October 21st, 2014

One Maryland One Book: FCC Student Reflections Part 2

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 (New York Times 7.14.14), 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 the second of six submitted by the class.  What did YOU think after reading The Distance Between Us? (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.

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.

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.

September 10th, 2014

The Human Element: “The Distance Between Us”

While reading The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, at first I could not get over the impression that fiction books have made on me. As I read a novel, I choose characters I like, characters I don’t like, and the one I’m rooting for. What I forgot while reading is that I was reading a reflection of a person’s life, not a fictional story. I quickly chose characters I liked; I always cheered for my favorite character Mago with her sage wisdom, Carlos and Reyna, and finally Abuelita Chinta soared to the forefront of my praises after providing the love these three children desperately sought. I could not understand Abuelita Evila and her cold attitude toward her grandchildren. Reyna’s cousin seemed like a brat. I don’t know the exact moment that it dawned on me what I was doing, reading about real people while thinking of them like they were fictional.

I stopped judging people, not characters, like Abuelita Evila and Reyna’s mother, each going through things that I could not possibly understand, things I can never understand. I began to try to read with more understanding. Sure, Abuelita Evila continued to seem like a hard grandmother, but I tried to gain insight into what she was going through; both of Reyna’s parents seemed to continue to make mistakes while raising them, but who am I to say I would not act similarly if I were as stressed as they? While it is easy to condemn people, it is harder, and much more enlightening, to try to understand the choices people make.
And I think that is part of the reason Grande wrote the book, to encourage understanding amongst her fellow Americans. Gaining insight into the stark contrast between Mexico’s poverty and life the United States is beneficial for all readers, no matter their take on the contentious discussions about immigration sweeping the country. It’s a story that needed to be shared.

When Reyna first heard she would cross the border into the United States, she explained that her younger sister, Betty, would be able to fly with her step-mother. Reyna Grande wrote, “For a brief moment, I felt the familiar jealousy I had first had of my American sister. Being born in the U.S. was a privilege I wished I had had. That way, I wouldn’t need to sneak across the border like a thief.” It was the word privilege – a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people – that made me stop reading and reflect on some of the things I have taken for granted. For me, reading Reyna yearn for acceptance at such a young age into the country where I was born struck me more profoundly than it would have if someone merely spoke to me of their desire to come to America.

To me, Grande’s story is poignant because Reyna is not the only child who desperately wanted to come to the United States to be reunited with their parents. Where Reyna succeeded in crossing and becoming a citizen, thousands before and after have failed. Having her tell her story opened my eyes to the life many children live in Mexico. Whatever someone’s stance on immigration policy is, reading The Distance Between Us will only deepen their understanding of a life very different from the one American’s often lead.

The Distance Between Us is much more than a cry for understanding. It is a story of a young girl wanting family, shelter and food, and the opportunity to grow. All of us can relate to wanting better things for ourselves and our loved ones, and immigrating to the United States was Reyna’s and her family’s solution to their problems.


Mark Talbert



This blog is a guest post by Mark Talbert, Walter Sondheim Non-Profit Leadership Scholar and past Development and Communications intern at The Maryland Humanities Council.


August 26th, 2014

A Tale of Two Countries

This blog post was contributed by Bill Peak, Talbot County Free Library.

Once, years ago, Melissa and I went on a long train ride down through Chihuahua toward Mexico City. It was our first great adventure together. I remember passing through villages unchanged by time—adobe houses, dirt roads, stone granaries, no cars. Old men wearing straw sombreros with tall, pointy crowns sat in the shade and watched us go by. People travelled by burro or on foot. Instead of trees, there were tall cactuses with branches that ended in strange club-like appendages. Whenever the train stopped in a village, children and adults would climb aboard to sell baked goods and soft drinks.

All of this struck us as quaint and picturesque. We were young and in love, and the world seemed to stand up and sing for us. Then, near sundown, we came upon a somewhat larger town, a place maybe the size of Trappe. As our train, shuffling great bouts of steam, huffed into the station, we noticed several old freight cars sitting on an abandoned siding at the far end of the yard. You can imagine our surprise when people began to pour from these cars and run toward us, each bearing a basket or bucket of goods to sell. Then we noticed the lines of laundry strung out between the cars like strands of faded prayer flags.

These people lived here. Each of them called a rusting freight car without running water or electricity home. The smell of the place was appalling. The look was worse. Yet each of the women and children that clambered onto our train that evening smiled at us without a hint of shame or embarrassment. They looked hopeful. They looked determined. They persevered.

Reyna, her brother Carolos, and Mago

Reyna Grande, her brother Carlos, and her sister Mago (courtesy of “The Distance Between Us”)

I was reminded of that long-ago train ride by this year’s One Maryland One Book: The Distance Between Us. One Maryland One Book is the program of the Maryland Humanities Council in which people all across the state read the same book at the same time. The Distance Between Us is Reyna Grande’s memoir of growing up in both Mexico and the U.S.; it is a book divided, as our countries are, between two monstrously different existences: the one dirt-poor and wretched, the other—so close, yet so far away—seemingly perfect, ideal. The children growing up in Reyna Grande’s native Iguala believe that on el otro lado (the other side) money literally grows on trees.

But The Distance Between Us is more than just a tale of two countries and the divide that exists between them; it is also an exploration of the ties that bind us one to another—human to human, parent to child, husband to wife. It is a strong and powerful story simply told. And Reyna Grande is a great heroine. Her determination to succeed against impossible odds will remind you of other immigrant stories, may, indeed, remind you of your own family’s. Her grit is quintessentially American’ it is what has made our country great.

On Monday, Sept. 8, in the Easton library, and again on Thursday, Sept. 11, in the St. Michaels branch, I will host a discussion of Reyna Grande’s memoir. She is a lady you will not soon forget. She will make you proud. But she will also make you nervous. How do we reconcile the contradictions inherent in her existence and our own? What do we do with all the Reyna Grandes still out there, still standing on the wrong side of that imaginary line?

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 August 3, 2014.

August 8th, 2014

The Incarnation of our Maryland Flag

Flags represent your heritage and unity; they connect you to organizations, cities, states, and the country. The Maryland State Flag can be seen on our state welcome signs, and on the pitch of stadiums. It hangs from a house’s flag pole and inside a child’s classroom. People even wear the flag design on their shirts, hats, sandals, and shorts. Pride is a word Marylanders associate with our iconic flag, and we have one man, and a few historical events, to thank.

The Maryland State Flag

Being born in England, the first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, sought to create a new life for people in America. He sailed for America with his family and settled a colony on Newfoundland named Avalon, which name derives from the legendary island and the place where Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword, was forged. Being quite unlike the mythical Avalon, Newfoundland’s Avalon proved too much for Lord Baltimore because of the inhospitable environment, so the chilly Lord Baltimore sailed south and landed in Virginia. Also unwelcoming, Virginians gave Lord Baltimore a cold greeting when he arrived, due to his Catholic beliefs. He then returned to England to petition for a charter to settle land north of Virginia. Eventually the king awarded Calvert the region, but Calvert died before he heard the news. Calvert’s son Cecil became the second Lord Baltimore, and then settled Maryland, named in honor of the king’s wife, to provide English Catholics a sanctuary in America, in honor of his father’s will. Maryland is known as “the free state” for the freedom of religion it gave to its settlers.

Cecil Calvert, 2nd Lord Baltimore, by Florence MacKubin in 1910

Only the yellow-and-black Calvert family colors are mentioned in descriptions of the Maryland unofficial flag from colonial times. But when Maryland broke free from colonial rule and became a state, the inhabitants shed all ties with English rulers, including Lord Baltimore’s alternating quadrant crest. Multiple flags then identified Maryland, the Maryland state crest on a blue background being the most prominent. Still, Calvert’s crest lived on in the identity of Maryland because during the middle of the 19th century, legislation called for its resurrection. However, the flag was still yet to take shape into what we now know as the Maryland flag.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Maryland’s population divided between Union and Confederate support. Those in support of the Union continued to identify with the black and yellow Calvert crest, and those in support of the Confederacy again rejected the Calvert crest. Instead, Confederate supporters took a different English family crest for their symbol, the red and white bottony cross symbolizing the Christian Holy Trinity. Historians belief that the symbol comes from either Calvert’s maternal family, the Crosslands, or the crest resembles the coat-of-arms of Anne Mynnes, wife of George Calvert. Either way, the symbol is closely associated with George Calvert.

Bottony Cross

All around the state opposing Marylanders camped with their flags flying high above their fortifications. The opposing sides rallied behind their flags, serving as a meeting point where people with the same ideologies could gather and fight for their beliefs. Fighting toe-to-toe, soldiers wore their side’s crest wrapped around their arm. The conflict grew so heated and impassioned that the federal government banned the Confederate bottony cross in Baltimore, a sympathizer with the southern forces. The flag symbols were important for both the Confederacy and the Union, and when the war finally ended, Confederate supporters were sore to relinquish their flag. Weren’t they, even after all the bloodshed, still Maryland citizens with a right to identity?

The creation date for the modern Maryland flag remains uncertain. Sometime around 1880 flags including both the Maryland Union and Confederate symbols emerged. This flag, serving as an artifact of a new collective identity, helped reconcile the differences between the Union and Confederate supporters. The new flag was used for events like the dedication ceremony for the Maryland monument of Gettysburg Battlefield, and the Fifth Regiment, Maryland largest component of military after 1870, adopted the new flag as its symbol. Finally, military forces began to allow Confederate sympathizers and icons into their ranks, helping heal the deep rift between Marylanders.

In 1904, The General Assembly adopted the new, first official state flag, representing the two sides of Civil War, aptly appropriate for a state which was equally divided during the war of “brother against brother.”

Learn more about Maryland history at the Maryland Historical Society! And if this history of the Maryland State Flag piqued your interest, check out the Flags of Maryland broadcast on WYPR.

August 5th, 2014

One Maryland One Book Author Tours Maryland

We are a nation of immigrants, and our country’s strengths lie in the multiplicity of cultures that contribute to the fabric of society today.  To most, the American Dream means freedom, equality, and prosperity. Whatever the idea means to you, it cannot be denied that the concept of the American Dream is intrinsically tied to our identity as Americans.

Reyna Grande, the 2014 One Maryland One Book author, will visit Maryland this fall to discuss her memoir, The Distance Between Us with the thousands of Maryland readers who participate in the state’s largest reading and discussion program.

Grande will speak, answer questions, and sign copies of The Distance Between Us at tours stops in Washington, Montgomery, Carroll, Charles, and Wicomico counties and Baltimore City at the Baltimore Book Festival:

EVENT:         Baltimore Book Festival – Baltimore, Maryland
               Sunday, September 28                       Time:                1:00 p.m.
This event will be held in the Book Festival’s Literary Salon.  Inner Harbor, Baltimore.

EVENT:         Washington County
:                Monday, September 29                     Time:                10 a.m.
Boonsboro High School, 10 Campus Avenue, Boonsboro, MD
(301) 766-8022
This program is being coordinated locally by the Washington County Free Library in partnership with the Washington County Public Schools, Friends of the Library, and the Western Maryland Regional Library.

EVENT:          Carroll County
:                Monday, September 29                     Time:                7:30 p.m.
Carroll Arts Center, 91 West Main Street, Westminster, MD
(410) 386-4500
This program is being coordinated locally by the Carroll County Public Library in partnership with Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality, Carroll Community College, McDaniel College, and United Hands of Carroll County.

EVENT:        Wicomico County
:                Tuesday, September 30                     Time:                7:30 p.m.
Location:      WorWic Community College, 32000 Campus Drive, Salisbury, MD
Guerrieri Hall (GH 101)
Telephone:   (410) 749-3612 x 155
This program is being coordinated locally by the Wicomico Public Library in partnership with WorWic Community College, Worcester County Library, and Somerset County Library.

EVENT:           Montgomery County
:                  Wednesday, October 1                      Time:               11 a.m.
Location:        Montgomery College – Germantown Campus
20200 Observation Drive, Germantown, MD  20876  Globe Hall, High Technology and Science Center
Telephone:    (240) 567-1834
This program is being coordinated locally by Montgomery College Libraries and Montgomery County School Library Media Programs.

EVENT:        Charles County
:               Wednesday, October 1                       Time:               7:30 p.m.
Waldorf West Branch Library, 10405 O’Donnell Place, Waldorf, MD
(301) 645-1395
This program is being coordinated locally by the Southern Maryland Regional Library in partnership with Calvert Library, Charles County Public Library, St. Mary’s County Library, and College of Southern Maryland Diversity Institute.

 About Reyna Grande and The Distance Between Us

TheDistance Between Us

The Distance Between Us

In The Distance Between UsReyna Grande vividly brings to life her tumultuous early years in this “compelling….unvarnished, resonant” (Book Page) story of a childhood spent torn between two parents and two countries.  As her parents make the dangerous trek across the Mexican border to “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side) in pursuit of the American dream, Reyna and her siblings are forced into the already overburdened household of their stern grandmother. When their mother at last returns, Reyna prepares for her own journey to “El Otro Lado” to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years, her long-absent father.   Learn more about the book….

Reyna Grande (photo by Imran Chaudhry)

Reyna Grande (photo by Imran Chaudhry)

Reyna Grande is an award-winning novelist and memoirist. She has received an American Book Award, El Premio Aztlán Literary Award, and the Latino Book Award. In 2012, she was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Awards. Her works have been published internationally in countries such as Norway and South Korea. Her novels, Across a Hundred Mountains, (Atria, 2006) and Dancing with Butterflies (Washington Square Press, 2009) were published to critical acclaim and have been read widely in schools across the country.  Learn more about the author…

The Maryland Humanities Council invites you to find a One Maryland One Book program, event, or discussion in your community this fall! Books, bookmarks, Reader’s and Teacher’s guides have been distributed to libraries, and schools, across the state.

Selected libraries will have copies of The Distance Between Us in Spanish. If you want to become a partner and offer programming in Spanish or receive other materials, please e-mail rbusch@mdhc.org.

July 9th, 2014

Happy Crabs Have Old Bay Seasoning: A Brief History

You’re at your local supermarket and you walk down the spice aisle. Tubes of spices – basil, oregano, thyme – line a section of the wall, but a yellow, red, and blue can catches your eye. It’s what you came for: Old Bay, perfect for applying to crabs, shrimp, corn on the cob, french fries, green tomatoes, beer, nearly everything (except maybe dessert, but if you have a recipe share in the comments!). The can goes into your shopping cart and into your pantry beside unexciting jarred spices collecting dust. Its crab season, and we all know that oregano on crabs isn’t good. You need Old Bay. You’ve already used two cans this summer, just like past Marylanders have been using the spice for 75 years.

Old Bay can

Maryland’s history is rooted in culture. The state has been host to major turning points in American history—important battles of The War of 1812, The Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement where students waged one of the first successful lunch counter sit-ins.  But our cultural heritage is also mixed (pardon the pun) with our love of food, the bounty of the bay, and of course—Old Bay Seasoning.

While Old Bay’s history is not nearly as revolutionary as the monumental events mentioned above, the history of the spice plays a part in Maryland’s heritage, and Old Bay has a story worthy of sharing.

Gustav Brunn came to Baltimore in 1938, barely escaping Nazi Germany with his wife and trusty spice grinder (something he couldn’t go without). When he arrived, he fell back on his work as a spice merchant to support himself and his wife, and he landed a job at McCormick Spices that lasted less than a week.  He was fired because of his poor English skills, and also, according to an interview with Brunn by The Baltimore Sun in 1980, because he was Jewish.

But as we all know (because we continue to use his blend), he quickly established himself into the community despite McCormick’s blow.  He created his own business, Baltimore Spice Company. The business focused on spice blends for meats, but Brunn quickly realized that customers had a large appetite for crabs. In 1939, one year after he arrived in Baltimore, he created a spice primarily for seafood, catering to Baltimore’s taste buds. He had his customers, primarily meat vendors, try the blend and offer it to their customers. While not an immediate success, the spice blend gradually gained ground in the community.

Old Bay Line poster

He named the blend “Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning” or “India Girl” according to some sources. Whatever the name was it didn’t last long. He changed the name of the spice to Old Bay, in honor of the Old Bay Line that ferried people from Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia. Because the Old Bay Line was such a staple in Baltimorean lives, the name of the spice quickly caught on. Sales rose, but even so, the spice never amounted to many sales in the early years of the company.

Baltimore Spice Co. was family operated and owned until 1985 when Brunn sold the company to Smith Corona Machines, shortly before his death. Five years after Brunn died, McCormick Spices bought the blend in 1990 for reportedly over $10 million dollars. It’s ironic. The man who came to Baltimore with so little created a business which sold for millions to the same company that said he could no longer work for them.  McCormick still has ownership, and fortunately, the spice blend and image hasn’t changed from Brunn’s original vision.

Do you have any stories to share about Old Bay Seasoning? A recipe that you would be willing to share with our readers? What do you think of the new Old Bay flavored foods that are popping up everywhere?  What’s the craziest thing you’ve seasoned with Old Bay? Post it in the comment section!

June 25th, 2014

Chautauqua Scholar Q&A: Kelley Rouse as Georgia O’Keeffe

So what about those Georgia O’Keeffe flower paintings? This week’s Q&A with Kelley Rouse, performer of Georgia O’Keeffe for this year’s Chautauqua series, answers questions that viewers of O’Keeffe’s art are left wondering. We spoke about beginning research, O’Keeffe’s life and the reason she painted, and Ms. Rouse’s favorite performing memories.  Ms. Rouse provides a brief, broad history of Georgia O’Keeffe, but I won’t give away what was said. You’ll have to find that in the interview. And be sure to check the schedule to see when and where Ms. Rouse will be performing!

(MHC) What drew you to Georgia O’Keeffe?

Kelley Rouse as Georgia O’Keeffe

(KR) Discovering Georgia O’Keeffe was rather serendipitous through a chance encounter. A woman who had seen my one-woman show on Jeannette Rankin suggested I look into a play she had seen in Baltimore about the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. She couldn’t remember the name of the play so I did an internet search. I never discovered the play she was referring to, but I did discover Martha Fuery’s play “O’Keeffe: Sunset of an Artist.” I contacted Ms. Furey and she sent me her script to review. I was immediately drawn to it. I knew a little of Georgia O’Keeffe, of course. Mostly that she painted huge flowers and skulls, but became fascinated with how this woman managed to craft an artist’s life against the odds of gender and time in history. O’Keefe’s passion and determination continues to inspire me.

(MHC) Georgia O’Keeffe led a loner life for the most part. How did her lack of public appearances affect your research?

(KR) For being a loner, there is plenty of written word, and, of course, her art, that lends itself to discovering much about her. Georgia O’Keeffe’s quotes and anecdotal accounts from family and friends easily demonstrate the artist’s acerbic wit and her dry Midwestern sense of humor. Anita Politzer, her friend from art school in New York, also published a book with very revealing letters from O’Keeffe that speak so fully of her thoughts on art, life and love. From the point of an actress, however, one is always interested in the character’s physical bearing, mannerisms and presence. How did she walk, smile, talk, or laugh? I resisted watching other actresses portray O’Keeffe, because I wanted my own interpretation. I finally located a VHS tape of a film made late in the artist’s life in New Mexico, by Perry Adato at my local library. (this was pre-YouTube days!) That was so illuminating. And, of course, Alfred Stieglitz took very private pictures of O’Keeffe, that became enough of a “public appearance” for the artist, I imagine, to last a life time.

(MHC) What were Georgia O’Keeffe’s beginnings?

(KR) O’Keeffe’s beginnings were humble, born on a dairy farm in the Midwest in 1887. Certain things stand out, though, that I believe were critical to her development. It was a rural prairie environment and she spent a lot of time out-of-doors. Most biographies note O’Keeffe could entertain herself for hours in nature, in fact preferring her time alone. They may have been to escape the crowd of six siblings. It seems that her mother, aunts and grandmother ruled the roost in the household and that her mother made sure Georgia and her sisters had art lessons as children. I think the strong women in her family, her focus on nature and exposure to art laid the foundation for the development of her art, originality and independence.

(MHC) Georgia O’Keeffe quit painting for a period of time but came back to her art a few years later. What was her reasoning for quitting and why did she come back?

(KR) After years of being a student of art, O’Keeffe says she grew tired of doing art for other people’s approval. She felt she was only imitating what had already been done. She wasn’t painting for herself. So she stopped painting. O’Keeffe later said she wanted to paint in terms of her own thinking and feeling. Her break-through abstractions came when she put convention aside and trusted her own feelings. O’Keeffe also stopped painting for 13 months, later in life after suffering a nervous breakdown in 1933. Stunning landscapes in New Mexico provoked new creative energy for O’Keeffe and helped inspire her to begin painting again.

(MHC) Place is an important part of her art, primarily New Mexico. What do you think she did differently when painting landscapes?


Ram’s Head with Hollyhock, 1935 by Georgia O’Keeffe

(KR) Wherever O’Keeffe was, she painted landscapes. It seemed to connect her to whatever place she happened to be. But when she got to New Mexico, she was mesmerized by the country. I think what is different about her painting landscapes was her ability to capture the scope, depth and breadth of the beauty– the vastness of the sky, the essence of the desert or mountains through her vibrant colors– the magic of the land through her ability to paint the light. One can imagine what a sensation these landscapes caused when first shown back east to people who had never experienced the rugged and wild west.

(MHC) People often associate O’Keeffe’s flower paintings with female anatomy drawings, but she adamantly rejected the association. Why is that?

Corn No.2, 1924 by Georgia O’Keeffe

(KR) O’Keeffe was always adamant about critics putting “their” feelings on her art. Her paintings reflected her spiritual connection to flowers, or anything, for that matter, that she painted. O’Keeffe said she was influenced by the art theorist, and considered “father of abstract art,” Wassilly Kandinsky’s writings Concerning the Spiritual in Art which emphasized spiritual metaphors. Her art was her communication of her feelings and getting to the essence of her subject matter. It was a reflection of her psyche. Technically, she also was influenced by the photography of Paul Strand. She observed the power of cropping an image, which allowed her to break a subject down to its essence. In her flowers she also replicated the precision of the image that is captured by camera. The sexual interpretations of O’Keeffe’s work were fostered by the publics’ early introduction of the artist through the intimate photographs of O’Keeffe taken by Alfred Stieglitz and also the popularity of Freudian psychology at the time. It was common for critics to comment that a woman-artist gave “birth” to their creations. O’Keeffe did not want to be known as a good “woman” artist, rather a good artist.

(MHC) What is the most interesting facet of O’Keeffe’s life?

(KR) I think it was her ability to recreate herself, or rather redefine herself as an artist by claiming New Mexico as her own.  Early on Alfred Steiglitz, a brilliant strategist, introduced and shaped public opinion of O’Keeffe’s work. She was a “woman on paper.”  After New Mexico, her work took a dramatically new turn. She had to break-free of Stieglitz, the pain of his public affair with Dorothy Norman, and the perceptions everyone had developed of who she was to save her own creative energy.

(MHC) Do you have any favorite performance memories?

(KR) My favorite performances have been when my mother and father have been in the audience. They always nurtured and encouraged my love of acting, understanding from the time I was a child that it was my source of joy.

(MHC) What is it like reincarnating Georgia O’Keeffe on stage?

(KR) It’s a powerful and helpful experience to attempt to channel O’Keeffe’s courage, independence and commitment to her art. Helpful, because although sometimes larger than life, she struggled with the issues common to many woman. The fight for independence, recognition, the desire to be loved and to love, the demons of self-doubt that Georgia O’Keeffe fought are part of all human experience. I appreciate and learn from reincarnating her every performance.

(MHC) If not Georgia O’Keeffe, who would you perform as?

(KR) I have always been a writer and performer. My dream is to one day thread together some of my stories about my experiences into my own one-woman show about myself.

(MHC) What are you most excited about for this year’s Chautauqua series?

(KR) Acting has been my artistic passion since I was young. I always had dreams of being on Broadway, or working for a Repertory company. As the saying goes, “life got in the way.” The challenges of balancing an alternate career and raising children, although immensely rewarding, never left room for really taking a show “on-the-road.” With Chautauqua I will have that experience. I am thrilled to finally have a chance to have so many consecutive performances. There is much preparation for a one-woman show, so I am excited to reap the artistic benefit of more than a one-night performance.   Because of the Q & A as O’Keeffe that will follow the performance as part of the Chautauqua experience, I have also been revisiting research. I am rediscovering and gaining new insight that I hope will add to my portrayal. I find the whole process of preparation absorbing and exciting as I begin to live, breath and think like Georgia O’Keeffe.

If you liked this Q&A, MHC interviewed the two other Chautauqua performers, MiMI Zannino performing as Emily Dickinson and Marian Licha performing as Frida Kahlo. Be sure to read those interviews for information about the scholars and the historical women. Chautauqua runs from July 5th – July 14th, and check out our Youtube page if you want to see some of our past performers. We hope to see you at the performances!

June 17th, 2014

Chautauqua Scholar Q&A: Marian Licha as Frida Kahlo

The Maryland Humanities Council (MHC) Chautauqua event is less than a month away, and in preparation for the performances, MHC spoke with the women headlining the events. The performances run from July 5th to July 14th. This week’s interview is with Marian Licha, performing scholar of Frida Kahlo. We spoke about Frida Kahlo’s life, art, and legacy. Marian Licha succinctly summarized Frida Kahlo’s importance, and anyone wanting to know more, or even glean questions for the Chautauqau, will enjoy her words.

Marian Licha as Frida Kahlo

(MHC) What drew you to Frida Kahlo and what was the research involved?

(ML)What drew me to Frida was that I knew I wanted to write a one-woman show about a Hispanic woman, and a friend of mine who’s Mexican American suggested that I write about Frida Kahlo.  At that time I had seen many of her paintings, and I thought they were so stunning that I knew then that I definitely wanted to know more about this woman and to base my play on her world.   I started reading every book I could find about Frida.  I also joined the Playwrights’ Forum (PF) so I could bring in writingand get feedback.  One of the teachers at PF at the time was Karen Zacarias, and she helped me a lot in the process as well as one of the students in the class, R Dennis Green, who became a co-author of “Frida Vice-Versa.”  I also listened to interviews of people who had known Frida.  There were many resources and books to read about this fascinating woman.  One day, Karen said to me, “stop the research, and start writing.”  That day I wrote the first scene, and slowly more and more scenes were written.  Then, the challenge was how to put all of these scenes together and have a story with a beginning, middle, and end.   From the beginning I had envisioned that Frida would be teaching a class and my co-author reminded me about that original idea.  That was how the structure of the play became a Master class with ten lessons becoming the thread that put together the scenes.  Frida Kahlo had taught painting in real life, so I wanted the one-woman show to be as true to her life as possible.

(MHC) How did you prepare to become Frida, thinking of the acting process?

(ML) When it comes to the acting, I trained at The Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in NY, and this method acting technique makes you draw experiences from one’s own life to create the reality of the character.  The director, Jessica Lefkow,  helped to bring out the specific moments to convey.  It was a combination of the acting, training, intuition, and direction.

(MHC) What were Frida Kahlo’s beginnings?

(ML) Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, but she claimed to be born in 1910 because that was the year of the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution.  She was the daughter of a German Jew called Guillermo Kahlo, and her mother was a devout Catholic called Matilde Calderon.  Guillermo was a successful photographer who was commissioned by the Mexican government to take pictures of the nation’s architectural heritage.  Frida would accompany Guillermo on his outings and his style clearly influenced Frida’s paintings. Frida had polio at age six and a trolley accident when she was a teenager that affected her health throughout her whole life.  She had many operations and was unable to complete a pregnancy.  While she was bed bound for a year, she started painting.  Her easel had a mirror attached to it so she could see herself and that’s how she started painting self-portraits.  Before the accident, she had wanted to study to be a doctor.  She was accepted at the most prestigious school in Mexico, The National Preparatory School.

  • Check out the schedule to see when and where Marian Licha will be performing!

 (MHC) Frida Kahlo was involved in a wreck that caused her pain throughout most of her life, and her physical pain is prevalent in all of her paintings. But Diego Rivera, her husband, also caused her enormous heart pain. Can you tell us a little bit about that story and how it influenced her work?

(ML)Frida took Diego as a mentor after her trolley accident.  She showed up at The Ministry of Education in Mexico City where Diego Rivera was painting a mural, to show her some of her paintings.  She warned him that she wasn’t there to flirt with him but to get his opinion about her paintings as she was not going to paint for her own vanity, she had to help her parents financially.  He was very impressed at how Frida could express her feelings in her paintings.  His philandering caused Frida much pain.  She expressed this pain in her paintings.  A good example is the painting entitled “Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair.”  In the painting Frida is sitting with a pair of scissors in hand and there’s hair on the floor and she has a short haircut.  Diego loved her long hair and she had threatened to cut it if she continued his affair with Paulette Goddard or maybe it was with her own sister Cristina. The painting and the cutting was in response to his affairs.  Another self-portrait called “Diego and I” shows her despair over his philandering.  Diego’s portrait is in her forehead but he seems to be somewhere else and Frida’s hair seems to be strangling her.

“Diego and I” by Frida Kahlo

(MHC) Frida Kahlo is such a historical figure, and a lot of people are familiar with her name. Some people, however, may not be familiar with her impact. Could you summarize the importance of her work?

(ML) In fighting and ultimately overcoming the prejudice of a then male-centric art world – even outshining for a time her famous, talented husband Diego Rivera – she demonstrated by example how women can earn respect.  She was the first Latin American woman to exhibit a painting in The Louvre.  A year before her passing, Frida had a one woman show in Mexico City, which was unheard of for a woman at the time.  Her paintings were always personal and she didn’t follow any school. The subject of her paintings was always her sensations, her states of mind, what she could not say any other way. She wanted her work to be a contribution to the struggle of the people for peace and liberty.

 (MHC) Why is Frida Kahlo such an important figure in feminism?

(ML) I think because her story appeals to women.  She painted and took her work to dealers and museums when women’s art was not taken seriously.  She didn’t let her gender get in the way of achieving her dream of becoming a painter.  She also had affairs with women as well as with men.  She had a strong sense of self.

 (MHC) Do any of Frida Kahlo’s communist political ideologies emerge in her work?

(ML)I’d say that her political ideology was sometimes reflected in her paintings.  Toward the end of her life, she tried to add political inscriptions, flags and doves nesting among the fruits of her still lives. She tried to do socialist art but her still lives are more of an expression of life and nature.  One painting that reflects her political ideology is one in which there’s an image of herself dividing Mexico and the United States.  The American side is crowded with buildings and machines.  The Mexican side has old Aztec ruins and shows heritage.  Frida is depicted holding a Mexican flag.  Also, in the painting entitled The Bus, she includes stereotypes of Mexican society who range in social class.  She portrayed them with humor.

“Self-portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States” by Frida Kahlo

(MHC)  Do you get any questions that are particularly hard to answer at a performance?

(ML) I’ve been lucky not to have questions that were difficult to answer in Q&A’s.

(MHC)  Do you have a favorite performance memory?

(ML) Yes.  Before a performance at a high school I was told that because of class schedules, a whole class was going to have to leave the performance before the show was over.  I warned them that Frida wasn’t going to be pleased about that.  When the time came for the class to leave, Frida looked in that direction and caught the eye of a sixteen year old young man who gave Frida the thumps up.

Also joining Ms. Licha is MiMi Zannino as Emily Dickinson and Kelley Rouse as Georgia O’Keeffe. Follow up on our blog next week to check out the Q&A with Kelley Rouse. Also, watch some of our past Chautauqua’s on our Youtube page, and don’t forget to check the schedule to find an event location close to you.  We hope to see you at the Chautauqua!