December 11th, 2014

The Humanities Are Central to Everyday Life

When the Orioles became this year’s American League East Division Champs and you talked about the last time they vied for the World Series (surprise!) you were participating in a discussion of history and the humanities. When you join a book club or attend a discussion on the issues surrounding the ethics of environmental change, you are experiencing the humanities in action. When you research your family history, you use the humanities. The humanities help us learn throughout our lives and challenge us to consider new ideas and points of view. They celebrate both diverse backgrounds and our shared heritage. The humanities nourish our curiosity and prepare us for a lifetime of learning.

Vision 2020The Maryland Humanities Council (MHC) recently released a five-year strategic plan and a newly revised mission. Our new mission not only better reflects our programming, it also reaffirms our vision for Maryland where the humanities are understood as central to everyday life: MHC creates and supports educational experiences in the humanities that inspire all Marylanders to embrace lifelong learning, exchange ideas openly, and enrich their communities. We envision a Maryland where the humanities are understood as central to everyday life because they help us reflect on the past, understand the present, and shape the future. The result will be a state where thoughtful and informed Marylanders are committed to a lifetime of learning that invigorates and strengthens our democracy through an open-minded exchange of ideas.

Maryland students show their state pride at National History Day 2014.  Exhibition Photo by Earl Dotter.

Maryland students show their state pride at National History Day 2014. Exhibition Photo by Earl Dotter.

Perhaps when you hear the term “lifelong learning” the image of seniors attending a scholarly lecture comes to mind. It can be that. But at MHC we literally mean a lifetime of learning, which is why our programs range from curricula-aligned in-school programs to public programs open to learners of all ages. MHC school programs teach children important critical thinking, writing, and research skills but also inspire them, challenge them, and prepare them for a lifetime of curiosity and inquiry. In 2014, two Western Maryland students took home a gold medal at the National History Day contest among other state award winners, but the 23,000+ students who competed around our state also received a vitally important educational experience. This year MHC began professional development classes for teachers in Baltimore City and beyond on Maryland History Day. How many of you have attended a Chautauqua living history performance and learned something about a historical figure that you never knew before? Our radio program, Humanities Connection, provides a window into the humanities every week on WYPR 88.1fm.

The humanities foster learning about ourselves and the world around us because they explore the human experience. Being better educated has many benefits—you can get a better job, have a deeper understanding of others, and you may be more civically engaged, self-aware, and curious about the world around you and more connected to others.

Collaborations and partnerships are at the core of MHC’s work. In the coming years we will continue to deepen existing relationships while building new strategic ones to expand our audiences, some that may have little to no experience learning through the humanities. Partnerships, as always, will play a crucial role. What is One Maryland One Book without our strong partnerships with Maryland libraries around the state? Historical societies play an important role for students working on Maryland History Day projects. Chautauqua host sites are some of our longest-running partners. The Museum on Main Street “Hometown Teams” exhibition, set to travel Maryland in February 2015, provides professional development and support to our community partners hosting the exhibition who deliver the program locally.

Photo: Earl Dotter Our Grants program allows allied humanities organizations the opportunity to develop programs statewide using the humanities to address needs specific to their communities. A recent example of this is the Migrant Clinicians Network, who received MHC support to produce the exhibition “Work. Respect. Dignity: Shared Images and Stories of Maryland’s Eastern Shore Immigrants,” which was displayed at the Salisbury University Downtown Campus Gallery. Photojournalist Earl Dotter documented the lives and stories of immigrants and those who serve them on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Migrant Clinicians Network organized panel discussions and outreach programs. The project connected and educated the public and provided meaningful discussion pertinent to residents’ lives.

For more than 40 years, the Maryland Humanities Council has brought humanities education to Marylanders statewide, and we have plans for significant growth in the next six years. But we cannot do this important work without you. Help us to make the humanities central to Marylanders’ lives.

We invite you to take a look at a summary of our new strategic plan. Have you attended one of our programs or do you belong to a partner organization and want to share your thoughts? We invite your feedback. You can comment below or send us an email to info@mdhc.org with “feedback” in the subject line. We truly cannot make this next leap without you. I invite you to join us for the next phase of our growth and success.

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November 22nd, 2014

One Maryland One Book: FCC Student Reflections Part 6

Throughout the Fall 2014 semester, a group of Frederick Community College Honors composition students are considering problems of complex identity, social/family belonging, cultural myth, and the role of language in forming how we see ourselves and the world around us.

In addition to reading and viewing texts such as Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, Jose Antonio Vargas’s Outlaw: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant (New York Times 7.14.14), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” students are deepening their awareness of the multiple perspectives undergirding these problems by interviewing FCC international and ESL students, both in person and through Google+ hangout technology.

The following post is the sixth of six submitted by the class. What did YOU think after reading The Distance Between Us? (Review our posting policy)

By Amber Snyder

Child immigration is a reoccurring topic in Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, Jose Antonio Vargas’s Outlaw: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant, and Sonia Nazario’s article, “The Children of the Drug Wars.” Although each text illustrates different experiences of child immigration, there are interesting similarities that exist between these different stories of immigration. For example, all of the readings discuss abandonment and the effect it has on children.

One Maryland One Book

In Grande’s memoir, she describes her constant need for a mother and father. Just like Grande, many families in Honduras are separating to create better lives. This separation sadly leaves children to face a similar situation to the narrative recounted by Grande –– a life without parents. Jose Antonio Vargas also examines parentlessness and its effect on children by discussing his journey to a new country without his mother. Each text illustrates how family separation can become a common element of immigration.

Violence is also illustrated by Grande’s memoir and Nazario’s article. Grande was not trying to escape violence in her country per say, but she was trying to find a home with love and affection. She was clearly not receiving nurturing at her grandmother’s home, where the young Grande was beaten and neglected. For Grande, America represented a place where she could find love and safety. The children in Sonia Nazario’s article are also extremely frightened due to violence. These children do not wish to escape poverty, but choose to leave their native lands due to high murder rates. Through reading all three narratives, my perception of child immigration no longer stands the same as before. I now realize that these children are not leaving their families and home countries due to poverty or poor conditions. Children wish to leave their countries because they are terrified of being killed. I previously believed that it didn’t not matter if America had to deport children. Now I see that we should be doing more to hear their side of the story, and help them find refuge.

If people understood what intentions child immigrants had, I believe they might be more sympathetic, and try to find solutions that protect children’s safety. Just reading these three texts have changed my way of thinking, and I no longer see deportation as an immediate resort. I now understand that it is not merely poverty, but also violence, that is drawing countless undocumented children to our country.

Our thanks to Assistant Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, in the English Department at Frederick Community College for coordinating her students’ essays.

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November 18th, 2014

Finding Life Through War

On November 10, the Maryland Humanities Council joined Spotlight UB and the Bob Parsons Veterans Center at the University of Baltimore to present “Veterans’ Voices,” a special program of readings, reflections, and discussion among veterans and civilians about what it means to serve our nation. Readings by veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq Wars included stories about segregation in the military, poetry from World War I, an inspirational Command Speech by an Air Force General, and a reading from a memoirist. After the readings, audience members met in small groups to share, listen, and ask questions.

For many, this event served as a time for reflection and for some, a source of inspiration for writings of their own, such as Rev. Marty Nocchi. The blog post he wrote after the event is featured below. Our thanks to him for allowing us to share his work.

By Rev. Marty Nocchi

In war, people are always the ones that lose. There’s just no way around it. We’ve witnessed the destruction of humans against other humans from the beginning of time, this ongoing need for power and control and to fight a war from within and outwardly. No, I have never had the experience of combat. I don’t know Iraq from Afghanistan. I’ve never seen the wilderness of Vietnam, which claimed the lives of many. I wouldn’t be able to give all the details of world wars that have been fought. For that matter, the older I get, I’m not even quite sure I know for sure what happened in those hallowed days and years of the civil war of this country.

Readers on stage

Readers on stage at Veterans’ Voices

But I’ve heard and read the stories. I’ve heard the statistics of those who have taken their lives, never quite recovering from their time in far distant lands, armed for battle against the one at that time who had been deemed the enemy. This year alone close to 1900 have taken their lives by suicide. We never know. Maybe they were fragile upon entering war, being pushed to the brink when seeing the destruction of human life. Maybe they could no longer handle the war that they had left, or for that matter, the war that they continued to fight within themselves. In war, people are always the one’s that lose, even those that can pat themselves on the back as champions, defenders of freedom, the one’s who defeated the enemy and those who terrorize. Yet, as we see, so many may physically leave the battleground but the battleground often never leaves them.

No, I don’t know combat, but I know war. I know what it’s like to maneuver through the land mines of the battlefield that I have fought within myself, at times feeling like reaching a cliff with no place to go but off. Not always knowing where to step for fear that what I have known would somehow explode and destroy. There are those that I feared, ready to aim at me for any wrong move, needing to live with fear and anxiety that somehow, with one misstep, life would end. There’s the dodging of grenades that have been planted within me, often by myself and yet some by others, ready to take me down for fear of my own shadow, fragile and sensitive. There has been that shadow of war that has often followed me and at times, have even had to surrender to, that despite never experiencing combat, I have known war, in my own way.

Over time it has intrigued me all the more to want to minster to those who continue to carry the pains of war with them. Although I can’t be there, I have been there through the war that I have fought and always thought I had to win, but no, not always. Since moving beyond war and battle within myself, I have had a greater appreciation for those who not only have to fight the battle within, but for those who see it first-hand, on the front-lines. Before their very eyes, and listening to so many of their stories, they had to see out there what most of us can only experience within, and on a level none of us can ever begin to imagine.

Veterans' Voices discussion groups

Veterans’ Voices discussion groups

In war, people are always the ones to lose. There has never been war that hasn’t left people bitter, angered, divided, conflicted, or even resentful, hurt, and in all reality, dead. It is the sad reality; and as time goes on, not only on the battlefield, but upon return. The sleepless nights, the ongoing nightmares, the hypersensitivity, the lack of control, to only name a few, and on top of it, hearts that are deeply wounded from experiencing death square in the face; often to young to even begin to understand. And when all is said and done, they too must face their own death. The loss of innocence. The loss of peace. The loss of the person they thought they were and knew. The loss of relationships. The loss of hope in a better tomorrow. For what it seems, the loss of light.

Oh, how my heart aches for them and desires to walk with them, for the battle they face upon return is the battle we all face at one point or another, a war that never seems to end. We seek out the mentors and guides who can help us navigate through the land mines. We seek out help in navigating what we have called, enemy territory. We seek wisdom to go into a battle we now must face, not in a distant land, or maybe it is; but in a different way, deep within us only to be led out of the battle field, yes wounded and healed, but with a renewed sense of purpose and an understanding of who I am. Now, and only now, upon being discharged from the well fought fight and surrender, am I ready to bring hope to a war-torn world. We thank those who have gone to those lost parts of the world, and so often given their lives and continue to do so. We thank those who have been the guides leading us into and out of the far distant world and lost parts of our interior wars and battles. Yes, in war the people always lose, but it never has to be the end.

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November 15th, 2014

One Maryland One Book: FCC Student Reflections Part 5

Throughout the Fall 2014 semester, a group of Frederick Community College Honors composition students are considering problems of complex identity, social/family belonging, cultural myth, and the role of language in forming how we see ourselves and the world around us.

In addition to reading and viewing texts such as Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, Jose Antonio Vargas’s Outlaw: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant (New York Times 7.14.14), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” students are deepening their awareness of the multiple perspectives undergirding these problems by interviewing FCC international and ESL students, both in person and through Google+ hangout technology.

The following post is the fifth of six submitted by the class. What did YOU think after reading The Distance Between Us? (Review our posting policy)

By Payton Mills

Based on what you have read so far in The Distance Between Us, how does Reyna Grande seem to be combating the “single story” of Mexican culture in her memoir?

The Distance Between UsIn her TedTalk titled, “The Danger of a Single Story,” writer Chimamanda Adichie argues that our perspective on other cultures can be shaped by what we read in books, papers, the internet, and what we see in the news. She speaks of how we as people can become consumed by a “single story,” or stereotype, and begin to view this single story as the only perspective without considering all the other possibilities that can exist. The idea that we can be so narrow minded as to buy into the concept that every person and story is the same based on their geographical location is illogical. Reyna Grande challenges the “single story” about Mexican culture and child immigration in her memoir The Distance Between Us. In the first chapters of her book, Grande lays the ground work of a story that could be considered the single-story of the “stereotypical” immigrant.

Like many who come to the United States seeking opportunity, Grande is poor. Her parents have abandoned her for the United States or El Otro Lado, the Other Side. She lives with her grandmother, Abuela Evila, who is abusive to Reyna and her siblings, both verbally and physically. In many ways, Reyna’s early experiences may affirm stereotypes that are held in regard to Mexican culture. Other readers may not believe they can relate to the story, since they have not experienced immigration or poverty first-hand. I can be perfectly honest and admit that upon receiving the assignment of The Distance Between Us, I judged the book by its cover. I made the assumption that I would have no relation to this book, other than that this story would have no other effect on me other than to depress me. I was mistaken.

The problems I face in my life are nowhere near the magnitude of Reyna Grande’s, and yet, as I read her story, I feel what she feels. I feel her pain as she tried to sleep with kerosene in her hair to rid herself of the lice. I relate to her confusion and loss over not knowing her father. She only has a picture which she refers to as Papi, calling the image and glass by the title and not the real man. I feel what Reyna feels, not because we have shared experiences but because of the way in which the story is written. I know that from reading The Distance Between Us that this book has has compelled me to learn from this book, to become more knowledgeable on the issues it addresses, and to not buy into “the single story” that others may accept about immigrant experiences.

Our thanks to Assistant Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, in the English Department at Frederick Community College for coordinating her students’ essays.

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November 12th, 2014

Veterans’ Voices Uses a Variety of Literary Works to Build Understanding

If someone has never encountered combat nor has little familiarity with the military service, how can they gain a deeper understanding of the experience of war? Furthermore, if you have served our country, how do you reflect your past, share your experiences, and re-integrate into civilian life? The humanities, such as literature and poetry, explore the human condition. Through these expressions we learn about others, experience empathy, and are perhaps inspired to action or to connect with community in new ways.

 

JosephWood and KenTurner on Stage

On November 10 the Maryland Humanities Council joined Spotlight UB and the Bob Parsons Veterans Center at the University of Baltimore to present “Veterans’ Voices,” a special program of readings, reflections, and discussion among veterans and civilians about what it means to serve our nation. Readings by veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, and Iraq Wars included stories about segregation in the military, poetry from World War I, an inspirational Command Speech by an Air Force General, and a reading from a memoirist. University Provost Dr. Joseph Wood, a Vietnam Vet, recited verse from Vietnamese poets and lyrics from Joe McDonald’s song“I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing -To-Die-Rag.”

The Program that evening included:

More than half participated in conversation

Audiences weren’t passive—the more than 50 in attendance expressed solidarity with the readers on stage during the performance. Later in small groups, many shared similar emotions, attitudes, and actions both while in service and upon their reentry into civilian life. Some talked about support systems, what service means to them. Others listened, and asked questions. One participant commented “The program was exceptional!” on an exit survey, and many expressed interest in other similar programs. Staff members who also joined in remarked that they personally felt great clarity regarding the sacrifices made by veterans.

MHC Veterans Programs are produced as part of a national NEH initiative, “Standing Together: Humanities and the Experience of War.” Veterans’ Voices was produced in partnership with the Bob Parsons Veterans Center at the University of Baltimore and Spotlight UB.
Visit our website to learn more how you can take part in Veterans Programs in the coming year.

Let us know your thoughts. Would you participate in programs such as this in the future? If you have served our country, do you find it difficult to speak with others about it?  How would you suggest to someone who is unfamiliar with military service learn more?  What is the most important issue you feel vets face today?

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November 8th, 2014

One Maryland One Book: FCC Student Reflections Part 4

Throughout the Fall 2014 semester, a group of Frederick Community College Honors composition students are considering problems of complex identity, social/family belonging, cultural myth, and the role of language in forming how we see ourselves and the world around us.

In addition to reading and viewing texts such as Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, Jose Antonio Vargas’s Outlaw: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant (New York Times 7.14.14), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” students are deepening their awareness of the multiple perspectives undergirding these problems by interviewing FCC international and ESL students, both in person and through Google+ hangout technology.

The following post is the fourth of six submitted by the class. What did YOU think after reading The Distance Between Us? (Review our posting policy)

By Seth Howard

The “single story” about illegal child immigration that I’ve heard is that thousands of children are being sent over our border so that they can grow up to get better educations and better jobs than what their country of origin could afford them. The “single story” I’ve heard is one that disregards the validity of the struggles Reyna Grande relays in her memoir The Distance Between Us. The “single story” I’ve heard leaves out names and uses numbers. The “single story” I’ve heard is that illegal adolescent immigrants migrate not because they have to, but because they want to.

Frederick Community College Honors composition students

Frederick Community College Honors composition students with MHC Program Officer Andrea Lewis. Photo via Magin LaSov Gregg.

Reyna Grande’s memoir challenges readers to ask essential questions about hospitality to those who seek sanctuary within our borders. For example, what should America’s border policy be toward undocumented immigrants? What should America’s policy be toward immigrants who are actually legitimate refugees? How should border officials differentiate between an undocumented alien and a refugee? What actions is our country responsible to take regarding undocumented people and what actions is our country responsible to make for the care of refugees? As the champion of freedom, America should undoubtedly be a haven for those oppressed by violence, especially when they are children, such as Grande and her siblings, who sought refuge here and, ultimately, found a way out of poverty. America’s timeless values are reinforced and strengthened when she cares for the helpless, and Grande’s personal narrative emphasizes the capacity of all people to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But the timeless values (liberty, individualism) that make America desirable are also at stake when her laws are compromised.

People come to America for peace and freedom. It is a place where laws are enforced, peace is maintained, and each citizen has a voice (representation) to effect his/her desires as a autonomous individual. Currently, people are leaving Honduras by the thousand for America because the former country has become a place where violence, and corruption have taken over— lawlessness is prevalent and the integrity of human life is disregarded. It is not difficult to understand why America appeared as a haven to Grande and her family, as well as why America appeals to those who currently seek protection from harm within our borders.

Since before its founding, America has been a nation of immigrants—immigrants wanting freedom from tyranny, violence, lawlessness, and religious oppression. America’s immigration laws exist so that her freedom will be protected. It is important for immigrating individuals to understand how this society has fought for and legislatively maintains freedom. If our laws aren’t propagated to new citizens then our laws are likely to be undermined. In order that immigrants don’t bring lawlessness to America (so to speak) it is important that legal immigration is rewarded and illegal immigration is firmly confronted. However, the issue facing our country regarding immigration is more complicated than the aforementioned dilemma. It is an issue of identifying and differentiating between victims of violence (i.e. refugees) and immigrants crossing the border illegally with non-life or even maleficent motives (such as drug distribution or human trafficking).

Through reading The Distance Between Us and other narratives about immigration, I have found myself asking the question of, “What is our nation’s responsibility to juvenile immigrants who are seeking refugee status?” I find the answer to this question by looking to what I learned to value as an American citizen, and how my own identity as an American was formed through a lens of humanitarianism.

As a nation that champions freedom, it is the duty of America to defend children beleaguered by violence. Legal reform is necessary not only so that these immigrants may be treated like human beings, but also so that the principles that protect our freedoms be honored and upheld. It is important for me to remember that just because I live in a society where humans’ unalienable rights are acknowledged and protected, I am not superior to any other human being from any other society where these rights are not guaranteed. It is precisely because I live in a society where my freedom is honored that I am responsible to honor and fight for the inherent freedom of others.

Our thanks to Assistant Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, in the English Department at Frederick Community College for coordinating her students’ essays.

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November 1st, 2014

One Maryland One Book: FCC Student Reflections Part 3

Throughout the Fall 2014 semester, a group of Frederick Community College Honors composition students are considering problems of complex identity, social/family belonging, cultural myth, and the role of language in forming how we see ourselves and the world around us.

In addition to reading and viewing texts such as Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, Jose Antonio Vargas’s Outlaw: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant (New York Times 7.14.14), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” students are deepening their awareness of the multiple perspectives undergirding these problems by interviewing FCC international and ESL students, both in person and through Google+ hangout technology.

The following post is the third of six submitted by the class. What did YOU think after reading The Distance Between Us? (Review our posting policy)

By Melissa Kolick

I was born in Maryland and remained in its boundaries ever since. I have never traveled outside of the United States and very rarely have I ventured away from familiarities within my studies. I am comfortable with what I know, but when it comes to unfamiliar territory, I formulate a closed-minded opinion and hesitate to look past it. I have now been exposed to Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian writer who, in a famous TedTalk, discusses observations she has made in regards to herself and her writing. In this talk, she discusses her discovery of the danger of a “single story.” Similar to stereotyping, creating a single story is to define a culture based on detached observations and knowledge, according to Adichie. After watching this TedTalk, I realized I am guilty of generalizing and stereotyping just as Adichie admitted in her speech. I never before thought of it in the way she explained as a “single story.” I never attributed my own lack of knowledge, or single point of view, to why I made generalizations.

Photo by Nick Simko

Additionally, reading the memoir The Distance Between Us, a narrative of the life of an immigrant, has contributed further to my understanding of this idea. The author, Reyna Grande, tells the story of her journey to the United States from her own country of Mexico. She speaks about how her family experiences, challenges, and emotions played a role in her life. Within the first few pages of the nonfiction book, Grande altered my idea of a “single story” for Mexican culture. Through her discussion of the lives of her cousins, her siblings, her neighborhood friends, and her own life, she challenges absolute opinions of Mexican culture. Predetermined ideas, or stereotypes of Mexican culture, can additionally be questioned through Adichie’s “single-story” framework.

In her speech, Adichie explains the “single story” she had of a friend who was poor. When she learned his brother had created a beautiful basket, she recognized she had not thought of his family as people who were capable of making anything nice; in her mind, it did not associate with their lifestyle. The more she knew the less narrow her thoughts became.

Likewise, Grande asks readers to think about Mexican culture from many dimensions, and in so doing she confronts stereotypes. Grande and her siblings represent one particular family seeking a better life for themselves. As a result, her parents must travel to the United States to find a pathway for their goals, while their children stay behind. They do not have excess money to spend on non-essential items. The children who stay behind are treated like inferiors, not only by other children, but by their grandmother who feels obligated to care for them rather than a desire to care. Grande acknowledges how others would typically perceive her, but she refutes stereotypes with details of her own emotions, feelings, and actions.

One stereotype I held toward the Mexican culture is best reflected by Grande’s family’s journey. They travel across borders to find a better life, leaving behind anything that would impede their progress. Prior to reading the book, I imagined they did this for selfish reasons. I wondered, how could you abandon your family knowing there is a chance you won’t return? Whose life are you trying to better in your search?

Despite my opinion, the scenes where Grande describes her mother leaving made me begin to think differently. I realized that, perhaps, it isn’t so easy for any family to make such decisions. By starting the story in the village rather than across the borders, Grande has offered a completely new aspect to the story of immigration. In her TedTalk, Chimamanda Adichie said the perspective in which a story has been told can alter it completely, and that idea is clearly evident in The Distance Between Us because I understand now that parents are not leaving their families out of selfish reasons. Staying in Mexico means they cannot care for their families, and they feel forced to take the chance at a better life for everyone.

Our thanks to Assistant Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, in the English Department at Frederick Community College for coordinating her students’ essays.

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October 21st, 2014

One Maryland One Book: FCC Student Reflections Part 2

Throughout the Fall 2014 semester, a group of Frederick Community College Honors composition students are considering problems of complex identity, social/family belonging, cultural myth, and the role of language in forming how we see ourselves and the world around us.

In addition to reading and viewing texts such as Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, Jose Antonio Vargas’s Outlaw: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant (New York Times 7.14.14), and Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” students are deepening their awareness of the multiple perspectives undergirding these problems by interviewing FCC international and ESL students, both in person and through Google+ hangout technology.

The following post is the second of six submitted by the class.  What did YOU think after reading The Distance Between Us? (Review our posting policy)

By Brian Taylor

Over the last few months the immigration debate has become a hot topic yet again, as the public conversation has shifted toward children who arrive without parents and enter the nation illegally. Indeed, there has been an explosion of debate around children arriving unaccompanied to the United States of America, and sadly (in my opinion) their terrifying plight has become an issue of politics and not an issue of humanitarian aid to those who need it the most.  The news media and political parties have rallied around this as an issue of the law and have set the tone of the national dialogue around this emerging crisis as one of “Why should we have to pay for these people?” Their questions focus more on protecting a birthright of American citizens, rather than the human rights of global citizens.

In that framework the traditional single story of undocumented immigrants coming to America to leech off the back of hard working Americans is not only reinforced, but becomes a cornerstone of the immigration debate.  Thankfully for every single hot headed talk radio host, for every piece of hyperbole about the downfall of America or the bleeding dry of her citizenry and resources, for every single dehumanizing portrayal of these children who are coming across the borders seeking refuge and a better life we have real and personal stories from the people, such as Reyna Grande, who have made the trip, and more chillingly from those who have failed.

The best way to combat the single story, the image of this faceless horde, is to put faces on to these children; to show that they are living and breathing human beings with hopes, desires, fears, and apprehension.  That these are not some plague of locusts coming to consume our fields, but are instead just like us except they happened to have been born outside of American soil.  They come to our nation for the same reason my ancestors did, seeking freedom from oppression or to maintain family units.

Reyna Grande at the Carroll Arts Center

Reyna Grande, prior to speaking at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster. Photo by Jason Knauer.

Writers Reyna Grande, Sonia Nazario, and Jose Antonio Vargas have all put a human face onto the faceless mask of undocumented immigrants.  They present us with the personal stories of children who have come to America for a variety of reasons.  They expose their motivations, and more importantly remind us that these are real live people we are discussing.  They force us, if even for a moment, to empathize with either themselves, in the case of Grande and Vargas, or with the broader plight of an oppressed people from Nazario’s work.

Of the three assigned materials the most important, to me, in light of the current crisis and debate around it are the stories from Latin America exposed by Sonia Nazario in her July 11th 2014 Editorial in the New York Times, which recounts the stories of Honduran children who have to see their friends and family cut down. They are living their lives in fear of drug cartels that have become the de facto government, and these children are subject to the most heinous crimes at the whim of the local drug lords. When examined through the lens of violence, it becomes obvious that these children are not coming to the United States because they see an easy opportunity to enrich themselves. They are not coming here to leech off of our systems.  They are coming here to survive, they are coming here to preserve their lives and break the chains of their oppression.  They want to escape a government that has failed them, and regain the human rights that we all should not only share but strive to protect globally, not just within our national borders and for those who happened to be born on American soil.

It is in light of this that I’d like to remind you, dear reader, that you are most likely the descendants of immigrants.  Those immigrants came to America for the same reason that people still do to this day: Escaping oppression and perse-cution, economic opportunity, and pursuit of what we allegedly hold to be unalienable human rights.  Our Declaration of Independence does not state that all Americans are created equally, it states that “all men are created equally.” It states that our natural rights by birth, for each and every human on the planet, are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The political debate should be moot, but it is not, and that is because instead of seeing these children as people we are seeing them as a number on the balance sheet, or a plague, something foreign and alien.  By presenting immigrants as humans, this fragile wall is shattered, and we can begin to approach the issue, hopefully, with open arms and open hearts.  We can replace enmity or apathy with empathy, and help these children in their pursuit of their natural rights.  After all, that is the American way.

Our thanks to Assistant Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, in the English Department at Frederick Community College for coordinating her students’ essays.

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October 14th, 2014

One Maryland One Book: FCC Student Reflections

Throughout the Fall 2014 semester, a group Frederick Community College Honors composition students are considering problems of complex identity, social/family belonging, cultural myth, and the role of language in forming how we see ourselves and the world around us. In addition to reading and viewing texts such as Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us, Jose Antonio Vargas’s Outlaw: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant, and Chimamanda Adiche’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” students are deepening their awareness of the multiple perspectives undergirding these problems by interviewing FCC international and ESL students, both in person and through Google+ hangout technology.

The following post is one of six submitted by the class. What did YOU think after reading The Distance Between Us? Share your thoughts below (Review our posting policy).

By Chase Stouter
After having read Jose Antonio Vargas’ article, “Outlaw: My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” (The New York Times, 7.13.14) one can conclude that its implied argument is shared by the memoir written by Reyna Grande. Her book, The Distance Between Us, describes a firsthand account of Grande as she journeyed illegally to America in search of her family. By sharing their experiences, both writers emphasize compassion for immigrant experiences and garner readers’ sympathy. Fortunately, in my experience, I have been exposed to foreign culture enough to develop more than just a single story of undocumented immigrants. However, both Vargas and Grande have influenced what I had previously thought of this demographic. More specifically, I feel more empathy toward people who are in this situation.

The two writers influenced me to alter my previous view of the immigration issue, and I now understand the reasons behind illegal immigration are more complicated than I’d initially thought. Both writers changed my thinking in different ways. Vargas’ article allowed me to contemplate how close to home the issue of illegal immigration may be for many people. One of his points that really got me thinking was his claim that one may come into contact with undocumented immigrants every day and not know it. (Some people could be living here without documentation and you may be their best friend and never know it). This thought made me fully realize that undocumented people are really just like me – trying to get by in the world. Vargas illustrated a situation that even I, a seventeen-year-old community college student, could relate to.

Grande’s memoir was able to influence my view in a different direction. Her personal accounts and experiences that she described in her memoir sought to tell her story as well as fight against the narrow minded view that some hold against people in her situation. People tend to believe what they already think they know, making it slightly more difficult to influence these views that are often developed early in life. In America, the media covers immigration extensively; although, an unbiased account is not always available. Grande’s story asks readers to experience the journey from an immigrant’s point of view. Her story allowed me to see in detail what one immigrant’s life was like and what she had to endure in order to make a home in the United States. Her story demanded respect from me. She drew empathy from me as a reader. Grande reached me personally and impressed me with her family’s courage and bravery. I was able to fully realize how daunting their situation was and, even though I do not share her direct experience, she received empathy from me, her audience.

Both “Outlaw: My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” and The Distance Between Us were also similar in the original situation of child immigration described by each writer. Any person with a decent sense of morality can determine that a person should not be to blame for committing a crime they had no idea or choice in committing, especially when the perpetrator is a child. Humans, by nature, have a protective instinct towards children. This is one of the reasons why both writers are able to appeal to readers. When the readers find out that immigrants may have come to the United States as children in order to find their parents, it could cause the readers to either drop the blame all together or shift the blame toward the parents. Either way, both Vargas’ and Grande’s narratives allow for an insight to the complex lives of immigrants, especially children. This is influential enough to break the power of the “single story” in perpetuating stereotypes.

Our thanks to Assistant Professor Magin LaSov Gregg, in the English Department at Frederick Community College for coordinating her students’ essays.

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October 7th, 2014

Finding Wisdom at the Library

Contributed by Bill Peak of the Talbot County Free Library.

When asked why he chose his particular field of study, labor historian E. P. Thompson, making reference to a long-forgotten 18th century craft, famously answered, “To rescue the poor stockingers.” University of Pittsburgh historian Marcus Rediker might have given a similar reply, though the people he rescues from oblivion in The Slave Ship are the African men, women, and children who were both victims and heroes of the trade that helped build (among other jewels in civilization’s crown) England’s Treasure Houses, Jamaica’s Kingston, and Rhode Island’s Providence.

Of course The Slave Ship isn’t going to make anyone’s short list of good beach books. Reading about the ease with which fine upstanding “Christian” citizens—representatives of an age we still call “the Enlightenment”—could unhesitatingly murder, torture, rape, and enslave the innocent inhabitants of an Edenic world is, well, unsettling. And yet, I will admit it here, I had trouble putting the book down. I would like to think that this was because Rediker’s work is so well researched and evocative. The Slave Ship fleshes out and clothes a time and a global enterprise that I had thought beyond the reach of history. And fleshing out this time and enterprise, it makes clear the contradictions in our Western world that would have allowed such an unseemly practice to take place. The Slave Ship is one of those rare books—like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies—that will utterly change your view of the world.

But I think scholarly interest as an explanation lets me off rather too easily. Though I wanted to believe the pleasure I took in reading The Slave Ship purely academic, my conscience kept insisting otherwise. History sets us at such a safe distance, doesn’t it, from the object of its study? And then, of course, it gives us 20-20 vision. Again and again, reading The Slave Ship, I found myself indulging in the guilty pleasure of judging its villains, of asking myself, smugly, how they could have been so wicked, how could anyone have been so blind to the evil they were committing.

Yet I am the same fellow who just read this year’s One Maryland One Book, The Distance Between Us, which should have taught me how, in our own time and age, the arbitrary borders erected between nations rich and poor (to protect, among others, my own interests) daily degrade and abuse innocent lives. Two years ago, once again as part of One Maryland One Book, I read The Cellist of Sarajevo, which should have taught me how the love I feel for my country, taken to an extreme, could turn me, could turn anyone, into a monster. At a time when it is considered acceptable—when I have considered it acceptable—to bomb enemy-held towns and call the deaths of innocent men, women, and children “collateral damage,” one wonders how future generations will judge us. Will they someday read a book like The Distance Between Us or The Cellist of Sarajevo and smugly ask themselves how Bill Peak could have been so wicked, how he could have been so blind to the evils committed in his name?

That, of course, is the problem with reading: it forces us to re-examine our view of the world. It threatens us with wisdom.

And so I unhesitatingly recommend to your attention The Slave Ship, now available for check-out at the Talbot County Free Library. It will disturb you. It will inform you. And it will take you one large step further along that journey we begin every day toward being more fully alive, more fully human. I wish you bon voyage.

Bill Peak writes a monthly article for The Star-Democrat about working at the Talbot County Free Library.  Bill Peak’s essay was originally published on September 7, 2014.

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