“I Am Muslim”

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What is it about the hijab that makes people so uncomfortable?

Only one student stepped up to the challenge in the Media Literacy class I taught during the just-finished winter term.

It was an extra-credit assignment: Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece and show proof of publication.

Sofia Velasquez, a soft-spoken junior who sat in the back row, wrote a short piece that she submitted to The Vanguard, Portland State’s student-run newspaper.

It appeared in print last month under the headline  “I am Muslim.”

During the term, we talked about “vulnerable audiences” such as children and “vulnerable subjects” of news coverage such as the mentally ill, the frail elderly and undocumented immigrants.  Individuals belonging to certain racial and religious minority groups (such as Muslims) also can be vulnerable because of overly simply, often negative characterizations that fail to take into account individual differences.

As Sofia wrote:

“In the U.S., I represent perhaps what many people don’t want to admit. I represent the new America: an America that is composed of multiple identities, languages and cultures. I have come to discover the most harmful and most dehumanizing thing to do within our society is to make generalizations. The harm that comes from putting people into certain boxes and labeling them is far more complex than we often realize.”

Take one minute (really, that’s all it takes) and read her piece: “I am Muslim.”

Then imagine you are me, standing at the front of the class and looking out at Sofi, chatting with her study partner, Phuong, an international student from Vietnam. Of course she is. A Spanish-speaking Muslim woman befriending someone who’s also perceived as an outsider in mainstream America.

Sofi is majoring in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Communications. She’s barely 5 feet tall, give or take an inch, but she stands tall in my eyes.

Such a fine piece of writing, with a simple lesson: Get to know people beyond the stereotypes.

Photograph: Saloni Health & Beauty Supply

 

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Remembering Dad

That’s my dad, holding my infant self, in Oakland. California, in early 1953.

We’ve been here on Orcas Island since Saturday and it’s rained pretty much nonstop. No biggie. It’s what the weather forecasters predicted.

So why am I thinking about the sunny Southwest? And why am I thinking about spring training just as it’s come to an end? After all, the regular Major League Baseball season starts tomorrow.

It’s because of Dad.

My father died a year ago today, six days after turning 91 years old. In the year since then, I’ve thought of him often – and always with appreciation for the man he was and the life he led.

Read “90 years and still kicking”

Read “A son’s remembrance”

A man who valued family and faith and an honest day’s work. A man who could build or fix anything. A man who encouraged me to pursue the college education he never had a chance to dream of for himself. A man who was proud of his service as a Navy veteran and who served his community in Silver City, New Mexico, the place where he and my stepmother Oralia chose to retire.

Time and again at his memorial service, I heard my dad described as kind and generous and, quite simply, as a good man.

***

Dad loved baseball. It was my favorite sport, too, growing up.

At his service, I told the story of how he bought me my first baseball bat – a heavily-taped, too-heavy-for-me Willie Keeler model that cost him 50 cents at a weekend flea market.

We played countless games of catch in our backyard, and watched the Giants and Dodgers go to battle on our black-and-white TV screen.

When I joined a Little League team, he volunteered to be an assistant coach. When I moved up to Pony League as a 13-year-old, he volunteered to be the manager. During my five seasons of organized baseball, I don’t remember him ever missing a practice or a game.

san-francisco-giants-logo-transparentSeveral years after he retired, I made good on a vow to take my dad to spring training in Arizona. I flew from Portland to Tucson, drove 150 miles to his home in Silver City, picked him up and, the next morning, drove back 300 miles to Phoenix.

For three days and nights, we hung out together, taking in three ballgames in three stadiums scattered around the metro area. It was all I’d hoped for as a father-and-son experience. Sleep in, get breakfast, go to the ballgame, grab dinner, relax in our room, sleep and repeat.

I still remember seeing these teams with him:

  • A’s vs. Cubs
  • Giants vs. Padres
  • Mariners vs. Royals

And I still remember how content he seemed, sitting in the cheap seats with a beer and a hotdog, enjoying his favorite sport alongside his adult son.

Now that he’s gone, I hope to take a walk around Eagle Lake today with Lori and keep him close in my thoughts.

Dad and Ora visited us here once at our island cabin, and we took them on a short walk on the Lake Trail. Though he had slowed down some, I know he appreciated the natural beauty of this place.

Yes, my father was a good man.

I miss you Dad. Love you always.

Your son, George

 

¡Esteban!

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Simone and Esteban, 18 years after we hosted our Costa Rican exchange student.

Nearly two decades have passed since we opened our home to a foreign exchange student from Costa Rica.

During just two weeks with our family, Esteban Villalobos struck as then as friendly, outgoing and destined to succeed.

Turns out we were right.

On Friday night, Esteban and his partner, Marco, met us for dinner with our daughter,  Simone, her wife, Kyndall, and their friend, Hunter, who happened to be visiting from California.

Esteban was the same as Lori and I  remembered: bright-eyed, with a big smile and a hug for each of us. But where there was once a head full of dark hair was now a neatly-shaven head. Now 34, Esteban is an architect, a habitual early riser who gets to the office by 6 a.m.

He was visiting Portland for a couple of days with Marco, and then they were headed up to Seattle for more sightseeing. Marco works in marketing for a liquor distributor, and seems well matched with Esteban. Both speak English very well, as they use it frequently, if not daily, at work.

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Marcos Arias and Esteban Villalobos

Simone was a high school junior and our youngest son, Jordan, was still in middle school when Esteban came to live with us in the spring of 2000. He would tag along with Simone as she went through her daily schedule at Grant High School. After school and on weekends, there was time for Esteban and Jordan to hang out, too.

We have fond memories of the two of them watching “The Matrix” (Keanu Reeves) and “Bring It On” (Kirsten Dunrst) in the family room basement. Esteban reminded me that I took him to a Trail Blazers game, a multi-sensory experience that included a victory over the woeful New Jersey Nets. I remember a drunken fan near our section being expelled from the arena before the game even started.

Friday was a treat in more than one way. It was our first time dining at Ken’s Artisan Pizza. The restaurant has been a fixture on Southeast 28th Avenue since 2006, but we’d never made it over there until now. The wood-fired oven serves up a nice, thin crust with more than a dozen toppings, along with tasty salads and a killer calamari appetizer. Simone and Kyndall chose a great place.

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Clockwise from left: Marco, Esteban, Kyndall, Hunter, Simone, Lori and George.

In an era when air travel is something we take for granted, it’s easy to overlook the distance that Esteban covered as a teenager to live with us: 4,400 miles. (Check the map.) We’re glad he had a sense of adventure, and we’re even more glad that he enjoyed his time with us so much as to come back and visit.

Foreign exchange students can enrich your life, even with a short stay. We recommend it highly.