All posts in “Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series”

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.

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.

Envisioning Equity: Migration Stories

SAM’s Equity Team has a vision: an inclusive museum where everyone can connect art to their lives in a welcoming and accessible way. Since early 2016, SAM has participated in the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative. A key outcome of this has been our Equity Team, formed in connection with “Turning Commitment into Action”—a multi-day training program for arts administrators examining historic racial disparities in our region and discussing ways to build racial equity.

“I’m excited about SAM’s commitment to prioritize time, resources, and support to build an equitable future here. The team’s contributions are essential to creating better access for our communities and fostering permanent change,” says Priya Frank, Associate Director for Community Programs and chair of the Equity Team.

SAM’s Director and CEO, Kim Rorschach agrees. “The team helps steer the museum towards the important work of inclusivity and considering equity in all our decisions. This progress will help us develop a more diverse audience that is representative of our region and remove barriers to entry.” Informed by feedback from mandatory all-staff racial equity trainings, SAM’s Racial Equity Plan was drafted. The team now acts as stewards of this larger vision to reach equity across all aspects of the museum. This includes examining artistic and educational programming, visitor experiences, recruiting practices, as well as staff development and career growth opportunities.

Although the museum recognizes that permanent change takes time and investment, initial changes are noticeable. Curatorial Coordinator Jenae Williams says, “The most tangible impact so far is the thoughtful consideration I overhear in meetings on installation planning or education programs.” This year the Equity Team organized free gallery tours focused on race and social justice, launched a new internship program for historically underrepresented participants, and created a book club inviting SAM staff to read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, a nonfiction work about the Great Migration in which African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and settled in northern American cities. The book club examined this historical event and increased staff familiarity with Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, on view downtown through April 23. “We organize internal events for staff to engage in equity-related conversations and emphasize how central equity is to all of our work, regardless of what department a person works in.” says Marcus Ramirez, Coordinator for Education and Public Programs.

The Migration Series exhibition is one example of integrating the Team’s strategic vision into SAM’s programming. Offering our Three-Day Free Day event over the opening weekend of the exhibition is another way we increased access to the entire community. SAM’s efforts as an advocate for Cultural Access Washington (CAWA) are also supported by our equity work. If approved in a future county-wide referendum, CAWA funding will help the museum offer additional free days and more educational programs accessible to all. As Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs, says, “There is not one magic thing we can do to change the demographics of SAM, but the efforts of the museum within national conversations on equity will bring change.”

Over the next month SAM staff will be sharing stories from their personal and family history of immigration, migration, displacement, and community in a series called Migration Stories for the SAM Blog. Stay tuned for photos, quotes, creative writing, and interviews that will inspire thought on history and the figure of the migrant throughout time and in our contemporary moment.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photo: Natali Wiseman

For the Love of Art: Mary Joyce

MARY JOYCE
Digital Strategy Consultant
Member since 2013

Why do you love art?

Art helps me to think differently, to see the world in a new way. I particularly like contemporary art for this reason—it is bounded only by the artist’s imagination and their ability to physically realize the idea.

What’s your occupation? What are your hobbies or passions?

I am a digital strategy consultant with a particular focus on using digital tools for activism. That means that I help people who want to change the world figure out who they need to persuade in order to do that and then how to persuade them. In the realm of political activism, often people want someone in the government to make a change. But it could be any kind of audience. If you want to change the world, usually you have to persuade someone to take some action and that’s where communication comes in.

I hear you worked on the Obama campaign.

Yes, I did, in 2008. It was very exciting to do the first digital campaign. I was the operations manager for the new media department. We had 60 people working on email, graphic design, and video. It was really cool to see how the technology and communication work was being driven by strategy. There was a Facebook group called “A Million Strong for Barack Obama.” One of the reasons to do that was not only to gin up [individual] support, but to seek media support. They said, “Oh you are never going to have a million posts in a Facebook group.” Then when we did, there was additional media coverage from that. So doing something new was part of the branding.

What brought you to Seattle?

I came here for grad school. I have an MA in communication from UW. Right now I am doing communication consulting and also working on an organization that’s going to do strategy training practice online. There is a lot of activism around right now where people are really passionate but it’s not clear who they are trying to influence or what their demand is. Sometimes it’s ok to go out there and show your feelings, but if you can direct these feelings for some practical change—that’s what I’m for.

Where does art fit into the picture?

Art is basically part of liking humanity. Why would I want to oppose oppression or support human rights? Because humans can do beautiful things like make art. It’s very much an alpha/omega situation for me. Defending human rights, helping people make their lives better so that they can make beautiful things like sculpt, paint, play music, or write poetry—that’s the connection.

Do you think art is something that people are freed up to do once they achieve . . . would you call it freedom?

I think that people are hardwired to create. Obviously, in history, people in horrible conditions have created beautiful art. But if you free someone’s spirit from fear, physical need, or other kinds of oppression, then there is an opportunity for that person to blossom and more fully express themselves. I would say that oppression and art can coexist, but people who are free to express themselves are more likely to do so.

How does the museum fit in?

The museum is where I can easily come in contact with art. We can see art in a magazine or we might pass a piece of public art in the city, but if you want to seek art out you know you can have that experience in a museum. And in addition to their collection, SAM has talks and performances that provide all kinds of artistic experiences throughout the year. It’s also just a relaxing and pleasant place to hang out and take a break.

Why did you join SAM?

I was a student at the time and a friend brought me for an event. I was buying a ticket and the very effective salespeople told me that for $10 more I could become a member for the whole year. The student rate was such a great deal to allow me to support an arts institution. In my family supporting culture is valued. Obviously as a student I really didn’t have resources but because I could afford the student rate and support an institution, I wanted to do that.

Because SAM believes everyone should have access to art and creativity, we offer memberships at a variety levels. Find out more about joining as a student and begin enjoying SAM for free for an entire year. Join now and see Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series before it closes on April 23. The Migration Series focuses on social justice issues surrounding the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to the industrial North in the decades after the First World War. If you agree with Mary that art is crucial to our humanity, share in art at SAM starting today.

Photo: Scott Areman.

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.