Bowling Green and Massacres.

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John Wayne — the acting name of Marion Morrison. Name and character designed to emulate ‘Mad Anthony Wayne — commander of a massacre outside of Bowling Green, Ohio,  1794. 

An excerpt draft from my forthcoming book Turtle Road about a 12,000 mile bike trip.  Talks of Bowling Green (Ohio ) and a history of massacres — among other things…

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CHAPTER 5

… We had begun to feel every new town, field and wood belonged to us; our memories our deed of ownership. Now we owned the dewy morning on the Michigan/Ohio border. Despite my internationalist heart, I found myself humming, Oh beautiful for spacious skies. For amber waves of grain. “Amber, yes,” I thought, as we passed endless fields of wheat and hay. “And gold, orange, rust, even purple.”

The rural peace ended at the Ohio border as we hit the edge of the Toledo metropolitan region. We almost ate breakfast at a cafe in Sylvania, but the giant poster — a grinning cartoon Indian repelled us.  It was still a beautiful morning, not yet hot, so we sat under a tree and ate granola bars, clucking to each other, “how can Ohio be so racist?”

At a busy Sylvania intersection, a hardy woman in a bike jersey pulled up beside us. Before the light turned green, she had offered to be our escort, around the outskirts of Toledo.

Though I struggled to keep up, riding with Cheryl was a great relief. We just followed. No arguments. No getting lost. No decisions. She was fast, efficient, eager to show off her bicycle skills, which she came by the hard way. “At age 41, I had back surgery. Biking was my therapy.  When I started I could only make it around the block. Now, 14 years later, I do sixty mile rides around Toledo.” She had set herself a biking goal to last a lifetime, making herself a quilt with fifty panels. “Each time I have a vacation, I bike another state and fill in another panel — 27 so far.”

Cheryl wanted us to appreciate her homeland. She pointed to a field. “Underneath every thing you see, is the wealth that make this region unique. Black dirt. Back in the 1880s, European settlers drained the wetlands of this black swamp, creating some of the richest soil in the world.”

Cheryl left us at the Mall in Waterville. As we got ready to say our good byes she noted, “This may look like any other mall, but it’s historic — named after the Battle of Fallen Timbers that happened here in 1794.”
I was exhausted from keeping up with Cheryl. We found plush seats in the Barnes and Nobles and looked up “Fallen Timbers.”

The United States army, led by a “Mad” General Anthony Wayne, defeated a regional alliance of Indian nations. One of the indigenous leaders in the battle was Tecumseh, who continued building his pan-Indian force until he died fighting on the British side in the war of 1812. The year before the Confederation had proposed a generous compromise to the land-hungry United States:  keep the money you are using to bribe us and kills us and give it your poor settlers. Just leave us a piece of OUR land to live in peace.

But the United States was making a bigger calculation. After their triumph in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, U.S. authorities force-marched Ohio tribes to Oklahoma, opening a settlement path from Ohio to Wisconsin for Europeans immigrants.

I wondered as we passed a rack of Cleveland Indian T-shirts on our way out of the mall, if there was a connection between this removal and fact that Ohioan’s embraced this racist cartoon caricature. Today there is no large organized population of Native Americans in the state to fight back. Perhaps another factor is the way the history of U.S./ Indian relations are told here. The U.S. General Mad Anthony Wayne is celebrated in Toledo with a bridge, statue, and even an annual “family-friendly” bike ride. Leaving the mall, we crossed the Maumee River where Mad Anthony Wayne burned Shawnee and Miami villages.

We didn’t get far before we were desperate to get out of the sun. The road following the river was pretty, but lacking in public spaces. The Riverby Hills Golf Club had a Public Welcome sign. In the icy dark of the clubhouse, drinking over-priced tomato juice, we watched men in white shorts flirt with the woman bartender.

I thought about how this trip brought us into contact with people outside our circles. The day before we shared a park shelter with Cecil, a small white man who worked construction for 40 years. He was sixty, living on disability, already old. He told us about his divorce; after 32 years still a fresh wound. “We had ten kids” he said. He lowered his head. “One was murdered last year.” Cecil was fascinated by us. “This is a first for me, meeting people like you.”  It was a first for us, sharing intimacies with Cecil.

And now another first. I had never been inside a golf clubhouse, though in high school in Wisconsin, I lived down the hill from the Blackhawk Golf Course. Chief Black Hawk’s war in 1832, like Ohio’s Battle of Fallen Timbers, involved a massacre committed by U.S. forces. Both misnamed “battles,” were crimes of racial violence and land theft that opened the way for statehood and white settlement. Ohio, 1803. Wisconsin, 1836.

A man with hair like John Kerry’s interrupted my thoughts, loudly ordering another round. We left the blessed cool, hoping to be far gone before the men got back in their cars.

A flat tire slowed our get-away. Changing it the shade of the chalet, we were glad to see some leave before us, not wanting to meet them on these narrow hilly roads to Haskins.
Ten more miles and the landscape pancaked.
I first discovered this fertile Ohio plain in the fall of 1975 when I rented a bicycle to escape freshman loneliness at Oberlin College. A few pedals and the bike rode itself, away from the college I would soon leave for good. On this particular Friday guys in pick-ups gathered at the Sonoco in Haskins, eating pizza, buying 12-packs. I watched one young man place a can between his legs under the steering wheel, eleven more on the passenger seat. We joined them on the pizza. I regretted it as the last bite went down. I was painfully constipated. We had been on the road for over two weeks and my body was letting me know it did not work well on gas station food.

When we arrived in Bowling Green I insisted on splurging at an upscale vegetarian place where waiters describe each ingredient and water glasses were constantly refilled. It was dark by the time we left the restaurant. With the image of man, car and beer still lodged in my head, I ruled out biking to the campground five miles down the road. Bowling Green State University was hosting a marching band contest at their football stadium and hotels had jacked up their prices for the occasion. Dave was ready to pay $130 for a foul-smelling Best Western. I was not. We headed through town to the soundtrack of drums, horns, and cheering crowds, searching for a place to put up our tent.
Dave was looking for a place to hide. I thought we should stake a claim, act as though we belonged. I spied a 32-foot RV parked in a campus lot. “Let’s do an Arlo Guthrie.”
“What?”
“In Alice’s Restaurant, he saw a pile of trash and decided to add his garbage to the heap. We’ll put up our tent here and call it a campground. Settler’s rights.”
Of course Arlo got arrested for littering, but like him, I wasn’t thinking this through and Dave didn’t remember the movie.  So we set up next to the RV, in the spotlight of a parking lamppost. By 2am I had to pee. Imagining getting arrested for indecent exposure, I grabbed a plastic bag and squatted by the door. The squatting encouraged the vegetarian spinach and eggplant dish to dislodge the pizza.
I crawled into the spotlight to look for a place to empty the bag. Back in the tent, fully awake and more unclean than ever, I resented the man sleeping sweetly beside me, for being anatomically equipped, for being right about finding a dark place, for being right about taking the hotel, for being able to sleep without a shower, for focusing on the best outcome while I imagined every possible wrong turn.
At 4:53am we broke camp. As I strapped the tent to my bicycle, a campus cop rode up.
“Are you the ones who were in the tent last night?”
Underneath me was a square imprint of smashed grass. I nodded.
He looked at me: disheveled, pungent, old enough to be his mother. “How far you come on those bicycles?”
I looked at my odometer. “762 miles.”
“That’s something…. You need anything?”
“Huh… a bathroom?”
He raised his eyebrow and arm in a gesture I translated as, “That’s obvious.” He paused a moment longer, making a decision.  “Follow me.”
He rode slowly. We followed, snaking through campus to the stadium where thousands cheered their young musicians the night before. He got out of his squad car beckoning to us, then hesitated.  “Are you two married?”
We nodded.  He unlocked a stadium door, led us into the women’s locker room. “Roll your bikes in here so no one will mess with them. When you leave make sure the door is closed. It’ll lock after you.”

As a middle-aged white woman of short stature, I was used to being considered unthreatening. With Dave, the added aura of heterosexual respectability surrounded me. Now, wandering across lines of legality, we leaned unthinkingly on various forms of privilege, never knowing the extent to which our demographics protected us. But we were becoming aware that without showers and laundromats we could lose unwarranted assumptions of innocence. Officer Friendly trusted us enough to leave us with keys to the store. His gift of showers erased our growing scent of indigence.

Bowling Green co-ed athletes had posted collages with inspiring quotes and pictures of people they admired on the hallway wall. The bicycle lady in her fifties, cleaned, dressed and feeling new, posed in front of the wall of fame.

 

Lunching at the New China Town in Huron, I read the headline: The Tribe is not doing well. On an inner page a smaller article caught my eye. New program for Sandusky homeowners: mow foreclosed lots and the land is yours.

Homestead Act 1862 — sow to own stolen land.

Homestead Act 2011 — mow to own the dispossessed.

Jim Northrup, Rest Easy.

IMG_5513-1My partner Dave and I visited Pat and Jim Northrup at their home on the Fon du Lac Reservation, on July 28, 2012. I had told Jim we were coming by bicycle at the end of an epic adventure, but our hosts in Duluth had offered their car so we could make it an afternoon excursion, and we accepted the generous offer. As we drove up in civilian clothes, cleaned and rested, I felt as if we had violated the invitation.

When we arrived Jim was making a birch basket and Pat was watching the Olympics. Jim occasionally interrupted the conversation to explain what he was doing.

“We only make baskets in the summer.”

“ The oil in the bark makes it curl.”

“Pat does the sewing, I carve and make the holes.”

“Making baskets you can’t be angry or in a hurry.”

“We found that’s true for bike touring as well,” Dave said.

I thanked Jim again for speaking to my classes at St Cloud State eight years earlier. I had assigned Rez Road Follies. The students, most of whom came from small towns in Northern Minnesota, were thrilled to meet an author from their neck of the woods. I was jealous and grateful of his ability to connect with the students. Yet Jim was a neighbor they did not know. Most grew up in proximity to reservations but many  had never had a conversation with an indigenous neighbor.  I reminded Jim that out of four classes and 129 students, I had only two students from the Rez… and they were white.

Jim shook his head. “White ownership goes back to the Dawes Act of 1887 that turned communal reservation land into 80-acre allotments. What was not claimed by Indians was open to anyone. Now those 80 acre allotments, passed down to multiple children, are so fractionalized they are not worth much. Allotment was an extreme form of divide and conquer.

Today our tribe owns 25%-33% of Fond Du Lac, up from 20% a few decades ago. We are using Casino money to buy back land little by little. What we own is divide into three parts, one where the business is done, another where our ceremonies are held, and a third, which we are restoring, where we have the best birch and maple trees, wild rice, hunting and fishing. Our food sources.”

Pat, who is Dakota, added, “On my reservation we are supposed to own 10 miles on either side of Minnesota River. They created that war in 1862 so they could have that land. Look at how valuable it is today; rich topsoil and access to the river all the way to the Cities.”

Jim’s book, Rez Salute had yet to come out. We bought a copy of Anishinaabe Syndicated and had Jim sign in it. On page 42 he quipped  ‘Why do we call it a Rez instead of a reservation? Cause the white man owns most of it.”

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Jim’s written works are acerbic, witty confrontations with the trauma of colonialism that never ends and the trauma of war that keeps on giving.

“I write in the morning and a couple days past deadline.” Jim mused.  “I write about what pisses me off. Now I’m pissed about the news coverage of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Reporters said it was the worst incident of gun violence in American history since Fort Hood. What about Sand Creek? 160 people shot down with cannons and guns; unarmed people. I guess it doesn’t count because they were Cheyenne.”

A Vietnam vet,  veterans’ issues were central in Jim’s writing. In my classes he quickly bonded with young Iraq war veterans. They wouldn’t let him go, following him to the cafeteria afterward for more. Both Jim and Pat were fierce advocates of veterans rights. I wanted them to help me figure out a question that had dogged me for 12,000 miles. The veterans memorials we encountered riding through 31 states, seemed to perpetuate war, glorifying the soldier experience and the ultimate sacrifice. I asked Jim how he would design a memorial that honored veterans and ended war.

“The Vietnam memorial has 55,000 names. I would depict 55,000 families crying.”

Pat added, “If people knew we couldn’t own things they wouldn’t fight over them. We don’t take anything with us when we go.”

 

Jimmy Patiño Jr. Adopting an Insider/Outsider strategy to build Chicano/Latino Studies.

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I was born in Houston. Certain branches of the family have been in that part of Texas for several generations, and before that they lived in the Texas/Mexico border region. My grandparents grew up during segregation so they wanted their children to know English.  I did not grow up speaking Spanish.

Houston is half Latino and a third African American, with a pretty sizable Asian population too.  I grew up in a community North of Houston that was much less diverse, but spent a lot of time in Houston with family. There was a lot of racial conflict where I lived and went to school.  The Mexican and Black kids cliqued together for protection, and it was common to face racial epitaphs from students, be harassed and criminalized by teachers and police officers.  I think that is why I study the history of race. To make sense of my childhood experiences.

I was a graduate student in San Diego for five years before I came to Minnesota in 2010. For professors your job market is nationwide and you just land somewhere. I landed at St. Cloud State University. I was hired in the Ethnic Studies department.   There was one Native American woman, an Asian American woman and two African American men. I was the Mexican American faculty.

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Minnesota was colder than I ever could have imagined.  I was afraid to drive in Minnesota snow, but my son was six and daughter three when we arrived and they liked snow. We played in it — made snowmen, went sliding.  I tried to look at it through their eyes.

In the city of St. Cloud one main engagement was with my son’s school. There was a Spanish immersion program — which was one of the reasons why we thought we could live there — but he was the only Latino in the school. Their focus was on teaching White kids Spanish, not engaging Latino kids.

There is a Latino population in the surrounding area.  I was told that the best place to get Mexican food was at a restaurant in Melrose, a small town about 30 minutes northwest.  We went to check it out. There was tiendita next to the  restaurant. The food was pretty good.  It was such a weird sight — flat, uninhabited land all around, and a dancehall in the back with Mexican people arriving for a baile.  I wondered, “Where am I?  How did I get to this place and why did these people come here in the middle of nowhere?”

My son got picked on at school because he had long hair and spoke more Spanish than the other kids.  We ended up pulling him out of the immersion program and putting him in a neighborhood school.

Had I heard of the White Cloud reputation? A little.  I was involved in MEChA at the University of Houston when I was an undergraduate.  I had met St. Cloud members at national conferences.  MEChA at St. Cloud were a big part of the activism that created the position in which I was hired.  They recruited me.  They hinted to me about White Cloud — the hostile context in which they worked.

When I first started teaching classes I would have 30-40 kids.  In one class there was only one non-white student — a Somali kid.  I was new to teaching.  I remember the students smirking and snickering to each other as I tried to teach racial formation theory. First I got really angry.  I lectured to them, asserting my authority. I know that’s a privilege. My female colleagues tell me it is always a struggle for them to maintain authority, especially when teaching controversial stuff.

I didn’t realize my students came from tiny towns around St. Cloud and northern Minnesota and had very little experience with non-whites. Many of their initial reactions to learning about race, particularly from a person of color, was their assumption that we were attempting to shame them or guilt-trip them.  We were coming from different worlds. I had them write response pieces and they would say “There was one Black guy in my high school — one Mexican guy.”

One thing I learned from that situation is to teach White students that they are part of the race process. I had them read How the Irish Became White. That drew some of them in.

I had a number of issues at St. Cloud State.  I was finishing my thesis when I began there. We had an agreement that when my dissertation was finished my pay would go up immediately, but I had to struggle for several months to get them to fulfill that promise.  We had a union and a Faculty of Color group who were helpful, but it was very stressful.  In the end I was awarded my pay.   Soon after I was offered the position at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.

 I was already planning to move to the Twin cities and commute because of the issue with my son’s school, so when they hired me at the U  I was excited. I was eager to be back in a diverse urban space with a sizable Latino population and a real Chicano Studies department.  Louis Mendoza, the U of M Chicano Studies chair quipped, “I’m sure Minneapolis seems like a cultural mecca to you compared to St. Cloud.”  That was absolutely true.

The U has a great reputation. Smart colleagues.  We had an outreach coordinator Lisa Sass Zaragoza and she connected me right away with community. That grounded me with the Latino communities off campus and other social and political groups I was interested in: El Colegio, a Latino oriented charter school, CTUL and SEIU, who were doing labor union work with Latino immigrants.

My first full year it was the 40th anniversary of the department so we had events all year bringing students and community together. In advance of the 2012 election there was a Latino political action committee and I took my students to their events connecting them with local elected officials.

My first two years, me and Louis Mendoza were the only two full time faculty.  When Louis decided to leave, we assumed we would begin a hiring process right away.  They  put us on hold all summer before saying No, they would not replace him!

Before he left Louis had put community people on notice that they might be needed.  Now I found myself in the center of a struggle to save the department.  We had to reengage the community.   I was still acclimating, establishing a social life, finishing my book.

We called a community meeting at El Colegio in the fall. I was amazed when about 100 people came — graduates, undergraduates, alumni (some of the founding members of the department), labor educators, coming out of the woodwork to help us. I learned that this has happened periodically throughout the 40 years of the department. We made a collective decision about what to do.  We would demand the position be restored and other positions created. We addressed the structural problems that lead to us having to have such a campaign.

Soon after, a fraternity group on campus had a party called the Galactic Fiesta and Goldie Gopher, the University mascot, turned up wearing a poncho and sombrero — illustrating that it was an administration-endorsed event.  Many faculty members including myself wrote letters to the administration pointing out that they were stereotyping Mexicans as a homogenous group. This homogenization, I argued, was part of the long history of systemic violence and ongoing issues of marginalization, that were exactly why we needed Chicano Studies.  We had a postcard campaign with a picture of Goldie on one side and a photo of Chicano Studies books addressed to the Dean and the President — letting them know the community was watching and demonstrating to the public the dire need for Chicano Studies.

We followed the students lead on much of the campus campaign.  They pressed the new Dean on his plans to hire more people at a meeting with him that attracted dozens of students and community members. He said he was not opposed to considering new hires, but emphasized that there was a process in place that had to be followed.  He mispronounced the word: “Chiceeeno” at the meeting, which a lot of the community remembered as an indication of again the dire need for Chicano Studies and the misunderstanding and dismissal of the Latino community by administrators and other people in power.

There was a group on campus called Whose Diversity. They had a whole list of demands, including hiring faculty of color and investing in Ethnic Studies. They invited me to speak and facilitate dialogue among students in a couple of events. It was really good for me to have those experiences across campus. I was in a silo at the U because my classes were majority students of color.  It brought me in touch with what it was like, for example, to be a non-white medical student on this campus and how, in mainstream departments, it was hostile to talk about race or gender or homophobia.

Whose Diversity carried out a series of actions, trying to creating a dialogue with administration. When the administration refused, the students began interrupting the Dean and President at events. On a Friday in February 2015, they staged a sit in at the Presidents office.

After the President decided to arrest them all, I told a reporter that when the department was founded in the early 1970s, students sat-in to demand Black and Chicano Studies. At that time, administrators dialoged with those folks and the result was the creation of the department.  This time they just arrested them all, a fact that spoke volumes about their unwillingness to engage the students.

On Monday after the sit-in, the Dean of College of Liberal Arts called an emergency meeting of all the Chairs of departments, (the first time that had ever happened in several decades at least.) He announced the University had somehow found some money over the weekend and they were going to hire four people in Ethnic Studies, one of which would be in Chicano/Latino Studies. He stated that the sudden emergency change in faculty had nothing to do with the sit in.  Nothing at all.

This spring we hired two people.  When they join us in the fall we will have three full-time tenure-track faculty — more than double what it was.

Louis had told me to be ready for an insider/outsider experience when you are a professor working in the institution. The community can say different things and pressure in different ways. I watched the insider/ outsider campaign pay off.

We know we still need to be vigilant.  To have a fully functioning department we  need at least five full time faculty. It is normalized that our department is supposed to be small, justified by enrollment. It is a business model, “you don’t bring in enough customers you don’t get the investment.” I describe it as abusive — not giving us the resources and human power we need to attract students and then blaming us for not attracting students.

Departments like ours that emerged out of social movements, have a stated objective of tying themselves to marginalized communities and making knowledge useful to those communities so they can solve their own problems.  Most of the University is structured around the idea that intellectual inquiry is this disconnected thing that comes from objective research.   Ethnic Studies is often characterized by the powers that be as political and therefore not intellectual which is an under-riding reason why I think it is not invested in. It is frustrating trying to convince administrators that we are valuable. We know we are valuable, but they will never be convinced, so our struggle will be cyclical.  What seems most important me after recognizing this cyclical problem is that we have a community inside and outside of the university prepared to mobilize and demand that the university serve marginalized communities through investing in Chicano and Latino Studies and other departments that centralize the experiences of aggrieved groups.

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I am finding roots in Minneapolis.  My kids are doing well at the Spanish immersion program at Emerson school, which is I think 80% Latino. The school is the oldest Spanish immersion program in the state and has roots from the 70s.

As a parent that is a basis for being grounded; knowing the kids are OK.

I live in Corcoran off of 35th Street. It passes the good-taco-near-by test, being close to Lake Street in South Minneapolis and a Latino community. I have a network of friends — other parents of color and social justice folks. I work with a group called Tamales y Bicicletas which is an environmental justice community organization led by longtime community activist José Luis Villaseñor.   He has a speaker on his bike. We show up to provide music and a loudspeaker for organizers speaking at the marches. We brought it to 4th precinct occupation rallies to provide the speaker for the organizers. 

TyB  is challenging the idea that environmental movements are separate from communities of color.  It emerged around the bike culture here. Minneaplis is a bike city but in many ways that culture is exclusive. The Greenway goes through Phillips but does not necessarily attract youth of color to participate because it is seen as very expensive. Bike shops and equipment are pricey. TyB has a shop on Lake Street where we teach kids to fix bikes.  We go on rides together. We sponsor environmental bike tours in the city, especially South Minneapolis. We go on-location to learn about polluters and the people doing something about it. We also have an urban garden for families and sponsor community harvest meals and give away produce.

I have also made friends through Left Wing Twin Cities, a local chapter of a national soccer movement. We usually play in Powderhorn. We approach soccer as a way of creating community. We have people of all abilities playing together in a way that is not competitive. The point is not to win, but to help each other build our skills and to move away from being hyper masculine and hyper competitive. We encourage gender non-conforming folks to join us. Children play with adults. I take my kids.  For my daughter it has been really good. We have a game for women and gender non-conforming folk only and the cis-gendered men and boys cook and cheer.

Professors’ Keith Mayes, Yuichiro Onishi and Erika Lee and I are working on Curricula on Ethnic Studies and history for high school students. We are also training social studies teachers to teach 3 classes:  African-American History, Chicano/Latino History, and Asian-American History. It will be required for all freshman students at Roosevelt High school.  Some other schools are doing it as an elective.

I am finishing up my book this summer — a study of the Committee of Chicano Rights in San Diego from the 60s- 80s.

I go up for tenure next year. I feel good about that.

And the winter doesn’t shock me anymore.

Yes, I think I’ll stick around.

 

Clinton Pass-over

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Biking across West Texas along the Mexican border, I saw an Israeli flag. The owner of the flag was a cotton farmer whose land abutted the Mexican border. The owner of the farm and the flag was an evangelical Christian who believed that Israel would play a central role in the second coming, the rapture, and Armageddon.

The Israeli flag on the U.S. Mexican border was a startling sight, but in some other-than-theological ways it made sense. The blue and white banner, emblazoned with the Jewish Star flew along the infamous U.S./Mexico border wall. Thousands of miles away, another wall — this one between Israel and the West Bank — was resurrected for much the same purpose.

The two walls are, in many ways, distinct installations of one project. That they look alike, is not surprising. In 2014 the U.S. hired an Israeli company to install security technology along its wall.

Unlike the Berlin Wall which they are sometimes compared to, the Israeli and U.S. barriers do not separate populations completely. Instead they are physical representations of a host of policies that seek to criminalize and dehumanize those who cross. Like the gates that surround an elite housing development, these walls do not stop the flow of people. Like Sundown towns and migrant camps, these walls reserve, control, and demonize the targeted groups who pass in and out. Like reservations and colonies, they circumscribe those who are the victims of land theft.

The U.S. wall monitors the flow of workers into the United States, assuring U.S. access to cheap food and services. When children from Central America began crossing in large numbers recently, fleeing violence at home, their presence did not serve the needs of capital, and so, despite revealing the audacious cruelty of U.S. policy, they were detained in prison-like quarters and deported.

When the United States treats children on its border as a criminals, it announces to the world it is a nation without a moral compass. Such a nation might well see an Israeli administration that bombs schools and refugee camps as a worthy of aid. Immoral equivalents.

The process of dismantling these walls is complex but it certainly does not begin with Trump and his Mexican wall fixation. Nor does it begin with Hillary, as she made clear with her Passover  message.  Such ugly uses of religious stories to justify physical and metaphorical walls, are rife. Clinton is not the first one to find vindication for U.S. and Israeli policy in this old story. She is not the first to conflate Jews with the state of Israel. I have fled synagogues this time of year where such stories are told, and such allegiances required.

Bernie Sanders’ measured criticism of Israel, and his willingness to speak it in a space filled with Jewish voters, showed — not so much an ability to boldly lead — but a willingness to follow behind those more courageous and outspoken than he. It is those social movements he follows, on both borders, that give us hope.

This year when my group gathers for Passover we will exchange stories of overcoming adversity and oppression as we usually do in our untraditional way. This year we will also pause with more purpose as we pour that cup of wine and that plate of food for the empty chair, for the stranger who might knock — a reminder to tear down walls – not build them up – in the coming year.

Creating a world without walls may or may not be the way to rapture – but it is surely a requirement of a sustainable world in this globe-shrinking climate-crisis era. Let the walls come a tumbling down.

Lost in Dallas tracking the Daughters of Tabor..

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You learn the most about a place when your travel plans go awry and you  are hungry,  lost, and treading where no other tourist would ever go.

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We started out reasonably enough,  climbing in the airport shuttle to find breakfast and catch the train into Dallas. But the shuttle driver— a kind man in his late sixties who works 7 day weeks and 12 hour days, (including Easter morning)  offered  a short cut. He would drop us at the transit station where buses run straight into town.

As we rode the driver acted as our tour guide, as though we were driving through an area of interest and not the ugly backside of an airport/hotel nexus.   He pointed to a pile of sheet rock in an abandoned field.

“More construction.”

We passed a raft of empty town houses. “New structures  going up everywhere.”

He pointed to the other side of the street.   “See that palace? New Senior Housing.”

In the middle of all the new developments was an older run down housing project, and beyond that, a bit of  wild land — a gorgeous spring-green piece of East Texas thicket.

“This guy refuses to sell. He’s got a bunch of goats in there and a black donkey that herds them — protects them better than any guard dog. Once a feral hog tried to attack his goats.  The donkey killed him!”

We should have known.

The parking lot at the bus stop was empty, save for one lone bike. But the driver insisted the bus would come. He had already disappeared by the time we read the sign: no services on Sundays.

On the two mile walk back, we passed the thicket, hoping to get a glimpse of the donkey.
“Look like you are hungry enough to eat a goat. Maybe the donkey will come out to shoo us away.” I said.
I AM hungry enough to eat a goat. Been hungry since we got on the plane 15 hours ago.” Dave said, trying not to sound irritated.

“Hey this is just like the bike trip.” I said.  “Look out for a good story.” We laughed,  showing each other good humor that was part real and part feigning. The tickets for this impromptu trip to Dallas were cheap, but still a luxury. We were feeling an obligation to HAVE FUN.

As we passed an older run-down housing development we noticed something improbable. Something we had not see in the van. Something the driver had not mentioned.

Shelton’s Bear Creek Cemetery the historical marker read.

African Americans came to this area as slaves of white settlers …

After the civil war [they] stayed in the area and formed a large settlement. In 1879 Minnie Shelton purchased 80 acres including this site and the Shelton family donated the land for use as a cemetery. …. Buried here is] Elizabeth Lawson…   Her stone bears the insignia of the Fraternal Organization of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor.

According to  Portland, Oregon, blogger Jasper Wilcox, The Knights and Daughters of Tabor began as a militant Black underground anti-slavery organization. After the Civil War they  funded Black hospitals and encouraged their members to buy real estate to build Black capital.*  The daughters of Tabor in Texas bought real estate in downtown Dallas and saw to it that the Black community had a dignified final resting place.  However..- as the historical marker notes:

Access to the burial ground has often been restricted and regular maintenance was difficult in the 20th century. A Cemetery survey in 1970 found that there were 12 legible headstones and over 200 burials on the site….  

The historical marker was put up at the cemetery in 2001 – a demand of local activists. In 2013 that new senior housing palace was built,boxing in the cemetery.

The struggle for access and preservation of  the cemetery continues.

 

*Mississippi Knight of Tabor  Theodore Roosevelt Howard was a friend and mentor of Medgar Evers. He founded PUSH — that organization that came to be associated with Jesse Jackson — in 1971.

Winter Solstice in East Texas, 2011. Bicycle Memoir excerpt.

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For six months we had been racing against the setting sun, adjusting our riding time to shorter days. Too many nights we entered a new town in the dark, tired and cranky. Too many times it felt like a miracle to be alive when we made it to our destination. But on the solstice our timing was perfect.  At the top of a ridge we rested, taking in a panoramic view, watching five weather systems — five theaters in the East Texas sky.  I had a staring contest with a longhorn cow.

At 4:06 pm, with plenty of light still in the sky, we entered the gates of the Acres Alegres ranch, our home for the night.

 

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We had just enough time to learn a little about our host before she left for a Christmas party.  She was petite, tough and beautiful, one of those people whose energy and easy generosity inspired awe. She used to have cattle; now she farmed walleye, turning part of her ranch into a wildlife sanctuary for skunks, deer, wild hogs and copperhead snakes. She made furniture and wooden toys. A row of miniature logging trucks sat in her shed, ready for some lucky child. She played the dulcimer, sang in a choir. She was bilingual, in charge of helping new Spanish-speaking families at her church. She and her shiny black Model A car were the same age.

She offered us her barn loft with porch overlooking a meadow and forest, and then took off. Just as her car disappeared over the horizon, the electricity went out. As Dave searched in vain for candles and a fuse box, I decided to give in to the darkness. I would sit out on this porch so far from city lights, and watch until the last bit of sun left the sky. I figured it wouldn’t be long.

I was wrong. There was still a streak of light over the horizon at 8pm – enough to create monsters out of  tree trunks.  And when it was gone, there was the moon.

A revelation of light on the darkest day.

This is an excerpt of my forthcoming book Turtle Road: Pedaling America’s Divides, a 12,000 Mile Bicycle Memoir. I am still in the editing process. Responses to writing and content are appreciated. Thank you. 

Anne Winkler-Morey 

“Sometimes You Just Gotta Give.”

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Four years ago this week, six months into a fourteen month bike trip.  

I had a bad feeling about the Imperial Motel in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, but the manager told us there was nothing else for miles. It was already dark, with wind chills in the 20s. Too cold for camping.

In retrospect, camping would have been a better choice.

“Cash only”  the manager said.
Most of the motel “guests” were permanent. They paid $40 a night — exorbitant for what they got.  Everything about the place was disgusting. The walls were oily. The smell was overwhelming, a putrid mix of mold, dust, body odor and smoke. After the owner put a screw driver to the heater  I could still see my breath.

The bathroom floor had the topography of a pit mine. Climbing into the slippery tub, Dave fell, slashing his hand.

The hospital was a mile away. We walked our bikes slowly, in a daze, Dave trying to keep his hand elevated. A jovial doctor from St. Paul, Minnesota gave him ten stitches.“When I was a kid, we’d cross the river chanting M. I. S. S. I. S. S. I. P. P. I. as fast as we could. I never thought I’d end up living there. I came down to work in Louisiana. When Katrina took the hospital in Chalmette, I transferred here.”

On the TV at a Vietnamese café blocks from the hospital, a slick anti-immigrant ad played between updates on a second Virginia Tech shooting. I thought about the guests at the Imperial and an emergency room patient who coughed blood and had no insurance. I looked at Dave’s drawn face, holding his bandaged left hand up, picking at his food with his right, in his own pain-medicated twilight zone.

Behind him, in stained glass was the likeness of a turtle.

Fifteen miles down the road, between Biloxi and Gulfport, we found a beautiful room for $35.95, checked in at 2pm and spent the afternoon at the IHOP eating whole grain pancakes that had become a comfort food for us.

Our route to Louisiana the next day hugged the Mississippi coast line. In Waveland, a town of 5,000 — over 90% white — we met Baptist Minister Ben selling oranges and apples on the roadside with a team of recovering addicts. The town was leveled by Katrina. I asked the Minister about post-Hurricane recovery. He shook his head.

“Recovery? There’s been none. The recession and oil spill destroyed what was left of our fish and tourism industries. All city workers — police, fire — were laid off a few months ago….”

While Dave chose apples– pointing with his bandaged hand– I shook my head sympathetically, encouraging Pastor Ben to continue.

“Without jobs, drug abuse and alcoholism has become so rampant the fast food companies stopped giving drug tests. Not enough sober workers to fill positions.” He pointed at the fruit. “Proceeds go to my Anonymous programs. My first meeting no-one showed up. The second week, three people came. Now 165 are coming every week.”

A pale man with shaky hands took our coins.

“We need good jobs,” Pastor Ben concluded, handing us three apples and three satsumas, “but the addiction problem is so bad, people will be in no shape to hold them when they come.”

In Pearlington, Mississippi, on the Louisiana border, we stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom. A spare, toothless Black man selling collard greens and garage sale items offered us chocolate bars and peppermints. It looked like he was more in need than us, but we were learning to take offerings from strangers graciously.   In Lakeland, Florida, at a gas station adjacent to a homeless encampment, a skinny man with stringy blond hair clutching a twenty-ounce can of beer insisted on giving Dave two dollars and got angry when he tried to refuse.

The collard vendor seemed to guess what we were thinking: “You can’t always be asking. Sometimes you just gotta give.” He shifted his gaze to the heavens. “I just lost my wife of forty years, but she did not leave me without. We had five children.” He listed them by age.  “Oldest, 38 …  baby, 28. The Lord’s been good to me.”

Maja Gorland, my beloved 92 year old Aunt, sharing refugee stories. Rest in Peace.

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My Aunt Maja, sister of my father, just passed away. She was 92 years old. Below is a draft of my account of  visiting  her during my perimeter bike trip in 2011/2012 when she was still living in Miami Springs, Florida.  

Warnings about biking in Miami traffic, accumulated. We decided to take them seriously, caught the monorail in Hallandale, then walked into Miami Springs to stay with my Aunt Maja in the home she had lived in for 70 years with her husband and four children.  There was not room inside for us, so we put our sleeping bags out on the porch. I spent the next afternoon in the living room, Maya in her wheelchair and me on the couch, talking about her mother — my grandmother.

I was eleven when grandma died. Maja, with her lilting German accent, is my connection to her. She also inherited grandma’s authoritative personality – kindness and firmness intertwined.

“My mother was a nurse during World War One” Maja reminded me, then added a detail I had never heard. “The radiologist she worked with was killed. She took his place. Eighteen years old and no medical schooling. She was incredibly proud of her military service.”
Despite her loyalty to Germany, Grandma somehow knew before many of her Jewish neighbors, that to survive they had to leave the country. “She sent your grandpa away a year before,” Maja explained, “so when the Gestapo came looking, he was already gone.”

Dad had told me about Nazi soldiers tearing apart their home, looking in closets, under the bed, in drawers for his father. Dad was five years old at the time. He remembered thinking  these places were much too small for his father to fit. The  apartment was always dark after that, shades drawn.

Grandma snuck the children out of the country assuming someone else’s identity. She left parents and siblings, knowing she would probably never see them again. They tried to get into Switzerland but were denied entry, a fact I discovered in 2005, when I received reparations from the Swiss government.

Maya was ten years older than my Dad and their memories reflect their age gap. On the ship to the Americas teenage Maja flirted with young men, meeting the one she would marry. Dad hid under his mother’s skirts, watching Orthodox Jewish ladies in the women’s room take off their wigs, revealing bald heads. They landed in Havana and lived in a refugee camp there. Dad remembered his mom had a job pulling the heads off chickens. Maja remembered standing on the Havana shore, watching the MS St. Louis come into harbor so close she could touch the outstretched hands of excited children hanging on the railing. She watched in horror as the ship of German refugees was turned away by Cuban authorities. The United States and Canada also refused them harbor and the boat sailed back to Europe, sending passengers back to battlefields and concentration camps.

To get from Havana to Miami where my grandfather was waiting, my Grandma went regularly to the embassy to see if her name was on the list. When another woman whose name was called did not show up, she claimed to be her. She sold her jewelry to the Havana synagogue to pay for their passage to Miami. In 1987 I visited that synagogue in Havana. They had a display case of the jewelry refugees exchanged for passage.

In Florida, Dad and his other sister Helga started school. Dad remembered first grade, the sting of mispronouncing “h is for hatpins” so the last syllable sounded like “penis.” Maja got a job to help provide for the little ones.

When the family moved to New York City, Maja and her husband stayed in Florida and bought the home along the canal in Miami Springs, where on hot  November morning in 2011, we ate sweetbreads with cousins.

I asked Maja what kind of music grandma liked.

“She had no time for music.” she said shortly.

Then for some reason I asked, “What would the soundtrack for grandma’s life sound like?”

She did not hesitate. “Da Da Da Dum.  Beethoven’s 5th.”

I wish I had asked Maja what her own soundtrack would be. I would imagine it would be something equally strong and embracing.

The Politics of Beauty

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“Why do you have to make everything political?” my brother asked.

“It’s not worth writing otherwise,” I replied.                  

 

 

A few years back Minnesota passed the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment, allocating tax dollars for environmental protection and the arts. It’s a great thing. I have already written here about projects receiving those funds: “Prep,” a play at Pillsbury Center providing $ for pay-what-you-can performances and the Loft Literary Center sponsoring free public readings such as the series More than a Single Story—both recipients of the Legacy Amendment.

This weekend I had the opportunity to enjoy another Legacy recipient: the Root River trail in Southeastern corner of Minnesota. It was the most beautiful weekend to ride: sunny, cool, enough leaves to provide brilliant color, enough leaves crunching underneath to allow the cyclist spectacular views river, farms and bluffs.

The Root River Trail is what this bicyclist calls pure gravy train.  The paved path puts you into some of the most beautiful bluff country in a minute. Every 5-10 miles there is a town with great places to stop and eat. Lovely Lanesboro in the heart of the trial, has a bikers cathedral – a public bathroom building right on the path.

The people using the trail had diverse bicycle abilities and experiences. They were males and females of all ages: small children, elders and everyone else in between. They utilized the entire spectrum of bicycles: tandems, tourers, big-box cheapos, and elite racers.  There were walkers and strollers and wheelchairs too.

The users were almost entirely White.

So here is what I want to know: What structures create knowledge and access to this place? How do people find out about it? How comfortable is it to stay in one of the many campgrounds, B and B and motels if you are not White? How could we expand public transportation access to the area?

Any recipient of the Legacy Amendment should be required to ask questions of access and assemble a coalition of stakeholders who can act on  the answers.

The Root River Trail is a Minnesota treasure. The only way to enhance such exquisite natural beauty is to add equity.

My edited answer to my brother’s question:

“I write about politics to imagine a more beautiful  world.”

Dump the Doctrine of Discovery/ Declare the Doctrine of Hospitality.

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During fourteen months of touring on a bicycle, I observed the way people were tied to place. The love of a hill, ravine, lake, field,  city neighborhood, prairie, mountain or forest, seemed bone-level. People showed us this love by showing off  their places, wanting us to see their communities through their eyes.

This love of place does not require armies or borders.

Homeland that needs security is manufactured, needing recruiters, slogans, flags and songs to make it real, convincing us we need ICBMs or drones.  A river needs no flag. Nor does the culture that develops on its shores.  It just needs people to love it and share how it is like no other. It is in this hospitality that we begin to tear down borders of all kinds, the barbed wire between the United States and Mexico, the wood and stone barriers of gated communities, the economic, racial, ideological, urban and rural divisions so prevalent in this country.

Breaking down these walls won’t happen without a profound economic about-face. In that regard we are moving in the wrong direction. Recently the United States, hoarder of global resources, re-reached  its pre Great Depression 1928 record of internal wealth inequality.

Poverty in America has no reason other than to make a hedgerow wider and a yacht longer.

In 1493, Pope Alexander the 6th declared any land “where there were no Christians” belonged to the Christian conqueror, justifying conquest of the Americas.

In 1823 the United States Supreme Court adopted the Doctrine of Discovery to justify the new republic’s  conquest of indigenous America. After Native land was parceled out to homesteaders and given to railroad companies the No Trespassing signs went up and homeland security was born.

As we call for the Doctrine of Discovery to be rescinded by Pope Francis, while we implement reparations for 5 centuries of damage, lets declare a  Doctrine of Hospitality, to invite others to see what we love about a place; to share its resources.

Its no more audacious than a mariner declaring he discovered the Americas or a Pope declaring that “discovery” a deed of ownership.

Photo: Columbus statue in Wilmington, Delaware