Ellis Island Visited

 

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It was my first visit to Ellis Island.  The island housed the immigration processing center that was in operation from 1892 to 1954.  It was known as the Island of Hope for the 12 million welcomed into the USA and the Island of Tears for those who were denied entry. Today it is both a documentation and a tribute to the peopling of America during those years.

Reading about Ellis Island is no substitute for being there.  The cavernous halls that held the hopeful are filled with their ghosts.  There is a palpable spirit about the place that settles about today’s visitors, and while these

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same visitors were loud and lively at the Statue of Liberty, here they were solemn, quietly stepping about the displays and reading the placards. They whispered as they moved through the rooms.  Even the children seem to sense that this was a place of importance and refrained from quick movements and loud voices.

My grandparents came to this country through Ellis Island as did my husband’s grandparents. It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for them leaving their family and friends to start a new life in a strange new land thousands of miles away from their homeland without knowing the language or the customs. Many of the immigrants endured incredible hardships just to give their children a chance at a better life. And, once here, many suffered discrimination at the hands of the nativists.  Many died under sad circumstances or deplorable conditions and not all of their children survived.  Being in this place allowed me to say thank you for my life as an American: I want those who came before me to know that I survived and that as a result of their bravery, I do have a better life.

But now I’m the nativist. What is my role in this debate on immigration and immigration reform? I have always thought of our immigrant past as an asset, as the basis for a great nation.  I read news accounts of political and religious refugees and ache for their pain.  I watch video of newly naturalized US citizens and feel their pride. Somewhere deep inside me I carry the immigrants’ story and feel the need to pay-it-forward.  Are today’s immigrants so different from yesterday’s?

I listen to my fellow traveller as she tells me about the Muslims trying to get into this country.  They want to kill us, all the Christians, she says.  They have to, it’s in their bible, she adds. I’ve have heard that the Muslims are horribly misunderstood, that their religion is one of peace.  Oh, no, she continues.  My pastor told us. The Muslims and the Christian feud goes back to Malachi.  Malachi? Of the Old Testament?  Before the birth of Christ? Yes, she says.

I do not argue but I am perplexed.

I turn to my friend and ask, Do you know any Muslims?   No, she answers.

Have you read the Qur’an? I ask.  No, she answers again.

Me neither.

Perhaps we should.  I’m thinking it might be a start in a pay-it-forward sort of way.

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In the Presence of Liberty

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My recent trip to NYC was initiated by my “egg lady.” It’s an unusual story, to say the least, but the end result was that I agreed to take a very naive, chicken raising 30-something to see the big city.  She knew my son lived in Manhattan and asked if I would take her along the next time I visited.  It was a bold request…  And I said yes for a number of reasons but the two biggies where to (a) spend time with a beloved son and (b) to challenge myself to spend time with a known Trumpp [sic] supporter and not get into trouble.  I can claim success on both counts although, to be honest, sometimes I struggled with the challenge part of the trip.

As expected, my companion met the city with wide-eyed wonder. I fell into “field trip mode” and loved planning our days to hit the places she had googled. Her list included the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island so off we went.

I remember the first time I had visited Lady Liberty.  We had taken a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic there—nothing says “America” like Lady Liberty.  The Czech Republic had been under communist rule until 1990 so democracy was new to Josef and his family.  Being the first in his family to travel outside of the country, he understood the terms “freedom” and “liberty” more than we did. He quaked at the sight of her.

This time was different.  My little tag-along wanted to see her not because of her history and all that she represented for the 12 million immigrants she welcomed but because she was what you do when you go to New York. She was a famous statue, nothing more.

For me, the emotion felt standing at the foot of Lady Liberty during this political clime  was almost too much.  What will become of her in the age of Trumpp [sic]? What will happen to all those placards proclaiming the success of America built on the backs of immigrants, reminding the visitors that immigrants were assets, bringing with them a diversity of culture, talent and a willingness to adopt this country of their own?  How will this global image of welcoming change under Trumpp [sic]?  What will drive people to Lady Liberty in the future, reverence or mockery? I was overcome.

In the end, I made my way around this great statue by taking pictures not of her but for her. Moving from one foreign family to another, I offered to take a picture of them together in front of Lady Liberty.  Language was no obstacle.  Dozens gleefully handed over their cameras, thanking me with smiles and hugs.  Many insisted on taking my picture!  They wanted to remember this friendly American who offered a simple kindness on their vacation to NYC: I just wanted to make Lady Liberty proud.

I left the Statue of Liberty Gift Shop with two purchases: a postcard printed with the most famous excerpt from Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus”, and copy of JFK’s book,  A Nation of Immigrants.  I also left with a profound sense of duty to stand up for this grand lady, Trumpp [sic] or no Trumpp [sic].

Next stop: Ellis Island.

The Rose Among Thorns

 

Early in the summer of 2016, the new trellis along the patio edge was completed. Plantings were discussed and while numerous options were thrown into the mix, the only decision we made was to put a climbing yellow rose on the far end. Later in the season, we happened upon just such a rose at a discount store and bought it for $3.

Planted and nurtured, the rose filled its designated space.  We were hopeful.  The canes were healthy, the leaves perfectly shaped, the overall look on the trellis was exactly what we had envisioned.  And for $3!  The rose never developed flowers last summer but we were not concerned.  After being established and wintered over, we would surely have a glorious yellow climber in the summer of 2017.  And sure enough, in the warm days of May our rose was covered in buds.

That cheap bargain rose is now a metaphor for the 2016 presidential election and the subsequent inauguration of our current commander-in-chief.  Filled will such high expectations and despite the devoted time and energy into its cultivation, our yellow rose bloomed red. It is what it is, but dang! It is not what we worked so hard for and certainly not what we expected. Nevertheless, the rose is staying, a forever reminder that life (and elections) are full of surprises.  We will continue to water it and enjoy it as much as we can, looking for something good in a whole mess of thorns. In the meantime we remain steadfast in our search of that elusive yellow rose; a climber that will announce its arrival in spectacular fashion.

Rose

The Great Divide

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Our Protectors

On May 20, Mike Pence gave the keynote speech at the Grove City College commencement.  Grove City College is a small private, conservative, Christian college located in NW PA and while it is an excellent school, it is an unlikely venue for such a high level politician to speak much less the vice president of the United States.  As it turns out, the president of the college and his wife are very good friends with the Pences and so the invitation was honored.

It was not without controversy, of course, as very little about this new administration escapes opposition.  Molly Wicker, a junior at the college, wrote an excellent opinion piece about the debates happening all over campus prior to commencement.  That piece landed in the New York Times.  And the resistance group known as the Slippery Rock Huddle organized the Pence Resistance March to coincide with Pence’s visit.

As a participant of that March, I can say the overall experience was satisfying to once again be in the company of like-minded activists. As a group we were calm and respectful.  There wasn’t an antagonist among us so there was a lot of jovial chatter, the usual chanting and collective sign waving. Many people driving by honked horns giving us a thumbs up. There was some opposition, however, and I offer some observations about the Trumpp [sic] supporters who drove by.

♦ We raised our voices to sing This Land is Your Land.  They raised their middle fingers.

♦ We chanted Love Not Hate Makes America Great!  Two motorcyclists moved in close and revved up their engines to drown us out (although they couldn’t do that once we were outside the college gates because of the mounted police patrolling the area.)

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Our Hecklers

♦ We moved respectfully along the sidewalk.  They slowed their pick-up trucks to blow thick black exhaust on us and yelled obscenities waving Trumpp [sic] flags.

There was such a marked difference between our actions and theirs, it makes you wonder how the divide will ever be bridged. But bridged it must be if we are to survive this hateful time.  I remain hopeful.  Still.

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Pence Resistance

http://wkbn.com/2017/05/20/protesters-hit-grove-city-streets-as-pence-speaks-at-commencement/

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/19/opinion/mike-pence-college-protest.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=2

It’s About the Cat…

Yesterday my husband was approached by a neighbor regarding a stray cat in the area.  “Don’t touch the cat with that brown patch on its back,” she said.  “It’s sick and dying and real mean.”  And with that she launched into a tale about teenage boys watching her and how she had to scare them off with her cane.  Nothing escapes her paranoid leanings  but she likes my husband and always alerts him about the shady dealings that are (not) going on in the neighborhood.  We thought we were going to lose her due to apoplexy the time the library across the street hired “black thugs” from VisionQuest to do their remodeling or the time “criminals” were breaking into her car at night and switching the wires around so she couldn’t escape (from the raping and robbing that was sure to come). But she lived.  And voted for Trumpp [sic].

The cat story was just the opening she needed to start the usual conversation about how people on welfare are sucking up all the money from the “good ones” and how Trumpp [sic] is being harassed by the media and that we just need to give him time to learn the job.  “He’ll make it work,” she said with confidence. “You’ll see.”

My husband is never confrontational with this neighbor but politely nods and gently inserts some benign statement about the affairs of the nation and the general goodness of people.  He acknowledged that our new leader needed some time “to learn the job” but added that he worried about some others like Jeff Sessions.

Who’s Jeff Sessions? she asks.

Yep.  About that cat…

A Tribute to Cookies and Kindness

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Amy Krouse Rosenthal (April 29, 1965 – March 13, 2017)

As a former second grade teacher, I can say without a doubt, second graders are fun. They are wise and brave and malleable.  They are independent enough to ease off on the neediness and needy enough to remind you of their dependence. It’s the perfect age.

Second graders love to test their independence… a lot. They experiment with their physical world, their growing mental cleverness, and relationships. They are willing to take risks in order to learn something new.  And with the adults to guide them, second grade is where they learn how to fit into society, operate democratically, and practice good social manners.

Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal offers a window to those concepts and more in the most delightful way.  Apparently cookies have a lot to teach us about cooperation (you pour the chips in while I stir), patience (are those cookies done yet?), respect (giving Grammie the first cookie), generosity (offering some of your cookies to others), courage (admitting you ate the cookie) and wisdom (understanding that there’s a whole lot more to learn about cookies).  Introducing children to the nuances of “getting along” and practicing kindness is what Amy Krouse Rosenthal brought to the world.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if using children’s books to teach adults would work as well as it did for second graders because lately, I’ve been thinking there are way too many adults who don’t know how to fit into society, operate democratically or practice good social manners. And lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Amy Krouse Rosenthal who died recently leaving us with yet another life lesson. She did so much to make the world a better place as a children’s author, writer, short film maker, wife, mother, and she did it all without being the president of the United States.

Perhaps I should send a copy of Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons to the White House.

Or maybe I’ll just make some cookies for the Trumpers in my life.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cookies-amy-k-rosenthal/1103713621?ean=9780060580810

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse, and Jane Dyer. Cookies: Bite-size Life Lessons. New York: Harper Festival, an Imprint of HarperCollins, 2016. Print.

5 Calls

 

Yesterday the House of Representatives passed their version of “repeal and replace” ACA.  As expected the vote split along party lines with  100% of the Democrats (and those that caucus with the Democrats) voting ‘no’ on the bill.  The 20 Republicans who voted ‘no’ as well brought the vote to a hair-raising finish at 217-213.  The GOP celebrated their win with beer on the White House lawn while the Dems sang “hey, hey, hey, good-bye” thinking those that voted ‘yes’ for the wildly unpopular measure were unlikely to get re-elected in 2018.  Both celebrations smacked of smugness with a dash of churlishness, and I find myself doing more eye-rolling and sighing…

Obviously, I tend to be naive in many ways.  Certainly I root for the underdog and often get fooled into thinking that good will always triumph in the end.  This last year has, without a doubt, made me more wary:  Good doesn’t happen on its own apparently. Just believing it so isn’t enough.

That said, I am making a move to become more pro-active politically.  My Indivisible group has helped immensely in my political education and while I understand that not all of my actions will yield the desired outcome, I am confident that all of us together will indeed alter the status quo…eventually.  We  just need to keep it ongoing.

At our last meeting, we were introduced to an app named 5 Calls.   5 Calls lists upcoming legislation, a summary of each, and then, by entering your zip code, gives you all the contact information of your representative and congressman or woman needed to let your voice be heard as a constituent.  It even gives you a script of what to say and how to say it.  And if you are shy about making those calls, it gives you what you need to drop a postcard to those representing you.  5 Calls is truly an awesome app for the newbie trying to make a change, the seasoned political junkie and everyone in between. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

https://5calls.org

A Drop of Ink…

 

I use this blog to “talk” out my feelings in a world turned upside down by the 2016 presidential election.  On Sunday I was sulking as you-know-who came to my home state to continue his campaign rhetoric of division and hate [[[sigh]]].  Since my last posting, I’ve  been trying to rise above my boo-hooing by engaging in a number of community activities.  Clearly, I’m not one to wallow in the Swamp of Sulk because as soon as I hit that “publish” button, I felt better.  George Gordon Bryon maintains that “a drop of ink may make a million think.”  In my case, my “inkings” makes me think…and maybe 3 or 4 others.

Lately I have been reminded of a quote that not only lifts my spirits immensely but gives me new determination to do what I can to make the world a better place even if it’s only in a tiny town in NW PA.  I used it to begin my Friends of the Library meeting last week, and I have shared it numerous times since then.  So… from Marjorie Moore, I give you:

Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.

Be the change.

And Today I’m Sulking

IMG_1310I don’t think there was anyone who knew Trumpp [sic] personally, who voted for him or not, thought for one moment that this man would go to the White House Correspondents Dinner.  He is not a man who can play with the media, banter with good humor or take a joke.  Of course, he wouldn’t go.  We all knew that but the three things I fear the most about this man came to the forefront last night at his rally in Harrisburg, PA.

  1. He is Insecure.  He could not go to the dinner where he would undoubtedly take some heat for his presidency thus far so he calls a rally to surround himself with those who adore him, clap for him, cheer for him.  And because of his insecurity, he had to tout his own successes–he won the election, after all–and tell the crowd all that he will do for them in the form of grandiose promises that will never come to fruition.  Insecurity is dangerous and opens the door for unpredictability.
  2. He is Revengeful.  All who oppose him are the enemy.  The media that seeks the truth and therefore shows him in an unfavorable light will be declared “fake.”  The judges who stand up to his discriminatory and cruel policies will be threatened with a dismantling of their courts.    The legislators who don’t say ‘yes’ to everything he wants will be bullied in tweets. The voters who did not support him in the election will not be recognized, or wooed in any way to bring the country together.  A revengeful person is dangerous and leads to irrational thought and actions.
  3. He is Incurious.  Donald J. Trumpp [sic] is not a learned man. He doesn’t (by his own admission) read books.  He doesn’t seek opposing viewpoints for the purpose of making informed decisions but instead surrounds himself with people who coddle him and tell him only what he wants to hear. He seems to have little interest in what the Constitution actually says, the way government works, or what history may have to offer.  The lack of curiosity is dangerous and will likely lead to stupid, regrettable decisions which will only make him more insecure and more revengeful.

Today, I’m sulking.  I’m wearing my pussy hat, reading Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss and pretending to be “plain little Mack.”

http://onlinebooksforchildren.com/books/yertle-turtle

The Strength of our Convictions

 

The other day I read an opinion piece in our local paper touting all the successes the new president has achieved in his near 100 days.  I expected it to be a tongue-in-cheek sort of article and was surprised at the sincerity of the author.  He clearly saw numerous positives happening in the White House and, by extension, for the country, and was willing to pronounce this president a resounding success.  And, it was at that point, that I began to wonder about my own convictions — about our democracy being in danger, that we are in a Constitutional crisis, that this man should absolutely not be anywhere near the nuclear codes.  Maybe I’m being unfair to his voter base.  Maybe I’m not being open-minded enough to see the good that is brewing in DC.  Maybe I am misreading the man.

That waffling lasted about 30 seconds.

I suppose it is a good sign that I even have these fleeting thoughts.  It means I haven’t completely gone off the deep end to the point of shutting out all opposing views, right? But after 6 months of reading and listening and growing more politically literate, I remain steadfastly against this man as my president. There are days when I feel so incredibly small in this great big mess, that my little stab at resistance isn’t going to amount to much, and then there are days when I feel so incredibly empowered because I am doing something to show my resistance, that I’m not going to excuse this man just because he is the president.

Jane Goodall, activist, scientist, UN Messenger of Peace and personal hero, gives us this quote:

My mother always taught us that if people don’t agree with you, the important thing is to listen to them. But if you’ve listened to them carefully and you still think that you’re right, then you must have the courage of your convictions.

I still think I’m right.

Have courage.  Resist.