Tuesday, November 14, 2017

And Then They Came For Me

“AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME” is a powerful exhibit about the internment of Japanese-American citizens living on the west coast of the United States during World War II.
We were fortunate to get to see it. On the second floor of the gallery, a documentary about the internment is shown each hour. There are also photographs and artifacts from the internment.

While I knew that the internment took place, I didn’t know until seeing this film about some of the worst abuses. I didn’t know that the people being herded into these subhuman conditions were given a loyalty oath test. Those who didn’t pass it were put in maximum security prisons along with their young children, some of them babies. I didn’t know that the government forbid photography of the barbed wire fences censoring the news coverage that came out of the camps. Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams were hired to take pictures. While they were given many restrictions, they managed to take some pictures that showed the humanity and the tragedy of this blot on American’s conscience. A Japanese man who was interned smuggled a banned camera into the internment camp. Many of these heretofore unseen photos are shown in the gallery.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued a half-hearted apology to the Japanese-Americans who were interned and each family was given $20,000. This hardly compensates for the five years of these peoples’ lives that they’ll never get back. It didn’t compensate for the businesses and farms that were taken from them. When the Japanese returned to their homes after the War, their businesses were gone or unclaimable in most cases. They continued to be taunted and discriminated against. What is $20,000 in the face of such loss?

Most Americans don’t learn about the Japanese internment in history classes. Many of us, have never heard of it. Fortunately, we have this exhibit to tell us or remind us.

In this time of talk of Muslim registries and deporting Mexican-Americans, we would do well to remember what can happen when hysteria and bigotry carry the day. We need to look back and vow that we won’t allow this to happen again. While FDR is in large part responsible for this, it couldn’t have happened without the passive consent of the American people.

“And Then They Came for Me” is also the title of a poem written just after World War II by the pastor Martin Niemoller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

“And Then They Came for Me” is free and open to the public and has been shown at the Alphawood Gallery at 2401 North Halsted Street in Chicago since June 29th of this year and will close on November 19th. This is short notice but if you have time to see this exhibit in its closing days, it’s a must see.

The exhibit is traveling to the New York International Center of Photography and will open there on January 26, 2018.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Back in the Land of Deja Vu

Ever since John Adams ignored his wife Abigail’s entreaty to “remember the ladies” when writing the United States Constitution, we women have been trying to correct his and his colleagues’ omission. It would seem that now is a good time – better late than never – to finally get it right.

With that in mind, I participated in a phone bank to belatedly get the state of Illinois to ratify the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Getting My ERA Campaign Buttons Out of Mothballs and Putting Them to Work
As I got to the phone bank, I couldn’t help wondering why this one sentence is so difficult for the Illinois Legislature to pass. In 1975, we were living in Ohio and I participated in a group that went to Columbus to demand its passage. It was ratified there.

When we moved to Illinois a year later, I got the bad news that Illinois was the only state north of the Mason-Dixon line that had failed to ratify the ERA. Several years followed during which I joined marches and picket lines and wrote letters and attended debates. One of the most memorable times was going with several women to attend a debate at Illinois State University  between Phyllis Schafly and Karen DeCrow, then president of NOW. We had brought fliers advertising a rally in Chicago and I borrowed a knife from the student center to open the box they were in. By the time the debate was over, the student center was closed. I still have that knife in my kitchen drawer serving as a reminder that women in Illinois and throughout the United States are still denied equal citizenship. It's long since worn out its welcome.

When the deadline to pass the ERA came and went without Illinois doing the right thing, we who had advocated for its ratification hugged each other good-bye and said that we’d have to leave this unfinished business to our granddaughters. Now there’s a movement in Illinois to try again to get the ERA ratified here with the hope that if we have 38 states ratifying it, Congress will find a way to make it the next amendment. The state of Nevada ratified the ERA at the beginning of 2017. We now have 36 states and only need two more.

When we failed to pass the ERA in 1978, I didn’t have any children yet and couldn’t even imagine having grandchildren. Forty years later, I have three beautiful granddaughters. I don’t want to leave this fight to them. I want to leave them a better world than that - one in which they have complete equality. 

So I make phone calls and rally and do whatever else needs to be done. Forty years ago, I did this for me. Now I do it for them. If this is not the fight you want to leave to your children and grandchildren, there are phone banks needing people. There are pro-equality candidates that need our support. Emily's List always needs donations. Let’s get to work and get it done this time.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Perilous Journey to America

This week we got to travel without getting on a plane or even going to the airport by attending a play of the first Chicago Latino Theater Festival. From September 29 until October 28th, eleven plays are being presented in Chicago at various venues. While those of you in Chicago may have missed many, you still have time to see a couple that are running through this weekend.

We saw Amarillo performed at the new Shakespeare Theater, the Yard. The Mexican theater company Teatro Linea De Sombra performed this play directed by Jorge A. Vargas. Using actors, videos, and poems, the plight of those trying to cross the border from Mexico and Central America into the United States as well as the plight of those left behind was depicted. The play was done in Spanish while a screen above the actors provided subtitles in English. While this play feels more like a long and beautiful poem than a play with characters interacting, it was a very creative use of the stage.

Not only did we hear from those who tried unsuccessfully to complete the journey to the United States, we also heard from those left behind. They told us how they felt to be left alone and how they were coping moving forward. It is the unknown part of many of our stories. Many of us have grandparents or great-grandparents who came to America, some who never spoke again of the countries they left or of the family members that they never saw again once they made the perilous voyage. Thus, the story line of Amarillo is universal and easy for many of us to relate to.

I read a similar one by Luis Alberto Urrea, a Tex/Mex American writer who has written several novels and memoirs, among them Into the Beautiful North. In this book, the town of Tres Camarones, Mexico (a fictional town) is left with only women, children, and old men. All the men of working age have left to find work in the United States. Nineteen year old Nayeli and her friends decide to sneak into the United States with the purpose of bringing their men home. While this story was written satirically and allegorically, it depicted the plight of those left behind very well. The book was adapted to the stage and performed at The Sixteenth Street Theater in Berwyn last summer. We were lucky to see it performed there.

Amarillo is a creative piece of theater and an unusual opportunity to get a glimpse into another culture. It’s playing at the Yard, the new Shakespeare Theater venue at Navy Pier, through this coming weekend, until October 29th. If you live in the Chicago area, go see it. We’re lucky to have a chance to have the world come to us. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Women's History See in Evanston During Open House Chicago

Every year the Chicago Architecture Foundation www.architecture.org has been hosting Open House Chicago www.openhousechicago.org the second weekend in October. During the weekend, hundreds of volunteers guide the public through over 200 sites throughout the city. It’s an exciting event that we always look forward to.

This year we stayed in Evanston and had the opportunity to view three wonderful women’s history sites. Our first stop was The Woman’s Club of Evanston. I had probably walked past this building hundreds of times, but I had no idea what was inside. Open House Chicago was my opportunity to find out. The Woman’s Club of Evanston was founded by a group of philanthropic, civic minded women in the 1880’s. The group organized around helping in the typhoid epidemic. They were active in founding the Visiting Nurses’ Association. Before meals on wheels existed, the Woman’s Club brought healthy meals to shut-ins. They’ve helped promote many civic causes and charities throughout the years including women’s suffrage, child labor laws, and public health.

While the building looks like a house, it is not. The group utilizes it for their events, activities, and meetings. I had always thought of this group as frivolous but their volunteers guiding us through the building proved me very wrong.
The Woman's Club of Evanston

 Just up the block from The Woman’s Club of Evanston is the home of Frances Willard. How appropriate. Frances Willard worked closely with Elizabeth Boynton Harbert on the issue of women’s suffrage. While Frances Willard has been mostly known – and in many cases reviled – for being a founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she was also a leader of many causes for women including promoting women’s opportunity in higher education and in getting the vote. Her home was built in 1865 and had been closed because of restoration activities for about one and a half years. It was reopened to the public a few months ago. The restoration efforts have been remarkable, painstakingly adhering to the style in which it was built and decorated. For fans of that early architecture as well as of the ERA, visiting this house is worth a stop.

Last but not least we visited The Margarita European Inn – another building that I had passed hundreds of times wondering what it was. It’s almost impossible to imagine a time when young women were not able to rent apartments on their own or live independently. Nevertheless, that used to be the case. The Margarita Club opened in 1927 to house young ladies who had jobs in the area. The building has been beautifully maintained and restored. During Open House Chicago, the grand parlor, the library, room 209, the roof deck, and the manually-controlled elevator were open to the public. The building is now a boutique hotel and is gorgeously appointed. If you have any out of town guests, it would be perfect.

In the parlor of the Margarita European Inn
Next year at Open House Chicago we’ll visit a different neighborhood. I’m looking forward to it already.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reliving the Immigration Experience in Stoughton, Wisconsin

When we arrived in Stoughton, Wisconsin, we knew we were back. We had been to Norway in 2016 and loved the beauty of that country and so we were happy to see it again - a lot closer to home.
Stoughton, a town of 12,611 people, is about 15 miles South of Madison, Wisconsin. Because of its large Norwegian population, they have built a museum to remember the immigrant story of this group. The structure of the museum Livsreise www.livsreise.org is impressive in its replication of the architecture of Bergen, Norway.
Sons of Norway Mandt Lodge, Stoughton
Norwegian Museum, Stoughton, Wisconsin

Buildings near harbor, Bergen, Norway

in Norway
The interior of Livsreise, however, is even more impressive. They have utilized technology to provide displays and exhibits showing the lives of people in Norway who had journeyed to America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. A genealogical library housed in the museum provides resources to assist Norwegian-Americans to trace their roots. A 68-seat auditorium shows videos that focus on the Norwegian heritage. Photography is not allowed in this museum so you'll have to visualize this museum. I was unable to take any pictures of it.

The thought of getting on a rough sailing ship with all one’s possessions to make the journey to the other end of the world must have been daunting. Nevertheless, the poverty in Norway at that time and the promise of a better life in America spurred many to make the risky voyage. Many who survived the trip found their way to Stoughton and other towns in Wisconsin as well as to Minnesota and the Dakotas. Many of them availed themselves of the Homestead Act and became farmers in these areas. Others gravitated to the towns and cities where they rebuilt their lives.

Besides the Livsreise Museum, we had a good time walking through the commercial part of Stoughton enjoying their shops and restaurants. In addition, the town boasts the Stoughton Historical Museum as well as the Sons of Norway Mandt Lodge. Stoughton's major claim to fame is that the Coffee Break originated there. Started by workers in the tobacco factories, it has become a standard in most places of work.  

Newspaper article announcing the first coffee break
In a sense, the Norwegian immigrant experience is the American immigrant experience. The Swedish-American Museum in Chicago has a similar motif. It was enjoyable to see and be able to compare these two museums. We can think about their perilous journeys to America as we witness the journeys made by modern day immigrants leaving their homes and families in pursuit of what all immigrants seek – a better life than the ones they are leaving.

It is only a two and a half hour ride from Chicago to Stoughton. This quiet, charming town is worth the trip.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

To Mexico With Love in Chicago

The National Museum of Mexican Art www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org is one of our favorite Chicago Museums. It’s a treasure of art and history of Mexico and the Chicago-Mexican experience and is the only accredited museum of Mexican art in the United States. While many people think of the Mexican-American Community as being in California and Texas, Chicago is also home to a large Mexican community some of whom have been here for over 100 years. Thus, it is not surprising that Chicago would be home to such a wonderful museum. Located at 1852 W. 19th Street, it is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10AM to 5PM and the admission is always free.

Currently, the museum is celebrating being open for thirty years. We enjoyed seeing pieces from many of their previous and permanent collections. Their Day of the Dead exhibit as well the one Nuestra Historia (Our History) are especially notable. It is worth seeing how the artists have progressed and how political much of it is. The anguish felt about their precariousness in the world is palpable and creatively expressed.

The Resistance of the Hybrid Cacti

Pilsen, the neighborhood where the Museum is located, is home to many outdoor murals. We were there on a nice day and walked around to see them.

Walking worked up an appetite and we were in luck. The area is home to many good Mexican restaurants. At this time, when the entire Mexican-American community seems to feel threatened by our current President’s threats to deport everyone, they can use the support. Many in the community including those with Greencards and those who are citizens have been afraid to be out and about and this is hurting their businesses. What better and more delicious way to help than by patronizing a local restaurant. That day we decided to stop at 5 Rabanitos. The food was great and the prices were very reasonable. They’re located at 1758 W 18th Street right near the 18th Street Stop on the Pink Line. How easy is that!

Unfortunately, since we’ve been to Pilsen, the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities have both been ravaged by natural disasters – three major earthquakes in Mexico and a hurricane in Puerto Rico that has devastated the entire island. The two communities are jointly raising funds to aid victims in both communities through the Chicago for Mexico and Puerto Rico Relief Fund. Money raised will be distributed through the Mexican and Puerto Rico Red Cross Chapters. You can donate online or send donations to this group through the National Museum of Mexican Art earmarked for the Chicago for Mexico and Puerto Rico Relief Fund.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

We Just Came Back From Canada - Sorry, Eh

“What brings you to Vancouver?” we were asked at Customs.
“We’re visiting. We heard how beautiful Vancouver was and we’ve been wanting to visit for a long time,” said my husband.
 “If we really like it, we may defect,” I joked.
With that Canadian sense of humor, the customs officer told us that we were always welcome in Canada.

We enjoyed that humor when we attended a sketch improv group’s show called “Oh Canada.” The audience, mostly Canadians, laughed at their own foibles in that dry, self-deprecating way. During intermission, the audience was asked to fill out slips saying what they loved most about Canada. I wrote that I loved the way everyone said “Sorry” all the time. To my surprise, the first skit after the intermission was “Sorry, Eh.” All the actors in the ensemble got the chance to correct each other prefacing it with – you guessed it – Sorry Eh. By the time the skit was finished, all the ensemble members had their chance to say “Sorry” about just about every aspect of Canadian life.

Poster at Oh Canada Skit
We witnessed this tendency to apologize in more important ways as we traveled through Vancouver, Victoria, and the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. Vancouver has an outstanding Anthropology Museum on the campus of BCU (British Columbia University) where we spent many hours. Their collection of native American – or as Canadians call it First Nations – artifacts, totem poles, and artwork was fascinating. Free tours of exhibits are given throughout the day and the history of injustices done to First Nations by Canada is fully acknowledged by the tour guides.

At entrance of the Museum
Sculpture by Bill Reid, First Nation Artist
In Victoria, we took a tour of the Provincial Capitol Building. Again, the guide talked about Canada’s past injustices to their First Nations and to Japanese-Canadians.

British Columbia Provincial Capitol Building
The town of Duncan population 4,944 in the Cowichan Valley has 30 totem poles and a museum featuring the history of First Nations in that part of Canada. We took this very interesting tour and learned a lot.
Totem Pole

Totem Pole in Duncan

Canada and the United States share a history of injustice toward their native American and other nonwhite populations – the spread of European diseases, usurping of native lands, relegation of First Nations people to reservations, boarding schools that erased native culture. They also interned Japanese-Canadians during World War II and then didn’t allow them to return to British Columbia when the War was over. The main difference between the two countries is that the Canadians have acknowledged their wrongdoing and said “Sorry” as they go forward as a multi-racial society. They apologized and arranged reparations for the Japanese in 1988. They apologized to the First Nations in 2008. In the meantime, we Americans still argue among ourselves about whether or not to keep our Indian sports mascots despite many Native Americans who have protested them saying how insulted they feel by those mascots.

We can’t undo the past but we can acknowledge our wrongdoing as a society, say “Sorry,” and change our collective behavior going forward. We in the United States need some lessons from Canada in saying “Sorry.”