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February 2010 Archives

Exposing "The Greatest Silence"

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Thanks to Professor Basuli Deb and Lecturer, Sonam Singh (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) for helping to bring Lisa Jackson's film, "The Greatest Silence" to our Mary Riepma Ross Theater for the "Women Make Movies" film festival (February 26-March11).  

In 2003, The Second Congo War ("Great War of Africa") that began in 1998, ended with the installation of the "Transitional Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo."  Yet since 2003, rape, murders, malnutrition, disease continue. The latest count since 2008: over 5 million deaths. The photo above is the main street of Bunyakiri, which is known as "The Red Zone" where fighting, brutal rapes and murders are constant.  Bunyakiri's population is around 142,000 with only one hospital and 27 poorly staffed, under supplied healthcare units.  

Jackson's film focuses on the victims of torture rapes: women who have suffered gang rapes,  rifles, knives, brutally shoved into their vagina/uterus, anus--destroying their reproductive organs, destroying their lives, destroying their families, communities, culture. Torture rapes leave their bodies and spirits broken--and this method of brutality is a weapon of war--a war to destroy a culture.  It is genocide.  Imagine all the children in this area born since 1997.  All they have seen and experienced is this brutality. This is all they know. How will they be able to grow up and live peaceful and productive lives?  This film legitimates these women as they articulate what happened to them. It is a step toward empowerment for them.  For us, it is a step in honoring their voices and helping others become aware of these atrocities.

In her article, "Rape and Sexual Abuse of Women in International Law," Professor of International Law, Christine Chinkin (London School of Economics and Political Science) writes, "Rape in war is not merely a matter of chance, of women victims being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Nor is it a question of sex.  It is rather a question of power and control which is structured by male soldiers' notions of their masculine privilege, by the strength of the military's lines of command and by class and ethnic inequalities among women." 

Even though I live in Lincoln, Nebraska (and you may live in Lincoln or other places in the United States), far away from sites of such brutal conflicts, chances are your city is involved with refugee programs.  Since the 1980s, Lincoln has welcomed and resettled 5,500 refugees from Iraq, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Congo.  Many of these refugees are victims of torture.  (Read Mary Pipher's book, The Middle of Everywhere.) Maybe your city or town does not have a refugee program.  You can still take action--we all can take action----

Taking Action:  
(1) SIGN the Petition to pass The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA - S. 2982, H.R. 4594): Sign Petition Here.
(2) INFORM yourself about the International Criminal Court:  click HERE
(3) Subscribe to the ICC daily synopsis at
(4) Donate/Keep up with Women for Women International POSTS

Thank you kind readers!  

Honoring Writing, Honoring Our Passions

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Felicidades to my friend and Macondista colleague, Lorraine López--nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award for her collection, _Homicide Survivor's Picnic and Other Stories_!  Lorraine's tightly woven stories are about mujeres who are at the end of their wits, who are imperfect, volatile, riding on a thin track of hope. With humor and compassion, Lorraine's keen literary precision dissects human failings, bad behavior, screwball triumph.  She knows how to  reveal the worst in all of us.  Check out Lorraine's other wonderful books:  The Gifted Galbadon Sisters and Call Me Henri

I also want to give a shout out to my lovely film students who are doing a great job in their weekly discussions and writing. Last week, with just minimal preparation, they prepared and performed a strong oral reading of Chicano poet/activist Corky Gonzáles' "Yo Soy Joaquin." Then we saw the film adaptation of the poem (done in 1969).  Their observations of the film version were insightful, fresh.  The discussion became even more in-depth when I added the 23 minute "Yo Soy Chicana" (done ten years later in 1979) by Sylvia Morales.  Morales had received a $5,000 grant while a film student at UCLA.  And with that money, "Yo Soy Chicana" became a reality.  Later, she received $10,000 for a Spanish version of the film.  The students quickly noted the linear, heavily historical aspect to the Morales film while "Yo Soy Joaquin" ascribes to a romantic view with a non-linear presentation. Both are fascinating to connect. 

Next week, we will be reading the play, _Real Women Have Curves_ in preparation for analyzing how plays are translated to film.  My friend and colleague, Joy Castro, will be entering into the conversation as a guest speaker.  She has written on both the play and film version of "Real Women Have Curves"!  Yay for collaborations and literary/film discussions!  
And by the way, if you haven't checked out Joy Castro's website, go GO--click here!  Check out her blog!  

Sending you all, lovely readers, good wishes! And felicidades again to Lorraine López!

Temple Grandin & Realizing One's Gifts

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Amid a flurry of deadlines, more late nights reading/writing/accomplishing tasks--I was very happy to find the time to see the HBO film, "Temple Grandin."  Years ago, I had read Grandin's book, Thinking in Pictures, And Other Reports From my LIfe with Autism (1996) and was immediately taken with how Grandin articulated her gift of visual learning.  "One of the most profound mysteries of autism has been the remarkable ability of most autistic people to excel at visual spatial skills . . . (19-20)." Grandin's family/teachers/mentors who encouraged her were key in helping her to develop these gifts so that today she balances two careers.  The first is her work as a Professor of Animal Science.  Her inventions in livestock-handling equipment design are used nationally.  The second, but just as important, are her writings and speaking engagements regarding autism.  (Read this great NPR interview with Grandin)

Grandin did not speak for the first three and a half years of her life.  She experienced years of ridicule at school for "acting weird."  Initially, doctors who diagnosed her suggested that she be institutionalized for the rest of her life.  That would have happened, if it had not been for parents who believed she would learn to speak, read, and write. Thank goodness also for teachers and mentors along the way who did not shy away from her but instead challenged her in and outside the classroom with visual/spatial projects.  The key was recognizing her gifts. And for Grandin, the key was to believe she could follow her passions.  

And this is the key for all of us--to recognize not only our own gifts, our own passions, but those of others. I often  either ask or work hard to observe what interests my students, what sparks their passion.  Years ago, when I taught high school English, I remember a student I had (1980s) who would sit in the back, did not talk, remained aloof.  In my almost 30 years of teaching, I've had many students who fit this description. Teachers either have a choice:  (1) ignore and hope the student will remain quiet and will just sit there, or (2) interview, gently coax, and see what happens.  I have always chosen the second way.  In this case, I interviewed her and found the student counting the days until graduation. She didn't care about barely passing because all she wanted to do was graduate and then drive a truck for a living--see the country.  So I encouraged her to learn about trucking and trucks, map out a national route and learn about the various cities/states along that route. And together, we found books on either travel, geography, out-of-the-way trails in certain areas of the country.  That's all she did for the entire spring semester before graduation.  She rejected my invitation to give a presentation to the class about her findings (and there were many findings!). She remained in the back of the class, but the difference was she never looked bored, there was energy and an alive-ness present--she even smiled and began speaking to other students.  She was invested in her passion.  

When I graduated from high school, I won a number of "English" and writing awards.  I was literally surprised and even went to the school counselor to ask why I had been given these awards (yes I was that naive).  I had not applied to any of these "awards" or even knew they existed.  The counselor looked at me and chuckled, "You really don't know!"  Then he explained that no one else had ever taken every single literature and writing class offered at the high school (this high school, at the time, offered a number of electives in English in addition to the required courses) and passed every one of them with the highest scores.  "But I just like it," I answered.  I suppose I had the idea that an award was something sought or desired and then with much suffering, obtained.  I was obsessed with reading and writing.  I still am.

Then the counselor told me something key.  "Keep recognizing and following your passions."
This single piece of advice has been very important.  

American cartoonist and graphic novelist Alison Bechdel (Author of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic) explains her penchant for writing and drawing as a "positive compulsion" where "you're not only sitting at your computer and writing, you're hunched over your drawing board like a monk."  She writes about getting lost in her obsession.  

Psychologist Eric Maisel writes, "In what sense is it normal to work at a job that constricts you and bores you rather than risking everything on a life that challenges you, even as it frustrates you?   Much of what we call normal behavior is simply based on fear.  Indeed, the average person might even prefer a negative obsession, despite its horrors, to a positive obsession rooted in excitement, passion, and active meaning-making, so wild and unafraid would she/he feel if she/he were obsessed that way." (Newsletter #28, Oct. 2002) 

The HBO film on Temple Grandin underlines what Maisel points out regarding fear and positive obsessions. There is the Grandin story but there is also the brilliant work of actor Claire Danes whose gifts allow for Grandin's story to unfold into a riveting film. In her interview with NPR, Grandin says, "I want to emphasize the importance of building on a person's strengths."  

I often wonder what this world would be like if every person was encouraged to discover and develop her/his own gifts and if each of us were also fearless enough to follow our passions in order to arrive at active meaning-making in our lives.