Gorilla, My Love: A Commentary

My featured image was painted by one of my best friends and favorite artists, Carole Geier. Her Ribbon Dancer comes later in the narrative, too. I’ve featured her art previously on my blog. It relates to this blog entry as it features a contemplative woman, which may describe me and the main character in the short story of which I will review.

Before I was a geographer and human scientist, I was an English major. It seemed a likely choice given my interest in literature. My love for music also drove my work in public radio. Like comparative analyses that we do in literature, I like to do the same with music.

Toni Cade Bambara, who was active in the 1960s and 1970s as a writer, film-maker, social activist, and college professor, wrote some fabulous short stories. I like that her writing used great rhythms in the narratives. Gorilla, My Love stands out for me, so I share this review that I wrote for Bambara’s narrative about Harlem through the eyes of the young “Hazel.” The story addresses many experiences of the young African American female, including her views of social injustices. This short story brilliantly illustrates a gifted young female, who, for many reasons, does not get her due respect from society.

My commentary is rather dense, so I will break it up with photos that may or may not connect to my narrative.

Gorilla, My Love by Toni Cade Bambara

Critics writing about Toni Cade Bambara’s short story “Gorilla, My Love” agree that her use of language promotes positive images about black urban life, and teaches important lessons without becoming preachy.  Ruth Burks, Elliott Butler-Evans, Klaus Ensslen and Madhu Dubey point to no weaknesses in Bambara’s story.  Rather the weaknesses lie in their criticism because of detachment from Bambara’s characters’ culture, misuse of words, and faulty interpretation of the text. The critics, rightly, cite Bambara’s use of a young female as a brilliant tool to give the story the ability to address social injustices without heavy-handed didacticism (Dubey 19), but they show disconnectedness with the writer’s culture, for example, by not recognizing the difference between street-wise and precocious when describing Bambara’s main character, Hazel. Each espouses strong opinions about a culture that perhaps none truly understands. The four critics each agree that Bambara’s language received heavy influence from the music of black Americans.  They don’t; however, appear to know what elements in the music Bambara imitates when she writes.  For instance, they use terms interchangeably, like jazz and Negro spiritual, when explaining the rhythm of Bambara’s story. The faulty criticism, however, does not lessen the strength of Bambara’s tale because the overall tone of the critics’ ideas stayed supportive.

     Burks, Butler-Evans, Ensslen and Dubey each cite Bambara’s use of Black urban vernacular as a successful way to give readers a realistic picture of a black child’s life in her neighborhood and community.  Elliott Butler-Evans describes Hazel’s speech patterns and delivery as a “restricted linguistic code of Black urban life” (94).  His narrow vision doesn’t consider that some of Hazel’s verbal expressions come from immature language development and have nothing to do with her ethnicity. For instance, she uses the term “scary” for scared. She contracts the demand, “let me” to “lemme.” She calls Big Brood’s Spaulding basketball or baseball glove a “Spaudeen” (Prescott 676).  She uses incorrect placement of a possessive in, “And I’m flingin’ the kid in front of me’s popcorn” (Prescott 677). While many might point to Hazel’s dialect as “the language of lazy or under-educated Americans,” that illustrates the dominant dialect in the United States.  For example, she uses contractions of words heard in everyday speech: cause for because, musta for must have, and most noticeable, she leaves the –ing sound off many words like grabbing, flinging, something and throwing. African-American vernacular does not claim exclusivity to these terms. Bambara mixes the black vernacular with the immature child’s linguistic skills to address social issues through the eyes of innocence.

     None of the critics’ main points appear to be original since they mostly agreed that Bambara’s strengths lie in her use of language.  No opinions strongly oppose each other.  The critics strayed when they stated their opinions without support from the text, cultural insights, or background.  Klaus Ensslen attributes to Hazel, supposedly between the ages of eight and 12, the power of profound insight.  For instance, Ensslen notes that Hazel’s term for Brandy’s friend, Thunderbuns, refers to “the borrowed or relegated thunder of her authority” (48).  This shows detachment to the culture of youth and to the mind of a precocious girl.  Hazel attributes to Brandy and Thunderbuns slothful, animal features to show inferiority to her own energetic, intelligent self. Hazel likes to pop empty potato chip bags so that “the matron come trottin down the aisle with her chunky self” (Prescott 676).  Later Hazel reminds the reader that Thunderbuns “do not play and do not smile” (Prescott 677).  Hazel does not possess the idea that the name, Thunderbuns, comes from the thunder of borrowed authority. In her youth, she attacks physical elements of the two adults with less-than-authoritative airs by condescending to them and by using names that describe their physical appearances.  This instance illustrates Hazel’s youthful intelligence.

     As if to say that a young, black girl could only get her intelligence from the streets, Dubey and Burks refer to Hazel as “streetwise.” The term streetwise usually refers to one with enhanced survival skills from living in the streets, which does not appear to be Bambara’s intention for her young character.  Hazel does not come from the streets.  She lives surrounded by a close-knit, loving family, which does not usually describe a child with street smarts.  Hazel reads maps, asserts herself to protect her loved-ones, shows self-confidence in her knowledge, and asks intelligent questions.  By reading maps, not a usual skill of a pre-pubescent child, she directs the pecan-gathering trip. She protects Big Brood in the park and protects the money from bullies by putting it in her shoe (Prescott 676). She asks for ticket reimbursement from the theater manager claiming false advertisement, which is good insight for a preteen. Her questions, apparently, threaten teachers since she often hears that they are out of line. Hazel expresses confidence in her consummate knowledge of things by proclaiming, “When in reality I am the smartest kid P.S. 186 ever had in its whole lifetime and you can ax anybody” (Prescott 678). Burks and Dubey wrongly assume that Hazel gains her intelligence from the streets, which further shows a misunderstanding of  her youth and the culture.   

     The four critics of record hit the mark with their highlighting Bambara’s strengths in language use.  Each takes a different approach, however.  Burks sees the story as having more anger, sadness and negative points. Her notion of “incongruity of language” (50) sheds a dark light on Hunca Bubba’s not waiting for Hazel to grow up to marry him.  The conflict of the story does not lie in Hazel’s misunderstanding with her uncle’s false marriage proposal.  It lay in her friction with the theater manager and the school. Hazel’s experiencing disappointment with a family who loves her does not need to be ranked with the injustices of false advertising to children and teachers who ignore a precocious child because she’s black. The family offers support to a disappointed child, but the schools and theater are less likely to show empathy. Perhaps Klaus Ensslen meant to say the same thing when he noted that Bambara used “family and friends as a social backdrop” (44). Incongruity of Language describes the conflict with those outside the family, and that language shows differences from the dominant culture, as Butler-Evans charges.  It seems more likely that Bambara wanted to emphasize conflict of blacks with the dominant culture rather than conflict within the family, which would be a less positive approach.

     Ensslen, Dubey and Butler-Evans look at Bambara’s short story with optimism toward Bambara’s linguistic genius. Butler-Evans and Dubey agree that Hazel’s vernacular paints her as a cultural insider and note that her speech is accessible even to those outside the culture.  It has reach outside the culture. How else would Bambara make her political statements?  Hazel’s voice lends credibility to the story with her view on social injustices.  Told by an older person, the same views would be construed as observations made by an under-educated, embittered and angry adult: “…grownups playin’ change-up and turnin’ you round every which way so bad. And don’t even say they sorry” (Prescott 680).  This supports Dubey’s claim that,  “Hazel’s voice functions as the sharpest linguistic weapon allowing Bambara to attack social issues without heavy-handed didacticism”(19). Ensslen called Bambara’s “didactic impulse” usable lessons in a committed life(41). This strength and the multi-layered use of language in Bambara’s short story stand out as the hallmark of “Gorilla, My Love,” according to Burks, Butler-Evans, Dubey and Ensslen, but the points missed with Hazel’s linguistic voice parallel the critics’ misunderstanding of the elements that make Bambara’s writing emulate jazz.

     Burks and Ensslen refer to the music of Black Americans when describing Bambara’s written cadences, but they appear to be unsure of the elements that make it jazz. In referring to the rhythm and musicality of Bambara’s story, Ensslen notes that her improvisational use of oral forms of expression owes much to the black music especially to the bebop of the postwar decades, as she herself acknowledged” (42).  He alludes to an interview in which she credits bebop jazz musicians Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie for her literary voice.  Ensslen merely alludes to one of the strongest elements of Bambara’s story, perhaps, because he doesn’t fully understand how “Gorilla, My Love” truly parallels an improvisational jazz piece.  Consider Parker and Gillespie’s tune, “Night in Tunisia.”  The tune, played by their jazz quartet, begins with the string bass introducing the theme, which is then joined by Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet, which takes the lead while being accompanied by Parker’s alto saxophone, the bass and drums (recording). The introduction in “Tunisia” parallels Hazel’s opening “That was the year Hunca Bubba changed his name.”  Both introduce a theme. The quartet broadens its theme within several bars and measures, so does Hazel name the characters to set the story’s stage.  Staying in the same musical key, Charlie Parker departs from the main theme to improvise his musical self-expression the same way Hazel uses an image in the photograph, one of many sub-themes, as a springboard to relay her story about an experience at the Washington Theater. In the jazz piece, Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet overtakes a slight nod to the theme with a second improvisation. Gillespie’s improvisation parallels Hazel’s story within her story, Big Brood up on the cross, because it represents additional expression influenced by the original theme.  At the end of Gillespie’s ad-libbing, the remainder of the quartet rejoins him with the original theme like Hazel who brings her two stories, the theater and crucifixion, to an end with her yelling, “Shut is off.”  If Ensslen understood jazz improvisation, he may have been more successful in connecting Bambara’s strong sense of rhythm and pace with jazz improvisation.

     Ruth Burks makes a similar mistake by lumping all black music into one category to describe Bambara’s cadence.  Burks likens the tempo of Bambara’s story to Negro Spirituals, which is incorrect.  Burks declares that the plaintive voice of spirituals permeated “Gorilla, My Love.” Consider the spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”  The song opens with a slow-moving theme followed by a sorrowful response, “Comin’ for to carry me home.”  The song continues with call and response, short statement with repetitious reply, through to the end (Quick 184). Unlike jazz, no one leaves the theme to improvise another musical interlude or uses the theme as a launching pad to tell a story within the story.  Bambara’s “Gorilla, My Love” possesses very little elements of the Negro Spiritual.  In contrast to the spiritual, Gorilla moves quickly as several vignettes unfold within the story.  The energy is high since it’s told from a young, precocious girl’s point of view.  Quick beat and high energy hardly describe Negro spirituals with their slow cadences and, often, melancholy themes. Burks’ allusion to, “constant repetition” (49), connotes jazz improvisation, but she describes Bambara’s pace as Negro spiritual because of unfamiliarity with jazz and with Bambara’s influences.  The mistakes still don’t detract from the over all positive tone of the criticism, however.

            The four critics, Burks, Butler-Evans, Dubey and Ensslen, all in all, like Bambara’s writing.  They agree that her use of language promotes positive images about black urban life while teaching life’s important lessons without proselytizing. They find no weaknesses, but their own lack of knowledge, regarding black culture, weakens their interpretation of the story through misuse of words.  The critics’ own stereotyping of the black culture becomes evident when they don’t recognize the difference between street-wise and precocious when describing Bambara’s main character, Hazel. Butler-Evans confuses black linguistic patterns with the speech skills of a preteen. Ensslen gives Hazel’s coping mechanism of name calling an adult’s scrutiny by charging her with deeper thought than one her age may practice. Dubey and Burks miss the mark by equating Hazel’s intelligence to the survival skills of a child from the streets. Finally, the four critics each agree that Bambara’s language received heavy influences from the music of black Americans.  They don’t, however, appear to know what elements in the music Bambara imitates when she writes.  The intent of the critics appears supportive of Bambara’s message, but faulty interpretation of the text lessens their credibility.

So, find the short story by Bambera. then find Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia,” or one of Charlie Parker’s upbeat Jazz pieces, and experience the rhythms for yourself. I find it most pleasurable.

Thank you for reading.

Remembering MLK

Remembering the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his work toward equity and justice, makes me think of family, so my featured image today is one of a memorable sisters’ trip. We visited the U.S. Airforce Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As I remember, the chapel, pictured behind us, closed for five years for restorations. We took this shot in 2017, so those repairs should be finished in another few years.

Today, I offer my reflection offered before a wreath laying ceremony, done virtually, at the bust on Dr. King on the campus of Kansas State University. Dr. King spoke at the university shortly before his untimely death at the hands of an assassin. I share this with you.

Please reflect with me.

As we prepare to lay wreaths at the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us remember his words, “The ultimate measure of persons is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”

One can hardly acknowledge King’s work toward social Justice and equity without remembering his words of our past and thinking, “Why does this struggle continue today?”  Or asking, “Have we learned nothing?”

However, we see hope when, as Amanda Gorman put it, “a skinny little Black girl” steps to the Inauguration podium, and, as Dr. King did, tugs at the conscience of a Nation by telling us that, “the norms and notions of what Just Is, is not always Jus-tice!”

Let us reflect on those eloquent words while we remember Dr. King’s letters from the Birmingham Jail: Lodged, there for “parading without a permit.” For it was not legal for Black Folk to participate in public demonstrations, an exercise NOT for a people deemed “unworthy” or “un-deserving.”

He said, “Injustice is here in Birmingham, if the Negro man cannot exercise his first amendment rights in acts of peaceful assembly demonstrating for change with non-violence.” 

Dr. King noted, “They protested for the Negro brothers and sisters smothering in airtight cages of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”  They demonstrated for equity and justice. They were not insurrectionists, putting their feet on desks in hallowed halls and placing their knees upon the throat of democracy where, We. Could. No Longer. Breathe.

Dr. King emphasized, “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must transcend our, so-called, race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. This means we must develop a world perspective and tear down the walls of separation and hatred to seek common ground and to dissolve hierarchies.”

Further he encouraged for us to, “Rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the hills of creative protest!” “Humans are put on this earth to serve one another, and it must transcend class and privilege.” 

Dr. King possessed a deep hope that the world could be a better place for his children and for our children.

May Kansas State University as a community defined by pluralism find the common ground to stand together against darkness and hate to find light and love.

As we close our gathering today, I ask that you greet, even virtually, those around you with your own word or action that communicate peace. “Every effort we make to connect is meaningful.”

So be it…

Thank you for reading my blog. Enjoy this piece of art painted by my talented friend, Carole Geier.

The Language We Use

Before I get into this very deep subject, I share with you one of the blooms of my hibiscus shrub. I have it pruned into a topiary shape, and it gives us two to three blooms a day. We eat our breakfast on the front patio with the blooms in the morning in order to begin the day with its joyous brightness.

I work in education, and have done for nearly 30 years. My focus continues to be advocating for underrepresented populations in education. At one time, I worked in adult education. Then I worked in community education and research. Today, my title is director of intercultural learning. That means I teach around a variety of topics to “normalize” human difference. I offer these concepts to get them out into the world:

Language Used That Further Separates Us

Preface: It is not about “saying the right thing.” Rather we must understand the meaning (etymology) or the semantics (formal, lexical, and conceptual) in the words we use.  We tend to think that language is fluid. Meaning of words takes on different meanings in different eras. Systemic words tend to carry historical influences. When certain words become part of the lexicon, they tend to be “normalized” to the larger society, whether or not they have negative connotations.

Not an exhaustive list, I present the concepts of the following words to give us pause and to allow us to think of their historical meanings in our work to increase representative demographics in our students, faculty, staff, and administration at KSU.  After all, the intended outcome of our work focuses on erasing the barriers to acquiring college degrees and thriving in global economies who have historically excluded identities.  

We are not here to “deal with diversity and inclusion.”  We are here to build relationships with one another to support students for maximal academic and social experiences.

“Minority” – The term further minoritizes historically excluded populations.  Could we use the term, “historically excluded populations?” The word, “minority” suggests “lesser than.”  No one wants to be referred as a psychologically pejorative term, “lesser than.”  It sets a life of low self-esteem and low social expectations of those in a majority.

“Marginalized” – A dominant power minoritizes groups by setting a standard for social, financial and governing expectations from an individualistic cultural pattern vantage point.  Groups from individualistic societies tend to marginalize groups from collective societies because of different approaches to social and economic “norms.”  See Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Values Orientations.  As we know, majority powers set the cultural and behavioral norms for all the people living in such a society, with the exception of Apartheid era South Africa.  In that case, the non-majority White power worked to set a social standard for the majority demographic.

“Inclusion” – In order to  advance the concept of “inclusion,” we must understand the history of exclusion with its laws, policies, and practices that exclude one population in favor of another as an active part of societal and institutional cultures. Some of those historical and present laws include Extreme Climate Theory, Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, Indian Removal Act of 1830, Homestead Act of 1862 (You must be Christian in order to receive and own land), Japanese Relocation Act, Redlining in housing, and the 21st Century Muslim ban, etc.

When we speak of being a Land Grant Institution, think of what we say. From a historical point of view, the Land Grant Act of July 1862 promoted that it was “Education for the common man.”  Who was the “common man?”  Natives were not labeled “human” until 1873 and not allowed to be citizens until 1924. President Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation six months later, January 1, 1863. In both cases, the majority referred to men as “bucks.” Women had equally dismissive labels, such as “squaws and apes.”   

When we say, equitable representation across human identities, we do not assign a majority power.  Instead, we demonstrate an authentic desire to assure that all voices and identities contribute to institutional and cultural structures.

When we use the word, “inclusion,” it denotes a dominant or majority power or culture allowing others to participate in power, cultural, and social structures.  Perhaps we can strive for building a culture of “belonging” for our students and other.

As school psychologist, Bengu Erguner-Takinalp, says, Belonging is more than ‘tolerance,’ accepting,’ or ‘inclusion.’ Belonging means we feel connected, important, valued, part of a group, which we call, ‘our group,’ ‘our program,’ ‘our community!’”

 “Diversity” – This term tends to be synonymous with people of color and leaves out other historically marginalized groups (LGBTQ, physical and mental disability, etc.).  May we discuss simple human difference, and the thought that, “I am not different from you.  I am different like you” (Octavius Black).

In her article about educational and retail institutions, Jennifer Rittner writes, “Diversity itself is a numbers game, easily addressed through clever, conspicuous hiring practices and even more clever promotional photography. Representation means that because we may not always be physically present, but our pedagogies, industry spaces, and frameworks are activated in our interests.”  Rittner reiterates, “Inclusion is about more than just those of us who have achieved the platform for speaking out. Representation requires that we all stay vigilant and attentive to all of those not represented in our own work”.

“Culture” – Those practices, beliefs, behaviors, and ways-of-knowing of each human being.  Every human possesses cultural identities.  Culture is not something to denote ethnicity or people from another country. We develop as human beings, and that development comes from family, community, state, national, and world cultures.

“Multi-cultural” – Since the word, “culture” has come into the lexicon meaning, students of color, this term tends to feed the notion that people of color are the only people who have a culture!  Since every human has many cultural identities, we could say that everyone is multi-cultural.  Using this term, also, can exclude others with historically excluded or under-represented identities, i.e., LGBTQIA, those with different physical and learning abilities, and others with whom we do not include when we say, “multi-cultural.”

Race

Race In everyday discourse, the word race invokes phenotypical features such as skin color, eye shape, hair texture, facial features, and so on. However, scientists generally agree that race is not a concept determined by biological evidence. In other words, categorization of different races cannot be verified by biological constructs such as genetic characteristics. Arguing that any differentiation of races, if they exist at all, depends on relative, rather than absolute, constancy of genes and raising a problem of classifying the human species in racial terms, Goldberg (1993) states: Human beings possess a far larger proportion of genes in common than they do genes that are supposed to differentiate them racially. Not surprisingly, we are much more like each other than we are different. It has been estimated that, genetically speaking, the difference in difference — the percentage of our genes that determines our purportedly racial or primarily morphological difference — is 0.5 percent. (p. 67)

More recently, the Human Genome Project has shown that human beings share 99.9% of their genes, leaving only 0.1% for potential racial difference in a biological sense (Hutchinson, 2005).  

References

Allan, B. & Smylie, J. (2015). First Peoples, second class treatment: The role of racism in the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Toronto, ON: the Wellesley Institute.

Ergüner-Tekinalp, B., Ilieva, V., Williams, K. (2011). Refugee Students in Public Schools: Guidelines for Developing Inclusive School Counseling Programs. Journal of Counseling Research and Practice, 28, 2.

Kubota, R. and Angel Lin. (2006). Race and TESOL: Introduction to Concepts and Theories.

TESOL Quarterly. Vol. 40, No. 3.

Martinez, E. (1998). De colores means all of us: Latina views for a multi-colored century. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Middleton, R.A., Ergüner-Tekinalp., B., Williams, N., Stadler, H., & Dow, J . (2011). Racial Identity Development and Multicultural Counseling Competencies of White Mental Health Practitioner. International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, 11, 2, 201-218.

Hills, M. D. (2002). Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck’s Values Orientation Theory. General Psychological Issues in Cultural Perspectives. 3.

Wilcox, Jill. (2016). The hijacking of the words, diversity and inclusion. ( I am not able to insert the URL here)

Millennials have a different definition of diversity and inclusion

https://www.fastcompany.com/3046358/millennials-have-a-different-definition-of-diversity-and-inclusion

Rainbows
Rainbows over my yard

George Washington Carver

Today, I want to tell you about one of my heroes, George Washington Carver, agricultural chemist, inventor, professor, artist, pianist, violinist, and singer.  If you enjoy peanut butter, you have GWC to thank for finding more than 326 uses for peanuts, including wood stains.  He was equally inventive with the sweet potato, which garnered many uses, like the peanut, including medicines to mitigate the effects of syphilis.  Remember, Carver was a professor at Tuskegee Normal Institute, now called Tuskegee University.  Many of his students were part of the infamous, “Tuskegee Experiment” that injected syphilis into “Negro” males to watch and record the devastating effects.  That is one of the reason why we, social researchers, have to register our research plans with institutional review boards monitoring research on human subjects.

Well, let’s back up a bit.  If you’re ever traveling in Southwest Missouri on Interstate-44, you will see an exit for Diamond, Missouri.  That’s where “The Plant Doctor”‘s life began.  He and his mother went to live on the Carver Plantation.  One night, George and his mother were kidnapped.  She was killed, and the little, sickly boy was returned to the Carver Plantation, which is now a National Monument, operated by the Department of Interior.  The Monument was established in 1930 by President F. D. Roosevelt, who gave $30,000 toward the building of the Monument.  FDR had met Carver, and greatly admired him.  I had already adored Carver, but after my visit, my adoration deepened.

Because little George was sickly, he was able to stay in the main Carver home while the other slaves worked in the cotton and vegetable fields.  It was there that George learned to sew, knit, crochet, wash clothes, and where he became a musician.  He mastered the violin, piano, and sang, beautifully.  He had a natural with plants, and was able to help the sharecroppers to make their fields more productive while maintaining the integrity and health of the soil.  Carver taught the people about crop rotation.  For example, when the cotton stripped away soil nutrients, GWC helped them to use sweet potatoes and peanuts as a source for money and a source to feed the soil nitrogen and other nutrients.

When George was a teen, (about 15ish), he was denied admission to schools in Missouri, so he headed west to Kansas stopping first in Fort Scott in Bourbon County, Kansas.  He soon found his way to Western Kansas in Ness County, and then to Minneapolis, Kansas and homesteaded near Beeler, Kansas.  He supported himself by taking in laundry while he studied to graduate high school.  When it was time for college, Carver had been accepted into a Kansas college until he arrived for actual registration.  He was told that he could not attend college since he was a “Negro”.

Not to be deterred, Carver headed to Iowa where he was admitted into Simpson College.  His art teacher noticed his great detail when sketching plants.  She suggested that Carver talk to biologist at what is not Iowa State University.  After graduating with his Master’s Degree, Carver taught chemistry and biology at Iowa State.  The young professor and inventor caught the eye of Henry Ford after making rubber out of golden rod plant.  He caught the eye of Thomas Edison who want Carver to come to New Jersey to work for him.   An idealist, Carver accepted the call from Booker T. Washington, then the head of Tuskegee.  Carver wanted to go where he’d “do the most good”.  It was at Tuskegee that Carver lived out the rest of his life teaching, inventing, and helping farmers increase yields and their incomes.  Carver is best known for his work with peanuts, sweet potatoes, and pecans.  Carver lived a simple life and never had living quarters larger than one that held a twin-sized bed, a bureau, and a small desk.  Most of his days were spent in the laboratory and finding ways to help his students “make a mark in the world”.

Carver’s Honors include:

  • Named Fellow, London Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts
  • ‘Springarm Medal for Distinguished Service
  • Collaborator – Division of Plant Mycology: USDA
  • Roosevelt Medal for Contributions to Southern Agriculture
  • Popular Mechanics Top 50 Outstanding Americans
  • National Inventors’ Hall of Fame.

I do have a reference list if you’re interested.

I work at an agricultural experiment station.  If Carver were alive today, he’d be one of my colleagues!  If you want to know more, do some research on his Jesup Agricultural Wagon, on which he’d take his research to the farmers to show them the latest in crop and soil research.  You can see a replica at the GWC National Monument near Diamond, Missouri.

Thank you for reading.

A day in the lives of refugee and other immigrant families settling into new cultures

In this text, I have borrowed from myself.  I was attempting to write a white paper to help educators better understand the students in their classrooms.  I think it’s always best to back up and start at the beginning to understand a journey.

Why do people emigrate?  That is, what makes a family leave its own country and venture into an unknown land, in many cases, across oceans?  In most cases, this movement is considered a “Forced Migration”, which is displacement because of persecution, armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations, natural or environmental disaster, famine, ineffectual government, or lack of financial opportunities (Baker, 2014; Goetz, & Rupasingha, 2007).  Often times, the process of migrating is dangerous and may take up to 10 years with many stops along the way (Salgado de Snyder, 2007).  Humans have always migrated, and it, likely, never will stop because of constant changes in governments and other political policies, food supplies, societal mainstream notions, and religious views.

For the past 25 years, immigrants of all statuses, have been part of my daily life living in Southwest, Kansas, both professionally and personally.  I’ve worked with Southeast Asian and African refugees.  I’ve worked with immigrants from all of the Americas (Meso, Central, South and North (I call them economic refugees), and with immigrants who come with professional careers from India, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, China, Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, Canada, and different parts of Europe.  It is an enriching experience to learn from those who come from other backgrounds.

All the immigrants who have come to Kansas in the past 30 years have one thing in common. They’ve come to the United States to seek better ways of lives.  Lives without conflict and strife.  Lives filled with hopes for their futures.  While their stories of how they arrived on the shores or across the borders into the U.S. vary, there are common denominators in the challenges of which they face.  The greatest challenge, possibly, is that of acculturation.  That is, fitting into a new land, learning the folkways and mores of the people, and understanding how their own cultures either blend or clash with the “mainstream”.  They do all this while trying to learn a livelihood for their families’ survival and hoping to move to a place of thriving in their lives.   There are many struggles and challenges of acculturating to new lives in new cultures. Granted, the Canadians with whom I’ve worked don’t have as many challenges because of a common language and European ancestry as the U.S. mainstream. However, the most obviously “different” immigrants do have challenges. For example, these are some of the question and comments that I hear along the way:

  • How and where do our children go to school?
  • Is there a place for me to learn English?
  • Where do we get an identification and address immigration status?
  • What are rules for driving a car?
  • Where do we get the foods of our traditions?
  • What are the rules for schools regarding age of entry, immunizations, school readiness?
  • Where do we find child care provider for our children?
  • Where do we find a doctor?
  • Is there public transportation?
  • Are we safe to walk to where we need to go?
  • “We are starting all over, and I need to purchase items for my home, again, and I don’t know anybody, so I have to make new friends, too.”

 

The United States is heading toward a demographic where there will be no one majority of population by the year 2040 (World Bank).  My observation is that this notion strikes fear in people.

After nearly 30 years of living, working, and playing alongside the immigrants who have come these past three decades, my observation is that they have not come to colonize these lands and the mainstream.  They (immigrants) have come for better lives for their children.  Historically, most are the victims of colonization on their lands of origins.  If you get the opportunity, hear their stories, share their foods, understand their laughter, and most importantly, empathize with the fears that pushed them out of their home soils.

Thank you for reading.

Socio-Ecological and Logic Models

If you’ve read any of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s work, you, no doubt, know about the socio-ecological framework.  In that Bronfenbrenner asserts that we have “spheres of influence” in which we develop who we are and what we like and do.  That’s an easy way to understand why we become that person we see when we look in the mirror.

Another framework that helps us to organize our thoughts, objectives, and ultimate results is called the “logic model”.  I love the logic model.  As an abstract-random thinker (as opposed to “concrete-sequential), the logic model helps me to think linearly.  As a historian, I have the ability to think linearly when I’m looking at time lines of events. But when I approach my day, linear can go out the door.  So the logic model helps us to see a situation that needs to be addressed, decide who and what the players will be (inputs), what the activities around addressing the situation will be (outputs), and the different levels of results (short-term, medium-term, and long-term).  Of course long-term results (outcomes) are the future we hope to see.  Long-term outcomes are the ultimate.  “I put $500 a month in the bank”.  It’s happening, and there is not future tense in the long-term outcome.  I have my logic model workshop participants either tie their shoes or get dressed for the day using a logic model.  Believe it or not, you use a logic model more often than you think!

Now, I have a colleague who worked on a national nutrition program.  Her team, in their infinite wisdom, combined the socio-ecological and logic model in one document to address a working model to bring nutrition to the masses.  I love their model and have adapted it into a model that I call, “adaptive and culturally relevant practices”.  My first go at the title was, “culturally relevant and adaptive practices”, but you can see it made for a terrible acronym!

As some background, my work is to find ways to address inequities that exist among families living in poverty and families of color.  I say if we see a situation, we can find ways to address those inequities with the help of a logic model that’s been embedded with the socio-ecological model. My example is the featured photo today.

Thanks to Major F.M. Hernandez (U.S. Army) and Dr. Charlotte Olsen for collaborating with me on this.

Children Separated from their Parents

My title as an extension specialist in family and consumer sciences (the old “home-ec”) at Kansas State University, means that I support, academically and programmatically, county extension agents on ways to reach under-served audiences in a region of Kansas marked by four counties that are Minority-majorities.

As a background note, for those of you who don’t know about Cooperative Extension, it was an act of Congress in 1914, called the Smith-Lever act.  The idea was that the Land Grant university would put educators in counties to address anything to do with families.   The concept of “extending” the university’s research and academic resources into communities was and continues to be a way to improve the lives of individuals and families.  Extension is alive and well, and we address many topics in Family and Consumer Sciences.  We offer educational topics addressing aging, family systems, financial management, food safety, natural resource management, health/well-being,  and other essential living skills.

So, we, extension specialists, were asked, “How can extension address the issue of children and parents being separated at the borders?”  The conversation ended with, “Unfortunately, we don’t have that capacity.”   At the risk of touching on a “hot” political subject, I beg to differ.

As sentient human beings, we have the capacity to empathize!  We have the capacity to care.  As human development experts, as in my professional life, we have the capacity to understand what a violent separation of a child from his or her parents might mean for that child’s development.  We now know that these children who are separated from their parents are not living in ideal conditions. These are conditions that we, as parents, would never want for our children!

It is here that I might suggest that you, gentle readers, familiarize yourself with ACES, Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.  The research was organized by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  To determine an ACE score, a questionnaire asks questions about abuse, abandonment, unloving environments, substance abuse, etc.,  during the first 18 years of life, the developmental years.  A score of “10” may indicate disrupted neuro-development and/or social emotional cognitive impairment.  What does that mean? A life of fighting inner “demons”.  Do you know anyone fighting those inner demons?

Back to the separated children, may we ask ourselves, in terms of adverse childhood experiences, “What does this mean for the children separated from their parents?”  Some may say, “This is what happens when the parents break the laws!”  I’ve actually heard this.  Might we see these dangerous migrations as acts of love?  Might we see these parents, risking their lives looking for improved living conditions, using what they have (guts) to make better lives for their children?  That is how I see it.  I live and work among many families who have gone through the same process to seek improved living conditions.  They happily live and work in my community contributing positive human capital resources to the workforce and sharing their food, cultures, and capacity for joy.

It is here that I will, shamelessly, promote a recent publication of mine.  It’s called Build Intercultural Relationships for Better Understanding of Your Neighbor.  It can be found here: https://www.bookstore.ksre.k-state.edu/pubs/MF3340.pdf

Thank you for reading.  I look forward to your comments, and I don’t expect that all comments will be positive.  That is the risk I take for putting forth my opinions.  However, there is no need to be nasty.  Please remember that.