Monday, July 23, 2012

Goodbye to You

I've been out of town for the last eight days, six in the Cascades and two on Vashon Island. The first chunk was with my younger brother, we were escorting my mom's two cousins and aunt, whom we were meeting for the first time, and meeting up with our older brother who's living at our house in Plain for the summer....also our grandparents, who live out there by the art guild they started in 1980, and my aunt, uncle and cousin who live there during the summers and teach back in India for the rest of the year.

I think that sums that up.

The second chunk was with some Whitman graduates, who weren't friends of mine in college and now I'm looking back and wondering why the hell not. They're a great group, and we spent the weekend playing wiffle ball and football and making forrays into downtown Vashon for Strawberry Festival. Saturday night there was an 80's cover band at the Red Bicycle and I just had the time of my life, no reference intended...well maybe.

While we were walking the fair that morning I asked why there was almost nothing strawberry-related there. I learned that Vashon used to be full of strawberry farms, then a majority of the farmers, who were Japanese-American, were interned during World War II and lost their property. I asked if there were ongoing court cases, or if the island recognized what happened. They weren't sure, but I found a few links online about it...

One of the fortunate guys was Masahiro Mukai, whose farm is now used to educate visitors about the history of Japanese-Americans on the island.

The Mukai's strawberry farm and processing plant became the first in the nation to experiment with freezing berries for long-distance shipment.

Masa had a friend in the United States military who tipped him off to the internment plan in 1942. Rather than being told to leave, he left his business in trustworthy hands, and moved his family to Dead Ox Flats, Idaho, and began farming there.

Although he considered himself a "voluntary evacuee," he encountered hostility and prejudice nevertheless. To counter this, he spoke at community gatherings, hoping to convey to his new neighbors that he and his family were "Americans like them."

I did a final paper on internment in my Alternative Voices class, knowing that a few families in Walla Walla had been interned. I spent a bit of time asking people from my grandparents' generation what they remember about that period, how the war influenced their patriotism, and how they had viewed Japanese-Americans. After learning about internmant in 9th grade Washington State history, I was fascinated by the connections this community made with Arab-Americans after 9/11.

On the subject of speaking in the community, I gave my first presentation since I got back from Palestine while I was up in the mountains. It supposed to last 45 minutes, but I talked for an hour and a half straight. About 40 people sat in the Grange Hall (at my grandparents' art guild) for the whole thing, and we were all sweating buckets by the end. I was a little embarassed that it went that long, but really happy that it felt so natural and easy.

I only had a few moments of pause. When I realized a few of my slides seemed a little redundant, and at the beginning when I was trying to give historical/geographical context on Israel/Palestine. That doesn't come easy. How do you estabish trust with an audience before giving the "gist," given that the gist can be so offensive to some?

I usually start off with this:

After the presentation I got a lot of good feedback about what people found meaningful. They liked hearing the personal stories and seeing how I connected with people there, it seemed very warm and genuine. Even the fact that my slides were pretty randomly ordered and I reacted as I saw them made my cousin feel like it wasn't a lecture, but a conversation. Which is what I want, even though I know I'll have to tighten it up time-wise. Some said they needed the geography lesson, and a discussion on what the terms mean, "Palestine," "Israel," "The occupied Territories," "the West Bank..."

Now I wonder how it would go with a different kind of audience. But I'm so grateful, that was amazing practice...

There are a couple of to-do's for next time:
-come up with a 2-minute video of clips from my year
-talk about the conversation itself, what kinds of messages are being spread about the conflict, and what implications those messages have...are they meant to make you afraid? or hopeful?
-give a quick summary of organizations, NGO's doing work on the ground
-have a plan of action for the end, ways that people can get involved

Al Aqaba certainly is a good focus. A woman asked me in the middle of my slide about demolitions, "why is the Israeli army targeting this community?" I answered, "they're not. There are over 12,000 demolition orders out for structures in Area C."

I think that made an impact. Like, ok, this is something we SHOULD be talking about.

So that was something that happened this last week that made me feel very present. Getting out there and talking to people. Spending less time in front of a computer screen. Being at one with nature. Jumping up and down and singing "Goodbye to You" while being sprayed with glitter.

This is what I took home from this week: Keep living the dream, and love yourself.