Friendly Advice

how long will this go on
hold my taco 
i have to call my mother
she was expecting me for dinner
but i got on this bus
and we're just lingering on this street
that is on fire
did we go to hell? 
Los Angeles, 1992. (Over your dead body)

”People in L.A. are now very aware that there’s another part of town than the West Side or the Hollywood Hills, even if it’s a part they don’t understand or are afraid of,” said Joel Kotkin, a fellow at the Pepperdine Institute for Public Policy in Malibu. ”If there’s a positive to come out of the riots, it’s that we understand there’s a problem.”

”Now, it’s O.K.,” said Seung Choi, owner of the Korean Soup restaurant in the mall, who recalls the ”terrible, really scary” days of April 1992. ”But business never came back up.”

”When that day happened, it made it much worse for us,” said Pam Gray, who is now the first assistant manager of a new Parts USA auto parts store built by the Pep Boys chain at Florence and Normandie as part of the recovery effort; five years ago she was nursing a newborn baby. ”You had to drive a million miles to get to a grocery store.”

”On a collective basis, I’m not sure our city has heeded the lessons very well,” said John Mack, the head of the Los Angeles branch of the Urban League. ”There are some individual, spectacular examples of progress. But there’s been too much of a tendency to make it a spectator sport.

”L.A. can become America’s Bosnia, or it can become America’s example in democracy. We’ve all got to extend ourselves a little.”

–excerpted from the NY Times article, “Legacy of Los Angeles Riots: Divisions Amid the Renewal” by Todd S. Purdum, April 27, 1997.

Put Your Game Face On

Constructing identity via found objects. Does that sound like your life?

Your face reveals so much: What is my face saying to you?

The work to create your own sense of self that does not rely on other peoples’ ideals and ideas of you is tricky. How do you tell your own story of your vibrancy, agency and boldness without getting mixed up in stereotypes and misinformation?

Note: this DIY face portrait exploration is an ongoing project I am doing with my class of four year olds. We gather appealing found objects aka loose parts, draw and cut out our face shape, and then arrange the objects on our face canvas to create a portrait of ourselves. No glue needed.

Start with a canvas of your own making and then build from there…

Go Back To Your Country

My father used to be a dentist in Korea.

cronies

Cocktail party (my dad is the dude second from right) 

I remember my father telling me there was a conspiracy against him getting licensed to be a dentist in the U.S. and I thought he was crazy.  But the more I understand of the seventies and immigrant discrimination, I don’t think he was crazy.  Do I have proof that New York University conspired to keep my dad from passing his exams and getting his license to practice?  Not exactly.  But maybe the truth is somewhere in between conspiracy and institutional xenophobia.

We got to NYC when Nixon was still in office and the war in Vietnam was alive and well.  Enter us Korean immigrants into this mix for one fucked up cocktail of Yellow Peril and xenophobia.

I wish my dad would have returned to Korea way sooner than he did.  He could have just returned to his dentist life and my mom could have stayed in New York.   What did she thnk she was going to find in America?  I wonder if the allure of America is just a gimmick.  A trick to bring in the gullible.   Perhaps it’s not an equitable promise for all who heed her siren song?

Amidst the racist rants of “Go back to your country,” I sometimes wish we had.

we, the living

have this compulsion

to walk backwards into the past

as if the past has been waiting all this time

at the kitchen table

for our return

but the past has things to do

a forever schedule of sorting and erasing memories

for how quickly they get hoarded

and become the present

if you’re not careful

–excerpted from “Forever Schedule”  by Jiwon Choi

 

Resilience

My mother grew up during the war.  She was 13 when Chinese communists and Korean dis-loyalists colluded a hostile takeover of her homeland.

Korean War People

After war (AP archives)

After having to leave the north where she was born, she never saw her home again.  She never really talked about it, but I don’t think she knew what happened to her parents.  And many of her siblings perished and were lost from her.

mom & me

I remember mama

I didn’t grow up in war directly, but I was privy to the damage that it caused my mother as the pain and anger weeped out of her.

As a Korean child of Korean immigrants, I have conflicted feelings  towards the Chinese and Japanese (along with the despot Kims of the North).  And I have trust issues with white Americans, too.  These conniving powers hell bent on destroying a small nation that just wanted to be left alone.

But what a phoenix Korea turned out to be:  from the ashes born a creature of resilience and determination.   Yes, we are.

War, illness and famine will make you their favorite grandchild.

You’ll be like a blind person watching a silent movie.

You’ll chop onions and pieces of your heart

into the same hot skillet.

Your children will sleep in a suitcase tied with a rope.

Your husband will kiss your breasts every night

as if they were two gravestones.

––excperted from “What the Gypsies Told My Grandmother While She Was Still a Young Girl” by Charles Simic

 

 

 

 

 

Do Chinee Wear Shworts’r?

Not to take a too hard line on it, but what’s up with the Dutch?

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A Shworts’r and Chinee walk into a bar…

It would appear that even their “Dutch” girl is not stereotype-proof, but why the urge to typecast others?

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Old recipes?

As it turns out, the Dutch or Deutsch are Germans who emigrated en masse to America’s high plains in the 1700’s.  These German “plains people”  then came to Pennsylvania to flee persecution and subesquently became the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Read David Laskin’s Children’s Blizzard for an indepth view of  how these emigres fared in the New World and how they lived through the harrowing 1888 blizzard.

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The International

Blizzards aside, I can’t find any good explanation for including weird off-color images of people in these old time cookbooks.  Is it because the Dutch lost their way when they landed here?  Did they forget what it was like to be on the receiving end of prejudice and persecution?  Many were indentured servants or sold off as slaves by “soul drivers” * who would march them through Pennsylvania towns to sell at auction.

According to independent food historian, William Woys Weaver, even their cuisine got lost: groundhog, yes; shoofly pie, no.

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Consider the groundhog

 

 

 

*explorepahistory.com

 

 

I Dream In Flowers

For some seasons now, I’ve been saving zinnia seeds to sow the next year.  I can’t believe how a tiny seed can hold this wealth of beauty and grace.

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Always looking ahead

Though I am a just one gardener growing on a very small scale, I claim my right to collect and save seeds so that I can play a part in crop biodiversity, and to keep the seed free.   I don’t mean “free” in terms of I’m giving them away, but free from corporate control, free from copyrighting and patenting like how Monsanto does.

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Mother of zinnias

And the question of seed sovereignty and control is one that we urban gardeners can answer.  The practice of seed collecting has been around ever since humans could identify what a seed was, and for the agribusiness goliaths to make it a crime for small farmers to keep their own seed is criminal.

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Fuschia forever

The life force of the seed is the life force of the people, and when big companies take that away from us, they are essentially killing us.

In 1995, Indian Agriculture was reoriented from being focused on National Food Security, which rests on the livelihood and ecological security of our small farmers, to being focussed on corporate control and corporate profits, which are made possible by the corporate written rules of “free” trade, trade liberalization, and globalization. Enabled by these rules, agrichemical giants entered India and started to control the seed sector. Where once farmers grew, saved, and replanted seeds, they were now forced to buy seed-chemical packages that allowed companies to extract super-profits from farmers through royalty collection.

–Dr. Vandana Shiva,  April, 24, 1995

And since 1995, almost 300,000 farmers in India have committed suicide.

Live seed or die.

 

 

 

Common Knowledge

I was on the subway platform last week when I overheard a woman who was eating an egg sandwich ask the man who was with her if eggs came from chickens.

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These is eggs

It didn’t occur to me until that moment that such a thing wasn’t common knowledge.  And then the notion of “common knowledge” just went out the window.

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The yolk’s on you

Luckily, her companion was able to answer in the affirmative with confidence.  Yet, I felt  bad for her––not knowing what most of society knows.  Why was she not in on this already established truth?  Like she got on the wrong bus the day we were all learning about chickens and eggs.

As it turned out, I only felt a little bit bad and mostly judgey about the fact she couldn’t stop flailing her sandwich around or keep it in her mouth.   And that she didn’t bother to find out where her food came from.  Oy vey.

I need food

and you walk away reading the paper.

––excerpted from “Food” by Anne Sexton

 

 

 

Bad People

There is a myth circulated among families with young children, mostly white families, that cops only put “bad people” in jail.  I wonder how they’re choosing to define “bad” people–what do these people look like?

cops mugshot

Bad People

Do they look like former LAPD officers Koon, Powell, Wind and Briseno?  Because they look pretty shitty to me.

From what I can gather from media reports and various articles, the police seem very bad at math––four cops to subdue one Rodney King, forty-one shots in one Amadou Diallo, and six hands all around Eric Garner’s neck in what some cops refuse to admit was a chokehold.

According to a NY Magazine online article, cops anonymously posting on police message boards e.g. Thee Rant, PoliceOne on the Eric Garner killing are stirring up “racial, political and professional tensions, most of them quite ugly”.  Quel surprise!

Here’s one I found almost poetic.

SAPDMAS:

Again if Mr walking heart attack had simply put his hamburger shovels behind his back, he wouldn’t have had a heartbattackmfor over exerting himself. The NYPD did absolutely nothing wron. Tomthe guys slamming these NYPD officekrs, I and many here wouldn’t want any of you guys around us on a critical,incident. Hopefully you guys are desk jockeys.

 

Note the almost alliterative quality:  “his hamburger shovels behind his back…”  Not sure what all the extra letters are for, though.  Is it part of a cryptic message to his police buddies?

Cops are hard to like, but we are not supposed to like them.  They are an institution created by the rich to keep the poor in their place.  Mostly in jail and in squalor.  As in keep that swarm of swarthy foreigners away from my lily white family.

Yes boss.