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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lessons Learned in the 'Hood


When the Dominican-American writer, Junot Diaz, won the Pulitzer Prize last year for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I was thrilled. I’d been a fan of Diaz’s work for years, so I received the announcement of him winning this award as if my own little brother had won. I was proud and elated and I needed to share this news when I first read of his selection in the New York Times.



I am African-American and I live in an almost exclusively African-American neighborhood. Like many neighborhoods similar to my own, the Mom and Pop corner store is now owned and operated by Dominicans. From my observations, there are little substantive exchanges between these two, ethnic groups given the fact that they have frequent encounters with each other. Diaz’s honor that day was one to be shared. I had my daughter take the news article saluting Diaz to our neighborhood Dominican grocers. The husband and wife team who run the store did not know of Junot Diaz, just like my son’s African-American barber does not know of Percival Everett.


But this couple was just as thrilled to learn about Diaz and his triumph. They posted the news clipping in their store and boasted of his literary prowess to their customers. I later gave Ana, the wife, a copy of Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Ana was amazed that a Dominican-American woman was sharing her immigrant experience and that other people were even interested. Ana and her husband have since moved on, but she had begun to keep a journal she simply called her story.


Our city is a veritable hothouse of cultures to learn from and to celebrate. Philadelphia’s Latino community is large and diverse and we should avail ourselves of this phenomenal resource. On September 20, 2009, we have the opportunity to do just that-Feria del Barrio. This neighborhood festival is one of Philadelphia’s largest celebrations of Latino culture and music and it is hosted in the heart of the Latino community. Everyone is invited. To learn more, visit the website of Taller Puertorriqueno
http://www.tallerpr.org/getdoc/bdf65e3a-246d-4205-9cbf-e5728dcea57d/.aspx

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Virgins With Rifles; Revisiting Wilfred Owen



*Discover Cartoonist Hugh Macleod http://www.gaipvoid.com/


I am the queen of Mommy read-alouds, but I also demand that my children read to me. Very recently, my daughter, in a lame attempt to lull me to sleep, read me a poem that so moved her; Dulce et Decorum Est by the English/Welsh poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). Needless to say, I sat up and requested a second reading. I am literally crying now as I recall this poem which is about the brutal horrors of war. Owen was not only a master poet in terms of form and content, he was a soldier in the First World War. He seamlessly melded his talent and experience to create a tough, lyrical testimony about war. Take some real time and read Dulce et Decorum Est once and then again and again. Owen was killed in action a week before the war ended.


 Listen to Sting’s Children’s Crusade from his Dream of the Blue Turtles album. The lyrics follow Owen’s poem.

Dulce Et Decorum Est
By Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
------------------------------------------

Children's Crusade

By Sting from Dream of the Blue Turtles

Young men, soldiers, Nineteen Fourteen
Marching through countries they'd never seen
Virgins with rifles, a game of charades
All for a Children's Crusade

Pawns in the game are not victims of chance
Strewn on the fields of Belgium and France
Poppies for young men, death's bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed

The children of England would never be slaves
They're trapped on the wire and dying in waves
The flower of England face down in the mud
And stained in the blood of a whole generation

Corpulent generals safe behind lines
History's lessons drowned in red wine
Poppies for young men, death's bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed
All for a Children's Crusade

The children of England would never be slaves
They're trapped on the wire and dying in waves
The flower of England face down in the mud
And stained in the blood of a whole generation

Midnight in Soho, Nineteen Eighty-four
Fixing in doorways, opium slaves
Poppies for young men, such bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed
All for a Children's Crusade