The Escape

By Nicholas Chan

Every family has a story about its brush with history. This is mine.

 It was 8 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor and Japan had turned its attention to conquering Hong Kong.

 The Japanese particularly wanted Soong Ching Ling dead. She was the widow of Sun Yat Sen, the man who had toppled the Qing Dynasty to establish the Republic of China twenty-nine years before.

 A Japanese spy discovered where Soong lived. The spy placed two red balloons in her backyard, signaling Japanese bombers to destroy her house.

 Bombs tumbled from the bombers’ bellies, whistling through the air. The earth trembled. Buildings were shattered. Billows of smoke tainted the sky.

 My grandfather heard a hurried knock on his door. It was his neighbor: Soong Ching Ling.

 “The bombers had missed Soong’s house,” my grandfather would recall, “it was so close that pieces of shrapnel flew into my backyard. Soong had long feared for her life. She carried a pistol in her purse. She fled to our house. We hid her in our basement.”

 It was only a matter of time before the Japanese would find Soong. The noose was closing. Soong had nowhere to go. She already had fled from Shanghai to Hong Kong when Japan invaded that city in 1937. Since then, the British crown colony – tucked away in the Southern province of Guangdong, protected by a tenuous peace between Japan and the British Empire – had remained unscathed.

 Now, as Japanese forces had attacked American and British soils, that safety was at an end. The Japanese Army had been pushing south across the Middle Kingdom of China, invading the southern province of Guangdong. Japan had cornered Hong Kong. 

 On December 8th, 1941, Japan attacked Hong Kong. Japanese bombers destroyed the entire British air force within 5 minutes. Thirty-eight thousand Japanese troops poured over the border of Hong Kong, punching through the main line of British fortifications – the so-called ‘Gin Drinker’s Line.’

 As Japanese troops inched towards the Kowloon Peninsula, Soong received a call. It was from General Chiang Kai Shek, head of the Nationalist Party and leader of the Republic of China. 

 He informed Soong that he was sending a private plane to rescue and transport her to the wartime capital of China, Chongqing.

 It was an unexpected, but not unlikely, call. The Japanese invasion of China had united former arch enemies. Soong supported the Communists under Mao Zedong. She believed that the Nationalist Party, the party her husband founded, had become corrupt. That it no longer represented Sun’s vision of nationalism, democracy and freedom. However, General Chiang, the successor of Sun Yat Sen after Sun’s death in 1925, believed communism would never work in China.

 In 1927, General Chiang had purged the Communists from the Nationalist Party, triggering the Chinese Civil War. Soong fled to the Soviet Union, not returning to China until 1931. When the Japanese launched a full-scale invasion of China in 1937 (they had first attacked Manchuria in 1931), the Nationalist and Communist Parties formed a united front to fight the Japanese, halting the Chinese Civil war.

 Soong was astonished that General Chiang, who ousted her from the Nationalist Party 14 years before, would now offer to save her. Remarkably, after agreeing to General Chiang’s offer, Soong’s first thought was to save her neighbor.

 At 4 a.m., under the cover of darkness, a car arrived at my grandfather’s house. Standing on the front steps was Soong Ching Ling. She asked my great-grandfather whether she could take my grandfather with her. He was 10 years old, the youngest in the family. Soong didn’t want his youthful innocence to be tainted amidst the savagery of war. He had a full life ahead of him, Soong thought. 

My great-grandfather understood that his son might be the only member of the family to survive.

 The Japanese, after all, were notorious for their atrocities. They had already executed tens of thousands of Chinese civilians – including babies – and soldiers, raping 20,000 women in Nanking alone. They used prisoners for mass beheadings or bayonet practice. No one in Hong Kong had illusions of the impending horrors that the Japanese would inflict upon them – and the prospect of living years under the cruelest tyranny.

 “If you didn’t bow to the Japanese soldiers,” my grandfather would tell me, “they would slap you. They would force you to kneel on the ground for an hour. The Japanese shackled the hands and legs of the British prisoners of war, force-marching them like a herd of cows.”

 Yet, in the end, my great grandfather turned down Soong’s offer. The family had to stay together.

 Soong understood. But she had one more request, an especially dangerous one. She asked if my great-grandfather would hold Sun Yat Sen’s personal belongings for safekeeping. They both knew that the discovery of these items would be a death sentence. “If the Japanese found Sun’s memorabilia, we would be beheaded.” 

 But my great-grandfather agreed. He placed Sun’s memorabilia in the family’s ancestral hall, the devotional space where his family paid respect to the Buddha and their ancestors.

 My great grandfather’s wit saved his family.

 Soon after, Japanese soldiers took over my grandfather’s house, making it the living quarters for Japanese officers. And because Sun’s memorabilia were in a sacred setting, the Japanese never found Soong’s treasure.

 During the war and after, Soong continued to support the Communist Party. She spent the years raising funds for children’s welfare and health in Communists controlled areas.

 After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the Communists and Nationalist Parties descended back into Civil War. When the Communists defeated the Nationalists, Mao appointed Soong as one of the vice chairs of the newly established People’s Republic of China.

 Just as her husband, Sun Yat Sen, was widely regarded as “the Father of Modern China,” Soong became to be known as the “the Mother of Modern China,” the figure who embodied the conscience of the Chinese people.  She was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1951. And she became one of the two deputy chairmen of the Chinese Communist Party in 1959.

 Soong never forgot the day my grandfather’s family sheltered her that day in 1941. Before her death in 1981, Soong Ching Ling invited my grandfather and his brother to Beijing to thank them for protecting her – and even more, for risking all to save a vital piece of Chinese history.

No Drought of Ignorance

By Katie Byers

       After completing a 12 hour day of grueling labor at two jobs, a mother picks up her kids from a local non-profit daycare. With 2 rambunctious 9 year olds and a toddler in hand, she must choose between a 7.2 mile round-trip journey to the closest supermarket or a 1 mile trek to the local gas station to pick up instant mac’n’cheese and off brand Doritos. She thinks about holding both her toddler and a bundle of groceries whilst corralling the other children and how she’ll manage the 3-hour-long trip after scrubbing tables and taking orders all day. As the sun begins to set in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Kansas City, she opts for the gas station. This will not be the last day that she is forced to make a decision that will hurt her family in the long run. Every year, 23 million people living in food deserts—defined by the Food Empowerment Project as “geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options (especially fresh fruits and vegetables) is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient travelling distance”—will be forced to make the same decision.

       Kansas City, Missouri contains of one of the most extreme food deserts in the United States. Kansas City has a population of around 460,000 people, but the low cost of land allowed the city to spread out over 319 square miles. More than a fifth of the city lives below the poverty line, compared to only 12.7% of the population of the United States, according to the UC Davis Center for Poverty Research. The city is known for barbeque and the Royals, but their true claim to fame should be their inability to care for their impoverished suffering at the hands of food deserts. A quick Google search of food deserts will uncover article after article that supposedly debunk this topic. Food deserts are unlikely to exist in large, densely populated cities, but sparsely populated areas are more likely than not to have them, and serve as a major issue to people in Kansas City.

       Kansas City is particularly susceptible to food deserts because of the low population density and lack of adequate public transportation. Grocery stores tend to space out their stores to have the same number of shoppers per store, which ensures the highest profit per store. This proves detrimental to those who rely on public transportation or walking. The lack of walkability of the city and sparse density of grocery stores proves to be a double edged sword which creates the perfect scenario for food deserts. Kansas City is the 42nd most walkable city in the United States, according to Walkscore.com. Simply put, living in Kansas City requires another mode of transportation besides walking. Kansas City covers 319 square miles, an almost unheard size of for a city of less than 460,000 people. Miami, in comparison, has a population of about 463,000 people and covers only 55 square miles. The average number of citizens it takes to sustain one grocery store is about 5,500, which gives Miami a grocery store every .65 miles and Kansas City one every 3.84 miles, respective to their population density according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

       The average US citizen makes a grocery trip 1.5 times every week, which puts the total trips in a year to 78, according to Statista. This would mean the average trip to the grocery store would force someone without adequate transportation to walk almost 300 miles per year to find healthy and sustainable food sources. This statistic doesn’t even begin to address that people without a car can only buy as much as they can carry, forcing them to make additional trips. This paired with multiple jobs or lack of childcare makes grocery shopping an unattainable goal for most lower class citizens in Kansas City. No wonder many families opt for the closer fast food restaurants or bodegas to sustain their family, which later leads to greater health issues.

       The lack of walkability of the city, however, wouldn’t be a problem if Kansas City had adequate public transportation to make up for it. Public transportation in Kansas City was ranked 20th out of 25 cities, according to a news release by Walkscore.com via PR Newswire. Kansas City has 57 transit lines which utilizes 300 buses and 1 light rail line, which is more for show than legitimate transportation, according to the Kansas City Area Transport Authority. For comparison, Miami has less than 5,000 more people, but was awarded a Walk Score of 79, and has a fleet of 1,000 busses and a metrorail system. Miami serves as an ideal comparison point for their lack of food deserts, which can be attributed to their adequate transportation and abundance of grocery stores. Kansas City’s public transportation leaves impoverished people to walk or take long and indirect routes using buses.

       So, what can be done to combat these food deserts? In Topeka, Kansas, when one of their last remaining grocery stores shut down because of the sparse population and lack of expendable income, it was clear that changes had to be made. The government stepped in to encourage a Hy Vee to open in its place, and offered 20 years of tax subsidies to ensure the grocery store would continue to serve the public, according to The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The store made it incredibly clear that without the help from the government, there would have been no way that they would have opened the store. Though Topeka is much smaller than Kansas City, the demographics and issues with food deserts are similar, and a similar tax incentive to companies can be applied without too much risk.

       Topeka did, however, face backlash from citizens and government officials because of the increase in taxes. Though an increase in taxes is noteworthy, the long term effects of eliminating food deserts could plummet the $190 billion spent annually on obesity related diseases. This doesn’t even begin to mention the quality of life change for people deeply affected by food deserts. The unfair burden shared by poor people will be lessened, as 8 mile walks to and from the grocery store can become 2 or 3 miles. Fiscally, it makes sense for the government to fix food deserts, but it has more benefits to the people actually affected by them.

       Government money isn’t an easy thing to come by, however. Another possible solution to food deserts is being done by a store called Rollin’ Grocer. This for-profit group customized a mobile grocery store inside a 24-foot trailer that travels around Kansas City to food deserts, according to Forbes. This idea isn’t new—many organizations have done this with fresh produce, but this is the first true grocery store on wheels. Here, customers can find fresh meat, produce, toiletries, and anything else someone could find at their local grocery store. It started when a friend of one founder told her that she travels out of her way to shop at a “white grocery store”, because her local ones didn’t have the same access to fresh, healthy food, says Forbes. The truck makes 5 stops 6 days a week, which creates easy access for as many people as possible. Rollin’ Grocer has received no grants from the government, and if we can encourage more businesses like these to start up, food deserts can become a thing of the past.

       Food deserts, though often ignored, are creating major problems for the citizens directly affected and the country as a whole. If communities continue to ignore the health and well being of their citizens, the detrimental effects of food deserts will only grow. If Kansas City wishes to compete with other major cities for business and labor, the city must first establish laws that work for their current citizens and ensure that further growth won’t worsen the state of transportation and food deserts. Kansas City doesn’t need another museum or fountain—it needs grocery stores closer than 4 miles away.


Works Cited


Field, Anne. “Rollin' Grocer Takes On Kansas City's Food Deserts.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 June 2017.

Waddington, Lynda. “Study Shows Wisdom of Cedar Rapids' Hy-Vee Incentive.”The Gazette, The Gazette, 29 Feb. 2016.

“Kansas City Neighborhoods on Walk Score.” Walk Score.

“Miami Neighborhoods on Walk Score.” Walk score.

Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. “Welcome to KCATA.” 2017 Budget | Funding | About KCATA | KCATA.

“Guide to Miami's Public Transportation.” Miami: Greater Miami and the Beaches.

“Fat Broke: The Link Between Poverty and Obesity.” Healthcare Administration Degree Programs.

Drewnowski, et al. “Poverty and Obesity: the Role of Energy Density and Energy Costs | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Jan. 2004.

“Healthy Foods Scarce in Poor Neighborhoods, Yale Researchers Find.” YaleNews, 28 Feb. 2018.

“Kansas City, Missouri (MO) Poverty Rate DataInformation about Poor and Low Income Residents.” Anderson, Indiana (IN) Profile: Population, Maps, Real Estate, Averages, Homes, Statistics, Relocation, Travel, Jobs, Hospitals, Schools, Crime, Moving, Houses, News, Sex Offenders.

“What Is the Current Poverty Rate in the United States?” UC Davis Center for Poverty Research, 18 Dec. 2017.

Score, Walk. “Study Ranks Transit Systems Of Major U.S. Cities.” PR Newswire, 26 Apr. 2012.

We Began At Thirteen

By Felicia Jarrin

The night before our high school graduation, we drive into an abandoned parking lot next to the highway. You are wearing a blue sweater, the one I got you for your thirteenth birthday. I don’t know if you remember.

In three months, we will be four hundred and seventy-two miles apart from one another. We do not talk about it.

You tell me about your brother’s summer internship in the city and I remind you of the time last spring when we jumped into the lake by your house in our underwear and I sliced my foot open on a piece of glass walking out of the water. And as someone ran to get a  first aid kit you sat next to me, your hand firm on my shoulder and your eyes averted from the blood dripping off my heel.

My best friend calls to say that everyone is meeting up at the park next to the high school and we should come. You start the car before I even finish the sentence.

We used to go to the park after school freshman year, back when no one had driver’s licenses or part-time jobs. We would play soccer on the field and race to see who could swing highest on the swing set. It was here where boys and girls grew up, where we touched and laughed and grew into our new limbs.

When we get to the park I point out the front windshield to where people are running through the sprinklers, slipping and spinning on the dark expanse of grass.

I start running toward the field but right as my foot touches the grass the sprinklers shut off. Something catches in my lungs as fingers and palms and forearms press against my skin.

We set out blankets and eat red seedless grapes and drink alcohol stolen from parents’ liquor cabinets.

Your arm is cool pressed against mine. The blue sweater is now stuffed behind your head as you look up into the night sky.

I remember your thirteenth birthday party. You invited nearly the entire class because your mother thought it would be rude not to. I wore a striped shirt and stood in the back of the room through the cake cutting. When it was time to open presents, I hoped my father picked out something normal for you. I didn’t have time to ask him what he bought before he dropped me off at the top of your driveway, placing the box in my hands.

You opened my present and held out the sweater in front of you. The blue fabric pooled onto your thighs. It was far too large.

I felt my stomach sink to my knees. As our eyes met across the room, I saw that the tips of your ears were blushing.

Your mother swept in and said, “It’ll shrink in the wash.”

It didn’t shrink.

But it fits you just fine now.

We drink vodka and lemonade and pretend that we grew up somewhere where the buildings rise higher than five stories, somewhere where we don’t run into our elementary school teachers on Friday nights at the movie theater.

But we didn’t grow up in that somewhere.

We grew up here.

Here, where the stars spread across the sky like the map they once used to be. Where I called my home on all my college applications. Where I once vowed, staring at the town lights from the top of a mountain, to leave and never come back. Where I will walk across a sturdy wooden stage tomorrow with seventy-four other people—chemistry lab partners and former preschool playmates and best friends. And you.

Last month we visited the city with your parents.

They took us to a restaurant at the top of a glass skyscraper. Everything was dark wood and dim lighting, hushed voices and a waiter with white teeth. We sat side by side, trying not to reveal our fingers were brushing against each other beneath the table.

At the end of dinner your mother’s cheeks were pink. We slipped away to the back of the restaurant, where the wall was replaced by a single pane of glass, clear and clean, from floor to ceiling.

I put my hands on the glass. We were up so high.. I once read that if someone dropped a penny off of the Empire State Building, it could kill a pedestrian on the sidewalk below. I was almost positive I could do some serious damage up here, too.

Thousands of people below me. Lights from an infinite amount of places—art museums and hotels and fast food restaurants and tech companies and apartment buildings.

I looked at you. Your forehead was pressed against the glass and your breath fogged up the surface as you stared down, down, down. I knew you were thinking the same thing I was, about life and youth and how it was just beginning for us, as I said, “It’s amazing. Everything that’s out there.”

And you turned to look at me with a sort of absent mindedness in your eyes and there was a wrinkle between your brow as your face slowly folded into two and you opened your mouth and said, “I was just thinking about the fall.”


12-String

By Lee Harold

 

Let me tell you some bullshit. My buddy Taylor grew up with no parents. His uncle
who was really a cousin took guardianship after Taylor’s grandparents died a year apart
from the other. Taylor had space to sleep in but he never had a home.

The mom built a new family in Middle America. Richard, the uncle, lives in Riverside,
CA. While Taylor grew up with his dad’s parents, near Fife in Washington, his Dad split rent
with opiate addicts in downtown Auburn. King County court allowed custody between
discharge and conviction so Taylor grew up downtown. During one particular Auburn
summer, he met a girl named Amber who lived across the way. The way he described it, he
was DiCaprio and she a time-displaced Ruby Keeler, together two warm bodies sharing an
attic, dust glowing in gold sunlight under a cracked collapsing roof. Taylor played her guitar
while they smoked their fathers’ stuff. Soon after, Taylor turned thirteen and his dad lost
custody to his grandparents.


Taylor thereafter spent the school year in Washington and summers in Riverside. I
hadn’t met him yet, but my buddy Spencer had. He told me of a saxophone player whose dark
hair fell to the small of his back, who hunched rat-like and smiled with yellow teeth. A state-funded middle school art program gave Taylor a community.

I met Taylor in public high school through another arts program, high school theater.
Sophomore year there was something; I swear to god, we could each smell it on each other.
One morning I broke down. He held my head and I his shoulder. His hair smelled like
Spencer’s. We had an hour before school began so we stole away to the piano in a practice
room down the hall and swapped stories over chords.

We both loved our fathers because they had left us. Before high school he lived with
his dad but his dad hit him and dangled him from his throat against the kitchen wall until
one day Taylor was left alone. His larynx bounces when he speaks. Before high school I
curated a playlist for my dad’s funeral. My head dips as I fight the stutter he bequeathed me.

One thing Taylor and I could do, quite well I’ll add, was sing. That was easy. He caught
me at every chorus and I held him up at every verse. We supported each other those
mornings in the practice room. Taylor supports every person he knows like he plays rhythm
guitar: he makes space, adds fills, shifts his sound to accommodate their melody.


Since his dad’s release, Taylor tried to stay away from the downtown side of the Green
River. He had moved in with a mutual friend of his father and his uncle between freshman
and junior year. Amber stayed with her father in that old Auburn home and Taylor wasn’t
around as much to help her out. If he was there, Taylor told me, she’d be alright; she wouldn’t
hurt.

Later that year, Taylor went to Middle America to meet his birth mother. Back in the
dressing room he narrated images from the trip as he swiped through them on his phone.
His mother’s husband played guitar, too. The picture showed the man mid-strum while
Taylor played support on the keyboard behind him. The woman in the picture was Taylor
with bangs. Her second son looked like Taylor at ten. We enjoyed the pictures from his phone, but our attention was drawn to a mysterious trunk below the costume rack. Gifted to Taylor as a parting present from his mother that Christmas, the trunk contained a twelve-string
guitar. He looked up and, with a shrug, declared the guitar community property. 

We split off after months of playing guitar. I enroll at Santa Clara, Spencer at UW.
Taylor wouldn’t compromise. He auditioned on the 12-string and enrolled in Cornish College
of the Arts. Remember, this kid had no parents and no savings, so anything the government
wouldn’t grant he’d have to pay back. Taylor excelled.

We met for Christmas at Spencer’s frat — he had joined a frat — to catch up and jam
out. Taylor slayed. From drums to keyboard to bass to guitar he led the session. But he was
anxious, constricted. He said he was growing but he couldn’t write music, not there.

We walked up University Avenue. Oil streaks reflected neon light down the street. The
rain had turned to mist. I noticed by headlights how thin Taylor had become. Walking beside
me he said all people have no one to trust but themselves. We are ultimately alone. Other
people pretend but at the end of the day we are the only people who care for ourselves. Over
the sound of rain, I held his collarbone and agreed. I told him I cared for him and he didn’t
need me. There is nobody stronger. Spencer’s near, I tell Taylor. Twenty minutes any day, I
said, and I guarantee he’s with you.

Taylor dropped out of Cornish and took a quarter off to work, which culminated in a
transfer to Seattle Central for Zoology. He explained the change on the light rail a year later,
and I nodded; the animal kingdom amazes. Back at the frat where Spencer’d been crowned
Social Chair, I processed a stack of facts Taylor rattled off about the elephant shrew. Sengi
run cyclical trails and eat whatever steps inside. The trail is a trap, he told me

Stoned, we watched The Matrix.

Next day we trekked to Taylor’s home on Capitol Hill in preparation for La La Land.
He was open, engaging, earnest. He’d gained weight and spoke freely as we passed a pawn
shop on Pine.

I asked about his downtown apartment because I pay a bit for rent in Silicon Valley
and even more for school. With a job and two roommates Taylor said it’s alright. Not easy,
he breathed. Not easy, I echoed. But my school offers community events and Spencer’s got
frat community aid. I asked if he rations compulsively like me and he asked if I remembered
the 12-string. After paying a Cornish loan and losing his job piping cupcakes, Taylor had to
make rent. So he took stock of his room, picked up two guitars, and took a walk over to Pine
Street. I didn’t ask which two he took; I recognized them on the way to the theater.

That’s some bullshit — he had to sell two guitars! He had to sell his mother’s guitar.
The last thing he had of his mom he sold for rent. If I need rent, I have parents to beg, piggy-banks filled by suburban birthdays. I’d have sent money if he’d asked for help. His uncle
might have helped, too. Later I learned even Spencer never knew; Taylor didn’t tell anyone.

La La Land ended at four and Taylor got off at the Capitol Hill stop. Spencer and I
locked eyes in the light-rail. Inspiration and cohesion rarely intersect, but in that instance it
was understood that we had to help Taylor.

We would wait four minutes for our friend to walk ahead and then we’d dash to Pine.
The clerk would ask $500 for the guitar and the trunk. I would take Spencer’s card to a close
ATM, stack his savings with chapped fingers. Entering the Pawn Shop, Spencer and his slim
fingers would strum the solo to “Stairway” on a 12-string, astounding the clientele. I wouldbrag to the clerk as I passed him the cash that Spencer had once been accepted to Berklee
College of Music.

We would play the 12-string on the street, trade riffs and melody like we did in the
dressing room. Sound travels poorly from concrete to ear but we had always played more
for fun than for quality. The sun set when Taylor left the train, so we would sing in darkness
and strum away the cold.

Music brought us together in high school, a shared love of punk rock and blues riffs.
Powerful ballads and Jeff Buckley impressions tied us to the 12-string and home. When we
would return with his instrument saved, our best friend would act cool but rejoice internally.
We would play on gear from his roommates and drive late into the morning home to Auburn.

But that’s all bullshit because after Taylor left the light rail station, Spencer and I just
sat and imagined buying back the 12-string. We drove South from Greek Row and stopped
at the light on Pine. Capitol Loans was locked but through the window I saw the 12-string.
Spencer turned his head, dark but for the red light.

“I wish I could buy it for him,” he said, but he just returned from Whistler, Canada,
and I water down spaghetti sauce in Santa Clara, California, and Christmas approaches so
we drive on and wince when the radio plays “Stairway.”

"Lebanese Music" by Bethool Haider

By Bethool Haider

Distracted for a moment, you see a sprig of jasmine, white like peace and delicate in its beauty. In that moment, you forget everything else around you: the ghostly neighborhood, the cramped balconies clothed in bullet holes and rubble. Then it comes back. The Israeli occupation of 2006 is no place of beauty, and thousands of visitors are evacuating. Dripping with sweat from hours under the hammering sun, they pack onto ships like sardines, eager to leave Lebanon. One of the videos of these refugees stands out: the evacuees dancing and enjoying music, “[managing] to have some fun and forget about the war” (RHM Productions), not merely surviving, but enjoying. This use of music has, in part, been keeping Lebanon alive in times of strife— in other words, almost always. Many Lebanese citizens use music as an escape and mouthpiece for emotions, harnessing its power to conjure wistful images and express political opinions. Music can capture feelings and release political tension, allowing Lebanese citizens, among others, to use it to wrest some control—either illusionary or real--over their politically chaotic world.

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"Creating the Elevator" by Patrick McDonell

"Each of us has a place where we feel comfortable.  For some it’s a church, for some a mosque, a sanctuary, a movie theater, a stadium, a market.  I feel comfortable in a kitchen.  And it’s not that surprising, because I’m a good cook...I’m not a dishwasher as they say in the restaurants of Rome.  In Shiraz I had a good restaurant...Soon I’m going back to Shiraz.  I know I am." (Clash 19)

        This is stated by Parviz, the first of many characters who help narrate Amara Lakhous’s novel, Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio.  In this brief passage, Parviz outlines a thematic discourse that is present throughout the novel and throughout much migrant literature irrespective of time and location.  This is the discourse regarding “place,” a concept which is much more complex and interesting than a mere plot point on a map or a chart.  Rather, place is a space imbued with certain qualities and even an identity.  It has psychological power and meaning.  When Parviz talks about being comfortable in certain places, he is referring to this dynamic in which places are given the psychological power of comfort and empowerment.  This discourse on place is one that is inherently a part of the immigrant experience.  Immigrants arrive in new spaces that have few if any meanings or attachments for them.  The goal of an immigrant generally is to turn meaningless space into meaningful place, though this often leads to conflicts with others by whom certain places have already been created and to whom the presence of migrants alters the essential qualities of that place.  This tension can be found reflected in migrant literature.  The creation of place is a process which the characters of Clash of Civilizations and all migrants, real or otherwise, undergo.  Though the creation of place is fraught with potential conflicts, the existence of dynamic migrant literature indicates that immigrants are simultaneously establishing real and literary “places” within their adopted homelands.

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"The Aristocracy of the American Higher Education System" by Tisha Harnlasiri

When American politician Horace Mann termed education “the great equalizer” in 1848, he demonstrated enormous faith in the idea that a person’s mobility in life was not contingent on his being born into wealth (Rhode). Society at large appears to agree with Mann: more than ever, high school students have been urged to apply to colleges and to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, a trend which points to the belief that receiving a higher education is the surest path to the “American Dream.” For low-income students, however, educational statistics reveal a more disheartening story behind the American higher education system: among the nation’s 193 most selective universities, wealthy students outnumber low-income students by 14 to 1 (Dreier). On the other hand, more than half of low-income students who receive aid through Federal Pell Grants attend public two- and four-year colleges, institutions which are historically known to be the least funded and most resource-deficient (Dreier). These statistics are indicative of a “zero-sum-game” within the system: as wealthy students continue to be admitted to selective universities for their competitive SAT/ACT scores and extracurriculars, low-SES (socioeconomic status) students are forced to poorly-funded colleges where they are falling behind in degree attainment and shouldering large student debts. Although the college education system has long been touted as a socioeconomic equalizer, it inherently exacerbates wealth inequality in the United States by catering to the privileged and affluent who can more easily invest in quality education. This increasing issue of classism begs us to reconsider the value of learning much beyond its so-called market worth, a step which is key to sustaining the feasibility of the “American Dream.”

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"A Traditional American Thanksgiving Dinner" by Laura Kastilani

          Thanksgiving, the pinnacle of any American holiday, is when my family gathers not to eat a whole oven-roasted turkey with cranberry sauce or mashed potatoes with rich gravy, but rather to feast upon a ten course “Chinese Thanksgiving” meal. This includes a juicy roast duck with its head still on instead of turkey, a steaming pile of freshly-made rice infused with coconut milk in place of mashed potatoes, a bok-choy and garlic sauté because my family never had a taste for creamed spinach, fried rice made with honey baked ham, and of course to end it all, pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream, along with other exotic ice cream flavors like durian or taro. My sister and I always joked that we never got to experience a real “American Thanksgiving Dinner” like the rest of the kids at our elementary school who would chatter about savory stuffing and buttery bread rolls when our teacher asked what we had for Thanksgiving the next day. I honestly did not even know what cornbread was until I stumbled upon a Rachel Ray cooking show. I mean, why would you put corn in bread? However, I now consider my hybridized Thanksgiving experience as a part of my ethnic identity.

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"Censorship of the Female Body" by Esther Young

          Media’s treatment of the female body is a disappointing reflection of what this culture deems beautiful or ugly. In American culture, body hair is considered ugly and even trespassing social media safety guidelines. Even women’s hair removal product companies, though aimed at selling their razors and shaving creams to women, do not allow the appearance of actual body hair in their ads. This censorship conveys the message that a woman in her unaltered, unshaven state is unacceptable and even offensive. This upholds a double standard of beauty. While photos of bikini-clad women in their unaltered states are censored, naked celebrities photo-shopped to glossy, toned “perfection” are splashed across magazine covers and the same social media sites that censor nipples and female body hair. Women in their natural states are censored while photo-shopped images of the female body are used to sell and make profit, while promoting an unnatural and idealized standard of beauty. Meanwhile, ads showing men with pubic hair peeking out from the top of their Calvin Klein underwear are also freely displayed.

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"The Bronco" by Avery Ikeda

          It’s exactly four minutes past two in the morning, and my dorm room is softly illuminated with Christmas lights and the glow of cell phones. My feet dangle over the edge of the sink counter as I lean back into the cold embrace of the mirror, watching the three girls sprawled across my bed. My best friends. The twins are tossing popcorn at each other, with Cayla opening her mouth as wide as possible to catch Calli’s lopsided underhand. Laura is laughing along, ignoring the missed kernels that we’ll have to vacuum up tomorrow. My body feels restless in its inertia, and I’m suddenly hit by a wave of claustrophobia. We need to get out of this room, this 20 by 11 foot box made smaller by the two beds and piles of clothing scattered throughout. I stand up.

          “Let’s ride the bronco.”

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"Political Satire in the Daily Show" by Angelina Poole

        The recent discussions prompted by the Ferguson police shootings have renewed interest and awareness to the issues of racism and police brutality in the United States.  Some argue that the issue is not racism and that those who disagree are simply “playing the race card.” Others argue that racism, racial profiling, racial prejudice, and the like are very much still occurring today and are a relevant issue and should be discussed.  Political humor can be found in multiple forms of media, from TV shows like South Park or The Daily Show to online sites like The Onion to even literature.  It is typically used to highlight controversial issues, provide a new way of looking at a subject, or simply to entertain, using a topic that is well known to the mass public.  Satirical forms of media, such as The Daily Show, serve to bring issues to the forefront for discussion, while news programs, like FOX News, attempt at maintaining a moderate tone.  Although The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a satirical news program designed to both praise and criticize aspects of current events and politics, Jon Stewart’s Ferguson monologue openly addresses the issues of news program coverage and police brutality in order to highlight the extent to which racism is prevalent in current society.  The shooting of Michael Brown served to escalate the social unrest felt both in Ferguson and nationally, as well as bring the problem of racial prejudice to attention.

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