Friday, March 19, 2004

Met yesterday with Jennifer ...

to go over the Convention Center and gather what background information we might need for the writing of the proposal for the Chamber. Learned a lot. Our major competition appears to be Clear Channel, the media giant that now owns and operates Bill Graham Presents (out of San Francisco). They've approached the city with an offer to take over this venue for the purpose of presenting WWF (WorldWide Wrestling!). Can't think of a more perverse use of a public facility in a city with little history of supporting its cultural heritage or colorful history. I shudder to even consider such use of this valuable facility. But we will persist. In the interest of that we met with a member of the city council to seek his support and to ask some pertinent questions re the city budget. Good meeting, but disconcerting since he seems to see nothing wrong with the city's at least considering leasing the place out to some outside entity as long as the city could climb out from under the continuing losses incurred by the Center through under utilization. We will have considerable work to do to turn this kind of thinking around.

Afterward, with Dorian quietly at home with her cats and working happily on an afghan, I attended a meeting of a fascinating group that was brought together to do some planning for a panel discussion to be presented to the public on the history and effects upon Japanese-American, African-Americans, and Italian and German immigrants who were abused or interned during World War II. This was the first time within my experience that I've had the chance to compare notes in this kind of diverse group. It was a rare privilege, and in looking around that room -- it was clear that these "chosen" people were aware of how important these explorations can be.

I'm sure that the conversations about that period of shame has been talked about over the decades, but mostly within our individual racial communities. To have the opportunity to break the silence and share the feelings of confused Americans, and simultaneously "inside outsiders." We are surely both, even after years of citizenship by birth (in most cases) and accomplishment. There's something schizophrenic about it. It's crazy-making to feel so much a part of the whole, by right, and therefore participants in making the laws that govern us -- while at the same time being the "outsiders" without the chance to ever truly come "inside."

The personal disclosures we experienced yesterday ran counter to Asian culture, I believe. The natural reticence of the Japanese would run counter to these kinds of exchanges. The three women had lived in Richmond for most of their lives and were a part of a community that was both Christian and agricultural -- operating nurserys throughout the area. The conversation was slow in getting started with lots of words and little information. However, before we ended the the session, the interactions were warm and open and begged more time for developing deeper. After all, we came together as strangers for the most part, and the period we were re-entering had been painful and better forgotten -- at least until now.

There were two men at the table, both Italian, and both historians (as was one of the Japanese women, a doctoral candidate from the university). It was such a privilege to come together (this is a project related to the development of the Rosie The Riveter Memorial Park), since I can see little reason for it to have happened under any other circumstances. Learned a lot.

New insights: At some point in our young history as a nation, it became more important to be white Americans than to retain ethnic identity. Have no idea when that happened, though I can recall some time ago, hearing an interview of two Cuban men who said that it was a revelation -- after arriving in the US to find that -- where they were "Cuban" in their own nation, upon arrival on our shores one became a "White Cuban" while the other became a "Black Cuban." Their lives separated at the point of entry and their potential opportunities to enter the mainstream was dictated by their skin color.

The two men (Italians) and their German counterparts -- spoke yesterday of simply melting into the mainstream at war's end, while -- for reasons of our physical differences -- both Japanese and African-Americans remained outside. White privilege continues to heavily impact what happens to lives within our borders. That has changed little over time, sadly.

Will tell you more about it, but now I must leave to pick up Dorian from NIAD and hear about her block printing pieces that will be in the next exhibit in their gallery. She left home excited and anticipating a fine day. For that I'm grateful.

But meanwhile, I do want to share more about yesterday's exploratory meeting and about the plans to extend and develop this conversation to include the greater community.

That shameful period in our nation's history needs to be re-visited in order to (maybe) raise our consciousness about the fate of those being held at Guantanamo Bay under similar circumstances. Bringing today's sensibilities (post Civil Rights Revolution) to yesterday's abuses is urgently needed in these troubled times.

It feels that way... .