Monday, March 10, 2014

Beware the Ideas of March



Image: "Through the Fence" by Lisa Gale Garrigues

It's March, uh-huh, and here come all those dangerous little ideas that spring forth like budding leaves and flowers...like hmm, maybe I need to change my socks, I've been wearing them all winter. (ok that was metaphor folks my feet really don't stink that bad :)) Or maybe I need to change my attitude, or my home, or my job, or my lover, or get a new lover if I don't have one, or maybe I just need to change my mind about what I thought I knew all winter and now seems all wrong, the comfortable sock of the mind that I have gotten so used to. It is spring, and the wind tickles the canyons and cactus and astroturf inside my brain, urging me to slip out of my bag of comfort and go forth, into the world, with or without mind-socks, bare-brained if need be, like the beginner, the beginner's mind, the sprout of knowing that only knows to grow and nothing more.

Sometimes the dangerous change of spring is slow, almost imperceptible, like the struggle of the green leaf against the red fence, and then suddenly, pop there it is, doing like James Thurber when he said, "The Best Way Out is Always Through."

So yes, it's time. Time to burst through your red fences and into the open air where the green breathes free,

I will  meet you  there, maybe for a cup of coffee,  not the lousy kind the French call 'sock coffee', but one that has the exquisite taste that only the early days of spring can provide.

Happy Ideas of March.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Visit to Obama at the Cesar Chavez Memorial




Last Friday I got an email from the United Farmworkers inviting me to Obama's dedication of the Cesar Chavez Memorial as a National Monument.

By Monday morning at 5:30AM I was driving down a cold and dark  Highway 99 to attend the event in Keene, California.   Get here before 7:30AM,  the confirmation email said,  expect to stay until 5PM and don't bring any food or water. 

My kind of an adventure.

 Light snacks and water will be provided, the email said.  And hopefully some portapotties, as well, I'm thinking, as I take another sip of my pre-dawn coffee from the travel mug in my car.

As instructed, I pulled into the parking lot in Tehachapi California.  There they were-- the long line of people waiting for the buses to pick us up and take us to the memorial.  I park my car.  Someone gestures towards the end of the line.  I walk a very long time to find it:

Behind me, the line continued to grow.



We waited and waited.  Finally, some buses pulled up.  Some people got on.  More waiting.  A few more buses, a few more people let on.   Two hours later, I was waiting not in a line but in a jumbled crowd while behind me  a woman  complained loudly in a German accent and  next to me a laughing group of  Mexican-Americans sang "De Colores" several times over.  The German woman quieted down and listened to them.  "Vat are you sinking?" She asked.  "Somesink about colors, yes?"

"Yes," said one of the men.  "It's about the rainbow.  And about the human race."

"Oh," she said. "Ferry nice."

Finally, another bus pulled up and we were able to get on. 



Some of the "De Colores" group had gotten on with me, educators and students from local colleges.
Despite the wait, they were smiling and laughing.  "We're so lucky to be here," they said.  "We're so excited."

I agreed with them.  I was there not just for Obama but for Cesar Chavez.  And not just for Chavez but for all the people he fought for and all the people who fought with him.   Because I remember those days, the grape boycotts, the marches.  I had spent a lot of time working with Latino immigrants, and this was an event I wanted to attend.  Okay, it was Obama trying to get the Hispanic vote.  Okay,  Cesar Chavez wasn't perfect.  But still.  This was an event that was larger than the few thousand people who were able to attend it.

When I got there, the vast surrounding hills  of Tehachapi made the crowd look much smaller, like folks mingling at a county fair. 




You couldn't help but see the excitement and anticipation on people's faces:



 There were lots of high school students, some of them the children of farmworkers,  many of them wearing cool t-shirts.

                               
                             "President Obama Visit, Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Dedication"
                  "Tigers Thunderbirds, Titans, Youth of Today,  Leaders of Tomorrow."


Another cool t-shirt: 
"I Came To See Obama With My Mama


As people gathered in the grounds,  a helicopter buzzed overhead.  "Obama?" people whispered. "News 'copters?"



High above the helicopter, a red-tailed hawk endlessly circled the crowd.  He didn't want his photo taken. 


There were also plenty of Secret Service men:




Why this guy positioned himself directly in front of me I'm not exactly sure.  But when I raised my arms to give myself a stretch after standing in the same position for a long time, his whole body suddenly jerked and swiveled back as if someone had fired a shot.

As part of the festivities, local talent entertained us on a small stage:





Yes, the singing little girls are celebrating Cesar, not Hugo.  Apparently there was some confusion over this.

After the local talent, the luminaries arrived, and speeches were made.





The speeches were good.  They were rousing.  They were passionate. They were meaningful.   They brought a sense of memory and achievement to the crowd.

After the speeches, there was some festive marching band music, from a band I couldn't see.   The band made you feel like Obama was going to come out on stage any second.   But he didn't.  And then he didn't some more.  And then there was more waiting.



Finally, after much more marching band music and much more waiting, a man came out and took the microphone.   It was the man who was going to introduce Obama.  A rustle of excitement went through the crowd.   The high school girls behind me who had sat down stood up and began to murmur "Obama! Obama!"  A shout of "Four more years, four more years!" moved through the crowd.  I positioned my feet awkwardly on the tiny narrow step I was on that gave me just a tiny view several hundred feet away of the tiny heads that were speaking into the distant onstage microphone.

Then the  man who was going to introduce Obama  left the microphone and Obama himself appeared.

"I see Obama" shouted the high school girl behind me to her friend, standing on her tiptoes.  "I see his head!"

Cameras came flying out of peoples pockets and bags and were raised enthusiastically into the air. 






The Secret Service guy had moved on and this tangle of hair and  cameras and waving arms is what I was trying to photograph Obama through. That square white thing in the photograph above this one is what I was trying to keep in focus, because I knew the microphone was right next to it,

Obama began to speak.  It was another good speech, even better than the previous speakers because well, because it was Obama, and he was on.   He honored Cesar Chavez and he spoke about the American dream.  The people roared and the cameras waved in the air.    I was happy to see him infused with his old charisma again after his lackluster performance during the debate.

Most of the photos I attempted of Obama were like the one above, full of hair and blur and other people's cameras.   But yes, I did manage one.  Just one.  Obama in a quiet moment, squinting into the sun, a press photographer behind him, probably just after his speech:



A close up:




When I cropped this photo, I wondered what he was thinking at the time, while he was staring out at the crowd.  He looks pensive, even a bit weary.  He was due in San Francisco a few hours later to do it all over again, the crowds, the cameras, the speeches.    He certainly has a job I wouldn't want. 

After a round of thunderous applause for Obama's speech,  the crowd dispersed to  drink water from paper cups and snack on potato chips and granola bars that were offered on site.    To complete the day,  an  Aztec ceremony was performed:




 Then we all headed back to the busses.   Out of the 7,000 people at the event, somehow I ended up standing next to the "De Colores" group again.  They were still laughing  and singing.  While we did more waiting, busses came and went in all the wrong places, picking up everyone but us.

  I learned that the older man in the group was a professor of Chicano Studies at Pomona College who had worked with Chavez back in the Sixties and has taken his students every year on a "Farmworker spring vacation" where they get to know about the farmworkers and the issues they have faced.  While the bus continued not to come, he was busy talking to a redheaded man about the common struggles between the Mexicans and the Irish.   When one of the  busses finally opened its doors to us and we all got on and took our seats,  he just kept on smiling and talking.

I got back to San Francisco later that evening, tired but glad I had gone to the event  The only glitch was an email I discovered the next morning telling me I would not be able to attend the Obama dedication of the Cesar Chavez memorial.   I was one of 3,000 people who had been disinvited.

 I sure hope Cesar Chavez doesn't mind that I crashed his party.

 And now I will leave you, with some verses and a video of   "De Colores".  This video is one I found on Youtube.  It just happens to be of the same professor that was singing De Colores next to me as we waited for the bus.  His name is  Dr. Jose Calderon.





There are heroes everywhere.  Sometimes they get  their own national monuments and sometimes they don't.  Sometimes we are lucky enough to be standing right next to them.  All we have to do is turn around and hear them singing. 




De colores, de colores
Se visten los campos en la primavera.
     De colores, de colores
Son los pajaritos que vienen de afuera.
     De colores, de colores
Es el arco iris que vemos lucir.


 Y por eso los grandes amores
De muchos colores me gustan a mí.
     Y por eso los grandes amores
De muchos colores me gustan a mí.
 


In colors, in colors
The fields are dressed in the spring.
     In colors, in colors
Are the little birds that come from outside.
     In colors, in colors
Is the rainbow that we see shining.

     And that is why I love
The great loves of many colors
     And that is why I love
The great loves of many colors
 


 




Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Birthday MLK


Last year I was fortunate to have been commissioned to do a video project that involved Martin Luther King Jr., the Poor People's March on Washington, artist Beth Pewther, and the singer Mahalia Jackson. It's a tribute to King as well as a tribute to the importance of getting your art and message out there to the world. So I am reposting it here.



Happy Birthday Dr. King...may we continue having and implementing our dreams!


(Image: Beth Pewther)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Some Reasons I Woke Up At 4:30AM


Because I couldn't sleep.

Because the upstairs overnight guest was walking on my head.

Because my body says I have slept enough.

Because the view of lights and branches was stark and quiet and beautiful from the upper deck of the house.

Because the coffee tasted good.

Because my cat wanted to get up too.

Because, sitting upstairs with the taste of coffee on my lips and the view of lights and branches quiet all around me,

inexplicable joy.


(photo by D Sharon Pruitt www.pinksherbert.com)

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Occupy Movement and Memories of Argentina

Ten years ago, middle class people in Argentina were streaming out into the streets to protest the economic system that had plunged them into poverty.

I was fortunate enough to have been there, witnessing and participating.

I remember one man, in one of the numerous neighborhood assemblies that we had, saying, "I predict that in ten years people in the United States will be doing the same thing."

I'll write more on this later, but for now, here is a link to an English website I ran covering the events of that time.

Friday, May 06, 2011

White with African Ancestry





(photos: three 'white' celebrities with confirmed or rumoured African ancestry: Lula Da Silva, President of Brazil. Heather Locklear, actress. Dwight D Eisenhower, former U.S. President.)


In my continued efforts to investigate my ancestry, I shelled out even more money to get my Dad’s genome tested with 23andme.

Part of this was to see if I could get more information on the oral tradition of Native American and “Black Dutch” ancestry on his side of the family. The website 23andme, in addition to telling you your paternal and maternal haplogroup and your likelihood for particular diseases and traits (“Yes you have blue eyes!”) has something called “Ancestry Painting” which will break your genome down into three ethnic groups: European, African, and Asian. It also goes a step further and give you your likelihood of having Native American ancestry in the past five generations.

So I look at my Dad’s ancestry painting and see this teentsy weentsy bit of orange Asian color sliced into his
blue Western European painting. The Native American Ancestry finder tells me this teentsy weentsy bit of orange “Asian” indicates my Dad could have a Native ancestor, but any ‘full-blood’ ancestor would probably not be any closer than a great-grandparent.

Which sounds about right to me, and fits in with when and where the tradition of Native ancestry started in my family tree. But the segment is so small I want to be sure it is not just statistical ‘noise” and send it off to a couple of genetic specialists, Dr. Doug McDonald and David W of the Eurogenes blog.




Here’s where it gets interesting. Both these guys, who do a much more detailed and precise scan than 23andme, tell me the “non-European” bit is not Asian or Native American, but African. David W ID’s the African as West African, and says because the rest of my Dad’s genome is Western European, he believe that it probably comes from “a distant African- American ancestor”.

“Your Dad?” says one friend. “He’s about as white as anybody could get without being an albino!”.

It’s true. My Dad looks like a perfect Celt--blue eyes, red hair, ruddy skin. And all this time--according to the ‘one-drop rule’-- he has been a black man passing for white.


But suddenly, with this bit of news, certain ‘suspect’ behaviors in my Dad’s otherwise French, English and Scots-Irish demeanor fall into place. I quickly go through the mental checklist: 1. the only white guy in the very white Southern California neighborhood I grew up in to stand up at a crowded and heated neighborhood meeting and argue for school integration, 2. wanted to take me to see Martin Luther King speak when I was a kid instead of letting me go off to play Barbie or Superman with my friends. 3. taught journalism at a black university. 4. worked as an editor for a black newspaper. 5. takes me to Leimert Park, a historically black neighborhood in Los Angeles, to chat with a woman who owns a store specializing in African-American history, instead of going to Disneyland or Universal Studios, 6. has a mother from a white Southern family who tells me when I am a teenager that she would disown me if I ever married any of the black boys I was then dating, but who spends almost her entire adult life living in Inglewood.

Very suspicious, all this. The call of the ancestors is louder than any one of us could imagine.

When I tell my “nearly Albino” Dad that he has that one drop, he just kind of shrugs his shoulders, not seeming the least surprised. My brother, another pale skinned red-head, says jokingly that this explains why I know how to dance. My sister, the dark haired, dark-eyed one in the family, says “I always knew I was part black!” remembering that in high school she always felt more comfortable with mixed race kids.

As for me, I now have another excuse besides my maternal Jewish lineage for my frizzy out of control hair being ‘not quite white’. And it has opened up a whole new set of questions for me. Like: how come so many white American people are looking for their Native ancestors but not their African ones? Is that “Cherokee Princess” that pops up in so many white Southern genealogies actually a light-skinned black person who needed an excuse for their complexion? Does this negate or just push further back in time any Native ancestry ( which I have been all along so certain of) that I may have? Who were my black ancestors and at what point did one of them make the decision to be white?

And: What does it say about our country’s historic obsession with racial and ethnic definition when a “white” person like me--who could pass for WASP-- turns out also to be Jewish, Native and African?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan and The Dream of Water, revisited



It seems like weeks since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit, yet it has really only been hours. It seems like weeks because it has been difficult to tear myself away from the news and videos about this tragedy...I feel as if I am living it,moment by moment, with them. Suddenly the people in Japan, a country I have never visited, feel like my next door neighbors.

I wanted to write about the combination of awe and horror and compassion that I experience when I see that wave of water washing through whole cities. But then I realized I already had--six years ago, when I sent an email out about a 'prophetic' dream I had before another Asian Tsunami.

So here it is, from January, 2005:


Friends,

It is New Year's Day and we are surrounded by a tidal
wave.

On television and in our memories, the images
continue:
the rushing wall of water, the cars, buildings and
bodies floating in the swollen sea, fragile and
temporary as children's toys. The faces of pain, loss
and anguish are our faces. National boundaries are
dissolved, at least momentarily, as we send love,
financial support, healing.

Because my dreams are frequently wiser than I am, I
want to share a dream with you that I had about a week
before the Asian Tsunami hit.

In the dream I am on the beach with a group of
international students from the school where I teach
English as a Second Language. The students are from
all over the world. Suddenly a huge tidal wave
arrives and we are all running along the beach in
panic. I see something metallic floating in the water,
a vehicle of some kind. I think in my dream that it
could be some kind of military vehicle, like a car or
a plane or boat. It is clear to me that this vehicle
was made by man in a moment of self-importance, and it
is now utterly useless, bobbing helplessly along on
the water.

We all run away from the water and manage to reach
"higher ground." We are then all huddled inside a
room together, feeling fear but also deeply connected
to each other, and relieved that we are safe. One of
my Muslim students comes over to me, and I put my arm
around him, feeling a wave of love and compassion.

I woke up from this dream, asking, as I usually do of
dreams, what it was saying to me:

There is something more powerful than you, the dream
said. Maybe you should pay attention.

Your technology and the shiny vehicles that get you
through your life are useless in the face of this
power, the dream said.

It is the power of water, the dream said. it is
feminine, emotional, receptive, illogical,
mysterious, compassionate, ruthless, ferocious,
cleansing. It is running the blood of your veins and
in the ocean that links continent to continent. It is
the Tsunami and it is the wave of healing that
follows.

Maybe you should pay attention, the dream said.

It is the power of Mother Nature, the dream said,
seeking to balance all her elements, no matter how
horrific the sacrifice. With so many man-made fires
and explosions raging on the earth right now, it it
any wonder she chooses to respond with water?

Maybe you should pay attention, the dream said.

Look around you, the dream said, those people with
their different languages and religions are all
huddled in the same fragile room with you.

Find the person in the room who is most unlike you,
the dream said, the person who is supposed to be your
enemy, and reach out to him or her in compassion.

If there is a god, the dream said, he or she exists
not in the labels we have assigned, but in this
gesture, in this stretching of the heart.

You are alive, the dream of water said , and this is
a gift that can be taken away at any time.

Maybe you should pay attention.


Love,

Lisa