All posts in “Community”

SAM at American Alliance of Museums 2017

The theme of the American Alliance of Museums 2017 Annual Meeting was Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion. I appreciated how the various sessions I attended and the conference overall tackled this themes in all aspects, from identities (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity) to abilities. It is apparent that these things are at the forefront for professionals in the field from museums of all sizes, of all types, and from all areas of an institution, and that these issues are incredibly integral to shaping the future of the museum.

The #AAM2017SlaveAuction incident in the MuseumExpo during the conference however, indicated that even though these conversations and the work around these things are happening, we still have a long way to go. We need to find ways to hold ourselves accountable, have everyone on board at all steps in the process, and ensure we have the right voices at the table. To me, much of the work to shake up our institutions needs to start from within before our museums and cultural spaces can have external influence. Even though these conversations are happening at large in this moment, it’s also important to acknowledge that the things we seek to undo and change have been embedded in the fabrics of our institutions. In many ways these conversations are not new and have been happening outside of our institutions for years already. The conference left me optimistic and hopeful, so I’m excited to see where things go!

– Marcus Ramirez, Coordinator for Education and Public Programs

For more on SAM’s participation in AAM 2017 and thoughts from our staff on this year’s themes listen to the panels the SAM staff presented on during the conference.

Radical Equity and Inclusion featuring David Rue, SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator

Beyond the Buzzword featuring Sarah Bloom, Senior Manager for Teen, Family & Multigenerational Programs and Learning

Co-curating in a Changing City: Library/Museum Partnerships featuring Regan Pro, Kayla Skinner Deputy Director for Education and Public Programs

It’s Critical: Evaluating Museum Volunteers featuring Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs

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Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Emily Jones

The middle daughter of three girls, Emily Jones grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, IL. She soon longed for adventure and moved to the city to attend Columbia College in 2008. She graduated in 2012 with a major in Creative Writing and minor in Black World Studies. Her coursework in bookbinding, cartooning, and metalsmithing affirmed her passion for working with her hands. Her love for the arts led her to seek employment in the museum shop at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she daily visited two of her favorite paintings: George Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day. After two long years at an office job in the promotional products industry, Emily decided to shake things up. In 2016, she made the cross-country journey from Chicago’s Logan Square area to West Seattle (in the dead of winter) with her aquatic turtle, Flapjack, and handsome tuxedo cat, Duke Ellington. It is there that she can be found toiling in her greenhouse or frolicking on the beach with Duke.

SAM was naturally calling her name.

SAM: What do you think of the Sam Gilliam installation (May 6–November 26)? 

Emily: Holy Color! I love this gallery. I am particularly drawn to Union. I can’t imagine having to handle and care for that painting with all the textured pieces and chunks of paint. Another VSO showed me a few pictures of his draped work and it is spectacular. My mind just keeps trying to imagine a garment made out of his colorful polypropylene fabric. It has a beautiful sheen to it.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

I have such a hard time picking favorites! I am pretty in love with Der Orden der Nacht by Anselm Kiefer lately. It wasn’t my favorite at first but the more I stared, the more enamored I became. A lot of people see it and remark about how the man looks dead, but to me he looks completely at peace. Although the scenery is completely haunting (a sunlit haze over a field of looming dead sunflowers) and a little creepy, I can’t help but imagine what it must’ve looked like ablaze with yellow, alive and lush. That man lying beneath those flowers knows what I’m talking about.

I also really enjoy dissecting the craftsmanship in the Men’s tunic from Cameroon in  . There is so much appliqué and embroidery. I’m also obsessed with all of the jewelry pieces we have—especially the gold serpent bracelet in the Ancient Art gallery and all of the Maassai beadwork and Fulani earrings.

Who is your favorite artist? 

Again too many favorites! I love the impressionists and art nouveau. I’m a sucker for the female form and flowers. That being said Alphonse Mucha comes to mind. The way he adorns women (swoon). Beautiful!

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM? 

See it all! You never know what you are going to glean inspiration from and appreciate. It’s not aways the things you expect to like that you fall in love with. You might be surprised.

And put down your phones! I know I am guilty of this too sometimes but there is nothing worse than when I see people texting, not even looking at the art, or just snapping quick, blurry pictures that they will probably never look at again, and moving on. You really can’t get scale or the impact of an artwork from a picture. If you really love it, take the time to stop and stare for a few moments—maybe even minutes—and really connect with the piece first. Being at a museum is an experience. Savor it.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

My favorite things to do are travel and visit other museums. I love to be outside, so hiking, running, and kayaking are a regular occurrence. I also enjoy seeing live music and am an avid reader who loves comics and graphic novels. I am always trying to make more time to create art and explore new mediums. I just started volunteering at the Northwest African American Museum and am interested in volunteering with the Frye Art Museum as well. I can’t imagine life without art, so I intend to drown in it.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Volunteer Spotlight: Christine Kline

April 23–29, 2017 is National Volunteer Week and we want to recognize the amazing 469 volunteers who generously give their time to SAM. Volunteers assist us in a variety of roles (Coat Check, Docents, Information Desk, and Park Stewards, just to name a few), and you probably encounter at least one volunteer each time you visit SAM. Volunteers make it possible for us to do all that we do!

This week we kick off a new feature on SAM Blog: a monthly volunteer spotlight. Volunteer Christine Kline, our current Docent Chair, agreed to be the first volunteer spotlighted!

SAM: How long have you been a volunteer at SAM? 

Christine: I joined the student tour docent training class in 2010.

Why do you like volunteering at SAM?

I have always loved SAM—I’ve enjoyed being a member for many years. In addition to the remarkable array of art at the three sites, the people who volunteer are just wonderful. Since I entered the docent training, I have found volunteers and staff to be warm, caring, and passionate about art and learning—could there be a better combination?

What is your favorite piece of art at SAM?

I think one that I hold dearest is the beautiful little (about 5x9”) ivory belt mask, Belt Mask of Iyoba Idia from the Nigerian Benin Kingdom, carved in the early 16th century. The delicacy of the carving, with the regal resolve in Queen Idia’s face is so compelling. I could gaze at it forever.

What do you do as Docent Chair of SAM Volunteer Association (SAMVA)? 

A little bit of everything. As part of chairing the Docent Executive Committee (DEC) meetings, I meet and talk with the DEC chairs who work in the areas of docent training, docent program development, special events in the arts, and the care and maintenance of central areas like membership, docent days, evaluations, budget, and records. I meet regularly with education staff members to assist in furthering the work of the docent body. One of the features of being Docent Chair is attending the SAMVA meetings and I have found them to be fascinating and informative.  The meetings give me perspective on all the ways volunteers support SAM—I am really learning!

What do you do for fun?

I love going to museums and galleries, attending interesting lectures at these sites, and just engaging with the art. I also love going to the ballet, chamber music concerts, and jazz concerts. I enjoy cooking and dining out. I recently moved to Seattle from Tacoma and, oh, do I love experiencing the range of eateries in Seattle!

What’s your most memorable moment as a volunteer?

There are so many memorable moments. In working with student groups, the surprise of their observations is a constant delight. One recurring moment that comes to mind, from older students as well as younger, is the query, tentatively but touchingly offered: “Is that painting the real thing? Did she or he [Jacob Lawrence, for example] really paint this with his own hands?” That moment of realization never ceases to move me.

–Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs

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Migration Series: Cindy Bolton

A Father’s Dream

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream: to live in an America where all people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I’d like to tell you about the dream of a man who made the best of what Dr. King, and many other civil rights leaders, worked for throughout the history of our great nation. It begins with the dream of this man’s parents. This man’s father was born in Mississippi in the early 1920s, grew up there, and attended the best schools available for a Negro. He had a typical life for a Negro boy. He met a lovely young lady when he became a man and eventually married her.

The war was on, so he enlisted in the Army and went off to serve his country. While in the Army, he guarded German POWs and had the chance to serve in several parts of this country. One assignment took him to Sioux City, IA. While he was there, he had a chance to observe the school system. Though he had received the best education a young Negro could get in Mississippi at the time, he quickly realized that “separate but equal” education systems in the South were indeed separate, but far from equal. He made up his mind at that point that his children would be given a chance at a better education than he had received and a better chance to realize the American Dream.

At the end of the war, he and his wife left all they knew and loved—family, friends, loved ones—and moved north to Sioux City, IA and then across the Missouri River to South Sioux City, NE because it had only one school system, totally integrated and with high standards.

There this man’s parents raised a family of six: four boys and two girls.

The oldest of these was a son who, from the very earliest stages of life, dreamed of flying. He read books about flying, he made drawings of futuristic flying craft, he built models, and he studied to become a pilot. His father had never been a pilot. In fact, no one in the family had ever flown. However, his father and mother constantly encouraged him and all the children to follow their dreams. The children were taught that they were as good as anyone else and that hard work, persistence, and good will towards others would ultimately make their dreams a reality. That spirit was also all around them in their small Nebraska town. That spirit was in their school, and that spirit was in their church. No one ever said, “No you cannot do that because you are a Negro.” Instead, he was taught and he was told, “Yes, you can!”

That son went on to be an A student and honor student in high school. He was an honor student in college. He was the first to solo and get his pilot’s license in ROTC. He graduated with an Air Force commission and honors. He went on to graduate in the top 1% of his pilot training class where he was the only African American pilot. He went on to become a distinguished Air Force fighter pilot, combat pilot, test pilot, instructor, and a successful program manager before retiring as a two star general. He then became the first African American Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

That man, who owed so much to another man’s dream, was my father. He worked hard and was able to accomplish a great many things because of the sacrifice his mother and father made to uproot themselves from all that they knew and journey north for a better life. The selfless decision my grandparents made more than seventy years ago continues to bear fruit. Their legacy lives on, in the encouragement my sister and I received—that we could do anything and be anything—and which we now pass down to our own children.

When given opportunity and encouragement, immigrants have done wondrous things for their communities, for the country and for the world. As my grandparents’ example shows, immigration is not only between countries, but also between regions within a country where dreams and the potential for a better life burn brighter elsewhere. To willingly give up all that you have known for a chance for a better tomorrow is the American Dream, and this spirit endures.

– Cindy Bolton, Chief Financial Officer

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff has shared personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. The Migration Series is now closed and we leave you with this perspective from our Chief Financial Officer to consider how our personal histories connect to the larger histories that define us all.

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Migration Stories: Pam McClusky

I migrated twice before I was 20. When I was 11, my brother and I got on a plane to meet our mother in Liberia, West Africa. She had worked for Peace Corps, but now had a job with a San Francisco State University team to set up schools. She found a house for us in a place known as Sunken Heights. Liberians always laughed when you said you lived there. They had watched Americans come in, not ask many questions, and begin building houses in the dry season—not realizing the ground was part of a swamp. All the houses sank lower and lower every year. Ours was at the end of the block, closest to the deepest swamp where wild creatures seemed to party hard every night. My first morning, I woke up in a room with bars across the windows that were overgrown with vines. As the sun rose, the vines seemed to move. I walked over to look carefully and realized that snakes were twisting around in the vines and using the bars as a gym for their morning workout. This was their house too. We soon got someone skilled with a machete to cut away the vines and encourage the snakes to move on.

We learned to adore living differently. There was almost no TV, but there were masquerades. There were no concerts, but ceremonies at dawn. I came to savor rice with hot sauce, fried plantains, and tonal languages. We had no father there, so my mother hired a man who became our guardian. He happened to be a zo, or traditional spiritual leader, so our house was the counseling center for the community. The only fights I ever saw were on the soccer field. Our school was international, and one of my heroes was a tall mysterious Swedish ballet teacher who drove a convertible red sports car and gave us cold bottles of Coca-Cola to drink after every class. Vacations took us to other parts of Africa, including a spring in Kenya where a viewing window allowed us to watch hippos swimming underwater.

After nearly five years, we returned to San Francisco. Walking into a public high school was one of the worst experiences of my life. I went to stand in line and was pushed into another line. When I tried to talk to other students, they were the wrong students. When I went into the bathroom, I got beat up and had all my jewelry torn off. Someone said a rumor was circulating that I was retarded. I began to internalize this misguided insult, most of all at PE, when teachers gave me a horrible blue jumper to wear, ushered me out onto a concrete playground, and handed me a bat. I had no idea what to do with it, thereby perpetuating my peers’ taunts. Lunch was a nightmare. I hid in the library as eruptions were heard coming from the cafeteria. There were reports of razor blade attacks, and a student waved a sawed off shotgun in my face, then hid it in his jacket. I finally began to realize that everyone was organized by the color of their skin and I was in the middle of a daily battle over issues I had no clue about. Classes also had conflicts. One day, the English teacher began reading a story I had written and made fun of it as being an example of someone going too far with their imagination. Several students turned to look at me, grinned, and did the sign of being cuckoo. When the class was over, I walked out and wished I had that bat so I could hit the walls.

I decided to go see my mom at the University and explain why I had to drop out of high school. She was assistant to the President of San Francisco State University and I found her office surrounded by police in full riot gear. The President, S.I. Hayakawa, had become the target of a student protest movement led by the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). I saw a tin that we had filled with chocolate chip cookies the night before for my mom’s co-workers. Now it was marked “evidence” as it held the makings of a bomb left in the hallway. We saw the tin on the news that night, and then a report on the high school riots. I argued that it made no sense to live in America anymore and urged us to find a way to return to Africa as soon as possible.

Forever after, whenever people speak harshly about violence in other cultures (particularly Africa), I pause to remember these days. No one has the copyright on disasters and destructive behavior. When Americans speak of equity and diversity as ideals to strive for, I think about how the entire world is in need of as much equity as is humanly possible. Diversity to me requires looking at the big picture with people from more than America. If we don’t, we run the risk of building more Sunken Heights, where we sink into a swamp filled with more slithering creatures than we know how to handle and eternal difficulties in getting along with each other.

–Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff is sharing personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. We hope this blog series inspires you to consider how your own perspective and history relates to the works on view in Jacob Lawrence’s artwork. See The Migration Series before it closes April 23 to begin gaining the bigger picture that Pam discusses in her Migration Story.

Image: “My brother Duncan, myself and Fostino in Kenya”, Courtesy of Pam McClusky.

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Migration Stories: Chiyo Ishikawa

World War II is the reason my parents met. They were both American citizens but wartime fear forced an unwanted migration on my father’s family and thousands of other west coast Japanese and Japanese-Americans. As soon as Executive Order 9066 was issued in February 1942, my dad began efforts to get out of internment camp. This second migration is how he came to meet my German-American mother in Nebraska that same year.

My father’s father, Rintaro Ishikawa, was born in Hiroshima in 1865. In the early 20th century he emigrated to the United States with his wife Mura and their young daughter Fusae. We don’t know why the family chose to emigrate but it may be because they had converted to Christianity and perhaps also so that Fusae could receive a college education, which was unavailable to girls in Japan at that time. Rintaro first worked as a janitor and then for Hyland’s, a homeopathic pharmacy which still exists today. He never learned much English, and he and his wife spoke Japanese at home. The family settled in East Hollywood in a neighborhood of Japanese immigrants and African-Americans. There they had four more children, including my father, Joseph, who was born in 1919.

After his sophomore year at UCLA in 1938, Joe followed his father’s wishes and sailed to Japan to learn Japanese. Rintaro was concerned that his children could not read and write the language and had no communication with family members in Hiroshima. Joe was admitted to Keio University but after two semesters relations had grown so strained between Japan and the United States that the American consulate warned American citizens to leave. He returned to the US in January 1941 on the penultimate ship that sailed before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December that year.

In February 1942 Executive Order 9066 was issued; it called for the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the west coast. The family first reported to the Santa Anita Racetrack before being transferred by train to the Granada War Relocation Center (Amache) in southeast Colorado about six months later. While at Santa Anita, Joe applied to inland universities which welcomed Nisei students and was accepted at the University of Nebraska.

Joe went to the University of Nebraska in fall 1942 to study English literature, but he began working at the University Art Galleries and eventually became a curator there. Through a friend he met my mother, Olivia Brandhorst, the daughter of two German-American parents whose families had emigrated from Germany in the 19th century.

Olivia’s paternal grandfather, Karl Wilhelm Brandhorst, was born in 1869 in a small town near Hamburg in northern Germany. He came to the United States to work as a coal miner in Mt. Olive, Illinois but tried several other jobs before settling in Lahoma, Oklahoma in 1902 with his wife Alvina Backhaus and their children. Olivia’s maternal grandparents, Ernst and Augusta Koeneke, were prosperous farmers in Kansas who had come to the United States from Schleswig-Hollstein, Germany in the mid-19th century.

Carl Theodore Brandhorst (b. 1898) married the youngest Koeneke daughter, Louise, and began a career as a Lutheran school teacher in small Kansas towns. My mother, born in 1927, was the third of their eight children. German was spoken at home when she was small. When Olivia was a teenager the family moved to Seward, Nebraska. She had led a sheltered, conservative life and my father must have seemed exotic to her—nine years older than her, from the west coast, a Japanese-American with experience living abroad.

My parents met in 1944 and married in 1951 after a long and tumultuous courtship. The Brandhorst parents liked my dad but did not approve of the marriage, and no family members from either side were present at the wedding. Going against her parents’ wishes was hard for my mother, who had been raised to “honor thy father and thy mother.” But in the following years they made sure that their five children had relationships with their families and learned the best of the values that had shaped them.

My parents came from two tradition-bound cultures that were known for proud homogeneity. Their own lives provided a counter-narrative to those norms, which had proved so devastatingly destructive during the years of World War II. Part of it was that their generation thought of themselves more as Americans than belonging to their culture of origin, and like many of their peers Olivia and Joe moved away from their hometowns to forge a new identity that they could shape independently.

– Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff is sharing personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. Hear more stories, in person, at the last installment of our Migration Stories events, this Thursday, April 13, with speakers presented in partnership with Tasveer in The Migration Series gallery. We hope this blog series and the upcoming event inspires you to consider how your own perspective and history relates to the works on view in Jacob Lawrence’s artwork.

Photo: Olivia and Joseph Ishikawa wedding photo , June 11, 1951, Courtesy of Chiyo Ishikawa.
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Migration Stories: Lindsey Dabek

Long Story Short…

In the beginning
somewhere in time
In the fields
In the mountains
In the jungle
In the vineyard
There they were
The Polish ones, they came through Ellis Island
Looking for a new life
Foreign? Not foreign . . .
Jewish? Not Jewish . . . (Jewish)
Through NY to the mid-west
Saginaw, Traverse City, Ann Arbor
The light ones were here already, somehow
Didn’t remember the roots quite right
Norse or something like it.

Meanwhile in Peru
An intelligent engineer, a dark man
An Indian
A missionary from the Canary Islands
PUERTO RICO!!!
To NY
SAN JUAN!!!
To NY
Corsica, Spain, Italy
To NY
EVERYBODY!!!
Little girl . . . your mom was HOW old?
You had HOW many brothers and sisters?

My mom – NY
1960s to Cali
My dad – MI
1960s to Cali
LOS ANGELES!!!
Music – people – love – not – war
Two smart young people with the dream of making a family
Dream of peaceful trees and quiet home
Dream of music and art
Dream of computers and education
1970s to Seattle
THIS was it
Trees – house – dog – kids – family – yard
Work . . . work . . . work
THIS was it.
My brother
Me
1980s West Seattle
Our block . . . us
Together on the street
Bikes – games – yards – cats – dogs
Constantly moving, yet in one place
Work . . . work . . . PLAY
Mom and Dad
what they never had,
they gave to US.

My home
Seattle
Since the day I was born
My only home.
Still is as long as I can stick it out
Can’t price me out yet
Can’t push me south
THIS is home.
My only home.
Through me,
they all came here, together
I’m still watching for the ancestors on the shores of Lincoln Park,
Waiting to see the rainbow
Waiting for the Sun Dog
as the eagles play in the breeze.

No sir,
I’m not going anywhere.

–Lindsey Dabek, SAM Shop Manager

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff is sharing personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. Enjoy this blog series? Hear more stories in person from local legends and how their perspectives relate to the works on view in Jacob Lawrence’s artwork during Migration Stories events on the first and second Thursdays at Seattle Art Museum through April. 

Photos: Courtesy of Lindsey Dabek
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Community Gallery: Early Masters

As the founder of Early Masters, a Seattle-based art school, I’m always searching for ways to connect children to art history and get them truly excited about artists, artwork, and the museums in which artworks reside. Since 2011, a highlight of our programming has been our community partnership with SAM and our student exhibitions in Seattle Art Museum’s Community Corridor Art Gallery.

For several months, our young artists (ages 7–15) prepare for their opening at SAM through visual presentations, music, conversation, and of course painting. They become familiar with artists through studying their technique and style, what inspired them, and what their world was like.

Our seventh student show, currently hanging, is inspired by SAM’s exhibition, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Collection. Our budding artists never seem to tire of Monet and his magical home at Giverny or Cézanne and his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire, and they created over 200 paintings inspired by the art in the exhibition. Students loved interpreting works of artists such as Manet and Seurat and often found some techniques more mysterious than others. Comments such as, “I’m getting cross-eyed, how did Seurat do it?” or “I could do dots all day!” were often heard (along with a lot of laughter) around the studio. I’m always amazed at the fearlessness of our young students, and how a blank canvas never seems daunting. In fact, it’s always a welcome challenge.

Our students were thrilled at the chance to examine the paintings in Seeing Nature after having studied them for months. They were surprised by the actual size of the works, the colors, or the thickness of the paint on the original works of art. One thing is for sure, they all feel a sense of ownership and connection to the paintings they studied. They will never forget Klimt’s Birch Trees, or Monet’s Waterlilies, and they certainly won’t forget having their own artwork on display at SAM.

Being part of the Community Corridor Art Gallery is an incredible experience—not just for our young artists, but for the families and friends who come see the artwork and experience the pride of having the work celebrated at SAM.

– Shelley Thomas, Founder, Early Masters

 The Early Masters Student Exhibition is on view through March 26, 2017 in the Community Corridor Art Gallery. Stop by to see work by these young artists for free through Sunday!

Photos: Courtesy of Early Masters
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Migration Stories: Carina A. del Rosario

Becoming American

By Carina A. del Rosario

Presented at Seattle Art Museum’s Migration Stories Program, February 2, 2017 on the occasion of Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series. Everyone is invited to come share their personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community and how their perspectives relate to the works on view in The Migration Series during an Open Mic event on March 9 at Seattle Art Museum. And don’t miss the chance to hear from other local legends, such as Carina A. del Rosario, as they share their experiences with us in The Migration Series gallery. 

I aced my citizenship test and interview. The Immigration Officer asked me if I’d like to get sworn in at the next monthly group ceremony, or wait until the big one at Seattle Center on the Fourth of July. I opted for the soonest one. I didn’t need all that hoo-ha. It was 1994 and by that point, I had lived in the US for 19 years. I was already American. This swearing-in thing was just a formality.

On the designated day, I showed up at the Immigration and Naturalization Services building on the edge of the International District alone. I didn’t invite my partner. I didn’t dress up. No red, white, or blue anywhere on me. That just would have been too Fobby.

Like I said, I’d been here nearly two decades already, so I was thoroughly assimilated.

My lessons started soon after I arrived. I was six years old, fresh off the boat, and it was the start of the school year at my new school. Everyone started talking about Halloween and costumes. What was that? I was too shy to ask anyone. As soon as my mom came home from work, I rushed to her in a panic.

“It’s Halloween! I need a costume! Everyone is supposed to dress up!!!”

My mom was raising my brother, my sister, and me on her own while my dad continued to work in the Philippines. He didn’t have a work visa here, so we only got to see him twice a year until I was in sixth grade.

“What’s this? What costume?”

“I don’t know! I just need one! For Friday!”

“Okay, sweetheart. I’ll see what I can do.”

The next day after work, she went grocery shopping and there, in the section right by the registers, were racks lined with tiny plastic costumes. She picked one up that looked like it was for a girl. It was red, white, and blue. It was Raggedy Ann.

Friday came and I boarded the bus to school with my costume ready in my backpack. I got to the edge of the schoolyard and donned the plastic checked dress, snapping the one button on the back of my chubby neck.

I slipped on the white freckled face, rimmed with painted red locks, over my own. The plastic stuck to my face every time I took a breath. It made my cheeks clammy. I peeked through the eyeholes and quickly realized this was all wrong.

My classmates pranced around the schoolyard with these fantastic costumes of superheroes, cartoon characters, princesses. They looked so confident in their cool costumes.

I hid my shame behind that hideous mask, sucking in hot plastic air.

Second grade rolled around. We sat in a circle for read-aloud time. My turn came and I read: “THomas went to the train yard.”

Snickers rippled around the circle.

Ms. Murray said, “It’s ‘Thomas.’”

My cheeks flamed. I looked hard at the letters.

“But it’s ‘t-h.’”

“Yes, but it’s still pronounced ‘Thomas.’”

In my head, I rattled off all the “t-h” words I knew: think, thought, that, this, the, thou.

Ms. Murray cut off my silent argument. “The ‘h’ is silent. That’s just the way it is.”

Well that’s just stupid, I thought. I vowed to master English better than anybody. I read voraciously. I soaked in English from the TV. I spoke only English at home.

During all those grade school years, the only time that I didn’t try to hide my Filipina immigrant self was when my dad was in town. We’d go to the Redondo Beach Pier—far, far away from school. We’d stroll down the boardwalk, toting our rice cooker and condiments. Dad would go to the fishmongers and have them steam up a dozen crab and pounds of succulent shrimp. We spread newspapers all over the concrete picnic tables. We’d pound the crab shells with mortar and pistil, patiently claw all the meat out. I didn’t care about the strangers at the other tables, gawking at us. I pinched rice and crab into my finger tips. I dipped into garlic vinegar and pushed that steaming, tasty goodness into my mouth. I licked every finger clean.

But back at school, I ate gummy Wonder-bread sandwiches. Bologna and mayonnaise, or peanut butter and jelly. It was back to the grind of fitting in. By the time I was in high school, my English was perfect. Not a trace of accent. Grammatically correct—always—but peppered with enough California slang to make sure I didn’t stand out as an outsider. Sometimes I’d even slip in a little Valley Girl. Like many Filipinos, I became a mimic. It’s how we survive.

It wasn’t until college that I started seeing other possibilities. It wasn’t until then—until after 12 years of American education—that I first saw the word Filipino in a school textbook. It was in an Ethnic Studies class, of course. I learned about how Filipinos led strikes in California to establish the United Farm Workers. I read about how other Filipinos worked alongside Mexicans, Blacks, Native Americans, other Asian Americans, marched along with them. I learned how these different groups of people of color helped to build and shape this country, pushing it to live up to its promises of equality and freedom.

I was determined to carry on with the pushing. How much more American could that be?

After college, I drove up I-5 and parked in Seattle in 1992. I worked for the International Examiner as a reporter and editor. I covered all kinds of stories affecting the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, but I really sunk my teeth into covering politics. I reported on President Clinton’s plans to reform welfare and immigration program budgets. He wanted to cut immigrants and refugees off Medicaid, food stamps and supplemental security income. Never mind that we contributed to this country with the taxes we paid into those very programs. Congress approved.

I decided to become a citizen because I wanted the power to vote people into office who weren’t going to screw us over, who weren’t just going to tell me, “We’ve got to cut the budget somehow. That’s just the way it is.”

When the day arrived for my swearing in ceremony, I rolled into the INS building in a loose shirt and shorts—looking like an average American Generation X-er in the 90s. I had the cynical attitude of one too. As the immigration judge addressed the 300 people in the packed waiting area, I had a running commentary going in my head.

“Our country is greater because of immigrants like you.”

Yeah, and we still get yelled at to go back to where we came from.

“America has a long history of welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses…”

Yeah, and you take all our work, our talent and tax dollars, but if we fall on hard times, you turn your backs on us.

My back-talk was interrupted by a loud sniffle beside me. It came from a Southeast Asian man, probably Vietnamese. Tears were trickling down his face, dripping onto the lapels of his suit. I looked passed him and I saw another woman, perhaps Eastern European, also looking somber in her frilly white dress, a red ribbon in her hair.

I looked around some more. All around me, perched on plastic seats, were people dressed up like they were going to church. There was a lot of red and white, and blue and white, and even all three colors. People of all shades gripped the hands of loved ones beside them, or clutched one of the little American flags volunteers distributed at the door. I saw more people crying silently and others who were beaming earnestly.

Their unfettered emotions silenced the snide comments in my head. Instead, I began to wonder about all the things these new Americans went through to get here: the dictatorships and persecution they fled, the famines and other natural disasters. Maybe some of them were escaping family demons and chasing brighter opportunities. I thought of those who came before us, who faced fire hoses and billy clubs, marched for miles, risked their lives and sometimes lost them, just so we could stand here and claim our right to vote.

When it was time, I stood up with all of them. We raised our right hands and in one loud chorus, solemnly vowed to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign—and domestic.

It’s been 23 years since that day. I’ve cast my ballot every single year. Sometimes, I still get a little cynical. But the cynicism is pushed aside by the images that come across my screen or appear in my memory—pictures of people who have passionately fought for me to be here. To be who I am, love who I love. To be granted due process and equal protection under the law.

It’s my turn to continue The Struggle, to make room for all of us yearning to be free.

THIS is just the way it is.

 

Carina del Rosario was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States as a young girl. She uses photography, digital media and visual art to explore the desire for community. She earned her BA in Communication from Santa Clara University in 1991. She has studied photography with Magnum Photographer Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb, Raul Touzon, and Eddie Soloway. As a teaching artist she collaborates with non-profit organizations and educational institutions to help illustrate issues such as poverty, education, health, and civil rights. She is founder of the International District Engaged in Arts (IDEA) Odyssey, a collective that promotes cultural diversity, community development, and economic prosperity in Seattle’s International District/Chinatown neighborhood through visual arts.

Image: The Migration Series, Panel 1: During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans., 1940–41, Jacob Lawrence, American, 1917–2000, casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in., Acquired 1942, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., © 2016 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
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