Archive for the ‘immigrants’ tag
“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.”
Confronting your past, and bravely telling your story (no matter how different you may feel) can help you realize that nobody is actually normal! That’s what Jeannette Walls talked about on Monday night at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins. Ms. Walls discussed her memoir The Glass Castle, and her nomadic childhood with eccentric parents who often seemed to make abnormal choices about raising their family. Her book describes the sometimes bizarre episodes in her life, but Walls was here to celebrate her survival. She’s not afraid to tell the truth about her life now, although for years she lived in fear that her friends and colleagues would reject her if they learned the details of same life. She spent many years feeling ashamed that her family was not like other families, but now believes that even when people seem to have “perfect lives,” that probably isn’t true. Her advice is that if we set aside the stereotypes that blind us to seeing people as individuals, we will see a world full of people all doing the same thing—doing their magnificent best to survive their circumstances.
Ms. Walls is compelled to read reviews of her book at Amazon.com, since they add to her process of self-discovery through writing and promoting her book. I looked up one entry that she talked about. The comment was made by beckybramer who knew Walls and her family while growing up in West Virginia, and she writes, “As I read, I was filled with sorrow and shame because I was one of those people who didn’t want to have close association with them because they were so different from me. I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself I saw things from a child’s maturity level. I wish I could apologize and find myself wondering what would have happened if I had befriended Jeanette. She could have enriched my li[f]e tremendously.”
This exchange makes me think about how important it is to build personal connections in our own community. To be successful, we have to include as many people as possible in defining who we think we are as a group. Who are we excluding because we believe they are too different to care about? Ms. Walls was not always an eloquent, humorous, and successful journalist, gossip columnist, and writer. She has learned from both sides of the issue, that people who think they are better than others, miss the mark. She successfully argues that one of the most basic things people have in common, is that we all have a story—and most stories have parts we might wish to leave out. Ms. Walls is convinced that if we bother to see the complexities in individual experience, and face the truths of our lives, we raise the odds of experiencing the true joy of living together. In case you’re wondering, after reading the Amazon post, Walls contacted beckybramer–not to accept an apology or express her pain, but to connect with her as a person and share their stories!
Many people in the audience at Lincoln Center, attended the Jeannette Walls event with other members of their book club. So here’s a shout out to all the book clubs that meet in the Fort Collins area—it was great fun to see so many readers out in the open! Whether or not you belong to a book club, you have opportunities to read with others in our community. On November 7-8, T. C. Boyle will be in our town to discuss his novel, Tortilla Curtain. Get your copy soon, so that you can join in this community-wide book club! Since 2002, Fort Collins Reads has encouraged multigenerational residents to read and meet each other. Each year, books are selected to engage both adults and teens, and this year’s readings add to our community discussion on immigration.
So here’s to being together! Remember, the more stories you give away, the more stories you’ll have!
“Things usually work out in the end.”
“What if they don’t?”
“That just means you haven’t come to the end yet.”
— Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle: A Memoir)
Thanks to B a m s h a d for the great reflection photo.
Around my house we’ve been listening to Dan Zanes and Friends on compact discs for a while, thanks to a gift from great friends. On Sunday, my daughter and I had the thrill of singing along or as Zanes put it “belting it out,” live at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, where everyone was encouraged to sing out loud. Zanes confessed that he had originally been asked to do a “concert” in Fort Collins, but that his heart was set on having a house party with us. If you didn’t make it to the party, you missed hundreds of Zanes’ friends singing and dancing in the aisles. For his rendition of Catch That Train! we joined together to make a human train thattravelled through the auditorium. From the stage, Zanes pointed out that we represented all ages, sizes and temperaments—he didn’t have to point out that we were having a ball. A couple of times fans shouted requests for favorites and Zanes sweetly suggested that they might be songs we could sing together in the lobby after the show, but that he was here to raise the roof! Kids and grownups spontaneously sang and danced together—nobody risked standing out in the crowd by not joining in! Dan Zanes and Friends make music for families and people of all ages—not music to just listen to, but music you can make at home and with family and friends. This means you have to get involved—you have to sing along–even if you don’t know the words!
The “Friends” part of Dan Zane and Friends are as eclectic as the music they make. They started out from all over the globe, just like the songs they perform. In Fort Collins, the band played ukeleles, an accordion, drums, fiddles, guitars, bass and more! On top of it all, they took turns singing! To truly understand the variety of music and instruments, you had to be there, but if you weren’t, take a look at the Dan Zanes and Friends website!
On Sunday, we didn’t gather to hear a group “play kids’ music,” we joined as new, old friends to play together and celebrate possibilities. Zanes acknowledged that we are living in “let’s just call it what it is—uncertainty.” But, even in uncertain times, we can come together and remember what makes us human. It is possible to imagine a world where everyone is part of a giant house party—you just have to start where you live. In Fort Collins, Dan Zanes and Friends illustrated that we don’t have to speak the same language, or even know the words to have fun together—some of his friends speak Spanish, and he’s learning, but that didn’t stop him from singing before he has all the pronunciation down. In his bright lime green jacket and pointy shoes, Zanes sang songs that celebrated the vibrant culture that comes with immigration, songs that represent our Spanish-speaking neighbors in the Americas. Zanes explained that making new friends, and learning from them, is a way to break out of categories based on ideas of age, language, and cultural difference. This is why his performance couldn’t just be what it’s “supposed to be,” people sitting quietly and listening at a concert.
Zanes also doesn’t want to stay quiet about immigration issues that affect our friends and neighbors. Before asking us to join him in singing “Welcome Table,” from his latest album, he shared his concern for the suffering of immigrant families trying to make their lives in the United States today. Proceeds from this album will support the work of the New Sanctuary Movement, a coalition of interfaith religious leaders and congregations that actively and publicly support immigrant families torn apart by deportation. The “Welcome Table,” is drawn from North American gospel traditions and poignantly reminds us that there are repercussions to how we treat each other.
On Zanes’ website it states that he sees himself as “the town conductor,” and after watching the faces of the singing audience he led out of the Lincoln Center auditorium, I think he has a point. Zanes and his collaborative band offered a model for playing together that can be applied not only to an auditorium, but to a street, a neighborhood, a town, a state, and beyond! What I’ll remember from Dan Zanes and Friends, is that if you gather together some accomplished musicians; some songs—new ones, and some you have heard before and forgotten; some local friends and neighbors; and if you are willing to join in, you can’t but have a house party! And, who doesn’t want to have a party? In Fort Collins, people who don’t look the same, sound the same, or even sing the same tune, proved that if we do it out loud, we can make music together. Zanes’ message is that some things are for certain, even when things are uncertain—good parties invite everyone to join in and don’t leave anyone out!
Home is where you feel free to dance!
If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any farther than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.
Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz
Our language tells us a lot about the complexity of how we construct meanings of home. Dictionaries provide long entries for the word “home,” which can be used as a noun, adverb, adjective and even as a verb. We talk and think about home towns, home states and home countries since “home is where the heart is,” and “there’s no place like home.” Home base is where we are stationed and from where a mission starts and ends. In games like baseball, home is a rubber slab that we dodge towards, avoiding being tagged “out.” Homing pigeons can return home by accurately finding a starting point from a long distance, and when we come to a deeper understanding we say a “point has been driven home.” Most of us would agree that a mere dwelling or house does not define home, although we interchange the words. Home is not always where you live, it is also a safe space, where you have the right to be—without question.
Decades of immigrants to the United States have created mythic narratives about finding home in America in numerous media forms. The archetypal hero quest is replayed in movie homecoming after homecoming. One of the best loved versions is The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy begins her journey by dreaming of distant lands, “somewhere over the rainbow.” When Dorothy loses her home (through an overwhelming tornado that she didn’t see coming) she journeys to a land that mirrors her home. Dorothy loses her home, and her understanding of her place in the world, only to realize that she had found it all along!
In the United States, at the time that The Wizard of Oz was made, the family farm had come to embody the ideal of home, and Americans were literally losing their homes. The Great Depression destroyed financial institutions, wiped out family fortunes, shattered the American Dream of family homesteads, and forced millions of Americans to become homeless. Currently, many Americans face similar conditions. Can we draw comfort by thinking about how to salvage our dreams together?
In The Hero and the Perennial Journey Home in American Film, Susan Mackey argues that the purpose of the hero quest is not limited to the discovery of a holy grail. It is also about finding oneself and finding a home in the universe. This ultimate understanding of home simultaneously includes the hero’s literal home at the start, as well as the personal growth he or she experiences during the journey back. Mackey-Kallis shows that an outward journey into the world of action and events is what propels the hero towards a journey inward. The journey outward is what creates an interior journey of growth and ultimately allows the hero to find and define home and then share (with the culture at large). Dorothy can’t wait to get back and tell her family about what she has learned!
This month in Fort Collins, we have the opportunity to really think about how we define home by attending Finding Home: Sharing the Collective Journey of Immigration events and discussions. Whether you have called the United States home for generations, or for a shorter time, current events and economics ask us to all really think about living together. The journey is not always easy, and we won’t always agree. But, if we are brave enough to question our personal definitions of home, we can collectively shape our future home. All of us long for an environment of affection and security—and we can embark on epic journeys of self discovery without leaving Fort Collins!
The next two weeks include opportunities to attend Anon(ymous) at the OpenStage Theatre & Company or the open house series at the Museo de las Tres Colonias which hosts Dr Norberto Valdez of CSU on April 21 and Toni Natale and Robert Lujan on April 28. Both of these events have been running through the month of April. Then this week, on Tuesday, April 14, Bas Bleu presents Immigration Tales: El Latino Experiencia followed by a showing of the Milagro Beanfield War on Wednesday April 15, at the Lyric Cinema Cafe. The weekend opens with Impact Dance’s presentation of BORDER/Lines happening on Friday and Saturday evenings and then also on Saturday, the Fort Collins Museum presents their Archival Workshop: The Memory Project where you can reserve a spot to create a digital album of your own stories for your family and friends!
Next week brings the first of our thought leader speakers — Frank Sharry will be at the Lincoln Center on Tuesday April 21 to engage us all in some earnest discussions of the controversial issues around immigration reform and then the weekend sees Dan Zanes entertaining us all on Sunday April 26 with his show Nueva York!
There’s more still to come — Check out the beetstreet calendar for all the details, and I’ll see you in our neighborhood!
I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.
Maya Angelou, American Poet
What does “home” mean to you? Does home mean a building, or somewhere that you feel comfortable? What tastes or smells like home? Collard greens, tortillas, steaming rice or noodles–green bean casserole? How long has your family called Fort Collins, or Colorado, or the United States your home? If you are Native American, the Americas have always been your ancestral home, if not it’s likely that someone in your family’s past journeyed from somewhere else–to what today we call the United States. Some of our ancestors were forced to cross the Atlantic, others made epic journeys and stayed, while many others did not. (According to Irving Howe, for example, one-third of European immigrants who came to North America between 1908 and 1924 returned home).
Since U.S. schools have traditionally framed themselves as agents of assimilation, we have been taught that immigrants who assimilated were successful, although researcher Richard Rothstein shows that during the immigration period from 1880 to 1915, very few Americans did well in school–immigrants of all backgrounds did poorly. The myth of “first generation” immigrants making it in their new home is not supported by research; indeed, it shows that only successive generations achieved more academically! The process of finding home is often tough and traumatic.
For generations, many Americans imagined themselves thrown into the melting pot, or in the case of African Americans they constructed culture while they were denied the opportunity to jump in. Not all Americans are the descendants of immigrants, and today, few people find the concept of a melting pot of culture appealing–the high temperature of the metaphor evokes the actual pain of assimilation! We prefer to imagine ourselves as a patchwork, a nation that is more like a quilt with different cultural traditions and contributions forming the pattern. Our eclectic foodways, as mentioned earlier for example, reflect the contributions of family dinners from around the globe, and should serve to remind us that finding home takes different ingredients.
Early immigrants are celebrated for laying the foundations of U.S. culture and economy, while new neighbors are often blamed for the inequity they face in our society. On one hand, we celebrate and mythologize European immigrants of the past, and on the other, we often stereotype or even fear people currently trying to find their way home.
Guillermo Gómez-Peňa visited Fort Collins last year–check out his Strange Democracy performance to get his take on anti-immigration hysteria. What part do you and your family play in this still unfolding story? Between April 2 and May 3, Beet Street‘s Finding Home Series celebrates our collective past–everyday our histories and lives make Fort Collins lively and vibrant. How will you participate? How will you celebrate your story? How will you celebrate your home?
These are important material questions. One half of the world’s population, for example, approximately 3 billion people on six continents, lives or works in buildings constructed of earth. Between 1927 and 1935, New Mexico immigrants John and Inez Rivera Romero built a four-room adobe house in Fort Collins’ Andersonville district. Members of the Romero family called that house “home” until the Poudre Landmarks Foundation purchased it in 2001. The Romero House stands as a monument to many immigrants who worked skillfully to create an inexpensive, yet sound, home in a short period of time. Finding home meant making adobe bricks–sand and clay mixed with water and straw, then drying them in the open air. The Romero House (renovated into the Museo de las Tres Colonias) serves as an interpretative center to celebrate the contributions of the Hispanic community in northern Colorado. Find out what’s planned for April in our home town and come and celebrate with us!
Thanks for the mouth watering photo by 水泳男!