Family, friends and hoops at Easter

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George and Lori on Easter Sunday 2018.

What a great way to end spring break: Easter dinner with family, followed by a Trail Blazers game with longtime friends.

I didn’t plan it this way, but it worked out just the same. Weeks ago, when I was scanning the Blazers schedule for a weekend game to attend, I bought tickets to the April 1 match-up against Memphis, thinking we would be returning from vacation a day earlier. It was only later that I realized the game would be played on Easter Sunday.

Oops.

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Simone & Kyndall

Simone & Kyndall and Nathan & Sara came over during the afternoon for an early dinner of ham, potatoes, salad, deviled eggs and carrot cake. We got caught up on recent travels (S&K to Victoria, British Columbia) and plans for next month’s wedding (N&S are tying the knot after a 8-year courtship — yay!).

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Carrot cake, topped by a white chocolate bunny, made by Simone.

It’s always fun being around our kids and their partners. Soon enough, we’ll have a chance to see all three reunited when Jordan, Jamie & Emalyn come out to Portland for the wedding.

(Love this gallery. Credit goes to Simone, the photographer.) 

After the meal, Nathan and I had a NBA game to catch. At the arena, we met up with Bob and Chris Ehlers, whom we’ve known since Chris and Nathan were born the same week in the same hospital in Salem, Oregon, in 1980. Bob and his wife, Deborah, were in the same babysitting co-op that formed among us and a few other new parents. So, clearly, we got back quite a ways.

For the record, the Blazers whipped the Grizzles, 113-98, behind the stellar play of All-Star guard Damian Lillard. With the win, the Blazers secured a spot in the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

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Dos amigos: Chris & Nathan

Far more entertaining was seeing our boys exchange hugs and launch into 2 1/2 hours of animated conversation as they sat to our left. They were best buddies in the co-op and seemingly have only grown closer over the years, despite periods where they’ve gone years without seeing each other.

Chris is an adventurous sort who has traveled across much of Europe and Asia, and only recently moved back to the U.S. after several years of teaching English and running a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

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Bob, Chris & Nathan

The two of us dads managed to interrupt our sons at halftime as we gathered around a bistro table with our beers. Next up: A gathering to include our wives.

 

 

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Orcas photo album

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A dockside view of Eagle Lake.

Even when it rains five out of seven days, there’s no place I’d rather be than in our cozy log cabin, enjoying the warmth of a wood-stove fire and the tranquility of a remote location on Orcas Island.

Lori and I came home yesterday from a week on the island, where we enjoyed down time with our little dog, Charlotte. The premises were in good shape, so we spent more time relaxing and less time working than we would have otherwise.

We buried ourselves in books and magazines, played Scrabble and plowed through the six-part Netflix series “Wild Wild Country” on the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers. Lori did some knitting and we walked the Lake Trail around Eagle Lake on the one-year anniversary of my father’s death.

We took Charlotte on short nature walks above our home, had a home-cooked meal with longtime friends Carl and Juliana, tried a new restaurant for lunch in Eastsound, and capped off the week with dinner at the nearby Doe Bay Cafe.

When Saturday morning arrived, the sun came out and we had a leisurely drive back to Portland. Heading into a new month and a new week, it’s safe to say we’re both feeling refreshed and eternally thankful to have this island getaway to relax and recharge.

As always, here are a few (OK, more than a few) images to seal this trip in memory:

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Home: a welcome sight after a nature hike.

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The driveway down to the main road.

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Looking northward from the back of the cabin.

 

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Sunrise on Orcas Island, with Mount Baker (middle right) in the distance.

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The essence of serenity: Eagle Lake.

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Who doesn’t enjoy being the only ones on the trail during a weekday morning?

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Charlotte, our trusty guide, sizes up an obstacle.

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Words don’t do justice.

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A splash of color, thanks to skunk cabbage.

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Treetops reflected on the glass-like surface of the water.

 

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We had lunch at Wild Island Juice Bagels and Bowls, a new addition to the Eastsound restaurant scene.

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How’s this for a restaurant facade?

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Looking toward the village of Eastsound from our outdoor stools on the porch.

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Tasty: The Wild Island Bowl (left) and chicken pho with veggies.

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Peregrine Road, a favorite hiking destination, has a new sign.

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Puddles on the path of our walk.

 

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So long, Orcas Landing.

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View from the interior of the MV Yakima heading back to Anacortes, Washington.

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Circles and rectangles make for some cool photo aesthetics.

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A passing ferry on the Salish Sea, headed for Orcas Island.

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Aboard the MW Yakima, capable of holding 2,500 passengers and 160 vehicles.

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Looking over the stern of the MV Yakima, a super-class ferry operated by the Washington State Ferries system.

“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

 

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.

 

Fantasy and reality

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Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer form a close bond as cleaning ladies in “The Shape of Water.”

I’m not much into movies that are rooted in science fiction or fantasy. I prefer those that are tethered to real life, with real characters and a plausible plot.

But my recent viewing experiences has me rethinking my preferences.

A couple weekends ago, Lori and I saw “The Post.” It was a very good film, directed by Steven Spielberg, starring the incomparable Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, and based on the true story of the newspaper’s legal battle with the U.S. government over the feds’ attempt to prevent the Post and The New York Times from publishing the top-secret Pentagon Papers.

A week later, we went to see “The Shape of Water,” a highly touted movie about a mute janitor who comes in contact with some sort of amphibious creature that’s being held captive at the Cold War-era research facility where she works. I’d seen the trailer and I was pretty skeptical going in, despite the 13 Oscar nominations it has accumulated.

Well. You’d think this veteran journalist would have liked the reality-based movie about the First Amendment better than the fictional one that asked you to suspend disbelief. But you’d be wrong.

***

In “The Post,” the 1971 newsroom was authentically recreated with lots of pasty-skinned editors and reporters in short-sleeved shirts and loosened neckties bustling around. Many of them are on the phone taking notes by hand and, of course, many of them are smoking like fiends. Women and minorities are few and far between.

Streep is marvelous as Katharine Graham, struggling to assert herself as the new publisher following the death of her husband Philip in an era when women were still a rarity in executive offices. Hanks is good but not great as editor Ben Bradlee. Definitely a notch below Jason Robards’ portrayal of Bradlee in “All The President’s Men.”

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Meryl Streep, as newly installed publisher Katharine Graham, and Tom Hanks, as hard-charging editor Ben Bradlee, are the focal points of “The Post.”

Spielberg tells the story well. Tension rises as the Post, historically in the shadow of the Times, joins its rival in arguing at the U.S. Supreme Court that it has a constitutional right to publish the classified documents. In the face of threatened censorship or punishment, the Post argues that Americans have have a right to know what’s in the documents so they can decide for themselves whether to believe the government’s claims about U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

It’s a solid film, obviously based on real events and people and culminating with a landmark ruling that upheld press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. And here I must say I watched it with the pride of having worked in that same newsroom just a couple years later as a summer intern: in 1973, when the Post broke the Watergate scandal, and in 1974, when a disgraced President Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment.

“The Shape of Water,” on the other hand, was pure fantasy. I won’t reveal too much here, but Guillermo del Toro has created a lovely story out of thin air. As director and co-writer of the screenplay, he pulls you in to the lives of three ordinary people — Elisa, the mute woman;  Zelda, her co-worker and interpreter; and Giles, her gay neighbor and friend — who all wind up collaborating in an extraordinary way.

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It’s a modern-day fable, really. The trio of characters lead lives defined by routine and simple pleasures along with disrespect from others. As the story plays out, each of them has a moral choice to make — and at great risk to themselves. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief, you’ll be rewarded with a story about relationships that shimmers with kindness and friendship, loyalty and love.

Sally Hawkins is a revelation as Elisa. I’d never heard of this British actress, but she is just perfect in a role that takes her from wide-eyed and vulnerable to fierce and fearless. Octavia Spencer shines as Zelda and Richard Jenkins is solid as Giles. Michael Shannon is superb, too, as the villain, a military officer who captured the amphibious creature and mistreats it.

“The Shape of Water” is exactly the kind of film I expected not to like. But, boy, was I wrong. If you’ve seen the trailer, too, and have your doubts, put them aside and go see the film. It’ll move you.

Walidah Imarisha and a call to action

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Walidah Imarisha was the keynote speaker at Portland State University’s annual MLK Jr. Tribute on Jan. 22, 2018.

Last summer I got the chance to meet Walidah Imarisha, a Black Studies scholar and author, at the 2017 Oregon Book Awards.

A friend invited me to attend the event and we chatted with Walidah in the lobby as she received congratulations from well-wishers. I left with an autographed copy of the book, “Angels with Dirty Faces,” and the hope that I would have a chance to run into her again.

That opportunity came Monday night at Portland State University. Walidah was the keynote speaker at the university’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. lecture, an event that filled a ballroom on Jan. 22, one week after the holiday commemorating King’s birthday.

Walidah did not disappoint.

During an hourlong speech titled “Afrofuturism & Possibilities for Oregon,” Walidah mixed elements of history, science fiction, humor and seriousness. Along with references to civil rights icons Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and Dr. King, there was a mention of Ursula LeGuin, the celebrated author of socially conscious fantasy and science fiction novels. (Oddly, LeGuin died at her Portland home on the same day of the speech. She was 88, the same age Dr. King would be today had he had not been assassinated 50 years earlier.)

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Walidah Imarisha weaved several references to science fiction into her Jan. 22 speech at Portland State.

With an elegant Afro reminiscent of Angela Davis, Walidah alternated between the language of academia (“postcolonialism”) and everyday expressions (“nerding out” and “y’all”).  Mix everything together and the product was an entertaining, informative speech that made me glad I had read her book beforehand.

***

“Angels with Dirty Faces” is an eloquent critique of the U.S. criminal justice system. Ten years in the making, it’s a nonfiction book that begins with an array of statistics that paint a depressing picture – that of a country that incarcerates its citizens, particularly its black and brown ones, at a rate far greater than any other nation.

  • 70 percent of those incarcerated are people of color.
  • The majority of people in prison are there for nonviolent offenses.
  • The vast majority were never tried in front of a judge.
  • Over 90 percent of people in prison took a plea bargain.

But the book doesn’t dwell on policy recommendations or offer a magic bullet. Rather, its aim is to get readers to begin to see “those people who do harm” as human. “Flawed, damaged, and culpable, but still human.”

angels with dirty facesAnd so the book is presented as “three stories of crime, punishment and redemption,” with chapters devoted to a black inmate, a white inmate and the author herself.

One inmate, Kakamia, is Walidah’s adopted brother, serving a 15 years-to-life sentence for being involved in a murder when he was 15.  The other is Mac, an aging Irish mobster who worked as a hit man for the Gambino family in New York. Turns out the two men befriended each other while doing time together in a California prison.

Walidah tells their stories with empathy, not to excuse their criminal acts, but within the context of a bureaucratic system that dehumanizes the men and women who populate our nation’s prisons while also needlessly erecting petty barriers that make it next to impossible for visiting family members to connect meaningfully with their incarcerated spouses, children, parents and siblings.

It’s not a pretty picture. Walidah attacks the institutional racism that drives incarceration at starkly different rates for white and black Americans.

In telling her own story, Walidah recounts her childhood as the daughter of a black father and white mother, growing up on military bases overseas and eventually, at age 13, settling in Springfield, a conservative blue-collar town adjacent to liberal Eugene, home of the University of Oregon.

The overall approach – to put three faces on the criminal justice system – works well in driving the narrative. What could have been another academic treatise on a broken system instead becomes a compelling tale of two men – one black, one white – and a woman who is at once a scholar, an activist and a prisoner’s family member.

It helps that Walidah is a talented writer. She concludes:

“The pieces of the larger whole I hope to bring are the stories of angels with dirty faces. The capriciousness of fate. The idea that every person has the capacity to salvage their tattered humanity even in the moment before they take their last breath.”

***

Knowing Walidah’s personal story and worldview ahead of time made it easier to ponder the provocative questions that she raised in her MLK speech: What is the kind of world we want to live in? How do we go about building that kind of world?

The questions, she said, arose from an appreciation of Ursula LeGuin’s body of work in creating fictional worlds that turn convention on its head. Imarisha, in fact, is co-editor of the anthology “Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements.”

“Science fiction is not about escapism,” Walidah said. It is about envisioning a world of new possibilities free of militarism, capitalism and racism, she said. As I am not a fan of the fantasy genre, I had never thought of science fiction as a way to frame the idea of imagining a different, better world, especially when it comes to race relations.

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Walidah Imarisha invoked the words of the late fantasy fiction author Ursula LeGuin in challenging her audience to envision a more just world.

Walidah pointed out that the United States was founded as something of a utopia in the sense of ordinary people rebelling against an oppressive system in England. In turn, the Oregon Territory, encompassing the entire Pacific Northwest, was settled as a “racist white utopia.” Oregon, she pointed out, entered the Union in 1857 as a free state but also with a state constitution that excluded blacks.

The state’s racist beginnings led, perhaps predictably, to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and any number of policies and practices intended to perpetuate economic, social and political inequalities.

More than 160 years later, the question remains of how to build a more just society.

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Last fall, the Portland African American Leadership Forum unveiled the People’s Plan, a 130-page document that addresses the needs of the city’s African American population.

***

Walidah is an impressive figure, and not just because of her tall stature. As a public speaker, she seems comfortable in her own body and totally in command of her subject.

I wish I’d started teaching at Portland State when Walidah was still there herself in the Black Studies Department. More recently, she has been teaching at Stanford University while immersing herself in a variety of writing and research projects.

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Walidah Imarisha’s image is projected on a screen in an overflow room at the Smith Memorial Union Ballroom at Portland State University.

Putting a nice cap on the evening, I took my daughter out for drinks and appetizers after the speech. Simone is as socially conscious as they come and over the years she has gifted me several books that have exposed me to different authors and perspectives.

What better way to close out the night than with mi hija, recalling different parts of the speech and catching up in general?

We’re all dreamers, aren’t we?

More than a week after I finished my first novel of 2018, I’m sitting down to gather my thoughts. There is so much good to say about “Behold the Dreamers,” the debut novel by Imbolo Mbue, a Cameroonian immigrant with some serious writing chops. And there are so many ways to begin this post.

Do I reference President Trump’s ugly remarks last week about people from “shithole countries”?

Do I reference the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech? (After all, I am writing this on the national holiday named for him.)

Or do I frame this in the context of the universal American Dream, the one to which generations of native-born and foreign-born Americans have aspired?

Maybe it’s best to keep all three in mind, for Mbue’s novel touches on the sentiments of all of them — from crass ignorance and resentment of outsiders to the amazing work ethic and striving for a better life embodied by so many newcomers to the United States.

***

Let’s start with the author. Imbolo Mbue is in her mid-30s. She hails from Limbe, a beach town of about 85,000 residents (a little smaller than Salem, Oregon) in southwestern Cameroon, a California-sized country in central Africa that borders Nigeria, and a former colony of Germany, France and England.

cameroon-location-on-the-africa-mapMbue has degrees from Rutgers University in New Jersey and Columbia University in New York City, where she now lives. She became a U.S. citizen in 2014.

“Behold the Dreamers,” published in 2016, won the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was named one of the best books of the year by NPR, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian and several other news outlets.

The awards are richly deserved. Mbue has written a book rich with insight into both American and Cameroonian culture, laced it with diction from her native country (a place where more than 200 languages are spoken, by the way), and delved into the minds and attitudes of people at both extremes of the socioeconomic scale.

***

The story is a familiar one. Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant, has come to New York City with his wife Neni and their 6-year-old son, hoping to provide a better life for his family. Jende lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a workaholic executive at Lehman Brothers, but he also has the responsibility of driving Clark’s wife, Cindy, and their two sons on assorted trips across the city. Cindy at one point offers Neni temporary employment at the couple’s summer home in the Hamptons.

With these dual sources of income, and with Neni taking community college classes in hopes of becoming a pharmacist, the young immigrants make do in a tiny, cockroach-infested apartment in Harlem but are nevertheless optimistic about their future in America.

But there are two complications: Jende lied to Cameroonian authorities about his intentions in the U.S., so now he must rely on a sketchy legal adviser to help him gain permanent resident status or risk deportation, along with his wife and son. The other issue is that the story begins in the fall of 2007, a year before Barack Obama was elected president and the country was relatively stable. And timing is everything.

behold the dreamersAs the story progresses, the Great Recession takes hold and Mbue presents the perspectives of both couples.

From Cindy and Clark, we get the view from Wall Street and Manhattan; their affluence is beyond imaginable and the privileges that money brings seem to have no end.

From Jende and Neni, we get the view of constant struggle; nothing comes easily, whether it’s navigating the immigration system, trying to understand the ways of their new country, or conducting themselves in ways that will impress white Americans, or at least not threaten them.

With an extraordinary display of empathy, Mbue does not pass judgment on any of the four characters, She depicts their contrasting worlds — of the 1 percenters and of the newly arrived immigrants — not just through descriptive detail but also, more tellingly, through interactions and conversations between the husbands and the wives.

The lives of all four characters are inevitably affected by the tanking economy, and that’s when things get interesting.

Will Clark lose his job at Lehman Brothers? Will Jende lose his? How can Cindy maintain the appearance of a perfect life marked by material possessions and social outings with her equally rich friends? How can Neni stay on track toward her academic and career goals?

***

The beauty of the book is that it raises fundamental questions about the American Dream for both couples. Just what defines happiness? Is it money? Is it a feeling of belonging? Does professional success guarantee contentment? Does making a new life in America mean forsaking the previous one you had in the country when you were born?

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The writer Imbolo Mbue.

To her credit, Mbue presents the humanity in all her characters, as well as the path of upward mobility traveled by both couples. But it is in portraying the multiple pressures on the Jongas and the excruciating decisions they must face about family, finances and their future that she really shines.

I couldn’t help but read this book with a sense of appreciation for what immigrants have given this country along with a feeling of disgust toward those racist elements of our society that would gleefully slam the door shut on today’s immigrants — and even give the boot to DACA Dreamers.

All of us who are here in the United States aspire to some version of the American Dream, the idea that each generation strives to create a better future for our children. We may differ in the value we place on various material, social and familial markers, but I think it’s fair to say we are all dreamers, aren’t we?

Read more about Imbolo Mbue here.

Map: ontheworldmap.com

Moments with meaning

A recent email exchange with a fellow blogger about “being present” prompted me to dive into the Rough and Rede archives. This is what I found: an August 2009 blog post.

http://roughandrede.blogspot.com/2009/08/moment-in-time.html?q=blogosphere

No words. Just images and sounds to convey the ordinariness of human life — and its beauty.

When you watch the video, please know the first 25 seconds are intended to be that way. Your patience will be rewarded.

 

4 films worth viewing

As one year ended and another one started, Lori and I found ourselves with enough free time to watch a few movies, both at home and at the theater.

No lengthy reviews here. Just a quick thumbs up for each of these four:

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Florence Foster Jenkins. Took a stab at this on Netflix, based solely on the fact of knowing that Meryl Streep had been nominated as Best Actress — her record 20th Oscar nomination — for her role in this 2016 film.

The unlikely premise: Jenkins is a wealthy New Yorker and patron of the arts who longs to become an opera singer despite an obvious issue: She has a terrible singing voice. Yet she’s encouraged by her voice coach and her husband, skillfully played by Hugh Grant. Meryl is marvelous in this based-on-a-true-story tale, making you want to root for her despite her dreadful voice.

the big sick

The Big Sick. A charming story, released last year and also based on real life, that centers on the cultural clashes that ensue when a Pakistan-born comic (Kumail Najiani, playing himself) falls in love with an American graduate student (Zoe Kazan) named Emily.

Kumail’s parents are committed to the tradition of an arranged marriage — humorously so, given the parade of Pakistani women who “just happen to be in the neighborhood” when the family is sitting down to dinner. But when Emily falls seriously ill, Kumail not only has to meet (and win over) her parents at the hospital, he also has to confront his folks about his feelings for the girlfriend they don’t know about. (Thank you for the recommendation, Elaina Anders.)

loving vincent

Loving Vincent. This movie, also released in 2017, is both gorgeous and intriguing. This is a story that’s told in exquisite oil-painted animation — the work of more than 100 professional artists — and a plot that revolves around the mysterious death of the famous painter Vincent van Gogh.

A young man is entrusted with hand-delivering the artist’s final letter to his brother, Theo, in the French village where van Gogh last resided. What the young man perceives as an annoying task becomes a fascinating opportunity to learn more about van Gogh from the many townspeople who knew Vincent and in some cases modeled for him and inspired his art. The visuals are lush and the story raises more questions than it answers. Be sure to see it on the big screen, as we did. (Thank you for the recommendation, Patricia Conover.)

he loves me he loves me not

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Imagine sweet-faced Audrey Tautou in the role of a young art student who’s in love with a married cardiologist — or at least thinks she is. Is the relationship real and reciprocal?  Or wishful thinking? Why won’t the handsome doctor leave his wife for her? How does he explain the various gifts that come to his office, with no notes, and the messages left on his phone? Should his wife believe his claims that there isn’t another woman?

This is a 2002 French film that struck us as sneaky good, one that became more intriguing and more complex the deeper we got into the plot, with its many twists and turns.  Pretty cool storytelling device to have the same set of events told through the student’s eyes and the doctor’s eyes. Tautou, best known for playing the title character in Amélie, is captivating in this film as Angélique. (Thank you, Netflix.)