce him. And then, several years later, uh, he had another affair with a woman who was a con artist. Uh, uh, she swindled him for, um, I don’t know, tens of thousand dollars. And my mother still didn’t divorce him. She said that, well, he got let go by the company so, you know, his, uh, anxiety, uh, made him do such a thing. Yes.
And then, when they were 70s, my mother made friend with this woman who was in her, uh, early 60s. Also happened to be a con artist. And then, uh, yeah, my mother, yeah, my parents lost a half-million dollars, uh, for a fake investment. So, at the age of 70, 75, I forgot, uh, they lost everything – assets and houses! They were broke. My father was angry at my mom but he didn’t divorce her over it.
And when my father was 81, uh, my mother found him on the floor, lying down on the floor, in the middle of the night. He had a severe stroke so he was carried into the hospital and he was in a coma for 8 days.
Um, when I went back to Japan, when I flew back to Japan, uh, he woke up but he wasn’t himself anymore. He was like this and he didn’t recognize me; he didn’t recognize my mother. The doctor said, “Well, he had a severe stroke and, um, uh, majority of his brain was damaged, especially frontal lobe was damaged so he gets aggressive. His mental age, it could be as young, as little as two years old. And there’s no hope for the recovery.”
And I was in shock. I hadn’t introduced my, uh, baby girl (it’s his first grandchild) before his stroke so I, I, I brought the photo album of my baby girl and I show it to him. “Th, th… hey, Dad, this is your first grandchild.” And my father took it, threw it on the floor and look at somewhere else. And drooling and my mother was wiping him. And I had to flew back to Florida (because I had a full-time job) a week later. I told my doctor, “Uh, I think, well, for the past one week, I think a little by little, maybe my father is getting better.”
And the doctor said, “Huh, huh, no way! Can you hear him? He’s, uh, screaming? We have to tie him into the wheelchair and other patients cannot, uh, sleep. We have to put him in a psychia… psychiatric, uh, hospital for the rest of his life.”
My father loved to go outside, socialize, very intelligent, and smart; he has to stay in a psychiatric hospital for the rest of his life! I was sad and I cried but I had to go back to Florida.
And two months later, I had a dream of my father who, uh, got back to himself. I know that my mother here… for… had, uh, very bad knees, um, climbed down three flights to get outside from her apartment. Took, uh, two buses and climb up to the hills every single day for two months to teach my father how to read, how to write, how to make him remember who he was. I called my mother. “I, I just had this dream; how’s, uh, uh, my dad doing?”
And she said, “I was just gonna call you. He came to, back to himself. Now he recognizes me, and the doctor and the nurses. He can communicate, uh, and he’s going to be released from the hospital, uh, next week. Yes, his, uh, feeding tube was, tube was removed!”
So, I was so happy and, um, now we (he) can ride a bicycle, he go to library by himself, mm, to read his favorite history book. And, you know what? Um, several years later, my mom fell down at the, you know, uh, parking lot, at the grocery shopping. And nobody else was there, and she couldn’t, she couldn’t get up. And then, “Oh, no! somebody HELP!”
And guess who showed up like a Superman? That was my father! He was walking around and found my mother on the ground. So, he called the taxi and he took my mom to the hospital. So, actually, um, her hipbone was broken and, also, it was time, uh, to do her knee surgery. So, my mother was staying at the hospital for four months. And every single day, my father went to the hospital to take care of her.
So, my father right now is 87 years old; my mother is 83 years old. They still live together at their apartment. So, I guess, they’re not passionate towards each other like American couples but, I guess, some kind of love has been growing between them over fifty-three years.
Karin had been a practical Asian woman and everything, such as “going to America by age 24”, “being a professional actor by 31”, “finding a partner from match.com by age 37”, “getting pregnant by age 40”, had been happening exactly as she planned. A sudden stillbirth of her baby boy changed her view, and she overcame the grief through the help of storytelling at a support group, workplace, and in her Japanese blog. (more…)
Five years ago, when Karin moved to a small town in the Midwest after previously living in Tokyo, New York City and Orlando, Florida she worried at first about fitting in but was glad to find that people seemed overall friendly and open-minded. Very recently, however, she had a troubling encounter with racism and told her story to her friends (one Caucasian and two African American sisters) in town as well as her Jewish husband and got very different responses. (more…)
Five-year-old Kiyoshi, tries his best to make sense of his world which has been turned upside down since Japan attacked a place called Pearl Harbor. Since his father was taken away, he has had to leave his home, and spend the summer in a horse stall in the big city of Portland, Oregon. He has gone on his first train ride ever and has ended up near Twin Falls, Idaho in a place called Minidoka. It is Christmas Eve, 1942 and Santa will be coming soon.
You are sent to a remote location with no access to stores, schools, or libraries. You are away from most of your friends and are forced to stay in one place. There is no cell phone service, internet connection, and electricity is unreliable. What would you do to keep from being bored?
Suppose that everyone in your class who wore the color purple on a particular day are told to go stand in one part of the room and everyone else are to stand in another part of the room. You are now told that those in the purple group are bad and are not to be trusted. Your best friend is in the purple group. How do you feel?
Under what circumstances does the Government have the right to put people in jail without trial as they are suspected or have the potential of doing something wrong?
Christmas is coming and you have no money to buy gifts nor are there stores nearby, and mail delivery is unreliable. Yet you want to give presents to your family. You have access to wood, paper, string, paint, rocks, glue, some desert plants, sand, some tools, and lots of time. What gifts would you make for your family?
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet:A Novel by Jamie Ford. 2009. Ballantine Books, New York.
Hi, my name is Alton Takiyama-Chung. A few years ago, I went on a pilgrimage to Minidoka Relocation Center near Hu… Twin Falls, Idaho along with other members of the Japanese-American community from Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. That’s an annual event that happens about every June. And it includes a tour of the site as well as side trips to the local attractions and the sharing of memories and personal experiences. I listened to the stories of these people who were children incarcerated in the camp. I asked a lot of questions and did more research. And I wrote this story about what it would be like to be a child far away from home, the first Christmas in a place called Minidoka.
The morning rains had turned the paths and roads into muddy swamps. By evening, the mud was covered over with a blanket of snow that softened the outlines of the towers and the buildings. The snow just glistened and glittered in the moonlight and to five-year-old Kiyoshi, he thought that this was… made the perfect Christmas picture.
In the high desert of southern Idaho, in the winter of 1942, Kiyoshi sat in the wi… Mess Hall of Block 7 squirming with anticipation. His older brother and older sister went off with their friends and his mother, his Okasan, was in the, in the barracks resting ’cause she had been doing laundry all day. But it was Christmas Eve and Santa Claus was coming.
Now, about a year ago, there was an attack in a place called Pearl Harbor. And shortly after that, these men in suits and the, and this big car came and took Kiyoshi’s father, his Otosan, away. That made Kiyoshi and his whole family very sad. And that’s when a cold, empty space opened up in Kiyoshi’s stomach. He missed his Otosan; he missed his father, the way that he would tousle his hair and call him Kiyoshi-chan, or little Kiyoshi.
Then came these things called curfew, which made people scurry around after the sun went down. And then there were these things called blackouts in which everything went dark.
But the thing that his mother feared the most was this thing called evacuation. When that came, Kiyoshi’s mom and his older brother and older sister, they packed whatever they could in the suitcases. They moved out of their house and into a horse stall at the Exposition Center in the big city of Portland, Oregon. Aw, it was hot and stinky and, aw, just horrible in this horse stall. Kiyoshi couldn’t understand why they just couldn’t go home. And then came the day when people gave them little pop… paper tags with the same number on it.
The whole family had to wear this little paper tag. And they were herded out of the horse stalls and onto a train guarded by these big soldiers with big guns. They went on this train over the mountains where they were herded out of the trains and onto buses. And they’re taken to their new home of wood and tarpaper shacks and dust. This’s the first time Kiyoshi had ever been on a train. It’s the first time he’d ever been out of the state of Oregon. It was also the first time he’d ever seen a barbed wire fence.
When they first arrived in Minidoka, there was no heat in the barracks. They’re only cold-water showers. The dust just kinda blew in through cracks around the windows and doors and through the walls. And the outside toilets were freezing cold, and often Kiyoshi would be woken in the middle of the night by the fussing of the baby at the far end unit of the barracks. At least now, they had hot water, and Kiyoshi could make it from the showers to his unit in the barracks without icicles forming in his hair.
As Christmas approached, Kiyoshi began to worry and he asked his Osakan, his mother, “Uh, will Santa be able to get a pass to get through the front gate? Do you think Santa will be able to make it through the small chimney of the stove in our, in our unit? Do you think the guards will shoot the reindeer if they get too close to the fence?”
His mother said that she didn’t know but she was pretty sure the guards wouldn’t do anything to hurt Santa Claus. And then Tommy, Kiyoshi’s best friend who was seven, who knew everything, said, “Ah, no, Santa Claus and reindeer, they’re magical! They can go anywhere.”
Kiyoshi watched the snowflakes drift past the window outside and got excited all over again. He looked into the mess hall and there he could see that the, the wait staff and the cooks dressed in their finest. They just served a beautiful turkey dinner. And someone had, had painted the nativity scene on one of the walls and the whole room was decorated in crepe paper streamers and tin can stars. Someone even brought in a, a sagebrush and decorated it with tinfoil and, and cotton ball snow – a Christmas tree. There was even a Christmas wreath made of wood shavings, and Christmas carols were playing very softly on a small radio. You see, in camp, you didn’t celebrate Christmas just with your family but with all the families of your block.
And, suddenly, then the door slammed open and someone began shouting. Kiyoshi immediately thought of the men who had come to take his Otosan away, his father. He dove under the table, clapped his hands over his ears, and shut his eyes. He didn’t see that the man who was coming in was dressed in a red suit, had a long, red hat, and a white beard. What he saw were the men in the suits taking his Otosan away while he’s dressed in his pajamas. He didn’t hear the man shout out, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” What he heard was his mother weeping.
All the other children gathered around Santa Claus as he sat down his sack and began handing out presents. Then, suddenly, someone touched Kiyoshi on his shoulder. It was his best friend, Tommy, “Kiyoshi, there you are! Santa Claus is here and he brought presents!”
Kiyoshi climbed out from under the table, saw this man dressed in this rumpled, red suit and a cotton ball beard who was gesturing to him. “Aw, Kiyoshi-chan, aw, aw, I’ve got a present for you!”
“A present? For me?”
“Aw, Reverend Townsend and Shigeko Uno had written letters to all these churches across the United States telling them about the situation here in camp and I have presents for all the children here in Minidoka. And I picked this one out just for you.”
And he handed Kiyoshi this oddly-shaped object dressed… wrapped in brilliant red paper and green ribbons.
“And, I, I know it’s hard with your Otosan, your father, away. But Kiyoshi-chan, do you know this Japanese word, gaman? It means to bear, to carry on, to not complain. We must adjust to the new situation. We must prove to everyone else that we are Americans first, ne? Wakade mas ka? Do you understand?”
“Hai! Wakade mas. I understand.”
“Aw, very good. Aw, now, I must go and deliver presents to all the other children in all the other mess halls. Now remember, gaman, Merry Christmas!”
And he was gone. Kiyoshi looked down at his present; he wasn’t forgotten. Santa remembered. Santa still cared. And he began to unwrap his present as all the other children, all the people in the mess hall began filing out ’cause the camp choir was singing Christmas carols outside in the snow.
And what emerged from the wrapping paper was this toy wooden truck. And Kiyoshi felt his chest tightened. It reminded him of that old truck that his father used to carry groceries from their farm into the markets in Portland. That small, cold, empty space in Kiyoshi’s stomach opened up and threatened to swallow him down.
Gaman. How could he carry on? He was just a little boy. He missed his father. He just wanted to go home. Tears began rolling down his cheeks. And he didn’t hear the door open up behind him while the footsteps approaching him.
“That is a beautiful truck you have there, Kiyoshi-chan.”
Kiyoshi turned around and looked at this man, gray hair, glasses. Who was this man? He didn’t recognize him until he reached out and tousled his hair. “Otosan! Father!”
And suddenly he was in his father’s arms smelling his smell. Aw, and that cold, empty spot just melted away and was replaced with this glowing warmth that make his whole body tingle.
“Father, how? When?”
“Aw, they let me go, Kiyoshi-chan so I could be here with all of you. Come! Let’s go outside and, and listen to the choir!”
So, hand-in-hand, they went outside but Kiyoshi couldn’t see so his father picked him up, put him up on his shoulders, and Kiyoshi balanced there with one hand on his father’s hat and one around his new toy truck. These three Army flatbed trucks have been pulled up in a “U” and the camp choir was standing on the trucks being led by Mae Hara, who the camp… the choir director. She had a baton with a little light on the end of it and she was leading them in Christmas carols.
And to five-year-old Kiyoshi balancing there his father’s shoulders, he knew that he could carry any weight, bear any burden. Gaman. To him, it was the best Christmas ever.
People from all over the world came to America in the 1850s in search of riches during the California Gold Rush. Many young Chinese men immigrated to America to earn money to support their families in China. They experienced discrimination and violence, and could only live in specially designated areas, which became locally known as Chinatown. Chinese food was considered to be “exotic” by the Lo Fan or White people. This story follows one of the legends surrounding the origins of a popular Chinese American dish. No one knows when or where the dish was invented and that makes for a good myth. (more…)
Charles Ishikawa grew up in Plantation camps in Waipahu, Hawaii in the 1930s and 1940s. He was 14 years old and on his way to his high school basketball practice when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He saw the planes diving like sea birds over the ships in the harbor. After Marshall Law was declared, he helped patrol the Plantation camps to make sure that no lights shown out at night. He was issued a gas mask at school and helped dig an air raid shelter in his backyard. He and his family took down and burned everything that was Japanese in their home. They were Americans, but worried if they were American enough. (more…)
High school students organizing a memorial service for a teacher trigger an emotional process for Eunice who is asked to step out of her comfort zone, again. Family life and school life create race-related expectations.
Hi, my name is Eunice Jarrett and my story starts in the 1960s, in Indiana.
The complexion of our high school was changing and the black parents encouraged their kids to stand up and be a credit to our race. So, I became our high school student government’s token Negro. One of our teachers had died suddenly, and the student government people were asked to organize a memorial service.
And I remember the service going kind of like this. We had a meeting and I remember the meeting going something like this. Max was the president and he decided that he would preside over the meeting.
Rose really liked the old teacher. And so, she said that she would give the highlights of the teacher’s life. Chris was a poet and he volunteered to tell the poem. Huh, and Tom, Tom decided that he should say the closing prayer.
And then they decided, “Well, what, what should Eunice do?”
Tom said, “Let her sing. Isn’t that what her people do?”
Like I wasn’t in the room. I mean, I was right there. Why would they say for me to sing? They never heard me sing. Ohh! Sing and dance. That’s what they think my people do. Huh. Well, they didn’t know. They didn’t know that letting me sing might break that stereotype. Letting me sing, I might bring my whole race down from that high pillar of musical expectation. But I’d sing, because that’s what my people do.
You see, my sister Annie, she stepped up and she went to teachers’ college, graduated with honors, only to be told that this color of her skin disqualified her from teaching in her own hometown. Huh. She won that federal court case and the superintendent of schools who said, “Over my dead body,” he died. And my sister became the first Negro teacher in our whole school city. She inspired other people, and that’s what my people do.
Fred didn’t know, Fred didn’t know that I knew some real singers. I mean, my mother and my sisters, they could really sing. My mother, she fancied herself to be a soprano Marian Anderson. Hmm. When she got to sing on Sundays, she had her own gospel arias. But she would always tell us the story of that magnificent Negro woman who sang opera all across the United States and all around the world. Then she told the story of the Daughters of the American Revolution who wouldn’t let her sing at their event in Constitution Hall, in front of an integrated audience. Because Marian Anderson was a Negro. Hmm.
Mama said, “What the devil means for bad, God will use it for good.” Mama said, “Mrs. Roosevelt fixed it. Instead of Constitution Hall, Marian Anderson got to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on a beautiful Easter morning, in front of thousands and thousands of people. I can still feel the pride of Mama’s voice when she told that story.
Yes. Daughters of the American Revolution. Yes, that organization. They were the same daughters, they gave out awards to eighth graders for citizenship and leadership. And when I graduated eighth grade in 1966, I was the winner of that award.
Our principal and faculty, they voted for me. But when they found out who I was, they turned my name into the DAR. And when they found out who I was, they refused to give me the award because it was supposed to be given to a white student.
Well, our white principal said, “We voted for her. And if you don’t give it to her, we won’t give your award ever again!”
I still have that award somewhere in a box. Can you imagine how I felt standing there to receive an award that I knew they didn’t want to give me? But I stood there and I was gracious, because that’s what my people do.
Well, while Rose was writing my name, I wondered, “Should I get Mama or my sisters to sing?”
Well, the student government kids didn’t know that when I went to choir rehearsal, my sisters got the best singing parts, they got the leads. And the rest of us, we had to clap and rock in the background. The student government kids didn’t know I had a hard time clappin’ and rockin’ at the same time.
But I think I’ll sing, even though once a lady at choir rehearsal whispered very loudly that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. So just to make her a liar, I practiced finding my tone, and I put it in my imaginary bucket.
Well, you know, I agreed to sing not because I’m the best singer, but we stand up. And sometimes we have to stand up to people who don’t know it was enough to not like us.
You know, they say that when one black family moves into a block, it breaks the block. Well, when my family moved, we broke the block. And the boy next door made it his job to stand at our fence and call us names, every day. And we had to walk past him, hold our head up high, and ignore him every day, until the day he came into the fence, ready to fight girls in their own backyard. Well, my middle sister got in trouble for fighting back. But you know, sometimes we just get tired, sometimes we really do. Huh.
Well, all I had to do was sing a song. I just had to pick a song. “Let My People Go?” Uh, that was a little sarcastic. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot?” That was probably the only spiritual that some of my classmates knew. But I was a Negro and we had spirituals. That’s what my people do.
Well, it was the day of the program. I remember the shuffling feet, letting down the wooden auditorium chairs, the hushed whispers. The student government officers, we entered stage left and there were chairs, wooden chairs and an arc behind the podium. Yes, hhh, I remember.
Max went to the podium, and he, in his most eloquent words, explained the reason for the assembly and we started the assembly. He introduced Rose, and Rose had done her… She’d done her research. I didn’t know that I… that teacher had gone to Tibet and knew how to ski. But I was not surprised that she taught a lot of the parents, and she had a cat.
Well, next Chris went up to read his poem. I don’t know what he said because I knew I was next. Then Max went back to the podium, and he said words and more words and I was looking for my invisible bucket. But then Max turned and smiled at me.
So, I stood up. And I walked to the podium. And I looked out on the darkness, and I did what my people do.
In The White Boys, Elizabeth tells of her struggle to be comfortable with her own identity outside the boundaries of the racial norm. She tells of the normal awkward struggles of adolescent love with the addition of struggling to find acceptance of her own racial features. (more…)
This is Zahra’s personal story of reconnecting with her siblings and learning about how history is told through the voice of the “hunter”. On a journey back to their Louisiana birthplace, Zahra and her siblings uncover a story of an event that affects the lives of their family, community and the nation.
Hi, I’m Zahra Baker. And I spent the first three years of my life in Central Louisiana in a small rural area that was surrounded by pine trees and weeping willows, pecan trees and sat beside a place that was ironically called the Red River. Now my family is complex. And we had many difficulties in my early years. But… I was the youngest of seven and because of that, I got sent away to live with my Uncle Willy and Aunt Dot for a… for a year in Slidell. And then I was sent all the way to Lafayette, Indiana and was adopted by my Uncle Dave and Aunt Bessie.
Now this was far away from Colfax, Louisiana where I was born. And it wasn’t until my young adult life that I was able to reconnect with my siblings. And the day that we met each other again, I was filled with joy and sadness and sorrow and frustration and anger and gratitude and fear. What if they didn’t like me? What if we didn’t have anything in common? We had so much time separated between us that I wasn’t sure if there was anything I had to offer them. But when I met them, there was such a feeling for comfort and familiarity that all of the fear just washed away. And they liked to talk a lot so there was a lot of laughter and a lot of chatter. And I was determined that I was going to spend time with each one of them until I figured out what we had in common. But what I came to realize was the story that we had in common was the story from our hometown Colfax, Louisiana. So they had all moved West to California but every year we would decide to have a family reunion. And often times we had that reunion in Colfax so that we could reconnect with our family and friends there.
So that on one of those trips, we were walking on down memory walk, sharing stories, and we came upon the courthouse. And when we got there, we saw a sign and the sign said, “Colfax Riot. On this site, there was an event called the Colfax Riot where three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event occurred April 13, 1873.” And the sign said, “This brought an end to carpetbaggers misrule in the South.” Well, the wording on that sign was kind of odd to me. First of all, Negros was spelled with a little “n” and the word “misrule” and carpetbaggers”… All of that was strange to me, so I decided to do some research. And, I realized that 1873 was during a time called, “Reconstruction.”
Now in Louisiana, they didn’t teach us anything about that time period. It happened right after the Civil War from, say, 1865 to 1874. So I had to dig deep. I asked people questions. I went online to see what I could find and what I found was that most of the historians didn’t really like to talk about Reconstruction. They felt that it was an experiment that failed. They felt that is was a time when there was a lot of corruption and carpetbaggers from the North and scallywags, which were Southern people who sided with the new government, had ruined the whole thing. And they also said that it was the worst period in American history.
Well, black people felt like the worst period in history was slavery and that radical reconstruction, well, that was something of a revolutionary idea that was going to help America come into its promise of equality through the idea of public schools and through the idea of civil rights legislation and financial gain. In 1873, there were probably 2,000 black people that were in office. And there was some amendments. Like the Thirteenth Amendment, we know was what enabled black people to be free. And the Fourteenth Amendment brought about civil rights for those enslaved people that were now free. But the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote.
Well, that right to vote was a thorn in the side of the white league, which was a coalition of white men who were determined to maintain white supremacy. They actually called themselves “The Redeemers” because they were going to redeem the South back to itself. Well, in 1873, in Colfax, the black majority voted in a government that was going to support them and their needs. But… the day that the new sheriff was supposed to take office, the ousted sheriff decided that he wasn’t going to give up his power. So he called all of his friends and told them to back him up. Well, the new sheriff called all of the black men and deputized them and told them to hold the courthouse so that he could go in and do his job. Well, they held that courthouse because they had visions of a life of equality. A vision for a future that their children could flourish.
For seven whole days, they tirelessly held that courthouse but on April 13th, Easter Sunday, the white league was not gonna have it anymore. So three hundred armed white men marched into Colfax and started shooting. And they shot off a cannon that set the courthouse on fire. Soon after, there was a white flag that was held in a window as surrender. And just as the black men started coming out the door, there was a shot and one of the white men was killed and in retaliation, The Redeemers started shooting. And down came the ideas of a better world, as one by one, those men fell to the ground as they were running out of that burning building. Over two hundred men were killed that day. About fifty were captured, then walked to the Red River where they were shot and drowned. And then another fifty were hanged on an oak tree. Clearly, this was not a riot. Those men laid down their lives so that we could have a better life. And that was a massacre.
Now in my research, I found over a hundred names listed of the wounded and the killed that day. And in that list there was some names that might have been part of my family line. But regardless, all of the men that day were fighting for the rights of all black people. And not just for black people, but for humanity. For the nation to rise to its fullest potential. I hope that we all will remember them and hold them up. Because it was their work that established the work of those who are moving us forward now.
And history books can ignore Colfax and Reconstruction if they want or write it from the perspective of the oppressor. But by us digging deep into that history, we were able to discover the amazing well of those freed men and fighting for our liberation. And as the Igbo people from Nigeria say, “The lions must create the historians of the tale of the hunter. The hunted will always be glorified by the hunter.” My siblings and I will continue to tell the Colfax story from our point of view. And more than that, we will take that legacy and live our lives in a way that we uplift humanity and make the world better for the next generation.
In this story, Rives Collins, Assistant Professor at Northwestern University, recalls his work directing plays for children. He shares the discoveries the young people helped him make regarding the importance of representation on our stages and the significance of role models for our children.
Rives says he has two important teachers in the story. Who were those teachers and what did they help Rives discover?
What do you think Rives means by a ‘ME TOO’ moment? Why do you think they are important? What can happen if someone never experiences a ‘ME TOO’ moment?
Tell us about a time you experienced a ‘ME TOO’ moment. Has there ever been a time when you wished for such a moment even when there didn’t seem to be one?
Rives says he remembers the two important teachers to this day, but neither of them was a teacher in the traditional sense of the word. Tell us about a time you learned something significant from someone who wasn’t exactly a teacher? (a friend, a grandparent, a coach, etc.)
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman Multicultural Scenes for Young Actors by Craig Slaight and Jack Sharrar
Education and Life Lessons
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name’s Rives Collins. I teach at Northwestern University in the Department of Theater, where my specialization is theater for young audiences. So, this story, it’s going to take us back a ways. Back to the early 90s or so.
I directed a play for kids. “Androcles and the Lion,” is a crowd pleaser, the comedy. Androcles is known for plucking the thorn out of the paw of a lion and the lion later on returns that kindness. It’s a good story. It’s a story about friendship. And we were working with an organization called Urban Gateways. Urban Gateways would bus kids from underserved neighborhoods to our campus to see a play. And this student matinee was going really well. Kids were having a ball. They were laughing and cheering. And I remember, I noticed that all the kids in the audience, they were people of color and all the actors they were white. I noticed it. I didn’t think much of it. And then, ah, I had this thought. I thought maybe we’re sending the message to the children in the audience that someday they can grow up and come to Northwestern and be a student and be in a play and bring laughter to a whole new generation of kids. And I remember, feeling (and this is awkward to share this), I remember feeling, kind of self-satisfied. Like we were doing some kind of good deed. After the play, all the actors headed out into the lobby, still in costume, to greet the kids on their way to the buses. And when I got to the lobby I saw a huge crowd of kids had gathered around one actor. And I’m thinking to myself, “OK, so, which one of my actors has the charisma to gather a crowd like that? I think it’s probably Androcles. He’s the hero of the story. Nope he’s over there. So maybe it’s the lion. The lion’s the funny guy. He’s over there.”
So I’m wondering which one of my actors has the star power to collect a crowd like that. And as I walk across the lobby, I see. It’s our custodian. And he’s standing with his vacuum cleaner. And I want to be sure you don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing wrong with being a custodian. I believe there’s dignity in all work and not only was our custodian great at what he did, he took real pride in the fact that he’d helped his daughter through law school.
But as I saw him with all the friendly handshakes and high fives, I realized he was the only person of color that kids had seen since arriving at the university. And I understood that maybe I wasn’t sending the message that someday they could grow up and be a student at Northwestern. Maybe I was sending the message that someday they could grow up and they could come to Northwestern University and they could vacuum the floors. I never intended to send that message. Never, ever. But sometimes the things we intend and the things we actually do, they’re not the same.
Ok, so, fast forward with me a few years. I directed another play, “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.’ It’s based on kids books by Kevin Henkes and Lilly is a mouse. She likes to wear red, cowboy boots, to carry her purple plastic purse, she’s got a big imagination and she gets in trouble at school a lot. And the actress playing Lilly was a wonderful student, a college student named Niha. And after the performance, we had a question and answer period with the audience. And a little girl raised her hand and said, “I would like to ask the person pretending to be Lilly where she is from.”
And Niha told the truth, “I’m from New Jersey.” And she saw the palpable disappointment in the eyes of the child. So she added, “But my family came to America from India.”
And that’s when the little girl jumped up on her chair and she cried out, “Me too! Me too!” And the whole audience applauded and cheered.
And from this stage, Niha was beaming. And I learned something that stayed with me. I’ve worked to create those, “Me too,” moments ever since. I believe those moments of identification, they matter. It’s not enough to invite young people to our spaces as if they are tourists. As if they’re outsiders seeing a place where they don’t really fit in. I think instead, we want to create those empowering “Me too” moments that allow young people to imagine themselves being successful in this place. And helping them understand, in their bones, that they belong.
I’m grateful to two important teachers. One, a much loved custodian, and the other a little girl who once jumped up on her chair and cried out, “Me too!”
A story about Elizabeth, an “Army brat”, who must navigate the world for her Korean immigrant mother. Through this process she learns to stop being embarrassed by her mother and shifts to fighting for her.
How many of you are recent immigrants or have immigrant parents?
What are the daily struggles you have or that you see your parents and other family members going through?
If you have immigrant parents, are there times you are embarrassed by them? Can you share examples and reflect on from where the embarrassment comes?
What steps can you take to make you and/or your parents’ transition in America easier?
What do people who have been here longer need to understand and how can they be a support to new immigrants?
Learning a New Land by Carola Suarez-Orozco Korean Immigrants and the Challenge of Adjustment by Moon H. Jo
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, I’m Elizabeth Gomez. It was 1983 in Virginia. I was laying in my room in the dark with the covers over my head listening. She was yelling and I was only nine years old so I wasn’t really sure what to do. My mother and I had been here before, just listening to her struggling and screaming. I pull the covers tighter over my head when I heard, “Risa, Risa, you come here. You come here now!”
As I walked out of my sanctuary, my eyes widen and I slumped into the kitchen. She stood there in a polyester robe with a brown phone dangling from her hand.
“Risa, you speakie to him. He no understanding me.”
I stood there flushed with embarrassment, and took the phone from my mother’s hand, “Hello.”
“Could you just help us get your mom’s account number. We’d really like to help her.”
“Mom. What’s your account number?”
“Oh, you terr him, you terr him, jero-jero-sex-sex-four-eight-sex.”
“It’s 0-0-4-8-6.” (0-0-6-6-4-8-6)
“As I talked to this man, my mom walked around in the kitchen. She was pacing back and forth, getting angrier and angrier. She didn’t understand why Americans didn’t understand her when she spoke to them, especially because she’d been in this country for over a decade. I watched her pace through the kitchen, back and forth, her small Asian frame just blowing in and out, and in and out until she was rounded out like one of those monsters from Where the Wild Things Are.
After I completed the phone call, I hung up. I looked at my mom. This lady demon who was slowly morphing back into this four-foot-something Asian lady.
“Why they don’t understanding? Why don’t understanding me? I speakie good Engrish.”
I watched my mom sit at the kitchen table and I put my hand over hers. I looked at her as her face was beginning to worry and her body started to fill with self-doubt. At that moment, I decided I have… I had to stop. I had to stop running away and hiding and I had to really commit to being her English (Engrish) to Engrish (English) translator for the rest of my life. And it was always like that.
My father was a Puerto Rican-American, U.S. citizen, who served in the military. He met my mother in Seoul, Korea. They married; they had kids. Most of my mom’s life, as a military wife, was traveling abroad and she spent very little time in America. While she was here, she did okay. But when my dad was gone on duty or training missions, my mom had to make her way through and I was rela… relegated to just, basically, being her translator.
I spent tons of time just, like, watching her try to talk to sales people and clerks and merchants, just trying to get what she needed. It was like watching a Charlie Brown episode where the teacher’s talking to Charlie Brown and all Charlie Brown can hear is this muffled sound of nothingness. And I would just stand and watch my mom wave her hands around, and gesticulate, and try to convey what she needed, without being able to tell them in the way that they needed to hear it.
And every time, I’d be broken up with this sound, “Risa, Risa, you terring him, you terring him right now, Risa. You terring him, ‘Me want to buy fridgey.’”
“She wants to buy a fridge.”
“You terring him we need to move to Browning Street.”
“She wants you to know that we live on Brown Street.”
“You terring him, ‘It’s too expenses’.”
“She means it’s too expensive.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, she named me Elizabeth. She doesn’t even know how to pronounce Elizabeth, so she started calling me Lisa, which she also does not know how to pronounce. In addition to that, my mom would have to go to conferences, like, parent-teacher conferences, and those were the most embarrassing, humiliating, and petrifying moments of my life. There they were, these well-articulated, ecedga… educated teachers looking at my mom with these plastered smiles, just nodding their heads, trying to understand what she was saying.
And my mom is basically screaming at them, trying to convey, “Oh, Risa, she so razy.”
In addition, I couldn’t have any friends. Anyone who came into my house, got pinched by my mother when she would say things like, “Oh, you so fat!” Or, “Oh, why your eyes so big?”
Every single friend I ever made, who came to my house, basically, never came back and I accepted that. That was my life. I was gonna be the town recluse and I always was gonna have this rude mother.
Late one night, I could hear my mom talking to someone on the phone and it was my dad’s new girlfriend. I dropped my blanket and I walked to the wall that separated my room from my mother’s. And I could hear her just softly begging this woman to let my father go. And I heard her say, “Prease, prease go way. We have kids.”
I listened for a long time, and my heart started pounding as I felt for her. And I just listened, as she kept begging and begging. And I didn’t even really like my father and, up ’til that point, I’m not sure I liked my mother that much either. But at this moment, I felt what was going on with her, and I understood that this was painful. And I pressed my head closer against the wall as I listened to her hang up the phone and sob and cry. And I wanted to go to her but I couldn’t. I could just listen. And I did. I listened until I fell asleep to the sounds of what pain was for her.
A few, a few weeks later, after months of not seeing my father, I was really surprised when he came to pick up me and my brother to go to New York and see my grandmother. Not only was I surprised to see him, I was surprised that I was allowed to leave with him.
“I don’t wanna go.”
“Risa, you take good care of Ab-e. You be good girl, okay?”
“No! I don’t want to go.”
As we drove up to New York, my father stopped at a rest stop. He went to go use the phone booth. And as he was in the phone booth, I could tell that he was just being himself – super charming, and laughing, and flirtatious to someone on the phone. Eventually, he started walking toward our car, and I felt a little weird. And I wasn’t sure what was going on. So, he said for us to come over and, uh, talk to this person on the phone. And I pick up the phone and, huh, I hear this voice come over.
“And she says, “Hello, Elizabeth. It’s me, Jane, your dad’s friend. How are you?”
At that moment, all the anguish I had for my mother, the loss of my father, the not understanding of what had been going on with my whole family, this whole entire time came rushing at me. My heart pounded. My ears… like sounds of, like, waves came through my ears. And I felt nothing but anger when I replied, “I know you’re not my father’s friend. You’re his girlfriend! As a matter of fact, you keep calling my house, and I hate you for hurting my mother.”
And I hung up the pho… er, I dropped the phone and I ran back to the car. And I watched as my father, like, fumbled around with this phone and he’s spewing out apologies. And then he comes back to the car, he slams the door shut, and smacks me across my face. And he starts talking, just talking about something or another, and I have no idea what he’s saying because I don’t care. I just didn’t care.
All I knew was that, at that moment, I had been able to tell this woman the things that my mom wanted to say to her. And in some small way, this 9-year-old was able to score a big point for my mother.
After our trip was over, we came home. I could hear my mom and my dad arguing out in the front porch about this or that or what the kids knew or didn’t know. And I was pretty sure as I was standing in the kitchen, that when my mom came back, she was gonna spank me or discipline me for re… disrespecting my father. Instead, she walked in with these bloodshot eyes, mascara tears dried on her cheeks. She looked at me. She made me a bowl of hot ramen noodle soup. She smiled and then she went back into her bedroom.
I still translate for her to this very day, especially with my own family. I mean, huh, we’re still not used to the idea that when you get pinched, and to be told, “You’re fat,” that that actually means, “Hey, are you hungry?”
We’ve learned to communicate in ways of, like, laughter and shared experiences and gestures. And now, when my mom asks my husband and I if we’ve bought a condom, I know she means condo.
Finding herself on a historical tour of the Wall of Derry in Northern Ireland, Margaret discovers within herself that she is holding on to an ancestral hostility, the kind of hostility that perpetuates hatred, violence and war. Is this who she wants to be?
Are there prejudices you hold that come from your family?
Has hearing another person’s story or getting to know them ever changed how you feel about that person?
Has an unexpected experience ever surprisingly changed the way you think or feel?
What does Margaret mean that the Irish conflict wasn’t just about religion? How is the Irish conflict similar and different from other civil wars?
What do you think of the words Martin Luther King Jr. “If we are to have peace on earth…our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. And this means we must develop a world perspective.”
What do you think of the words of the Dalai Lama XIV, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”
The Fight for Peace: The Secret Story Behind the Irish Peace Process by Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick – The most detailed and authoritative account of the road to the Good Friday Agreement. A classic of its kind by two of Northern Ireland’s finest.
Trinity by Leon Uris – Gives the background to the ancient conflict between the trinity of nationalists, unionists and ‘Brits’ that painted Ireland’s history in blood.
The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions by Ruth Dudley Edwards – A Dublin Catholic goes Ulster native to produce a sympathetic and understanding portrayal of Protestant prisoners of history.
Ten Men Dead: The Story of the 1981 Hunger Strike by David Beresford – The Iron Lady (Prime Minister Thatcher) versus the Iron Men, with short-term victory for Thatcher and a long-term victory for the Provos.
Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly – The Great Starvation and the emigration from Ireland.
Bloody Sunday (2002) a movie that tells the story of one of the most significant moments of The Troubles, the 1972 shootings in Derry, from the perspective of a key participant – Ivan Cooper, the leader of a movement to achieve a united Ireland through non-violent means.
Across the Divide in Northern Ireland (2016) In this movie, a Catholic and a Protestant girl swap school uniforms in a fine short film produced as part of a project to teach children about the Irish Civil War called “The Troubles”
Selma (2015) This movie depicts Dr. Martin Luther King’s nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery, which eventually culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes & discrimination
Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
My name is Margaret Burk and this is a story about an experience I had on a trip to Ireland in 2013. I was standing on top of the stone wall 20 feet high and 20 feet wide, that surrounds the old part of the city of Derry, in Northern Ireland. I didn’t want to be here, in Northern Ireland. I had signed up for a tour that advertised visiting sites in southern Ireland only. I’m an Irish American, I have always wanted to come to Ireland, Southern Ireland, home of my ancestors. So, what was I doing in Northern Ireland? You have to understand that Ireland is divided into two countries. Southern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland, is free and independent. And Northern Ireland is part of Great Britain. Our tour directors decided that we had to take this historical tour of the wall of Derry because they heard the guide was fabulous. “No, I protested. Northern Ireland was not on our itinerary.”
I was actually surprised at the intensity of my emotions, as this ancestral anger rose up. And then. and then, it was like I was 12 years old again and the memories just came flooding back. And me and my cousins were sitting at the feet of Uncle Tom listening to his stories. Uncle Tom had emigrated from Ireland and married my Aunt Mabel and joined the Terre Haute, Indiana Irish Curly Clan, my family. He had come from Ireland shortly after the war of independence in 1921 that divided Ireland into south and north.
At family gatherings, birthdays, holidays, after dinner, we’d sing Irish songs. And then we kids would beg Uncle Tom to tell us stories true stories of Irish history. My mom told stories about the lives of the saints but Tom told stories about battles and villains and heroes. And whether he was telling about the rebellion of 1789 or the fight for Vinegar Hill or the Battle of the Boyne, I loved them all. The stories about Irish fighting for their freedom from English rule. Uncle Tom was a gentle, soft-spoken man but when he settled into his chair to tell, he changed; his jaw tighten, his fist clenched, and his face reddened with the anger of it.
And that’s just how my body felt when we were talking about going into Northern Ireland. But I was outvoted. I sulked in the back of the van as we crossed the border from Southern Ireland to Northern Ireland. I felt like I was betraying my family. The weather echoed my mood. Cool, cloudy, and drizzling.
When the tour of the wall of Derry began, I hung out in the back of the crowd and the guide, Martin McCrossan, 60’s, baldish, ruddy complexion, had a voice as loud as a carnival barker.
“This wall was built in 1601 by the first English settlers to protect themselves against the attacking displaced locals.”
My neck, red, “Displaced locals. I’ll show you a displaced local.”
Those were Irish people who had had their land stolen by the invading Brits. Uncle Tom had told me the stories. How British armies ravaged the land, British laws in power impoverished the people, I knew the stories. And then, Martin hurried us out a hundred yards down the wall, to the side of an old church outside the wall. St. Colum’s. And then he pointed to the backyard of the church, where there was this odd hill. It was like a grassy mound, like 12 or 15 feet tall, in a space, not much bigger than my backyard, in Oak Park, Illinois.
“1689. This church was the stronghold for the Irish forces trying to gain back the city of Derry from the English settlers. The siege lasted for 105 days. But the Irish couldn’t breach this wall. Three thousand Irish died outside the wall, 6,000 English inside the wall, mostly of starvation. That mound is the burial place of the dead.”
Huh. Six thousand English died? Starvation? I looked at the cross on top of the mound and thought of the dead on both sides. I knew many of the English settlers were poor peasant farmers who had come with the hope of a better life. I thought of the women and the children. I’d never heard stories of the English side. Then, Martin directed us down the wall to our next stop, that, which was near a tree. The rain was intensified and I thought, “Was he oblivious to the rain?” I called out, “You know, we can just listen from underneath this tree over here.”
He turned and looked at me, not harsh but firm, and said, “No, you have to stand over here,” and waited patiently until I complied.
Pointing to the hole in the wall, down, he said, “Bloody Sunday, January 13th, 1972. Ten thousand Catholics, supporting the movement for a unified Ireland without English rule, and inspired by the civil rights movements of the United States, were marching peacefully on that street below. English toops… troops shot into the crowd killing, injuring, starting the violent civil war between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland that lasted for 26 years.”
Hmm. I, I remember. I watched that on TV. It was bad. But the fight wasn’t about religion, it was political. It was about who ruled, who made the laws, who owned industry, who could get a job. And Martin pointed across the way to a mural. A mural that, that was the whole side of a six-story building. It was of young, school girl. She had like, you know, shoulder length, black hair and a white blouse, a green skirt.
“Twelve-year-old Annette McGavigan, the 100th person killed in the conflict caught in the crossfire between the opposing sides.” And then Martin spoke more slowly and I could hear the emotion in his voice as he said, “That rifle beside the girl, when the mural was painted in the midst of a conflict, that rifle was pointing down – a call for peace. And that butterfly above her head. It was only an outline-a sign of hope. And when the peace agreement was finally signed in 1989, and the violence ended, the artist repainted that mural. Now that rifle is broken into two pieces and the butterfly is painted with all the colors of the rainbow.” He paused to let us take it in. A six-story mural, a young school girl, a rifle broken in two, a rainbow-colored butterfly.
“Come,” Martin said. And he led us through an opening in the wall, down a few steps, into the back door of St. Augustine Church. The social hall was, was filled with weaving looms and women busily weaving. And on the wall, were hung like a dozen, three foot by five foot exquisite murals.
Mary Cullum explained proudly, “These tapestries tell that the history of Derry and were given one to every church and civic organization, Protestant and Catholic, even to the Orangemen.” I knew that the Orangemen still lead a parade provocatively through the Catholic section of Derry every year on July 12th.
But for these weavers, it was important that everyone, even the Orangemen, knew the history of Derry from all sides. As we ended the tour outside St. Augustine’s, on the on the stone patio, Martin looked at every one of us and spoke with heart felt emotion. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for coming to Derry. You are part of our peace process. Go home tell your friends and your family to come and to know our story.”
“Am I part of the peace process?” I thought. I didn’t want to come here. I didn’t want to hear these stories. But now that I had, I, I discovered I was holding onto an old hostility that had been passed down to me. But the people here were trying to move on, to build something that we all want – a place to live together peacefully. And I could feel Uncle Tom’s stories mixing with these new stories, creating possibilities in me. Possibilities for new ways of thinking and new ways of feeling. Hmm… And that is the path to peace.
This story weaves present day observations with the true accounts of Peter’s grandmother, a Dutch Jew, and the incredible journeys she went through during the time of Nazi occupied Holland during World War II. As Peter takes a bike ride along Chicago’s lakefront, observing the ease and comfort of modern day life, he remembers his grandmother’s stories of the dangers of riding a bicycle across rural Holland to secure food for her husband and children. The contrasts of modern living are highlighted against the fears of appearing in public as a Jew during the war. (more…)
Jasmin takes you into the rabbit hole of panic that she faces when she gets engaged to be married. Questions about her identity and her role as a woman surface as she tries to weed through old world Latino expectations while being an educated American woman today. (more…)
Take the journey with 14-year old Mama Edie as she relives her 1966 experience of marching through the violent streets of Marquette Park in Chicago, Illinois with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ride the back of the train “up north” in the “Negro section” during the Great Migration from the slave south in search of a better life to only find the practices of “redlining” and Jim Crow blocking your way to a better life for your family. NOW take a serious look at someone who would tell you to “just get over it.” How do you heal?
50 years later, Mama Edie was in Marquette Park again to commemorate the original march!
What was the “Great Migration”? What were its benefits and its dangers?
Discuss the differences between people who immigrate to another country in relative comfort with their own names, belongings, family members, languages, religions and freedom to practice their own cultural ways and those who immigrate by force in deplorable conditions, stripped of clothing, dignity, names, respect, family, land, religion, language and where the practice of one’s cultural ways may even be punishable by death. How might people’s lives evolve over many generations depending upon their first step away from home?
Why was the march held in Marquette Park in 1966 with Dr. King significant and did it only benefit African Americans? Was its impact felt only in Chicago?
Imagine how you think you might feel if you had been a Black person who was not allowed to buy housing in many parts of Chicago? What impact would it have had to be told where you and your family could and couldn’t live?
Imagine how you think you might have felt as a White person on those streets of Marquette Park. Write a short essay about it. What were whites fighting for or against? What kind of information did they have or not have? Describe what happened while you were there, what you saw, what you heard and how it made you feel. Address how it makes you feel now about yourself, your own culture and about African Americans and their lives today, whether you are African American or not.
How does a person become open and sensitive enough to understand someone else’s feelings or situation? What makes a person care enough to let go of ego, judgment and fear and want to listen and learn?
When you see injustice, when is it time to stand up? Consider one scenario of injustice and describe how you might go about addressing it. How can you safely affect a positive change?
IMAN (Inner-City Muslim Network), a collaboration of intercultural and interfaith groups who have worked together to improve the quality of life for people in the Marquette Park Community. This organization spearheaded the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Marquette Park march: http://www.mlkmemorialchicago.org/
My name is Edie McLoud Armstrong. It was August 5th, 1966 that I was 15 years old. I remember waking up feeling so excited. I was joyful, a little bit scared, and brave, all at the same time. I’d never felt quite that way before. I remember, as I was eating my breakfast, I was deep in my own thoughts. And my father had made me this wonderful breakfast of bacon and eggs, and toast, and fresh, squeezed orange juice. But as I was eating, I kept replaying in my mind the newscasts that my parents and I had been watching over the previous days and weeks, that were leading up to this very special time. You see, there was going to be a march in Marquette Park, one of the neighborhoods on the southwest side of Chicago. And this was one of the areas where they used the practice of redlining, which was intended to keep African-Americans and other, so-called minorities from the housing market.
Well, this was going to be a bit of a problem because this was also right in through with the time of the Great Migration. And the Great Migration took place roughly between 1914 and the 1970s. And this was a time when waves of African-Americans were coming from the slave south. They were trying to escape situations like the lynchings. Those Sunday afternoon, after church, kind of lynchings, where men, women, and even children sometimes were hung from trees. They were trying to escape church and home bombings. They were trying to escape the Jim Crow laws that barred them from restaurants, restrooms, from playgrounds, and swimming pools, and churches, and in movie theaters, and play theaters, where even they performed but they weren’t allowed to go and enjoy them. They were coming to northern cities and western cities, both big and small, in search for a better life. But it was difficult.
For one thing, they needed to find someplace to live. So, when they came to a city, for example, like Chicago, and many of them actually managed to get enough money to ride the train in the colored section, or the negro section, which was actually right behind the engine. Now, that might sound kind of exciting but in that section, that’s where the soot and the ash came. So, you got these people dressed in their Sunday finest. And they had to sit in an area where they knew that they would probably just have their wonderful clothes all dirtied up but they didn’t care about that. And they had their lunches packed in shoe boxes and brown paper sacks, sometimes even including a loving piece of homemade pound cake. They were on their way to find a better life.
But, again, they needed somewhere to live. Now, in cities like Chicago, there were many neighborhoods where people only wanted as neighbors, people who looked like them. So, when the African-Americans were coming in droves, I mean they were really coming, there was so many that they ended up crowding into areas that were getting quickly overcrowded. And the services, the landowners, were no longer providing the services to maintain the hygiene and the safety that they once did. Even the trash, the trash wasn’t getting picked up on a regular basis. And so, the communities ended up turning into what we now call slums.
Now, it was an easy thing to try to blame the residents for the conditions that were allowed to take place. But churches, like Quinn Chapel, were very, very instrumental in helping the African-Americans find someplace to live. They found them little tenement places and sometimes they were able to rent a room or they got little kitchenettes, until they could find a place of their own and send for their families to join them. So, there was a lot of support there. And that was a good thing because in other communities, for example, in Marquette Park where that march was going to take place, that was a neighborhood where African-Americans only went through in order to get to Midway Airport. Because it was very clear that we were not local there.
Hmm. So, the day came. The day of the march. And Dr. Martin Luther King had been invited to Chicago to lead that march. Now, some of the nuns from my elementary school in Inglewood, St. Carthage, had asked some of our parents if they could escort us to that march. That was kind of a risky thing for a parent, especially my father, who was from Georgia, who knew about what life could be like. But they prayed on it and they decided to let me go. And I’m really, really glad they did because I felt like it was my turn to stand up for justice. And I wanted so much to do that and to do a good job.
Well, what happened was that, that morning after I finished eating, I went to my mother’s room to say goodbye and she started asking me all the practical things. She looked at me and she said, “Now, now, did you, did you pack your lunch?”
“Did you get your jacket because you know it’s going to be a little bit chilly out there later on?”
“Now, did your father give you a little piece change?”
And she was just asking me all these questions. But then she said, “Now, Edith, stay alert and make sure you stay right close to the nuns and to your other friends. And make sure that you don’t look in their faces. Don’t look in their eyes. They don’t like that because they’ll think that you’re challenging them.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I had never heard that before. And so, my father even though St. Carthage was only like two blocks away, he insisted on driving me to school that day. He talked quietly with the nuns off to the side for a while and then when it was time for him to go to the car, he turned and he looked at me. And he came and gave me a big hug.
And he just gave me a quiet smile that said, ‘I’m proud of you, girl.” It didn’t even need any words. And so, he got in his car and he was gone.
And within minutes, we were on this specially chartered bus. They were maybe about 20 of us. And while we were going along, we were kind of chatting and, and, and joking even a little bit, trying to break the tension because we were nervous. We didn’t really know what to expect. None of us had ever had an experience like this before. But then, as we got closer to where the march was taking place, we started hearing the crowd. The noise of the crowd, the voices were getting louder and louder. And we heard these angry shouts and these chats. And we looked out the windows and we saw people throwing their fists up into the air. And we could just imagine what was coming out of their mouths. And suddenly, we weren’t real sure if we actually wanted to get off that bus.
But then we knew we did because it was our turn. Our ancestors had marched. They had died. They had struggled for hundreds of years. It was just our turn. So finally, it was time to get off the bus. And as we were moving towards the street where the marchers were, I suddenly felt like I was in an old movie where we were being led to the Lion’s Den, with these throngs of angry people on both sides of us surrounding us. I searched the crowds on both sides and there were no kind faces there.
And as we continued to walk down the street, I remember there was one particular woman who came up to me. A mother. She was shorter than I was and she began to curse me right up in my face. And then her young son who looked to be maybe about nine years old, he came up and started cursing me too. I had never even heard a little boy curse like that before.
I’d never looked into the face of hate. I saw it that day and it was ugly and it hurt. But I was frozen stiff. I was so shocked with the way I was being accosted. I just stood there and so finally, one of the nuns came to get me. She got my hand and she guided me. I don’t even remember which nun it was but it didn’t matter. All I knew was that I wasn’t going to let go of that hand. And as we made our way to the rest of our friends and to the other nuns, we continued to move forward. And, and I still heard the jeering crowds but all of a sudden, the intensity of that jeering, of their sounds, began to become a little bit muted. Because suddenly, I started hearing the san… song of the marchers up in the front. And the sound was getting louder and louder. And they were singing the song, “We shall overcome, we shall overcome. Someday.”
And I feel that somehow, through the music, we did overcome. There was a lot that we’ve overcome. There’s a lot that we have yet to overcome but we on our way. I cannot give up hope on this country. I will not accept that this country is hopelessly adolescent, and le… and bigoted. That there is no chance for us to heal. That healing is already taking place. And in fact, there was a celebration on August 5th, 2016 that honored the 50th celebration, the 50th anniversary of that march in 1966, again, in Marquette Park and I was there.
I had been invited as a special guest along with other people who had also been there 50 years ago. And when I went over there, I can still feel some of that hate floating in the air. Wasn’t as intense this time but I could feel it. It was, it was like a ghost that didn’t want to go away. A spirit that didn’t want to rest. It’s still there but is starting to dissipate.
And I’m grateful for that. And this time, a very special treat was that I was able to march this time with my sister storyteller, and friend, Susan O’Halloran, who is the producer of these videos. Now 50 years ago, Susan was 15 too. (Sue, I hope you don’t mind me telling your age, girl.) But anyway, she wouldn’t have been able to march with me at that time because she lived in one of those red lining neighborhoods. So, her parents wouldn’t have allowed it. But now here we were.
I called her up and said, “Girl, you would not believe what’s happening. You got to be there.” And so, the organizers of the march, they contacted her, and we were able to march side by side. There were poets and songs and speeches by people like Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator Jackie Collins, who I went to St. Carthage with. There was Rabbi Capers Funny. There was Brother Rami Nashashibi, who’s the executive director of the IMAN, which is the Inner-city Muslim Action Network that spearheaded this great celebration. This was an intercultural, interfaith collaboration of people who knew, that we had it in us, to make this country live up to what it purports to be, what it promises to be. That we’re here to require that it fulfill the commitment of truly being the land of the free and the home of the brave. And I’m just grateful I was there.
This family story describes Shanta’s father and grandparents’ escape from the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma Massacre. Shanta’s grandfather, a tailor, was forced to flee with his family to Chicago where he was able to re-establish his business.
What attitudes and choices led to the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma?
Why do people move away from home, leaving everyone and everything behind?
Does your family share any migration stories?
Had you heard of times and places where Black people were the wealthiest? Why or why not do you think?
What are the keys to people being able to live peacefully in the same town or community?
Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Scott Ellsworth and John Hope Franklin The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes & Discrimination
Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, my name is Shanta. I’d like to tell you a family story. This story involves my father, Simeon Neal, Jr. who was born August 31, 1920. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma where his father, Simeon, Sr. had a tailor shop. The shop was on Greenwood Avenue, which in Tulsa was called Black Wall Street because there were so many thriving and successful businesses along that street and in the area around that street. There were also hundreds of homes in which most of the black people in Tulsa lived. Now, the year after my father was born, in 1921, on May 3rd, the first and incident occurred that changed the lives of everyone in Tulsa basically forever.
There was a young black man who worked downtown shining shoes in front of the Drexel building. And because segregation was very much in force in Tulsa, at that time, any black person who worked downtown or in that area had limited options when it came to just doing something like going to the bathroom. So, this young man, his name was Dick Rowland, when away from his shoeshine station to use the washroom and he was allowed to go only on the top of the, the top floor of the Drexel Building. In order to use the bathroom, and in order to get there, he had to take an elevator. And the elevators in 1921 were not like the elevators that we’re used to where you just go in and press, press the button for your floor and you’d you taken to your destination. At that time there was always an elevator operator, who either controlled the elevator with, with a lever, like you might have seen in the cable cars of San Francisco, or with a wheel that would actually propel the elevator up or bring it back down. So the elevator operator on this day, May 31st, in the Drexel Building, was a young white woman whose name was Sarah Page. Now, the story doesn’t say exactly what happened. We don’t know for sure. But when Dick Rowland went into that elevator, he either stumbled and fell into Sarah, or accidentally or maybe even on purpose, touched her. But by the time he made it back down to his shoeshine station, a rumor had started that he had assaulted Sarah and that was just not allowed. It was not allowed for a black man to touch a white woman even if he was a young boy. The penalty for doing such a thing was usually death. Sometimes ya get arrested before you die but usually you would be strung up and lynched, which was a practice that was very prevalent in the south for a long time. And we weren’t even exactly in the south but it was Oklahoma. It was segregation. A black man cannot touch a white woman.
So white folks started gathering for the lynching that was going to take place because Dick Rowland had so-called assaulted Sarah Page. And it got to be such a big deal, as lynchings often were. Sometimes whole families would come out. People would have picnics. There was even a town where lynchings occurred on every Friday. But in Tulsa, on that day, the word spread so far that it reached the Greenwood Avenue District and the black people came to try to save him from what was surely going to be his fate.
Now, this was shortly after World War I and lots of the men who lived in the Greenwood Avenue District had been soldiers, had been fighters, and they still had that warrior spirit. So they went downtown to rescue Dick Roland and make sure that he was not killed for what might have just been an accident. The people who were intent on lynching Dick Rowland were armed and the black men were armed. Some with guns or rifles, others with sticks, bats, bricks, whatever they could get their hands on, and a big battle actually ensued between the white men and the black men. As the battle spread, the black men started retreating toward the Greenwood Avenue District and the white men followed. And when they got close to the area where black people lived, they started setting fires. And one burning building led to another burning building, to another one.
And the white men who had set those fires would not even let the fire department in to put the fires out. So Greenwood Avenue went up in flames. Burning not only the businesses, but the homes around it and the fire was getting close to Grandpa Neal’s tailor shop. He had one customer, a white man, who had a horse and wagon and he offered to save my grandfather and his family by hiding them under the hay in that wagon. So if you could imagine, not having any time to gather up your belongings or your precious photographs or mementos or even clothes. If you could imagine, Grandpa Neal and his wife Susan, their, their daughter of three or four year old, four years old Marjorie and my father who was less than a year old, gathering them up, hiding them under the hay in this wagon, and leaving town just to survive. And it was a good thing that they did that because hundreds of people were killed on that two day spree of fires and gunshots and death and destruction. Between May 31st and June 1st hundreds of people, hundreds of businesses destroyed.
Now Grandpa and his family made it to St. Louis, initially, but really couldn’t get a hold on establishing themselves there. So they went to Chicago next. And Grandpa Neal was able to establish another tailor shop. This time on 47th Street, which was a prosperous business district in Chicago at that time. And I remember visiting that shop and Grandpa Neal was still making suits. But he would also sell men’s accessories, shirts, ties, socks. And I remember playing with, with the socks of the sock drawer. That was one of the things I would do while the adults were talking.
But more than that I remember how vibrant and exciting 47th Street was with, you know, music clubs and places to eat, all types of businesses. And it’s those memories that become really in stark contrast to the 47th Street of today, although there is an effort to bring things back. There are so many vacant lots where, where businesses used to be. There are so many boarded up buildings where families used to live. And that poses the question of why? Why…Why does one community thrive when another one goes down? I don’t have all of those answers but I have a, a night…What is this year? 2016…Example that could, could in a way, shed some light on that.
There’s this grocery chain called Mariano’s. I’m calling out names now. But when a few years ago, when the Dominick’s chain went out, it went into bankruptcy, and went out of business, their stores were, the court order was, that they couldn’t sell all of their stores to just one of the grocery, grocer. They had to divide that between at least two or three different concerns. So Jewel got some of the buildings and Mariano’s, which was just an up and coming chain at that time, got the other buildings. So there was this strip on 71st Street and Jeffrey, still on the South Side of Chicago, where there was a Dominick’s. And years later now, three or four years later, no grocery chain has, has moved into that building. But Mariano’s finally opened on King’s Drive and Oakwood Boulevard. While this one Mariano’s was being built, on the north side Mariano’s stores were popping up literally everywhere. I mean, any time you would drive any distance on the north side of Chicago, you see yet another Mariano’s. Now why is it that the North Side can have, at this point, probably 10 or 15 of these grocery stores and it took years for the South Side to get only one. Happenstance… or intentional? You tell me.
Diggsy Twain, an African American man, tells a friend about an encounter he had on a train and what he did to stop the stereotype that all black men are angry. Then after telling his story he realizes anyone can stereotype the “other.” (more…)
As a teen E.B. liked being unique but his coaches wanted him to fit in. Then years later as an attorney he wants to hire someone who reminds him of himself. He decides to hire her and let her find out if she wants to fit in or standout. (more…)
Cyber bullying Research Center http://cyberbullying.us
This website has good resources for cyber bullying prevention. It is targeted to parents, educators and students. They also have some good information on adult bullying.
Words Wound/To Be Kind http://wordswound.org
Words Wound and To Be Kind are anti-cyber bullying initiatives started by three teens to combat bullying in their community and elsewhere. Inspiring!
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Hi, my name is Dan Keding. I’m going to tell you the story of The Boy Who Fell Between the Cracks. A story about bullying in junior high.
In eighth grade at our school, it was always a challenge. We were rambunctious. And all the boys in my class were sports minded and all the boys in the other class were girl minded. Strange combination because all the girls who were boy minded were in my class. Very strange.
But there was one kid who stood out and his name was William. William had suffered from the F-word; he had flunked, failed – two, three, four times. By the time he hit eighth grade, he was 16 or 17. Very tall, very slender with shoulders that he would hunch up like that. Not because he was scared or cold but because he couldn’t fit into his clothes. They were so small. So, he’d hunched his shoulders so his jacket didn’t look so small and the sleeves wouldn’t come up so far on his arms. And his pants were always too short.
His parents had come from Eastern Europe and they spoke very little English and they very seldom came to the school. Nowadays, we would know that William was challenged – mentally challenged or, at least, had severe learning disabilities. But back then, we didn’t know that. We were kids and he was different with his slicked-down hair and his ill-fitting clothes and a sweet, high voice. And we teased him… all the time. This poor boy, who had fallen between the cracks, was teased by everybody in the classroom. I wish I could say that I was one of the ones who stood up for him but I wasn’t. Nobody was.
We chased him after school, but with his long legs, he always outdistanced us. And during class, we would tease him. And every day he started class by sitting at his desk, taking out a piece of paper and a pencil and writing his name, printing it out. William. He couldn’t write cursive but he would print it out. William. And he’d say, “Good morning, Mr. Pencil! Good morning, Mr. Paper!” And everybody would laugh.
And our teacher, hm, she would just say, “William, stop talking to your paper and pencil.” And he’d just smiled sweetly.
But one day, she had a parent-teacher conference and she came in and she was crabby and she was out of sorts. And she walked in just as William said, “Good morning, Mr. Pencil! Good morning, Mr. Paper!”
And she lost it. She said, “That’s it. I have told you enough times.” And she turned to Frank and I, and she said, “Daniel, Francis, take his desk and put it on the front lawn.”
Now that was one of the ultimate punishments because the front lawn faced a group of houses. And the old women who lived there would get on the phone and they’d call somebody, who called somebody, who called your house. And your mom or your grandmother was there. I know because my grandmother had been there many times because I’d been on the lawn many times.
And I looked at her and I said, “Sister, this is William.”
And she looked at me and she said, “Would you like to join him?”
I said, “No, no.”
So, we put his chair on top of the desk and Frank and I lifted it up and we walked out the door. And William was putting on his coat. He looked frightened. For the first time, I didn’t see him as an object of ridicule. And I looked, I said, “It’s okay, William. She’s just in a bad mood.”
And Frank said, “Yeah, you’ll be back in class in no time.”
But he didn’t look reassured. We walked out the door to the front lawn, set up his desk and his chair and he sat there. And I said, “Don’t worry about it, man. It’s nice out here.” And we went inside.
But even though Frank and I had desks by the window, we couldn’t look out the window because we were ashamed that we were even part of this. And then one kid in the back said, “Look!” and everybody looked out the window.
And there was William sitting at his desk. He had reached in and taken out his lunch. He’d broken all the bread apart and broken the meat apart. Broken the cookie apart, and around him were squirrels and birds, some sitting on his desk. And a stray dog with his head in his lap. And you could hear him through the window. “Here’s a piece of bread for you, Mr. Bird, and some cookie for you, Mr. Squirrel. And here’s a piece of meat for you, Mr. Dog.”
And Sister Marie came over and she stared out the window. And the whole class just watched ’til finally, she turned to Frank and I and said, “Daniel, you and Francis, go get him.” And there were tears rolling down her cheeks.
And Frank and I ran to the door, but we waited respectfully ’til his lunch was gone and the animals had disappeared. And we brought him back into the classroom. But he didn’t go hungry that day because every kid in the room gave him part of their lunch. And after that, he was never teased again. If the kids in the other eighth grade tried, well, he had 35 brothers and sisters who would stand up for him.
And we taught the seventh graders in the lower grades to respect him… this boy who had fallen between the cracks. It taught us a lesson. I think he taught me a lesson that was greater than anyone I’ve learned from any teacher I’ve ever had.
What drew the teller to Stan? What lessons did Dan learn from Stan?
From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor’s Autobiography by Alter Wiener Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust by Joseph Berger
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Hi, my name is Dan Keding and I’m going to tell you the story about Stan, a Holocaust survivor.
In between sixth and seventh grade, my family moved from the south side of Chicago to the north side. And I remember the day we arrived at the new apartment building we were going to be living in – one of those U-shaped apartment buildings with a courtyard. Well, we pulled up behind the moving van and, as I got out of the car, this enormous shadow covered me. And a voice boomed out and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood! I’m Stan.”
And this great, huge hand that could palm a bowling ball came out of that shadow and he pumped my arm. And I was looking at the biggest human I had ever seen in my life. Stan was six foot six at least; 300 lbs. of muscle. He had a big, floppy hat on and a crooked grin and he walked with a slight limp.
And he held court inside our courtyard. There was always a lawn chair there. And pretty soon, that summer, there were two lawn chairs. Stan and I became friends and every day, we would sit there and he would tell me stories.
He was a Polish Jew who had come to America after the war and he told me stories of Poland, the old legends. He told me Jewish folk tales. He told me stories of the war where he’d fought in the Resistance in Poland.
We’d go for walks sometimes. And even the adult bullies would walk off the sidewalk and smile kind of sheepishly as Stan would say, “How ya doin?”
And they’d go, “Okay,” ’cause his shoulders took up most of the sidewalk.
He was a sweet and kind man… gentle. One day, he turned to me and said, “You know, Dan, you’re gonna be a big man when you grow up. You know what’s important, don’cha?”
Well, I had been watching Errol Flynn for years, you know. I knew what was important. “Honor,” I said.
And he looked at me and said, “Honor? (spit) Honor is a luxury. Honor is stupid!” He says, “If a man curses you… a man dishonors you, you walk away. They’re less a man than you! The only things worth fighting for are family and friends.” That was a lesson I needed to hear.
Well, one day we were talking and Stan, he turned to me and said, “It is so hot out today.”
And it was July, and I said, “Oh, you’re right!” We were both soaked in the sun and he took off his floppy hat, which I’d never seen him do before. He took a big, huge bandanna and started to wipe his head, which was totally devoid of any hair and was covered in surgical scars.
As he put his hat back on, I turned to him and said, “What happened to you?”
He said, “During the war, we ambushed a Nazi patrol and there were more of them than we thought. I was wounded. That’s why I limp. And before I could take my own life, as we often did in the Resistance, I was captured. Because I’m a Jew, they sent me to a concentration camp, Dan. Because I’m so big and so strong, they experimented on me.”
The doctors at the camp had opened his skull dozens of times to see how the human brain worked. But, you know, they couldn’t find the gentleness and the beauty of his.
One day, he turned me and said, “Dan, let’s go for a…” And he slumped in his chair. I panicked and I ran up the steps of the apartment building, knocked on the door where his, his wife and he lived.
And I said, huh, huh, I said, “Huh, huh, is… it’s Stan! He’s had a heart attack. He’s had a stroke!”
She said, “Shh… stop.” So, I did. She said, “It’s what they did to him, Daniel. You haven’t seen it before. Once, twice, even three times a day, Stan passes out. Just go downstairs, sit down next to him. And when he wakes up, he’ll start a sentence from where he left off.”
This is kind of spooky for a boy going into seventh grade, but I did as I was told. And I went downstairs and sat in that lawn chair. And after about five minutes, those huge shoulders squared up and the head came up and he said, “walk around the neighborhood and see what’s happening.”
I said, “Sure, Stan, let’s go.”
One day, my stepdad was changing a tire. He couldn’t get the last lug nut off. Uh, and Stan walked over and said, “Hey, Herm. What’s, what’s the problem?”
And my stepfather said, “I can’t get the lug nut off this last one. They must have put in on too tight with those pneumatic tools they use now.”
Stan says, “I can get it off.”
And my stepdad handed him the tire iron. And Stan looked at the tire iron as if it was some kind of strange, foreign instrument. And he put it down on the grass, reached over with two fingers, grabbed the lug nut and went (clk) and took it off and handed it to my stepfather. He told that story for the rest of his life.
When school started, I went to the Catholic school. Mom always said, “Dan, you have to go to the Catholic school because I can’t impose you on people who are paid with taxes.” I thought that was cruel of her but it was true.
One day I said to Stan, “Stan, why don’t you come to school, tell your stories?”
And Stan got this look of mock horror on his face. He said, “Oh, no, Dan! I went into that Catholic church one time and I saw what they did to the last Jew they got their hands on.” And then he started laughing at the top of his voice and his laughter rolled out of the courtyard and into the street.
It was late autumn and I was coming home from school when I saw an ambulance pulling away from the apartment building. Jenny, who lived in the basement, she was standing there and I said, “What happened?” And she told me that it was Stan.
We didn’t have garages or workrooms or basements even. When we built things, we built them in the kitchen because that’s where the linoleum was and you could clean it up. Stan was building a bookcase and he slipped and the saw went through his wrist. And before he’d get to the phone, call for help, he had one of his spells and he bled to death on the kitchen floor.
And I stood there at the curb and I wanted to hate someone so badly. But all the men who had hurt my friend were dead.
At the funeral, his wife told me not to forget his stories and I promised her I wouldn’t. And then she grabbed the lapel of my coat. She looked me in the eye and she said, “You know, Dan, the Nazis killed my husband but he was so strong, it took him 20 years to die.”
Please Note : The following video is part of a comedy routine. The video includes some mild sexual content.
When in high school, Archy and his Thai family get into a fight about him dating a black girl. Years later, when Archy came out to his mother, he finds that his mother’s racial attitudes have conveniently changed. (more…)
In this story, Ada Cheng explains the meanings of her Chinese name: Shu-Ju. She explains the connection between her name, her parents’ expectations for her as a daughter, and the cultural expectations for her as a daughter. She details why she chose to stay with the name Ada and what Ada means to her life and her identity.
Hi! I’m Ada Cheng. Ada Cheng. Let me start with my original name. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and I was born Chen Shu-Ju. In Taiwanese culture and some of the Asian cultures, Cheng, we put our last name in the first place so Cheng is the family name. Shu-Ju, um, that’s my given name. In Taiwanese culture, when parents give children their names, uh, it represents, uh, their expectations in terms of what they want and what they hope for their future. It can be about their life; it can be about their career. Shu-Ju. Shu, the character means like a lady. Ju means good luck.
So, I can just imagine my mother going to a fortuneteller and trying to find the right characters for me. Um, and, eh, she would probably talk to my father. “I think it would be great if we give our daughter, uh, this wonderful name and we hope that she will be gentle and… and… and quiet and polite and respectful. Like a lady with a lot of good luck.
So, now imagine my being a little girl, like a tomboy. And then my parents’ expectation was that they wanted me to be respectful, polite, quiet and… and gentle like a lady and I didn’t like my name when I was growing up. Um, here’s the thing, this is what my mother’s… as I was growing up, this is what my mother would say, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! You got to wash dishes. You… you’re a girl; you have to help out in the kitchen. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! Close your legs! You’re a girl! Come on, you can’t do that anymore. Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah! You can’t beat up your brother. He’s a boy. You’re a girl! Ah, Shu-Ju, what’s going on with you? You can’t run around naked anymore. You’re a girl! Ah, you can’t play with boys. Please do not talk back!”
Let sink that, think, sink that, sinking for a while. I grew up like playing, running around, tomboy, climbing, liked to climb trees, climb things, fight with boys. And as I was growing up, I hated my name because how did you… could you convince me to love a name that I knew I was going to fail my parents’ expectations. That there was no way for me to fake it, right! Often time you fake it until you make it! There’s no way. For me to know I can fake it until I make it. And… and there’s no way for me to… when I was a little girl, I thought there… there’s no way for me to make it as a woman in this society.
And I rebelled; I refused to do anything required me as a girl. Um… which also very interesting is that I… my mother also gave me another nickname. Um, in Mandarin, it’s called Zhi Da Bien. In Taiwanese, it’s called Gay Sei. In… in English, it’s called Chicken Poop! That’s right! My mother called me Chicken Poop. Eh… and it was… so, um, I asked my mother, “Why would you call me such name?”
And she say, “Because you were so small; just like a chicken poop, right?” She thought it was very, very endearing to call me this. Um… ah, she didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. But the thing when… as I am older and think back, would she call my brother such a name?
So, I remember when I was 8 years old and I was playing with, uh, neighborhood children. And I was the smallest one in the neighborhood but I was the one, the strongest one with the strongest opinions. I liked to order people around and I would say, “Line up! Do this and do that!” So, often time, after school the children would just stand there and play. So I remember that day, that close to dinnertime, and I was gathering people and say, “Hey, hey, hey! Please, uh, gather up, we’re gonna play the game (whatever the game was). We’re gonna play again!”
And as I was ordering people around and, uh, I was the smallest one, my mother suddenly appear at the door and then she said, “Zhi Da Bien, Zhi Da Bien! Shi wăncān!” So, the English translation is “Chicken Poop, Chicken Poop, it’s time for dinner!”
And I just froze! And I turn around and I look at my mother and I was exasperated. I was being authority figure, standing in front of a group calling the shot and then, I say, “Five minutes, give me five minutes!” Ah! In my back, I heard children giggling, right! And when I turn around, the kids just started to laugh at me. “Ah, Zhi Da Bien, Zhi Da Bien, right! Your name is Chicken Poop, Chicken Poop! And then I was… I just… I was so mad! I was so frustrated! And I… I just left. I ran away. I said, “You know, I’m not going to play with you guys!” and left.
And when I went home, I finished dinner and I didn’t talk to my mother. And that was pretty much the day I kind of lost my status in the neighborhood. I mean, think about it, how many boys will want to play with a girl and to be ordered around by a girl whose name is Chicken Poop, right! Um, and I realize nobody wanted to play with me. Um, when my mother saw me this small or given me this small… um, and later on, uh, you know, my mother and I, ah, my family and I – we stopped talking with each other.
And, um, because I was trying to be my own person, um, wanted to search my own life, um… And it was actually October, 1976, I was in junior high school. We… everyone started to learn English and so one day when I’m home, we have this very small dictionary. And I thought if I started to learn English, I am going to have an English name so I can immerse myself in with… into the environment so I flipped through the dictionary. I found this name list and I looked through the names. In our textbooks, we have Mary, we have Susan, we have… have all these names. I thought I got to find a name that nobody has heard. So, I looked through it and I saw the name… I saw Ada, right! Ada is for the first place, the first name listed under the alphabet A. And I looked at it and I thought, “That’s it, Ada! That’s the name for me!”
Because at the age 12, the only thing I want to be was number one. So, I thought I wanted to pick the name Ada so I could be number one then and number one forever. So, I pick that name and I stick with it, uh, forever. And I started to introduce myself to everyone as Ada and that’s the important part is that when I picked that name, I also wrote a different story for myself. Thank you.
In this story, Ada Cheng explores her experience with the U.S. citizenship ceremony. She discusses the institutionalized vulnerability that immigrants are subject to during the process of becoming Americans. She also compares her experience as a naturalized citizen with that of one of her invited guests, an older African American man. (more…)
This story speaks to the cruelty of the imposed mental conditioning that inspires people to come to despise their own natural attributes. Mama Edie refers to her father who was considered “too dark” to marry her mother by Mama Edie’s great aunt. Mama Edie also reflects on her Mexican American cousin, who thought she looked “too light” or “too Mexican” to feel like a truly loved member of the family. The story explores how this toxic conditioning has often led to people seeing themselves as being “less than,” not as “beautiful” or well-loved. It further explores the impact this can have on family and other relationships, such that Mama Edie’s cousin felt that she didn’t quite belong anywhere. It ends with a song segment sung in Spanish by Mama Edie that celebrates the beauty and strength of so-called “people of color.” (more…)
During WWII, men fought on the eastern and western front, but Rosie was the soldier on the home front. Working all shifts and all jobs she plowed her way through a workplace woven with sexism and racism and despite it all, this gal had production levels that turned heads. In this excerpt, you’ll meet an African American Rosie who changed the nature of a 1944 workplace.
During WWII, 5 million women poured into the American workforce, and worked an average of 56 hours a week. These same women remained the primary homemakers, and caretakers for their children. What, if anything, has change for working women today and why?
During WWII, the nation and its industries desperately needed women to step up and take the jobs that men were leaving when they volunteered or were drafted for the armed forces. Can you name three of those industries? What difficulties did women, immigrants, and people of color have entering these industries? Did women remain at their work after the war? Why or why not?
WWII was the first time in our national history that women, immigrants, and people of color were hired to do difficult, technical jobs that paid them well. Though many of these people had to sign a promise to give their jobs back to the white males when they returned from the war. How do you think that doing these jobs and experiencing a sense of equality changed the new workers?
The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter by Marilyn Whitman
V Is For Victory: The American Home front During WWII by Miriam Frank
Uncle Sam Wants You: Men and Women of WWII by Sylvia Whitman
Stereotypes & Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, I’m Judith Black.
Now during World War II, when men were serving on both the eastern and western front, who do you think made the boats, the guns, the airplanes that they fought with? The women on the home front. Was often called the Third Front. And this is a story about those women. There are actually three adventurers in it and each Rosie deals with a different issue. The first Rosie with sexism, the second with Holocaust denial. But I want you to meet the third Rosie.
All the day long whether rain or shine She’s a part of the assembly line She’s making history, working for victory Rosie the Riveter Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage Sitting up there on the fuselage That little frail can do more than a male will do Rosie the Riveter
Rosie rocked underneath the great wrought iron gate. It was the graveyard shift, 11 at night till 7 in the morning. But Rosie, she kept the pace and the spirits high. As a matter of fact, the only thing that didn’t keep the spirits high was that night’s set-up man.
“Hey, Susie, girl,” Rosie asked Susie the same question every night and got the same answer. “Hey, Susie girl, how’s college education helping you on the line?”
“Oh, Rosie. It’s teaching me how to check my paystub for the right amount.”
“Girlfriend, I’m going to have to have you look at mine. Hey, Ho Trung, how’s it going?”
Ho Trung, a slight talking east man was very shy and Rosie was careful to greet him every single night.
“Okay, ya’ll, let’s get to work.”
That night set-up man. During the war, it was the very first time that people of color, women could actually get well-paying technical jobs in the factories. And the bosses trusted them, they trusted them to do rifling, they trusted them to do file and polish, they trusted them to do chambering but leadership roles still only went to men. White men. And sometimes the guys that got those jobs, just didn’t deserve them. That night set-up man was a long, lean boy with oily hair, pendulous lips and a nervous habit, and whenever he could get it, a cigarette hanging from those lips.
“Okay, you black and white and yellow and brown, let’s get my little United Nations to work.” That always came after a number of racial invectives.
And Rosie would whisper, “Come on, ya’ll. Let’s remember who the real enemy is and show aw stuff.”
But that night set-up man, he was still like a cold wind at people’s necks.
Well, during break time, Rosie kept the pace and the spirits up, “Come on, ya’ll. Come on. We’re going to hear the news as it has been seen and now will be reported, Ho Trung Nguyen.” She knew that Ho Trung, being alone in this country, went to see the newsreels each day. “How Trung, my man. What do we need to know?”
“Rosie, they say since girls come to work in factories, too much kissing and hugging.”
“Coo wee! They’re making blue reels about the workers. What else?”
“They say at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, they closed back room because girl found kissing with foreman.”
“Coo wee! Don’t mix me up with our set-up man. We’d make some hot stuff.”
“Don’t make too hot, Rosie. Make casing on fighter bomber explode.” It wasn’t a big joke for Ho Trung; it was to the world. Everyone laughed and they were back at their stations before the bell went off. But that didn’t stop the night set-up man.
“Come on, black and white and yellow and brown, let’s get my little United Nations to work. Hey, Emmanuel, maybe if you wash your hands more often, things wouldn’t slip through. Hey, Susie girl. Why don’t you stay after shift? I’ll teach you something they don’t teach you in college. Hey, Rosie,” he knew better than to say anything to Rose. “Trung. Ho Trung, you with the slanty eyes. You, you! You see, you look like a Jap to me. You probably sellin’ secrets.”
“No, not Japanese. Tonkinese.”
“Yeah, you look Jap to me boy, and I bet you’re taking them secrets. I’m gonna tell the boss. Probably fire you.”
“Need job to bring my wife and children here.”
“You’re talking back to me? Are you talking back to me?!” And he took one aggressive step toward Ho Trung. Ho Trung took a step back. He tripped, he fell, and his head missed a moving lathe by that much. And the set-up man just leaned over him. His foot starting to swing like it would when you wanted to kick a stone across the street. Until he felt a warm vibration right at the nape of his neck. And when he started to turn, the vibration intensified ever so slightly. But he knew. It was Rosie and a riveting gun. And he could imagine any hole going from the back.
“Oh, girl! You’re in trouble. You got to…”
“Help that man up, Mr. Mister.”
“Girl, I’m telling you. Girl…”
“Help him up.”
“Good, Now, dust him off.”
“I said, Dust him off, Mr. Mister.”
“Good. Now you apologize to that human being…Now.”
“Sorry, Ho Trung. That was an accident. You know that, don’t ya? Ok. Girl, you and me, we are going down to the foreman’s office right now.”
“Fine. I am right behind you.”
And Rosie, she walked down that long shop floor. That riveting gun never leaving the nape of his neck. They walked up the two steps into the night foreman’s office and door, (closing sound).
Ho Trung looked around and he said, “I don’t know about any of you, but I could speak for Rosie.”
“Wait, Susie will come with you. l’ll talk for Rosie.”
“I, Patrick McPhee, I’ll talk for Rosie.
Emmanuel, “I’ll talk for Rosie.” And soon, all 22 people who worked on that riveting shop floor were lined up behind Ho Trung Nguyen and marching down the aisle there, until they got to the foreman’s door and they heard inside angry voices. But none of them were Rosie’s trying to defend herself.
“I’m telling you! I’m telling you if I’m your voice on that floor, that girl is going to cause anarchy! That girl, she, she thinks she is the boss! She…”
“Now, we’ve never had any trouble with Rose. She has incredible production.”
“I’m telling you unless want anarchy, this girl has got to go! And…”
For the first time in his life, Ho Trung Nguyen opened a door without knock’n. The foreman looked down and he saw 22 pairs of angry eyes. All riveted to his night set-up man. “Rose, I don’t know what happened out there but I’m going to ask you to do me a big favor. Would you please, please go back to work?”
She stood a little too slowly, dusted herself off in the direction of the set-up man, looked down at everyone in that shop. “Come on, ya’ll. We got a lot of time to make up for.” And Rosie and that graveyard shift, they had the highest production levels at any factory during that war.
Well, people often ask when the war was over, did Rosie keep riveting? Well, most women signed a pledge that they give the guys who came back their jobs. So, lots of women went back home. Too many of them had to go back to the poor paying jobs that they had before the war. Some went on for training. But if you asked any of them, “What were you doing during the war?”
They’ll proudly tell you, “Me? I was a Rosie.”
What if she’s smeared full of oil and grease Doing her bit for the old Lendlease She keeps the gang around They love to hang around Rosie the Riveter
Megan was confused when her 9th grade classmates reacted differently to the assassination of President Kennedy than her family did. She didn’t know who was right. And then she learned to listen to what her heart told her was truth for her. (more…)
Gene travelled by van across the country to see the land of his people. Along his journey, he had the experience of meeting a southern white couple on a backcountry dirt road and an old black man in Sparta, Georgia who fought with First Nation men during the Korean War.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Sparta-GA
How do we break up the biases we have about other people?
Can travel be a way to open or confirm our ideas about other people?
Where would you like to travel? How would you keep an open mind about the people you meet along the way?
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Smooth Traveler: Avoiding Cross-Cultural Mistakes at Home and Abroad by Susan O’Halloran
African American/Black History
Education and Life Lessons
First Nations/Native Americans
Living and Traveling Abroad
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Gunalchéesh! My name is Gene Tagaban.
My name is Guy Yaaw. I’m of the Takdeintaan clan, the Raven, Freshwater Salmon clan from Hoonah, Alaska. I’m the child of a Wooshketann, Eagle, Shark clan Káawu huna in Juneau, Alaska.
I am Cherokee, Tlingit and Filipino. I’m a Cherotlingipino. I’d like to tell the story about an adventure of mine when I was a young man. I bought a van and I was going to drive across the country. And see what that land where I came from, my Indian people, was like.
Many people were exploring Europe and going over there but there’s so much richness here just in our backyard. So I was driving through Louisiana, me and my girlfriend. And so we stopped one night on a side road, dirt road and it was dark out. We were gonna camp there for the night. As we are just gettin’ ready to camp, a truck pulls up. Pulls in front of us. Turned around. And the headlights are shining right into our van. I’m thinking to myself, “Oh! What the heck’s going on here?”
And the only thing that could run through my mind was just these things I hear that’s going on in the south in the back country in Deliverance. We were kind of freaked out and they pulled up right next to us. I rolled down my window. And they said, “How y’all doin’?”
“Oh, we’re doin’ good.”
“Now where are y’all from?”
I told ’em, “I’m originally from Alaska.”
“Who are you people?”
And I said,” Guy Yaaw (then speaks about his people in his native language).
And they looked at me and said, “Now what kind of foreign language is that?”
“Oh, that’s my Tlingit language. I’m a Native American from this country. That language I just spoke to you was from Alaska.
“Alaska! You guys from Alaska?”
I said, “Yes, I am!”
“Now what y’all doin’ way down here. Did you guys get lost?”
I said, “No, we’re just driving around seeing this country.” And we started to strike up a conversation.
And he asked me, “How do y’all say… fire?”
He said, “Now did you hear that… fire. Now right here you say… fire to say… fire. You know, you’re some interesting folks! Now we don’t get many people like you around here much often. You know what? We’re having a… a gathering here that’s coming up here in a couple of days. You sure are welcome to come if you’d like to come. You can meet my kin, my folks that’s back there in the swamps a little bit. You’ll be more than welcome!”
I said, “Ah, thank you for the invitation but I think we’re gonna move on and keep traveling. I think we’re gonna make our way up… around Georgia. See, I’m part Cherokee and my people come from that area.”
“Well, all I want to tell you is that stay away from Sparta, Georgia there. I’ve been to Sparta. A lot of black folk there, you know. You good people. I don’t want you to get in trouble now. Ah, it’s good to meet you.”
“It sounds good to me too. I’ll tell you what! A couple of days later, we are in Sparta, Georgia and we were hungry. So we went to go get a couple of sandwiches and across the street was a basketball court and playin’ basketball there – a bunch of youngsters playing ball and they’re all black. And we sat there to go watch them play basketball. So we’re sitting there eatin’ our sandwiches and they’re arguing back and forth because they need an extra player.
And so they looked at me. They came up to me and said, “Heh! You right there! You play ball?”
I go, “Who? Me?’
“Yeah, we’re talking to you. You play ball?”
I said, “Do I play ball?” Now, I tell you what! Indians love basketball! So I said, “Yeah, I play ball!”
And so we went out there. They brought me out there. We started playing hoops back and forth. And we were playing basketball all afternoon and then they asked me, “Excuse me. Where are you from?”
I said, “From Alaska.”
And they asked me, “Are you an Indian?”
I said, “Yeah, I am!”
“Can we touch you?”
“You want to touch me?” I said, “Sure.”
So they felt my skin and they felt my hair and they told me… they said, “Hey, wait here, wait here!” And so they ran off but they brought back all their family, their relatives – aunties, uncles, cousins. They wanted to meet us Native American people because they’ve only heard about us in movies, books, magazines, museums. They never met a real live native person before. They said, “We gotta take you…we got Uncle Leroy who’d love to meet you.”
And so we went to Uncle’s Leroy’s house and Uncle Leroy, when we walked in, he was like this skinny black man. I mean he was so black, he was like purple. Long white hair, long white beard and he had square glasses tinted blue. Yes, and he was skinny, about as skinny as a broom pole when he came shuffling up to us, looked at me, “My Indian brothers!” You see, Uncle Leroy was in the Korean War and in the Korean War, Uncle Leroy was this young black man and he was scared and there were bombs and guns goin’ off. And so he was runnin’ around. But at the same time he was runnin’ around, there are a couple of Indians in a foxhole and they’re smokin’ their tobacco, saying their prayer. “Oh, Creator, take care of us. I swear here on this here foreign land, watch over us and we promise we’ll live a good life. Send us a sign that you hear what we’re talkin’ about. You hear our prayers!” And they’re smoking their tobacco! And just as they’re praying, suddenly Uncle Leroy jumps into their foxhole and those two Indians look at this black man and they go, “Ah, the creator! Thank you for sending us this good luck charm of a black man. We promise we’ll take care of this young man here in a good way.” And so they did.
They kept that promise and they took care of Uncle Leroy. And they taught Uncle Leroy about spirit, honor, culture, tradition, prayer, brotherhood. And they took care of Uncle Leroy and Uncle Leroy felt that. He owed those Indian brothers of his. So I went to his house. He told us the stories of brotherhood, took care of us while we were in his home. So the next morning we jumped in the van and we headed off. And as we were driving off, I heard Uncle Leroy, “My Indian brothers!”
During WWII the Navajo Code Talkers created a code that was never broken. The Navaho were forced off their reservations into boarding schools where they were told not to speak their language or practice their culture. But when WWII started, the United States military reached out to the Navajo to help them create a code using their previously forbidden language. (more…)
Gene tells of an afternoon he spent with Rachel, a Holocaust survivor, in Omaha, Nebraska. Rachel, an elderly woman, asks Gene, “Tell me about your people?” Gene tells her of the 1835 Indian Removal Act and how his Cherokee ancestors were forced to leave their homes and walk for 800 miles through the winter months; many died. Rachel replies, “Your people, my people – same.” Later, Gene goes to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and while being overcome with emotion, is comforted by an African American woman. (more…)
If a story plays a part in your identity – what is it and why do you use it to state who you are? Is there more than one story we can use to claim or identify who we are?
What is your family migration story? Does it matter or not?
What are some of the challenging moments in your life? How did you handle them? Could the challenges you faced and the solutions you created be a story that you tell?
Can you describe the story of a world you’d like to see and live in?
Idi Amin: Lion of Africa by Manzoor Moghal
Immigrants Settling in the City: Ugandan Asians in Leicester by Valerie Maret
Family and Childhood
Living and Traveling Abroad
So, my name is Kiran Singh Sirah. And this story is about my parents.
How do you eat a mango? You hold a mango in your hands, you caress it, you squeeze it, and you soften the pulp from the mango, and then you suck out the juice from the middle. I know how to eat mango because my parents told me how to eat a mango. They came to Britain in 1972 from Uganda as Ugandan refugees, and I was born in England. But they told me how to eat the mango because that’s what they did in Uganda. Mangoes flourished in their garden. And we eat mangos every day. But there are so many other stories from Uganda and Kenya.
There were stories about how my mother, when she grew up, she was sitting in an elementary classroom, and, she picked… a cobra, walked into, came into the classroom, and she picked up a hockey stick and killed the cobra. And still to this day, that cobra is in a jar and in the school museum with a label on it, “Killed by Pravina Korga Tora.” There were so many other stories from East Africa, from Kenya, and Uganda, where my family grew up. Stories about how they’d make popcorn and go to the drive-in cinema. Or stories of how they would pick food from the garden and make bugga or baquarda, bagia. Or how they make African food and combine that with Indian ingredients like ugali.
There was even a story once that my mother told me that the Bisaya people used to come on trains with vegetables and fruit and sell these vegetables to the houses. And one day, a young boy was knocking at the door to sell vegetables. And my grandma opened the door and invited this young boy in. And he became a friend of the family and as he grew up with my mother.
There was a story about my grandfather that one day, he looked out and he saw so many people walking past thirsty, they had no water. So, he went out with his own hands, he built a well so they could drink fresh clean water. There are many stories such as this and I know them because my parents told them to me and I had never been to Uganda.
But in 1972, in the summertime, Idi Amin, the then dictator of Uganda, announced on public radio, that Ugandan Asians had to leave the country in three months or they be executed. Now, you can imagine the panic. People were scared. But they had no time to fuss around. They had to pack up what they could, put their possessions into bags, and then leave the country, or obtain the visas so they could leave the country. A sociologist once described my people as the thrice migrant community. A community of people that had migrated across three continents in one lifetime. Thousands fled the borders. Some moved back into Kenya or Malawi or Tanzania. Well, my family were kind of lucky because they were born as British citizens. Originally, my grandparents came from India to East Africa to build the railroads from Mombasa to Jinja, the source of the Nile. The British needed the British railroads to keep control of the British Empire. They needed an access from the sea to the source of the Nile, to keep control of the Suez Canal. So, they sent for migrant Indian skilled workers to do this. And when it became an independent country, both Kenya and Uganda, the Ugandan Asians, they stayed and they settled and made Uganda their home.
On route to Britain, though, in the winter of 1972, things weren’t all that rosy. When the plane tried to land at Luton Airport, the airport was stormed by far right fascist groups that tried to stop the immigrants from coming into the country. And this was spurred by Enoch Powell’s “The Rivers of Blood” speech. Enoch Powell was a politician that talked about the blood of migrants is going to ruin our country. Many of the refugees settled in refugee camps. But my father got word, because he was a young architect in Uganda, that sister branch in a town called Eastbourne, sent word that any Ugandan refugees that were going to come to England had a promise of a job. So, my parents moved to Eastbourne.
The front page of the headline of the Eastbourne Herald Newspaper read, Uga, “Eastbourne Welcomes Ugandan Refugees,” and there was a picture on it of my parents. A young, cool Indian couple. My father wore a bright red turban. My mum even, even bright red sari and they carried a little baby, my older brother.
Eastbourne was where they grew up. It was also where I was born. It was a town that welcomed my family in. There was so many stories about those early years. I remember, my dad told me once, when he was walking down the Eastbourne promenade, a young boy called out, “Look mum, aliens!” My dad loves to tell that story. I once asked my dad what was it like. You left Uganda at gunpoint. You came to England, you had, your plane had to reroute. You started a new life. You had no possessions, no houses, hardly any money. The only money they brought into the country was jew… wedding jewelry, stuffed into my brother’s diaper. They had to start life from scratch. Must’ve been really difficult.
And my dad was like, “No, Son, it was fun. It was an adventure. And you know why? Because we’re doing it together. We had a sense of community. We helped each other out.”
When they came to Britain, alls they had was minimal possessions but what they did have was the power of the stories that are passed on to them and the power of stories that they passed on to me. I’m so grateful for the stories that were passed on to me by my parents. And the strength and this belief that I believe. That to tell a story in this world is more than a human right. It’s actually an act of love that can change the world. And I’m grateful for the stories that have changed my world and made me realize the person I could be.
Kiran reveals the experiences of living between two worlds: on one hand, his experiences with racism being one of the few brown boys in his town contrasted with the kindness of strangers as well as the inspiration he received from his storyteller teacher, Mr. George. (more…)
Issues within the same religious group or ethnicity are complex and rarely discussed. Laura grew up on a street in Brooklyn with many kinds of Jews – Orthodox, Conservative, Sephardic, cultural and so forth. As different as they were, they had one thing in common: no one talked about World War II and the Holocaust. Two young children (one from an Orthodox family and Laura from a Conservative background) find a way to memorialize the unspoken through a make believe graveyard. In doing so, they strike up an unlikely and forbidden friendship.
As a child, what games did you play with other children?
When you were growing up did you play with children from other races, gender or culture? What was the best part of getting to know others?
When challenges in life and even deaths go unspoken how does that still affect the children?
God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors by Menachem Z. Rosensaft and Elie Wiesel
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, my name is Laura Simms. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I was born after World War II. Everyone on my street, in Brooklyn was Jewish. It was after the Holocaust, which was a huge conflagration, a genocide, the murder of millions people.
People in my neighborhood spoke seven languages, they had different customs, they wore different clothing. There were Conservative Jews, like my family. Those were Jews who went to synagogue once in a while and on the holidays, ate Kosher food. There were Orthodox Jews. They were seriously religious. They wanted nothing to do with Hebrew. They spoke the language from their old country of Yiddish. They wore medieval clothing. I was fascinated by them. There were Reformed Jews. Those were the more political Jews. Everything had to happen in English. And then there were Sephardic Jews from the Middle Eastern countries like Spain and Greece. They, they had different languages and different food. It was very exotic.
The one thing that everyone had in common was that everyone in my neighborhood spoke Yiddish. Oh, and then there was one other thing that everyone had in common. No one spoke about the war that had just happened. But I was a child and as a child, you feel everything.
My father was the neighborhood dentist, and in the back of our house, in the kitchen, that was the place where he was responsible for making important announcements. One afternoon, coming in at lunchtime, my father said, “Lohala, we have new neighbors. Next door, there’s an Orthodox family from Poland. They have a daughter just your age. Her name is Leahala, just like your Hebrew name.” At birth, I was given my name Laura and also a Hebrew name, Leah. I got, as usual, very excited. My father, as usual, tried to dampen my excitement. I think it was something about, “Don’t get too happy. You’ll be disappointed.” But he said, of course, “Don’t get excited. She won’t be your friend. They’re Orthodox. they don’t think we’re real Jews.” Now, I accepted it, the way I accepted everything as a child. Kind of taking it in, thinking about it and somewhat forgetting about it.
Next to my house, right, actually, under my bedroom window, was a small alleyway of dirt. Nothing ever grew there. The sun didn’t shine. It was where I had my secret graveyard. I loved to bury things. I had pieces of dolls’ clothing, my mother’s single sock, an earring. I stole little plastic toys from my father’s dental office. My favorite things to bury, actually, were Chinese food and pieces of pizza that were not kosher. We had strict Jewish dietary laws. My father didn’t allow those foods but when he wasn’t home, my mother would bring it in and say, “Don’t tell your father.” So, I would bury a piece of pizza in a wax paper and then I’d cover it with dirt and put little stones on, like I’d see my parents and grandparents in the graveyard do. I would leap over it or I would throw make believe salt over my shoulders and sing pieces of Hebrew prayers. “Adon olam, asber malak.”
I had a favorite doll of all my dolls. This one was crippled on the left side, one eye hanging out, was completely bald. I dressed her in rags and sometimes even put dirt on her. Her name was Lefty Louie, strangely named for my father. I would put the doll against the wall and then I would tell stories about the history of this lost abandoned, destroyed, unwanted object that I had saved, buried, sanctified, made holy.
One afternoon, suddenly, the window from the next-door house opened. I looked up. And there was a little face. I knew who it was it was. Leahala. She held up her hand. She had a wadded sock. She threw it. I caught it. I buried it. And then, when I was covering it up with dirt, putting little stones around it, she called out in a high-pitched voice, “Kaddosh, Kaddosh, Kaddosh.” Holy, holy, holy. We became best friends. We buried something every day. Our funerals were fabulous. But our entire friendship occurred with me on the ground and her at the window.
And Saturdays, the holy days, the Shabbats, when everybody in the neighborhood promenaded up and down our street in their best clothes, they would talk to each other politely in Yiddish, regardless of what they said about each other in their own languages at the kitchen table. And when my parents would meet Leahala’s parents, Leahala and I would look at each other, turn our backs, pretend we didn’t know each other. Our friendship was a secret. In fact, we had a secret mission; perhaps even a bit of secret to ourselves. When I looked back at it, I realized we were little priestesses; digging; burying; sanctifying; telling stories. We were burying all the dead whose stories were unspoken in our neighborhood. It wasn’t only Jews in the Holocaust. There were Christians, there were gay people, there were political activists and poets, they were gypsies, anyone considered different.
Then, we both turned 12 and our friendship just disappeared. Leahala went to Yeshiva, an all-Hebrew girls school. My mother told me that she was already betrothed to the rabbi’s son. That at her wedding, she would have her hair shaved, she would wear a wig, she would wear long sleeves in August. It’s unbelievable to me. I was obsessed with my hair. My hair hung low, long, curly down my back so I could dance to Elvis Presley and gyrate on my back porch. My skirts were getting shorter. I wasn’t devoted to religion. I gave up burying the dead. I was devoted to rock and roll.
But I grew up. I moved. Israel on the news, often. And I went back to my neighborhood. I had lived in an old farmhouse, the largest house on the street. It was gone. And there were five, three story buildings, with four families in each. My entire neighborhood had become Orthodox. It was like a shtetl, small village in eastern Europe. And the graveyard, I couldn’t find it anymore. It was buried. And I would look into the faces of people walking down the street. They never looked directly at me. After all I was not really a Jew. But I looked for Leahala. I could barely remember what she looked like.
But then one night, when the sun was going down, I was in an airport in London, about to come back home. And there were a group of religious Jews in their black medieval hats with fur and long, black coats of silk. And they were praying, rocking back and forth, facing the sun that was going down. And beside them were two African Muslim young men on prayer rugs. And I stared out the window at the sun. And it dawned on me.
That sometimes, sadly, history creates a gap that maybe, at another time, would not exist but that remains. Getting wider between the Leahala and Leah. But that place, we all pray to, regardless. And that underneath it all, my friendship with Leahala, always exists. And whenever I tell the story about her, there it is. Palpable and real. And I pray all the time that people only bury as we did. And that the constant burial of the dead from wars and racism, that should come to an end.
Laura befriends and, then, adopts a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. Years later, Ishmael Beah goes on to become a best-selling author. One day, while speaking on a panel together, she and her grown son hear of the genocide in Rwanda. A woman from Rwanda tells of a child who makes a difficult choice when he finds himself in the same room with the man who murdered his parents. Laura’s son, Ishmael, understands and applauds the child’s choice. He is glad the child will not have to define himself as a murderer and can keep in touch with the place within that Ishmael has once again found – the place within that is untouched by war, murderous alternatives and biases of any sort.
What surprised you the most about the story Laura and Ishmael heard about Rwanda?
Do you think it is fair to have children fighting in wars?
Most people want to know what are causes of war. What do you think are the causes of Peace?
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
Making Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron
The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein MD
A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
The Way of Council by Jack Zimmerman
African American/Black History
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, I’m Laura Simms. In 1996, I was a facilitator at a UNICEF conference at the United Nations called Young Voices. There were 57 young people from 23 third world countries. They were there, actually, to create what later became a Children’s Bill of Rights. My very first day, I met two young boys; thin, wearing cotton shorts and T-shirts, who came from Sierra Leone, West Africa. I literally went home because it was mid-November, was snowing, they had never been in cold weather, and gave them my winter coats. The interesting thing is, of course, that years passed and I got these two boys out of the war in Africa. One of them became my son and reminded me often that first year that he would never wear a women’s winter coat again.
It was an amazing 10 days. And a lot of what happened during those 10 days was, these kids listening to each other’s stories. And these boys were so gentle, so sweet that I had met outside of UNICEF that day, who wore my coats, wrapped up, they told horrendous stories of having been child soldiers. Learning to be murderers. Believing that these murderers would take revenge on the death of their parents, who they had both seen killed, including family members and friends. A terrible civil war occurred in Sierra Leone.
So many things about Ishmael. One is that Ishmael wrote an amazing memoir. The publishers thought, well, a few people will like this but actually it became a bestseller A Long Way Gone. Twenty million copies sold. Everybody wanted to read this book. About a child’s experience in war. And Ishmael and I were invited to give a talk together (which in those years we did a lot) at a journalism school and university. And then, we were on a panel and one of the other panelists was a woman from Rwanda. Let me back up a minute, because people were always asking me how could you do this? How could you have a child who has murdered be your child, live in your house? But I’m a storyteller and I’ve been meditating for over 25 years. And I really understood, something I believed, that inside each of us there is a place that is untarnished by violence, untarnished by circumstances. And if we come back to that place, that’s the place at which we can transform. And that, basically, everybody is good. And I knew from Ishmael, at least, that he’d had enough violence to last ten lifetimes. The last thing he wanted to do was to be engaged with any conflict at all. And he was peaceful. He grew up in a traditional storytelling culture.
The woman from Rwanda. After Ishmael and I spoke, she spoke and, of course, she spoke about stories. It was her job in Rwanda, after the terrible genocide, to listen to young people’s stories. And she told a tale, true tale, that was harrowing but haunting. It was a story about a Tutsi boy who was caught in a horrible massacre. And his body along with the bodies of his family and all his neighbors were thrown into a ravine, assumed dead. And that night, he awoke under the bodies. Shocked. And made his way up out this sea…of misery and blood. He was a kid, so, what did he do? He wandered back to his house. He washed himself and he got under the sheets on his parents’ bed and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, a man came in, set his machete down next to the bed. He washed. Also seeking comfort, he climbed into the bed. He hadn’t seen the boy. But they both slept deeply and in the middle of the night seeking comfort, they rolled into each other’s arms and slept in the safety of embrace.
She described how early in the morning, the boy told her, he woke up and he was face to face with the man who had killed his family. And at first he thought, “I should kill him.” But he had enough violence and he had slept in that man’s arms as if that man was his parent. So, he got up out of the bed and wandered out into the bush, where he was eventually found and saved.
Ishmael and I listened to the story. And seated in the lobby of our hotel that night, we talked about. How it had moved us both. And Ishmael said, “That’s the place isn’t it? That, that’s that place. That untarnished place.”
And I said, “Yes, it was really remarkable to hear the story. Most people would probably say that boy should have killed that man.”
And Ishmael said, “No. If he had killed the man. He would have been a murderer as well.”
Those years, every so often, Ishmael and I would talk about that story. And then one morning, he got up, and knocked on my bedroom door. And he said, “It’s still there. It’s still there.”
And I said, “What? What is still there?”
And he said, “I know we heard that story. I know we were talking about this but I thought that place inside of me was gone. That the war had taken it away. So, but I woke up, I felt it. I felt the joy. It’s still there. That place is still there.”
I understood. He would more than survive. Which he did, going on to write the book To Marry As A Child. And for me it changed everything. I understood the goal of my story telling. That place where, regardless of race, of violence, of learned habits, of bias. That place exists in all of us. And sometimes, I weep for the world. But knowing that I can do something about it completely cheers me up.
Judy Sima tells the story of her mother, Elsa Mosbach. She relates the events leading to Elsa’s escape from Germany during WWII, her encounter with the Gestapo following Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass, and how she used her father’s WWI medals to gain her father’s release from Buchenwald Concentration Camp. (more…)
A wannabe comedian in the suburbs of Pittsburgh finally meets a professional comic who is willing to take him under his wing. However, stunned silence over the discovery of a small town’s nasty racial secret destroys a brand new friendship before it can even begin.
When was a time when you remained silent when you should have spoken up about discrimination? What caused you to stay silent?
How could this situation have turned out differently? What effect could calling out the racism around us have on the people practicing it or on the people experiencing it?
Have you ever observed the silence of others while you yourself were being treated poorly? How would you have wanted others to react or behave?
Silent Racism: How Well-Meaning White People Perpetuate the Racial Divide by Barbara Trepagnier
Film – Dear White People (2014), Directed By Justin Simien
African American/Black History
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name is Scott Whitehair. Oddly enough, it all started in a place called the Freedom Inn. The Freedom Inn was a bar in my hometown, where my college improv troupe got to do a monthly show. nd we were excited because we were ambitious and we thought we were hilarious. Um, so this was a great opportunity for us, not only because we got to go on stage, but we get to open for traveling comedians, who would come from around the country and do a show every month. Ah, now, the shows were OK. We, ah, we got paid in onion rings and bar food. And although the audience was surly, we got some laughs. And we felt that we were right on the right path. Now the… one the most exciting parts was we would approach these road comedians after they were done and we would ask them questions. Ah, we felt like we had access to the pros. We would say, you know, “Can we get you a sandwich? Can we get you something a drink?”
And then we felt that was the permission we needed then to pepper them with questions like, “What is this life like? How did you get into it? How did you get an agent? How do we all become rich and famous through this improv that we’re doing in bars?” And the comedians would mostly accept our drinks and food and they would speak to us.
But they weren’t into it and most of them, the advice they give us, would be things like, “Oh, do you want a happy healthy life? Don’t, don’t get into this.” Ah, they were pretty bitter. They were jaded. Um, they ate up the food, drink a lot of the drinks we get them and, basically, discourage us from following it any further.
But one month, there was a comedian named James. He was a younger African-American man who, immediately, when he got on stage just brought a different energy than had been in this bar in the times we’d been there before. And he, he just lit it up. He was getting laughs from a crowd that was often pretty surly. He shut down a heckler just with a disapproving glance and kind of, a, a kind nod of his head. nd he didn’t play down to this crowd like a lot of these comedians, he, he elevated them. And we were excited. So as soon as the show was over, we walked over and we said, “James, if it’s OK, we’d, we’d like to buy you a drink and some food.” And James took a look at us and said, “No…I know you guys get paid an onion rings. I’m, I’m buying the food.”
And he talked with us and he talked to us for an hour. And he answered our questions and for the first time, we felt like somebody was supporting us. Somebody who had made it as a comedian. Who was doing this with their, their lives was taking the time to encourage us. Letting us know the ins and outs, the practical stuff. How he had gotten into it. Why he had gotten into it. Where he thought it would go. And we, we were so excited. And as my improv team started to filter out to go home, I hung out longer. And James and I got to know each other even better. And we were at the bar, regulars were still hanging out, and we started to, to throw back and forth and set each other up. You know, he would throw some up and I’d bad slam it home. It was like a two man, two man show at the bar. And it was probably better than most of the shows I had ever been in that people have asked me to do. And it was exciting and I, I felt like I was being taken seriously.
And so at the end of the night James and I were still sitting there having a great time. So as the bar began to, to close, he said, “This is a great time; what else is going on in town. Is there anything else for us to do? I’m still, still ready to make a night of it.”
I thought about it and I said, “Oh, yes, actually. Down the hill near the river, there’s, there’s a club. And it’s a private club so they are allowed to stay open past the 2 a.m. closing time in the Pittsburgh area. And they sell you a membership for the night. But that just means it’s kind of a, a cover charge and you get to hang out. And James said “That sounds good. Let’s do that. I’m into it.”
And Bill, the bartender, had been standing there. Just quietly washing a glass said, “Scott, They’re not open tonight.”
I was like, “What, what are you talking about Bill? They’re open on Christmas Day. This place, I don’t think, they ever close. Of course they’re open.”
Bill said, “I’m telling you guys they’re closed.”
And I said, “Bill it’s Saturday night. There’s no way that place is closed.
He said, “Trust me, they’re closed.”
So James kind of shrugged and said, “I’m going to the bathroom; maybe we can figured something else out to do. I’m still, I, I get that energy from a show and I’m ready to do it.”
So he hits the restroom. I kind of look at Bill. And Bill says, “Scott, they don’t let black people in that club.”
And I started to protest and say, “Well, of course…” But then it kind of washed over me. I had never seen a person of color there. Even though it was located in a predominantly black neighborhood, I’d never seen a person of color in this club. And maybe it didn’t register because I had had a few drinks or it just didn’t hit me, but it hit me right in that moment.
Before I could say anything back to Bill, James came back and he said, “It’s a shame about that place, man. Sounded like fun.” And I, I just didn’t say anything.
The bar closed and we decided to go down the hill. The other part of town to a diner that was open all night is get some food instead and James was into it. So we go and we continue the conversation. If I got to know him before as a comedian and a pro, I got to know him more as a person. He got to know me. We had conversations about what our childhoods were like, why comedy was so important to us, the way we had been raised, and that proceeded through life. Talked about deeper ambitions and goals and where we wanted this to go, not just as a career but what it would mean to our lives. And I, I again, I felt just so taken seriously and so engaged as a person. I felt like I was making a friend. So we’re sitting there we’re finishing our waffles and somebody comes in who had been at the show earlier. And they sit down in a booth next to us and they noticed us. And they say, “Hey, it’s the comedians. Hey, how come you guys didn’t go to the late night club?”
And James says, “Well, oh, they’re close tonight.”
A guy goes, “That place never closes. It’s Saturday night.” And then I think James understood that something was off. That he hadn’t been told the full truth.
And so we sat there and we finished our food. We finished our coffees and we didn’t say much else. Turned back into small talk. When the bill came, James grabbed it and paid. And we went outside to the parking lot. Still I said nothing. And so we stood there…in silence. And instead of the hugs we’d shared all night, and the familiar language, James just stuck out his hand and said, “Good luck with everything.” And as I watched him drive out of the parking lot of the diner, and up the road and out of my life forever, I was ashamed. I was ashamed of my town. I was ashamed of the people in it that would let something like this exist. But, most of all, I was ashamed of my silence.
When former Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, war broke out across the region. Hasan, a Muslim, was a college student in 1992 when the siege against his city, Sarajevo, began. He joined the Army of Bosnia but would do anything to escape and live in peace and freedom. A few of his many adventures are detailed in this excerpt as well as his victory in studying Islam and rediscovering his identity when he came to the United States. (more…)
Storyteller Patricia Coffie learns that traveling to understanding is part of traveling from one physical place to another. Understanding involves listening first. Listen to what is said, to tone of voice, to body language and to the silences. Some colleagues of Pat’s give her feedback on a joke she told and help her realize that change, based on understanding, takes action. Change for the better is always possible. (more…)
Donna’s father is quite a trickster, and one afternoon in the 1980’s, while her large family was traveling through the south, they ran into a potentially dangerous situation. Donna’s trickster father literally saved our lives. (more…)
The night Obama was elected to the presidency, Donna was a lone black woman in a very conservative part of the country. She discovered that it is possible be in a foreign land in her own country. She also found out that the world is full of people with good hearts. (more…)
When Andy was a child living in the Deep South, he visited some of his family in Colorado. A woman out there told Andy, “Everybody in Georgia is a bigot.” This put him on the road to thinking about Racial Default Thinking. Every day this informs his storytelling. (more…)
Bill’s mother and father came from opposite ends of the political spectrum which meant that his mother and father’s family did as well. Bill’s father could not tolerate the biased language that was spoken at his in-law’s dinner table. Then, one Thanksgiving dinner, Bill’s father can take the bigotry no longer and speaks out. Bill learns a valuable lesson about the importance of taking a stand. (more…)
Bill gathers a group of musicians together to record an album of Civil Rights freedom songs. However, they learn that they can’t assume they are all on the same page or that underlying emotions and biases aren’t in play. (more…)
Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina during Jim Crow, Cynthia is baffled by why Black people get to ride in the “best part” of the bus, the back of the bus with the great view out the rear window. She plays with a young boy named Sammy when his mother comes to help Cynthia’s mother with the ironing. Cynthia doesn’t understand when her mother tells her that Sammy is dead and that he died because he couldn’t get to a “colored hospital” in time. When she was 12, Cynthia’s mother takes her to an integrated church service in Winston Salem. Cynthia is able to sense the danger but her heart feels full and happy to be in this circle of women. (more…)
While getting a passport to prepare for a trip abroad, Onawumi Jean discovered that her name is not on her birth certificate. Her aunt is able to clear up the mystery by disclosing a concession Onawumi’s mother made to get along and keep her job in the Jim Crow South. As an adult, Onawumi arranges a naming ceremony where she is able to honor her past and celebrate her creative present and future.
Why are names important? What do they say about our identity and the people who name us?
How did Onawumi Jean’s mother’s concession help her “get along” in the Jim Crow South?
If you were going to choose another name for yourself, what would it be and why?
American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow by Jerrold M. Packard
The Name Book: Over 10,000 Names – Their Meanings Origins and Spiritual Significance by Dorothy Astoria
African American/Black History
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hello, my name is Onawumi Jean Moss and I’m going to be doing a reading from a one woman play that I’m doing that’s actually inspired by my own life. It is inspired by the fact, well, let me just get started. This is a reading from, “Seriously, what did you call me?”
The year is 1998 and I have been invited to the Dunya Storytelling Festival in Rotterdam. Hello. You see, I’ve been dreaming of travelling abroad for years but the truth to be told, I’ve only travelled in the United States of America. I’m just saying. I decided I’d call my friend B.J. She has been trying to get me to go abroad for years. She wanted me to go to Africa one year. She just wanted me to go somewhere. So I give her a call.
“Hallelujah!” I knew she’d love it. “So you going abroad. My goodness.” She’s got a gravelly voice but that woman is known on three continents for helping poor people get over the forces that have held them down. She’s quite remarkable. B.J. stands for bold justice. “So you’re going abroad. Well, hurry up and don’t stop. I know you. Get your passport. It’s pretty straight forward. Just go get it and keep me posted cause I do think I just felt the earth tremble. Could be coming to an end.”
I move quickly to do what B.J. has asked me to do. So, I go to the post office and I get all the forms that verify I say who I say I am. And then I start to completing them. I find out I need my birth certificate. I haven’t seen that in…ever. So I sent for it. It came and surprise, surprise… the name Jean, the name I have been called all my life, is not on my birth certificate. Whaaaat? Seriously? I think about calling my cousin Eloise. She is our family historian and she is very tight lipped. I know that as soon as I call her, here’s what I’m gonna hear. “Lord, Lord, child. Some words, if spoken, will make the wheels fall off the wagon.” But I still plead with her. And you know what she does? She says, “You know, you haven’t flown home in a long time.” And then she starts bringing me up to date on who gave birth. Who got sick. Who recovered. And who died. That, I don’t know these folks is not here nor there. She is my cousin Eloise and she is my favorite, favorite elder.
So after she stops being the town crier I say, “Cousin Eloise, how come Jean is not on my birth certificate?”
And she says, “Lord, Lord, Jeanie cat, that’s water under the bridge. Now why are you worried about this now?”
“Because I’ve been sitting here with my birth certificate and it says, ‘Carolyn Durham.’ It does not say Jean and I want to know why. If Mama was still with us, I would ask her why Jean is not on my birth certificate.” It was quiet in my office and quiet on the phone. And then we both just burst out laughing. (Laughing) Because we both knew that Mama would not tolerate being interrogated by anybody, let alone her children. But something in that moment caused my cousin Eloise, whom we learned to call cousin Weez, cause when we were children we couldn’t say Eloise. So she still calls me Jeannie cat. And I still call her cousin Weez.
Cousin Weez said, “Well, when Hon,” that’s what you call Mama. “When Hon went back to work for the Taylors a few weeks after you were born, the oldest daughter wanted to know why you were named Carolyn and not after her. Everybody thought the child was just being cute and they weren’t taking her seriously. But every time Hon went to work, the child just would fret something awful. So to keep the peace, Hon told her she’d call you Jean. Well, what your mama meant was she’d just call you Jean when she was at their house. But we all started calling you Jean not realizing that that would be the only name that you would come to know yourself by. We just weren’t thinking about the long run.”
Well, I was outdone. I felt my legs buckle. This is madness. I thought to myself, “I’m on the threshold of becoming a nationally, internationally known storyteller. Can you imagine it? And because my mother felt it was necessary to do because she wanted to keep her job. I am having to go through hoops because I, a little girl, a little white girl who felt entitled, had a “do what I say’ tantrum and when she got her way, I was given no more thought. I used to babysit for her. And she called my name with detachment only to tell me, “Fetch this, fetch that.” My family’s attempt to mark what happened backfired.
And so they didn’t realize that I wouldn’t know my real name. But still they helped me get to where I am today, at one of the most prestigious institutions on the planet and with the tools I would need to be successful. The wisdom of knowing how to survive, is to know how to overcome Jim Crow rule. And that wisdom is hard earned. That scene in Roots, when Kunta Kinte was being beaten because he refused to be called by the name Toby, just stayed in my mind. But when he had the help he needed, he not only survived, he thrived. I want my name to reflect my African and American heritage.
Since miscegenation has erased my physical connection to Africa I thought. I need someone who really knows me, to name me. And I decided that that person is, Dr. Rowland Abiodun, professor of art history and black studies at Amherst College. When I ask Dr. Abiodun to name me, he got very quiet on the phone. And I thought, “Oh my! He’s not interested in doing this.” Well, it turns out I was wrong.
When he spoke, he said these words, “I will have to pray about it.” And he hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe it. I never thought anybody would have to pray about naming you. Three days passed. I was a wreck but he called me back and he said that he would name me. And then he told me several foods that I had to come collect for the naming ceremony. My heart was racing. I collected all the foods. I invited my friends and my collaborators. Those of us who work for justice for a long time together and everybody came.
And when we gathered, Professor Abiodun stood and told us a story about naming that I will take with me for the rest of my days. He said when he was telling about the meaning of the foods I had collected. He said these words, “Omi. Omi means water. The water, which you are supposed to drink. The water that destiny has set for you to drink will never flow past you. Iyo. Salt. Maggots are never found in salt. May your body never harbor decay or disease. Oyin. Honey. No one refuses honey. That taste of honey will be in your mouth. Your presence will bring joy and happiness to all you meet.” I felt my spirit soar in a way that I never felt it before. On hearing all he told me, about the way the foods related to my name. And then he calmly guided us through the ancient and untitled ritual.
I remember singing to myself. Amazing, amazing! This is amazing, amazing, amazing. This is amazing!
Then he said, “In Yoruba culture, one is a stranger until one is given a name. Your name gives you presence and beauty and power. With this name, you will no longer be a stranger. Onawumi, one who is creative and loves to create. Oshunokami, one whose deity is the great river goddess, Oshun. She is the one, who holds the mirror of truth. She is the one, who sits by the doors of the temple. She is the one who braids hair and speaks wisdom. Olyin, whose words are healing and sweet as honey.
Amazing. Amazing! This is amazing, amazing, amazing. This is amazing!
In keeping with Yoruba tradition those gathered were invited to speak my name several times so that my presence, my beauty, and my power would be undeniable. Looking back, using the rearview mirror that my cousin Eliose, Cousin Weez, was always famous for saying. When someone said, “I don’t look back.” She would say to me and to the children around her, “Just remember children, there’s a reason that a car has a rear, rearview mirror. When you going forward, don’t forget to look in the rearview mirror because what’s back there might help you get along further.”
And so, I have looked back on my own life. Because I found my name Jean was not on my birth certificate but now it is on everything. And it is my legal name but it is also my spiritual name. My name is Onawumi, one who creates and loves to create. Jean, the one, the name my mother gave me to keep the peace. It means gift of God and my mother said it means gifted by God. Moss, the name that I share with my two sons and my daughter. My name is Onawumi Jean Moss. Amazing, amazing! I am amazing, amazing, amazing, amazing! And so are you.
Nancy shares some of her favorite teaching moments when students from different cultures turn the tables and teach her about stories from their cultures. Second grader, Luis, tries to be patient with his teacher, but despairs of ever getting Nancy to pronounce “pantalones” correctly. Nancy learns just how challenging it is to communicate in another language. (more…)
Searching for a resource for Japanese American experiences in World War II relocation camps? Alton Chung tells the true story of his journey and encounter with an 89 year old former internee who made her first visit after 66 years. This personal and challenging story is food for thought for all of us.
Alton Chung relates the true story of his journey to the Minidoka Relocation Camp site at Hunt, Idaho and of his encounter there with an 89 year old former internee. She was 23 years old when she left this Japanese American incarceration camp and this was her first visit back to the site after 66 years.
Touring the old camp evokes emotions and thoughts of loved ones and life at Minidoka during World War II. The internee shares personal memories of that time and how the internment affected her life. The story provides a view of relocation camps that allows us to experience the difficulties encountered and, hopefully, encourages us to think differently about others.
Create a webquest (an online scavenger hunt) for students to uncover information about incarceration camps
Visit a WWII museum
Write journal prompts for students to respond to daily.
Watch the video now
Explore our many other RaceBridges videos for
Asian American Month or any other time of the year.
Some of the most poignant and beautiful writings are created by students simply sharing their life circumstances with one another. Powerful and moving, this story told by Antonio Sacre is a true personal experience that shows that anything is possible and that all students should dream big. Listen as Antonio relates his time spent with a class of high school seniors, the connection he made with them, and their remarkable achievements.
Thirty teenagers from twenty countries, one Jewish teacher, and one Cuban-Irish-American storyteller (story artist, Antonio Sacre) set out to publish a book of writing in one of the poorest and most challenging high schools in Los Angeles. Will fear and distrust stop the project before it begins, or will they stand together?
Classroom Reflections & Activities:
Big project: have students create a class anthology of their own. What would their story be?
Introduce a poetry assignment to students that talks about who they are – struggles, talents, dreams, etc. Bio-Poems are great examples of this type of work.
Brainstorm with students several questions they think would be important to know about someone. Then, have students interview each other. Interviewing sessions could be videotaped and class biographies could be created.
A Short Video Story
by Anne Shimojima
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if the government had imprisoned your entire family? For Anne Shimojima, this was the experience of her grandparents and their children. In this touching story, Anne tells of what life was like behind the barbed wire fences and the inadequate housing. Looking past what is unspoken, Anne reveals details of life for Japanese Americans in incarceration camps during WWII.
Curious as to her family’s experiences in incarceration camps during WWII, storyteller Anne Shimojima explains how she uncovered details to her family’s past. For whatever reason, many Japanese Americans do no talk about their experiences during this time. Anne was able to dig into her family history and speak with relatives who then shared details of what life was like in these camps.
Armed with a deeper and more personal understanding of what her grandparents had endured in the incarceration camp, Anne reveals a hidden world when she is able to describe the camp itself. She explains how she was brought closer to her grandparents and better understands the indignities they suffered, the sacrifices they made, and the hopes they had for future generations.
Invite grandparents of students to come to class and share a story from their life
Explore geneology or create a family tree
Watch videos or read literature the helps students to better understand historical events..
Watch the video now
Explore our many other RaceBridges Studio videos and lessons
Immigrant Story: a Chinese Family in the US
A Short Video Story by Nancy Wang
RaceBridges pays tribute to the many Asian Americans who have helped build and enrich America. Nancy Wang paints a true life picture of her Chinese American immigrant family’s struggles and ingenuity in the Monterey, CA area. This story is a great resource for understanding the contributions of Asian American immigrants to America.
This story follows the journey of Nance Wang’s ancestors who arrived in California on a junk boat in 1850 and the adversities encountered along the way to America. Upon arriving, Nancy’s family started the fishing industry of the Monterey Peninsula, which proved to be lucrative but not without opposition. Both legal and illegal violence ensued against them for generations.
Although America was a land of opportunity, unfair regulations and restrictions caused great difficulties for the hard-working Chinese Americans. This story reveals how a group of immigrants rallied with resilience and ingenuity so that the 7th generation of Chinese Americans thrives today.
The unimaginable challenges faced by Nancy’s family in this true story are thought-provoking and provide insight for us to appreciate our differences as well as make changes in how we think of others. With understanding, we can feel their pain and change our world for the better.
The stories offered here—Immigrant History and Mom’s Story—come from Chinese American storyteller, Nancy Wangs longer story Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy. In this story, Wang explores the history of her own family, beginning with the immigration of her great-great-grandparents from China to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century.
This lesson plan uses two stories by Nancy Wang, a dancer, storyteller, playwright, and practicing psychotherapist. Wang studies ethnic dance and has written plays focused on Asian American themes. The stories offered here—Immigrant History and Mom’s Story—come from her longer story Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy. In this story, Wang explores the history of her own family, beginning with the immigration of her great-great-grandparents from China to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. Through this story of her own family history, Wang uncovers the generations of discrimination against Chinese immigrants—both stealth and legally sanctioned—as she explores the relationship in her family, including her own relationship with her mother.
This unit comes with a teacher guide, text of stories & audio-download of stories as well as student activities.
To expose students to the experience of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.
To explore the little-known history of exclusion of and discrimination against Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries.
To examine the connections between family history and personal development.
By the end of this lesson, each student will:
Be familiar with the tension among immigrants in California in the 19th and early-20th century.
Understand why marginalized groups might exploit and oppress each other rather than working together to achieve their rights.
Need help to download the MP3 Story Excerpts? Click here for directions.
About Storyteller Nancy Wang
Nancy Wang, together with her storyteller husband Robert Kikuchi-Ynogo founded Eth-Noh-Tec in 1982. This is is a kinetic story theater company based in San Francisco, weaving [tec] together distinctive cultural elements of the East and West [eth] to create new possibilities [noh]. Eth-Noh-Tec produces and performs contemporary presentations of traditional folktales from the many countries and cultures of Asia through storytelling, theater, dance, and music. Nancy Wang is available for performances in schools and colleges solo, or with her husband as Eth-NohTec.
From when we humans first became aware, we began to paint our skin with colors and symbols of who we are. Were we telling the world “look at my skin to see who I am”, or saying that since appearances can change, then true identity must lie deeper within us? (more…)
April 4, 1968 may have been the end of one dream with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, on that day, another began in a young woman who pushed past despair, journeying from Mississippi to New York City, to discover that the “dream” lived on in her.
Dr. King is associated with bringing together people of various ethnic backgrounds. While the message of equality was a theme of the Civil Rights Movement, a critical part of the movement centered around employment – compensation, fairness, availability, and equity. How are there still struggles around employment issues in the U.S. and the world?
Each person has been given a talent – teaching, preaching, engineering, drawing, you name it! What are the talents you have been given and how have they helped someone else or you in an unexpected way?
Travel can reveal a new perspective about one’s self, others, and places. Where have your travels brought you? How has something you experienced or seen changed your perspective?
The Great Migration refers to the exodus of African Americans from the American South, seeking a variety of opportunities, new beginnings, and work during the 20th century. This departure from “home” enabled families to unite and offered a different future to the next generation. What sacrifice did those who left the South make for the next generation? What opportunities did future generations have? In your family, how did one generation make a sacrifice that benefitted the next generation(s)?
America Street: A Multicultural Anthology of Stories edited by Anne Mazer
Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson
Voice of Freedom – Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford
28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World by Charles R. Smith, Jr.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
African American/Black History
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hi, my name is Diane Macklin. There are moments in history that are like a rock thrown into the lake of time. The ripples reach all the way to the shore even if you cannot see them.
It was May 1968. Barbara Jean stood at a Greyhound bus station staring across the street. The bus wasn’t there yet but her siblings were, her two sisters and her youngest brother. They were holding hands, watching her, hoping that maybe she would walk to them. Maybe she would head back home to the shotgun shack. She wasn’t going to. She looked down at her freshly polished shoes, saw the little bit of dust on them where she could wipe it off. She had her suitcase. She was determined. She was going to go. Nothing could keep her in Mississippi. Barbara Jean pulled out of her purse the clipping from the newspaper. “Hard working young women needed, live-in maid, New York City.” She folded it up again and put it back in her purse. She was going to go. This was May.
A month earlier, April 4th, 1968 a shot rang out in Memphis Tennessee. A hundred miles north of where she lived, and it came shatterin’ all the way down to where she lived. And she knew the dream was gone. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. The dream that work would come to the South, that work would return to Mississippi. People that knew the life of sharecropping, people that knew how to work the land, would have work again. But without Dr. Martin Luther King, who was trying to help people to get work, she would never find work, and nor would her children, even though she had no children. She had to go. She had to go to New York. There was work in New York. The bus came. She looked down at the ground. She might stay, if she looked at them again. She got on that bus. She got on the far side away from where her siblings were standing there. The bus pulled off, and she could not look at them. But they stood there until the bus was out of sight. She rode that bus all the way to New York City with that $24 ticket that she gave to that bus driver. She got off and was met with people she’d never seen before.
Women with hair, women with no hair. Women with short hair, women with long hair. There were all sorts of people from all sorts of places from the world. It was a lot of movement, a lot of sound. And she made her way all the way to her employer who brought her to the house that she was going to work. Now as a live-in maid, she knew hard work and this was nothing compared to the work that she did on a farm. At four years old, she learned how to pick cotton. And then at 12 years old, she could pick 300 pounds of cotton. And by the time she was 15, she could pick 600 pounds of cotton, take care of her brothers and sisters, help them to pick because she was determined to make sure that their family picked more cotton than anybody else.
She knew hard work, but there was another work that she did that was harder than dusting and mopping floors. At night, she would sit in a backroom quiet, listening to her employers. They’re from the North. And then she would go back to her own bedroom, sit on the bed, and start to train her tongue not to speak like she was from the South. She felt that people would not think that she was intelligent. They would think she was unintelligent if she sounds like she was a Southerner.
But one day she met this man. He was charming, he was a taxi cab driver. And in his charm, he convinced her to give her… give him, her phone number and she did. She didn’t want to lie.
So, she gave him her phone number but she gave him all the wrong numbers in all the wrong places. But they were the right numbers but all the wrong places.
But he spent two months trying every single combination of those numbers until he reached her. And he courted her and she fell in love. And this man worked for General Motors, hmm, General Motors. There weren’t many women that worked for General Motors. So, she asked him, well, should she apply and he didn’t think it was a good idea. It was a man’s place. It was a man’s job. Required someone who was strong, who could work hard.
He didn’t know her very well. Her father was a blacksmith. She would shoe horses with him. She would make fence posts and put up fences. They would go out and glean for metal. She knew metal and she knew hard work. So, she applied. They continued to court.
She got a job on the assembly line in 1974. And a lot of folks came up to her and told her, “You know, this isn’t your kind of work, so you can stay on the assembly line but that’s about it.”
But she took classes and she did well. She excelled more than any other student. Some folks thought that they didn’t like this so much. Some folks thought that they needed to turn her locker upside down to discourage her. Some folks thought they needed to put glue in her lock to discourage her. Some folks thought they needed to meld all of her tools together to discourage her.
But she knew something! A skilled trade was one of the highest paid positions at General Motors, at that plant in New… Tarrytown, New York. She was going to shoot for that. She took course after course, credit after credit, certification… certificate after certificate. And eventually she became the first woman and the second person of color to work at the skilled trades at Tarrytown General Motors plant. And, eventually, she did have two lovely children, and they had an opportunity to live in New York, with opportunities that she felt she did not have. And one of those children have told you the story of their mother, Barbara Jean Macklin.
Listen and move as this spoken word piece takes your mind and body through an insider’s/outsider’s understanding of immigration, identity, and family. The story began when Arianna and her now husband wanted to get married and had to prove, with evidence, that their love for each other was real. Complexity arose as they entered the immigration process better known as: K-1 Non-Immigrant Visa. As they hit barrier after barrier, they quickly learned how unpredictable the U. S. was about immigration,
Immigration Stories by David A. martin and Peter Schuck (Non-fiction)
Mama’s Nightingale: A story of Immigration and Separation, By Edwidge Danticat
Living and Traveling Abroad
My name is Arianna Ross. It was 2006. I was watching the sunset – the sky was a wash of purple and peach. I, I turned to face my boyfriend, Alexandre. He was smiling; there was a twinkle in his eye.
Right behind him was a statue of the Madonna holding baby Jesus, awash with the same colors as the sky. He looked at me, “Você quer você orar comigo? Do you want to pray with me?” We held hands and we took a deep breath in and were silent for a moment.
When I opened my eyes, he was looking at me hesitantly. And then he said to me in a very tentative voice unlike his normal voice, “Você quer ser meu noivo? Do you want to be my fiancé?”
For the next 24 hours, we were in pure wedding bliss. We discussed where we were going to get married. The kind of food we were going to eat, the type of music we were going to have and, of course, the most important part for both of us – the ceremony. We decided that my parents would say prayers in Hebrew and that his parents would say a few prayers in Portuguese. And we would have a master of ceremonies run the entire event.
We were excited until we sat down in front of the computer. We decided that we were going to spend the first half of our life in the United States and the second half of our life in Brazil, which meant that we had to get married in both places. We turned on the computer, we loaded the USCIS website, the Immigration Services website, for the United States.
We looked up the K-1 fiancé visa. There were nine pages of instructions.
Step number 1, fill out the I-129F document in dark ink. Step 2, gather evidence that proves that you are planning on getting married and staying married. That proves, essentially, that you are in love. Evidence that proves that we are in love?
I called Immigration Naturalization Services. I asked them, “What exactly do you mean by evidence? What kind of evidence or what form of evidence? I mean, I recognize that there are people who try to dupe the system. We’re not one of those people so I would appreciate clarification?”
And the man over the telephone calmly explained to me, “Excuse me, you need, essentially, to provide simple evidence, simple evidence that proves that you are in love and you are truly planning on getting married and staying married.”
“Sir, I get that. It states that in the document, in the instructions. But what do you mean by ‘proves that we’re go… in love’ in evidence? What kind of evidence?”
“Anything you deem necessary.”
All right, I went home to the United States and I started to gather evidence. I gathered photographs, receipts, letters from my parents, letters from his parents, letters from all of our friends. I had two hundred and fifty pages of evidence when I turned in our application. I crossed my fingers and I waited.
Six months passed and we received a letter. They were telling us we had made it to the next step. We needed to turn in more documentation and more evidence. I mailed in 150 more pages and we crossed our fingers and we waited. One year and two months later, we received our interview date in Rio. I got on a plane. I met my now fiancé there and we arrived at 7:45 am at the consular office. Our appointment was not until 11:30 but I didn’t want to be late. We sat and we waited patiently. Eleven o’clock rolled around, 11:30 rolled around, 11:45 rolled around, 12:25. All of the couples had gone in and out, in and out. There was only one consular office left in the entire room when he motioned us in. We sat down and the first thing I noticed was that he was behind a Plexiglas bulletproof window and then he smiled. He had his hand… a stack of papers.
“Here are three hundred and fifty of your four hundred pages of documentation. I would like to return them to you because I really don’t want them clogging up my filing cabinets. If you have more evidence with you, which I’m sure you do, please don’t give it to me. I believe that you are going to get married. I believe that you are in love. I would just love to know how the two of you met.”
“Ach! How the two of us mmmet?
I was ready to screech at the man! My hands actually balled into fists! And then, suddenly, I felt my normally nonverbal husband reach down and relax my fingers. He looked at me. He looked at the man and he began to tell our story. The story that we had documented in all those photographs and all those letters. By the time he was finished, I was surprised. He knew all those details.
The consular office reached underneath his desk. He grabbed his stamp and in one fell swoop, he stamped my husband’s passport.
“Welcome to the United States. I can’t give you your passport. I need to mail it to you. Do you have the self-addressed stamped envelope?”
“Yes.” We handed it to him.
He explained to us that it would arrive in five to six days and then he hoped my husband had an excellent journey. One year and six months later, my husband got off the plane. He looked at me and he smiled – a twinkle in his eye. He was wearing my favorite T-shirt. I knew that we were ready to bring joy into our world and to start our pre-wedding bliss.
What is it like to be so immersed in a culture that a lady on the bus becomes your adopted “Aunt” and a bus driver your “Brother? While Arianna Ross travelled alone through Indonesia, she discovered that sometimes family is defined by a connection and not blood. Many days Arianna lived with only the support of total strangers. Witness the similarities and differences between Arianna’s culture and theirs. (more…)
Growing up, Steven was involved in Boy Scouts and his church and as a teen he advocated for community development in his New Jersey neighborhood. But could he get involved in the rising black militancy of the late 1960s? (more…)
“Ranger Linda” describes her encounter with a group of well-intentioned Chinese Americans bearing bullfrogs. This surprising incident illustrates how cultural differences can have unintended consequences and how cultural awareness can lead to greater understanding and a better outcome for all. (more…)
Hello. My name is Sheila Arnold. And when I was in third grade, in 1972, I integrated my elementary school, Masonville Elementary, over in Annandale, Virginia. It wasn’t a difficult integration. We didn’t have protest outside of our doors. And even the teachers that didn’t like me, well they soon were got rid of. One of my teachers didn’t want me to be in the spelling bee because I was black but she didn’t last longer than the year. And my parents also covered so much for me. Actually, the classmates that I had and I got along very well. We were really good friends. And we all liked each other…except Lea.
Now, Lea, well Lea, was not liked by any of us as classmates because she was different. And we didn’t really like different. Lea… Lea didn’t have the, the right clothes because they would be a little bit too small on her and sometimes she would wear things that that didn’t fit or she didn’t, didn’t always look the best. And sometimes, I just have to be honest, she didn’t even have a real lunch box like the rest of us had. So, she was different and that was just Lea. You know, it wasn’t really kind of us at all. And we treated her different and we joked on her and teased her. But all of us did it, including me.
By the time we got to my fourth grade year, we had become such good friends, that we made nicknames for each other. I loved the nicknames. One day, we all gathered outside at recess and Jimmy, one of my friends, said he had a new nickname for me. I was thrilled. So we gathered everybody together and then he told me my new nickname. He said, Shelia, your new nickname is…” the “n” word. You know, the one that rappers say sometimes. I was delighted. It was a great name because I didn’t know what it meant. And so I was excited about it. I couldn’t wait to go home and tell my mom about this new nickname. I got on with it, “Mom, I have a new nickname. It is…” the “n” word. (You know, the one that rapper say.) And my mom went, “Oh, baby.” And then she told me what it meant. She told me it meant that you were lower than the dirt underneath someone’s feet. I, I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t understand why Jimmy, my friend, why would he call me that name!
The next day I went back to school. Recess came and Jimmy gathered everybody around again to call me my nickname. This time I knew what it meant. And I also realized Jimmy knew what it meant as well. So when he called me that nickname, I ran away from the group, ran into the side door of the building and into the bathroom and closed myself in the stall. And I just cried, “No one will ever be my friend. No one will ever be my friend. No one ever will like me.”
And then I heard something. Someone said, “I’ll be your friend, Sheila.” It was Lea, the very Lea I had teased and joked. She said, “I’ll be your friend.” And I came out of that bathroom stall.
Well, it was four years later that I was at Poe Middle School and I was with some of the same classmates I had before. I’d been gone for a while with my father to Germany and Rhode Island (my father was in the military) and I was finally back home. I was really excited to be back with some of my classmates, back in the middle school. And, though, I did really learn, truthfully, I learned really quickly that, although I was back in school with the same people, some of them were not the same way and we weren’t necessarily friends anymore. I learned in middle school that most of us were just trying to impress each other. And others us, and others of us, we were just trying to survive.
I didn’t really know where I fit, having been gone for a little while, so I decided to become everybody’s friend. That’s kind of how I was referred to. I wasn’t real popular but at least I knew everybody. Jimmy… Jimmy on the other hand, he was one of those just trying to survive life.
Jimmy had made some unwise decisions and those unwise decisions came because of what his life at home was like. You see, Jimmy’s family was going through a divorce. And in a, in the community I lived in, the suburbs I lived in… with two parent families and always together. The kid going through a divorce, they weren’t really appreciated. And they were looked at as, “Don’t get close to that one there.” Plus Jimmy was starting to smoke and “No one like them,” quote, unquote. And then he was even seen drinking beer. Those wise, unwise decisions made him one of those kids that people stopped hanging around. He went into that “other group” of kids. The ones, kind of, going down, “Going down,” as they would say. But Jim was trying to, trying to make some decisions.
In the beginning of our eighth grade year, we decided, well, we ran for student council. And some of you may have done that. So, we ran for student council and I decided I would run for treasurer. Jimmy decided he would run for president. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this was a popularity contest. And I was not a popular one but I hung in there. On that day that we gave our speeches… the presidents went first. Jimmy was the last to stand up to go. You should have seen him. He was dressed with his slacks on, his nice button-down shirt, his hair slicked back. He looked nice. He started to walk up, head up, going to give his speech. But the moment he started walking, all the kids booed him. His head, immediately went down. I knew, I knew what that felt like and I knew the look that went on his face. I remembered it from elementary school. And I stood up and I said, “Leave him alone! Give him a chance to talk!” Everybody was quiet for a minute but it was only a minute and then all that laughter and all their teasing turned right back to me.
I stood there and I said, “Everyone has a cha… everyone should have a chance to be heard. Everyone! Let him talk!” Well, the students gave him a look and they quieted a bit. But Jimmy gave me a look. I remembered that look. It was the same look I gave Lea so long ago. Well, Jimmy and I did not win in the student council. But we did win our friendship through forgiveness.
One day an angry black teenage girl – Sheila – stormed into her History Class and demanded to know why she had never heard about black inventors. Her favorite teacher, who happened to be white, was faced with a decision, but in making that decision an entire classroom of students was changed and history was given more relevance.
Was Sheila right in demanding to be taught more about people in her heritage? Why or why not? Should her teacher have changed her curriculum? Why or why not?
What is an activist? How do you think you can be an activist in your community?
Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference? What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
What is your heritage? Make a list of the people from your heritage that you have learned about in school. Compare your list with other students. Who do you know on their list? Choose someone from another student’s list who you do not recognize and research them.
Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Freeing of Rubin ‘HurricaneCarter by Sam Chalton and Terry Swinton. About a young man who finds a book that “calls” out to him, and through a series of letters and visits helps to free a wrongly jailed man.
The Black Book by Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, Ernest Smith and Bill Cosby. This is the actual book that Sheila read and is available in bookstores.
50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet by Dennis Denenberg
African American/Black History
Education and Life Lessons
Family & Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hello, my name is Sheila Arnold. I have to give you two names: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. Those were the only two people, the only two black people I ever learned about in my elementary and middle school years in the 1970s and 1980s. How was it! But somewhere around the beginning of my high school years, in 1979 or so, I began to look for my people. I don’t really, know truthfully, why that, was the trigger for that but I think it’s because I started paying attention to the news.
I can remember sometime early in my 10th grade year, I think about 1980 or so, I went over to the March on Washington to ask for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to be a national holiday. I remember that myself and some of my classmates we skipped school, got on some buses, and some subways, (I lived in Annandale, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington D.C.) and we got over to Washington D.C. I remember that, that the mall, the Washington National Mall, was just filled with all these black people. I’ve never seen anything like that before. And I, I heard every word, every speech; I felt it does come all into me. It was wonderful. And then Stevie Wonder got up and started singing. We all sing with them. “Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to ’im. Happy Birthday.” We loved it.
Well, I started learning more and more around that time of my life. I remember, that there were times that I started looking at other parts of African-American history. One of the things that was happening is my mom was introducing me to other arts and plays and things like that. That was when I found “For Colored Girls That Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” into Ntozake Shange, the play that was in Washington D.C.. Oh! She got me a copy of that script. And then we went to go see “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” And we went to go see “Bubblin’ Brown Sugar,” about the Harlem Renaissance artist and the musicians. And I was in love with learning more. I had been working as a library school assistant since I started high school and I worked in one of my classes at study hall and then whenever I had a free moment, I was in that library. And while I was working in the library, I began to come across other African-American writers I never knew anything about. I already knew about poet, the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and, of course, I knew about God’s Trombones writer, James Weldon Johnson, because we presented their pieces at the church that I went to. But when I came across The Anthology by Arnold Adolph, I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks. And I met, I, I met Nikki Giovanni, Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day. Ah, that was one of my favorites. And James Baldwin…that one even got banned from my high school and my mom went and bought it for me. It was great.
So I started learning all of these things but it was like a, a quiet learning. And although a fire begun, it was a quiet fire. One that, one that had to do with just reading and maybe sharing with people at the black church that I attended. And sometimes doing some pieces for my forensics team at school but very quiet. Well, one day I was bored and I was looking for something to read because that’s what I do, when I’m bored. I was looking for something to read and I usually do. I started looking to my parents’ things. Went through my mom’s stash, ya, nothing. Went to my dad’s always cluttered, never clean, room but always filled with books. And I started looking. And I came across a book. I came across a book that shocked me. The Black Book. I started looking at it and I could put it down. First, I was disgusted and just appalled at some of the images that were there. They were, they were pictures of, of black bodies hanging from trees, of men smiling as they saw what was being, a person that was beaten on the back, the welts on their back. A group of white gentlemen posing for the picture proudly as they surrounded the smoldering body of a black man that had been burnt. As visceral as those pictures were and as disgusting, in the book I also found great amusement and delight. Colorful ads for skin lightening. Cures, using voodoo charms and Hexis. That was kind of cool, some of the things they used to do. I was amazed by this book and I couldn’t put it down.
Then, I got to the middle of the book and I found patents. P-A-T-E-N-T-S. Patents. Yes, patents. And patents, I knew, I knew what patents were. Patents were what you did if you made something. If you were an inventor. And I looked at them. Patents. You mean, black people have been inventors? Oh, I was hot now. Mm, hmm. All that fire that was a small little campfire, it rose up with me and it was a bonfire, wildfire. I was angry and I went back to the beginning of the black book and I started looking through it again. But I had new eyes this time. My eyes were feeding. What information I had not learned?!
Well, the next day that fire had not gone away at all. I arrived at school with the book in my hand. I couldn’t wait to get to my favorite class, history class. And I couldn’t wait to be able to talk to my teacher, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Elliott, she was my history class teacher. She also happened to be a white teacher. I walked into the classroom. I was the epitome of mad, black, teenage girl. Most people hadn’t even seen nothing like that in my school. There were 13 blacks at my school out of 2,000 students. I walked in that classroom. Other classmates would just walk in along with me. But I walked in. I had that book clasped around my chest. I walked in, walked right up to her desk, slammed the book down on her desk, and said “Why aren’t you teaching us this?”
All the air went out of the room. My classmates were completely quiet. They had never seen anything like this. I was angry and I demanded an answer. I had no idea what to say but I knew somebody better tell me something. Well, unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Elliott had been taking black history classes every summer for the last few summers. She was fascinated with black history. And she had a deep desire to teach it at the school but she had no clue how she, a white teacher, was going to teach black history at a predominantly white school when she would only see black students every once in a while. And so, she looked at me and she said, “Do you really want to learn this?”
“Yes I do.”
“OK then.” And right then, right then, at that very moment, Miss Elliott changed everything in her classroom and she began to teach black history. She brought in videos and images. And she had us look through all kinds of books and hear different things. This was completely different. Everybody in my class was excited because they had never heard it either. I was the only black student in that class but we all were learning. Miss Elliott even brought my mother in, and my mom talked about segregation. She talked about how she had to drink from a colored fountain. The kids looked at my mom, my mom who most of them knew, they couldn’t believe that she’d had to do that. That she’d had to go all the way into Washington D.C. just to go to an all black school. That she had had to go to the bathrooms, colored only bathrooms.
It changed all of us. But Miss Elliott didn’t just stop there. She started teaching all kinds of cross-cultural things. We learned more about other cultures than we had ever learned before. And we were a group that was eager. And as classmates, we couldn’t wait to learn more about diversity. It was amazing. Well, one of the girls came in and she had found out that they were killing chimpanzees in one of the countries in Africa. Immediately, we all got on board. We contacted the World, World…I can’t remember it…WWF and World Wide Wildlife Federation…I think it was World Wildlife Federation. We contacted them immediately and we said, “Can we do something?” Well, right then we started a fundraiser, we went and visited with the head offices in, in Washington D.C. It was exciting and we became burgeoning activists. Wow! It as an incredible year but Miss Elliott didn’t stop with our year. She kept right on teaching for as long as I knew her. Teaching all that she could about all cultures.
I have to tell you, I was a raging fire when I walked into that room. I had been a campfire and I turned into wild wildfire and I was ready to burn everything in my path and hurt as many people as I could along with it. But Miss Elliot, she was a great teacher and she tended that fire. And she, she helped that fire to grow in the right places. And she made sure that the fire could live but that it wouldn’t burn wildly. Most of all, she ensured the fire would never go out.
A frantic call from Sheila Arnold’s son during his freshmen year in college turns into a moment to remember all that she had to teach him about growing up black, and, in turn, all he had also learned about crossing bridges in spite of people’s perceptions. (more…)
As the new Protestant Chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, Geraldine quickly realizes that the midweek Bible service has been overrun by the Crips – a violent, largely African-American gang – and that if something isn’t done quickly the Correctional Officers will close down the service. Going to the root of the problem, Geraldine meets with the head of Crips in her office, but she soon sees that as the two of them are so completely different she will have to establish some common ground before asking for his help with the problem. Will telling him a story of a thug-filled six-week bus trip from London, UK to Delhi, India, that she took decades before, be enough to win his trust? Can the midweek Bible service be saved?
America has more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world (both in number and per capita). Why do you think this is?
According to an FBI report, in 2011 there were approximately 1.4 million people who were part of gangs, and more than 33,000 gangs were active in the United State. These numbers have since grown rapidly. What do you think has happened in this country to allow gangs to flourish?
What do you think that you as an individual can do about both of these problems? What do you think that we as a nation can do about both of these problems?
The Outsiders by E. F. Hutton
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.
Living and Traveling Abroad
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
Hello, my name is Geraldine. Geraldine Buckley. And in 2007, it never crossed my mind, when I was training to be the chaplain, at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, that after just a few weeks on the job, I would be sitting in my office, across my desk from the leader of the Crips, which is a largely African-American violent gang. And that I would be asking the head of the Crips for his help with a problem.
Well, when that day came, I did what I do best in those situations. After all, you’ve probably realized by now, that I was born and brought up in England. Well, I made him a cup of tea. But I really did have a problem. The midweek Bible service that had about 240 men and…, it had become a meeting place for the gangs, particularly the Crips. Now, the front of the service was fine. That’s where men were opening themselves up to the love and forgiveness of God. And so, they were able to extend that love and forgiveness to other people. Incredible things were happening. But it was just at the back of the chapel that I had such a problem. That’s where the gang members, particularly the Crips, were passing things and they were talking loudly. Well, goodness knows what they were plotting. But they were disturbing the service and I couldn’t have that. And there was another level to this problem, and that is, if the correctional officers realized what a serious gang problem we actually had, they’d close down the service and we might not get it back for months.
Well, I went to the, the head of the, the inmate leaders of the chapel. Ah, we had a church of 600 people behind the walls. And, ah, the leaders, many of them, had theological degrees and I asked them for their input and they suggested that I take all those Crip leaders off the list. In other words, ban them from the service. But I didn’t want to do that, because to my mind, unless they sat under the Word of God, what hope would they have of changing? So, that’s why I decided to go to the root of the problem, which is how I find myself in my office, across my desk from the head of the Crips. Let’s call him El Jefe. Well, he was about thirty-three years of age. He was African-American. He came from Baltimore. And I knew, I only had him in my office for 20 minutes because he’d arrived at half past two and he had to leave by 2:50 in order to get back to his cell in time for count. And if he wasn’t there, he’d be taken off to the segregation unit in chains. I thought, how am I going to establish any common ground, any mutual understanding, or any hope of cooperation, in such a short amount of time.
After all, we were so different. I mean, for a start, he was a man and I’m a woman. He’d been incarcerated for years and he’s got years to go. And I’m relatively new at all this. And then, he was a Crip and I’m a Pentecostal. And then, I had an idea. And I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.” I have, but first of all, I said to him, “Jefe, I think I have a really soft spot for gangs.” Well he was, at the time, he was slumped in his chair and he was gently tapping his fingers on the edge of my desk. And he was looking at me through half-closed eyes and I knew then that he was not buying it. So that’s when I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.”
“When I was 21, I went on a bus trip from North Finchley tube station in London to Delhi, India. It was called Budget Bus. It was bright pink. It was decrepit. It was held together with duct tape. But it was cheap. Now, I went for two reasons. First of all, I wanted something on my resume the following year, that would make me really stand out from my, my fellow graduates. And the other thing is I really wanted to irritate my mother.”
“Now, I was really concerned about who my fellow travelling companions were going to be because we would be travelling together for six weeks. We would be eating together by the side of the road. We’d be sleeping in tents together. So, we would in effect, be a mobile travelling capsule. And so, I was very concerned when I first stepped on the bus, and my immediate impression was one of a strong smell of unwashed bodies. Well, I tried hard to not let that show on my face but I looked to see where it was coming from. And it was a small group of men who were very thin, they had hollow eyes, and they had track marks up and down their arms. These were drug addicts. And one of them was going to die on a beach in Sri Lanka.”
Well, I looked over at Jefe, and I’d noticed that he’d stopped drumming his fingers, and he was sitting up straight. Good. I had his attention, so I carried on. “So,” I said, “of the other 25 or 30 other men and women on that bus, there was another man who immediately, I immediately, noticed. he was a small man. He was in his mid-20’s. He had shifty eyes. And he sat right at the back of the bus. And I knew straight away, he was Australian because of his accent, And I found out later that his name was Wayne. Well, from that very first moment of getting on the bus, he kept up a loud, continuous monologue of the filthiest language I have ever heard before or since.”
“And then, there was another group of men who stood out to me. They were wearing denim and leather and chains. They had shaved heads. They were covered in tattoos, and they had a really hard look on their faces. These were the Hell’s Angels. Now, it must be said, that these were English Hell’s Angels, so they were a little more refined than their American counterparts. But they were still Hell’s Angels, and they terrified me. Particularly, their leader who was called Grila. Now, Grila was an enormous man. He couldn’t read or write. He had his name tattooed on his knuckles. G-R-I-L-A. And he had this huge tattoo on his arm of a gravestone with the names of men in it. And I looked at those names and I thought, ‘Are they the names of the men he’s killed?’ Oh, that man, Grilla, absolutely terrified me!”
“Well, that bus was far worse than I could have ever imagined on that first day. Wayne and his new group of friends discovered that down the aisle of the bus, there was a trap door that went down to the road. And when the bus was moving, they would have urinating contests. And if anybody objected, they would turn the flow on them. And then, for some reason, Wayne thought it would be great fun to pick on me. And so, for hour after hour, he kept up another loud monologue describing, in vivid detail, what he imagined I did as extracurricular activity.”
“Well, I was only 21 and this went on for day, after day, after day. Well, one of those days, I was sitting near the back of the blus… back of the bus, playing Scrabble with Wayne’s new girlfriend. She and I shared a tent for the first few days of the bus. Well, he said something really crass to her. Really revolting. And, stupidly, I defended her. So, he pushed me back in my seat. And then, he picked up his big fist to hit me. When all of a sudden, over my shoulder, came an enormous hand and it grabbed Wayne’s wrist. And a voice said, ‘No, you don’t. You’re not hitting women. Not on my turf!’”
And Wayne just crumbled and he said, ‘No!’ He said, ‘Don’t hurt me! Don’t, don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me.’”
“Well, I looked around to see who he was, who’d come to my help. It was Grilla! Grilla had come to help me. Well, that night I was sitting on the bus by myself. All the others were setting up the camp and, and Grilla came to find me. And he was shuffling his feet a bit, and he had his cap in his hand, and he was twisting it, and he kept his eyes on the ground, And he said, ‘Geraldine, I’m really sorry I didn’t do more to help you on that bus today.’ He said, ‘But if we men start eating each other, someone’s going to get killed.’”
“Well, several things happened from that incident. The first thing, was that Wayne kept really quiet at the back of the bus, which was wonderful. And then, that was the first time that I realized that, although it’s best for men and women to work together, sometimes you need a man to stand up and do what’s right. And when that happens, it’s like a key turns in a lock and evil turns to good. And then the other thing that happened was, that Grilla and his group of Hell’s Angels friends, they took me under their wing. And I became the little sister the gang. All very innocent.”
Well, at that moment I looked over at, ah, at Jefe and his eyes were as big as the bottom of s… of buckets. And I said, “I know, isn’t that incredible, Jefe, that a woman who was not long out of a convent boarding school, would end up being the little sister of a gang of hens… Hell’s Angels. But what that meant was, that I got to spend time with them. I got to see who they really were. And I saw that they, they really cared for each other. They had each other’s backs. They were family.”
“So, one day I asked Grilla about that enormous tattoo on his arm, the one of the gravestone with the R.I.P. and the names of men. And he said, “Oh, Geraldine.’ He said, he said, ‘They’re my fallen comrades. They’re my dead friends. If we don’t look out for each other, who will?’”
Well, at that moment, a shadow came across the glass in my office door. It was the correctional officer. And he opened the door. He said, “Chaplain, you’ve got three more minutes with this man, and then he’s got to get back to his cell in time for count.”
I said, “Thank you, officer.” Three minutes. How was I going to get my last point across in such a short amount of time? Tick…tick…tick…And then, I had another idea. I said, “Jefe, you and your, your Hell’s Angels, your, you and your, your Crips friends. You’ve been teaching me such a lot since I’ve been here. You’ve been teaching me about gang warfare and streets and, and gangs. Now, tell me if this is right or not, but from what I understand, you’d never let another gang come in and take your street corner. Is that right?”
He said, “Oh, that’s right, Chaplain.” And he said, “That’s never gonna happen. Never gonna happen.”
I said, “Well, Jefe, this mid-week Bible service, this is our land. The leader of these, this chaplain and mine. And if you continue what you’re doing with your Crip friends, you’re going to draw the attention of the correctional officers. And if you carry on doing it, they’re going to take it away from us. Now, it would break my heart to take you and your fellow gang members off the list. In other words, ban you from the service. But if that’s what I’ve got to do, I’ll do it. Because no one is taking this land away from me.”
And we just stared at each other. Tick, tick. A shadow came across the door in the office and then, and then, Jefe said, “It’s all right, Chaplain.” He said, he said, “I get it. There’ll be no more trouble. I give you my word.”
And you know something? Jefe kept his word from that moment ’til the time I left, two and a half years later. There was no more gang trouble in the Protestant chapel. No more trouble on my turf.
Moving to Junior High school opens Angela’s eyes to a society and culture that she had been living in (Caracas, Venezuela), and yet one from which she was separate. Angela’s story tells a universal truth: we think we are the only ones telling ourselves “ We do not belong here.” That statement is what we have in common. (more…)
When camp started, tension was high between the Chinese kids and Black and Latino kids in Robin’s group. But over the summer, the children began to let their defenses down and make new friends. That is, until Daniela returned. (more…)
In 1972, Marsha worked for the Peace Corp in Jamaica. She became friendly with a neighbor woman named Yvonne. By casually mentioning the town she lived near – Montclair, New Jersey – Marsha set in motion a dream that Yvonne would sacrifice everything to fulfill. Although some would call her an “illegal immigrant” Yvonne accomplished the impossible. (more…)
In 1991 in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Jewish Cantor and his family were threatened and harassed by the Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. Here is the remarkable story of how they dealt with the hatred and bigotry, and, in the process, redeemed a life. Based on the book, Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman, by Kathryn Watterson.
Is this a story about religious transformation or about how isolated people need caring relationships?
What does this story say about the power of words and the means of spreading those words? How does anonymity protect the speaker? How do the cantor’s ‘public’ words spread his message?
Would you have considered inviting the former KKK member to live in your home? How was the family able to open their door and their hearts to a man who had hurt so many?
Not By the Sword by Kathryn Waterson, Simon & Schuster, 1995; University of Nebraska Press, 2012.
Education and Life Lessons
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
My name is Pippa White. The story I have for you is a true story. It’s about an incident that happened in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1991. Actually, it’s a much truncated version of a wonderful book called Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman. That book was written by Kathryn Watterson. And I’m very grateful to Kathryn for letting me tell this story. Actually, there are two people in the story, Michael and Julie, who I know. So I’m grateful to them too. And I’m going to tell the story from Julie’s point of view. I am now going to become Julie.
We had encountered anti-Semitism before. My husband was a Jewish cantor, he had had other appointments in other synagogues in other cities. Anti-semitism was not something we were unfamiliar with but this was different and especially upsetting. We had just moved into a new home in Lincoln, Nebraska after two years of renting. And one afternoon, my husband answered the phone to hear this harsh, hate-filled voice saying, “You’re going to be sorry you ever moved into 5810 Randolph Street, Jew boy!” Two days later we received a package in the mail. On the outside it said, “The KKK is watching you.” Inside there were all these flyers, dozens of brochures and flyers, with ugly caricatures of Jews with hooked noses, African-Americans-race traitors, all of them being shot or hanged. And another message, “Your time is up and the Holo-hoax was nothing compared to what’s going to happen to you!” This was too much. We called the police.
The police came and said they were 98% sure it was the work of one Larry Trapp, the state leader and Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Larry and his Klansmen had terrorized many Jews, blacks, and Vietnamese in Nebraska and Iowa. And said the police, “He’s dangerous. We know he has explosives.” Now they explained that he was in a wheelchair. He had lost both legs to diabetes but they said he had firebombed four or five African-American homes in Lincoln and the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Center in Omaha. And, unbeknownst to us, the police felt Larry Trapp was planning to bomb the very synagogue where my husband was the spiritual leader. Last thing the police said was, “So lock your doors and don’t open any more unlabeled packages.”
Well, we didn’t get any more packages nor did we get any more phone calls. But Larry Trapp had done his work very well. We had been terrorized. We couldn’t open the mailbox without wondering if there was a letter bomb in there. We worried about our three children and every time a car drove slowly by the house, we had a little panic attack. Larry Trapp had done his work very well. Perhaps because of this, I couldn’t get him out of my mind. But it wasn’t just the fear, I was also fascinated. I kept asking myself what makes someone like that? I found out his address and I used to drive by his apartment every afternoon after work and wonder, what makes someone like that? And how lonely he must be isolated in all that hatred?
Not long after this we found out that Larry Trapp was on television. He’d gotten himself on some local cable access channel and he would sit there spewing all these white supremacist hate. It made Michael so mad that he said, “He called us. I’m calling him.”
So he called this, Vigilante Voices. All he got was an answering machine but he said, “Larry, why do you hate me? You don’t even know me. So how can you hate me?” Next day it was, “Larry, don’t you know that you’re going to have to answer to God someday for all this hatred?” The third day it was, “Larry, why do you love Hitler so much? Don’t you know that in Hitler’s Germany, one of the first laws the Nazis passed was against people like you, people with disabilities? Don’t you know that in Hitler’s Germany, you’d have been one of the first to go?” Every day Michael left a message. One day Michael said to me, “I wonder if he’ll ever pick up?”
I said, “If he does, offer to do something nice for him. You watch, it’ll throw him completely off guard.”
One day in the midst of this message, “Larry, when you can get rid of all the hate, there’s a world of love waiting for ya,” Larry Trapp picked up, “What #@&%* do you want?!”
“I just want to talk to you, Larry.”
“Why #@&%* are you harassing me? You’re harassing me! Stop harassing me!”
“I’m not harassing you, Larry. I just want to talk to you.”
“Are you black? You sound black.”
“No I’m, Jewish.”
“Well, what do you want? Make it quick!”
And then my husband took my advice, “Well, Larry, we know you’re in a wheelchair. We wondered if we could help you in any way? Take you to the grocery store, that kind of thing.”
Long pause. Michael says when Larry spoke again his voice was different. “That’s OK. That’s nice. That’s been covered. Thanks anyway. Don’t call this number again.”
“We’ll be in touch,” was the last thing Michael said. I think it must have been Larry Trapp’s time in life to be bombarded with love.
A nurse wrote him a letter, and because of his very poor health he was in and out of doctors’ offices all the time, and she said, “Larry, if you could embrace God the way you’ve embraced the KKK, He would heal you of all that hurt, anger, hatred, and bitterness in ways you won’t believe.”
And one day when Larry was leaving the eye doctor’s office, he felt his wheelchair being pushed from behind. He turned around and there was a beautiful young woman. And she said, “I help you. I help you. In elevator.” A Vietnamese woman. And Larry and his followers had been brutal to the Vietnamese community in Lincoln Nebraska.
Michael kept leaving messages and one day, mid message again, Larry picked up. “I’m rethinking a few things.”
“Good,” said Michael, “Good.” Two days later, there he was on television, on the cable access channel, ranting and raving about…well, using every horrible, racial epithet you can think of. Made Michael so mad that he called and say, “You’re not rethinking anything and I want an explanation.”
“I’m sorry,” said Larry. “I’m sorry. I’ve, I’ve, ah, I’ve talked this way all my life. I can’t help it. I’ll, I’ll apologize.”
That night, at the synagogue, Michael asked the congregation to pray for someone who is sick with the illness of hatred and bigotry. “Pray that he can be healed.”
And across town, Lenore Letcher, an African-American woman who had been on the receiving end of Larry’s hatred, prayed, “Dear God, let him find you in his heart.” And that night, the skin on Larry Trapp’s fingers burned and itched and stung so badly he had to take his Nazi rings off.
The next night, Michael and I were just sitting down to dinner when the phone rang. “I want out and I don’t know how.” Michael suggested we get together and break bread together. Larry hesitated and then he agreed. We were rushing around, packing up the food, and I thought to myself, we should take him a gift. And I found a ring of Michael’s that he never wore.
It was a silver friendship ring. All the silver strands wound together. Michael said, “That’s a good choice. It’s always reminded me of all the different kinds of people in the world.” To me, it represented something twisted could become something beautiful. The last thing we did before we left the house was to call a neighbor and say if we’re not back in a reasonable amount of time call the police.
We got to Larry Trapp’s apartment knocked on the door, the door swung slowly open. There he sat. In his wheel chair, bearded. On the door handle on his side, hung an automatic weapon, behind him was a huge Nazi flag. Michael reached forward and touched Larry’s hand. He winced as though a jolt of electricity had gone through him. And then he began to cry. “Here!” he said. “Take these! take these! I don’t want ‘em anymore!” And he put the Nazi rings in Michael’s.
We were speechless but not for long. I remembered my gift. I got down on my knees and slid the ring on his finger saying, “Here Larry, look, we brought you a ring.” He began to sob and sob, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry, for all the things I have done.”
We hugged him and pretty soon there were three people crying. We left Larry Trapp’s apartment four hours later, with the Nazi rings, the Nazi flag, all his KKK paraphernalia including the hood and the beret. And we left with all his guns.
Over the next few weeks, Larry Trapp’s transformation was so complete that the KKK began harassing him. He began to write personal letters of apology to many of the people that he had threatened. He joined the NAACP. He began to go to schools to talk to school children about tolerance. And he and my husband, Michael, were interviewed by Time magazine.
On the very last day of the year, Larry learned from his doctors that he had less than a year to live. We asked him if he wouldn’t like to move in with us. He agreed. Now this was not easy. We had three teenage children, a dog, a cat. I gave up my job to stay home and take care of Larry. But we all chipped in and, and made it work. As Larry grew weaker, he would listen to books on tape. He listened to books about Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Malcolm X, and he began to read and study Judaism.
And one day he surprised Michael and me when he announced that he wanted to convert to Judaism. We said we thought it was wonderful that he wanted to embrace a faith tradition at this time of his life. But if he wanted to embrace a faith tradition closer to his own roots we would understand that. “No. Judaism.” So in June of 1992, in a beautiful ceremony, Larry Trapp converted to Judaism in the very synagogue that a year earlier he had planned to blow up.
In September of 1992, Larry Trapp died in our home. Michael and I were with him, each holding a hand. Before he got too weak, Larry was asked to speak at a celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. This is what he had to say, “I wasted the first 40 years of my life bringing harm to other people. But I believe that God sent Cantor Weisser to me to show me that I could receive love and I could also give love. I’ve learned now that we’re all the same. White, black, brown, there’s no difference. We’re all one race.” Larry Trapp, the former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan said there is only one race.
Motoko tells a story about her own experience of sexual harassment in Japan, how she was trapped into silence imposed by her culture, and how storytelling helped her break the silence and heal herself.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:My-Long-Hair
As a teenager in Japan, Motoko had times when she did not feel safe. What kept her from feeling safe?
Do you feel safe? What precautions do you take for your own safety?
What can each of us do to help others feel safe and live safely?
Like a Lotus Flower: Girlhood Tales from Japan by Motoko. (Audio CD,www.folktales.net; 2009)
Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women edited by Roberto Uno
Family and Childhood
Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi, my name is Motoko. As a teenager growing up in Osaka, Japan, I was not pretty or popular but my hair was. Yes. I used to have this long, shiny, silky, black hair, straight down to my waist. So much of it I would obsessively brush it to an arresting sign. During the school day, the rules dictated that I had to keep it in a single long braid. As soon as the school let out, I would untie my braid and the shake it loose into a simmering cascade. What a glorious feeling!
I was a good, studious, student. By the time I was in the 10th grade, I was attending what we call, juku, a cram school. After the regular high school, three nights a week, for extra math and English lessons to prepare myself for the college entrance exams. On those days, I did not get to let my hair down until much later because those classes did not finish until 9 o’clock at night. Then I would take the commuter train home, get home about 10 o’clock, eat dinner, and do my homework. One night I was on my way home, as usual the commuter train was jam packed with business men and laborers, some drunken and boisterous, others tired and sullen. A few of them leered at me, a girl in the school uniform with long hair in a single braid. I sat with my knees together with a heavy book bag on my lap.
By the time I finally got off the train, the crowd had thinned a little. I walked toward the bicycle lot at the back of the station away from the blaring music and the neon signs of karaoke bars and pachinko parlors. I found my bike and dropped my heavy bag in the red wire basket attached in front of me. With relief, I untied my braid and swung my head letting the spring breeze cool down my scalp. “Nice hair,” a man’s guttural voice from right behind, startled me. I spun around into reeky fumes, so hot, drunk breath. A stranger’s sneering too close, sallow cheeks and a stubby chin, a dark green shirt. The next thing he was grabbing my waist pulling me hard against him. No, I did not scream. I was too stunned to even make a sound. The whole thing seemed somehow not so real, like a scene from a silent movie. I struggled to free myself and the man suddenly let loose. I staggered back and bumped into my bike. The bike fell and I fell on top of it, scraping my leg against the pedal. My books are scattered everywhere. Then the man suddenly started to laugh hysterically as if he had never seen anything so funny. I ride at my bike and without looking back pedaled as fast as I could. When I finally reached my house, I realized that I had not breathed the whole time. I got off my bike and bent down to breath as if I had just sprinted a mile. My heart was beating so fast, in my head, I could not hear anything else. No, the man did not follow me. I only had two bruises and a long scratch on my leg. My blouse had come untucked, so I tucked it in.
I was OK. Nothing happened. I opened the door. The glaring fluorescent light and the smell of the dinner and the loud noise from the TV in the living room overwhelmed me. “Tadaima, I’m home,” I said softly, suddenly realizing that my throat was tight.
My mother came out of the kitchen and said, “What happened to you?!”
I suddenly realized that, I remembered that, I had left all my books scattered around in the bicycle lot. With trembling voice, I said, “Oh, some weird guy tried to grab me and I ran away. I’m ok,” as nonchalantly I could.
My mother looked on me and said, “Look at your leg! You are bleeding! Otōsan, please come here.” Now Otōsan literally means, father, but that’s how my mother used to address her husband.
My father came hurrying out of the living room. “What happened?”
“Some man attacked her on the way home,” my mother explained.
“Yeah, but I’m ok. Nothing happened. I just have a scratch. See!” And as I was showing him, tears came to my eyes. I hastily wiped them away.
My mother looked anxious, “Should we call the police?”
“No, we don’t call the police,” my father said with a grim expression on his face.
“But why not? He might have followed her. It’s very dangerous.”
“No. She’s ok. If you call the police, people will talk.” He looked angry. Was he angry at me? He looked at me and said, “Motoko, you should have been more careful. It’s your fault, coming home this late, swinging your long hair.” I blinked. Was he saying that I was to blame? My father scuffled back into the living room and turned the volume up on TV. My mother sighed, fussed over me, gave me some bandages to put on my leg. Then I went upstairs to the bathroom and I wrenched. No one ever spoke of this incident again.
The next day I went and got a haircut. I never wore my hair long again. I never forgave my father either until a few years ago when I started telling this story. After that incident, there was a long period of time when he and I just did not talk much. Then I moved away to go to college and eventually immigrated to the United States. When I became a storyteller and started sharing my life stories, I discovered that many women in the United States have had a similar experience to mine. By listening to those women, I learned how sharing helps us heal. And it takes honesty, courage, and wisdom to speak up for ourselves and not be cowed into silence. Telling this story also made me realize that, my father’s gruff voice directed at me, was actually his way of acting out his anger at the man in the green shirt. And his frustration for not being able to protect me. In any culture, storytelling is what breaks the silence.
As Motoko raises her Japanese son in the U.S., she is reminded of prejudice against Koreans in her own country, and discovers the importance of the language we use to create the world we live in. (more…)
When Laura fell in love with Kevin, she was certain her liberal family would love him, too. After all, he was smart, handsome, educated and kind; that his skin was a different color didn’t matter, right? Imagine her surprise when Laura and her father needed to negotiate his discomfort with her sweetheart’s differences. (more…)
The differences were easy to see, Catholic/Jewish, Brown/White, Spanish-Speaking/English-Speaking, Mexican/American, rural/urban. When Carrie Sue and her fiancé decided to marry there were many who thought their relationship would not last long – including the representative from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico who was handling their Visa.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: No-Aguantara
What do you judge people on when you first meet them? Have you ever made a judgment about a person only to realize when you get to know them better that you were completely wrong about them? If so, did you discover anything about yourself?
Do you think that we learn things about ourselves when we meet people who are different from us? Why do you think that?
Many people, including the American Visa Clerk objected to Carrie Sue and Facundo’s relationship. Why do you think it mattered to the other people?
Why do you think many were surprised that their families did not disapprove of the relationship?
In Their Own Words: Drama with Young English Language Learners by Dan Kelin – a resource for anyone working with 2nd language learners
The Earth Mass by Joseph Pintauro and Alicia Bay Laurel (Carrie Sue and her husband used a poem from this collection in their wedding ceremony and still try to follow its advice.)
Living and Traveling Abroad
Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
My name is Carrie Sue Ayvar and just after I graduated high school, I went from Pittsburgh, PA to Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico. (No aguantará) It’ll never last! That’s what they said! (No aguantará) It’ll never last! They were like wisps of rumors, never said to us directly but rumors that wisped around and spoken always in concerned tones, mostly to our families and friends.
It was 1973. I was only 17 when I met Facundo but there could hardly have been a more romantic setting. It was a warm, sunny day that January morning and it was on a small island just off the west coast of southern Mexico. The air was filled with (breathing in fragrance) mango and coconut oil, salt sea breezes and pheromones.
I watched as a muscular, strong young man, probably about 20 years old, carried several scuba tanks up onto the beach. Oo! The salt water and the sweat made his coppery skin glisten and his long dark hair had streaks of red and gold in it from days in the sun. Oh ho… I had never seen a more beautiful, gorgeous human being in my entire life! Like an Aztec Adonis emerging from the waters! When I could finally catch my breath again, I remember thinking, “The guy’s gotta be a jerk! I mean, no one is that good looking and nice too!”
But (como dice el dicho) as the saying goes, (caras vemos el corazón no sabemos) we see the faces but we do not know the hearts. Now on the surface, Facundo and I had very little in common. He was a Spanish-speaking, Catholic, indigenous, brown-skinned Mexican from a very small fishing village and he lived on a beach while I was a fair-haired, green-eyed, English-speaking, Jewish, white American who lived in a three-story brick building in a very large city.
And our experiences growing up were completely different. I mean, while I watched Tarzan’s adventures on TV, he lived them slicing green hanging vines for cauldrons of water, climbing tall palm trees to gather coconuts, diving off cliffs into beautiful blue tropical waters. I mean, while I went ice skating, he was free diving. From my father, I learned how to make flower arrangements. From his father, he learned how to build dugout canoes.
Para cemos conocemos! But we did get to know each other. And we got to know each other’s stories and each other’s hearts. (E descubrimos) We discovered (las dos querer) that we both loved (el mar) the ocean and the feeling of weightlessness during those underwater dives. (El savor) the taste of salt on our tongues when we came up for air. (El sonido) The sound of the waves drumming against the sands. (E también descubrimos) We also discovered (los dos querer) that we both cherished (familia y mis les) family and friends (mas que) more than everything. (Nos conocíamos) we got to know each other (e nos enamoramos) and we fell in love.
Now it was amazing how many people were there to tell us, “No aguantará, it will never last!” From both sides of the border, there were so many people who disapproved. They would say things like, “Oh, you know he’s only using you to get a green card.” Or (Ay, esos gringos de como de es sabe) You know how those gringos are, man! (rico e consentido) They are rich and spoiled, (ya sabes) you know! Or “Ah, what a shame! She couldn’t find a nice Jewish doctor?”
But all of those things didn’t really phase us! Even when we finally announced our engagement and, to our surprise, we heard rumors of a pregnancy that we knew nothing about! But, as I said, all those doubts and criticisms didn’t really bother us. I mean, we were happy and, to the surprise of many, so were our families. I mean, Facundo had actually met my parents a year before I ever met him; they’re the ones who actually introduced us to each other there on the island. Jesus, his papa and his parents – (madre tomas su propia hija) they treated me like their very own daughter. Dona Christina, his mother, used to say ,”(Tenemos que cuidado de ella) We have to take good care of her. (Sus propios padres están tan lejos) Her own parents are so far away.”
So really, what did it matter to us what other people thought? I didn’t think it mattered at all… but sometimes it does. Since it was hard for my grandparents and other elderly relatives to travel to southern Mexico where we lived, we decided that we would have the wedding in my home town of Pittsburgh, PA.
Now after a 12-hour overnight bus trip, we finally arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Under a smoggy, gray sky, we waited for hours and hours to finally speak to an American visa clerk. And when we finally did, instead of helping us, instead of telling us what kind of visas we were eligible for, this unfriendly, unhelpful, unhappy little bureaucrat of a man lied to us. Lied to us repeatedly and began to make things up. Let me ask you, do you know how hard it is to get a copy of a form that doesn’t actually exist? Oh, yeah, he knew that he controlled the information and the situation.
But much to his dismay, we did not give up and go home like he wanted us to. Ah, ah, every time we went back, he looked more put out, like, like he was sucking on sour lemons or smelled something foul in the air. I mean, he was, quite frankly, openly disapproving of us. He told us that we were too different and finally, he dismissed us with an arrogant look! “Just go back to your own kind! You are young, poor, powerless and you don’t even realize that I’m doing you a favor!”
(Sigh) Well, (pobres) We were poor; we had little money. (E jóvenes) We were young! Powerless? (Las caras vemos corazones no sabe) You see the faces but you do not know the hearts! His attitude only strengthened our determination – pulled us together! Facundo and I, we found our voices and our power! We did not give up; we went back to that embassy again and again until, at last, we found someone who would listen. Though I will admit, it did take months, a career ambassador, a 3-star general and a United States senator to finally resolve our case!
But we did get a visa and we did get married. Now maybe we were naïve, I don’t know. I know as it was pointed out to us again and again, we looked different and we sounded different. We had different religions and we came from very different cultures and experiences. And (nunca sabes) you never know; there are no guarantees in life anyways. But I do know that we just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and, yeah, we’re still happy! (Como dice el dicho) As the saying goes, “Look at the faces and see the hearts!”
When a single girl from Eastern Europe goes to the USA to study, she has to face certain assumptions made about green cards, marriages of convenience, and other things no one prepared her for. Culture shock comes in many shapes and sizes, and graduate school orientations never tell you what “the L word” really stands for… (more…)