Riding the Dog: A Talmudic Christmas in the Suburbs

By Storyteller Joseph Sobol

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Joseph Sobol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harold says, “How do ya figure that?”

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

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

Dad says, “It doesn’t appeal to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Storyteller Heather Forest

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Chinese Grandfather

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

“You know.”

“You mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Watch waves!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, Blenda! How’s skoo?”

“Grandpa, tidepools are cool.”

“Ah, Blenda! How’s skoo?”

“Tomorrow can we take a day off?”

“Blenda! How’s skoo?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I thought, “Chinese food and baskets.”

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

On the Train to the Japanese American Incarceration Camps

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racism on the Road and Into the Next Generation

by Storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

Okina sakana, suiei, suiei

Chisana sakana, suiei, suiei, suiei

Okina sakana, chisana sakana

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

And why… I’m, like, “Why?”

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

I said, “Okay.”

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

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

Witch, go home!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Brownlee’s Migration

By Storyteller Kucha Brownlee

 

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

  • African American
  • Bullying
  • Family
  • Immigration

Full Transcript:

My name is Kucha Brownlee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he said, “Watch me.”

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

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

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

But that’s a different story.

First Generation Chicagoan – No Pigeon Holing

By Storyteller Kucha Brownlee

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

And I’d said, “Chicago.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tewas Go Home

By Storyteller Eldrena Douma

Story Summary

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

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tewa.” 

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

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

Being Black Enough: Bullying and Race Discrimination

By Storyteller Linda Gorham

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Linda Gorham.

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

“Yes sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I transfer? Please. Anywhere.”

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

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

Not. Black. Enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Japanese Parents’ Unromantic Marriage

by Storyteller Karin Amano

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Storyteller Priscilla Howe

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arriving in Bulgaria: Overturning Assumptions in the Communist Era

By Storyteller Priscilla Howe

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sagebrush Santa: Christmas, 1942 in the Minidoka Internment Camp

by Storyteller Alton Takiyama-Chung

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hai! Wakade mas. I understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Father, how? When?”

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

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

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

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

by Alton Takiyama-Chung

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

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

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Nah!”

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

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

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

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

Nobody said anything. Just went to the cars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Eunice Jarrett

Story Summary

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colfax Louisiana Massacre: A Story about Reconstruction

by Zahra Glenda Baker

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcription:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columbian Runaway: A Latina Pushes Back on the Role of Women

 by Jasmin Cardenas

Story Summary:
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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Columbian-Runaway-A-Latina-Pushes-Back-on-the-Role-of-Women

Discussion Questions:

  1. Give examples from the lives of women in Jasmin’s story that show societal expectations or limitation on girls and women.
  2. What stereotype does Jasmin believe to be true, at the beginning of the story, about being a married woman?
  3. How does her Colombian aunt expose the layered complications women face? When do/can women have power? What holds women back?
  4. What could it mean that Jasmin keeps her maiden name?
  5. What is your cultural identity? Think of a time when you struggled with your identity, how did society support or challenge you?
  6. In your life, do you see women treated unequally to their male counterparts? Where? (give examples)

 Resources:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Film Documentary: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide http://www.halftheskymovement.org/pages/film
Website: Remezcla is a grassroots project among writers and creatives to cover Latino culture, that grew into an influential media brand for Latino millennial’s with national & international contributors and reach. www.Remezcla.com

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Jasmin Carenas. I have been in Chicagoan all my life. But in 2006, I took off to Columbia, South America, panicked because I’d gotten engaged a month and a half before, and the bombardment of questions about my dress, the rings, the wedding, the location, it was just all too much. I didn’t know the answers. And it felt like the more I got asked, the more I lost myself in the answering. The questions came from everywhere.

One of the Senoras from church asked, “Jasmin, are you going to have niños right away?”

“No, I want to figure out how my new life partner and I work first. But I…”

“Si, quierro niños, just not right away.”

One of my party girlfriends asks, “So, are you sure you’re ready to settle down, Jazz?”

“Yes. It’s what I’ve always envisioned.”

Then one of my colleagues from work asks, “So, you gonna take his name?”

“Nuñez…and trade in my own? No!”

“Who’s Jasmin Nuñez? She doesn’t have a history, a story, an actor’s union card. Jasmin Cardenas does. Am I too selfish to think that way?”

It’s just that all my life, I’ve been groomed by my mother, my aunts, and Latino society in general, to be una mujer buena, a good woman. A good Latina woman takes care of her husband, serves him, cooks for him…Oh, I’m so in trouble. Cooking? Baking I can do. But cooking…I can’t cook to save my life.

I mean, my mom and my aunts, especially my Tia Gloria, they are the model image of mujer buena. You can’t turn on Spanish network TV without seeing your stereotypical Latinas. Mujeres, women, who take care of their husbands. My mom, I’ve watched all my life, wake up and make my dad’s breakfast and coffee, down to the sugar in his café.

You, I mean, maybe estoy loca. Was this really what I wanted? Was I signing up for this? I knew that I loved Jesus but I’d broken my one cardinal rule. You don’t even talk engagement unless you’ve been dating for at least a year. And here I was engaged in less than 10 months. When he asked me to marry him, I did not question it. I practically jumped into his lap.

Okay, so what you need to know is that Jesus took me to Mexico under the guise of meeting his familia. And then he took me on a secluded, romantic trip to a rain forest. A lush rain forest, fragrant with life. Butterflies darting around the canopy of trees and vines. And we walked along these pebbles stones, past one rushing waterfall after another. And we had the place all to ourselves. When we got to the base of the most majestic waterfall, El Capitán, I looked at Jesus and he looked a little nervous. But I was just so overwhelmed by the beauty. And then he got down on one knee. And I thought, “Oh my, it’s happening. It’s happening. Memorize this moment, Jasmin. Memorize this moment.”

And then his lips parted. “Will you marry me?”

“Yes! Yes!” I jumped into his arms and threw my arms around him as the waterfall cascaded down and we kissed. Our own movie moment.

But standing here, in my aunt’s kitchen, in Columbia, so many days away from that moment of clarity, I couldn’t help but wonder. Watching her, in her tile kitchen, in her high heels, at 6 o’clock in the morning, with her jeans suction-cupped to her tush. Is serving a man the rest of my life really what I wanted? Is my college degree going to become a paper doily?

Now, what’s crazy is that Jesus had never given me a reason to think that I was going to end up barefoot and pregnant during our, all of our marriage. He’s a first generation American, just like me. A well-educated Mexican guy. He’s not machista. A machista is a guy who likes to put a woman in her place, who likes to be taken care of by women. Jesus is not like that.

But what if it’s in his DNA? And we haven’t been together long enough, for me to see signs of it creeping out, and then he expects me to be his mama! No. Jesus is really quite awesome. I won’t want to marry him if he wasn’t. So why was I so nervous and freaking out about this new role as his wife? I mean, it’s not like when my mom was a kid. You know, my mom never got to learn how to ride a bike when she was a little girl, because little girls weren’t allowed to ride bikes. And when I was young, I learned the same message.

I was walking down, uh, town, in one of those small little Latin American towns, with my prima, my cousin and we saw an arcade room. It was just ooo… you know. Concrete floors and a few pinball machines but they had Pac-Man, so, I went right in. And all the boys inside stopped and stared at me. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong. And then, I realized my prima, she had stayed outside. I was the only girl in the arcade room and the boys said that I couldn’t be there. That it wasn’t proper for a girl to be an arcade room. Man, where’s the manual to be your own Columbiana Americana?

That morning, in Columbia, my aunt prepared my uncle’s breakfast, down to the sugar in his café. He left through that toll… tall, wrought iron gate. There was a dog barking and a fruit vendor. “Mamay! Platanos! Y Yuuucccaa!”

And my aunt turns around, after having locked the padlock door, and she looks at me. And I must look like a scared little girl because she’s like, “Jasmin, que le pasa mija?”

“Nothing. Nothing is wrong, Tia.”

“Jasmin.”

“Tia, yo no puedo cocinar, I don’t know how to cook. I don’t like to clean. And the idea of serving a guy until the end of my days like a good mujer Latina should, makes me want to jump off a cliff.”

(Laughter) “Ay boba!” My aunt looked at me and she said, “Ay, muchacha. Usted no se tiene que preocupar por eso, you don’t have to worry about that. You prepared yourself for more than that. Ay, Jasmin.”

“Pero Tia, I thought I was supposed to take care of my husband the way you and Mami do. Taking care of him, cooking and cleaning.”

“Jasmin, you prepared yourself for more than that. Your mom, she didn’t have the choices you have. You studied. Your mama was a worker, una tradajadora. And she had to work, to support la familia. And she sacrificed leaving Columbia to go to the United States so that you would have all those choices. Just to hire someone to do all the cooking and cleaning for you.”

“Really?” My jaw hit the ground. “Pero Tia, I thought I was supposed to make Jesus feel like a man like you and Mami make el Tio and Papi feel like a man.”

“Jasmin, we make your father and your Tio feel like men in these little ways, but they know who the boss is. They go to work but we get a paycheck.”

Wow. I guess I just needed somebody else to tell me what my mom has always told me. Estudie y sace su carrera para que nunca tenga que depender de un hombre. Study and pursue your career so you never have to depend on a man. That conversation with my Tia Gloria, was all the talk I needed. There’s lots of different ways to be una mujer buena, a good woman.

I got home, back to Chicago, and Jesus asked, “Babe, is everything OK?” And I assured him that was.

And nine months later, we stood in our own outdoor, jungle wedding, surrounded by our friends and familia in Mexico. And Jesus standing there, in his white linen suit, and I, in my Princess Diana dress and veil, just like my mother always envisioned. And the pastor said, “I now present to you, Jesus Nuñez and Jasmin Cardenas.”

Thank you.

Stand Up! Redlining During the Great Migration and Marching in Marquette Park with Dr. Martin Luther King

by Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary:

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!

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Stand-Up-Redlining-During-the-Great-Migration-and-Marching-in-Marquette-Park-with-Dr-Martin-Luther-King

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was the “Great Migration”? What were its benefits and its dangers?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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?

Resources:

Article on The Great Migration and its socio-political and economic evolution from 1916 to 1970: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/great-migration

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/

Redlining – This link guides the reader to a digitally interactive map describing the existence and “reasons” for redlining, the discriminatory practice of limiting housing opportunities and related services for so-called minorities across the country.
http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/19/498536077/interactive-redlining-map-zooms-in-on-americas-history-of-discrimination

Themes:

  • African Americans/Africans
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neigborhoods
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

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?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Did you get your jacket because you know it’s going to be a little bit chilly out there later on?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Now, did your father give you a little piece change?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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.

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

by Shanta Nurullah

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventure: Undocumented Flight from Guatemala

by  Storyteller Nestor Gomez

Story Summary:

As a young boy, Nestor and his siblings cross the Guatemala/Mexico and Mexico/USA borders to join his parents in the USA.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Adventure-Undocumented-Flight-from-Guatemala

Discussion Questions:

  1. The application process is long and sometimes too expensive for many people looking to emigrate. It also depends on the country from which you are emigrating. For instance, some countries have longer waiting periods than others for visas. If people cannot obtain documents, why do people make such a dangerous trips to get to the U.S.?
  2. Do you know people who have escaped war, famine, who have risked everything to be reunited with their families? If you were facing violence or starvation and such, would you think about leaving?
  3. What are some of the risks of getting caught by the immigration authorities?
  4. Do you know anyone who has been deported or incarcerated for trying to come to the U.S.? Do you think it’s fair that if refugees are caught, they are never able to legally apply for U.S. citizenship?
  5. What are some of difficulties of adjusting to life in a new/different country?
  6. Besides the language, the newcomer has to learn the many different traditions, customs and idiosyncrasies of the country where they emigrated to without losing their own identities. What do you think would be the strangest aspect of American culture for a newcomer? What part of your identity would you never want to lose?

Resources:

  • Teenage Refugees from Guatemala Speak Out by Gerald Hadden
  • The Quetzal in Flight: Guatemalan Refugee Families in the United States by Noria Vlach
  • Since 1990, GCIR has sought to influence philanthropy to make donations to programs that address the needs of the country’s growing and increasingly diverse immigrant and refugee populations. Nestor was helped by this organization: ttps://www.gcir.org/

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Latino Americans/Latinos

Full Transcript:

My name is Nestor Gomez. I’m going to tell you a story about my, my journey from Guatemala to the United States.

After many days of silently traveling by bus across Mexico, we arrived at Guadalajara  which is basically half way through Mexico. From there, we were going to take a train that was going to take us all the way to the border of the United States. Now many people make this travel by train but many people don’t have the necessary money or funds to travel as passengers on the train. They are forced to take freight trains. And they are forced to go on top of these freight trains and sleep on top of the freight trains as they travel across Mexico. Many people fall from the trains. Many people lose their lives or their limbs. Not only that but they also run the risk of being assaulted, being robbed or being killed by guns as they travel on top of these freight train.  As if this wasn’t enough, the Mexican immigration authorities stopped these trains and take people to jail for traveling undocumented. However, we were lucky enough that our mother has saved enough money to send money with our father so we didn’t have to travel on these freight trains. We actually were able to travel with passengers on a regular train.

But half away, half the way through our travel on the train, the train suddenly make a stop and the Mexican immigration authorities boarded that train. They started to question everybody. And our father told us to remain quiet just like he had instructed us. When the Mexican authorities started to question us, we remained silent and our father tried to tell them that we were just shy but they didn’t believe him. They handcuffed him and took him off the train. We just sat there looking at one another afraid that we had been caught, that we were going to be sent back to Guatemala. But after a few minutes, which to us seemed like hours, our father came back into the train and told us that they were going to let us go but they had taken most of his money. When we arrived at Tijuana, which is on the border with the USA, our father contacted a coyote, who is a person to helps undocumented immigrants across the border. Now this coyote agreed to take us across the United, across the border to the United States to a safe house, where my mother was going to save more money. So, my father gave the coyote the rest of our money.

Now, there were several ways in which we could cross the border. We could go across the desert but that was a dangerous trip for me and my siblings because we were just little kids. We could also cross across the sewer lines but this was a nasty undertaking. It was dangerous and it was full of disease. We could also go across the river but once again we were little kids and that was dangerous. So, our father and the coyote decided that the best way for us to cross the border, was to run across the border, across the hills of Tijuana. So that’s what we did.

We started to cross the border, on an afternoon with a lot of other people that were crossing the border. And at first it was a huge group of people, but as the night, as the day went on, our group got smaller and smaller. Soon our group consisted only of the coyote who was running in front of us, my father who was carrying my youngest brother in one arm, and behind him, me my sister, and my middle brother were running holding hands. Now, now I live in Chicago for many years and I have seen many people participating in 5K’s and 10K’s but it took me many years for me to be able to take part in one of those races. Because every time that I see people running, it still reminds me of the fear I felt as we run across the border. I was afraid that we’re going to get caught. I was afraid that we were going to get separated from our father. I was afraid of many things.

As we kept running across the hills of Tijuana, it started to get darker and darker. Suddenly, I saw some lights out in the distance. At first, I thought that it was going to get rain, it was going to start raining because it sounded like thunder to me. But then the coyote explained that those lights and the sound that we heard were not, wasn’t thunder but those were helicopters. And I got really excited because I had never seen any copters ever in my life before. So, I started to look out the horizon, trying to see just helicopters coming. But the coyote pulled me to the ground and hid me on some bushes.  Telling me that this wasn’t time for sightseeing. This was time to hide. Now we have been praying for a moment to rest. However, the moment we got to rest was as we were hiding on the brushes, hiding from the helicopter. It wasn’t a pleasant time. We were afraid again that we’re going to get caught. After a few minutes of the helicopters flying on top of us and trying to illuminate us, they flew away. We stay under the bushes for a few minutes. Until the coyote told us that it was safe to keep running.

We started to run, again. I don’t remember how long we ran. I just remember that we ran for a long time. When we made it to a place where there was a car waiting on the bushes to take us to the safe house. We were placed into this car and there were more people in the car and we were all told to hide. The car drove away and for many hours we just hide. Until we were taken to a safe house where they put us into a tiny little room and they told us to be quiet. Now, the coyote at the safe house, called my mother to let her know that we had arrived and immediately decided to ask her for money. Well, my mother didn’t know it was that the coyotes were going to charge my mother an extra $100 for every day that they kept us in the safe house. So, my mother had saved enough money but she didn’t know that she had to pay extra money for safekeeping. So, she didn’t have money to send for our release right away. So, we spent a couple of days maybe weeks in this safe house, just hiding there. Every day that we stayed there, the coyotes told us to be quiet. However, they were not quiet when they called my mother asking for money.

I remember on one occasion, the coyote told my mother that if she didn’t send the money right away, they were going to send us back where we belong. Now, this is really sad because this is the first time that I ever heard somebody telling me that that I should go back or that they’re going to send me back to where I belong. I mean, it’s really sad because the people that first told me something like these, were people, Latin American people maybe descendants, second generation of Latin Americans. My mother was able to save some money and she was able to borrow money from family and friends here in Chicago, and she send for us. The coyote released us. Taking us to the airport, where they had a contact that put us on a plane.

When we came to Chicago, when we arrived to Chicago onto the plane, we were taken out the of the plane, again by some contact that they have. And they help us get out of the airport. We got to the train station, as soon as we could. And we took a train from the train station that took us to our modest apartment. We head to our mother’s apartment, and we knock on her door. And when my mother opened her door, we were finally able to break our silence, as we cheer, and laugh, and cry, hugging our mother.

After that, after the moment we got united with them, with our mother again, she decided that to celebrate she was going to take us to a special place to have breakfast. So, she took us to McDonald’s. And I know a lot of people think that’s funny because McDonald’s is just a fast food restaurant. But for us, McDonald’s was a special place that was reserved for special occasions like somebody’s birthday or somebody’s graduation because we were poor people in a third world country.  But maybe because of the fact that we were on a strange land or maybe because of the fact that my mother was speaking another language and people were speaking a different language, it didn’t feel a home, it felt strange.

After our breakfast we went on a sightseeing tour of the city. Our mother took us to see the Sears Tower. It would always be the Sears Tower to me. She took us to the zoo and she took us to the lakefront. At the lakefront, we met with a friend of our mother who had been living here in Chicago for many years, and when he learned that we were here for our first day, he decided to take us to celebrate to a special place. No, he didn’t take us to McDonald’s. He took us to a Latin American restaurant. And he say that he was going to order the most expensive meal on the menu. When we arrivd at the restaurant we were surprised to see that the most expensive meal on the menu were black beans. And we laugh when we actually tasted the beans because to us, they tasted like beans that have been cured with baking soda. After our meal, we say goodbye to my mother’s friends and we continue our sightseeing tour. Our mother decided that it would be a good idea for us to walk all the way from the lakefront to her apartment. It took us several hours to walk back to her apartment. By the time we got there, we were hungry, we were tired. We went into the apartment and our mother told us to sit in the living room, while she prepared dinner. A few minutes later she called us into the dining room. And at the moment, as I sat around the table and our mother started to say grace, I pretended to do the same thing. And I look around the table as everybody was praying and, at that moment, as I found myself surrounded by family about to eat, about to eat. Black beans from my mother kitchen, at that moment, I finally found a home.

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

 by Storyteller E.B. Diggs

Discussion Questions:

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

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, that’s Diggs! That’s Diggs.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boy Who Fell Between the Cracks: Bullying in the Junior High

by Dan Keding

Story Summary:

This story is about how a mentally-challenged young man teaches his classmates the meaning of acceptance and understanding.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Boy-Who-Fell-Between-the-Cracks-Bullying-in-the-Junior-High

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did the students tease and bully William?
  2. What did William show them when he was on the lawn? Why did it change his classmates?

Resources:

List of books about name calling for all ages: http://www.welcomingschools.org/pages/books-on-name-calling-bullying/
“No Name Calling Week” resources at: http://www.nonamecallingweek.org

StopBullying.com
http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/
This federal government website has suggestions on how to handle bullying.

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!

Themes:

Bullying
Education and Life Lessons
Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

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.

Zebra Children: A Guide to Interracial Dating from the Closet for Immigrants and their Children

by Storyteller Archy Jamjun

Please Note : The following video is part of a comedy routine. The video includes some mild sexual content.

Story Summary:

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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Zebra Children-A Guide to Interracial Dating from the Closet for Immigrants and their Children

Discussion Questions:

  1. What kind of discussions about race have you had with your family?
  2. Have you ever dated outside of your “race” and how did your family feel about it?
  3. How do you react when you feel like someone is being racist or spreading racist ideas?

Resources:

Network TV Show: Fresh Off the Boat
The Namesake
by Jumpia Lahiri
The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi I’m Archie Jamjun.  So, I’m 16 years old and in my parents basement.  My girlfriend Nicole and I were going at it.  We had our clothes on but she was straddled on top of me and we were making out, and that’s when I heard it.

[In simulated Asian accent] “Archy, get up here right now. ”

There’s nothing like the voice of your mother to kill the mood.  So I got myself together.  I ran up the stairs, and there was my mother.  She’s pacing frantically.  Her eyes were wild and she’s like, [simulated Asian accent] “What are you doing?  What is she doing to you?  She’s wild like an animal.  You have to tell her to stop. You have to tell her to go home.”

And like, I realized that no mother wants to witness their child’s sexual activity but I felt like my mother was overreacting.  First of all, we still had our clothes on and second, I thought my mother would be relieved to see me with a girl.

Like my whole childhood was filled with accusations of being gay.  I was so obviously gay that one day my mother pulled over the car when I was eleven and asked me [simulated Asian accent] “Archy, do you think you are a woman?” And like I kind of knew what she meant, but I didn’t because I was eleven.

But anyways, that day my mother told me Nicole had to go home.  And you know, I just had to rest with the fact that she was still confused about me.

A few days later though, my parents told me we had to have a talk.  And so I got into the living room and my dad says, [simulated male Asian accent] “Your mom, she wants to tell you something.”

And right there, I knew it was not to be good so I turned to look at my mom.  And she says, [simulated Asian accent] “Why do you have to date a black girl?”

And I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know this was a topic.  I thought we were going to talk about the birds and the bees.”

Then she says, [simulated Asian accent] “I don’t want to have Zebra grandchildren.”

Now holy ish.

While my mother had never carried a love for black culture, she had never done anything to make me think she was racist either.  I mean how could a woman who immigrated from Asia be racist in America.  How do you get discriminated against and then be like, ‘oh my god that was great actually do that to somebody else.’ And I grew up kind of sheltered I when I thought of racism I thought of the KKK are Nazis.  I didn’t really realize that minorities could hate other minorities.  I know it sounds nice but I thought racism was like a white thing I didn’t know that we could do that too but we were.

And I asked my mom, “What are zebra grandchildren?”  |

[simulated Asian accent] “Your children will be zebras because they will be half black and half Asian.”

And I was like, “No they would be bumblebees.”

And then she’s like, [simulated Asian accent] “the black gene is so dominant and the Asian gene is so submissive you, your children and Nicole will have such a hard life now.”

At the time I was really mad and embarrassed by my mom.  I thought she was overly concerned what the rest of our family would think of her or what her friends would think of her.  What I didn’t realize was she was also trying to protect me, I mean she was wrong, but she was trying to protect me and she was trying to protect me from all the racism she had encountered as an Asian woman and to her black people as well.

She had stereotypes I’m sure, but to her, black people were the ultimate target of America’s hatred and racism and combining her experience with what she considered their shared experience just seemed like it would be a nightmare to her.

She put it so eloquently too.  She said [simulated Asian accent] “if you have to date outside your race just date white people.”

And so the argument went on and on.  I was not in giving up any turf.  I told her this is America and I would date whoever I wanted.  She made me promise that I would not get Nicole pregnant which was a very easy promise to keep because I was still really scared of female body parts.

Fast forward a couple years and I was home from college during summer break. I had not

just come out of the closet.  I had broken the door down and in a classic passive-aggressive Asian move, I had my boyfriend at the time stay with me for a couple nights.  When he left my mom came up to me and she had figured things out.

And she was like “Archy, Archy are you gay?”  And I knew that my mom had snuck into the bedroom between four and five [in the morning] and [had] seen us.

So I said, “what makes you think that?”

And she said [simulated Asian accent] “Well, friends do not sleep with friends naked.”  And so I nodded my head.

So, I said, “Mom I’m gay.”  And my mom thought about it.

She said [simulated Asian accent], “Archy I don’t think that you’re gay. I think that really you love black women but I have suppressed you with my anger and now you think you are gay.”

[I was thinking and thought]  “Mom, you’re totally right I used to be straight.  I love black women.   You yelled at me and now I’m gay.  It’s your fault.”  And maybe I let my mom believe that for a few days not because it’s right or anything, but because that’s Karma.

Thank you!

My Names: Gender Expectations for a Taiwanese Woman

by Ada Cheng

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Eddie McLoud Armstrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And mommy said, “Well, why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

She said, “No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Singing)

Las caras lindas de mi gente negra

Son un desfile de melaza en flor

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

Three Assassinations: Kennedy, King, Kennedy

by Storyteller Megan Hicks

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Three-Assassinations-Kennedy-King-Kennedy

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever wondered how you’re “supposed” to feel about a situation that makes you uncomfortable?
  2.  How can you be friends with someone you disagree with?
  3.  What’s the difference between an argument and a debate?
  4.  What happens when you realize you no longer believe some of the assumptions you grew up with?

Resources:

  • The President Has Been Shot!: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James F. Swanson
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

Themes:

  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Megan Hicks.

It was a Friday morning, in late November, in 1963. I was in my second period algebra class. We heard the loud speaker in the ceiling crackling and the vice principal’s voice came through. He said, “Teachers, students.”  We all figured it was gonna be an announcement about the pep rally or the activity bus for the game that night. Instead, he said, “We’ve just received word that the president has been shot. President Kennedy has been shot and he is dead. Extra-curricular activities cancelled, school is dismissed early. Please take your regular assigned buses home.”

Well, I sat there on the bus on the way home that day, I was looking out the window, looking down at my lap, wondering how I was supposed to feel about all this. And all around me, kids were crying, boys and girls, volubly. I, I, wondered…They acted as though it were a family relative who had just been killed. I mean, I knew a terrible thing had happened but I didn’t know President Kennedy personally. It’s not like his death affected me. These kids, the way they were carrying on, you know, it just seemed kind of phony to me, except that 9th graders, especially boys, don’t cry in public. And I thought it was really strange. I realized all these kids came from families that their parents had probably voted for Kennedy for president.

My parents hated Kennedy. They voted for Richard Nixon. I remember, that 1960 campaign. I was 10 years old; my mom and dad took me with them. They knocked on doors, they distributed year signs, bumper stickers, they made phone calls. That election was so close, they held out hope until the very last votes were counted. But, when all was said and done, it wasn’t Richard Nixon. No, it was the rich kid from Harvard, the papist, who talked funny, who went to the White House.

Now, my mom and dad, like Richard Nixon, had both grown up in humble circumstances. We were living in Orange County, California at the time but both my parents had grown up during the Great Depression in Oklahoma, where Jim Crow laws were strictly observed and enforced. That “separate but equal” approach to race relations, to my parents’ way of thinking, had been working just fine all along. And then along comes this East Coast intellectual, this John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Bringing in Federal government to integrate Southern schools, Southern buses, Southern affairs that were none of his business. I sat there on the bus that November day, and I thought, “Well, he went and got himself assassinated.” And I guess that’s a terrible thing. But it all washed over us pretty quickly. Thanksgiving was just around the corner and then Christmas and by the time we rang in the New Year, everybody was accustomed to the idea of President Lyndon Johnson.

Now, my mom and dad hated Johnson too. I mean, he went right on with Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act, plowing through, with, with movements and, and legislation. And my parents were just sure it was the end of life in America as we knew it. I mean, it was an almost a weekly occurrence now. We saw race riots, we saw protest demonstrations, sit-ins; not firsthand because we lived in a good neighborhood. And, you know, I went to an all-white high school but all you had to do is turn on the TV. And my parents said, “See there, there’s proof this country is going to hell in a handbasket. What do those people want? That Martin Luther King and all those black power agitators. I mean, they’re just whipping them into a frenzy. King needs to go back where he belongs. They would go back where they belong and then we could get some peace around here. Somebody needs to shut that man up.”

And in April 1968, somebody did shut him up, permanently. My next-door neighbor was almost beside herself with excitement. She said, “Isn’t this just exactly what I said was gonna happen, huh? Haven’t I said that he has been asking for it for years? He got no better than he deserves, as far as I’m concerned.”

My mom allowed us how it was really terrible that things had come to this pass. She said, “Well, no. He won’t be giving any more speeches but you know, the real tragedy is that now the is a martyr.”

My dad watched the six o’clock news with satisfaction, “Ah, there’s another troublemaker out of the way.  Pay attention, Megan,” he said. “This is what happens when you stand up, you rock the boat, you make yourself a target. Martin Luther King brought this on himself. I hope you understand that.” I didn’t understand anything.

You know, by the time of Dr. King’s murder, 1968, I was a freshman in college. A very sheltered freshman living in a household where all the answers had been determined long before I was even born. I was going to a college where there didn’t seem to be any answers, just more questions. In my home, a disagreement meant somebody left the conversation angry. In my college classes, we were encouraged to disagree, to debate, to argue, to, to consider things from different perspectives that sometimes change our minds. You know, all I wanted was for somebody to tell me what I needed to know to pass the tests. I thought, “I can’t sort this out now. I’ve got papers to write. I’ve got finals coming up. It’s not as if I’m old enough to even vote yet, anyway.  So, what difference does it make? All this controversy, it makes me uncomfortable. It’s distracting. I‘m not gonna think about it.”

And I didn’t until June when Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. I knew what my parents thought of Robert Kennedy, not much. He was just like his big brother, John – only worse. Only more the advocate for this Civil Rights Movement, more the champion of these political agitators who, to my parents’ way of thinking, were running America into the ground. And it looked like, until the bullet brought him down, he was on his way to the White House too. I heard about it driving to my sociology class. It was on the radio news. The announcer said, “Senator Kennedy had just won the California Democratic presidential primary and was on his way out of the convention hall.  He has been shot and killed.” The announcer said, “Today has been declared a national day of mourning. People who want to honor the work and the life of Senator Kennedy are encouraged to drive with their headlamps on as a sign of respect.”

I honestly didn’t know what I thought about Bobby Kennedy at the time but in that moment, in the car alone, with no one there to cue me about how to think, how to respond, how to act, I did know one thing. That was the moment I knew that it is obscene for anyone to think somebody’s standing up and speaking their mind, speaking what’s on their heart, is grounds for homicide. In that moment, I realized it doesn’t matter if I embrace what you have to say or if I totally rejected it. You speaking up should not get you shot.

I sat up a little straighter in the driver’s seat. My hand trembled a little as it left the steering wheel and reached out for the dashboard. It was a tiny, timid, political statement but it was my first and I remember it viscerally. I reached for the knob, I pulled those headlamps, and I drove with my high beams on all day.

Sparta, Georgia

by Storyteller Gene Tagaban

 

Story Summary:

 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

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How do we break up the biases we have about other people?
  2. Can travel be a way to open or confirm our ideas about other people?
  3.  Where would you like to travel? How would you keep an open mind about the people you meet along the way?

Resources:

  •  On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • The Smooth Traveler: Avoiding Cross-Cultural Mistakes at Home and Abroad by Susan O’Halloran

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

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?”

“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!”

My Parents’ Three Migrations

by Storyteller Kiran Singh Sirah

 

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Story of My Teacher

by Storyteller Kiran Singh Sirah

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Story-of -My-Teacher

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a teacher, a parent, a movie star whose life story inspires you? If so, describe why.
  2. Recall a story you heard, a folktale or someone’s personal story that influenced you. Why does it matter to you?
  3. We can all be the stories we want to see in the world. Do you agree with this or not? Explain your reasons and what would your story be?
  4. Why did Kiran talk about both racism and the kindness of strangers in one story? What do you think was his intention by doing so?

 Resources:

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Kiran Singh Sirah. And this story is for my teacher Mr. George.

I was born in 1976, in a summer heat wave. In a town called Eastbourne. My mother called me Kiran. Kiran which means in Sanskrit, light from the sun. The town I was born in was on the south coast of England, about 80,000 people. I was the first person of color born in that town. On a clear day, you could look out to the sea and you could see France. “Bonjour,” I would say sometimes. And I imagine people back saying, “Hello.” There were so many stories about growing up. It was a good place to grow up. It was a nice town. There was good things that happened. We used to go out for ice cream. We would go down to the seaside. We used to go to and sit on blue and white deck chairs and listen to the bandstand. We would even eat a lot of the fish and the crab sticks. And we used to be a lot of family gatherings.

But then there was the bad side. There was a lot of racism going on at that time. Spurred by Enoch Powell and the far-right fascist groups. The skinhead punk, the green bomber jackets, the Dr. Martin boots. They used this word called “Paki.” It was a horrible word to use. It doesn’t matter what co… where we came from; we could be from Pakistan or India or just brown skinned. They just refer to all of us as Pakis and they’d go out Paki bashing. For us, it’s like the N-word. That’s how we felt. It wasn’t so much about when someone… I’d would leave the house and I’d feel like I have to be on my guard. And it wasn’t the hurt that came to me. It was when I heard someone use that word against my parents, my mother or my father or my brother.

One day when I was about five or six years old, and I remember this vividly, I woke up in the living room on the couch. I’d been knocked out. I didn’t know where I was. My memory just before that, as I was cycling around my BMX bike and a punk had knocked me out. He’d gone Paki bashing. But my mother told me that this old lady, old white lady, had seen what happened. And she picked me up and she took me home. Racism existed in our, in our community. As I said, there was good and there was bad. But sometimes, it was just very difficult to understand why I felt so different. Why was I being treated different? Some of these people called my people the smelly Curry people. The people that worship lots of gods. We’re somehow different and sometimes made to feel really different. I couldn’t concentrate in the school classrooms. I found it really hard to focus. But that was until my head teacher, in the classroom assemblies, started to tell stories.

Mr. George was an older white man. He wore a tweed jacket and always wore a kind face. He told us folk and traditional stories from all over the world. And one day, he told us story about a prince. This worldly prince that gave up all his worldly riches and went out into the world to explore the world and to meet the people of the world. We took two objects with him, a cup and a toothbrush. And one day, he looks out and he sees this man break a twig from a from, a tree and starts chewing it and release these juices that start to clean his teeth. And he realized, I don’t need my toothbrush. And he threw it away. And then, he looked out again and he saw someone bent double, by a river, and used their hands and they cup their hands together and poured out a scoop of water and then drink the water from their hands. So, he threw away his cup, realizing he don’t need that too.

But then one day, he tells us the story about someone that really inspired him throughout his lifetime and that man was called Nelson Mandela. He told us how he remembers him as a chubby man going into prison for his beliefs. But then, over the years, were the images that were coming from South Africa, was this man that had gotten thinner, he’d become wiser, he’d become calmer. And he was promoting messages of peace, of unity. Not just to unite the people of South Africa from all different backgrounds and races and ethnicities, but to unite the world. He was like the conscience of the world.

From Mr. George’s stories, he was connecting me to the wisdom of these folk and traditional tales to know that we can go anywhere in the world. We don’t need the objects. We just need our human bodies. And he’s also connecting us to the idea of social justice and equality and that we actually belong and we’re part of the world around us. I now live in Tennessee, in Jonesborough, Tennessee and I oversee the work of the international storytelling center. My job is to advocate for the power of stories to change people’s lives and to enrich people’s lives. But then I realized last year, now living in the States, I haven’t actually thanked the person that inspired me to tell stories and to think about life in this way. So, I contacted my old elementary school back in Eastbourne. I looked them up. Phoned up the school and I asked about Mr. George, where his whereabouts. They told me that he’s now retired. He’s doing well still. And, uh, but he’s there… in touch with his daughter Claire George.

A few months back, I got an email from Claire George. Never met Claire, his daughter. And Claire had said that she had printed out the articles. She’d Googled me. And she used these articles to speak to Mr…. her…  Mr. George, her father. And all the articles I’d written about Mr. George and talked about what I’m up to. A few weeks back, I received a letter in the post addressed to me at the International storytelling center. And guess who it was from? It was from Mr. George. Mr. Len George. I’d never known his first name. In the letter, he talks about how he remembers me but not just me, he remembers my mother. He remembers the house that I grew up in. He remembers my character, and he remembers, and he’s so proud of me, he said in the letter, of what I’ve achieved and what I’m doing now. And he also studies, still telling stories.

It’s been 30 years since I’ve had any contact with Mr. George. But I know that I owe so much to this teacher, this great teacher, for inspiring me and make me think about the world and how it can also teach. Storytelling is such a powerful teaching tool to enrich other people’s lives. The fact that we don’t need any props or things or objects to experience the world just like that prince in that story. All we really need are the stories. And ultimately, the fact that, we can be the story that we want to see in the world. That was for Mr. George.

The Complexity of Our Street – Burying the Unspoken

by Storyteller Laura Simms

 

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resource:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcription:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Place Within Untarnished

by Storyteller Laura Simms

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  That-Place-Within-Untarnished

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What surprised you the most about the story Laura and Ishmael heard about Rwanda?
  2. Do you think it is fair to have children fighting in wars?
  3. Most people want to know what are causes of war. What do you think are the causes of Peace?

Resources:

  • 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

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

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.

The untarnished place. That’s true.

Close Encounters

by Storyteller Barbara Schutzgruber

 

Story Summary:

 Small town meets big city.  Boundaries are crossed and cultures collide when a Midwest family encounters the boys from New York City. Will they find common ground or confrontation?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Close-Encounters

Discussion Questions:

  1. When you meet someone new or go somewhere new, what do you notice first – the similarities or the differences?
  2. Has someone ever made an assumption about you that was incorrect?  How did that make you feel?
  3. Have you ever changed a negative opinion about someone after you had gotten to know him or her better?

Resources:

  • Elementary:
    • Same, Same, but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw
    • Everyday worlds might look different on the surface but with a closer look, they are actually similar.
  • Elementary & Middle School:
    • Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) by Julie Falatko
    • Headed to the grocery store … or PROWLING the forest for defenseless birds and fuzzy bunnies – what’s the truth?
    • ‘What Was I Scared Of?’  from Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss
    • This classic story delivers a timeless message about fear and tolerance.
  • High School & Teenagers:
    • In 1964 the New York Times ran the headline “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”.  While it was true that some neighbors had heard Kitty Genovese’ cries for help, the portrayal of 37 witnesses standing by and doing nothing was not true and did not represent the facts of that night.
    • “How Headlines Change the Way We Think” 
    • Maria Konikova, The New Yorker, December 17, 2014
    • http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/headlines-change-way-think

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

I’m Barb Schutzgruber. The summer of 1964, mom and dad packed the five of us kids, ranging in age from 14 down to 6, into the 9-passenger station wagon and we traveled east going from Michigan to New York City. Now there were some folks in the small town where we lived who thought mom and dad were nuts. Stories of gangs, crime plus all the wild reports that spring of how dozens of New Yorkers stood by and did nothing to stop the brutal murder of Kitty Genovese, who was a young woman simply walking home from work one night. Why would you even think of going to New York? New Yorkers are cold and heartless. They’ll take advantage of you or worse.

But for me, I was nine years old and all I knew was that we were going to stay with mom’s Uncle Ed in Brooklyn. We were gonna go to the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations and we were going to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. For three days, we explored the city because seven of us could not fit into one cab and taking two and, most likely, three was way too expensive, so out of the question!

All of us walked the streets of New York, miles and miles of cement, buildings that blotted out the sun and even the sky sometimes, noises and strange smells. People, saw many people rushing about, no one looking at anyone. And we rode the subway. Once we were huddled in a crowded subway car next to an older man and he took the time and told us all about how those subway tunnels were built. He even complimented us kids on how polite and well-behaved we were. As my sisters and I looked on, he handed my brothers each quarters because he had no sons. And then with a wink and a smile, he handed quarters to us girls too because how could he leave out such lovely young ladies.

The day we went to the World’s Fair, it was after midnight by the time we got back, much to Uncle Ed’s worry and apprehension. At $2 a ticket, mom was going to make sure that we saw every inch and got our money’s worth. So, we did see every inch of the over six-hundred-acre complex. We stayed right up till closing and barely caught the last ferry that would take us from Queens back to Brooklyn.

After a long day of heat, humidity, crowds, overstimulation, we made our way to the deserted upper deck of that ferry. It was so nice to be somewhere quiet and no one else around anywhere. My two older sisters and older brother collapsed, each on their own bench. My little brother fell asleep with his head on mom’s lap. Dad leaned against the rail, smoking a cigarette. I sat with my back against the bulkhead, the vibration of those heavy diesel… em… vi… ah, engines vibrating in my bones. There was the gentle rhythm and sway, comforting as that boat pulled out onto the water. The smell of sea water with just the faintest hint of diesel fuel was on the breeze. I looked out over the dark waters off in the distance, the city lights twinkled. New York City has its own set of stars.

The spell was broken, suddenly, by voices coming from below deck, loud and boisterous. Half dozen or so teenage guys, pushing and shoving, stumbled up the stairwell, spilling out onto the deck. They took one look at us and said, “Tourists.”

Slowly they divided, forming a half circle around dad. Forty, bald, wearing a Cornell University T-shirt and dark blue Bermuda shorts, arm in a brace, Dad was a contrast to those city boys with their slicked back hair, blue jeans, white T-shirts, cigarettes neatly rolled up in the sleeve, with a swagger. One of them stepped forward and as the others laughed, he taunted, “Hey, old man! All those kids yours?”

Dad exhaled slowly, stood up, turned and said with a smile, “Yeah, isn’t it great?”

The voice took a step back. “Well, yeah, I guess it is.”

Dad continued, “We’re from Michigan. New York is a great city. What borough are you fellows from?”

There was a moment of awkward silence and then those boys began to talk. I watched as Dad asked questions and listened intently to whoever was speaking, and the posture of those teenagers changed. They relaxed and soon they were shifting easily from one foot to another, interrupting each other to get a word in, laughing, gesturing as they spoke. Even the one who stood awkwardly at the back of the group was brought in and became part of that conversation.

A movement off to the side caught my attention. A crewman had come up on deck. He stopped dead in his tracks. He looked at mom, the five of us kids, dad leaning against the rail surrounded by a group of young men who were gesturing as they spoke. Without saying a word, he walked away. A few minutes later, he was back, this time, with some of the other crewmen. These men all looked like my uncles who worked construction, thick arms folded across broad chests. They stood like a wall with feet planted.

One of the teenagers noticed the men in the shadows watching them. He nudged the guy next to him. They both turned. They now stood taller, straighter. They planted their feet, eyes narrowed, fists clenched. Mom looked from the crewman to the teenagers and shifted where she sat. Dad looked, up over the heads, gave a nod to the crewman but did not move.

He stayed, leaning relaxed against that rail and continued his conversation with those teenagers. They talked the entire trip. Finally, the horn blew, which called the crewmen back to their stations because we were coming into the dock. Mom got us going with, uh,  “Get your stuff together! Come on, let’s go.”

Dad said, with a smile, “It was nice meeting all of you. You fellas take care.”

“Yeah, you too,” was the reply. And those teenagers headed down the stairwell and we made our way off the boat and back to Uncle Ed’s house. That summer of 1964, my family traveled east and we met really nice people. They’re called New Yorkers.

Hasan’s Story: Escaping the Bosnian-Serbian War 1994

by Storyteller Sue O’Halloran

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hasans-Story-Escaping-the-Bosnian-Serbian-War-1994

Discussion Questions:

  1. What led to the break up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s?
  2. What would you do to escape a war? Could you leave your friends and family?
  3. What kept Hasan’s and his friend’s hopes alive?
  4. How has hardship helped you define who you are?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • European Americans/Whites
  • Immigration
  • Interfaith
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Muslim Americans/Muslims
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Sue O’Halloran. I’m going to tell you a story that’s an excerpt of a longer story. A story about the war that broke out in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. This is a story of my neighbor, Hasan. Now I’m going to say it as if Hassan were speaking to you in the first person. I do not do a Bosnian accent, believe me, but I want to get a little flavor of Hassan’s speech and most of all the spirit of my dear neighbor. So here’s a little bit of Hasan’s story.

I remember first day of siege. I was in college back then, 21 year old. It is March 4, 1992 and I wake up and I hear my father’s voice out in the living room. “What is going on?” I have to tell you, my father is the type, never late for work, never miss a day of work. He never call in to say he’s sick. I walk out to living room, sleepy and this is how my father greet me. “The whole city is blacked out. People are running around with machine gun. You can’t go anywhere.”

I sit down. I watch TV. We watch TV together. We watch our neighbors absolutely flipping out. Jus-just the night before, my friend, Christian, he was at our house. We are school friends, right. We are hanging out. And next morning he is in Serbian army whose job is to annihilate us Muslims. We listen to TV anchorperson say now our country, Bosnia, it is part of Greater Serbia and Greater Serbia must be cleansed of Muslims and Croats enemies. What, yesterday we are citizens, coworkers, neighbors, and today we are enemies? What has happened? What has changed? We still look the same. We have same skin, it is white. We have two eyes, we have mouth, we have legs, we have arms. What is different? What has changed?

Well, the shelling, it continued all day long. By us is a hospital for babies and one moment it is a hospital of dead babies. Who could do that? The children, of course, they don’t understand; to them, ah, it is day of school off, right? By us, across the street from our apartment, is a hill. The children are sledding on the hill and we hear screams. And we run to the window and there on our street is…is seven dead children in our street. The shelling, the sniper bullets could come out of nowhere. You’re standing line. Now there are lines for everything! Line to buy water, line to get some food, line to get some wood.  And all of sudden shelling or, or, or bullets come out of nowhere and suddenly the 20 people in front of you are dead. You are next in line but you, you are standing there spared, somehow. You understand, we cannot make sense of this.

It took us a while to understand what was going on. We thought it couldn’t happen to us. Finally, I join army of Bosnia. For three long winters, army of Bosnia, we, we hold our city, Sarajevo. Is mystery to me, how we hold that city. We are exhausted. We are, we are no food. We are, we are, we are hungry. We are, we are just tired.

In other unit, a story circulate. We hear a story of an unbelievable suicide. This other unit, they’re holding strategic mountain by Sarajevo. They, like us, no food, no water for days. They’re trudging up snowy mountain, getting up high in mountain. They’re covering, they’re carrying the little packs of things they have left. When a pack horse walks to the edge of the cliff and jumps. The soldiers stood there stunned. And finally, one of them say, “Even the horses can’t take it anymore.”

This is how I feel. This is what I try to tell my parents one Sunday night. I am 24 years old and I tell them my grand scheme. I am leaving. They have one comment for me. “You are out of your mind! How will you get out of here?” they say. “The whole region is at war and our own people could shoot you for deserting the army!”  “I don’t care,” I say. “I do not care. I have got to get rid of these pictures that are in my mind. These pictures that are driving me crazy. I have to leave!”

Long story, my friend, Dino, who is also in army, he leaves with me. We sneak out of tunnel. We get out of city, which is blocked. No way in, no way out. We find way out through tunnel and when we emerge from that tunnel, there before us like big, dark, black wall in the night is Mount Trebević, where just six years before Olympic athletes are skiing, the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Oh, so much joy on Mount Trebević! So much, much pride we have! The whole world is watching us host the Olympics and now Mount Trebević is surrounded by death.

Later, long in story, I tell you many more adventures. Almost caught, almost turned in, lying, hiding, cheating, whatever we can do to escape. And finally, we are crossing border.  Finally, months later, out of Bosnia into Croatia. We are trying to get to town of Split on the sea side. Maybe we can get out of area from there. We are going there at nightfall. And as we approached the city at nightfall, we see…lights…lights. We are without lights for over three years. We are without electricity. So, so, so long.  How I tell you? Speechless. Is like night stars fallen to the ground. Light exist. Light exist. I keep saying to myself, light exist. You see, it is like we are living in a cage in Sarajevo and you cannot believe. All existence has stopped outside that cage. You cannot think to yourself that out there somebody is going to eat normally in a restaurant or slept in beds or are going to the office or having a picnic in the park. But if light exists, see to me, that means if light exists that means life exists.

But the magic it start to fade, a bit. We get into Split and there are written on the buildings as graffiti, “Kill Muslims. Death to Muslims.” We are not at war anymore with Croatia but it’s still not a very safe place for us to be. But good luck. We find out that Dino, my friend, his cousin lived in Split.

We are able, long story again, to find our way to his apartment. We get there. It is covered with people. Wall to wall refugees, men, women, children. I do not care. I find a little piece of floor; I fall on it. I am going to sleep for days if I can. When this woman come next to me asked me where we been. I do not want to tell her whole story, months of escape, right? So I mumble a few words and then she asked me where we think we’re going. I don’t know where we’re going. Every step of the way, I didn’t know what comes next. I didn’t know where we were going but I say to her, “We go to United States.” Just to get rid of her, you know, so I could go to sleep. She said, “Oh, well that’s what I manage.” And I’m half asleep, now I’m thinking, what this woman manager store or something why is she telling me this? Why won’t she leave me alone? I want to sleep. And then she say, “I manage the office that sends Bosnian refugees to the United States.”

I am awake now. This is first person I meet in Split? The person who can get me legally to the United States?  And that’s how it worked. A Jewish organization sponsor me and Dino to come to America. You know, Jews and Muslims, we have had long history together. Like in 1400’s both of us pushed out of Spain. Well, during this war when the Serbian army set fire to libraries and other buildings, it is Muslims who run into the synagogue to save the sacred and priceless Jewish text. And now it is a Jewish organization sending me and Dino to America.

When I look back on it all now, over three years fighting a war, over three months escaping, I can’t say that good did not come out of it. I am here. My family is safe. We are in America and we are safe. And strangely enough, it is the haters who made me realize who I am. In Bosnia, I, I don’t know much about my village. I’m not that interested. But as the war and coming to the U.S. I start to get curious about my background. Why people hate me? Who are we anyway? And in U.S. I study Islam. And I find a mosque where I can study with other people, which is a good thing because Islam, I tell you, it is a religion of much discipline. It helps to help other people teaching, you practice with. And our mosque, our mosque join with Christian church and Jewish synagogue and we meet every week, six years now, to understand each other. We are becoming friends. And I can tell you it is better to live your life in community.

I…I am one of the lucky ones.

The West Indies: Brer Rabbit Avoids Danger For A Black Family Traveling In America

by Storyteller Donna Washington

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-West-Indies-Brer-Rabbit-Avoids-Danger-For-A-Black-Family-Traveling-In-America

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever traveled to a new place and felt uncomfortable?
  2. Have you ever met a person who made you uncomfortable? What did they do?
  3. Have you ever seen another person being bullied because they are a different color or culture?
  4. Have you ever seen somebody use humor to get beyond an uncomfortable situation? Why do you think humor helps us through difficult situations?

 Resources:

 Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Donna Washington. This story is called the West Indies. It is a compilation of a piece of folklore and a personal narrative about traveling through America. It starts with a Brer Rabbit tale.

Now there came a day, when Brer Rabbit was tied up so tight you could only see his eyeballs movin’ and Brer Fox was makin’ rabbit stew. But Brer Rabbit was just laughin’ and Brer Bear said, “Why’s you laughin’?”

And Brer Rabbit said, “Wha…I can’t help it. I’m thinkin’ about my Laughin’ Place. And when I think about my Laughin’ Place, ha, ha, I gotta laugh.”

And Brer Bear said, “I want to see the Laughin’ Place. And so, they untied Brer Rabbit, and tied the rope around his neck. And he led him on into the forest until they got to a great, big ole tree and Brer Rabbit said, “Ha, hm, my Laughin’ Place is in the-yah. And Brer Bear dropped the rope and stuck his head into that hollow tree and he heard bzzzzz. He pulled his head out. There was a great, big, ole hornet’s nest right on the edge of it and on his nose. There was a great, big, ole hornet’s nest right on his nose.

And Brer Fox said, “Don’t move. I’ll git it.”

And he picked up a big stick, whacked it really hard, and broke it in half. Those hornets went up in the air and came back down and started stinging those critters all over. Well, Brer Bear and Brer Fox went running back up Cotchapie Hill.

And Brer Bear turned around and said, “Wait a minute! You said this was a Laughin’ Place and I ain’t laughin’.

And Brer Rabbit had rolled over on the grass, got that rope up of him, and he said, “Ha, ha! I said this was my Laughin’ Place and I sho’ am laughin’ haard!” And he ran off into the grass. Now that was the kind of story that I grew up with.

But what I didn’t know is that I lived with Brer Rabbit. My father was a very unusual man. Six four and one of the blackest human beings you’ll ever see in your life. He had black belts in judo, karate, hop ki do, tang su do, and taekwondo and he was in the Army. He knew how to use rifles, nunchakus, and swords. But he had a guilty secret. He didn’t know how to dress at all. When he wasn’t wearing a uniform, he had on black socks, sandals, ripped up shorts and a ratty t-shirt.

My mother is five foot two. She is always very well put together. She’s beautiful. She’s light skinned. She’s very, very lovely.

When I was a child, because my father was in the Army, we moved every three years. And my father had an attitude about America and it was this, “I fought for this country. You’re gonna see it.”

And so, we went across country in this giant van. Now we had two dogs, a toy poodle and an Alsatian Shepherd, which is sort of like a long-haired shepherd. They’re silver and black. They look like wolves.

And they’re seven children. And it was the 80s, so we always had these… we all had these big, giant Jheri curl afros. Now the way we traveled, my dad would get in the car, and he’d become Mr. Happy Drivin’ Man. “Ha, ah, look at that! Look at that! Look at that!”

And my mother would run roughshod over the children in the back. “Stop that. Sit down. Don’t talk to him. Move over.”

And the dogs would sleep in front, where we’d taken the seats out. Well, at one point in the 80s, we were moving from Oklahoma to Virginia by way of Florida. And we would get up at 0 dark 30, which is before the sun and we would travel. And my mother would hand out fruit. And then, when it got a little later, we’d stop and have breakfast. Well, at one point we got to our location so late, my mother couldn’t buy any fruit. Everything was closed. And we got up so early, she couldn’t buy fruit. Everything was still closed. None of us had combed those giant Jheri curl afros. They were twisted all over our heads.

My father came out of the hotel. “Huh, ha! Time to go.”

And my mother. She got out of the hotel. She was wrinkled. Aaaa! We get in the car; all the children fall asleep. Going across country, my father doesn’t care if anybody’s listening to him, “Look at that, look at that, look at that! Ha!”

My mother, “Keee! We must stop and get coffee.”

My father says, “Okay.”

Well, about an hour later, we all woke up and there was no food. And World War III broke out in the back of the van. “Mom, he’s touching me! Mom, he’s hitting me! Mom, he’s doing this! Mom!”

My mother says, “Shut up!” She turns to my father. “We must stop and get coffee.”

My father said, “Okay.”

And he turns off the road. Now, we were on this little two-lane highway somewhere in the south. He turns off, onto, like, a little… what was like a path, gravel road.

And my mother says, “Where are you going?”

He said, “It’s an adventure. Huh, ha!”

And off we go on this gravel road. All seven of us have are our, our faces braced against the… pressed against the windows, wondering where we are. We go up… we end up in front of what looks like a little hiker’s station, and the place is falling apart. The wood is really weathered. It looks like something out of a movie. And the shingles are all peeled up on the roof. And sitting there on the porch, two older white gentleman playing checkers.

Well, I can just imagine what they saw. This giant bus comes heaving up out of the undergrowth and then pulls up. This giant man gets out on one side. Little bitty lady, all wrinkled, gets out on the other side. And then out of the back, come one, two, three, four, five, six, seven heavily Afroed children with a wolf on a leash. By the time we finish walkin’ the dog, they were gone.

We went inside. And my mother took a lo… one look around and said, “Don’t get anything that isn’t in a wrapper,” which means we get to eat junk food for breakfast. And so, we go running to the hostess Twinkies and the hostess DingDongs. My mother gets a coke because she will not drink the coffee outa that place. My father, always, when with the local color, gets a big jar of pickled pigs’ feet. We go to the counter. We throw everything down.

The man behind the counter, his name is Sam. We know that; it’s on his pocket. He doesn’t start ringing anything up. He just looks at us. He reaches beneath the counter. And we hear a c-l-ick! And he says, “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?”

And my father looks at all of us and he looks at my mother and then he looks back at Sam. And he rises up to his full six foot four, and he says, “No. We are from the West Indies and we are traveling in your country.”

And Sam says, “Well, welcome to America,” and starts ringing up the food. And my father is talking about the “big sky, the big mountain.” And my mother is staring and the, the seven of us we’re trying so hard not to laugh. We are trying to keep it in, my father playing some trick on old Sam. And after everything was all rung up, we went back, and got in the car, and my father maneuvered that big old bus back down onto the road.

We ripped those Hostess Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes. We thought it was the most hysterical thing we’d ever seen. My father tricked old Sam.

And I realize, that at that point in my life, when we had all been in so much danger, and my father who has tried to kill you 25, 35 different kinds of ways could have made any choice in the world.

I had seen Brer Rabbit doin’ some of his finest work.

Expectations and Surprise: School Segregation and Tracking in the 1960s

by Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin

 

Story Summary:

 Andy experienced school desegregation in the 1960s but students were “tracked” which led to a more subtle form of segregation. However, racial tracking led Andy to unexpected friendships.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Expectations-and-Surprise-School-Segregation-and-Tracking-in-the-1960s

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did legislation such as Brown v Board of Education bring about real social change?
  2. Do you think schools would have ever integrated without being forced to by law?
  3. How can tracking lower the expectations of students’ achievement?
  4. What legislation and school policies do you think are needed today?

Resources:

  • After “Brown”: The Rise and Retreat of School Desegregation by Charles T. Clotfelter
  • Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality by Jeannie Oakes
  • A list of popular books on segregation:https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/segregation

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Andy Offutt Irwin. In 1967, at the end of my third-grade year, Mrs. Smith, my teacher, wrote on teacher’s comments there in the spring, with Sheaffer blue washable ink, fountain pen ink because she didn’t believe in ballpoint pens even though they existed. She wrote, “Andy is just slow.”

Now this story isn’t about me but it is about how this white boy experienced some of the feelings that my black friends felt during desegregation. I’m not saying that I felt what they felt but I certainly felt. By the end of my fourth-grade year, I mean, my second fourth-grade year (you heard me), um, they closed the black school during that summer. So, when my fifth-grade year came along, um, the black kids from the black school moved into the white school and, therefore, they tracked us into five groups.

Group five were the smart kids; group one were the dumb kids. I was in group two. All of the black kids from the old school came into groups one and two. They had a short interview with some white person who I’m sure scared ’em. And that’s where they were put. That’s how they segregated the schools within the school.

Well, most of my friends were black because there were only a couple of white kids in group two and they’re both in prison. And we became friends. I became friends, in particular, with a guy named Johnny Norrington. And then in my fourth-grade year, I mean fifth grade year, uh, there was Cynthia Banks. Cindy and I both moved up to third group together and then she went on to group four. I could tell she was one of the smartest kids that I knew in those groups. She went on to be one of the smartest kids in high school and went on to be our class president in 1977.
And that’s kind of how desegregation worked – the legal integration of schools worked. When we came into the eighth grade, all of the kids in the same county from the eighth grade were in the same school. That school had been the old black high school and, therefore, half the faculty, at least, had taught at the all black high school. And desegregation and integration were working. I’m not saying we were plural yet but it was happening. And by the time we were seniors, my friend Terry Kelly (who’s black), he and I were the leads in “Bye, Bye Birdie.” I played Albert Peterson; he played Birdie. And by the time Terry and I went to college together (and we were roommates together all through school), we crammed four years of college into six years to get people to stop forgetting about that he was black and I was white.

And by the time “now” happens that people my age have grandchildren (not that I have grandchildren) but the people who got married when they were 10 years old, they have grandchildren. Those grandchildren don’t remember what it was like and don’t even really know what happened. In my town Covington, Georgia, we have a black Superior Court Judge; we have an African-American sheriff. We’ve had a black mayor, sitting mayor, when the previous mayor had to step down. And the mixed city council elected him mayor to fill out the term. And that’s what’s going on in my new South, thanks to legalized desegregation.

Learning at the Dinner Table

by Storyteller Bill Harley

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Learning-at-the-Dinner-Table

Discussion Questions:

  1. What lessons about race and other differences have you learned from your family? What spoken and unspoken beliefs are there?
  2. Are you aware of different racial and ethnic beliefs in your family? Are there examples of tolerance and intolerance clashing?
  3. Have you ever been in a situation where someone speaks outright prejudice and racism or speaks in coded intolerant language? What are different ways of approaching that language or belief when you hear it?

 Resource:

  • Racism Learned at an Early Age Through Racial Scripting by Robert Williams

 Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Bill Harley. I have a theory that what’s honored at the table, at the dinner table, is who we become. I think about that, particularly, with my kids because, uh, they know that it’s their job to be funny so they’re always trying to make milk come out of someone’s nose. But more than that, there’s really questions about how we act in the world.

My dad, uh, was a New Deal Democrat. And his father had been a principal and the superintendent of schools and then he became a doctor and he died quite young. Uh, but he had married into… my grandfather married into this rock-ribbed Republican family and it was very conservative. Uh, there was all those changes that happened between Republicans and Democrats at that period. But there’s a lot of evidence that that side of the family was instrumental in founding the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. And my grandfather was quite different from that. And my dad was a New Deal Democrat. He was the only person in his high school when the principal asked in a convocation, “Who here would vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt?” In 1936, my father stood up and said, “I would.” And that’s the way he was.

I remember going to, uh, Sunday afternoon dinners at my great-grandmother’s house where all that side of the family came. All the Republicans and the business leaders and the more conservative people and then my dad would show up. And he would have to sit there in the living room, uh, with all those other folks, all the guys, while the women were in the kitchen and we would have to just sit there and take it. And the men would argue; they would argue politics. My grandmother would say, “I just hate politics!”

And my father would just kind of… have to bite his tongue through the whole thing. And then he married into a family that was just like that. His, his, uh, father-in-law, my grandfather, was a hardware salesman. He hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt ’til the day he died in 1973 and he was prejudiced. He was biased.

He did not use the “n” word all the time but I’d heard him use it. He, uh, favored the more polite term for the same meaning, which was colored. Um, he would talk about colored folks in an offhand way. There was a man named Bill (I don’t even know his last name) who did odd jobs around the house. And, uh, he referred to my grandfather as Mr. Wolf and my grandmother would bring him a plate, uh, and have him sit on the back porch when he was done with his chores to eat, to share a meal with him. So that was hard on my dad. And I think it was probably hard on my grandfather. None of this was spoken about though. It was just this, um, milieu,  this, this thing that you grow up in. And the truth is, uh, in Indianapolis where I grew up, we were surrounded by it too. The man next door to me was an incredible racist. And I knew that he was very kind to me but my dad didn’t like me to go over there but he just said, “Don’t go over there.” He didn’t explain why.

This is all unspoken, uh, or unclear to me until 1964. I remember sitting in the kitchen, uh, shortly after dinner on that night and the radio was on and the kitchen table and my dad turned it off and swore and walked out of the kitchen. And they just reported that Medgar Evers, who was a leader of the NAACP in Mississippi had been shot. And I knew that that was wrong and I knew that that was bad but I didn’t understand. My dad didn’t stop to explain it to me. It wasn’t for kids. There I was in fourth grade and it was, uh, the Freedom Summer when SNCC organizers (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), uh, had young black people and young white folks go door to door to register, end… endangering, endangering themselves, breaking the law so that they could change, though I really learned on Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner is a time when everybody comes and shares and there’s all these rituals that we follow. And my grandparents, those conservative grandparents, uh, came to our house and they stayed at our house in my brother’s room and my brother had to sleep with me. And my other grandmother came, my father’s mother came, and the meal was prepared. And I look back on it now and I can imagine how hard it was for my father and his father-in-law, my grandfather, my mother’s father to sit at the table with each other. And I can imagine my grandfather who is very clear about the way the world was just saying things just to bait my father a little bit about all the unrest and turmoil that was going on. I don’t remember what was said until the very end of the meal. I remember my father was at the end of the table and my grandmother with my grandfather was across from me sitting next to my mom. And my grandfather made some offhand comment about, “Well, you know, you really can’t trust those colored people, you know. They’re the ones that are causin’ all the trouble; they’re the ones that are breakin’ all the laws.”

This is the kind of offhand thing as if we all agreed with this. He needed affirmation. And my father said, “That’s not true.”

So, it was a little bit of a throwing down the gauntlet. I never heard it spoken open like that and the table went quiet. And my grandfather said, Well, you know, it’s… they can’t help it. It’s just the way they are.” I see him chewing on a toothpick.

And my father said… and he swore and then he said, “Frank, that’s not true!” He called his father-in-law by the first name. He said, “That’s absolutely not true!”

And my mom said, “Max, Max!” And now all the women get up and they’re all flitting around trying to figure out how to calm the situation down. My mom says, “I’ll go get some more coffee” and my other grandmother says, “Does anybody want any more cookies?”

And my grandfather says, “Well, that’s just the way I see it.” Like it’s an opinion so I’m entitled to my opinion, whether it’s true or not.

And my father said, “For every black man that breaks the law, I can show you a dozen white men who do the same.”

And my grandfather said, “Well, that’s the way I see it.”

And he said, “Well you can’t…” My dad said, “You can’t speak like this at my table!”

And when he said that you could really feel something breaking. and I didn’t… There I was nine-years-old, 10-years-old and I didn’t really understand it except that I knew that the rules of civility and, uh, civility had been broken by my dad. Aah, now we weren’t getting along. And everybody flitted around and I don’t remember exactly what happened next. There’s that awkward silence. This is not going to get resolved. There’s no resolution to this story.

My dad went up…out of the front door and smoked a cigarette and tried to calm down. My grandfather went out the back door and chewed on a cigar and tried to calm down. And they went to bed that night and. I couldn’t hear them. No one said anything to us. I remember my brothers and I just looking down at the floor wishing we weren’t there.

My dad probably railed against his father-in-law to the daughter of the guy that he was mad at. My grandfather probably went in the bedroom with his wife and said, “I think we should leave tonight.”

So, I didn’t know what it meant then but meaning takes time. And I look back on it now and I think that as one of the most seminal, the most seminal moments in my moral education ’cause my father had broken some rule of civility to say what he thought was right at the dinner table. And after that moment, I saw my father differently and I saw the world differently. And I also saw myself differently because this was my dad and this is what’s at the table saying, “This is how things should be. We don’t talk like this.”

And so, when I heard some of my friends or teachers or anybody speak and say these out…, like, … right racist things or even the subtle coding, I knew that I was wrong if I didn’t say something. That I needed to speak up and I didn’t always because it’s hard to do. But I knew that that was something I carried with me.

That was something I learned at the dinner table and that was what was honored. So, the question I ask myself all the time is, “What’s honored at the table?”

A Child’s Eye View

by Storyteller Cynthia Changaris

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Childs-Eye-View

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did white children in the Jim Crow South learn to treat people unfairly? As a young child what were Cynthia’s parents teaching her?
  2. When were you first aware of color? When did you first become aware of injustice? How did you learn who was supposed to be “superior” and who was “inferior”?
  3. Are transportation and health systems free of discrimination today?
  4. Why are churches and other places of worship still so segregated today?

Resources:

  • Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South by William Henry Chafe and Raymond Gavins
  • Deluxe Jim Crow: Civil Rights and the American Health Policy, 1935-1954 by Karen Kruse Thomas

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Cynthia Changaris. I was born in 1948 in Charlotte, North Carolina in the deeply segregated South. And I have some memories from that childhood that I wanted to share with you today. One of my earliest memories, I was so excited because mother was taking me across the town of Charlotte by bus. I had never ridden the bus. And I know how short I was because when we sat down in those two front seats that face each other, my old feet didn’t reach the floor. I could kick the bus; you know, make good noise, which mother didn’t like. And I saw people getting on the bus and going to the back. And every time I saw someone get on the bus and go to the back, it was someone who was a black person and I said, “Mama, why do they get to sit in the back? I want to sit in the back.”

She said, “Shh! I don’t agree with it. Just hush!”

And a man overheard my conversation and he said, “Ma’am, I’ll take her to the back of the bus if you want me to.” So, I took his hand. I went to the back of the bus. He helped me stand up on the seat so I could look out the wide window and look at all the cars and the people and everything. Ah! He prevented me from falling down when the bus lurched and I was happy. But I kept that memory of who got to sit where and why did it happen.

And I knew my mom didn’t agree with it but she didn’t say anything straight out to me either. Now when I got a little bit older, six years old, I went to school. But before you go to school you have to go get new dresses. So, I got six brand new dresses that I twirled around in one evening. And then after the dresses, the health department. I had to go get typhoid shots and I was not happy about that. However, we had to sit a long time in that health department on these wooden benches. And on this side, there were two water fountains. One said colored, one said white. There were two women’s restrooms. One said colored. One said white.

I said, “Mama why are there two water fountains?”

She said, “I don’t agree with it but that’s the way things are.”

I said, “Mama, if I drink from the colored one, am I going to turn colored?” I just wanted to do things right, you know, but I never forgot that memory of thinking this is really not right and it’s not… it’s not the way I think things should be. Just a little girl but I was confused.

Now I… also around that time, had… my mom had a maid. Her name was Laura Ruth. Laura Ruth came to iron for my mama and to babysit for me when Mama couldn’t stand it anymore, which I expect was fairly regular. I don’t know, I was a pretty active kid. Now I didn’t like Laura Ruth because she was very strict and she would yell at me sometimes but I did love her boy. His name was Sammy. Me and Sammy used to get behind the bushes next to the house where we had this little fort. And we would trade off Crockett… Davy Crockett hats, you know, the kind with a raccoon tail on ’em and we would sing that old song that we heard on TV every night.

And we had our pistols in our holsters and we were protecting the world from everything. I loved Sammy and every time he came with his mama, I was happy but there was one day he didn’t come with his mama and I was still quite young. I think between five and six.

And, um, I said, “Mama, where’s Sammy?”

She said, “Honey, he died!”

I said, “Oh, Mama! Well, will he be here next week?”

She said, “No, honey! Died means he’s not going to be here again.”

I really couldn’t capture all that in my brain. I know I didn’t take it in but I do remember listening to everything. And I know I heard my mama talking to my aunt Bet on the phone and she said, “Oh, Bet, if that child would’ve had a good doctor, he wouldn’t have bled to death from getting his tonsils out.” Now my mother would never have told me that but I know I overheard it and something in my heart went “crack” about it. I knew it was wrong and I knew it was because Sammy was black and he didn’t get to have a good doctor.

Now I grew on up in the segregated South. I can remember lots of other strange feelings like if I saw a whole host of black boys walking toward me, I remember feeling nervous and wondering, “Why do I feel nervous? They’re just people.” But I was kind of going inside myself trying to figure all this out.

I was 12 years old when this incident occurred. Mama and I went up to Winston-Salem, North Carolina because my Aunt Sarah (we called her Sister), she had fixed it up so that the Presbyterian black women of the church and the Presbyterian white women of the church were going to hold a meeting in one of the biggest churches in Winston-Salem.

It was enormous and I remember walking in just being totally shocked how big it was. There must have been, oh, I don’t know, 20 rows of people and it was filled up but me and my mama and my Aunt Sarah were the only white people there. I noticed that I had never been in a minority before and I noticed that I kinda liked it. I kinda liked it. And I saw my mother lean over to sister and she said, “Oh, Sister, I’m so sorry that none of the women in your church came to see this and to be a part of this worship service.”

And Sister just sat while the worship service went on. I know there were prayers and songs and whatever but sister sang a solo; she had a high, high voice. It sounded like it could crack but it never did. And she sang the song from Ruth, “Entreat me not to leave thee nor to turn from following thee. Thy people will be my people. Thy God, my God.” I always loved that song; I heard it more than once.

And when that finished, we passed out candles. Mama and me and Sister on the front row – everybody else behind – so we were the last ones to leave but the first to get lit up and this was my favorite part. When the lights were turned down on the church and the lights flowed upward from our candles as they lit row to row to row to row, it was a glow that just touched my heart in every way. We marched out – the last ones to get out the door – and we were singing, “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder. We are climbing higher, higher. We are climbing ever upward!”

And as we marched out the door, there were six police cars with their blue lights going like this and men milling around. And I said, “Mama, what is it?”

She said, “Shh! Keep singing!” And I did because she was firm and we sang all the way up on a hill and we made a huge circle and we looked inward. As we looked inward, every face there glowed. Those candles glowed all of us in a beauty I won’t ever forget. And we sang, “We are climbing Jacob’s Ladder. Soldiers of the Cross. Oh, may we go higher and higher!”

Seriously…WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?!

by Storyteller Onawumi Jean Moss

 

Story Summary:

 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.

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Seriously…WHAT-DID-YOU-CALL-ME

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why are names important? What do they say about our identity and the people who name us?
  2. How did Onawumi Jean’s mother’s concession help her “get along” in the Jim Crow South?
  3. If you were going to choose another name for yourself, what would it be and why?

Resources:

  •  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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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.

Incarceration

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Incarceration
A Short Video Story
by Anne Shimojima

Introduction:

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

Summary:

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

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

Classroom Applications:

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

Watch the video now

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Explore our many other RaceBridges Studio videos and lessons

for Asian American month or any time of the year.

 

Immigrant Story: a Chinese Family in the US

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

by Nancy Wang

 

Introduction:

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

Summary:

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

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

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

Classroom Applications:

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

Watch the video now

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Explore our many other RaceBridges Videos for

Asian American Month or any time of the year.

 

Bittersweet: A Chinese American Daughter’s Legacy

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

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

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

Lesson Plan

PURPOSE

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

OUTCOMES

By the end of this lesson, each student will:

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

Download Bittersweet Lesson Plan (PDF)

Story Excerpts

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

Excerpt #1 — Immigrant History– 9:16 minutes

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

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

About Storyteller Nancy Wang

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

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Full information : www.ethohtec.org.

Just Hair: Finding Out the Importance of Your True Roots

 

Story Summary:

 A chance encounter is an unexpected blessing for a teenager, who discovers that true strength is rooted within, extending down into the roots of the ancestors.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Just-Hair-Finding-Out-the-Importance-of-Your-True-Roots

Discussion Questions:

  1. There are many forms of laughter: discomfort, joy, fear, amusement, sarcastic, etc. What type of laughter would you attribute to the students in the library? What dynamic did it set up between them and Diane? What are a few responses you would have had to the situation?
  2. Invisibility is a much-desired attribute among superheroes. However, there are times when we, too, search for the cloak of concealment. When have you ever wanted to be “invisible”? In what situation and for what purpose?
  3. The themes of belonging, identity, shame, and protecting one’s self can be found in the story of each human being. What other themes did you connect to in this story? Did the story help you to remember something that is or has happened to you?

Resources:

  • Every Tongue Got to Confess by Zora Neale Hurston
  •  African American Folk Tales for Young Readers by Richard Young and Judy Dockrey Young
  • Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Diane Macklin and this is a story, Just Hair.

If you’re driving down Route 82 in Hopewell Junction, New York in 199… in 1986, you would go past this ranch white house with green shutters, and you would think it was just a house. No indeed. This was the place where anyone with African roots could get their hair done by my mother. And that was me because we were the second black family to move into our neighborhood. My mother was the oldest of 12 children, and she did everyone’s hair. So, my hair was always done perfectly. There was no need in town for a Jet magazine or even anyone who could do anything with my hair. But it didn’t matter.

And as I grew up, well, things started to change a little bit. In high school, I no longer wanted the perfect parts, the braids, the ponytails. I watched this show on TV called The Facts of Life. My favorite show and there was this character Tootie. Now she would roll around on her rollerblades. She had these cute little pigtails and she had a brown complexion like me but she looked young. But then there was Blair and she had this flowing blond hair. And she was sophisticated; she was so much older. I wanted to be like Blair. So, one morning when my mom was doing my hair I said, “Mom, can you do my hair so it’s out. This is my ninth-grade year, Mom. I really want to wear my hair out.”

Now, my mom is from Mississippi. She’s from the South. She never says, “No.”

She goes on about her back. She goes on about this, that and the other until you’re saying, “No, Mom, that’s ok, that’s ok. Don’t, don’t worry about it.”

But she looked at me. “No.” I thought maybe she had a bad night at work. Maybe she woke up on the wrong side of the bed. That was okay because I could wait her out. I did wait a couple of weeks.

“Mom, I was thinking that maybe you could do my hair so it’s out today.”

But, again, she looked. “No.”

Now, I’m in high school, ninth grade and I ride a bus. It takes a while to get to school. I knew that if I took my hair out on the bus, and remembered where she had parted it, how she had braided it (whether it was over or under), I could take out my hair on the bus and put it back. She’ll never know.

So, one morning I got on the bus and I scooted down in the seat and started to take out my hair. Now, my friend across from me saw what I was doing and she just watched, and watched. And then we pulled up at our high school. Now always in high school, you did not go inside until the bell rang. Whether it was snow, sleet, hail, rain, everyone stood outside the building until the bell rang. But as soon as the bus pulled up and stopped, I stood up. And I heard, “Aah!” ’Cause back then no one had seen hair like mine, this rich hair, out because you didn’t even see it on TV. You didn’t even see it on commercials, and I felt like a million dollars.

I even had my own music playing, my own soundtrack, ’cause as I walked on the bus everyone just followed me. “Uuh!”

And I was going, “Oom, aah, and, Oom, aah!” I just felt… I had never felt like that before actually. And I struck a pose before I got off the bus, and they just sat there staring. They couldn’t believe it. I walked off the bus and then, who0om, everyone parted like the Red Sea and my friends came over.

“Can I touch your hair? Can I touch your hair?”

“Are your hands clean?”

And all day, I rode this cloud nine. And then, towards the end of the day, though, I had to go to the library to get a book out for research purposes, and I saw that there were some lower-class rooms from the middle school. They were visiting. They hadn’t seen my hair. So, I walked in, I struck a pose, and they no longer stared at their teacher. They stared at me.

“Yeah! They never saw hair like this.”

I walked in and then I heard, “Ah, whoo, whoo, whoo, ha!”

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Then the whole class broke out in laughter. Then I started to hear the words. “Afro Puff.  Brillo Pad.”

They were talking about my hair. And there were other names, that, even now, I don’t want to repeat.

I couldn’t remember what I went in that library for but I wasn’t going to care. I went to the shelf, picked up a book, checked it out, walked out, had my head up high, looked at them, so they knew they didn’t get me.

But as soon as I left that library, my head dropped. On that bus, I remembered how she parted it. I turned my head a little to the window because, you know, how you do sittin’ down, it’s easier.  A few tears fallin’ down. I went inside. It was as if I never took my hair out.

And I decided, I was going to wear an invisible armor and from that day on, I did. I pr… constructed an armor that you could not see me. Worked so well that, one day I was at the grocery store, and I was juggling more groceries than I needed to in my arms and there was a woman and her daughter. Her daughter looked, and young people can see past the invisible armor. They have a special vision. She saw that if she moved her groceries up, on the conveyor belt, I could put mine down. That’s what that young lady did. But the mother turned around and, well, I had my invisible armor on and she couldn’t see me, because she took her arm and she moved those groceries back in place, so I could not put my groceries down. The young lady, she turned beet red. She looked embarrassed. I tried to let her know it was okay because she didn’t know, I was wearing my armor. I wore it for many years and then one day, I was in that store and I heard someone comin’ up behind me. And this time I was smart; I did have a cart.

“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in the store.

“Young lady, young lady.” But no one talked to me in store.

“Young lady.”

I turned around. There was a woman with a rich, mahogany complexion like mine.

“Do you know where you’re from?”

“Hopewell Junction?”

“No! Where you’re from in Africa?”

My school didn’t teach us anything about Africa. And even during Black History Month, there was maybe a book in the library, on a shelf, but that was about it.

“You need to find out where you’re from ’cause when I saw you, I said, ‘She looks like a Mandingo warrior woman.’ Do you know that the Mandingo have warrior women?”

I didn’t know anything about Mandingo. I didn’t even know what to say. I was speechless.

“You need to find out where you’re from?”

And she turned the corner. And I stood there for a moment absorbing what she told me and then I went to find her ’cause, clearly, she knew more than I did. And she was gone. I couldn’t find her anywhere.

And to this day, I feel like she was a little angel, came to send me a message because now I could take off that invisible armor. And I now have as my defense, as my weapon of choice, to love, to love through story, as a storyteller.

Martin and Me – A Coming of Age Story

 

Story Summary:

 Growing up, Steven was involved in Boy Scouts and his church and as a teen he advocated for community development in his New Jersey neighborhood. But could he get involved in the rising black militancy of the late 1960s?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Martin-and-Me

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why was Steven called “too white” by some of his friends? What is “acting white” and how has racism perpetuated these no-win choices of how white or black someone is?
  2. Steven’s neighborhood didn’t have comparable city services such as garbage pickup and water and sewer service. How did the city justify this uneven treatment and what was Steven’s Youth group able to do in the face of this discrimination?
  3. If you were African American in the 1960s would you have become involved with the Black Power movement? In what ways might you show your pride in your African American heritage? For what reasons might you become involved in peaceful protests such as school walkouts or be tempted to participate in more militant actions?
  4. Do you think Steven made the right decision to go to school after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968? How did Steven’s family influence his decisions?
  5. In what ways are we still reaching for Dr. King’s “beloved community”? Do you think it’s an attainable ideal?

Resources:

  •  Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo Martin
  • Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Final Year by Tavis Smiley and David Ritz
  • A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Bullying
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Stephen Hobbs. I’d like to share a part of a story about growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Right down the highway from Newark.  In the 1960s, at a time when there was great political, cultural racial and social changes.

I blame it on James Brown. In 1967, he came out with a song, “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!” That could have been the theme song for the black consciousness movement of the 60s. When we black people were really in love with the color of our skin. We grew our hair out afro style and we wore dashikis from the motherland. But was I really ready to jump fully into the black consciousness movement? I mean, they were talking about revolution. Already people were frustrated with the slow progress. Even with Dr. King’s great movement of nonviolent resistance. Cities like New York and Cleveland and Detroit erupted in flames of riots during the 1967 summer.

But, as a young teenager, I was involved in community development work. I was a member of a civic organization called The Somerville Manor Youth Association. Somerville Manor was the black neighborhood that I grew up in. It was the only black community in Bridgewater. We advocated for sewer lines and water lines in our community. Most of us, most of the families, had outhouses and some even had wells outside and they used to have to work with hand-pump. We also tried to get trash collection and a place for us to play.  But was I really ready for that liberation stuff? I mean, how could I be a radical? My grandmother didn’t like that term. She thought, she thought, one summer when I grew out a beard, she wouldn’t let me into her house because I looked too much like those militants in her, in her our community. And I always wanted to please my grandmother and be a good boy.

Still some of my black friends thought I was trying to act white. Like I was not black enough. Whatever that means. I mean, was it mean, I was an Oreo or because I had too many friends like my buddy, Lougoo Gueotto, who was Italian kid who lived up the street from me? It probably didn’t help my cause, the fact that I was I had a white girlfriend named Elizabeth, with her beautiful blue eyes. In the fall of 1967, I entered high school. And I was elected freshman class president, which is a pretty good thing, considering of the twelve hundred students in my high school, only 26 were black. And I got good grades and made the honor roll.

But still that militancy stuff really got me worried. And then, on April 4th , 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Oh, President Lyndon Johnson asked for calm throughout the country. But the voices of anger, rippled across the land. “No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!” And cities all across America erupted in riots and flames. We kids and some of old men are still around street corners wondering what we should do. Somebody suggested we should go to the nearby mall and trash some of those stores. But at a meeting of the Somerville Manor Youth Association, it was decided that we would boycott school the day after Dr. King’s funeral. Well, I was at the meeting but I really wasn’t feeling it. Skip school? What would my grandmother say?

Well, the day of the boycott I went to school, in part, because as freshman class president, I was invited to participate in an in-school memorial service for Dr. King. Speaking to the entire student body over the intercom, I read a poem that I had composed in memory of Dr. King the night before. The poem went like this:

It’s not how long you live, it’s how well.

Did you give forth your best effort every day?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you travel along the honest way?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you lend a hand to another?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

Did you love all of your brothers?

It’s not how long you live but how well.

After that, Somerville Manor Youth Association met quite a bit. We talked about our dreams and what our positive response would be. We decided that we would build a youth center where we would have recreational activities and afterschool programs. And a place where we can get mentoring for college and career planning. And, most importantly, we would build it ourselves. We would raise the money. And we, we had car washes and fish fries and barbecues. Someone came up with the idea of having a musical review. We called it The Soul Show. In which everyone would participate if they could, playing Motown music. People who can sing or dance or play instruments, auditioned. I couldn’t sing and I didn’t have any rhythm, so I didn’t get a part in the show. I had to watch from the sidelines. But the show was successful nonetheless. It raised a number, a bit of money, and more importantly, we raised some friends. Our minister Reverend Hodge, he started inviting white clergy to our meetings. And soon we were telling our story at some of those, those pastors’ churches, getting more support.

Then we, we figured we could organize a nonprofit corporation to build the center. At the first official meeting of the nonprofit, I didn’t want to go because it was at the Plukemin Presbyterian Church and I guess my tail feathers were still a little ruffled about not being in the Soul Show. But my girlfriend, Elizabeth, encouraged me to go. And I was elected youth representative for the Executive Board. Oh, we had dozens and dozens of meetings. And I worked closely with the president of the organization, Mr. Richard Theale, a white lawyer who inspired me and showed me how lawyers could use their skills to work for social justice.

By the time I left to go to college in the fall of 1971, the plans had already been made. The architectural drawings rendered and the construction schedule set for the spring of 1972. By the fall of ’72, the doors of the youth center opened with volunteer programs for the kids in the area. On April 8th, 1973, we have the official dedication ceremony of the Martin Luther King Youth Center. I was asked to speak and I read the poem I had written five years earlier. Someone read a letter from Mrs. Coretta Scott King. We had a crowd there of people from 23 churches and synagogues in the area. It truly was the embodiment of the vision Dr. King had in his dream of blacks and whites, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Christians, holding hands, singing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Now that was revolutionary.

Name Calling at Masonville Elementary: Hurtful Words Forgiven

 

Story Summary:

As a 4th grader, Sheila was given a new nickname – the “N” word – and that nickname led to an unlikely friendship, and down the road, led to forgiveness and reconciliation.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Name-Calling-at-Masonville-Elementary-Hurtful-Words-Forgiven

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been called a derogatory name?  How did it make you feel? What did you do when called that name?
  2. Have you ever called someone a derogatory name?  How did that make you feel then?  How do you feel about what you said after hearing this story?
  3. Finish this statement:  Forgiveness is…   Explain your answer.
  4. How can you make someone new to your school, church, club or organization feel welcome and at ease?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

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.

Taming the Fire: A Black Heritage Search

 

Story Summary:

One day an angry black teenage girl – Sheila – stormed into her History Class and demanded to know why she had never heard about black inventors. Her favorite teacher, who happened to be white, was faced with a decision, but in making that decision an entire classroom of students was changed and history was given more relevance.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:   Taming-the-Fire-A-Black-Heritage-Search

Discussion Questions:

  1. Was Sheila right in demanding to be taught more about people in her heritage?  Why or why not?  Should her teacher have changed her curriculum?  Why or why not?
  2. What is an activist?  How do you think you can be an activist in your community?
  3. Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference?  What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
  4. What is your heritage?  Make a list of the people from your heritage that you have learned about in school.  Compare your list with other students.  Who do you know on their list?  Choose someone from another student’s list who you do not recognize and research them.

 Resources:

  •  Lazarus and the Hurricane:  The Freeing of Rubin ‘Hurricane Carter by Sam Chalton and Terry Swinton.  About a young man who finds a book that “calls” out to him, and through a series of letters and visits helps to free a wrongly jailed man.
  •  The Black Book by Middleton A. Harris, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, Ernest Smith and Bill Cosby.  This is the actual book that Sheila read and is available in bookstores.
  •  50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet by Dennis Denenberg

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Sheila Arnold. I have to give you two names: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.  Those were the only two people, the only two black people I ever learned about in my elementary and middle school years in the 1970s and 1980s. How was it! But somewhere around the beginning of my high school years, in 1979 or so, I began to look for my people. I don’t really, know truthfully, why that, was the trigger for that but I think it’s because I started paying attention to the news.

I can remember sometime early in my 10th grade year, I think about 1980 or so, I went over to the March on Washington to ask for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday to be a national holiday. I remember that myself and some of my classmates we skipped school, got on some buses, and some subways, (I lived in Annandale, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington D.C.) and we got over to Washington D.C. I remember that, that the mall, the Washington National Mall, was just filled with all these black people. I’ve never seen anything like that before. And I, I heard every word, every speech; I felt it does come all into me. It was wonderful. And then Stevie Wonder got up and started singing. We all sing with them. “Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday to ‘im. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to ’im. Happy Birthday.” We loved it.

Well, I started learning more and more around that time of my life. I remember, that there were times that I started looking at other parts of African-American history. One of the things that was happening is my mom was introducing me to other arts and plays and things like that. That was when I found “For Colored Girls That Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” into Ntozake Shange, the play that was in Washington D.C.. Oh! She got me a copy of that script. And then we went to go see “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” And we went to go see “Bubblin’ Brown Sugar,” about the Harlem Renaissance artist and the musicians. And I was in love with learning more. I had been working as a library school assistant since I started high school and I worked in one of my classes at study hall and then whenever I had a free moment, I was in that library. And while I was working in the library, I began to come across other African-American writers I never knew anything about. I already knew about poet, the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and, of course, I knew about God’s Trombones writer, James Weldon Johnson, because we presented their pieces at the church that I went to. But when I came across The Anthology by Arnold Adolph, I was introduced to Gwendolyn Brooks. And I met, I, I met Nikki Giovanni, Cotton Candy On A Rainy Day. Ah, that was one of my favorites. And James Baldwin…that one even got banned from my high school and my mom went and bought it for me. It was great.

So I started learning all of these things but it was like a, a quiet learning. And although a fire begun, it was a quiet fire. One that, one that had to do with just reading and maybe sharing with people at the black church that I attended. And sometimes doing some pieces for my forensics team at school but very quiet. Well, one day I was bored and I was looking for something to read because that’s what I do, when I’m bored. I was looking for something to read and I usually do. I started looking to my parents’ things. Went through my mom’s stash, ya, nothing. Went to my dad’s always cluttered, never clean, room but always filled with books.  And I started looking. And I came across a book. I came across a book that shocked me. The Black Book. I started looking at it and I could put it down. First, I was disgusted and just appalled at some of the images that were there. They were, they were pictures of, of black bodies hanging from trees, of men smiling as they saw what was being, a person that was beaten on the back, the welts on their back. A group of white gentlemen posing for the picture proudly as they surrounded the smoldering body of a black man that had been burnt.  As visceral as those pictures were and as disgusting, in the book I also found great amusement and delight.  Colorful ads for skin lightening. Cures, using voodoo charms and Hexis. That was kind of cool, some of the things they used to do. I was amazed by this book and I couldn’t put it down.

Then, I got to the middle of the book and I found patents. P-A-T-E-N-T-S. Patents. Yes, patents. And patents, I knew, I knew what patents were. Patents were what you did if you made something. If you were an inventor.  And I looked at them. Patents. You mean, black people have been inventors? Oh, I was hot now. Mm, hmm.  All that fire that was a small little campfire, it rose up with me and it was a bonfire, wildfire. I was angry and I went back to the beginning of the black book and I started looking through it again. But I had new eyes this time. My eyes were feeding. What information I had not learned?!

Well, the next day that fire had not gone away at all. I arrived at school with the book in my hand. I couldn’t wait to get to my favorite class, history class. And I couldn’t wait to be able to talk to my teacher, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Elliott, she was my history class teacher. She also happened to be a white teacher. I walked into the classroom. I was the epitome of mad, black, teenage girl. Most people hadn’t even seen nothing like that in my school. There were 13 blacks at my school out of 2,000 students. I walked in that classroom. Other classmates would just walk in along with me. But I walked in. I had that book clasped around my chest. I walked in, walked right up to her desk, slammed the book down on her desk, and said “Why aren’t you teaching us this?”

All the air went out of the room. My classmates were completely quiet. They had never seen anything like this. I was angry and I demanded an answer. I had no idea what to say but I knew somebody better tell me something. Well, unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Elliott had been taking black history classes every summer for the last few summers. She was fascinated with black history. And she had a deep desire to teach it at the school but she had no clue how she, a white teacher, was going to teach black history at a predominantly white school when she would only see black students every once in a while. And so, she looked at me and she said, “Do you really want to learn this?”

“Yes I do.”

“OK then.” And right then, right then, at that very moment, Miss Elliott changed everything in her classroom and she began to teach black history. She brought in videos and images. And she had us look through all kinds of books and hear different things. This was completely different. Everybody in my class was excited because they had never heard it either. I was the only black student in that class but we all were learning. Miss Elliott even brought my mother in, and my mom talked about segregation. She talked about how she had to drink from a colored fountain. The kids looked at my mom, my mom who most of them knew, they couldn’t believe that she’d had to do that. That she’d had to go all the way into Washington D.C. just to go to an all black school. That she had had to go to the bathrooms, colored only bathrooms.

It changed all of us. But Miss Elliott didn’t just stop there. She started teaching all kinds of cross-cultural things. We learned more about other cultures than we had ever learned before. And we were a group that was eager. And as classmates, we couldn’t wait to learn more about diversity. It was amazing. Well, one of the girls came in and she had found out that they were killing chimpanzees in one of the countries in Africa. Immediately, we all got on board. We contacted the World, World…I can’t remember it…WWF and World Wide Wildlife Federation…I think it was World Wildlife Federation. We contacted them immediately and we said, “Can we do something?” Well, right then we started a fundraiser, we went and visited with the head offices in, in Washington D.C.  It was exciting and we became burgeoning activists. Wow! It as an incredible year but Miss Elliott didn’t stop with our year. She kept right on teaching for as long as I knew her. Teaching all that she could about all cultures.

I have to tell you, I was a raging fire when I walked into that room. I had been a campfire and I turned into wild wildfire and I was ready to burn everything in my path and hurt as many people as I could along with it. But Miss Elliot, she was a great teacher and she tended that fire. And she, she helped that fire to grow in the right places. And she made sure that the fire could live but that it wouldn’t burn wildly. Most of all, she ensured the fire would never go out.

A Black American Son’s Survival Lessons

 

Story Summary

A frantic call from Sheila Arnold’s son during his freshmen year in college turns into a moment to remember all that she had to teach him about growing up black, and, in turn, all he had also learned about crossing bridges in spite of people’s perceptions.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Black-American-Sons-Survival-Lessons

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you ever had someone treat you differently because of your color, sex, or religion?  How did it feel and how did you respond?
  2. Why do you think that people treat people differently because of color, sex or religion?  How do we help people to change?  Can legislation change the way we treat others?  Why or why not?
  3. Have you ever read a book that made you want to learn more about its subject, or moved you to make a difference?  What was that book and what did it encourage you to do?
  4. Do different groups sit together in the cafeteria at your workplace or school?  Do different people interact with each other?  If not, do you think people should mix at least part of the time? What can you do about it?

Resources:

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Sheila Arnold. One day I got a phone call. “I want to come home!” It was my son.

“What’s going on? What’s going on, Chris? Talk to me!”

“I want to come home. I want to come home now.”

Now this was my mild-mannered son, the year 2004, and he was a freshman attending DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. He never got flustered. “What’s going on, Chris? Talk to me!”

“I want to come home! I want to come home now!”

And we stay on the phone a little bit longer but then he wouldn’t give me any more details. And he had to get off the phone. And I called his grandparents and I said… told them what was happening and they said, “Ah, just give it a day or so. It’ll be all right.”

The next day, he called. “Mom, I want to come home! I want to come home now! Can you bring me home? Why can’t you just bring me home?”

I said, “Baby, just talk to me! What’s going on? Just talk to me!”

“But. Mom, I just want to come home! I hate it here! You just don’t understand! I just want to go home! I know, I know things there.”

“Chris. I just need you to talk to me. What’s going on, baby?”

“I just want to come home!”

Again, the phone hung up and he hadn’t told me what was going on. I started preparing for things to get ready to come home, trying to work some things out. The next day he called again and this time he wanted to come home still but he gave me a little more information.

He said, “Mom, people here – they’re racists and I know what racists are. I’m from the South. I know that! Mom, they’re racists here; they’re prejudiced! I just want to come home.”

“Hmm!” And then he began to tell me what had led up to this moment. First off, he had a roommate and his roommate was a true Irish boy all the way down from this head to his toe. It was Danny! And Danny readily admitted on the first day that they met that he had never said more than hello or goodbye to an African-American.

They got along wonderfully and became the best of friends and were always together. But Chris began to notice things, you see, when Danny and him would go into the Greek neighborhood that was around DePaul University and they would buy in the stores that were there. The words that were thrown at them became more and more unkind to both him and to Danny.

And then Chris began to notice that when he went through the lunch line that the ladies behind the counter would laugh and smile and joke with him and double his portions on his tray, which was a delight. But when Danny came, often right behind him, they wouldn’t smile. They only put on there what he was required to get. It changed.

Then another incident! Both boys, Danny and Chris, run the track team together and one of the… some of the kids were running and practicing early and my son was up in the stands waiting for his turn to practice or to run. And he was sitting with some students and he looked down and someone on the team had done something good that was down practicing and he got up and he cheered for them. All of the students he was sitting with, which just happened to be all black athletes, and… and teammates that he was sitting with went, “Why are you cheering for him? He’s white!”

But the last straw was the last incident. He had gone into a local drug store that was right there; he had been in the store often before. And he’d gone in looking for an alarm clock. And being a true young man, he didn’t ask directions to where the alarm clock was.

He just logged up and down the aisles and he wasn’t in a hurry so he just kind of slowly went up and down each aisle. At some point in time, a police officer came in; he noticed him but it didn’t… wasn’t a big deal. After a while, he realized that there was no alarm clock sold in that store and so, he went and bought a pack of gum and went out the store. The moment he walked out the store, the police officer came out right behind him and told him to stop immediately, show identification and empty his pockets. And Chris did. And he took his I.D. out. He was flustered and took out the piece of gum. He was demanded that the receipt be shown. He showed the receipt and the officer said, “Well, we had a report there… that someone was stealing from the store.”

That was said to Chris while white people who had been walking in and out of the store went right by him. That was all he could take!

As my son relayed the story to me, it brought me back to when he was born. When my son was born in 1986, the statistic was that for an African-American born in a single parent-led home he had a 51 percent chance of being dead by the age of 21. And there were even higher statistics of him being either in jail, on drugs, and addicted and/or having a child out of wedlock. That statistic determined in my mind that I was, not only going to make sure that my son was educationally just ahead of the game and achieved, but I was going to teach him everything he needed so he could survive.

And so, I made sure he could read early. And I can tell you my son’s ability to articulate and negotiate were clearly formed by the time that he was in fifth grade and he did very well in school, particularly in mathematics.

But I also taught him how to live on the streets. I said, I told him, “You don’t go running down, and exercising and jogging on some street with your hoodie over your head. You don’t do that! And you don’t worry about the fact that you might get stopped and pulled over if you’re driving a car, even if that car is your grandfather’s brand new Mustang and he bought it with flat cash.” I told him that when a police officer says stop, you stop! “He says, ‘Show you his I.D.’  then you do. But you make sure when you show him your I.D., you tell him everything you’re doing when that wallet comes out. ‘Sir, I am taking the wallet out of my left pocket. I am pulling the wallet up with my right hand. I am bringing my left hand down to now take the wallet so I can then take my right hand and take out this I.D. to show you.’ ” And that may sound funny but I knew that’s what he had to do.

I made sure to tell him not to worry about when people look at you funny when you go to a store.

Just keep your hands out of your pocket and where others could see them. I told them that there were times that he was going to be stopped for driving, walking and just flat being black. That’s the way it was. He didn’t react to it.

I told him that when he got to college, he was going to meet all kinds of women. And because he was an athlete, he was going to have all kinds of women of many cultures trying to date him. And others were going to be upset that he dated anybody outside of his own people and they might try to set him up. He was to be careful.

I talked to him about survival and staying alive as much as I talked to about English and math and history and biology. This was important for his life. And all those talks I had, everything I ever did, I still couldn’t prepare him for what would happen in his heart when it would be so blatant. I couldn’t help him when that racism hit him full frontal.

I couldn’t prepare him for the anger and the bitterness and the confusion. Now I had to sit and watch and hope he would make a decision that was good on how to deal with this. I wondered…  I wondered how he was going to react. I really did!

I wondered if he was going to be like some of the men I know… some of the people I know that are just bitter at the white man, the Man. Are we taking our jobs, are we taking our things… bitter and angry and, truly, just as racist in return. Or was he going to be the stereotypical black activist that only do for your own. Don’t help nobody else! Take care of your own. It’s all about you; it’s all about us! We are one people. Don’t worry about anybody else!

Or was he going to be like his… like his great grandfather who was called “boy” by young men much younger than him when he was an old man but he still became the vice president of a large insurance company. Or was he going to be like his grandfather who joined the Army and when he was young as an officer in the Army, he still couldn’t eat in certain restaurants unless he went to the back door. But his grandfather still became a general officer.

Or was he going to be like his grandmother who oft times was looked at as the maid coming to work in someone’s house as she visited other officers’ homes. Or was he going to be like his mom, like me, who became the first black student body president at her high school where there were more others than there were blacks. And set a precedent for years to come! What would he do?

I began to make preparations. Then on day four, he called me back. He said, “I don’t need to come home!”

“All right. What happened?”

He said, “I don’t need to come home. I got this! I decided I’m not going to let them change me. I know who I am and I don’t have to be what they want me to be. I don’t even think, Mom, they know that they are prejudiced and it’s not just blacks and whites. They don’t like where people come from even if they’re the same color skin! Jamaicans versus African-Americans. Irish versus Italians. Oh, my goodness! Even Cubans and Puerto Ricans!”

He said, “Nah, I’m going to be better than that. Hey, I’m from the South. I got this.” And then he said, “I love you, Mom!”

I hung up! I hung up the phone, and smiled and I called his grandparents.

1966 Caracas, Venezuela: Day One of Junior High For An American Girl

 

Story Summary:

 Moving to Junior High school opens Angela’s eyes to a society and culture that she had been living in (Caracas, Venezuela), and yet one from which she was separate. Angela’s story tells a universal truth: we think we are the only ones telling ourselves “ We do not belong here.” That statement is what we have in common.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Were there times at school when you felt out of place?
  2. Who helped you and what specifically did they do? What kinds of things did you do to help yourself?
  3. How could you help others at your school, workplace, place of worship, neighborhood and so on feel that they belong?

 

Themes:

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

Tipping the Scales

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Tipping-the-Scales

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been bullied? What happened?  How did you feel?  What did you do?
  2. Have you ever stood up for someone who has been bullied? What happened?
  3. Have you ever been a person who bullied others? Why?  What was going on for you?
  4. How would you handle a situation like the one in the story? Where would you stand?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Bullying
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, I’m Robin Bady. So, it was a couple of summers ago… maybe, many, that, ah, I was going to my first day of my first summer job in New York City. It was to be the head counselor of the Hamilton Madison Day Care Center in Chinatown, in New York. I was excited because I did not have to be a waitress like my friends. So, I arrived there and I go straight to the cafeteria and there are the children. They’re sitting at two tables, two very distinct tables. At one table were the Chinese children and the other table where all the black and Puerto Rican children. Distinct. Separate.

Well, my supervisor, Mrs. Louie, she had told me, “They don’t get along. They’re like oil and water. They don’t mix. The Chinese children live in Chinatown. The black and Puerto Rican children live ah, in like, all the new projects around Chinatown and they don’t talk to each other. But you shouldn’t worry. Your main problem, Daniella, who likes to upset things, she won’t be here for the summer.

Well, I thought, now I had just moved from Chicago where I had worked with really, really tough kids who had been in gangs. Teaching theater, for goodness sake. How difficult could a group of 11 and 12-year-olds be?  So, I jumped right in. And I did whatever it is you do when you have an underfunded program in, an underserved neighborhood. I made do.

And I’ll tell you, we had fun! And little by little things started to change. It started to shift and, I mean, first it started with the girls just putting their head on me and, you know, slipping their arms through mine. And then the boys, you know, let’s go and do an arm wrestle, which I always, for real, lost. And then the table started to mix and the groups of children started to make friends in the other groups. And, and we were one, big group.

Now, I know, and I’m sure all of you know, we’re not supposed to have favorites, but Elizabeth. Now Elizabeth was a new immigrant to this country as many of the Chinese children were. She had just come over six, eight months ago and, within no time at all, she was speaking English fluently, and she was reading almost as fluently.  One day she said to me, “Miss Robin do you know Shakespeare?” Well, hey, I was going to acting school; of course, I knew Shakespeare. The next day, I brought her one of my Shakespeare copies of Folger’s edition of “Julius Caesar.” She opened it up randomly and she looked at it; she went to sit down. The children gathered around, and with her finger, she began to read out loud.

“Why…man…he doth bestride the very world like a Colossus.” She had chosen my favorite speech! “And we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about and find ourselves dishonorable graves. Men at some time are masters of their fate. The fault, dear Brutus, the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.” This this was the BEST SUMMER EVER!

Well, the, the first day of the last week, I arrived at the facility with all the circus equipment because I was going to do a whole circus week and we were going to end with a big circus day. And I got there, and the boys were all fooling around in the back as they had been doing for a while, and at the two tables in front of me, were the girls. On one side were the Chinese girls and on the other side were the black and Latino girls. Two distinct groups.

And sitting at the head of the table with the black and Latino girls, was a girl I’d never seen before. Her back was straight, her head was straight, her arms were crossed. And all the girls sitting at the table with her, my girls, were sitting exactly like her, with that same hard look in their eyes. Okay. I took my hand and I stuck it out because I’m a friendly kind of person and I said, “Hi. Hey, Daniella, I know it…wel… welcome back. I’m Robyn.” And she looked at my hand and she looked away. And all the girls looked at my hand and looked away.

I had heard about Daniella. She was the kind of girl who’d like to upset things and make things difficult. Only her, her old teacher, whom I had replaced, could handle her. I got it. What had been going so well had now turned into a war, which…I realized I was going to lose. And so the next bunch of days went exactly like that.  If I wanted to do something, I had to go through Daniella, and then it would happen. You know, I looked at her. What was it about this child? She was a child. She was 12 years old. Nothing special jumped out but there was something that she had that made a group of girls follow her blindly. And it’s not like she was even nice to them, even. She was cruel and they were cruel too. I didn’t get it. I didn’t.

Well, Thursday, couple of days had gone by, Thursday, I, I went in and, uh, had my morning… I ran out to lunch. I was delighted. And slowly and regretfully, I started back after lunch was over.  I was crossing Catherine Street when the door to the facility slammed open, and out came a counselor holding Elizabeth in his arms.  Holding her, and her arm was straight up and around it was wrapped a white cloth that was dirty. And then a cab screeched to a halt, they got in, they screeched away. Mrs. Louie came to the door, “You better get into your classroom.” And so I ran. And when I got there, the door was open, there was glass on the floor. It was glass from the one glass panel in the wooden door. And my kids, my kids were standing there in shock. I walked towards them.

And that’s when Sandra broke, “Oh, Miss Robin! Elizabeth, Elizabeth stood up for Mary. Daniella was picking on her and, and Daniella pushed her down. So, so Mary said, ‘Stop!’ And then Daniella pushed down, pushed Elizabeth down. And then, and then…” And then, the other kids joined in.

“Right. And then, and then, Daniella and her group of girls, those mean girls, they, they went out.  And they, they pulled the door shut. And Elizabeth started to open it, so we could get out.”

And, apparently what had happened, it had been back and forth between the girls. Pushing and pulling one way, and the other, and the other way, until finally, Elizabeth’s hand went through the door. I looked around. Where was Daniella? And where were her girls? And then, Miss. Louie came in and told me that they had, they had run away. They had left and that everybody was looking for them out and I should take the children outside, which I did.

And so, we sat there not knowing quite what to do. We were in the playground. Some kids got on the swings but had no energy. Some were on the benches next to me and some went on to the see-saw. Up and down, and up and down. And finally, when it was time to go in, we went in and who followed behind us? Daniella and her posse. And they came, and they left. As I was about to leave, Miss Louie told me that the girls had been going through the area and had been ripping off candy from the stores.

Well, the next day Daniella and Elizabeth were both not there. And what had begun so, so beautifully ended with a whisper.

Well, I’ll tell you, it happened a while ago, but I still think of that time. Of what one person did. How did that one child have so much power? You know, it was kind of like a see-saw in the playground; up and down, and up and down. Like the scales of justice; up and down. Black, white, red, brown, yellow, and all the rest; up and down. Good and bad. And sometimes balance or not.  “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

What is it you do, we do, with our power? Do we use it to push people apart or to bring them together?

Who Knows What Children Make of These Things?

Story Summary:

 In three short anecdotes, the teller (Milbre as a child) and her small daughter, Elizabeth, try to make sense of a world in which we are taught to fear “the Other”.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Who-Knows-What-Children-Make-of-These-Things

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Milbre’s mother think that Milbre had put her friend, Debbie, in danger?
  2. Have you ever had to tell a younger child about the realities of racism and violence? How did you balance the concern for wanting to protect their innocence and the need to prepare them for some of the harsh realities of life?
  3. What do you think of Elizabeth’s comment: “Even the bad guys and bullies can be painted on the mailbox”? Do you think this is just childish well wishing or is it possible to include everyone in our definition of family?

Resources:

  • Starting Small: Teaching Tolerance in Preschool and the Early Grades by Teaching Tolerance Project and Vivian Gussin Paley
  • Raising the Rainbow Generation: Teaching Your Children to Be Successful in a Multicultural Society by Dr. Darlene Hopson
  •  www.MulticulturalKidBlogs.com
  •  Milbre used these folktale collections to work on her longer show from which this video excerpt is a part:
  •  Peace Tales – World Folktales to Talk about by Margaret Read MacDonald
  • Tales from Afghanistan by Amina Shah
  • Arab Folktales translated and edited by Inea Bushnaq

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

My name is Milbre Burch. These stories are from, In the Family Way and Making the Heart Whole Again: Stories For A Wounded World.

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, born in 1953, but I left home and I married another southern expatriate in Providence, Rhode Island. Our children were born in California, in the 90s. And since then, we’ve lived in the southeast and the Midwest. Though we all grew up in America, my children and I were born into different worlds. In the 60s, the light brown woman who cleaned our house had a dark brown daughter about my age. And in the summer of 1963, I played with Debbie when she came to work with her mother. I was 10 and that meant that we could walk around the neighborhood on our own. And so, I suggested we walk up to the drugstore, lured by the soda fountain, and there I ordered two limeades. The counterman served us, as we stood and slurped down our drinks, put them on my family’s tab, and headed home. When I got there and my mother realized what I’d done, she scolded me, telling me that the counterman could have refused to serve Debbie because of the color of her skin. She said nothing more than that. Just that I had put Debbie and our friendship in a perilous position. Now, my mother had immigrated from Canada and grown up in southern California. And she remembered that the woman who lived across the street would let her play in the yard with her children. But wouldn’t let her in the house because she was from a foreign country. I didn’t hear that story until my mother was in her 90s. But even if you don’t talk about your past, still it shapes your life. And perhaps that’s why she never spoke to me of people as others. So, it was not until that day in 1963, because of white privilege, that I even heard of the Jim Crow laws. But Debbie and her family had to live with them every day. What did her mother tell her about how to navigate hostile world? And what children make of these things?

In 2002, my husband and I and our family lived in Chapel Hill. And I set out one Thanksgiving holiday, to take our girls by car to the hills of north Georgia for a Thanksgiving celebration with my brother. My husband, Berkeley, stayed behind, he was working on his dissertation and would join us in a few days. Now, whenever we went on a road trip we would always play songs and stories on tape in the car. And this day we were listening to, “I’m to let it shine,” a collection of songs from the freedom struggles and during the civil rights movement. It’s an acapella album and I defy you not to burst into song if you’re listening to it. So, we drove down the road, singing at the top of our lungs. And then we’d come to a line like, “If you miss me at the back of the bus, you can’t find me nowhere, come on up to the front of the bus, I’ll be sitting right there,” and my children said, “Mom, what’s that mean?”

Now my kids had friends of many colors and they were too young to have studied the civil rights movement in America yet. So, I told them for the first time what it was like growing up in the segregated South and they said, “Oh.” We played some more music and came to a line like, “You’re gonna go my bail.”

And they said, “Mom what’s that mean?” And I told them for the first time about how if you believe all laws unjust you might participate in a civil disobedience and you might get arrested. And your friends would collect money to bail you out so you could go back to your demonstration.

And they said, “Oh.” And we start singing again. Who knows what children make of these things?

A week later, we were back home at our own supper table. It was early December and now the sun set at 4:30 or 5. We were having dinner and I realized that Elizabeth, age 6, was going to a birthday party right after school the next day and we hadn’t gotten a present. So, I said, “Honey, let’s run over to the bookstore at the mall and pick up a gift card.” Because books are our favorite gift to give or to get.

She said, “OK, Mom.” And we did just that. Drove over to the mall, went to the bookstore, came out with our card. We’re headed back, in the parking lot, in the night sky, and I was aware of a stranger coming toward me. And I turned and I saw it was a woman and she was carrying a big, stuffed bear. So, I wasn’t afraid. It was another mom getting a gift for another child. And she asked me if I might take her to the bus stop by the university because she just missed her bus there at the mall.

When she spoke, it was clear that English was not her first language. She had a very heavy accent. Now, I’d never picked up a stranger with my child in tow. And Elizabeth doesn’t like surprises. So, I said, “Honey, we’re going to help this gal get to the bus by the university.”

She said, “OK, Mom,” and climbed in the backseat. And woman and the bear got in the front. And we drove up to Franklin Street and dropped her off. But I thought I should put this unusual happenstance into a context for my little girl and so I said, “Well, Honey, I just did my good deed for the day.”

And in the backseat Elizabeth thought for a minute said, “Why do you have to do a good deed for the day, Mom?”

Well, I said, “I guess I think it’s what makes the world go ’round.”

She thought for a minute and then she said, “Some people wouldn’t help another person with a different accent or a different skin color.”

And I said, “That’s right, Honey.”

And she said, “And that makes the world stop.”

I said, “I think you must be right.”

She thought for another minute. She said, “And then when the world starts again you have to keep jumping over that person every time you get to him.”

I said, “Yeah.”

And then she said, “And after a while it gets to be a great big pile because it’s all of us.”

I said, “Elizabeth you’re a philosopher.”

And she said, “What’s that, Mom?” And we drove up the driveway and we’re home.

Now, Elizabeth had started sharing her big ideas the year before when she was five. September 11th, 2001, my girls were both at the Montessori community school when my husband came in to tell me that a plane had just run into the World Trade Center. A few minutes later, he came back to tell me that a second plane had flown into the second tower. We were stunned by news of this attack. And we stayed close by each other all day long. We got an e-mail from the school saying that no one would talk about the incident until the parents had had a chance to speak to their children that night. But that the next day, the teachers would be prepared to answer any questions that children might have. Now, when my girls were young, I had Mommy Day with each one of them, one day a week. And that meant, when I went to school I’d only pick up, the one girl, leave the other at the child care center a little while longer, and go have a small adventure with one of my daughters. And that Tuesday, it was Elizabeth’s turn for a Mommy Day. But Berkeley and I didn’t want to leave each other’s sides, so I took him with me. And we went to the mall with Elizabeth to get some ice cream.

Now, Elizabeth doesn’t like surprises. She stood there for a moment and then she said, “I don’t know what Daddy’s doing here. What’s a Daddy doing on a Mommy Day?”

And I said, “Honey, something really bad and sad happened today. Some bad guys, some bullies, they hurt a lot of people. Daddy and I just wanted to stay close by each other.”

And she accepted that. When our ice cream was done, we went back to the school to pick up her sister. And Elizabeth ran into the child care center and said, “Katie, some bad guys and bullies, they really hurt a lot of people.” And I grabbed her hand and I pulled her out of the childcare center before the other children could hear any more. And on the way home we talked a little more specifically about what had happened that day. But who knows what children make of these things?

Fast forward to New Year’s Day, 2002. We had been invited by our friend, Louise Amotel-Kecil to her house for an open house. Now Louise was Japanese-Jewish so she was a multicultural experience all to herself. And she and her husband, Holmes, adopted a baby boy whose skin color was different from theirs. And this open house was a chance to introduce him to his community, over latkes and sushi. So, my family went and celebrated the new family. When it was time to go home, we got back in the car and we drove down the long driveway at their farm and before we turned onto the highway, we saw their mailbox. Now, their farm is called “Clapping Hands Farm” and the whole mailbox is covered with bright, colored imprints of hands, all different colors. Elizabeth saw it. And in the backseat, as we turned on the road, she said, “Idea, idea, idea!”

I said, “What’s your idea, Elizabeth?”

She said, “We could get a mailbox and paint it like all the peoples of the world. And then, we could paint our house like all the peoples of the world. And then, we could get clothes like all the peoples of the world. And that way, no harm will ever come to us.” And she thought for a minute and she said, “Even the bad guys and bullies can be on the mailboxes.”

“May it be so, Elizabeth. May it be so.”

Undocumented Journey: An Educational Dream Realized for Illegal Immigrants

 

Story Summary:

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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Undocumented-Journey

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think Yvonne latched on to the idea of the importance of education for her children?
  2. One of Yvonne’s children went on to study medicine at Harvard. Do you think Yvonne and her husband felt their sacrifices were worth it? What did the U.S. gain by having Yvonne’s children well educated?
  3. Does the outcome of this story influence your thinking about “illegal immigration”?

Resources:

  •  One Hand Does Not Catch a Buffalo: 50 Years of Amazing Peace Corps Stories by Aaron Barlow
  •  The Dead Yard: A Story of Modern Jamaica by Ian Thomson

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Marsha Wong.

In 1972, I was in the Peace Corps, assigned to the island of Jamaica. I lived in a town discovered by Christopher Columbus and he named the town Discovery Bay. I lived on the top of a cliff, overlooking the Caribbean, in a tiny prefab, concrete house. Most of my neighbors were Jamaican families. The couple that lived right next door to me was named Seymour and Yvonne. Yvonne and I were both 23, but that’s pretty much where the similarities ended. Yvonne had had a totally different life then I do. She had dropped out of high school when she was 15, when she gave birth to her first child. And now she had three children with a fourth one on its way. But nevertheless, we quickly became friends.

Yvonne and I would spend most of our time, not all of our time but most of our time, out in the yard by the concrete trough where we would wash our clothes. Now I wasn’t quite used to washing my clothes in water that wasn’t hot. So, Yvonne, kind of, schooled me in the proper method of washing clothes. And during that time, we would talk about our family and our lives. And Yvonne would tell me about how she regretted not going to high school and hopes and dreams that she had for her family. And she asked me, what was the best thing that she could do for her children? See, she believed that the United States was the answer to everything. The United States was far superior to living a life in a third world country. So, when she asked me what was the best thing she could do for her children, I told her. Since, especially, I was a teacher, the best thing that she could do for her children was to get them an education. And she thought about that as she was pounding her clothes into the concrete trough and trying to wash ’em.

And she said to me, “You know, I have always regretted my decision not to go back to school. But tell me, where is the best place I could get this education for my children?” Well, I had taught in East Orange, New Jersey, which is a town right next to Newark, New Jersey and very, very close to Montclair which was an affluent community. So, I told her being 23, that the best place in the entire United States to get an education was Montclair, New Jersey.

And she told me, “Me goin’ to go there one day, you know. Me goin’ to go there.”

Well, eventually, I married a Jamaican and I moved to Kingston. And in time, we would go up to the north coast and we would visit Yvonne and her family because we had become friends. And during that time, we would reminisce and we would talk about… in fact, she even came to my wedding. But in time, my husband and I had decided to move up to New York, where he was going to do another degree at Columbia. So, over the course of several years, I hadn’t seen Yvonne, but every time we had gone back to Jamaica to visit relatives, I would call her. In fact, there were times, not only would I call her, but we would drive up to the north coast to Discovery Bay. And I would go into the community and found out her family was still living there but that she and I, our paths never seemed to cross. So, it had been 14 years till I saw her again. And while I was up on the north coast, I called her, late one evening… really, late. And I said, “Yvonne is this you?”

And she said, “Oh, my gosh, Marsha, me can’t believe it’s you!” And we proceeded to talk about everything that had happened in the last 14 years.

And she said, “Me got a story to tell ya. Ya won’t believe this story.” And she proceeded to tell it to me. Apparently, she and Seymour had discussed, over the years, of how they can get their children this incredible opportunity to go to Montclair, New Jersey.

And Seymour and her, she said, “Seymour and me discussed, man. We over it and over it and we thought and we thought and we thought. Until one day, I said, ‘Seymour, my children must have this opportunity, you know.’ And he said to me, ‘Yvonne, there is no way, no way we’re going to do it.’ But you know what? I come up with a plan and I said, ‘Seymour I can go to the United States. Me can go and work as a domestic illegally, you know, but me can do it.’”

And so that was the plan. See, everybody that everyone knew when she got to the United States was illegal. The organization, believe it or not, was an organization that only hired illegal aliens, illegal immigrants. Her friends were all illegal. And she said to me, “You know, in time me get Seymour and him tell me all the time, ‘Yvonne, me can’t stand it you are away from me.’

And I said, “Seymour, you don’t remember what Marsha Wong told us?”

And him said, “Marsha Wong! Mystic of Marsha Wong!” But in time Seymour brought all five of his children up one at a time. All five of them, you know.”

“Well, I live in, out rent, a small, apartment; two rooms and a small, little, little kitchen. And in the kitchen, we have a hot plate and on the hot plate we cooked meals. Well, every morning me wake up, me get the children, we come on the bus, and we go to Montclair, New Jersey because all five of them are in this school in Montclair.”

“Believe it or not, I had gotten my mommy and my daddy. They came up illegally, of course. Me got my brother and my sister and their families. I got all of them up in Montclair. Except for Seymour because he has to stay back and work in Jamaica. But while we’re riding on a bus one time, the truant officers saw us. And the truant officer said, ‘What are you doing man?’”

“And I said to him, ‘Me taking my five children to school in Montclair.’ ”

“He said, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t do that. If you want to go to school here, you must live here. You don’t live here. So, if you do live here, you can go to school here.’

“Me have no choice. Me have no choice. Imma call Seymour. I say, ‘Seymour, I must move into Montclair.’ ”

“And he said, “Please Yvonne, come home to me.’ ”

“And she said, ‘You know, Seymour, I can’t come home. I told you before, Marsha Wong told us the best place to go for an education is Montclair and that’s what we have to do.’ ”

“So, I rent one room, really and truly, I rent one room. I have a big bed and I have all five children lay horizontally on the bed to go to sleep. Now, I don’t sleep at night because I work at night. But all of five children, they wear ragged jeans to school. You know, it’s expensive in Montclair. They wear the ragged jeans, they wear sneakers. I can’t afford the brands that are in Montclair. I can’t. But all five of my children, they know that the best thing that’s going to happen them, is they’re going to get an education in Montclair, New Jersey. Well, believe it or not. Seymour said, ‘Please,’ him call the time. ‘Please, Yvonne, you must come home darling.’”

“And I say, ‘Seymour, Me can’t come. This is what we’re getting. All the children are going to go to school. Me want you. I’ve been away from you all these years. My children don’t have their daddy. Everybody is suffering. But we’re going to have something in the end. It would be foolish if I didn’t follow this through.’”

“Well in time, Marsha, you know what happened?”

I said, “What?”

She said, “In time, my oldest graduated from high school and then, Andrea, my second daughter my second daughter. She win a scholarship to Harvard University. Harvard man! You know, she can’t accept this scholarship if she is illegal. And I’m thinking what am I going to do? I tell everybody that she win a scholarship. I mean what am I going to do?”

“Well, I tell you at that particular time, President Clinton had an amnesty program. And if you had paid all of your taxes, which I did, or you didn’t do anything wrong, and you did everything on the list, man, everything, you could get a green card. So, I told my whole family. I told my family, I told my friends, and I told Seymore. ‘I’ve got to go down to the immigration. Nima… Newark Immigration and Naturalization Service.’”

“And he said, ‘Don’t go, Yvonne. You can’t go! You can’t go! Him to deport you. You can’t trust the government.’ ”

“And I said, ‘I have no choice. I have no choice, man. What is my choice? My child worked so hard to get into Harvard. So hard.’”

“So I kiss mommy and daddy. I kiss my children. I kiss my brother and his family. I kiss my sister. I kiss all of my friends. And I say goodbye because I don’t know if they’re going to deport me. Is this a trick? I go down to the Newark Immigration and Naturalization Service. I’m right there and I’m so frightened. Imagine the trepidation I have, Marsha. With so much trepidation, I go in there and I take a deep breath. And you know what? I pass! I get to everything, right? Man, I got everything right. And I get a green card and Andrea can go to Harvard. And she did and all my family, all my family, man, gets a green card.”

Well, just at that moment you could hear somebody coming in through the door and it must have been Seymour. And Seymour said it was really late at night. He said, “Who ya talkin’ on the phone wit?”

“Me tell him, ‘Guess, Seymour, guess who’s on the phone?’”

He said, “Yvonne, I’m too tired to guess.”

“Guess, man. Guess, who’s on the phone.

“I don’t know.”

“Guess.”

He said, “I don’t know. Marsha Wong?”

“Yes, man. Marsha Wong.”

Now regardless of what you think of whether Yvonne did the right thing by entering this country illegally and she did. I know that words are so powerful and it could set someone on a trajectory that can transform their lives. And given what is happening in our country at this particular time with illegal immigration, tell me what you think?

My Long Hair

 

Story Summary:

 Motoko tells a story about her own experience of sexual harassment in Japan, how she was trapped into silence imposed by her culture, and how storytelling helped her break the silence and heal herself.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Long-Hair

Discussion Questions:

  1.  As a teenager in Japan, Motoko had times when she did not feel safe. What kept her from feeling safe?
  2. Do you feel safe? What precautions do you take for your own safety?
  3. What can each of us do to help others feel safe and live safely?

Resources:

  • Like a Lotus Flower: Girlhood Tales from Japan by Motoko. (Audio CD,www.folktales.net; 2009)
  • Unbroken Thread: An Anthology of Plays by Asian American Women edited by Roberto Uno

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Motoko. As a teenager growing up in Osaka, Japan, I was not pretty or popular but my hair was. Yes. I used to have this long, shiny, silky, black hair, straight down to my waist. So much of it I would obsessively brush it to an arresting sign. During the school day, the rules dictated that I had to keep it in a single long braid. As soon as the school let out, I would untie my braid and the shake it loose into a simmering cascade. What a glorious feeling!

I was a good, studious, student. By the time I was in the 10th grade, I was attending what we call, juku, a cram school. After the regular high school, three nights a week, for extra math and English lessons to prepare myself for the college entrance exams. On those days, I did not get to let my hair down until much later because those classes did not finish until 9 o’clock at night. Then I would take the commuter train home, get home about 10 o’clock, eat dinner, and do my homework. One night I was on my way home, as usual the commuter train was jam packed with business men and laborers, some drunken and boisterous, others tired and sullen. A few of them leered at me, a girl in the school uniform with long hair in a single braid. I sat with my knees together with a heavy book bag on my lap.

By the time I finally got off the train, the crowd had thinned a little. I walked toward the bicycle lot at the back of the station away from the blaring music and the neon signs of karaoke bars and pachinko parlors. I found my bike and dropped my heavy bag in the red wire basket attached in front of me. With relief, I untied my braid and swung my head letting the spring breeze cool down my scalp. “Nice hair,” a man’s guttural voice from right behind, startled me. I spun around into reeky fumes, so hot, drunk breath. A stranger’s sneering too close, sallow cheeks and a stubby chin, a dark green shirt. The next thing he was grabbing my waist pulling me hard against him. No, I did not scream. I was too stunned to even make a sound. The whole thing seemed somehow not so real, like a scene from a silent movie. I struggled to free myself and the man suddenly let loose. I staggered back and bumped into my bike. The bike fell and I fell on top of it, scraping my leg against the pedal. My books are scattered everywhere. Then the man suddenly started to laugh hysterically as if he had never seen anything so funny. I ride at my bike and without looking back pedaled as fast as I could. When I finally reached my house, I realized that I had not breathed the whole time. I got off my bike and bent down to breath as if I had just sprinted a mile. My heart was beating so fast, in my head, I could not hear anything else. No, the man did not follow me. I only had two bruises and a long scratch on my leg. My blouse had come untucked, so I tucked it in.

I was OK. Nothing happened. I opened the door. The glaring fluorescent light and the smell of the dinner and the loud noise from the TV in the living room overwhelmed me. “Tadaima, I’m home,” I said softly, suddenly realizing that my throat was tight.

My mother came out of the kitchen and said, “What happened to you?!”

I suddenly realized that, I remembered that, I had left all my books scattered around in the bicycle lot. With trembling voice, I said, “Oh, some weird guy tried to grab me and I ran away. I’m ok,” as nonchalantly I could.

My mother looked on me and said, “Look at your leg! You are bleeding! Otōsan, please come here.” Now Otōsan literally means, father, but that’s how my mother used to address her husband.

My father came hurrying out of the living room. “What happened?”

“Some man attacked her on the way home,” my mother explained.

“Yeah, but I’m ok. Nothing happened. I just have a scratch. See!” And as I was showing him, tears came to my eyes. I hastily wiped them away.

My mother looked anxious, “Should we call the police?”

“No, we don’t call the police,” my father said with a grim expression on his face.

“But why not? He might have followed her. It’s very dangerous.”

“No. She’s ok. If you call the police, people will talk.” He looked angry. Was he angry at me? He looked at me and said, “Motoko, you should have been more careful. It’s your fault, coming home this late, swinging your long hair.” I blinked. Was he saying that I was to blame? My father scuffled back into the living room and turned the volume up on TV. My mother sighed, fussed over me, gave me some bandages to put on my leg. Then I went upstairs to the bathroom and I wrenched. No one ever spoke of this incident again.

The next day I went and got a haircut. I never wore my hair long again. I never forgave my father either until a few years ago when I started telling this story. After that incident, there was a long period of time when he and I just did not talk much. Then I moved away to go to college and eventually immigrated to the United States. When I became a storyteller and started sharing my life stories, I discovered that many women in the United States have had a similar experience to mine. By listening to those women, I learned how sharing helps us heal. And it takes honesty, courage, and wisdom to speak up for ourselves and not be cowed into silence. Telling this story also made me realize that, my father’s gruff voice directed at me, was actually his way of acting out his anger at the man in the green shirt. And his frustration for not being able to protect me. In any culture, storytelling is what breaks the silence.

Cost of Racism

 

Story Summary:

 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.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Cost-of-Racism

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How do prejudice and stereotypes affect your everyday life?
  2. Name instances when each of us can be both a victim and a victimizer.
  3. In what ways does language shape the way we think of others?

Resources:

  •  Tales of Now & Zen by Motoko. (Audio CD, www.folktales.net; 2006)
  • Diaspora without Homeland: Being Korean in Japan edited by Sonia Ryang (University of California Press; 2009)

Themes:

  •  Asian American/Asians
  • Bullying
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Motoko. My son, Charlie was born in 1987. As I raised him in western Massachusetts, I have always spoken to him only in Japanese. It is important to me that my son speaks my native language. When you think about it, you realize that parents have great power and responsibility to shape their children’s world by teaching them meanings of words. For example, I once took my son to his friend’s birthday party and on the way home, I said, Sore wa tanoshikatta, that was fun, wasn’t it?”

And my son would say, “Yeah, that was fun.” You see, that way I was teaching him the meaning of the word fun. Or when his best friend at the daycare moved to another city, I said, “Now don’t be sad; we can visit him over the summer and stay in touch.” See that way, I was teaching him what it meant to be sad and I was glad to be there to make him feel better. But as my son grew older, there were naturally fewer and fewer occasions for me to define his feelings and experiences. And that started me worrying. Maybe some of you have a mother or father who worries too much. Maybe some of you are parents who worry too much.

All my son’s life, I have tried hard to teach him not just Japanese language, but also Japanese ways of life. By saying things like, “Don’t forget to take off your shoes in the house because we’re Japanese.” Or, “Always bow to your grandparents because we are Japanese.” Or, “Eat this rice with pickled seaweed and fermented soybeans and stop complaining because that’s the Japanese way.” But whenever I said things like that, my son would giggle and, to my consternation, answer in English.

“No, I’m an American. I was born here.” Actually, he had turned out to be quite contrary to most of my expectations. I know next to nothing about sports but my son turned out to be a jock. He loved playing soccer. When he was in second grade, he came to me with this revelation mom, “Soccer is life. The rest is details.”

I said, “What about your homework?”

So, when my son was in fifth grade he applied to and was accepted to participate in a week long advanced boys soccer camp at the University of Massachusetts. Now, my son had never stayed away from home for an entire week before this. And all the other boys will be sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Never mind I live only two miles away from the campus. I was beside myself with worry. So, when my son finally came home that Saturday afternoon, I was waiting in the doorway to welcome him home and to ask him all the motherly questions. “How did it go?”

“Fine.”

“Did you have a good time?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you play well?”

“Sure.” And as I followed my son into the dining room, I even marveled at his monosyllabic responses to female questioning. A true sign of a Japanese manhood. But wait… something seemed to be bothering him. I looked at him, his short-cropped black hair and his beautiful face, tanned to perfect brown. His usually dreamy eyes were cast down as he sat at my dining room table.

I said, “Is there something wrong?”

Reluctantly my son said, “Well, some kids at that camp from South River made weird noises and laughed at me.”

“What weird noises?”

“Ching-cho, Japanese. Hi-a Ussel.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know, Mom, they were making fun of me because I’m Japanese.” In a flash, all my blood boiled up to my face. Words I did not know I had in my English vocabulary, exploded in my head. Then suddenly, I realized that what shocked me the most was not the fact that those boys made fun of my son, but the fact that it was my very first time to hear my son identify himself as Japanese. Then, I had an experience that I had never had before. A flashback, I was engulfed by a childhood memory, back in Osaka, Japan, in the 1970s.

In my third-grade class, there was a boy named Akita. He was tall and strong and fast, really good at baseball. I had the biggest crush on him. One winter day, Akita missed school. So when the teacher asked for someone to bring him the math homework, I volunteered. I had never been to Akita’s house before. So, the teacher drew a little map for me and wrote down his address. Akita lived in the section in the city that I had never been to. So, I went home first to drop off my bag, I told my grandma where I was going, and I headed out. I had to cross a big metal bridge with lots of traffic. And coming to an old dilapidated section of the city, all the houses were made of dark wood predating the World War II. The houses were built without any space in between. So, it was hard for me to tell where one house ended and another started. I got turned around a, bit. It took me about an hour to find Akita’s home. By then early dusk was failing. I rang the doorbell but nobody answered. I tried again, maybe Akita was sick and his mother had taken him to the doctor. Maybe I should leave the math homework in between the two sliding front doors. Just then I heard light footsteps behind me and turned around and saw a little boy standing there. This little boy was about 5 years old, maybe in kindergarten. But his face was so much like Akita’s that it was obvious to me that he was Akita’s bl, brother.

I said, “Hi, I’m Akita’s classmate. I brought him his homework.” But the boy looked at me as if he had not heard me. So, I looked at him and I realized that the boy had been crying. His face was dirty with tears and grim. His shirt was rumpled and I saw some mud on his pants. Maybe he had been in a fight. Maybe some older kids had been picking on him. I said, “Are you all right? Did you have a fight?  Where is your mom?”

And I reached out to touch his shoulder when suddenly the boy glared, shoved my hand away and yelled, “Go away, you stupid Korean!” I actually did not know what he meant but he felt as if he had slapped me across the face. I dropped my math homework and ran, tears blurring my sight.

When I finally got home my grandma said, “What happened to you?”

“Grandma, this little boy called me a stupid Korean. Why? Am I Korean?” And I told her the whole story between sobs. My grandma listened quietly and she looked thoughtful.

Finally, she said, “No, Motoko you are not Korean but that little boy is and his family. But that little boy does not know what the word means. People are prejudiced around here. And kids make fun of him. So, he thinks Korean is a bad word. He’s angry at everyone. He thought he was calling you a name.”

“Mom, are you ok?” My son was staring at me strangely as I came out of this momentary reverie.

And I looked on my son and thought about saying something like, “You know we live in this college town where people tend to be more diverse and open minded. But in a little surrounding town like South River, people can be ignorant and full of prejudice.” I also thought about saying something like, “Just tell me those kids names and I’ll find out where they live. Rip them to pieces.” But what I really wanted to say was, “Don’t internalize the hurt you feel, the way that little boy did. Just know in your heart that you are as good as any and better than many. If I can come with you every time you leave my house to protect you, I would.” But I didn’t say any of those things. I just said, “Do you want me to write a letter of complaint to your coach?”

“Nah, that’s OK,” my son said. “I can handle it. Me and my buddies beat those guys at scrimmage, anyway.” He had the biggest grin on his face and said, “You know, Mom, though what you could do to make me feel a lot better?”

“What? I’ll do anything. Oh, I know. Let me give you a hug.”

“No,” he laughed as he ducked out of my embrace and said, “You know, there’s these new Gameboy games that just came out in Japan. No one in the United States has them yet. So, if you could call Uncle Minoru,” (that’s my brother in Japan) “Uncle Minoru, and give him some money so he will send them to me, that would make me the coolest kid among my friends.”

I said, “How much are they?”

“$50 a seat and there are three I want.”

“That’s $150!” I scream in my head. Then I just said, “I’ll call him right now.” All I can say is, it is expensive to fight racism.

Loving Someone Tall: A Conversation With My Father About Race

 

Story Summary:

When Laura fell in love with Kevin, she was certain her liberal family would love him, too. After all, he was smart, handsome, educated and kind; that his skin was a different color didn’t matter, right? Imagine her surprise when Laura and her father needed to negotiate his discomfort with her sweetheart’s differences.

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

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think Laura’s Dad felt during their conversation? What do you think Laura’s Mom thought?
  2. Do you think things are any easier for bi-racial couples today?
  3. What do you think Laura should have done when her parents were upset about the German man she was dating? Do you think her dad had a point?
  4. How would you feel if your child married someone of a different race or religion?
  5. Do you think Laura should have told Kevin about the conversation?

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Laura Packer.

I was born in 1967, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a nice, liberal, middle-class, Jewish family. I was raised to believe that you judge people based on their actions not on the color of their skin. My mom, she always said that people are the same inside. So, when I brought home my elementary school best friend, Carla, she’s African-American, my parents treated her just like their own daughter. It was great. Everything was fine until I was an adolescent. And then, on top of all of the usual adolescent woes, I was dating. And then I brought home the German guy. For my parents, who were born during World War II, American Jews, this was really hard. After a while, they asked if I would stop dating him. And in my adolescent angst, I stomped my feet and I said, “No, he’s not like that.”

Honestly, I think we all were relieved when the relationship just kind of petered out. They didn’t have to keep biting their tongues and I didn’t have to feel defensive. I think, it’s really hard for parents. You raise your kid you, love them, you want the best for them, and you try and teach them everything that you know is right about the world. It can be kind of a problem when they actually listen to you.

When I was in my early thirties I started dating Kevin. Kevin is funny. He’s smart, he’s tall, he’s handsome, he’s well educated. He has a doctorate from MIT. He was everything I could want in a man. It didn’t matter to me that he was African-American. And it certainly wouldn’t matter to my parents. Right?

Well, maybe six or seven months into our relationship, I went home to visit my family. By now, it was clear that things with Kevin were really pretty serious. It was a good visit, although I could tell there was something in the air a day or two before I was supposed to leave.

My father said to me, “Laura, I’d like you to run some errands with me.” Now, in my family, that’s code. My father and I sometimes have a, kind of, difficult relationship and I’ll do something, inadvertently, offending him. He will have his feelings hurt and he needs to talk to me about it. He needs to let me know and describe everything in great detail until I apologize.

I thought, “Oh, great. What did I do now? Sure, Dad, let’s run some errands.”

So, we went out and we ran an obligatory errand or two. And then he pulled the car into the Denny’s parking lot and I braced myself. “Okay. Here it comes. I’m going to hear what I did wrong and I’ll apologize. We’ll get it over with. It’ll be fine. This happens every month or two.”

Instead, my dad was quiet. He just sat there looking out the window of the car. I glanced over at him. He wouldn’t look at me. Then he took a deep breath. Then he took a deep breath. “Laura,” he said, “your mother and I are concerned.”

“Concerned? What are you concerned about, Dad?”

He glanced over at me. I could see all this shame and love in his eyes. “Laura, we are concerned about Kevin.” How could they be concerned about Kevin? He was smart. He was a good man…Oh…I felt this churning in the pit of my stomach. I began to grind my teeth and I waited. “Yes,” My father said. “We’re concerned about Kevin.”

I looked at my dad. “Dad, why could you be concerned about?” I said. “Is that the Ph.D. from MIT? I mean, I know that’s a big educational gap between us but he respects my mind. Oh, oh, I know, is it, is it that it’s a doctorate in science not in medicine? I think science is pretty cool. Or maybe, maybe,” I said to my father. “Is it because he’s so tall?” I know that when we look up at him we do get kind of a crick in our neck.”

“Laura,” said my father his face turning red. “Laura, that’s not what I mean, and you know it. I’m concerned about the racial difference between the two of you.”

Ah…I have been foolish many, many times in my life, over and over again, I react when, maybe, I shouldn’t. I get angrier than I really need to be. And every once in a while, there is this moment of clarity. And I listen to it. I reached over and I took my father’s hand, “Dad,” I said. “I know that you were concerned that Kevin’s African-American and that I’m not. But I love him and he loves me. Honestly, Dad, I think that you should be proud. You should be proud that you raised a daughter who can love someone regardless of their education or their height or the color of their skin.”

He was quiet and then he glanced over at me and said, “He is awfully tall, isn’t he?

“Yeah, Dad he is. Honestly, I think he gives us all something to look up to.”

We went home. And honestly, I can’t say that being in a biracial relationship has not had an impact on my life. But every relationship has had an impact on my life. Kevin and I, eventually, got married and my father he loves Kevin. When we come and visit, my dad beams with pride as he introduces his handsome, smart, funny, kind, educated, tall, African-American son-in-law to his friends. And honestly, why shouldn’t he be him? After all, what parent doesn’t want their daughter to marry a doctor?

Taylor Made Family: An Aunts Tale of Transracial Adoption

 

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamlet Goes to Jail: Life Changing Experiences that Occurred in 1959

 

Story Summary:

 The Chicago Public Schools were almost totally segregated in the 1950’s when Gwen’s participated in an accelerated English program and first integrated a South Side High School. She succeeded in getting an “A” in the class but had an encounter with the police that threatened to overshadow her academic accomplishments.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hamlet-Goes-to-Jail-Life-Changing-Experiences-in-1959

Discussion Questions:

  1. What were some of the factors that kept the city of Chicago from integrating its schools before the 1960s?
  2. Discuss some reasons why many young people endured hostility and violence to integrate schools and other facilities. How were they were able to overcome their fears?
  3. Why did Gwendolyn feel that she was representing her race when she attended the all white high school? Have you ever felt this kind of pressure?
  4. Have you, like Gwendolyn, made a decision to do something you know is not what you should? What were the consequences?

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Gwen Hillary.

Now, when I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, in Chicago, Chicago had been labeled as the most segregated northern city in the United States. Children in black neighborhoods often went to school in double shifts. Some in the same family would go at different times. Some would go early in the wee hours of the morning, and the second child might go starting his school day mid-afternoon. Other children were educated in mobile units that were housed on the playgrounds. All to keep the school segregated in those overcrowded communities. In 1957, something happened that changed the whole educational system in the United States. The Soviet Union successfully launched the first Earth orbiting artificial satellite into space.

It was October 1957. There was a fierce competition that ensued between the Soviets and the United States. There was an increased emphasis on scientific research, space exploration, and the schools had to step up. Now, between 1956 and ’60, I was a student at Englewood High School, an all-black school on the southside. And in spite of the school being totally segregated, I had caring, nurturing and totally competent teachers. A new program was devised at my high school, a college preparatory high school, and I was placed in that program. Boy, oh, boy! No longer could I take typing and sewing and cooking and home economics and sewing, all those classes that supposedly would prepare me for life. Huh. I was programmed into chemistry, physics, foreign languages, and there weren’t those easy A’s. Now was also an important time in my high school career, when in 1959, I was going into my senior year. A special program was created that would be conducted at an all-white high school, South Shore High School 76th and Constance.

Now, any participating school could send two of their promising students to attend this enrichment summer program. We were going to study a fall semester of college literature and get credit for it too, in that 8 weeks. We were going to read many works by Shakespeare, Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, among other works. It was going to be very intensive and I knew that I, not only was representing my school, proving myself academically cable… capable, but I was representing my own race. And so, I went there, determined to do my best and to excel. It seemed that the first day we walked into the school, that there was such a big shock to see us. There were four black students. No black student had ever set foot in that school. There were no black cooks. There were no black custodians. Everyone was shocked, but that was the first day.

The next day, the shock was on us. You see, when we left that building at the end of the school day, there were boys waiting for us on the corner. And they had rocks in their hands and they began to throw rocks at us. And I actually ran, scared to the bus stop. I did that Day 2, which was Tuesday. Day 3, Day 4, and by Day 5, on Friday, huh, I had had enough. So, when Monday came, and we left school, and those guys were standing there ready to pelt us with those rocks, I ran with my companions, and they got on their respective buses but not me. I had had enough. And so, I watched and I saw that they went into a school store, near the school, where everyone would congregate. Guess you could buy ice cream and school supplies. I boldly walked into that store. I found the guys I was looking for, and I walked up to them and I said, “I’m here now. What are you going to do, face to face?”

They were so shocked and embarrassed, the whole store got quiet. And each one said, “What are you talking about? I don’t know you.”

I said, “Oh, you know. But it’s going to stop today!” And guess what? There were no more rock throwing incidents. I thought the summer was gonna go pretty smoothly. But back on the home front, in my own neighborhood, huh, something else happened.

You see, it was a sunny afternoon and I had been out selling Avon products. My mother would let me keep all of the money I earned to buy my clothes and other incidentals. And I had money in this pocket, and in my other pocket, I had a paperback copy of Hamlet. We had to study hours and hours each night to keep up with the amount of work we had to do. And as I was standing there, some friends came up and they said, “Gwen, we’re going to go riding on the back of some motor scooters. Want to come?”

Now I knew. I knew there was no way I should have gotten on the back of those motor scooters. What would my mother think, sailing down South Park Avenue with my arms wrapped around some boy? And no helmet either! Huh! I was tired of always being the good one. So, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”

I thought we’d be back in time and my mother would never know. Oh, I climbed on the back, and wrapped my arms around, and it was wonderful, the wind blowing. All of a sudden, a police officer pulled over the young man on the first motor scooter and said, “You don’t have a license plate on your bike, young man. And you’re going to have to come down to the station.”

Well, the other guys started protesting, trying to help him. And he said, “I tell you what. All of you would go down to the police station.”

Now that’s when I got off and I said, “Sir, I’ve got my carfare in my pocket, and I’ll just get on the bus and I’ll…”

“Nah, huh. No, young lady, you are with them and you going to go down to the station with them.” Me? Going to jail? I couldn’t imagine! What was my mother going to say?! What was she going to do?! My mother did not spare the rod. And so, I cried, I pleaded, I begged.

But he said, “You’re going with the rest of them.”

We got to the station. And at first, I would not even give him my mother’s phone number. But I did. And when he called, I could just imagine her on the other end of that line.

And finally, she said, “I don’t drive, but I’ll send someone to get her.”

Oh, I cried, I cried. I was just so upset with myself. But then I realized, I had homework to do. So, I took out my copy of Hamlet, and I started to read. Police officer noticed that I was reading this book, and he said, “What are you doing?”

And I told him all about the course, and all about the work, and how exciting it was. He said, “What are you doing with these other guys? You don’t belong with them. What are you doing with them?”

I didn’t answer. But I did question what was I doing with them. You know, Hamlet had to get himself together in that book, you know, “to be or not to be.” Well, I’ve made some decisions about how my life was going to be from that point on.

My mother sent my aunt. When we get home, oh, I was so afraid. What was she going to do to me once she opened that door? But the mother I saw when I entered, was one I had never seen before. Her eyes were so sad, and she was silent. She looked so tired. And it upset me so much, that I vowed I never wanted to cause this much pain to my mother again. My mother didn’t speak to me. Not then, not that night, not the next morning. But after school the next day, she did say to me, “I hope you will reflect upon that incident yesterday and what changes or decisions you’re going to make in your life.”

One decision I made was that I was going to get an “A” out of that course. I had worked and worked, and I can say, that I was one of the few students who received it that summer. You see, that’s what I wanted my mother to remember. And not that it was the summer that I and Hamlet went to jail.

When Summer Came: Summer Vacations in the Segregated South

 

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

My name is Gwen Hilary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said, “And?”

And I would say, “And, please?”

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

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

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

An African Native American Story

 

Story Summary:

 Many Africans and First Nations People bonded together during and after slavery in the Americas and in the Caribbean for protection, acceptance, friendship and love. As a result, many African descendants in these countries also share Native American ancestries. Mama Edie learns while watching old Westerns on TV with her grandmother, Nonnie Dear, a new perception of who the “good guys” or “bad guys” were.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: An-African-Native-American-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does it matter that we learn to know and to love all of who and what we are?  What often happens to people who don’t?
  2. Does it really matter what we call ourselves?  If so, why?
  3. State two potentially lifelong benefits of knowing the history of your ancestors.  Can you feel or experience any of these benefits at work in your life today?  If so, which one(s)?

Resources:

  • Circular Thought: An African Native American Traditional Understanding by Nomad Winterhawk
  • Medicine Cards by David Carson and Jamie Sams (A non-fiction book explaining the wisdom that First Nations people have gained by the observation of animals, insects and other creatures of the North American continent.)
  • Tell the World!  Storytelling Across Language Barriers by Margaret Read MacDonald

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLoud Armstrong but most people simply call me Mama Edie. You know, when you are identified as someone other than from a European heritage, sometimes the way your people can be presented in history, can make you feel categorically small or flawed or ugly or useless and even invisible. And when you’re a child, your childhood perceptions when blended with images from your history as that has unfolded can actually haunt you and can leave you feeling mentally in bondage forever if you allow that to happen. And what becomes important is for us to then realize that there is some healing that needs to be done. I have had my healing to be done and I continue to do so.

I remember, though, one of my first recognitions of how people can perceive things differently (I mean, the same event! They can see the same event. They can all be there but they see it differently.) was with my grandmother, my paternal grandmother. Her name was Estella Hunt McLoud. And she was born around 1890 and her people were from the Seminole, Cherokee and Blackfoot tribes. And so she is, actually, our most familiar branch to those lineages. And she taught us many things. Now, her people were from Florida and she married my grandfather Quilla McCloud from Georgia somewhere between those borders. Now, although she did die when I was young, I do remember her and I cherish the relationship that we had.

I can remember her firmly set square jaw. I remember her thin lips as she talked. I remember her eyes, her large warm eyes, and, you know, it was almost as though she could look straight through you with those eyes. And, you know how, oftentimes, people talk about how mothers and grandmas have eyes in the backs of their heads. Well, my grandmother also had eyes in the back of her head. She saw everything.

We loved her very much. We called her Nonnie Dear. Now Nonnie Dear was kind of quiet even though she was firm but when she spoke, she ended up saying something that most people were going to long remember.

And she also did some things that were pretty memorable as well. I can remember a particular time when I had gone over… (I must have been about five years old or so, so this must have been… say about 1956) and I’d gone over to spend the night. I used to enjoy spending the night with my grandmother and we would watch television together for a while. But this one particular day, this was the first time I had ever had this experience with her. We were watching an old western on TV. Now keep in mind that these were the programs that depicted the U.S. Cavalry and also the invading frontiersmen as the good guys. And the Indians or the Native Americans who were fighting to keep their homes and their lives were depicted as the bad guys. Well, now, needless to say, Nonnie Dear didn’t care for that particular percept… perception or portrayal that she offered… that she saw there. And what she would do sometimes? Once the soldiers and the frontiersmen came charging in and they were shooting up everybody and they were setting fires to the village and you saw young children scattering, looking and calling for their parents, my grandmother Nonnie Dear would get so upset she would take off a house slipper and she’d throw it at the television set. And she’d say, “Leave ‘em alone! Leave ‘em alone, you dirty rascals! Leave ‘em alone!” I wasn’t quite sure what was going on and I’d thought it was a little strange. It was kind of funny and I wondered if maybe Nonnie Dear had been out in the sun a little bit too long. But as time passed, I came to understand what made her so angry. And those things started to make me angry too.

And, in fact, I can even remember when I was younger and I had gone to St. Elizabeth, the Catholic Elementary School in Chicago where I grew up. And also, later at St. Carthage. And while there, the nuns always seemed to have a ready arsenal of patriotic music to arm us with and to teach us. Well, one of the songs that they taught us was the one that repeatedly states, “This land is your land. This land is my land, from California to the New York Island. This land was made for you and me.” But as I got older and as I started to experience the responses from different people simply to my presence and as I began to see how the country really functioned and what was important and who was important and who was not, I wasn’t really so inspired to sing that song because I didn’t feel like this land was made for me. But actually the whole world is made for you and me, isn’t it.

I mean that it is intended for us to share it and to honor the humanity in all of us. But that’s, that’s not the way it happened here. That wasn’t the way it happened so I came to understand my grandmother’s anger.

And sometimes as I’m driving across beautiful rolling meadows in my car, when I look out in the distance across those hills, it’s as though I can almost see horses running free across land that at one point had no gates, no fences. People understood how to honor each other’s boundaries. And I can almost see the shadows of young children at play, running to and fro. I can see fathers talking with their sons and explaining to them what it means to be a man. I can see mothers talking with their daughters, teaching them how to weave blankets and how to braid hair. And how to cook and just laughing and giggling and having a good time being girls.

But I’m also haunted by the image of my ancestors who crossed too many trails of tears. I understand that even though I still feel the pain, I still feel the wounds of my African ancestors, of my Native American ancestors, somehow, through it all, I’ve come to appreciate and to embrace the totality (or as much of it that I know) that I happen to be.

Don’t know too much about our rather obscure relative, Bezhati, who was from Italy but who apparently really, really loved my great-great grandmother and bore many children.

But I think that the important thing is to continue this story on because I’m a part of this continuum. And, as such, I will continue to tell the story. And I’ll continue to try to heal my wounds. And I will continue to try to encourage my daughter Aiyana and anybody else – anybody else’s children, even grown folks, to try to heal those wounds that we hold inside and to try to see a little bit of God in each and every one in all of God’s creation.

And I think that this would be our greatest achievement. This would be our greatest gift that we can give back to those ancestors who loved us. We need to remember that we’ve got the strength to do it because we are the children of those who survived.

Hauntings: Journey of an African American Teenager to a Southern Plantation

 

Story Summary:

 This is a true story of the writer and the haunting experience she had at age 13 on a southern plantation near an old tree by the side of the road.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hauntings-Journey-of-an-African-American-Teenager-to-a-Southern-Plantation

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine ways by which the existence of slavery, with all of its imposed conditions and traditions legally ending over 150 years ago, might still be culturally, socially, politically and spiritually impacting the lives of Black people today.  Please describe.
  2. What are some of the differences and similarities of how slavery and colonialism in general affected the lives of Black people in the US as compared to enslaved people in places such as Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico… and Africa itself, even to this day?
  3.  How can being a descendant of enslaved Africans – born in ANY country – affect the ways in which Black people see themselves and others outside of their cultures today?
  4.  How do you think Black people might feel when repeatedly over the years they hear, “Slavery?  Oh, that was so long ago.  Why don’t you people just get over it?”
  5.  Have you ever felt moved, affected or “haunted” by a person or situation that existed before you were even born?  If so, please describe this experience and how it affected or even continues to affect you to this day.

Resources:

  • The Book of Negroes, a novel by Lawrence Hill that describes the life of a young girl born into a Muslim family, living happily in a West African village.  While enjoying a walk with her father through the forest, showing off her ability to balance the Qur’an on her head, they come upon people who looked quite different than they do.  Little Aminata Diallo’s life was forever changed…
  • Pre-Colonial Black Africa, by Cheikh Anta Diop.  This book provides a comparison of the political and social systems of Europe and Black Africa from antiquity, demonstrating the African contributions to the formation of modern states and to the development of Western civilization.
  •  They Came Before Columbus, by Professor Ivan Van Sertima.  A journey through hard evidence reveals an African presence in North, South and Central America describing how Africans from the ancient empire of Mali came to these locations as merchants as early as 1311, prior to European arrivals and the slave trade.
  • When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, edited by Norman Yetman.
  •  The Souls of Black Folk, by WEB DuBois.  An inside look at how the spiritual tendencies of Black people have often contributed to both their strength and wisdom – before, throughout and beyond slavery – and yet a naiveté and trust in human nature that allowed for conquest.

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLoud Armstrong but most people just call me Mama Edie. You know, we can be haunted by many things but ‘hauntings’ are not bad. We can be haunted by a love that we once had that we will always, always remember. We can be haunted by the melody of a song that just won’t seem to go away. We can be haunted by many things. Let me tell you about a time when I was 13 years old and took my first trip to the Big Apple, New York City.

My sister Diane, who we now call Deanna based on her Spanish influence, she was living there with my aunt Bill, (Wilhemenia), and we stayed in Harlem on 156th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Not too far from St. Nicholas Place where my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, used to live and participated in the Harlem Renaissance. So, this was a time where I got a chance to connect with not only my sister but the spirit of my grandfather.

And I got to go to Harlem. I had heard so much about Harlem. I’d heard some scary, scary things about Harlem but when I got there, I loved it. I mean, the kids were great. They knew where all the best comic books were; we got all the best Superman and Archie comic books. And we got all the wonderful records. And even when I got back to Chicago, my friends thought I was hot stuff because in the east, in those days, the music hit those areas before they came to Chicago. So, I had music that hadn’t even hit our charts yet. So, I was really popular, you know. Well, New York was great. But then, after a couple of days, my Aunt Bill decided to take me to D.C. She offered to, “You wanta go to Washington?”

“Yeah, I would love to go to Washington.” Where the president lives and all these wonderful monuments I had only heard of or seen on TV.

So, we took a train and when we got there to the station, I had never been on a train ride before. And the sound the vibrations of the engines, thundering, just vibrated all through my body, and hearing the bells, and whistles, and everything. It was so exciting. And, and hearing people laughing and chattering and seeing little children pulling their little suitcases behind them. It was the cutest thing. And I was having a ball just being there. Well, we got to D.C. and we went to visit Aunt Bill’s friends. And they were very nice and they were very accommodating. And then the next day, Aunt Bill took me on a bus tour and with this bus tour, we went all around D.C. and saw all the different monuments and what have you. And then, we started leaving the city and going into Maryland and Virginia and we started coming upon these beautiful, arrogantly, sprawling plantations.

And there was one particular plantation though, that we went to, where we were going to stop and get off the bus and go inside. And everyone was going to look around. So, while we had pulled up there near the entry way, the bus driver was giving us a bit of a history about it. And he was talking about the flowers, and most of the people on the bus happened to be older white women. And I think they must have been from some organization or something. They all seemed to know each other and they were excitedly chattering and talking about the beautiful gardens. And they couldn’t wait to get off the of, of the bus to just, kind of, walk around the grounds and see. So, they began to make their descent from the bus. And Aunt Bill also got up. She was sitting in an aisle seat right beside me so she got up and she started going towards the door to also get off. When suddenly, she turned and realized that I had not moved. I was still sitting there in my seat.

So, she came back to me and she said, “Come on Edith. Don’t you want to get off and go see the grounds?” And I couldn’t. I told her that I couldn’t go.

And she said, “Why, what’s the matter?” And she sat down beside me. And all of a sudden, I just began to cry. These quiet tears just began to come down. What had happened was that, just beyond my window there was a tree that looked so sad. And it had branches that seemed to extend upward and outwards as those longing for something. And I knew as I had been looking at that tree even before Aunt Bill got up to get off the bus. And I’m looking at this tree and everything within me told me that someone had been hung from that tree. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that people were often hung from trees on the sides of the road as a warning to the other blacks and Native Americans who would dare to consider escape. So as Aunt Bill was sitting beside me, I couldn’t, at 13, explain to her what I had been feeling but it was as though she knew. She put her arm around me and as I cried, she just rocked me. And we simply sat there in silence. I realized that day that…sometimes when people share a history some things just don’t need to be explained.

My Brother’s Keeper: A Teenager Works to Free Manuel Salazar from Death Row

 

Story Summary:

 Can a teenager make an impact in a world full of injustice? Jasmin looks back at the roots of her involvement in social justice issues when she joined the cause to free the young Mexican-American artist, Manuel Salazar, who sat on death row falsely accused of killing a police officer.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Brothers-Keeper-A-Teenager-Works-to-Free-Manuel-Salazar-from-Death-Row

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What forces in Jasmin’s life caused her to care about the young prisoner on Death Row named Manuel Salazar? Who played an important role in helping her to volunteer in the ways she did? Why did she choose Art and Theater as her vehicle for action?
  2. The play Jasmin and her group created encouraged people to sign a petition to support Manuel’s Freedom. What technical advancements exist today that were not available in the 1990’s that could help in creating civic action and discourse?
  3. This legal case had two clearly different narratives depending on whose perspective was being considered. Can you compare and contrast these different perspectives? How do we decide what’s “true”?

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Latino Americans/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Jasmin Cardenas.

“He shot a cop!”

“No, he didn’t. It says the gun was in the officer’s hands when it went off. Some forensics test shows that.”

“Then why did he run, Jazz?”

This was my friend Mari and me going back and forth about this young Mexican-American guy. His name was Manuel Salazar and it was 1993. He was on death row and we were sophomores in high school. We were trying to decide if we should tell his story at this young Latino leadership event. Mari wanted to do a merengue dance.

“Come on, Jazz! I think we have enough guys to do a bomb-diggety-sexy merengue!”

“I know, but this guy’s innocent and he’s on death row! We should tell his story. Besides, this would be totally different from anything everybody else is gonna do.”

Our friend and fellow club member, Ali, had met Manuel’s lawyer. She told Ali, that he had international support for his freedom. That there was people from all the world behind him. And that, and that he had been represented by a shady lawyer. This guy who had totally rigged his first trial.

“C’mon, you guys, we should do this. We could, we could tell his story and, and people would be amazed.  He was just driving in a car with other Latino and black kids, minding his own business. The cops stopped him for no reason. And then they beat him.  And, and now he’s on death row! I mean, we should interview the lawyer. Tell his story.”

“That’s such a downer, Jazz. Why don’t we tell the story of the Taino Indians and we could dance and get costumes! That’s awesome!”

“You guys, this could have been any one of us in the car with our friends.”

Just that summer before, my brother, Favian, and I had been driving down the street and I saw a friend of mine walking down the road. And I laid on the horn to get her attention. When we got through intersection, this car in front of us, a white Caddy, stopped, all crazy about it. And his older white guy, in slacks and a white shirt, came out and was yelling at us, raging mad. He was F this, and F that. You stupid Mexicans, (we’re actually Colombian), Favian started opening the window to explain. And the guy was having none of it. He punched my brother in the nose. Broke his nose. I couldn’t believe it. We, we, we put out a police report. And my parents took him to the Chicago Children’s Hospital and they did nothing. He got away with it.

“This could have been ANY one of US!” I told my girlfriends.

I got them to agree that at least, at least we’d go talk to the lawyer and learn a little more. So, we went to her office.

It was in the Pilsen neighborhood, in Chicago, 18th Street and, uh, Blue Island. There was a big sign, this banner that said, “For the defense of Manuel Salazar,” hanging outside. We got inside and the room was full of people working the phones, doing paperwork. The lawyer, Marlene Kamish, told us all about the case. She told us about how the official police report had stated that the car was suspicious because there were Negroes and Hispanics in the car together. How the, the, the, Manuel had a, a, a gun in his gym bag and, and he was nervous because it was unregistered but he had been target practicing that day. So, he ran from the car with the gym bag. And how the officer chased him. And when he realized he had nowhere to go, he threw the gym bag, with a gun still inside, over the fence so that the cop wouldn’t get the wrong idea. And turned around and surrendered. But then the cops started to beat him. Even as Manuel was saying, “I give, I give!”

And how Manuel had acted in self-defense. The autopsy report shows that there was gunpowder in the officer’s hands, proving that the gun was in his hands when it went off. It was starting to feel like a movie. My friends and I were sitting on the edge of our seats, listening silently. Then, Manuel ran after the gun went off. He ended up at his friend’s house. He was unrecognizable from the beating. They said he looked like Frankenstein. Then the police department, put a “shoot to kill” order out on his life. Manuel was just 18 years old and scared. He ran to Mexico. And in Mexico, he was sleeping one night, when these masked men came and kidnapped him. They dragged him back to Illinois and couldn’t, put him on trial. This violated an extradition treaty between the United States and Mexico. But still, he was put on trial. Meanwhile, he had no idea that his lawyer had been working for the same police department of the officer who had died.

That lawyer failed to represent him and bring in witnesses and even, he didn’t even show that critical evidence of the toxicologist report that showed that the officer had a high blood alcohol level, proving that he was drunk. Manuel was convicted and sentenced to death. And while on death row, he found out that that shady lawyer had been disbarred. No longer allowed to practice. Marlene said that the British parliament, Amnesty International, even the Pope, was behind the support to free Manuel Salazar.

She showed us paintings. He had started painting while in prison. He had been doing all of this self-taught. And he painted this beautiful piece called, “My Brother’s Keeper.” My friends and I all were teary eyed. We were convinced we would tell his story.

We decided to use the facts of his case and we created a play. That and his paintings and his poetry. And we used our bodies as, as characters like the police officers and, and, and the narrator, and, like, the prison bars. And we created a dream sequence where we would show how he ended up on death row. The final line in the play, the last line, was from his poetry his paintings. “Let us stop blinding ourselves to the suffering from others and take the time to care.  For I ask you, to ask yourself; Acabo no soy yo el guardian de mi hermano?..Am I or am I not the keeper of my brother?”

The Latino youth leadership organization loved it. We got a standing ovation. Better yet, Marlene Kamish, the lawyer, loved it. She organized new performances for us and we went everywhere with his paintings. We toured public events, private events, Latino events, youth events. We even marched in the Mexican Independence Day Parade with Manuel’s mom.

I got more involved. I started volunteering for his case, making phone calls, stuffing fliers. I became pen pals with Manuel. And over the course of a year and a half, we toured his, his production, “Reflections: the story of Manuel Salazar,” everywhere his paintings went. And I even got to know him. I visited him in the Pontiac Correctional Center with Marlene. But as things go, senior year hit, and with school, homework, after school clubs, practice for basketball and soccer, and then college applications, I just kind of lost track with Marleen and with Manuel’s case.

But then, my junior year in college, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, a high school predominantly Mexican-American, on the southwest side of the city, in Pilsen, contacted my university. They were looking to add an afterschool drama program. And my professor said that I should take it on as a project. The kids were fantastic. We had so much fun together and when we were nearing the end of the afterschool program, they wanted to perform. So, I suggested “Reflections” and they loved what it was about. It got me thinking, what had happened to Manuel?

My mom helped me locate Marlene, the lawyer. She was so surprised to hear from me. She said that Manuel had gotten his second trial and he had won and he was, in fact, free. She gave me his phone number. I called him right away. His voice was so soft spoken. He was so calm. He was so happy to hear from me. He told me that he was still living with his mom in Joliet but that the police department was harassing him and his family. They were angry that he’d been released. They, uh, they were harassing so much, that he was thinking of moving out of state. He also told me that his paintings were, were being looked at by people from the Art Institute. I told him about the play. I invited him to come see the show he had never gotten to see. He didn’t hesitate. My insides were exploding!

The day of the performance, I sat in the audience – super anxious, feeling like a teenager again. But afterwards, Manuel’s eyes were so warm and inviting. He was telling me about how much it meant to him, all that we had done. I couldn’t believe it. He was sitting there in the seats of my university with a buttoned-up collar shirt and a big sweater, hiding his muscular body from working out in prison all those years. And yet, his presence was so quiet. “Gracias, Jasmin. I can’t believe you did all this. This is something else. Something else.”

I might not be the British Parliament and I might not be the Pope but I know that what we did mattered. And to Manuel, while he was standing behind prison bars, what we all did to support him made all the difference. So, yeah, I am my brother’s keeper.

My Father the Whiz: A Cuban Refugee’s Response to Jim Crow

 

Story Summary:

 In 1964, Carmen’s father, a Cuban refugee, went to work at a steel manufacturing plant near Atlanta, Georgia. When, on the first day of work, he asked to take a bathroom break, he was faced with two choices: before him was a “white” bathroom . . . and a “colored” bathroom. Carmen’s father’s solution would foreshadow how this inventive man would ultimately teach his Cuban-American daughters that, in matters of conscience, we need not accept the only choices placed before us.

 For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  My-Father-the-Whiz-A-Cuban-Refugee-Response-to-Jim-Crow

Discussion Questions:

  1.  In 1964 ‘white only’ and ‘colored only’ signs designated Southern public restrooms, water fountains, etc., and these divisions were legal. When Papi confronts the signs, he doesn’t protest their legality, but chooses a creative response.  When he says, “I did what any decent man would do,” what does he mean?
  2. How do you think the factory workers viewed their new colleague before the incident and after the incident? Do you think he continued to ‘whiz’ outside?
  3. How does the use of humor in this story help us look at a difficult social issue?

 Resource:

  • Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Carmen Agra Deedy. The story I’m going to tell you is called, “My Father the Whiz.”

I grew up hearing stories everywhere I went. It was inevitable, really. I grew up a Cuban refugee in a small southern town. My family came to this country when I was three years old and the little town that embraced us was called, and is called, Decatur, Georgia. Now, back then you couldn’t go three steps without stumbling into a story. You see, turned out, Cubans and Southerners were not all that different. They worship their ancestors, they gathered around food and they were unrepentant, chronic talkers. And so, the stories that I learned told me more about the people than anything I was ever taught. One of my favorite stories ever is about my own father. Now by the time I was 16 or 17 years old, I thought I‘d heard every story my father had to tell. Oh, the hubris of the young. But one afternoon my mother called me to the kitchen and said, “Carmita, take this cafecito to the men outside. They’re playing Dominoes; they’re gonna be out there for the next five hundred years. And then come back inside ‘cause you gotta help me with the dishes.” Which insured I was staying out with the men. Well, I walked out, (screech), opened the screen door, and saw all these Cuban men in their crisp guayaberas, tightly gathered in a circle around an old folding table littered with domino tiles. They were not under a banyan tree or a mango tree but a Southern Magnolia. Life is just weird when you’re a refugee.

I started to walk towards them through the miasma of cigar smoke, when I heard my father begin a story. Like I said, I thought I knew every story my papá had ever told. But you see, stories are funny. Stories are like, well, sometimes, they are like a fine wine. You don’t uncork them until the person who’s going to drink, is going to be able to really savor it and know how good it is. My dad must have decided I was ready. But first he called out, “Do I smell coffee or would it be that I am so light-headed from thirst that I am hallucinating?” Now, the Irish may have saved civilization but I assure you the Cuban gave you irony and sarcasm. I plunge towards the men and then they all said, Niña, cómo estás?” And I kissed everyone, it is the way of my people. And as the coffee was passed around, my father continued his story, as though I was not there. I wasn’t going anywhere.

I leaned into the tree, and he said, “And so you know, we had only been here for a few weeks,” less than a month, it turned out before my father finally found work. His English was cursory. He had been an accountant in Cuba. Now he came here with little understanding of the language. He was so grateful to have found work. Well, the first job he found was at a steel manufacturing plant. He was so eager the first day of work that he showed up an hour early and so nervous he drank nearly an entire carafe of coffee before he walked in. Now he was coupled with a man who was supposed to teach him welding—basic welding. (Google, figure it out. It’s a verb.) As he was learning to weld, Big D, a big African-American man, and my father found a way of communicating. Using hand signals and a few words my father knew in English. My father knew, like I said, not only little English, he knew almost no Southern black English. Big D didn’t speak Spanish. And yet, they soldiered on…or soldered on. In any event, within a small space of time, an hour or two, my father said he was starting to get the hang of things, And then, BAM! Like a hammer on an anvil, his bladder just felt like it was gonna burst—all that Cuban coffee he had! Well, he tried to ask Big D…well…This is how he said it went. “Ah, por favor, uh, please, Mr. Big D….ay….ti, ti ti…Cómo se dice? Dónde está baño?”

“What’s that you say, Mr. Carlos?”

“Ay, ay, ay…El baño?…Ah…,” my father unscrewed his thermos, and then he tipped it upside down to show it was empty now. Big D seemed relieved, “Hold on, Mr. Carlos.” And then disappeared around the corner. When he came back, he brought his own large, green thermos, which he unscrewed, and he began to pour my father another cup. “No, no, no!” My father looked like he had just been offered a live rattlesnake. And Big D, thinking that it was he that had offended him, ‘Well, if you don’t want to drink from my cup…” “No, Señor, no, no, no!” My father also increasingly frustrated being thus misunderstood, said, “No, eh, Señor, por favor,…Cómo se dice?” And then he realized, he knew just what to do. He unzipped, an imaginary zipper, fly, and then he made the international symbol, um…for emptying the male bladder. And Big D started to laugh out loud. And then he stopped. And he cocked his head, sort of like the RCA Victor dog and mumbled something to himself. Which my father said to this day that he’s not sure of the words. But it sounded something like, “not my problem, not my problem.” And finally said to my father, pulling him by the shirt, pointing, “Right there.” And he pointed down a long row of men, machinists at work at their stations. At the very end of the corridor, there was what looked like a hallway or corridor. My father thanked Big D and he gunned it. He started, at a clip, down that line of men and as he passed them,..now remember this is the first Latin man in this all black and white factory, the year was 1964, the men started shutting down their machines. And it got quieter and quieter except for the footsteps of the men behind him. Now, my poor father had only been in this country for a short amount of time. He was learning the customs. He wasn’t sure. This thing was uniformly odd. Where he came from men took care of this sort of business by themselves without spectators. When he reached the hallway, however, the crowd began to swell. And it looked like they were everything from laborers to two supervisors, black men, white men. And then he found himself confronted with a conundrum. A puzzlement. At the end of the hallway were two doors. Some of you know where this story is going. One said white and one said colored. And though his own tragic and troubled country had had many problems, this was not one that my father was familiar with, not in this way and he didn’t know what to do. And at this point he heard in the back, someone begin to laugh. And a man called out, “Hey, Mr. New Man, you pick whichever one you want but when you pick one, you stick with it.” My father looked at the men, looked at the doors. And he caught sight of Big D’s face in the very back watching him curiously, studying him. Now this the point in the story where I interrupted. Remember the tree…me leaning against it. I couldn’t stay there anymore. “Papi, what did you do?! I mean, did you quit, did you…”

“Carmen, just a moment, when you have to go you have to go. But, you know, I had come from a country where I had learned sometimes you have to follow your conscience. You cannot go left, you cannot go right. You have to find your own way.”

“Pop what does that mean…”

“Uno momento!” Now the men had leaned forward too.

“Carlos, what you did you do?”

“Can I please finish my story?” And he said, “I did the only thing a decent man with a full bladder could do. I push my way through that crowd of men, I go outside and I whiz in the woods!”… Si!

Fond Memories and The Jane Addams Project

 

Story Summary:

This story is a piece of history from the 1950’s.  It tells of affordable housing and living in a particular neighborhood and gives some insight into the different ethnic groups that make up some of our communities.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Fond-Memories-and-The-Jane-Addams-Project

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does living among different ethnic groups affect individuals?
  2. When you hear the word housing projects who or what comes across your mind?
  3. Does this story give new insight into what living in the projects was like? Cite examples.

Resources:

  • Project Girl by Janet McDonald
  • Blue Print for Disaster: The Unraveling of Chicago Public Housing by D. Bradford Hunt
  • American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass by Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

“Fond Memories and the Jane Addams Project” is the name of my story. A long, long time ago, the Fain family moved from the South Side of Chicago to the west side. My mom and dad separated. And, so we moved to a kitchenette apartment. Before those fancy words, studio apartments, were ever thought of, there were kitchenettes. We moved to a basement apartment and later, around 1952, we moved to a two-room kitchenette at 2150 West Madison Street. My siblings and I shared a bedroom. The girls, my sister and I, slept on the lower bunk bed and my three brothers slept on the top bunk bed. Mom’s room was kitchen, living room and bedroom. Mom slept on the couch. Outside of our apartment was the community bathroom where all the other tenants use, as well as we did.

One day, we received a letter from the Chicago Housing Authority. We were so excited. Back before those famous words by George Jefferson on TV, “Moving on up to the east side,” we were moving to the projects. We moved to 1249 West Hill. You see, they had taken two one-bedroom apartments and made them together for a large family. So, the girls had a bedroom and the boys had a bedroom. And the girls had a bathroom and the boys had a bathroom. We had two kitchens. We even had a terrace, believe it or not! We had a hall that adjoined those apartments. Now my mom, she took that… what should have been her bedroom and she made it a formal dining room. And she slept in what would have been that second kitchen. We loved living there. The Chicago Housing Authority and the Jane Addams Projects. Now that neighborhood was a mixture of different ethnics. Back then, projects had all types of people from all backgrounds living there. There was an older Italian couple who lived next door to us. We grew to like them and they grew to like us. Now there was a little tension among the ethnic groups. Now there was the Taylor Street Dukes and the Taylor Street Nobles. A gang, Italian gangs. There was also the Blue Flames, as colored basketball team. Now technically, they weren’t a gang but when there was any trouble, they came and they supported and rallied around us, the colored people.

Well, my brother Anderson remembers an incident. When it was hot one day (like any Chicago day) and the fire hydrants were open and everyone was playing under the hydrants, he got into an argument with one of the Nobles and a fight started. And, uh, several of the other Nobles jumped in and tried to drown him under the hydrant. But there was an older Italian gentleman passing by and he called out, “Leave him alone, leave him alone! He’s one of the good guys.”

Wow! Could you believe that! My brother developed friendship with one of the guys in the neighborhood. Dominick, you see, we… they’d had art classes together in school and they found that they had something in common. Mr. Florio was an Italian teacher at Reed School and Mr. Lonzocram was my first African-American teacher. Mr. Florio lived down the street in the greystones and, you know what, we all moved together and lived together there.

There was Dick. Richard was his name but we called him Dick. He owned the corner grocery store back in the day when your word was your bond and an index card got you credit. Yes, you signed on the dotted line and Dick extended merchandise to you. You see, there were many poor families in the Jane Addams Projects along with us. And he did many of us great favors by extending credit to us and, you know, living in that neighborhood. But so many memories, you see, the projects were different then. People were, uh… it was a privilege to live in public housing back then. We mopped the landings and, and we swept the floors. And we became one big happy family. We looked out for each other. It was a time and a different era. It was the 50s and the 60s and people just did different things for one another. It was in that neighborhood, the Italian neighborhood, that I learned and developed a fondness for Italian foods. And Italian lemonade is one of my favorites today, as well as other dishes. Down memory lane and Jane Addams Projects and Reed School, I developed many friendships. From the projects, as well as the school, Taylor Street and Jane Addams Projects and Reed School were some of the happiest and the fondest memories of my life.

Mattie’s Story: From Darkness into the Light

 

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she said, “You, you okay, baby?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Window of Beauty: A Story of Courage from the Holocaust

 

Story Summary:

 Nancy tells an excerpt from “A Window of Beauty,” a story inspired by the experiences of a young girl, her remarkable teacher and their secret art classes in the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia during World War II. It is a tale of courage, friendship and the power of artistic expression to sustain hope and light the way during the darkest of times.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Window-of-Beauty-A-Story-of-Courage-from-the-Holocaust

Discussion Questions:

  1.  The story of Friedl and Rutie tells of the deep relationship between teacher and student. One child described the experience of being in Friedl’s secret art classes in the concentration camp at Terezin: “Friedl. We called her Friedl.  Everything was forgotten for a couple of hours. We forgot all the troubles we had.” What was Friedl’s legacy as a teacher? What memorable teacher in your own life was a rescuer or a life changer for you?
  2. How does a human being survive a tragedy such as the Holocaust?
  3. In what way is artistic expression – the creation of poetry, art or music and so forth – a form of resistance against oppression? How does it compare to the uprising of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto during WWII?

Resources:

  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, 2nd edition, 1993.
  • Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker Brandeis and the Children of Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin,
  • Art, Music and Education as Strategies for Survival: Theresienstadt 1941 – 1945 edited by Anne. D. Dutlinger

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Nancy Shapiro-Pikelny. When I was 11 years old, I received this book as a gift. It’s a collection of poetry and art that was done in the concentration camp Terezin. It was created in defiance of Nazi brutality. The name of the book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. It was created by children, secretly and courageously. Now in that book there was only a brief mention of a drawing teacher, nothing more. And for years, I wondered who was this brave teacher and who were her students? I recently discovered a story of one student, a girl whose nickname was a Zuti, little rabbit. A name that was lovingly given to her by her friends because of her enormous buck teeth. Her real name was Rutie Shaffner. The Nazi sent Rutie Shaffner to the concentration camp in Terezin.  And she was put in building L-410, room 28, along with many other girls her age. And there, the children suffered from disease and starvation. But Rutie’s life was lifted up out of the horror of the Holocaust through art, because of her teacher an artist. A woman named Friedl Dicker Brandeis.  I want to tell you a story, an excerpt from a story that I call, “A Window Of Beauty,” that I created by gathering remnants of history and also by imagining the missing pieces. Imagining all of the lost threads, in the winter of 1944, in the concentration camp in Terezin, Czechoslovakia.

One day Rutie Shaffner decided to go on a hunt to find any art materials that her teacher Friedl could possibly use in their secret art classes. She began her hunt at the first light of dawn. She went into an alley and found a box and she grabbed it away from a rat that was chewing on the corner of it. And in that alley, there was charcoal and string and wire. She filled the box and then she headed out from the alley when she saw, in the distance, a group of Nazi soldiers crossing the street, coming in her direction. She didn’t know what to do, so she slipped into the doorway of a building. She crouched down low. Her heart was pounding. What if they see me? What if they find me here? Well, the building seemed empty and so Rutie dared to go inside. And in that building, Rutie made a wonderful discovery – paper. Paper! Stacks of ledger paper, office paper that had been left in that abandoned building. Rutie filled the box. And when the soldiers had gone, she ran all the way to her building L-410, room 28, up those three flights of stairs and she brought that box of treasures to Friedl. And from the odds and ends in that box, Friedl was able to teach those children the art of collage making. Rutie cut the shapes, and she tore them, pasted it on that ledger paper, and when she had finished, Rutie had created the sunrise in Terezin.

Well, the snows of winter eventually melted. And in the spring the Nazis needed to make a plan – how to fool the International Red Cross. You see, the Red Cross was coming to Terezin in the summer for an inspection. And so, the Nazis needed to make that concentration camp look beautiful for one day – the day of the inspection. And so, the Nazis ordered the Jews to paint the fronts of buildings, to clean up the garbage in the alleys, to build a playground. A playground that would be used for that one day only. The day of the inspection. And the last part of the Nazi plan, so that the Red Cross would not see the overcrowded conditions and Terezin, the Nazis increased the number of transports to the east to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

It was on a Thursday that they posted the next list. And among the 2,000 Jews on that list was Rutie Shaffner, little Zuti, little rabbit. She was only 13 years old. Now nobody, none of the people on the list, knew what it meant to be sent on a transport to the east. And so, they hurried to find anything that they could take with them on the train. A spoon, a tin cup, or a prayer book, a ragged blanket. And there was tremendous commotion and fear as the Nazis called out names and numbers and pushed the Jews into the cattle cars. And there stood little Rutie in that crowd. And she remembered her friends up in room 28. How they had loved her and protected her for the last few years.

She was trembling when she heard Friedl calling her name. And she looked up and saw that Friedl was making her way through the crowd. Friedl came up to her and said, “O,h Rutie, I came to say goodbye and I’m glad I found you. And I want you to take this with you on the train. One of the last drawings you did as my student. Look what a wonderful artist you have become, Rutie.” And when she heard that her face broke wide open into a huge smile those buck teeth in full view.

“No, Friedl, I want you to have the drawing. You keep it.” And Friedl did. Friedl and the girls of room 28 never saw Rutie Shaffner again. She was taken to the gas chambers of Auschwitz where she died on May 18th, 1944.

Now in September of that year, Friedl asked a friend of hers to help her fill suitcases with the many drawings collages and paintings from the children that she had saved for the past two years. They filled those suitcases, carried them up to the attic above room 28, and hid them there. In the following month on October 6th, 1944 the Nazis sent Friedl and hundreds and hundreds of children, and women, and men on cattle cars bound for the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Their lives ended there but their story did not. Because when the war was over, those suitcases filled with all their artwork… they were discovered, and taken to the Jewish museum in Prague and eventually published some of that artwork was published in this book. Now in the latest edition of this book, there appears Rutie’s sunrise collage. In Hebrew, we say zekher tzadik livrakha, may their memories be for a blessing. And I hope that we can make their lives a blessing by telling these stories about real people who had names and faces and a love for beauty and creativity. People like Friedl and Rutie.

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

 

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Blends: A Youthful Perspective on Multi-Cultural, Multi-Ethnic Heritage

 

Story Summary:

 Amber, Misty, and Autumn – three multi-ethnic sisters – offer a sneak peek into their thoughts about self-identification. These storytellers also share a medley of emotional experiences about how they have sometimes been viewed by others. From skin color to hair texture, from humor to poignant reflection, these dynamic young women personify Dr. Maria P. P. Root’s, Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Special-Blends-A-Youthful-Perspective-On-Multi-Cultural-Multi-Ethic-Heritage

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should agencies require people of mixed heritage to check one box for their “race”? Why or why not?
  2. Does not choosing just one race imply that a person of multi-ethnic heritage is somehow denying any one part of his or her heritage? Explain.
  3. What are some challenges that may arise for multi-ethnic siblings?
  4. Some believe that since the number of people of mixed heritage has increased, that being “mixed” is no longer a “big thing”. Do you agree?

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi! My name is Amber Saskill and these are my sisters.

This is Misty (Hi!) and this is Autumn Joy (Hi!) and we are affectionately called the Sass Lasses and we’re a multi-ethnic background. So our story today is called “Special Blends.” It’s a youthful perspective of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic heritage.

Now we’re a blend of Jewish, African-American and Native American heritage. And the interesting thing about our three blends is that at one point in time, they were all persecuted or oppressed. For example, there was the Jewish Holocaust. There was the captivity enslavement and enslavement of our African ancestors and then, too, our Native American people. They were massacred and their land was taken away from them. But the interesting thing about people who have been enslaved, persecuted and oppressed is that they become stronger, more resilient people and we’re products of that. And even though, personally, I’ve been able to relate always to my different… my different cultures, piece by piece, it was interesting how by watching two films that really helped me to see the plight of mixed people in other areas of the world.

For instance, in South Africa there was a film during apartheid. And apartheid was racial segregation that took place from 1948 to 1994 and that’s during my lifetime. It wasn’t my mom’s generation or my grandmother’s generation; that happened in my lifetime. And to know that people of mixture were persecuted and oppressed because of the way they looked, that really touched me. And in this one film in South Africa, it talked about a girl who looked mixed and she associated herself with that even though that her parents looked visibly white. And even though she associated herself as being mixed, she was outcast from society and disowned by her very own family. And that really touched me on a deep personal level! And, in addition to that, I watched a film that took place in Australia. And it was the true life story of… in the mid 1900’s how the Aborigines and Australians, how they mixed together and had children that, later on, were actually discriminately called half caste. And these half caste were corralled and put into re-education camps where they were tried to be bred out of existence by being sort of diluted so that there was never any evidence that they ever existed before. And that’s called, actually, “the stolen generation.” And to think about these people that were actually sought after because they were mixed, that touched me so deeply!

That is so scary! In an attempt to eliminate a visual reminder of such a union, you know. And on a different level, that’s kind of what happened to my mom and me. We were getting ready to perform for this great storytelling festival. And before we could even get started, the festival coordinators, they slapped this big old sensor bar right across two of our stories. My mom was going to perform a story; it was a really funny fiasco of what happened when she and my dad first got married. (OK, I love that story!) And I was going to perform a story called “My Two Grandmas,” which is really close to my heart. And it’s a story where I bring to life memories of my Grandmama Rose and her Afro-Choctaw background and my Gram Blossom with her Russian-Ukrainian-Polish-Moroccan-Jewish background. And it’s one that tells of how they are from two different worlds but at the end of the story, you see that they’re really dynamic women. And they taught us, their granddaughters, to be dynamic women ourselves. But they did ask us remove the story and those two stories. And so we did; we’re professionals. But we did write a formal letter of complaint and we received a written apology back. But at the end of the day when the sun had set, we had been asked to compromise. And that’s pretty much my life. I’m mixed. I am asked to compromise.

And, really, as surprising as it may seem, as mixed people, we have to compromise all the time. It actually makes me think of something that happened to me not too long ago. A couple of years ago, I went to the DMV to apply for my learner’s permit and I filled out all the paperwork and I turned it in. And the woman behind the desk curtly informed me that I had forgotten to choose a race. And I politely told her that there was no box that says multi-racial so there was no box that I thought was appropriate for me to check. And she impatiently told me that I should just pick one of my races. And it’s funny this… this question comes up so often as… as people with mixed heritages. The infamous question, “What are you?” ((Right!)

And my first inclination is to say, “Well, I’m a human. I’m a woman. I’m a teenager. I’m a musician. I’m a student. I’m a sister, a daughter and a friend.”

Now I know if I ever really responded like that, their response would probably be, “No, really! What are you?” But, really, this is a really difficult question to answer because what I am or rather who I am involves so much more. Who I am is not… cannot be defined by checking black or white or any other box. Who I am is a complex amalgamation of my cultural influences, my experiences, my family, my friends, my beliefs and my interests. Some of these things change all the time. So for me to choose one of those boxes would be not only labeling myself but forcing me to identify with only one of my ethnicities. And that’s something I refuse to do because I identify with all my ethnicities. (And really it’s so true! Why would you forsake mother or father?) (Exactly!)

Yeah, and on a different note, in any typical family, siblings might look different and have different likes and dislikes. And I think in our family, we’re the same way. My sisters and I, we have differences; we have similarities. And I think that my two sisters, actually, they kind of favor each other a little more and I feel like I look a little bit different. So I think that our experiences as mixed children are different as well, especially my experience. I think, depending on where I go, I’m described as different ways. Like in some cultures, I’m described as the red-toned one. In other cultures or countries I’ve been to, they describe me as la morena or the darker one. But still in other cultures or societies I go to, I’m described as the light-skinned one. So there you go! I’m red, I’m dark, I’m light but still depending on where I’m at, my experiences are different than those of my sister… my sisters. And too, I really feel that because I look a little different than them, I would shudder to think that if that caste system, that racial segregation still existed to this day, what would happen with us? Would we be segregated from one another?

That’s something to think about. You know and if we’re not being judged by our skin or eye color, then we’re being judged by our hair. (Yeah!) And as you can plainly see, we’re curly girls and we’re very proud of it. And what do they say? “You don’t talk politics, you don’t talk religion and you don’t talk hair texture. (Right?) And titles like good hair versus bad hair is just unfair. We believe that all hair types and textures are beautiful and to be celebrated. In fact, a singer India Arie… she sings a song.

Oh yeah! Is that the one that goes something like this? “I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.”

(Very true words.) Yeah! I couldn’t agree more. And a friend of mine got married to a man of another race and so they had a bi-racial daughter. And she inspired me to write this kind of lighthearted book geared towards tween… tween girls. You don’t even have to be mixed, just have curly hair to appreciate it. And this is an excerpt from that book,

I got into a fight one day, a rough and tumble with my hair.

I hadn’t combed it in two weeks so all would stop and stare.

My comb jumped in and tried to help but the fight just wasn’t fair.

It wrestled, it teased, it lost some teeth, got lost up in that hair.

The more I pried, the more I cried, the bigger it would grow.

I could not deny, from each side, it had turned into a fro.

And then I passed the mirror and I sucked my lip back in.

An idea began to gather and I grabbed some bobby pins.

My hands twirled and tucked those curls and, much to my surprise,

They calmly let me shift them, shape them into a design.

No longer were they rebellious. No nothing of the kind.

It was I who needed to see; it was I who had been blind

To the great beauty these curls so majestically possess.

Yes, with African-Cherokee-Choctaw-Iroquois-Jewish, I’ve been blessed.

So from that day forward, I pledged a pledge that with our hair or eyes or skin,

Never again would I define my heritage to fit in

With other girls

Who have no curls.

No, I’ll never feel chagrined.

They say the eyes, color aside, are the window to the soul.

So, too, this hair, curled everywhere, is gorgeous, free and bold!

(Woo! Love that bold) (Me, too!)

Well, I’m sure that my sisters agree with me that although as people with mixed heritages, we face so many difficulties but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. We’ve been called names like Oreos, mutts. We’ve been even called mulatto, which is actually a Spanish term for a mixture between a donkey and a horse. So we’ve been called many names but thanks to our parents Rick and Sadarri Saskill and our grandparents, we truly have been able to see that each of us are a deliciously concocted, “special blend!”

 

DIWALI — From Darkness to Light, Hindus in America—Happy New Year!

 

Story Summary:

 A Goddess inspired story of the adversities faced and overcome by Archana’s family as they move form India to America. This is a story of identity, assimilation and race relations that ultimately honors different paths of healing and different religions. Overcoming health issues and life and death challenges, from Darkness to Light describes the embodiment of the Indian festival of Lights/Diwali that welcomes in the “new” in each and every one of us in a beautiful way.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: DIWALI-From-Darkness-to-Light-Hindus-in-America

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What other cultures include goddesses and talk about embodying the goddess energy? What does that mean?
  2. What is Diwali and what do people do on that day?
  3. What are some ways we can practice religious inclusion: as an individual, as a school or workplace and as a nation?

Resources:

Themes:

  •  Asian Americans/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Interfaith

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Archana Lal-Tabak. My family is from the Pakistan side of India before the partition in 1947. In fact, my father was born in Burma and my mother was born in Kashmir and yet they had to flee again when they were young children. Burma is right by China on the east side of India, and near Tibet is Kashmir, which is in the northern state of India. They were persecuted there by the Muslims and the Communists and so they had to flee again in their young adolescent years. And they went to central India, north central India, a place called Kanpur. This is where they eventually met.

My father was there teaching medical school and my mother was a student at the medical school. And the patients all around were noticing that this gentleman was following my mom around and they said, “See that doctor who is looking at you?” And she had not noticed that he was looking at her. But, finally, he asked her out for an ice cream, which she could not really, even have because her stomach had been upset for many years and this is what had taken her into medicine. It turned out that later on, my father diagnosed that she had a retrocecal appendix many years later. And it must have been a sign of true love that he kind of knew what was going on and she was struggling. For two people who loved medicine, this was a true love story.

Actually, theirs was a love marriage. Back in those days, people in India did not cross over into different social castes or social hierarchy. They found that they were in north central India, however, and here people of different castes and different social status would, actually talk with each other and there were many faiths present. Finally, in this part of India they were able to practice their Hinduism without oppression and persecution. It turned out that my father, being rather poor in India, moved several times and I, myself, moved ten times by the time I was 13 years old. I was in Vietnam, in India, in America and back in India again.

And it so happens that one of those times when I was in India, I was about nine years old in 1972, staying with my favorite auntie and uncle and it was my favorite festival. This whole oppression of darkness to light, of… that my parents had been through reminded me of this festival Diwali, the Indian New Year, the Festival of Lights. And this festival was going on at the time that I was visiting India with my aunt and uncle. And at this beautiful festival, it turns out everyone decorates all of their houses with little tiny diyas – little tiny lights. They’re little ceramic pots that are decorated and they’re decorated with ghee or clarified butter inside with a little cotton wick coming out. Beautiful, beautiful lights and the whole house is decorated – inside and outside.

I was just totally amazed and intrigued by this beautiful festival. And I was playing with all the diyas, all the candles, all the wax, all the… all the little tiny tea lights and then, all of a sudden unbeknownst to me, I had been lit aflame. My uncle came over and put out my dress. I had, apparently, set myself on fire. And if I had not been careful or mindful and my uncle had not been watching, I would have been a burning girl somewhat like those women in India that used to throw themselves in their husband’s funeral pyre, back in the old days. Something I cannot even imagine. Now it turns out that this beautiful festival of Diwali, with the whole house is decorated, it’s cleaned, you’re wearing new clothes and eating delicious foods – complete multisensory experience – comes after these nine days of darkness. This nine days of the dark goddess Durga. And the goddess Durga is nine days of honoring how we ourselves transform internally from darkness to light. And there’s actually a ceremony where this huge statue that’s wooden and paper mâché of the evil god Raman, it’s burnt. This demon is burnt, publicly, like a huge burning man. And it, it’s amazing to me how many people were involved in all this when I was growing up. Pretty amazing!

Now when I was in India, I went to many different schools. Mostly, I went to the rector convent and different convents like Catholic schools run by nuns, that were English medium. But there was one time that I was in an Indian boarding school and in this school, the matron was a Sikh woman. It turns out that my father’s oldest brother was a Sikh as well. Apparently, in India, the oldest Hindu brother becomes a Sikh to protect the border because Hindus are mostly pacifists. Even though they have four castes and one of them is a warrior caste, they still have more pacifist tendency. So, the Sikhs protect the border. And I would sit with my matron in my boarding school and meditate with her and pray with her, with her Punjabi texts, just the way I used to sit and pray and meditate with my grandmother, Mummy Ji. Ji is a sign of respect in India, so often we’ll have names after a Ji. Mummy Ji and I would meditate and pray and so did I with this beautiful Sikh matron.

I loved looking at different cultures and religions. I went to the synagogues with my Jewish friends. I went to churches with my Christian friends and, of course, beautiful temples that were 5000 years old in India itself.

Now eventually my family moved to the states and we came here when I was 13 in 1977. When we came here, I went to a public school, which was a very interesting experience, culturally, as well. And I dated a few, maybe just a few Christian and Jewish men, you know, because Indian girls were supposed to have arranged marriages and not date. But I did. And I, actually married my first husband, who was Jewish, and then later on I met my current husband Jim. And although Jim was Greek and Slovakian, he had been doing yoga and meditation for several decades and we had a lot in common. We were meant to be together. He, actually, prepared an ayurvedic meal for me on one of our first dates. Now how many American men cook ayurvedic meals? Not many. Ayurveda, actually, is the knowledge or science of life in India. It is 5000 years old and I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

But, basically, what I found was that through the oppression and the persecution that many, many generations and cultures have gone through, often that is transmitted in the families. And my own family, I found, had suffered a lot of adversity and several had died way too young. In fact, in my 20s, I, myself, suffered from debilitating illnesses including a serious autoimmune illness. And, at that time, I was led to studying Indian medicine and the western field of psycho neuro immunology. My family is all physicians. They’re all trained in western medicine and I found that I was able to completely heal myself through the psycho neuro immunology using some natural lifestyle factors, which I later learned were present in ayurveda.

And when I did workshops and this, my mom would come and say, “Well, that’s how we live. We eat this way, we dress this way, we behave this way, we walk like this.”

And it’s, basically, so much a part of the Indian culture. This knowledge or science of life is a part of the whole Indian culture, part of the Hindu religion so that the people would do it. So, they have fasts for detoxification during Navaratri, which was that… the goddess Ji I told you about. And then they have celebrations like Diwali with the multisensory experience of eating. In fact, my mom always said, “Make sure there’s every color of the rainbow in every meal.”

And it turns out, holistically, that is the best way to eat to get all your anti-oxidants, to get all your nutrition. Now I hope that as I’ve raised my son who is now 17 years old and (his name is Anand, which means bliss) that I can teach him some of these things that I have learned.

And we have raised him with yoga and meditation and some new thoughts, Christian traditions and other traditions. And, in fact, since we are cross-cultural couple and interfaith, we really honor all paths. And at our son’s school, we’ve often tried to take in the Hindu culture and the foods and the multisensory experience but often met resistance, at times, because people didn’t understand that the Indian Diwali, Festival of Lights, the Indian New Year was similar to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, and even similar to Christmas and the winter solstice. It was a winter festival of light.

I imagine that someday, perhaps, people would understand this more and they would be a little tiny stamp just like those other stamps for the New Years and the festivals of light, that there would be a Diwali stamp, as well, a stamp that would have a little tiny diya, beautifully decorated with a little cotton wick in the ghee coming out to celebrate the Indian New Year and the Festival of Light.

I often find that when I need some help, I turn to the goddesses because in India, people have many gods and goddesses. It’s polytheistic, pantheistic. There’s a god and goddess for everyone. And even as I was developing this beautiful story for you, I found that I was stuck at times and I needed some prosperity, abundance, inspiration, creativity. So, I called in the goddesses. I had goddess Durga helping me from the inaction and darkness and paralysis of the trauma that my family went through to the light. I had goddess Lakshmi with prosperity and abundance that is celebrated during Diwali. And I had goddess Saraswati and she was the one with the creativity and the arts, came in to help me with the story. So, in India we embody all these gods and goddesses and thank goodness for Ganesh, the elephant god, who removes the obstacles along the way. And I’m so grateful to be here with these gods and goddesses today, embodying them and honoring the divine in all of us. Thank you.

A Crack in the Wall: Moving Beyond Racial Conditioning

By Storyteller Gene Unterschuetz

Story Summary:

 In A Crack in the Wall a white man has an experience at a copy shop that causes him to examine the negative impact racial conditioning has had on him. He is disturbed when he realizes that he has been indifferent to the historical suffering of African Americans, and he becomes painfully aware of his subconscious denial and patronizing attitude towards them.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Crack-in-the-Wall-Moving-Beyond-Racial-Conditioning

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is it possible for a white person to be unaware of systemic unjust treatment of African Americans?
  2. Discuss how racial conditioning can cause white Americans to deny the systemic injustice that for African Americans is all too real.
  3. Why is being treated in a patronizing way so devastating?
  4. What are the rewards of connecting cross-racially?

Resources:

  • Savage Inequalities, Death at an Early Age and The Shame of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol
  • Honky by Dalton Conley
  • True Colors – ABC Prime Time Live 1994
  • Longing: Stories of Racial Healing by Phyllis and Gene Unterschuetz

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Gene. I’m going to tell a story called A Crack in the Wall. It’s adapted from the book “Longing: Stories of Racial Healing.”

In 1993, a friend invited me to a Race Unity workshop. Uh, and I really didn’t wanna go. I was really nervous about it, because I knew my life was going to change. Or I, I thought my life would change because I had never really delved into the whole issue of race. But I went anyhow. Uh, and I got snagged right from the beginning, because I was learning about institutional racism, and something I had been totally ignorant about. But I was learning how in every institution, African-Americans and other people of color, have been disadvantaged, uh, by the racism that permeates the institutions of the country. Uh, what I was learning is that, that whites – white people, white citizens wield power in virtually all of these institutions. And, so, we were given the definition. Racial prejudice plus power equals racism, and so the… it was a really compelling equation. But it led to the deduction that if you’re white in America, you’re racist. And I had a bit of a reaction to that.

I was thinkin’, “Well, I don’t really have any power. You know, I don’t feel superior. I’m just a cog in the, uh, corporate machinery.”

So, but as I listened to more of the lectures, aaa… I, I learned about the inequalities, yea… oh… abou… as far as, uh, disadvantages that people of color have in this country because of inter… and the institutional racism. I had been ignorant of all this stuff.

I grew up in the 50s. As a child, I was old enough to have been aware of the race riots, and the protests, and all the civil rights stuff that was goin’ on at the time. But when, when I saw the, the videos that they were showing in the workshop, the imagery of the, of, uh, people getting’ blasted with water hoses, uh, children and adults getting’ attacked by snarling dogs. These weren’t just blurry images.

I didn’t have any memory of them at all, and I’m thinking, “How can, how can I have grown up in that period and not have been aware of that, because I was only 50 miles away from Chicago, where a lot of this stuff was going down?”

Well, to be aware of your indifference can lead to denial. Denial is a kind of a tricky, uh, thing to understand. Uh, denial occurs when you are aware of something that’s in(un)conscionable, and you can’t label it, or don’t want to acknowledge it.

Uh, another example would be, if there was a hideous creature standing in front of me, and somebody said… started to describe it to me. And, uh, said how it smelled, what it looked like, and something.

And I was unable to perceive it, and I would say, “No, no! You’re just imagining that. You know that’s not real. You know, let… you’re, you’re being oversensitive. Let’s just, just get on with normal, normal life here.”

That would be a kind of an example of denial, when there’s something that egregious, that’s so obvious to other people, that you can’t see. So, it’s a tricky thing to, to… for us who are white to get our brains around.

Uh, and I was learning that African-Americans in this country have been pointing to racism, that hideous creature, for centuries. And that white folks had not, and still haven’t, have not been able to recognize it, label it, and give it, give it, um, give it, uh, uh, you know, the reality that it’s due, you know. It’s sort of invisible.

So, I started to become aware of my own racial conditioning and it was, was get… was becoming a little bit painful for me, because every time that we… I left the house now, I was aware of my racial conditioning. If I was driving through a fast food place, I was conscious. If the cashier was black, I would get a little anxious, and I was, suddenly, conscious of that. If the cashier was white, I would feel at ease. In my conversations with, uh, acquaintances who were African-American, now I was really sensitive about what I was saying.

“Are my words coming out racist, exposing some deep-seated racism in me.”

Uh, I’m sure people were aware of it, but I was just becoming aware of that stuff, so I was really nervous about what’s coming out.

Uh, watching TV, I would see African-Americans in important peo… places in new shows and, uh, different, different sh…, uh, programs. And I would actu… I would be aware of actually wondering if they were qualified to be in those positions.

So, uh, in public places, I had to think, “Well, how do I interact with African-Americans? Should I smile at them? Should I look in their face? Should I say something? Should I just act nonchalant? But that’s not really doing anything.”

It was very, very painful. I felt very clumsy and awkward, as if I had just read about the history of the piano, and now I was sitting down at a baby grand and tryin’ to perform a Chopin piece.

So, one day, back in 1993, I walk into a local copy shop preoccupied with my own project, but I, uh, at the service counter, I see an African-Am… young, African-American woman giving directions to, uh, the attendant that was serving her. So, I kind of went and hid behind a, uh, kiosk of, of supplies, and watched the whole action. I had never seen an African-American in that shop before, and I’d been going there quite a number of years. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if there were any African-Americans that lived in our town. So, I wanted to see how this white guy that was serving her, eh, uh, handled this unusual situation.

So, as I was watching her, I thought, “Well, look at that young, black woman. She is really competent. She’s really confident in what she’s doin’. She knows her stuff. Look at her take charge there, and she’s nicely dressed, nice pantsuit. I bet she works for some law firm in the area here.” And, uh, so, as I’m thinking this, all of a sudden, I’m thinking, “Hmm, you know what! I’m being patronizing.”

And it really knocked… knocked me for a loop. I have been… had, uh, gone to the third night of the workshop that I referred to. And, so, in this workshop, we were told that we, as white folks, feel superior to black folks, and, uh, and that we are born racists. But we learn racists… racism, and, uh, and, so, we can unlearn it.

So, I’m standing there and I’m having this thought about being patronizing and thinking, “How do I unlearn this, in this situation?”

Uh, I’m tryin’ to apply my, my new understanding here, so, I discovered what I call “a crack in the wall.” The wall is this, uh, is this racial conditioning. And I discovered this little fissure where I could see through, and see that there was a reality beyond the wall. And I asked myself what lay beyond the wall?

Well, as we started traveling, my wife and I, we, we formed many relationships with African-Americans along the way, who were very generous, sharing stories with us. Uh, over the dinner table, they would talk about, uh, racial situations that their family members were involved in.

You know, just coming home from church, being stopped by the police, and being asked, “Why… what are you doing in this neighborhood?”

You know, fellows going out for loans and, uh, being rejected for loans and so forth. These were things I was unaware of. But the generosity of the people that, uh, we were interacting with, was, was… had the effect of breaking down all of this mythology, that we have been raised with, as, as white citizens.

Um, so, after years of participation, uh, in the workshop, uh, going through all the classes, and actually becoming a facilitator myself, I really thought I knew something. But what I discovered is that the truth about race and racial healing lay outside the classroom, beyond the state line, out of my comfort zone. If I had known how many embarrassing moments it would take for me to develop just a little bit of humility in this issue, uh, I probably wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to go to that first workshop. But, you know, embarrassment is a small price to pay for the rewards of engaging in racial healing. The rewards are sharing compassion, sharing forgiveness.

Uh, sharing forgiveness and trusting. Learning how to trust people from whom we’ve been separated, and trust being trustworthy. That’s a big one for me. Learning how to be trustworthy as a white man in this country is a biggie. So, these are the rewards. And, they convince me, that, um, when we eliminate the separation, when we go… somehow whittle away at that crack, we get on the other side of the wall. We engage. We, uh, we connect with folks, and then we learn how we can, how we can, uh, build communities that are, uh, ensuring the well-being of all of its citizens.

Images: How Stereotypes Impact Racial Conditioning

 

Story Summary:

Images is a white man’s reflection about the powerful and debilitating impact of the disparaging imagery that has been historically used to shape the perception of African Americans as dangerous. While he realizes that his mistrust of African Americans was formed by racial conditioning since childhood, as an adult his conscience is burdened by the knowledge that he caused others pain when he displayed that conditioning in cross-racial interactions. He vows to make a change.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Images-How-Stereotypes-Impact-Racial-Conditioning

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why have disparaging images been used to discredit African Americans throughout the history of the United States? How might those images impact a person’s self esteem and his/her ability to gain access to the benefits of society? Cite some examples from our history.
  2.  Why are disparaging images so injurious? Is it possible to free oneself from the harmful influence of disparaging images? How? What particular strength is needed to overcome the power of disparaging images?
  3. Do you think disparaging images played a role in the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and other unarmed young black men in recent years? How do disparaging images impact a person’s sense of freedom?
  4. At what point in one’s life does ignorance fail to be a valid excuse for hurtful thinking and behavior towards others?

Resources:

  • Documentary: Ethnic Notions – California Newsreel 1987
  • Book: Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
  • Book: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Book: Longing: Stories of Racial Healing by Phyllis and Gene Unterschuetz

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Gene. I’m gonna tell a story called Images, adapted from the book “Longings: Stories of Racial Healing.”

In 1949, when I was four years old, living in Chicago, I named my beloved, black, cocker spaniel Sambo, from a character, a favorite character in a book that I, that I really treasured as a child. I was 50, when I found out that the term, Sambo, was actually a caricature that had been applied to black men during slavery, and it was devastating, and very destructive, and had destructive, uh, repercussions. I di… wasn’t aware of that when I named my dog. Does that make a difference?

I remember a rhyme we used to, uh, to say as children to help us make choices. It was the eeny, meeny miney, mo rhyme. It went, “Eeny, meeny, miney, mo. Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. Eeny, meeny, miney, mo. My mother told me to pick the very best one and you are not it.”

There were two versions to this rhyme. One involved the tiger, which was an animal I was familiar with, but I was confused because tigers didn’t have toes. And the other choice was the N-word, and I didn’t really know what the N-word was. I thought maybe it was another animal but I wasn’t sure. My parents didn’t clue me in on that. My teachers didn’t tell me. Is that okay that I didn’t know at age four?

The images I saw on TV and in the movies of black folks were… portrayed them as either buffoons or savages. So, when we went into the city to zoos, and, uh, amusement parks, and so forth, I saw folks that looked like those, those people that I saw on TV. And I was ve… anxious and I stuck close to my parents. So, how did my early childhood and my adolescence prepare me to be, to be an adult?

Uh, in 1966, I decided to take a trip around the United States in my, in my car. My destination was New Orleans. The moment of travel… the moment of…the romance of travel faded the moment I left my dusty little country road and hit rural Route 72 and headed east to connect up with a… another southbound route that would take me down, down to New Orleans.

Three days later, I arrived in the Big Easy, a lonely and frightened country boy. After I walked around the, uh, French Quarter for a day, I checked into a, a hotel in an adjacent area to the, to the French Quarter. I remember the, uh, elevator attendant, who was an Afri… elderly African-American man, and I got into the elevator.

He said, um, uh, “Good evening, Sir.”

And, I, mm, kind of, mumbled, “Hello.”

Uh, so, remember my… the imagery that I had grown up with. Uh, and so, all the way up to the fifth floor, I’m really cautious about this guy.

And I’m thinking, “Ya know, I better watch out. He might, he might jump me or do something to me.”

Uh, so, we got up to the fifth floor. The doors open.

He said, “May I help you with your luggage, Sir?”

Certainly, he must have rendered this service to every patron, and probably hoped for a tip. I, all I could think of was the imagery of this black man entering my room and knockin’ me over the head and taking my stuff.

I said, “—- no!”

He was so shocked by that response. Looking back, I’m really embarrassed with that response. You know, before me, was standing a man, and because he was African-American, I automatically thought that he was dangerous. It never occurred to me, that my behavior was a response from my racial conditioning that I had received as a child. All that imagery was, was kind of guiding my reaction to, to this man in the elevator. But, you know, I, I felt, at the time, I felt that my behavior was justified. After all, I was out of my element, in a new environment. Uh, I felt cornered. I thought it was just an act of survival.

And my thought was, “Ya know, I may have to fight this guy or run for my life!”

That’s really where I was at, at the time. I know that seems kind of “over the top” today, ya know, and maybe a little, um, a little too cautious. But images are powerful, and the images that I had grown up with as a child were really what, what motivated my response to that, to that elevator attendant at that time. Does that make a difference that I wasn’t aware of that conditioning at that moment?

In California, I met… this was years later, in California, I met an African-American man, uh, and we had a long and probing discussion about race and racial healing. We had been to many of the same places in the Deep South.

And I brought up the issue that I had heard about called unfinished business, down there in the south. And, uh, so, we started talking about that. And…aa, what he, he really helped me understand it a lot better. Because he said his understanding was that the unfinished business in the south wasn’t just, uh, an issue between blacks and whites. It wasn’t just a unity issue but, in many cases, it was a family issue. Second and third cousins remembered the, uh, atrocities that grandparents and, and great-parents… grandparents had either perpetrated or, or, or, uh, endured from, from one another’s relatives.

So, uh, at one point he said, “Ya know, there’s just one thing I can’t get out of my mind.”

And I was waitin’ to hear what that was. Finally, he said, and his face was just full of pain, and I was waitin’.

He said, “It’s the idea that black people are less than human.”

And I watched his face, and, uh, I thought, “Wow!”

He sa… and then he continued, and he said, “It’s the devastating images.”

And he c… and he told me that the devastating images that have persisted throughout the centuries have made it almost impossible for white folks to accept black folks as equals. Um, h, so, we just stood there for, for a while and let that sink in. Uh, the pain that he expressed really took this to a deeper part of, of my being, ya know. Uh, because, you know, you hear a lot of things and, ya know, sometimes you can kind of abstract it. You know, you can’t really relate to it but that pain really carried it deep.

And finally, he said, “How do we get over that?”

I really had no answer for him, at that point in time, but I do have to answer that question for myself. What do we do?

So, I have knowledge now. I have knowledge about the devastating images that have, not only conditioned my own behavior, but have really impacted how we relate black to white in this, in this, uh, country.

So, I have choices to make. Who will I pick as friends? Will I visit them if they live in black community… in black neighborhoods? Uh, how will I respond to others’ pains that relate to racial injustice? How will I work with people? how will I collaborate with people who regard me with suspicion? These are challenging questions.

Uh, but the good news is that there is a… My experience is that I’ve been able to replace the negative images with positive images of a multitude of people that we’ve met along the way. Uh, so, it’s easy for me to imagine that there will be a time when we can collaborate and, uh, build communities that are devoted to our common prosperity. I ha… I have faith in that. I have no doubt that, that will take place.

So, today, my question is not a, a cautious, “Is my, is my, uh, ignorance, uh, an excuse for not being accountable?” Conscious of my responsibility to make a change, the question I ask myself is, “What can I offer – how will I make a difference?”

The Promise: A Lesson in White Privilege

 

Story Summary:

 What happens when the warm connection between a black woman and a white woman is broken by insensitivity and unconscious white privilege? Are courage, honesty, forgiveness and hope enough to heal the separation? This true story is based on the chapter “The Promise” in the book Longing: Stories of Racial Healing by Phyllis and Eugene Unterschuetz, © Bahá’í Publishing 2010.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Promise-A-Lesson-in-White-Privilege

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think Kathryn and Georgia chose to tell Phyllis about the things they had to teach their sons?
  2. What might have caused Randa, the waitress in the story, to withdraw so suddenly after Phyllis promised that things would “get better”?
  3. What does Phyllis mean when she asks, “Is this one of the elements of white privilege – having the option to know the truth and then forget it because it doesn’t apply to my life?” What are some other elements of white privilege?
  4. What do you think happened in Randa’s mind or heart that allowed her to respond as she did to Phyllis’s apology?

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Phyllis Unterschuetz.  And this is adapted from a story in my book, Longing: Stories of Racial Healing.

I can’t think of a finer way to spend my time than sitting around a cozy kitchen table, with my girlfriends.  Drinking good coffee, and sharing bits of ourselves together, in that wonderfully intimate way that women have when we’re feeling safe with each other. And it was in just such a setting that I found myself late one October afternoon 1997 in New London, Connecticut. Sitting with me at the table were Catherine and Georgia. Funny, intense, passionate women, whose company I just couldn’t seem to get enough of. We were fairly new friends but we were having this sisterly feeling kind of wash over us, in great waves of laughter and companionship.

We’d been talking about our children and, kind of, sharing stories of parenting. And at one point, I noticed a definite shift in the energy of the conversation. And all of a sudden, one of the women, and then the other, also, started talking about these, these anguished decisions that they had to make as the mothers of black teenage boys. As they talked their sentences sped up and pretty soon they were, kind of, talking over one another and everything was, kind of, jumbled together. It was it was as if two different voices were coming out of two different mouths but they were really the same voice. They were saying the same things.

And I heard snatches. I remember, I remember hearing them say, “You know, they were just driving along. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They’re stopped just because they’re black. Really they weren’t doing anything wrong and all of a sudden somebody’s screaming at him through the window of their car. ‘Show me your license. Show me your registration.’ And they’re flustered. They don’t know what to do. And I have to teach my son how to move his hands so slowly so that they won’t think he’s reaching for a weapon. And I had to teach my son exactly what to do, what to say, how to look, which words he should use, and which words he should never, ever say. Otherwise he might be shot.”

And one of them said to me, “Can you imagine what that feels like. Having to teach your son those things?” You know, their faces had gotten kind of rigid and tough, as they spoke. As if any softness in such matters, even speaking them to me, could be deadly for their sons.

And me, I just sat there and tried to empathize. I tried to swallow my horror. I tried to stand in solidarity with them, you know, and say something like, “Yes, yes.  I can see what you’re saying. I can relate to what you’re telling me.” But no, instead, this horror just rose up in my throat, acidic. And I wanted to purge it by screaming out my shock and my disbelief. I wanted to say, “Here? Seriously that happens here in New England?” What did I think, did I think? That it happens only in the south? Or did I truly, on some level think, it happens only on TV and in the movies?

I wanted to say, “Those sweet boys. How could that possibly happen to them?” But, you see, if I’d said anything like that, that would have just diminished their gift to me. And so I gave them back the only thing I had of equal value, which was my honesty. And I had to say, “No…No, I can’t imagine what that feels like.” And what I didn’t say was not only can’t I imagine it but I don’t have to imagine it, you see, because I’ll never have to teach my son those things.

Not quite three years later, in the summer of 2000, my husband and I were having dinner in a restaurant with our son, Eric. We were in Wilmette, Illinois and Eric was about 21 years old at the time, if I remember correctly. And we were having the greatest time with our waitress. Her name was Randa. Randa was African-American. She was probably in her mid-30s, I’m guessing, and she was just one of these people makes you feel like you’ve been friends forever, you know, just vibrant and connective. So, towards the end of our meal, Randa came over to our table and she was carrying the pot of coffee to pour us some more. And we started talking about our kids. I think she told me a story about her young daughter. And, you know, as she was talking and we’re sharing about parenting in these chaotic times, the tone of her conversation shifted.

I should have recognized that shift but I didn’t. And she got real serious and quiet and all of a sudden, she said, “You know, it’s not actually my daughter I’m worried about.” She said, “I have a teenage son and I am so worried about him. There’s so much he has to deal with out there,” and her face had just become, lost its animation, and its joy, and its brightness, and just become burdened and weighed down, and fearful looking.

And I thought, oh, I wanted to say something just to, just to reassure her, just to make her feel better. And I thought, I know what she’s feeling because I’ve raised a teenage son. I know how hard that is, watching them struggle into maturity. And I was thinkin’, my 21 year old, and I thinkin’ things got so much better as he got older. And so instead of taking her hand, which was what I initially wanted to do, I just gestured over to my son Eric, as evidence that I knew what I was talking about. And I looked at her earnestly and I said,  “You know what? I just want to tell you that it gets better. It gets better the closer your son comes to adulthood, the better it’s going to get. The older he is, the easier it will be, I promise.”

And then everything changed. The light just went out of Randa’s eyes. Before there’d been something flowing, now this heavy veil fell between us. The light was gone. The warmth, the trust, all of that connection gone. She was gone. And in her place was this woman, standing rigidly with a pot of coffee and these blank eyes that just looked straight ahead And she just dropped our check on the table.

She said, “Yeah, whatever. If you say so,” and then she turned and walked away. And it was like I’d been slapped in the face. What happened? I just went over every word in my mind. I couldn’t imagine. Had I said something to upset her?

I started thinking through memories of conversations with other black women. Thinking maybe there I would find some clue as to what I’d said. And, you know, as soon as I did that, didn’t take but a minute and I was back in Connecticut sitting at the table with Catherine and Georgia and listening to them express, what, not their excitement for their sons to get older? But, but no. Their wish that their sons could stay young forever. Knowing that the older they got, the more danger they’d be in. Hearing their anguish as they talked about sending these precious young men out each day into a society that perceives black males as criminals. And then hearing again my own admission. “No. I don’t know what that feels like.”

So now, I knew what it was that had shattered the trust. I knew what I’d said because my promise, you see, was a fraud. Things were not necessarily going to get better for her son as he got older. And in fact, it was likely that they would get worse. It was likely that the closer he came to adulthood, the more frequently he would be perceived as dangerous and therefore the more danger he would be in.

And the thing is, the thing is, I knew this and I forgot. How is that possible to forget a truth like that? I ask myself, “Is this one of the elements of sneaky white privilege? Having the option to know something, to know the truth and then forget it because I think that it doesn’t apply to my life?” And because of my forgetting, any hopefulness that woman had felt, had been replaced by the inescapable reality that I was just one more ignorant white woman, who actually thought I knew what she faced in her life.

So, I was in there and I’m thinking what am I going to do? What am I going to do? And as soon as I said that, Catherine in Georgia came to my rescue once again. I could see and hear them, I tell you, as clearly as if they were sitting right at the table with me, finishing up their coffee. And they just looked at me, they just looked into my face, and they said, “Get up off your butt, girl, and do something.”

And I’m talking to them, these invisible women, like, and I’m saying, “I know. I know. I will. I will. Honest, I will but I don’t know what to do.”

And their voices came in a chorus, “Yes, you do. You do know.” And they were right. I did. I excuse myself from the table and I went to look for Randa. And I looked for her in the lobby, I looked for her all around the restaurant, I even looked in the smoking section in the back, which they had back in those days. I even went in the restroom and looked under the doors of the stalls trying, to find her and I couldn’t. And I was ready to go into the kitchen if I had to. And fortunately, I didn’t have to go that far because I looked up and Randa was coming out through the heavy kitchen doors and she was carrying a big tray covered with plates of food. And she just stopped when she saw me still and I, I stood in front of her just still myself waiting for some kind of inspiration.

And finally, I just opened my mouth and I just let the words fall out ineloquent and awkward. And I said to her,  “I’m sorry. I just want to tell you that I’m sorry. I know things are not the same for your son as they are for mine. I know that things will only get harder for him as he gets older. And I knew that. I knew it already but I forgot. And I know how much I hurt you and I’m sorry.” And I couldn’t see any clue on her face about how she felt and she just looked at me for a really long time. And then she turned and, you know, I thought she was just going to walk away, which wouldn’t have surprised me, really, but she didn’t walk away.

She set her tray down on a table and she turned back to me. And then she reached out her arms and she took me in her arms. She took me and she held me. And we hugged each other really tightly for several minutes.  And then all of a sudden, in that hug, she put her head down on my shoulder and she started to weep. And I tell you, I don’t know how long we stood in that embrace but we were there. We were consoling, rocking, weeping, together. Each of us giving and taking comfort at the same time. And all the activities of the restaurant bustled unheeded around us. And when her tears were finally spent, she stepped back and looked at me. And she managed a small smile and she said, “You know it is going to be OK.” She said, “With you and me, people like us, working together with the help of God. It’ll be OK. We’ll do it with His help.”

Now, I just dumbly nodded my agreement. I couldn’t speak. I don’t remember who looked away first. I don’t remember how we parted. I don’t remember how I got out the door and into the car. I just remember, the rocking, and the weeping, and the consoling, and feeling that that web of connection being rewoven as we stood there together. And the only thought in my mind, the only clear thought I had at that moment, was there’s a different promise I need to make. And this is the promise. That for the rest of my life I will work for unity. I will work for healing. I will work for justice. That is a promise I can make and that is a promise that with the help of God I can keep.

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

 

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE OTHER BLOCK

video-of-month-header5

THE OTHER BLOCK

erica

A short story told by
professional storyteller
Erica Lann-Clark

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

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

Listen and learn from this beautiful story:

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

Full Transcript:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“No!”

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

“Yesss.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you talking about, Ma?”

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

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

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

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Searching for My Appalachia: A Modern Jack Tale

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SEARCHING FOR
MY APPALACHIA:
A Modern Jack Tale

kevin-cordi

A short story told by
professional storyteller
Kevin Cordi

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

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

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

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

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

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SCHOOL SPIRIT

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SCHOOL SPIRIT

erica

A short story told by
professional storyteller
Erica Lann-Clark

 

Who amongst us has not ached to fit in with our peers, to belong? Acceptance and rejection are universal experiences for everyone. We all long to connect with others and try desperately to avoid the chill of being rebuffed. In “School Spirit,” Erica Lann-Clark recounts her personal story of rising to the occasion when she feels the sting of rejection that so often defines adolescent angst.

Setting the stage for viewers, Ms. Lann-Clark shares a bit of her Jewish background proudly. We identify with her need for peer acceptance, nod along as we recognize the pain of humiliation when she is snubbed, and celebrate with her as she puts words into actions and delivers a powerful message of leadership.

May we all show our school spirit by wanting the best for our world, and not settling for the status quo. Rise to the occasion, and let your voice be heard.

Watch this touching story that encourages a more unified society:

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How Do You Say Blueberry in Spanish?

 

Story Summary:

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

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: How Do You Say Blueberry In Spanish

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Antonio and his wife begin to doubt their choice of raising their son to be bilingual?
  2. What is the advantage of speaking more than one language?
  3. Two-way Immersion (TWI) classes or bilingual immersion classrooms are springing up in many urban/suburban communities where people new to America settle. What used to be a rare challenge for the public schools has become mandatory. Also, many English-only speakers want these programs because parents understand that their children’s world is much more global than the world in which they grew up. Would you put your child into classes that teach core subjects in a language other than English?

Resource:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Antonio Sacre. Have you ever felt in your head that what you were doing was right but in your heart, you weren’t so sure? When my son was born, my wife and I decided we were going to speak to him in English and Spanish. So, my wife would sing and talk to him in English, and I would sing and talk to my son in Spanish.

And as the months went by and he began to crawl, we began to think, “What will his first word be? Will it be in English? Mommy. Or Spanish? Papa. Cat or Gato?”

And when he was about 9 or 10 months he said his first word. “Ba.” I said to my wife, “What did he say?” She said, “I think he said, ‘Ba.’” Ok, it wasn’t English or Spanish but it was a clearly enunciated syllable.

And we knew from our parenting books that real speech was not too far behind. And it was cute. The first few things that he said was “Ba” for everything. Cat-“Ba,” dog-“Ba,” Mommy-“Ba,” Daddy-“Ba,” fire truck-“ Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba.” And we would laugh. Now after a while, it was still just “ba” and I was beginning to get a little worried, although I didn’t say anything about that to my wife.

Then our neighbor, Catherine, came over. She’s a high school teacher in the Los Angeles school district and she has a couple kids. She lives just, lives a couple homes up; we love her. And she asked, innocently enough, “So is your son speaking any words yet?”

I said, “Yeah, yeah. Watch this. What do baseball players play with, Honey?”

“Ba.”

“That’s right. A bat. And what you take before you go to sleep? A…”

“Ba.”

“That’s right a bath. And what’s on the other side of your chest?”

“Ba.”

“What’s the opposite of good?”

“Ba.”

“What’s Ebenezer Scrooge’s favorite word?”

“Ba.”

“What’s the chemical symbol for Barium?”

“Ba.”

“What difficult exam do lawyers need to pass?”

“Ba.”

“See Catherine, my son is a genius!” and we had a huge laugh about it. And Catherine left and that night, though, I sat my wife done after we put our son to sleep. And I said, “Ya know? Maybe we’re not doing the right thing. Maybe he’s confused? Maybe we should just speak to him in English and then he’ll learn Spanish as he got older?”

My wife said, “No, absolutely not! We are going to raise him bilingually.” I love that about her. Things that, in my heart, I wasn’t sure that we doing the right thing for our son. And I decided that we would continue to speak to him bilingually at least until we saw our pediatrician in a couple of months.

Now the reason that this was part of our discussion about raising our son is that my father is from Cuba. And when he came here, he didn’t have any English and it was so hard for him. And all my life growing up I heard about how great it would have been if he had been bilingual. He did learn English eventually, and he met my mom who is Irish American. So, I’m Cuban Irish American. Or like a friend of mine calls me a leprechauno.

I grew up speaking both Spanish and English because my grandmother lived with us. She came from Cuba, as well, and only spoke Spanish. So in my life, I was bilingual. When I got to be about 6 or 7, I stopped speaking Spanish because kids at school made fun of me. And when I got older, that precious gift of speaking those two languages, was gone. Now luckily for me, my grandmother made sure that I continued to speak Spanish. And as a high school student, I learned Spanish from her. And so all of this was part of my background. We wanted to raise our son in these two languages. I knew how important it was but I still was worried about his ability to communicate.

So then we went to see the pediatrician. Dr. George is so sweet and he looked at our son and checked him out. Everything was fine. And then I said to him that I was a little worried about his language. And he said, “No, no, no!” He was adamant that we raise son our son in two languages. He said that kids that have two languages, of course, get to communicate with more people. But, also, there is a lot of research that supports that when they are raised bilingually, their brains are actually stronger in many other functions; not just language.

I had doctor’s orders. Raise my son in two languages. That made me feel a little better. And a few weeks after that visit, my son actually spoke his first word. He said, clear as day, “ball.” Oh, we were so excited! And it was a few… couple days after that, he began to speak more words and then it came in like a flood. Words in both English and in Spanish. It was fantastic! And whenever he said a word in English, I made sure that he knew the Spanish equivalent. So when he said “ball,’ I said “pelota.” And when he said, “Thanks,” I said, “Gracias.” And when he said, “Fire truck!” I said, “Camión de bomberos.” And when he said, “Blueberry,” I said, “Variedad de arándano que es azul.” Why does Spanish need thirteen syllables to say blueberry? I called my dad, “How do you say blueberry?” He said, “Mi hijo,” which means my son, “we didn’t have blueberries in Cuba.” So I looked it up in the dictionary and it says variedad de arándano que es azul, a variety of cranberry that is blue. Ah! It’s driving me crazy!

But there are some words in Spanish that are so beautiful in Spanish they don’t translate into English. And the way my father says to his grandson, “Mi tesoro, mi vida, mi alma, mi corazón,” my love, my heart, my treasure, my soul. It really means, Sweetie or Honey but it doesn’t really translate. And the specificity of English is amazing. We have blueberries and boysenberries and blackberries and raspberries and strawberries. And in Spanish they are just arándanos (berries). So I want my son to have those two languages.

It was pretty exciting! And as we are going along, my son and I would make up our own vernacular. So I have a little watch alarm and it went off one day and my son says, “Oye, Papa, que es eso?” (What is that?) And I didn’t know how to say the watch alarm that chimes on the hour.

So, I said, “Suena las campanas.” It just came to my mind. I didn’t know exactly what it meant. And a few weeks later, I was with my dad and my son and my little watch alarm went off.

And my son said, “Abuelo, suena las campanas.”

And my dad started laughing. I said, “What, what did he say?”

He said, “Mi hijo, it doesn’t really translate but what your son said to me was, ‘Granddad, the bell tolls for thee.’”

So now whenever we hear a bell or a bong or a horn, my son says, “Suena las campanas, the bell tolls for thee!” And so my dad now calls my son, Campanas, (Bell). The first of many nicknames my son is gonna have from my dad as he grows up – a Cuban tradition!

Well, now that my son is older and we’re beginning to think about school for him, I have discovered dual language programs. Dual language programs are when the kids study half the day, or more or less, in one language and half the day in English. It could be Spanish or Japanese or Chinese – whatever it is. Now in Los Angeles, ironically, there are a lot of dual language programs but none close to our house. And the ones that we can get into in other districts are very far away. But I still thinks this is what’s right. I actually did some research and I found out that the research team of Thomas and Collier state that kids’ tests scores are actually higher in junior high if they study in both languages. And we wanted that for our son. Well, I mentioned that to Catherine, our neighbor, and I said, “You know what, the waiting lists are really long and they are really far away.”

And she said, “Oh, no! Your son doesn’t have to be on the waiting list because he speaks both languages already. He’s at an advantage because of that.” And then I knew in my heart we were doing the right thing. And then she said, “Why don’t you send him to our local elementary school?”

And we said, “We’d love to but it just doesn’t have a dual language program. That’s a huge part of what we want.” A week later she called us and said she had marched down to the principal’s office and said that if they wanted, they could institute a dual language program. I never thought…it never even occurred to me to do that. And here’s this neighbor doing that for us, for our family. And a month after that, there was a meeting at the school about possibly instituting this dual language program. I was moved by Catherine’s desire to help us, to help the neighborhood. Now will that dual language program go? I don’t know. But I’m moved by Catherine’s work and by the neighborhood and the principal.

And like my dad said, “Centavo a centavo se llena elsaco.” Penny by penny, we fill the sack.

Memorial: Youth Violence Then and Now

Part 1:

 

Part 2:

 

Story Summary:

 Susan O’Halloran attends a Chicago Memorial service in November of 2011 for children who have died through violence. Being at the Memorial sparks a high school memory for Susan of going to a youth conference in 1965 and meeting Cecil, an African American teenager, who became Sue’s friend. One evening, in 1967, Sue receives a phone call that changes everything.

Being at a Chicago Memorial service in November of 2011 for children who have died through gun violence sparks memories for Susan O’Halloran of people she has lost. At the end of the service, the congregation moves into the streets to plead for peace as everyone asks the continuing questions: Will the violent deaths of young lives end? When? And what is our part in ending violence?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Memorial-Youth-Violence-Then-and-Now-Part-One and Memorial-Youth-Violence-Then-and-Now-Part-Two

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the causes of violent deaths in America? People are always responsible for their own actions, but how does America’s legacy of segregation and discrimination play into violence?
  2. Are you for more restrictions on guns? More policing? How would greater educational and job opportunities affect violence?
  3. If you could be Mayor of a large U.S. city, what would you do to curb violence?
  4. Do you believe as Sue says that “these are all our children”? Why would someone in one part of a town be concerned with what happens in another part? How are we connected to one another? How does violence affect even the more “peaceful” parts of town?
  5. Sue remembers that she was directly touched by violence. What affect has a young person’s death had on you?

Resources:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and Cornell West
  • Youth Violence: Theory, Prevention and Intervention by Kathryn Seifert, PhD

Themes:

  • Asian Americans/Asians
  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Latino American/Latinos
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Susan O’Halloran. Do you ever watch the news sometimes and you’re like, enough already! But then every so often, something happens, not things that are just happening to other people anymore. I want to share a story with you about a memorial service I went to in Chicago, November 2011. And a memory was triggered by that memorial, something that had happened long, long ago.

 

The first thing I noticed was the checkmarks. They had asked us to sign in with our name and then to check “yes” if we had lost a family member or close friend to violence. When I arrived, the memorial service had already begun. I made the long trek from my Evanston, Illinois home, down Lakeshore Dr, across the Dan Ryan Expressway, to the Southside of Chicago and the gothic style church of St. Sabinas. When I walked into that vestibule I heard an orchestra playing inside and I walked up to the sign-in book and I went to add my name. I couldn’t check the box. I was fortunate, my life hadn’t been touched by that kind of tragedy. But what I saw was hundreds of checkmarks already made. Each check said, “Yes, I’ve lost a loved one to violence.” Well, an usher came up to me, an African-American woman with a wide smile, wearing a black pillbox hat, a black suit, white gloves. She handed me a program, an unlit candle, and directed me to follow her. She walked me past rows of mourners and them she offered me a seat at the end of a pew. I was there. I was at the Urban Dolorosa memorial. Urban Dolorosa means “the city of sorrow,” and our city was deep in sorrow.

 

In those previous three school years, from September 2008 to August 2011, four thousand children had been shot in Chicago. Two hundred sixty-three kids were dead because of violence. Four thousand shot and 263 dead. Congregations of all faiths and other non-profits had gathered together to form Urban Dolorosa to say we had to stop the denial, the ignorance, the indifference, the hopelessness. They were calling for a comprehensive, coordinated plan to end the blood bath.

 

Now, I walked in there expecting I would hear community leaders rage about, you know, how decades of injustice and marginalizing whole communities, was a recipe for violence. I thought they would remind us that the very victims of the carnage are the people who are getting blamed. I thought I’d hear politicians who would make speeches about how unemployment, inferior education, and pouring resources into youth and community development, this would benefit all of us. But that’s not what I had walked into at all. No, instead, this memorial was a, kind of, sacred musical cane. A mix of opera and choral music, sung in English and Spanish with strains of the blues and African-American spirituals, punctuated by a poetic libretto with an art installation and candlelight and photographs projected images of those left behind. Tear stained faces wide in disbelief or pinched tight in pain. Pictures of people holding each other up – their grief too much to bear alone. My surprise of what this memorial was, quickly melted into a feeling that, yes, this was exactly right. This was how to remember children who would never grow up to be young men and young women.

I remember a poem I read in college, it stayed with me all these years, by the poet Bill Knott; just three simple lines.

The only response
 to a child’s grave is
 to lie down before it and play dead

And then youth performers walked the aisles and took photographs from people. Photographs of their slain loved ones. And they brought those photographs to the altar and began to build this tall sculpture of smiling children’s faces – a mound of grief growing before us. And then they scattered all about as the names were read. “Rahim Washington, Eva Henry, Jose Corona…” Each name pierced the air!

And those youth performers, one of them came right by me. A 16-year-old girl with a round face, a very solemn face, so close her hand was brushing my shoulder and she lit her candle and she leaned over and lit mine and then gestured with her head for me to light the candle, the man beside me.  And all of a sudden, candlelight was swimming up and down the pews of St. Sabinas as more names were read. “Alanzo Jones, Kabauro Ottowani, Arianna Gibson…” It was as if I could hear a drumbeat underscoring every name, every life.  And then, this teenager blew out her flame, and poof, poof, poof, all of the sanctuary, flames gone, blown out. And she handed me her extinguished candle and left. It took me a moment to look into the aisle beside me and see her shoes were still there. All up and down the aisles of St. Sabinas. No more teens, just their empty shoes. My heart collapsed, gave way to the sound of a beating drum, and the memory flooded in.

Nineteen sixty-five. The first time I saw him, he was playing the drums or I should say an upside-down waste basket. I had met Cecil 46 years before. We were both 15 years old and we were at the YCS regional conference. YCS. Young Christian Students. I had met, I had joined the local group at my school that year and I decided to go to the regional conference. It was held at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana just about an hour and a half outside of Chicago. Oh, it was a whole week at the end of summer. Seminars and speakers and panel discussions. It was such great fun. And most of all it meant friendships with kids from all over the city and neighboring states. And since things were completely segregated in the 1960s, that meant for most of us it would be our first interracial experience.

Now the night I met Cecil, we girls decided to sneak out of our dorm. We were going to sneak out of our dorm and go to the boys’ dorm after curfew. For someone like me who rarely broke the rules, this was high adventure. We dressed in dark turtlenecks and long pants. I could almost hear the theme music from the I Spy TV show. Wah wah wah wah. We actually crawled on our bellies, like, pulled ourselves with our elbows across this long empty field that separated us from the boys. And when we got to the boys’ dorm, those boys were in ecstasy… And not at all interested in us. Cecil, of slight build and wearing glasses and his friend tall, thin Joe, had instructed the other boys, who were white, and how to turn their metal wastebaskets into drums. And they’d given them the steady pulse that most of the boys could handle. And then Cecil and Joe, they played on top of their beat. Now Joe was like the master of ceremonies. He’d tipped back in his chair and drum between his legs and the call out to the boys and encourage them. “That’s right. You’re doing it. That’s right. That’s right.” Master of ceremonies.

Cecil was the serious one. He would cock his head to one side always an ear down to the drum. Monitoring if the intent and effect were one in the same. His rhythm seemed to come from the base of his spine, crawl up his back, push his arms from behind so fast that his hands would blur. These boys looked so blissed out, their faces seemed to say, “Yes. What you’re playing goes with what I’m playing, goes with what he’s playing. Yes, yes, yes. We’re in this together. Yes.”

Well, after that regional conference, at the end of the week. We had small group discussions throughout the week. Oh, Cecil was in my group so I saw him every day. And we talked about group leadership and school spirit and racial stereotyping. And sometimes after that seminar Cecil and I just weren’t done; we had to keep talking, piggybacking off of each other’s ideas. We walked the cinder running track back behind the classrooms.

Cecil’d say things like, “They should have a UN for kids!” And I go, “Yeah!” I’d agree. “Yeah! I wish we could meet kids from China and Africa and France!” Having just met kids from the other side of the city, the other side of the color line, we were ready to take on the world. And then by the end of that week was Friday night dance. Now in my neighborhood the thought of dancing with a boy who was black, it would have been unheard of. An impossibility, but by the end of the week, hey, Cecil was my pal. Of course, I would dance with Cecil.

And when Cecil came towards me. He was shorter than me. He looked tall and elegant. And he took my hand like it was a jewel. And he walked me out to an empty space on the dance floor and we began to slow dance. Now in my neighborhood, slow dancing meant the boys and girls would fall on each other and kind of move sideways, swaying like zombies. But with Cecil slow dancing meant walking coolly, purposefully, covering that dance floor three, four times with space between your bodies to twist and dip.  Cecil would duck under my arm, he would twirl me in light circles. He would graze his hand across my waist as he circled me. I looked great just standing there.

Well, after that regional conference, I joined citywide YCS. And so did Cecil. We had meetings. We had more dances. We had picnics at the lakefront. We had press conferences to announce our newest initiatives but, most of all, what we did was plan study days, kind of like the regional conference. We bring kids together from all over the city and we would study, look at some kind of social justice issue. And once Cecil and I co-chaired a study day examining the black power movement. Ah, the day was exciting and contentious and scary and thrilling. We got people thinking and some people really upset and angry. And I just remember afterwards sharing a Coke with Cecil and the two of us sitting there saying, “We did it! We did it!” Though, I don’t think either of us quite knew what we had done.

I remember that last leadership meeting in 1967, we were juniors in high school. It was the last meeting that Cecil attended. One of our adult mentors suggested an icebreaker for the beginning of the meeting. He said, “Why don’t you go ‘round and everybody say how they want to be remembered. You tell us what you would want written on your gravestone.”

Well, Katie went first and she said, “I want my gravestone to say she was alive.” And I went next and I joked I want my gravestone to say she IS alive. And everybody started laughing. And then Cecil said. Cecil said. Cecil said, “What?” See, he’s after me and I thought this mixture of pride and self-consciousness because I made everybody laugh so I don’t remember what Cecil said. I mean he was the good listener not me. What did Cecil want on his gravestone. It became so important to remember.

The first thing we heard was that he’d been shot. I stayed on the phone with YCS friends long into the night. It was as if we held a phone vigil. Maybe we could pull him through. Cecil and Joe had been to a dance in their neighborhood that night and they were walking home and this other kid, older a little bit. They didn’t know him. Walked up to them and said, “Where are you from?” And Cecil, just as any good, Catholic, Chicago kid would, he answered, his parish, Sacred Heart. “BOOM!” Just like that. The kid took out a gun and shot him. Cecil’s chest lay open to the moonless sky. We didn’t know many details, we just heard that Joe didn’t know what to do. I mean stay with this friend or go run for help. There were no cell phones back then. And I just keep picturing Joe with Cecil, then running to get help and then like a film thrown into reverse, running back.  And then, “No, no! We should get help.” And running, just not knowing what to do.

I’d never been to the wake of a young person, a teenager, somebody my age. When we got to the funeral home, women with hats and powdery cheeks and older women smelling of perfume were milling about. And I was in grief before I even walked into that main room because I realized that Cecil had grown up much as I did. Leaned into the body of mothers and aunties and grandmas. The soft flesh of women’s arms wrapped around him, falling asleep in the heat of their bodies. And I knew with surety that the dividing line, that color line, in our city separated me not only from my black friends but from the familiness of my black friends. And then I saw, uh, Joe and as high as his face could lift and a smile was how far it fell. His skin hung loose over his jaw. “Thanks for coming,” he said. Still the master of ceremonies, we YCS kids, white, black and brown walked to the casket together.

We stared at Cecil’s body of brackish dust.  Part death, part Cecil, still. He looked like a jewel floating on the white, pleated linen below him. He looked so young, like a child. Way too young to be dead. I saw that dead people looked a lot like. White people may be a little more pasty, chalky, white. Black people may be more ashy gray. But both as far away as the deepest stone at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

The adults, they knew the manners of death. They held out holy cards to people. They, they prayed their Hail Marys and Our Fathers. But we kids were lucky, we were young, we didn’t have to say things like, “Oh, he looks good.” No, we just stood there silent…shattered. Maybe it was me, I don’t know, who broke first. I don’t know who fell on me and who I fell where my body began or where it ended. I just know the room melted away as we cradled each other in front of Cecil McClure’s casket.

It’s as if we just wanted to crawl into each other’s comfort. To hold each other as we felt the truth of it. Our friend is dead. Our friend dead. Our friend is dead. The truth beat against our hearts like a drum.

“Terence Hollands, Delvonta Porter, Devon Varner…” the reading,  the memorial reading of the names continues. Four thousand children shot, 263 children dead. The only response to a child’s grave is to lie down before it and play dead. The same youth performers came out into the sanctuary again. My same teen, my sentinel, at my side, appeared and she gestured for me to stand up. And all over the sanctuary, the teens were leading us outside for a profession, procession, a procession through our neighborhood to reclaim our streets. To put an end to violence.

A musician, one of the violinists, led that procession. Playing a song, now a refrain, we had heard often in the service, so everybody began to sing. “Pour out your heart like water for the lives of our children. Let justice roll like an ever-flowing stream.” We turned a corner and television cameras appeared. It felt like an obstruction, kind of obscene. You know, we’ve been in the quiet of the sanctuary, then the quiet of the night and then, boom, these bright white lights. Like a self-conscious kind of spectacle. But also, you know, lending a kind of layer extra layer of importance to the ritual. I mean we did want people to know. To know so that maybe we could believe that the denial was over. People were coming together because it was in our power to change things.

When their procession was over, I hugged my teen goodbye. I thanked her. And I went to walk to the parking lot to get my car but I thought, “No, I’ll go in the church and a look. I’ll just see.”  I went into the church and I found it. The sign-in book was still there. I found my name and I checked yes. Yes, I had lost a loved one to violence. Yes, I will work for peace. Have to commit to peace.  For all the children still living, growing and dreaming in every neighborhood across this nation.

Yes.

On the Bus: Saved By an Angel

 

Story Summary:

 A woman tells Jon the story of how when she was a girl a perfect stranger saved her from arrest and worse. The woman left before Jon could ask her more, but her story says that this could happen anywhere and at any time. Any of us may be called to help another.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: On-the-Bus

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Brainstorm a list of things you can do for others that shows kindness.
  2. When have you been afraid? What did or could someone have done to alleviate your fears?
  3. Why did the perfect stranger on the bus protect the young girl? Would you have done similarly?

 Resource:

 Themes:

  •  Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Jon Spelman. In the mid 1990’s, I began to tell an evolving collection of stories called, “I Still Believe: The Lives of Children and Extremities.” These are stories collected from North and South America, from Europe, from Asia, and from Africa. Stories about the faith and the strength of young people as they came up against oppression, racial, political, cultural pressure and violence. One of those stories, which was told to me, seems to me, to stand in for all those other stories because it, when it was told to me, had no time, no specific place, no specific political location. The story is called, “On the Bus,” and it’s from the point of view of a young girl.

I was on a bus at a time when people like me are not allowed to be on a bus or any form of conveyance. In a place where I was not supposed to be, at a time when I was not allowed to be outside. And I was not wearing the kinds of clothes that we were told to wear. Nor did I have any of the papers which would make me officially allowed to be there. But since I looked a lot like many of the people who did those things, I was nervous but not frightened. And then suddenly, in the midst of a block, the bus was stopped by four soldiers. Two got on the front, two got on the back, and immediately began to ask everyone for their papers.

Now I was frightened. And then a man near the front, who had apparently not had any papers, was taken out into the street and shot. And the soldiers got back onto the bus and I was terrified. They were coming closer and closer to me, closing in on both sides. And when they asked for my papers I knew that I would be destroyed.

And then, a man sitting next to me, I had not even looked at him, I certainly did not know him, he suddenly stood up and he started screaming at me, “You stupid, stupid girl! How many times do I have to tell you! What am I supposed to do about this?”

And at that, the four officers all came over and that they looked at us and, and he said to them, “Every time we leave the house. This morning when I left, I told her three times. I said, ‘Bring your papers.’ But does she remember to bring her papers. No, she does not. What is a father to do?”

The soldiers looked at him and they looked at me. They looked at each other and laughed. Then they quickly checked his papers, and the papers of a few more people, got off the bus, and we continued on our way.

I sat there staring at the floor. I dared not reveal in my face what I was feeling for this, this angel who had saved my life. I was still staring at the floor when several stops later, the man got up and started for the exit. But before he went through that door, he turned back to me and he said, “Oh, and today please, when you go home, help your mother with the baby.” And he was gone. And I was alive.

Take Me To Your Leader

 

Story Summary:

 Can you see antennas on this middle aged white woman? “Aliens” (the word used for people from other countries) come from places other than Mars. During the McCarthy witch-hunts (a period of anti-communism intensity), the Cold War and the Space Race, we all learned to “blend” our ethnic identities.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Take-Me-To-Your-Leader

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why was Yvonne’s family able to legally become naturalized citizens while other people came to the U.S. as “illegals”?
  2. How old do you think Yvonne needed to be before she understood what it meant to become a U.S. citizen?

Resource:

  •  The Irish in America by Michael Coffey

Themes:

  •  Crossing Cultures
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Yvonne.  And I’m seven years old and the Pittsburgh Federal Building reaches right up to the sky, for real!  There are bars on the windows.  There may be daffodils blooming on the lawn but the entrance looms like a great, big mouth ready to swallow us up.  Awe…it looks an awful lot like the wicked fortress of the Wicked Witch of the West.  But…really… it’s the Pittsburgh Federal Building and this is the Steel City, not the Emerald City of Oz.

“Come on in.  Come along,” says Mummy.  “Let’s go.” So we go inside.  And we’re going inside the Federal Building.  Now, you see, I may be seven years old but I know what a federal building is.  We have a federal building in our own little town in Pennsylvania.  We go there, my dad and I, to mail packages back home to Ireland.  And our whole family goes there all together once a year for something special.  We go and we stand right up to the counter and then we hold our hands up, and out loud, we say the alien promise.  And then we sign our names.  Mine’s in block cursive.  And all the other people buying stamps, they’re staring at us because we’re aliens.  Well, that night we go home and watch TV and on the TV, there are the McCarthy Witch Trials.  And on that show, there are people who…who are getting yelled at and jailed because they’re aliens.

Well, I go to the mirror afterwards and I’m looking through my black hair for my antennae.  Because aliens have antenna.  I know that because I watch TV.  I watched Chiller Science Fiction Theater.  And aliens have antennae, Martians have antennae.  So I must have antennae.  The only time I see aliens is on TV because there are no other aliens in my town.  Everybody else is a real American.  But, you know, I don’t think antennae can come out.  They’re kind of stuck in there.  Because my… my teacher, Sister Camella, she likes to hit me on the head with the big, thick Geography book.  She does that whenever I accidentally use the language that we speak at home, Gaelic Irish.  She says, “Blend! Why don’t you blend?  Why don’t you speak like your friend, Star?  She’s a real American!  But you, you’re always going to be just alien!”  Star is a real American.  She speaks nicely.  And she has blonde hair and blue eyes.  And she doesn’t have to go down to the post office.  And she doesn’t cook funny food.  That’s what my friends say when they come over.

But anyway, so this is a special day!  (I don’t want to think about that.)  This is a special day.  This is the day I’m gonna be naturalized.  I didn’t know I wasn’t natural but now I know.  It’s going to be ok, ’cause today, I’m going to be naturalized.  So… I’ve been practicing my cursive.

And now Daddy and Mummy and my big sister and I are sitting in a bench right beside these big wooden doors.  One after another, our names are called in.  They go in separately because Daddy, Daddy thinks that… if Ireland declares war on the United States we’re gonna each need our own papers so we don’t get deported.  Tá mé na hÉireann agus tá mé Meiriceánach.  I’m Irish and I’m American.  Then they called my name.  And there are these black pants and a blue shirt and a yellow badge and a strange face.  And my mum pushes me.  “Go on, go on.”  I can’t believe that my mum is telling me to go with this stranger after she’s always going on about never going with strangers.  And now she’s making me go off into this big scary building with this scary man that I’ve never seen before! And he smells bad! We’re walking through those doors and we’re in a courtroom.  Only… only it’s not like the courtroom one on the TV show Perry Mason.  It’s got all the benches.  But this one’s dark and empty.  And my patent leather shoes are going, “whap, whap, whap,” as I go down the aisle following that stranger.  We get to the end, he gives me a little push.  And in front of me there’s this big, black tower of wood…I don’t want to go.  He says, “Go to the Judge’s Bench.”  …I don’t say it but I’m, like, that’s not a bench, that’s not a seat, that’s not a desk.  That’s a tower!  He gives me another push and I get a little further and I see there are little steps going up the side.  So, ok, I go up the steps.  And then it turns a corner and now I’m surrounded by black wood.  Heavy, thick, black wood.  I am all alone.  And the black wood just gets closer and closer and the air is getting squeezed out.  And I’m alone in this big black tower and then I hear, “Hey!”  And there’s a man, an old man’s face kind of poking out around the corner.  Is it the wizard?  Or the judge?   He motions to come closer.  So, he says, “Don’t worry.  Don’t worry.  I’m sure you remember the answers.”

And he says, “Who’s the president of the United States?”

I think to myself, “Oh my gosh, everybody knows that it’s the man with the shiny head.”  But I say, like a lady, I say, “General Eisenhower.”

And he says, “Who discovered America?”

And I say, “Christopher Columbus but it was named after the matchmaker, Amerigo Vespucci.”

And then he says, “Alright, this is a tricky one but you look like a smart little girl, how many states are there?”

“Forty-nine, Alaska just got in.”

“Congratulations,” he says.  “You are now an American citizen.  You may sign the book and repeat after me.”

And I hold my hand up like him, and just like you probably remember, I say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”  I sign my name in big round cursive letters.  Now, I’m an American, a real American and I’m Irish too!

Vietnamese Refugees: An American Immigration Story

 

Story Summary:

 The true story of a Vietnamese teenager who makes it to America after a harrowing boat journey and refugee camp. At a commemorative storytelling event honoring Vietnamese Americans, Sue witnesses the transformative power of story as this young man shares his American immigrant story. The community of listeners that storytelling creates makes a new country feel like home.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Vietnamese-Refugees-An-American-Immigrant-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1.  America and Canada represent a moral ideal for some people in other parts of the world. What is that ideal?
  2. Even in miserable surroundings people seek friendship; what does this say about our human need for connection? Neal and Tom were friends, yet Neal had no idea of his friend’s torment. How do we choose what to share and what to keep private from our friends?
  3. Why had Neal had not told Tom’s story before the storytelling workshop? How did it help him to share his story?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Asian American/Asians
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Immigration
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Suzanne O’Halloran and I started to learn what home could mean to people on a whole other level when I was involved in an oral history project in 2005.  April, 2005 was the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the end of the Vietnam War.  And I was hired by the Society of the Divine Word to collect stories from some of their brothers and priests… about 25 folks who had escaped from Vietnam after the war.  Well, the story gathering was gonna happen in the day and then in the evening, we were gonna have a public concert… part of our Just Stories-Storytelling Festival.  Now, the first man I interviewed, his name was Neil.  When Neil was 16 years old, his family helped him escape from Vietnam.  But, unfortunately, he wound up, he ended up, in a not so nice refugee camp that wasn’t run by the U.N.  Neil said that the guards were mean.  I mean, they could just throw you in the blockade, no due process whatsoever.  Neil, every night in a platform tent with 27 other people, like, lined up like sardines.  And they would just get a little bit of food… like a bowl of rice, maybe a little fish, couple of vegetables and that had to last for several days.  And most of all, you had to be really careful that nobody stole your food.  But Neil made a friend, a boy a couple years older than him named Tom.

Tom had escaped Vietnam when he was 14 years old.  And Tom and Neil met in a Bible study class.  And as they got to know each other, Tom slowly told his story to Neil.  Now, Tom escaped as well, in the bottom of a boat; 64 people hiding at the bottom of a boat.  And this captain put fishing tackle, you can imagine all the smelly things, on top of them to hide ‘em.  And they motored out this channel and they stopped.  And everybody was so scared.  They figured they must have paid off some guards, ‘cause they kept on going.  Now, they got out to sea and things were going pretty well.  It was just a day or two trip over to Thailand.  And then the motor died.  And there they sat for two days.  Now they hadn’t brought food.  People escaped with what they had on their backs.  Now luckily the captain was bringing some hot sauce to a friend of his in Thailand.  And they had that case of hot sauce.  So each day, a couple a times a day, they’d lined up to get just one little dollop of this hot sauce to lick and that was it.  No water, nothing!

Well, finally, they saw a ship.  They were so excited!  “We’re over here!  We’re over here!”  But when that ship came closer, they discovered it was pirates.  We think of pirates like, you know, Peter Pan or something.  It just means pirates at sea.  And those men just hopped on board and they took… if people have watches, if they had any money on them, any food, and they even took that motor in case they could fix it.  But worse than that, they stabbed all the people so there would be no witnesses and threw them overboard.  So Tom found himself in the middle of the ocean.  Now, he had the presence of mind, there he was stabbed and bleeding, to take off his pants; kind of like these pajama kind of pants so they had cloth to them.  So he blew air in either and tied a knot in either end of the legs and used it like an inner tube to hang on.  Now, he doesn’t know for sure ’cause he was in and out of consciousness but he knows he went through a night so he was probably hanging there for a day.

And then another day went by and he was having to fight off fish.  And finally he thought, “This is it.  I’m giving up.” And he let go, he started sinking down to the bottom.  And he heard this voice inside him say, “No.  It’s not your time.” So he kind of bobbed back up just as he saw this big, red, plastic gas can floating by. So Tom climbed up on that and he hung there for a whole other day.  And then another ship came by and this time, thank God, it wasn’t pirates.  It was Thai fisherman.  But Thai fisherman had been told that if they picked up any more Vietnamese refugees, they would be in some big trouble.  They would lose their license.

But what are you going to do if you see a kid hanging on a gas can in the middle of the ocean?  Thank God, they did the right thing.  They stopped and picked up Neil. (Tom) Now, he had hypothermia by then.  They tried to warm him up and he were trying to tell them there were 63 other people.  And they went around, they motored around, they couldn’t find.  It seemed Neil (Tom) was the only survivor.  So they got him as close to shore as they dare because they didn’t want to lose their license.  They put him back in the water and Tom, I’m saying Tom, swam back to land.  And all kinds of stories but he finally made his way to the same horrible refugee camp.

Now, when they got there, they’d be questioned.  “Are you a Communist? Are you a spy?”  Because, of course, he showed up with no ID on him.  And how you got sponsored if you got out to another country, depended on how you answered these questions and, of course, with this kinda refugee camp, if you had a little money to grease the wheels.  And Tom had neither so he had been there for 4 years already when Neil met him.

There’s this one day, right before Bible study and they were sitting there talking.  And, well, Tom was really down but that wasn’t unusual.  You can imagine, in this kinda refugee camp, people got very depressed.  And Tom excused himself to go to the bathroom.  Now the bathroom at this refugee camp was just a hole in the ground with little trees around it for a little bit of privacy.  Well, Bible study started.  Tom didn’t show up.  Neil got worried.  He went looking for his friend.  And he found him.  Tom had hung himself.  He just despaired of ever getting out of that refugee camp.

And Neil said to me, “Well, they burned his body and sent his ashes back to Vietnam.  He finally made it back home.  He was caught in limbo all those years; he couldn’t go home, he couldn’t go forward.  And Neil said to me, “When Tom died, it was like a part of me died.”  And then he looked right at me and said, “I’ve never told anybody that story before.  I have never spoken of Tom before!”

Now, this was my first interview, and like 25 more to go!  And I heard these incredible stories of escape and family sacrifice, and idealism and loss.  So we got an idea.  That night was supposed to be the professional storytelling concert.  So I asked some of these brothers and priests if they would be willing to share their stories.  So that night the professional tellers did their marvelous, usual wonderful job and then these brothers got up and shared their stories.  And I’m telling ya, they stole the show!  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  They got a standing ovation.  And afterwards, Neil came up to me and said, “You know, it was very painful to share these stories today but important.  I have been here for almost 20 years but because of the way this audience, these people, listened to our stories, I feel like I’ve finally arrived in America.  I feel like I’m finally home.”  And that is the power of sharing and listening to each other’s stories.

A Yiddish King Lear

 

Story Summary:

 A Yiddish King Lear is about hard choices, hopes, dreams, racial persecution, and love! It tells of the moment Judith realized that her grandfather, Oscar Markowitz, an actor in the Yiddish Theatre at the turn of the 20th Century was her role model as a Storyteller. Remembering her grandfather’s background, gave her the courage to pursue her dreams. A Yiddish King Lear is set in the emotional, artistic and actual geographic crossroad of Second Avenue in New York City in the early 1900’s and in the 1970’s.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: A-Yiddish-King-Lear

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who in your family is an unsung hero or heroine? 
How has this person influenced your life and/or helped you make important decisions? What might you like to learn more about this person?
  2. If you have ever moved, gone to a new school, relocated to a new country or community, what have you brought with you? Why are these things important? These things can be memories, values, traditions – intangibles. A few special objects are often passed down from one generation to another and are cherished.
Does your family have any of these items? If so, tell their stories! 
You can also discuss what you left behind and how that affects you.
  3. Describe a time when you have either experienced feeling like “the other” or perhaps excluded others. What prompted these situations?

Resources:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Jewish Americans/Jews

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Judith Heineman. Did you ever want something so badly that you were willing to give up everything for it? This is an excerpt of a longer piece about my grandfather called, “A Yiddish King Lear.”

When I was eight, I played Snow White and the prince refused to kiss me. I lay there waiting, my heart palpitating, “Psst. Kenny you’re supposed to kiss me, now.” I lay there on a hard, narrow, wooden bench taken from the seating area in the social hall. “Psst, Kenny, now.”

Well, I may not have known what the word “improvised” meant, but I arose from my poisoned slumber and I chased Kenny Eppstein, the cutest 9-year-old in camp, around the wishing well. My Prince Charming was not escaping without a kiss and he kissed me on the cheek. This Snow White took place in a summer bungalow colony, in the Catskills, in New York. And my grandfather, Oscar Markowitz, who was about 75 at the time, was taking care of me. My mother worked in the city and came up on weekends. We lived in the first bungalow, a tiny unwinterized, rented cabin. And we came home for lunch. And after rehearsal, I was so excited that I ran into the house and I said, “Grandpa, Grandpa, when I grow up, I am going to be an actress.”

He turned from the stove with a blackened frying pan in one hand, a dish rag in the other. And he just looked at me, with the strangest look. He didn’t say anything. And then he turned back to burning my lunch.

That weekend my mother came up to see me as Snow White. And I said, “Mom, when I grow up I’m going to be an actress.”

“What do you want to be an actress for? You’ll never make any money as an actress. Forget this narish, this foolishness, and do something practical. Be a teacher.”

Something must have penetrated because I did become a teacher. I became a high school English and journalism teacher in New York City. And I was teaching near the East Village, in the West Village. The heyday of the off, and off, off Broadway movement. So, I would teach during the day, and I would audition after work. And I would perform in strange places, in storefronts, and black boxes, and sub-sub-basements. And so, I would perform and I would think, “Why am I doing this? This is so difficult. Why am I hitting my head against the wall? I have no role models. There’s nobody in my family who is an actor. What’s possessing me like a dybbuk or a demon or something, where I have to do this?”

And there I was on Second Avenue, New York City, going into a sub-sub-basement of an experimental theater, and my foot froze on the stair. How could I have forgotten? How could I have forgotten? And his voice came flooding back to me. My grandfather, Oscar Markowitz, he of the burning lunches, wasn’t always Oscar Markowitz. He was Oschar Marko, an actor in the Yiddish theater from Romania. And he wasn’t just any actor, he was a very good actor. He had to have been a good actor because he was sponsored by the Rothschild banking family, the banking family that dominated all the capitals of Europe in the 19th century. The Rothschilds were sponsoring Jewish actors to escape from Romania, to travel across Europe, and come to the United States. And it wasn’t just an international tour. No. They were helping them to escape the religious persecution, the poverty, and the bloody pogroms that were plaguing Eastern Europe and Romania at that time, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, a bloody pogrom, a government sanctioned race riot against Jews.

What kind of future did he have? And in 1893, when he was 12 years old, laws were passed that said no Jewish child can have a public education anymore. And then, as if overnight, new laws were passed, that if you didn’t have government rights, and Jews didn’t, the men couldn’t pursue careers. And 40 percent of them lost their jobs. But even still, how could he possibly leave everything that he had known, his family and his country for an uncertain future? But he was an actor and he came to the United States and finally found his way down, down, downtown to Second Avenue, New York City, the home of the Yiddish theater.

And his voice came flooding back to me singing in a language that I didn’t understand. And he said he was singing King Lear in Yiddish. Now, you have to understand, this was not Shakespeare’s King Lear. This was a Goldfadden King Lear. This was a guilty King Lear. This was a suffering King Lear. This was a Jewish King Lear. And when immigrants came to the theater, they didn’t sit back to just be entertained. Oh no. The theater was a temple of learning, this was education. They would grab their children and they’d say, “See, see that man suffering on stage? That’s what you’re doing to us, you ungrateful first generation American children. Can’t you respect us? Respect the old ways? Respect our traditions?”

And there, on the Lower East Side, he met a landsman, a neighbor, a friend. Her name was Dora. And they fell in love and he asked her to marry him. And she went to her father and said, “Papa, Papa, this is Oschar Marko and he’s asked me to marry him. He’s an actor. A very good actor. An actor in the Yiddish theater.”

And curses in Yiddish spewed forth from her father’s mouse, mouth and he said, “An actor! No daughter of mine is going to marry an actor! An actor is a gun of a thief a no-goodnik! The lowest of the low! The devil!”  “And you,” he said to my grandfather, “if you want to marry my daughter, you have to get a respectable profession!”

What could he do? How could he choose between his acting that had saved his life and the woman he loved? That would be the only family he would know in this new world. Would King Lear have to be silenced? And he chose. And he became a respectable and often unemployed house painter. Adorning other people’s dreams while designs for his own lay tattered in a Sienna portfolio, a still life unframed with forged signatures. And he was bitter and frustrated for the rest of his life except…when he would sing to me in a language I didn’t understand. And I would sit by his knee and he would hold court in his third floor, rent controlled, Bronx apartment. And I would sit at his knee. And his chest would rise and he would sit on his throne, a gray brocaded armchair with fringes along the bottom, and his chest would rise, his hands would rail to the ceiling, still steady in his 90’s. And he would become a young man of 19 again in the year 1900. The dawn of a new century with all the promise of anything he could have imagined before him. And he would sing all the frustration and pain and sorrow of King Lear. And, although, I did not know what each word meant individually, his song still sings inside me in mame loshn, a mother tongue, and needs no translation.

Plastic Glory

 

Story Summary:

 Linda’s grandmother lived in what her sisters and she called “The Plastic Palace.” Her grandmother covered everything with plastic. Everything … chairs, tables, lampshades … and, of course, her living room couch, including the throw pillows. Plastic is fun, right? But who would suspect that it could also set off a painful memory of the Vietnam War for Linda’s father?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Plastic-Glory

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What intrigues you about the home of your grandparents or other older people? What do you smell, taste, hear, or touch when you visit their homes?
  2. How does the description of food add to the visual image of the dining room scene?
  3. Were you surprised at the twist near the end of the story? How did her father’s reaction to the popping sound affect you?
  4. Do you know someone who has fought overseas in a war? Have you ever talked with them about their experiences? If you could, what would you ask?
  5. The term ‘shell shock’ has been changed to ‘post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What do you know about it?

Resources:

  • The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You about What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War by Kevin Sites
  •  Once a Warrior–Always a Warrior: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home–Including Combat Stress, PTSD, and MTBI by Charles Hoge
  • What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Family and Childhood
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Linda Gorham and I remember my grandmother’s obsession with plastic. She covered everything with it: furniture, accessories. Now, I know this was universal. I meet a lot of people tell me that their family covered things with plastic. When I was young though, back in the 60’s, actually, I thought it was a black thing. But I learned that it’s pretty universal. I loved visiting my grandparents’ house because there was no dust. There was no dirt. There was no stain in her house, at least not under the plastic, you know what I mean.

But when I would go there, well, I would go on plastic hunts to discover all the ways that she had used plastic. It was really, really cool. In the living room, there were white lamps, you know. Regular lamps with big white shades? Those white shades were covered in plastic, of course. In the hall closet there were wooden hangers, all of those wooden hangers were covered with a plastic bag from the cleaners. I remember the hallway to my grandparents’ house. It was a long hallway that started at the foyer and it went all the way back to the kitchen. And covering that hallway was a gray hallway rug but to protect the rug it was covered in plastic. You see where I’m going with this, right?

In the dining room, there were dining room chairs. They were gorgeous and they had cushions on them that were kind of paisley. But to protect the cushions, they were covered in plastic. You know something cool about plastic cover,s dining room chairs when you sit down on them? They exhale. Aah. then, when you get up they inhale. Ooh. It’s kind of cool jumping up and down on them. Aah. Ooh. Aah. Ooh.

But the thing I remember that was the most fun, was the living room couch in my grandparents’ house. Yes, it was covered in plastic but this part I will never know how this happened, the pillows, throw pillows, they were covered in plastic too. But…I figured out a way to jump on that couch and to make a loud noise like POP. And I called it the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I loved making the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I love saying the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My grandmother didn’t approve. But that’s another story.

Well, when I was about 12 or so, my father, who was in the military, announced that he was being transferred. No actually, when I think about it, I was probably more like eight. And so, we moved from New Jersey, where he was stationed, up to Alaska, and then to Fort Benning, Georgia – two transfers. And then while we were in Georgia, my father said to me that he was being, well, not transferred. He used the word I had never heard before – deployed. He was being sent to Vietnam and while he was gone, he told my mother and my two sisters that I had at that point, he said, “You’re all going to go back and live with my parents,” he said. My grandparents, his parents, my grandparents. And the next thing I knew, my father was shipped off to Vietnam and I was back in the plastic palace. That’s what I called it.

Now, I was a little bit older – that’s when I was about 12. But my sisters, well, they didn’t really remember all the plastic stuff so I took them on a hunt, you know, to show them that the things; the, the chairs and the, the plastic on the hangers and all the things that my grandmother covered in plastic. The best thing was that couch because you know what I taught them. How to make the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My youngest sister, Carol loves being able to say “fart” out loud. But I was older, and truthfully, I was the only one who really understood where my father went. And I guess, it’s also fair to say, I was the only one of the children who realized that he may not come back or he may not come back the same. So, plastic took on a different, it just it was different for me. I wasn’t interested in all the other things that Gail and Carol liked.

I remember before my father left, he gave me a plastic globe and he showed all of us where Vietnam was. And I remember sitting in my room, at night, trying to put my finger approximately on New Jersey and try to stretch my thumb to Vietnam. It was a long way away. But somehow, just touching that plastic globe made me feel closer to my father.

I can remember every night, at 6 o’clock, my mother and I would sit on the living room couch, our bodies stuck to the plastic, and our eyes glued to the television set. Because every day at 6 o’clock, on the news, we’d watch. We’d watch to see if my father’s unit had been in battle. And we watched those names of fallen soldiers scroll down the screen. More names after more names after more names; too many names.

I can remember the day that my father came home. The doorbell rang his special code, three rings.  And my sisters and I screamed, “Daddy’s home!” And we went running and slipping down that long hallway runner and into his arms. I think, and I don’t really remember, but I, re, kind of think he picked all of us up at the same time. And there was so much laughter and joy and tears in that foyer. It must’ve lasted forever. But I remember when he finally put us down, and did all the kissing and hugging, he, he walked down the hallway runner hung, his coat up in the closet. And then he walked over to the dining room table ’cause there was lots of food on that table. macaroni and cheese. My grandmother made the best macaroni and cheese in the world! I didn’t know back then, the most fattening macaroni and cheese in the world. But hey, who cared. And a whole stack of steaks. My father sat down on those plastic cover dining room chair cushions. And cushions, exhaled. Aah. Daddy’s home.

We had so much fun that day! At the dining room table, we ate, we talked, we laughed. And when Gail and Carol were finished eating, I remember, they excused themselves, which is a good thing to do, you know, and went into the living room. Now I wasn’t going to go over there where that couch was… you know, what I’m saying? And it wasn’t long before we heard it. POP, the ultimate plastic couch fart. I started to laugh and a few other people did too. But I looked at my father. He had jumped up from his seat. His eyes had just grown in size and his head was gyrating from side to side and his whole body was shaking. And I was scared for him. And I was scared for me. I learned a new word that day, shellshock. And I learned that, well, my father had come home from the war, but, unexpectedly, the war had come home with my father.

Now, I don’t remember how long we had to be quiet around him. It was weeks or months. I don’t remember but he did recover. That’s the good news. But I will tell you that, that night after everybody went to sleep, I helped my grandmother take the plastic off that living room couch and those dining room chairs. Because at my grandmother’s house, even though plastic used to be cool, now, plastic took a back seat when it came all too real.

The Book

 

Story Summary:

 Linda’s father had a little black book. He said it was written just for her and he said it was full of all the values she needed for a successful life. Linda loved it. She believed in it. But it took time to understand just what a gift it was.

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

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do your parents or caregivers have ‘words of wisdom’ they repeat all the time? What are they? What do they mean?
  2. Do you have favorite sayings? What makes them important?
  3. Linda’s father told her he had plans and dreams for her. What are your plans? Your dreams?
  4. Why is it important for adults to encourage young people?

Resources:

  • Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
  • The Arms That Are Needed: Daughters Reflect on Fatherly Love by Landra Glover
  • If: A Father’s Advice to His Son by Rudyard Kipling

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Linda Gorham. I want to tell you about my father. He had a little black book. Now, my father told me that the little black book was written just for me. And he said it had all the rules and the values and the morals that I needed to grow up to be a responsible adult. And I believed in the book. And whenever I did something wonderful something that, you know, made my father proud, my father would smile the sweetest smile. His right index finger would rise up in the air and my father would say, “It’s in The Book.” And I believed in the book. I believed in the notes and the morals and all the sayings in that book. To me, they were like notes to beautiful songs. And I was determined to sing those songs for the rest of my life. Now, I didn’t have to remember those words and values and morals in the book. My father repeated them over and over and over again.

I’m going to tell you three of them. He would say, “Education is paramount to success.” He would say, “Go to church every Sunday.” Now you know something interesting. My father only went to church on three times a year Mother’s Day, Christmas, and Easter. But he insisted that my sisters, my mother, and I go every single Sunday. That’s something else my father used to say, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.” Right? And then there was a thing my father said all the time. He said it all the time. “Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.”

My mother got so sick and tired of hearing him say that, that one day she whispered in my ear, “Pretentiously pompous planning, ticks me off.” The list went on and on and on. And I did everything I could to see my father smile and to hear my father’s famous four words of praise, “It’s in the book.”

But you know something? It wasn’t until I was an adult, married, and about to have my first child that I actually sat down with my father at the kitchen table. That’s where things happened, you know, the kitchen table. And I said, “Daddy tell me about The Book.” Oh, man, I’ll never forget it.

That smile came back on his face, his right index finger rose up. But this time he used it to adjust his glasses and he bit down hard on his pipe and he said, “Well, The Book. Did you know it came from my father?” He said, “Your grandfather?” And then my father said, “You know your grandfather was born in 1898 and died in Georgia.” And then my father went on to tell me a lot of other stuff.

Now, I knew everything he was telling me. I remember as a child when my parents would tell me stories, maybe this has happened to other people, you just sit and be quiet. You listen to them telling the story over and over and you hope that they one day add something new. And then he dropped it on me. He said, “Did you know your grandfather’s father was white?” Oh, boy! Now I was really listening. He said, “His mother was 14 years old, a black teenager. She and her family were sharecroppers. His father was the white landowner. It was not a consensual relationship.” And then my father said, “You know, his mother died in childbirth and your grandfather was raised, as they say, by a village of family members, assortment of family members.” He said, “You know, he only went to school until third grade and only when there was no work to be done in the fields picking cotton. Did you know your grandfather never learned to read until he was an adult? He taught himself.”

Now, I have to tell you, my brain was racing at this point. All these details coming into my head. Fourteen years old, died in childbirth. Father never acknowledge his responsibility. Raised by assorted family members. Third grade. Taught himself to read, only after he was old.

But I remembered something. Because you see, when my grandfather would leave the kitchen table after eating breakfast, he would go into the dining room. And he would spread out two newspapers, “The Jersey Journal” and “The New York Times.” And he would read them every morning cover to cover. And also, in the corner of the dining room, there was a great, big stack of “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines, you know, black people do not throw out “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines. Oh, no they don’t! And I can remember my grandfather turning to me on more than one occasion saying, “Education is paramount to success.” Reading the newspaper every morning.

And then my father went on with his story. He said, “You know how your grandfather told you that he left Guyton, Georgia, about age 15, and walked all the way to New Jersey? It’s not true. He took the train. And it’s a good thing,” my father said. “He got a job as a Pullman Porter. It was hard work. He had to carry the luggage of all those travelers. He had clean cars, railroad cars and sometimes he even worked in the kitchen and he didn’t get much respect. But he managed to eke out a good life for all of us.”

And then I remembered something else about my grandfather. You know, I remember him sitting on the front steps of 4075 Oak Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, his long legs crossed. And my grandfather would sit there in his rocking chair on the front porch. And anyone who walked past that house, he would smile and he would tip his hat, “How do?” he would say. “How do?” And I remember my grandfather turning to me on more than one occasion saying, “Treat everyone with respect even if they don’t treat you that way.”

Well, my father went on with his story. He said, “You know, your grandfather had no one to teach him. He learned by watching the men on the train, and the men in his neighborhood. He watched how they interacted with their children and their wives. He watched how they talked about investments and life and living and learning. And he wrote it all down in a little black book. Your grandfather passed that little black book on to me,” my father said. “And now, I have passed it on to you.” Now I never held that book in my hand. The way I looked at it, my father passed that book directly to my heart.

Now, I have to tell you something, I didn’t always live too close to my father because of where, you know transfers and things, so I would talk to him all the, all the time while our sons were growing up. And now our sons are 27 and 28. They’re, they’re great! They’re warm, they’re witty, they’re friendly, they’re smart and, yeah, they’re handsome too. But I will tell you, every time I talk to my father and I tell him about his grandsons and all the wonderful things they’re doing. Now, I can’t see that smile because we’re usually on the phone, and I can’t see that index finger because I know it’s a little shaky from Parkinson’s, but I can…I can know it’s there. Because I, I can sense that finger going up and I can sense that smile in his voice and he says, “Of course, my grandsons are doing well. It’s in The Book.”

I Wanted To Be an Indian

 

Story Summary:

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

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

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

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passing for WASP

 

Story Summary:

 Carol believes this statement: “To build a bridge from one culture into another and make pluralism a cause for celebration, we have to have one foot firmly planted in who we are.” However, in exploring her Polish and Scottish roots, Carol wonders if she’s really been living what she teaches.

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

Discussion Questions:

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

Resources:

Themes:

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

Full Transcript:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Robert, what are you?”

“I’m American.”

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

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

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

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

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

Well, I went to Arsenal Elementary School. I didn’t have that t