Monday, June 19, 2017

"I Cannot Even Smile Here"

"I spent my boyhood behind the barbed wire fences 
of American internment camps...
We were American citizens. 
We were incarcerated by our American government 
in American internment camps 
here in the United States. 
The term 'Japanese internment camp' is both grammatically and factually incorrect...
And it seems to me important for a country, 
for a nation to certainly know about its glorious achievements 
but also to know where its ideals failed, in order to keep that from happening again." George Takei

Yesterday our family visited Manzanar, the internment camp which incarcerated over 10,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans during WWII. Neither Matt nor I remember learning about the internment camps as children, despite the fact that over 120,000 people nationwide were sent to them during the war, and we thought it was a good age for our girls to see and experience this part of our nation's history. Plus we had never visited Manzanar ourselves. We explained to them that we need to study all the parts of our history, so that we can act with bravery and equity and learn from the mistakes of our ancestors. Manzanar --and the imprisonment of Americans and immigrants of Japanese ancestry --was one of those mistakes. 

In preparation, I got both of the girls some internment related books: The Bracelet and Baseball Saved Us for Ruby (which she was already familiar with thanks to her first grade teacher), Paper Wishes and Sylvia and Aki for Monrovia. 
(A quick primer on internment camps:) 
"Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941, led the United States into World War II and radically changed the lives of 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry living in the United States. The attack intensified racial prejudices and led to fear of potential sabotage and espionage by Japanese Americans among some in the government, military, news media, and public. In February, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the Secretary of War to establish Military Areas and to remove from those areas anyone who might threaten the war effort. Without due process, the government gave everyone of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast only days to decide what to do with their houses, farms, businesses, and other possessions. Most families sold their belongings at a significant loss. Some rented their properties to neighbors. Others left possessions with friends or religious groups. Some abandoned their property. They did not know where they were going or for how long. Each family was assigned an identification number and loaded into cars, buses, trucks, and trains, taking only what they could carry. Japanese Americans were transported under military guard to 17 temporary assembly centers located at racetracks, fairgrounds, and similar facilities in Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona. Then they were moved to one of 10 hastily built relocation centers." (National Park Service)

Manzanar was one of those ten camps. Described (and those descriptors debated) over the years as Japanese internment camps, war relocation centers, American concentration camps, they were surrounded by barbed wire, guard towers and armed by military police. Despite the fact that their "relocation" was described as a way to protect them, one prisoner asked, “If we were put there for our protection, why were the guns at the guard towers pointed inward, instead of outward?” 

We got out of the car with the sun beating down on us. The wind and heat were unrelenting, and even for the few minutes that we were outside the girls were complaining about both. Manzanar is in the harsh desert climate, so in the winter the temperatures are below freezing and in summer the temperatures go above 100, with wind constantly blowing sand and dust all year long. I couldn't imagine being housed in the flimsy wooden barracks in such extreme temperatures, especially with small children.
One of the remaining guard towers, eight of which surrounded the perimeter of the camp.
The entrance to Manzanar, which was guarded by military police as well as an internal police force.
The camp was surrounded by barbed wire.
The structures are long gone, but this land once held tons of buildings, including (ironically) a factory to produce camouflage nets for the war effort, a post office, a newspaper, a town hall, a hospital, churches, Buddhist temples, mess halls, and barracks for ten thousand people.

Ruby working on answering questions to become a Junior Ranger (since Manzanar is run by the National Park Service.)
"Make sure that something like this never happens again to anybody." ~Kay Sakai Nakao
Looking at the model for Manzanar when all of the structures were intact and it was an operating facility.

There is something so powerful about the photographic image; it leaves no room for pretending that we have always been just and loving and inclusive of the other.
All ages were imprisoned, and with little notice were only able to bring two bags of belongings, and only that which they could carry:
Monrovia drawing a picture of what toy she would have brought to Manzanar. Those imprisoned set up a toy lending library so that children could have toys.
Profound quotes that resound just as loudly today, as we consider as a nation who to wall out and who to ban.
Imagine this valley filled with 504 of these barracks:
Building 14, Block 1: By September 1942 more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were crowded into 504 barracks organized into 36 blocks. There was little or no privacy in the barracks—and not much outside. The 200 to 400 people living in each block, consisting of 14 barracks each divided into four rooms, shared men’s and women’s toilets and showers, a laundry room, and a mess hall. 
Any combination of eight individuals was allotted a 20-by-25-foot room. An oil stove, a single hanging light bulb, cots, blankets, and mattresses filled with straw were the only furnishings provided.
Multiple families would have been house in this room, their spaces divided by a hanging blanket.
A basketball court outside of one of the barracks:
As we left, Monrovia said to me, "Mom. This place is terrible. I cannot even smile here." She was very upset that the buildings had not been left as they were for people to see and experience and learn from. Her best friend at school is Japanese American, and she kept thinking about how if we had lived during World War II, that Natalie and her family would have been sent to an internment camp, just because of her ethnicity.
At the edge of the camp's property lies a memorial and cemetery. Almost 150 people died during their time at Manzanar, and some cremated remains are buried here.
The monument’s Japanese Kanji characters read, “Soul Consoling Tower.” 
America works really well for some of us, and once we work our way into that portion of the population for which it works well, we tend to want to exclude some other population whom we are afraid will hurt us or take away our jobs or in some way diminish our quality of life. We have done this for hundreds of years, and our collective memory of prejudice and injustice is often very short.

There were acts of resistance to the internment at Manzanar: some locals resisted by asking to come be teachers at the camp school. Others refused to sign the military's loyalty pledge and were sent to another camp at Tule Lake. Some went on strike after military police shot and killed a couple of men protesting at the camp.

To me the acts of resistance that were most striking as an artist were the proactive and ongoing choices among those prisoners to cultivate beauty and celebrate their Japanese culture despite the fact that they were imprisoned solely because of their ethnicity: creating peaceful Japanese gardens and ponds in a harsh desert climate, holding cultural events, incorporating their own recipes into the food served at mess halls, making art and music that spoke to their heritage within the reality of their internment camp experience. Resistance through making. Resistance through resilience. Resistance through growing new plants. Resistance through beauty.

Today we can honor this part of our past by speaking and acting against fear that makes entire populations into the other. We can resist movement by our government to demonize and blame certain groups. We can love, learn from and speak up for those who are seen as being such a threat that we must build a wall to keep them out or write executive orders to ban them. We can resist by visiting places like Manzanar to remember who we were then, and who we should be now.

Monday, August 29, 2016

monrovia's tips for teaching a student with hearing loss

last summer, monrovia had the idea to make a video for her new teacher explaining in her own words what would most help her succeed in the classroom when it came to hearing loss. she planned out everything she wanted to say, and we sent it to her new teacher before school started. (you can watch that video here)

this summer we agreed it would be good to do it again, so she came up with all of her ideas about what she wanted to say in the video and we made a second one for her new third grade teacher. of course she is 8 years old, so the way she explains things isn't necessarily the way i would, but it's her project, her words, and her hearing loss, so i tried to get out of the way and not micromanage! (she also has a deaf teacher who goes in to train her teachers and troubleshoot weekly, and i make a binder for her teacher with hearing loss strategies and resources, so these three minutes in the words of an 8 year old are only an intro to her hearing loss!)

it's pretty interesting to hear what she wants her teachers to understand. (of course it makes sense, but i never knew it was easier for her if she stood in the front of the line!) we sent this to the principal the week before school started, and he sent it to any staff working with monrovia. grateful to be at a full inclusion school, and for our daughter to be in an environment where she feels confident enough to share this video with her teachers!

and just like that, back to school

how is it the end of summer???? we had such a good summer. a really, really good summer. i am always incredibly thankful that one of the perks of matt's job is that he gets four weeks of vacation, and that he can take them in the summer. since i am self-employed i can shape my schedule as needed. while neither of our jobs rake in the big bucks, we are gifted with flexibility and time, which means in the summer months we get quality time together as a family. (the only challenge is finding ways to take inexpensive vacations!) this year it felt like the summer raced by, and suddenly last monday it was time to go back to school!

back to school = bittersweet
i love having time with my girls, and the older they get the faster the time seems to whoosh! i also love working in my studio and working on freelance projects, and even with camps and activities for the kids in the summer it is nearly impossible for me to get much done with them home on vacation. 

back to school = the morning hustle to get the girls out of bed, dressed, fed, lunches made and in backpacks, shoes on, jackets on, in the car, through the traffic, parked, and up the hill by the time the bell rings. not my favorite time of day, and i need to lean into being a more patient, loving parent in the process of getting my kids out of the house. somehow i expect my small humans to be perfect little morning robots and.....they are not. somehow they hope that i will not yell at them to get out of the house (because for the love we do this 5 days a week all year long!) but.....i do.

anyway, lucky for all of us there was no yelling the first day of school, and i even got my crap together enough to take pictures of my little babies before they headed off to new classes!

ruby, my big first grader
monrovia, somehow now a third grader

 how can they drive me crazy and simultaneously reduce me to tears thanks to their first day of school cuteness? i don't even know. this year both girls are with seasoned, structured, warm teachers, and have at least one friend in class. i always get so ridiculously stressed out about what classroom they are going to be in, and each year they do just fine. people, what is wrong with me!? 
up the hill!
(every. single. morning. drama walking up this hill. you guys - it's not that steep! it's not that long! and yet every day the whining and the complaining! you'd think it was everest.)

back to school = back to seeing favorite friends every day! i can't believe ruby is in first grade. my baby is not-so-much-a-baby anymore. 

back to school = worktime for mama! hooray! so back to my studio, friends!
update: we are knee deep into new school year transition over here. god bless every single teacher because i only have two kids at my house and by the end of the week they were a hot mess! i can't imagine a classroom full of these tired kiddos. 

we've had tears, friend drama, recess drama, half-eaten lunches, mama talking in a loud-frustrated voice (ok, yelling) to get out the door, kids crawling into our bed in the middle of the night because who knows why but something about school, happy friend reunions, so many big feelings, new schedules and lots of morning coffee. 

and inevitably if i just ask what they did today at school, "eh, i don't know. nothing."

here's to the bittersweet! to the exhaustion of parenting! to the roller coaster of raising children, and sending them out into the heartbreaking and beautiful world of friendship and learning! here's to going back to school all over again through your children's eyes! here's to getting to school on time!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

love & other stuff

earlier this summer i got tagged by two of my friends in the post-yourself-with-your-spouse-for-seven-days challenge that was going around on facebook.

(look at those babies!)

i didn't do it until now because
a. i'm not really good at keeping up with 7 days of posting anything (ahem, see this blog)
b. i have many friends who aren't married or together with someone, and for some this is a choice; but for others? not so much. they are amazing human beings who haven't found their person yet but want to. so i felt conflicted about posting pda photos for a week straight.

that said, i do think it's good to celebrate healthy relationships, and i don't say enough how thankful i am for matt. so i'm going to write on here, just once, instead. with lots of pictures.

first, real talk: this year is our 14th wedding anniversary and wow! has life thrown us curveballs we never could have expected, as life tends to do. then there is the usual marriage stuff: we are really different humans. if you give us the same task it is likely that we will approach it in opposite ways. we fight, we correct each other, we apologize, we laugh, we learn new things about each other, we cry, we yell too loudly (ok that's just me), we fail each other, we retell the same stories & listen to the same stories, we forget why we were so mad at each other, we remember why we fell in love in the first place, we say things regret, we stay silent, we need time alone, we need time together, we dance, we have drinks in the backyard and talk late into the night, we cook, we micromanage, we mess up, we celebrate, we do errands and go on trips and go to work and parent and clean the house and get gas and fold laundry and feed the chickens and get the girls to school and get them back home again a whole life together. there are things that drive me crazy about my husband, and i'm guessing the list of things i do that annoy him is at least twice that long.

BUT. it's good. it's so so good.
together figuring it all out is GOOD.

some things i love about being married to matt:

his faith practice informs everything in his life & our relationship - from the people he spends time with, to how quickly he admits that he is wrong, to the way he appreciates beauty, to the time he takes to be still, pray & listen. it also makes him incredibly others-focused....which honestly can be frustrating when i'm wanting to hunker down and not care about anyone else but myself! i'm inspired to work towards the common good and not just what benefits me. he is humble and willing to learn from others. i learn from his rhythm of self-care that fuels him to then care for others. i also learn from the way he listens before acting or speaking. he creates sacred space - at funerals, baptisms and weddings, at the bedside of someone dying, sitting with someone in grief - and he holds and honors those moments that are often rushed through, even in our christian faith tradition.

he's authentic & has integrity, and he's the same person behind closed doors that he is in the public sphere.

he's a crazy good dad. thoughtful, gentle, patient, and creative. he's made vocational & financial sacrifices to prioritize time with our children, which can be challenging when we live in such a city where the cost of living is astronomical. he has real conversations with our kids about what they are thinking about, and who they are becoming. he loves our girls in their uniqueness, and he celebrates who they are. he sits and listens to them. he plays with them. we co-parent not in theory but in reality; he juggles a ton of work and life to be present for our family. he makes me such a better mom & balances me out (and hopefully i do the same for him.)
matt's a really hard worker. he's seriously so efficient. i mean we both suffer from the inability to create realistic to-do lists, but somehow he knocks out SO MUCH work in a day.

paint two rooms, clean the entire backyard, wash all the floors, do 5 loads of laundry and then run over to help a friend on a house project on a saturday afternoon? no problem.

unlike me, he doesn't make a big deal about how much work he's doing. he doesn't need credit (um- i totally need credit and lots of compliments along the way), and he freely offers to help others.
it takes me an hour to wash the amount of dishes he can do in 15 minutes (which is one reason in our old-no-dishwasher-house, he is our dishwasher & does 90% of the dishes!) 

he celebrates and learns about things i care about. so for example, not only has he learned all about bono, but he knows a ton about art. he reads about it, looks at it, thinks about it, talks to our kids about it, talks to other artists, writes about it, asks me questions about it.

he makes life so fun. 
ruby has inherited this gift, and this facial expression is exactly matt in 6 year old girl form:

he works out with me! he's always up to support me whether it's running, walking, yoga, hiit, tabata, weights...he'll do whatever i'm doing (yep, i'm talking about you jillian michaels dvds) or he'll make sure i have time to go solo. i remember years ago when we were dating, how he would run the lake with me, and slow down to my pace (about 3 minutes a mile slower than his) without saying a word.
(i'm not kidding this day we almost died thanks to the humidity)
he poses for pictures with me. even though it is so far from his favorite thing! i keep telling him he'll be glad when we are 80.
he takes alone time to recharge, which really makes our relationship so much better. (it took me awhile to figure that one out but it's true.)
he loves and invests in other people's kids, not just our own. 
also: that he can eat at chez panisse and a taco truck in the same day, his gardening skills which somehow make me look like a gardener too even though all i can handle are succulents, his love of punk rock and hip hop, that he turns our backyard into an obstacle course whenever kids come over, his kitchen skills, his archaic flip phone, that he watches tv with me every tuesday night so i can get my fix, that he buys me 73 little presents for every holiday because i love gifts, that he makes me better cocktails than i can buy anywhere in oakland, that he almost always drives because i'd rather not

and that he's always and forever coming up with ideas on how to make the world a wholer, more beautiful and grace-filled place to live for everyone no matter who they are.

so there you go. 
we're married and 
i like my husband most of the time and love him all of the time.