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Edge

Summer 2016

Portlands first
urban farmers

Seeking the sacred in


the mundane world

Life in subsidized
senior housing

On raising
sons not to rape
$8

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edit or
Kathleen Holt
a rt di r ect or
Jen Wick
a s sista n t edit or s
Eloise Holland
Ben Waterhouse
com m u n icat ions
a s sista n t
Julia Withers
cop y edit or
Allison Dubinsky

Oregon Humanities

edit or i a l a dv is ory
b oa r d
Debra Gwartney
Julia Heydon
Guy Maynard
Win McCormack
Greg Netzer
Camela Raymond
Kate Sage
Rich Wandschneider
Dave Weich
Matt Yurdana

Summer 2016

Departments

Features: Edge

4
Editors Note

12
The Farmers of Tanner Creek
by pu t s ata r e a ng
The little-known history of
Chinese farmers and vegetable
peddlers in Portland

6
Field Work
WeLead: Youth-Powered
Conversations for Change
Talking About Place
Forgotten Children
Conversations OH News
History in the News New
Conversation Project Programs
Thanks to OH Funders
11
From the Director
40
Posts
Readers write about Edge

17
Uncovered
by d on n e l l a l e x a n de r
a n d k i m oa h n ngu y en

An undocumented familys long


wait for adequate health care
coverage
22
Wonder, Bread
by k at h l e en de a n mo or e
Seeking the sacred in the
mundane world. An excerpt
from Great Tide Rising

27
Sunday, Laundry Day
by jo se ph i n e co ope r
Every quarter counts in
subsidized senior housing.
32
Slow Ascent
by j e s sica y en
A Chinese American woman
searches for belonging in the
country of her grandparents.
36
Making Men
by b obbi e w i l l is s oe b y
On raising sons to not rape

44
Read. Talk. Think.
Things that make you say O.
Hm. from OH people and
programs, and new books by
Oregon authors
46
Croppings
Russell Childers: Oregon Outsider
at the Hallie Ford Museum of
Art in Salem

CLEAR SKIES BY L AUREN GR ABELLE

Oregon Humanities

IN

Summer 2016

TWANG WE TRUST.

Editors Note
Feeling It All

S IS ON E OF M Y FA MILY S SU MMER TR A DITIONS, W E

spent a week in July at a camping cabin at Cape Lookout


State Park, a place I think of as typical of the Oregon Coast:
thickly treed and rugged, unpredictable in temperature and
weather. One afternoon fortunes converged: low tide, the sun at
last breaking through the morning damp (but too late to bring
with it throngs of visitors), and a cooling wind off the ocean. My
kids spent a companionable couple of hours on the beach digging a giant hole with their hands, easily settling disagreements
about sand-hole goals and tactics.
My daughter took a break and joined my husband and me
where we sat up in the more powdery sand, engrossed in novels.
She made small talk in that relaxed, unfiltered, family-vacation
way. At one point she expressed disagreement about how long
she and her brother should spend on the hole when they could
be playing in the surf. At another, she marveled at the idea that
Hawaii, where wed recently visited family, was somewhere in
that stretch of blue ocean beyond the horizon. She compared the
texture of the sand here and there.
Always ready to seize upon a teachable moment, I told her we
in Oregon were lucky to have an almost-fifty-year-old bill that
keeps public hundreds of miles of beach between the low-water
mark and the vegetation line. (Hawaii also guarantees similar
access.) My husband, a land-use planner, jumped in to comment
on private property, development, and access. My daughter
probably longed to be back in that sand hole with her brother,
but instead she nodded politely. Like many eleven year olds, she
isnt terribly impressed by policies and legislation, by ideas like

public good and protectionismthough one day, I hope, it will


be impossible for her to contemplate the world without considering all of these things.
I remember sharing her disinterest in these adult matters:
what did they have to do with my kid activities of going to school,
playing at the park, and hanging out at the library? Only later,
after an exasperated comment by my father that he was tired
of paying for so many roads, did I begin to see the vague outline
of taxes and public infrastructure. As a young first-time homebuyer, I benefited from a Federal Housing Administration loan,
but didnt fully understand then how that put me in a coveted
position to accumulate wealth for later. Now, as a resident of a
city experiencing record growth in development, its easier to
see the accompanying problems of affordable housing, but still
hard to make sense of the complicated and blurry lines between
private rights and public good, between free enterprise and
protectionism.
But that afternoon, sitting with my small family on the western lip of the North American continent, I backed off my responsibility to raise community activists for just a bit and allowed
myself to feel grateful again, not just for the beach bill, not just
for the wide expanse of sand and sun and sea, not just for the
luxury of time away with my family. I was grateful to feel it all:
the sharp edge of civic indignation, the fierce territorialism for
a beloved place, the bittersweet realization of having come so far
but having such a long way more to go.
k at h l een holt, Editor

k.holt@oregonhumanities.org

Cover Art Ideas for Might


This issues cover is a photograph of clearcutting near Eugene, Oregon, is by Calibas (CC
BY-SA 3.0).
If youre an artist and have work that
we might consider for the Fall/Winter 2016
issue, on the theme Might, wed love to
know about it. Please familiarize yourself
with our publication (back issues viewable
online at oregonhumanities.org), then send

us the following by November 1, 2016:


A high-resolution digital image (300 dpi at
8 x 10; scans or photographs, JPEG or
TIFF)
Your name, the title of the work, the type
of media, as well as contact information
(email and phone number)
Description of the relationship of the image
to the theme

Please consider the constraints of a


magazine cover (e.g., vertical orientation,
nameplate, and cover lines). We are most
interested in works by Oregon-based artists.
Submissions can be sent to
art@oregonhumanities.org or by post
to Oregon Humanities magazine,
921 SW Washington St., Suite 150,
Portland, OR 97205.

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Oregon Humanities

Field Work
H U M A N ITI E S ACRO S S OR E G ON

Summer 2016

I like to think of myself


as a leader, and I like to
grow and learn from other
people who also think of
themselves as leaders.

FROM LEF T: GEORGE Z ANINOVICH; K ATHLEEN HOLT

Plug in

High school students learn how to


facilitate public conversations at a
session of WeLead in Portland.

Taking the Lead


Portland-area youth train to facilitate
challenging public conversations

N M AY 17, I N T H E F I N A L HOU R S OF

Oregons presidential primary voting, a


group of fourteen high school students gathered in North Portland to plan a public event
theyd host two weeks later, called Debates,
Decisions, and Why You Should Care. The
students asked questions: Do political parties
help or hurt the democratic process? Are youth
being represented fairly? What does the success of extreme candidates mean?
The meeting was one of six sessions of
WeLead, a collaboration between Oregon
Humanities and Catlin Gabels PLACE (People
Leading Across City Environments) program.
WeLeads mission is to train Portland-area
youth to facilitate public discussions about

difficult issues, says PLACE program director


George Zaninovich, and to provide the skills
and the opportunity so they can feel empowered to go back and be the person who leads
change in their communities. Oregon Humanities director Adam Davis co-leads the sessions.
WeLead meets at the CENTER, a space
in the One North complex at the corner of
North Fremont and Williams. A Metro grant,
in conjunction with One Norths developers,
made the space available to Catlin Gabel. The
CENTER partners with the Urban League of
Portland, the Black United Fund, iUrbanTeen,
KairosPDX, De La Salle North Catholic High
School, and other organizations that also run
programming at the space.
I like to think of myself as a leader, and I like
to grow and learn from other people who also
think of themselves as leaders, says WeLead
participant Aaliyah Joseph, a sophomore at De

La Salle. I also liked the attitude that WeLead


gave off: this is who we are, were from North
and Northeast Portland, we have this in mind,
and were going to do this to make it happen.
Joseph says she wants to convene discussions about immigration and equal opportunity. I dont think immigration is being fully
discussed, nor do I think Portland talks about
Black Lives Matter in the right way, she says.
You can have a sign, you can have the idea that
Black lives matter, but what are you actually
doing to show that these lives matter?
Cameron Santiago, a sophomore at St.
Marys Academy, plans to use their new skills
to push for more discussion of gentrification
and poverty. Santiagos family recently faced
eviction after a big rent hike, but their mother,
a real estate agent, was able to buy a house. Santiago says that Portland has a really not-great
policy around who can get evicted and why.
Santiago was born in New Jersey and wants
to study politics and law at Villanova University. Portlanders are sometimes too quick to
take Santiagos statements of opinion personally, Santiago finds, but, Ive sort of learned to
tone it down a bit to be able to be an active contributor to conversations in a way that doesnt
make anybody feel personally attacked, Santiago says. Active listening and keeping ones
emotions in check, they say, are keys to a productive conversation.

Make a gift to Oregon Humanities today


and connect to our statewide network of
readers, thinkers, and supporters.
Together, we made a lot happen in 2015.
See the highlights in our annual report at
oregonhumanities.org.

For others seeking to lead or join difficult


conversations, Joseph advises not being afraid
to get personal. People at WeLead told me
personal stories of how their lives have been
affected, she says. I think thats a great way
to start a discussion. Its kind of like having a
hook in a story.
As WeLead winds up, Joseph says, I have
the thought that the world is bigger than a
problem I see as big. Theres more in the world
that other people are considering, and I should,
too. She has her eye on Washington, DC, and a
seat in a chamber thats no stranger to difficult
conversationsthe Supreme Court.
ER IC G OL D

Oregon Humanities

Talking about Place


A special conversation series about place is
coming to communities across Oregon.

N R ECE N T Y E A R S , QU E ST IONS OF

place, belonging, land, and loss have woven


their way through many of Oregon Humanities
programs. In response to the statewide interest in exploring these questions more deeply,
Oregon Humanities will work with partners
across Oregon this fall to present This Place, a
series of conversations about place, including
questions of affection, stewardship, ownership,
and borders.
Weve seen issues of place flare up in the
West recently, says Wendy Willis, a longtime
facilitator for Oregon Humanities Conversation Project who is helping OH with the series.
This Place is an opportunity to examine the
underlying issues of those flare-ups, which
are often seen as policy disputes but often are
much more complex.
Ten facilitators from around Oregon will
lead twenty-four public conversations in September and October, culminating in a daylong
gathering on October 28, 2016, at the Chehalem
Cultural Center in Newberg. This Place is sponsored in large part by the National Endowment

for the Humanities Common Good initiative,


which fosters innovative ways to make scholarship relevant to contemporary issues.
Wherever possible, This Place conversations will be held in venues with links to
current or historical issues of place, such as
Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in
Joseph and Chachalu in Grand Ronde.
The gathering in Newberg will be open to
any Oregonians whod like to attend. Daniel
Kemmis, a former mayor of Missoula, Montana, and author of This Sovereign Land: A
New Vision for Governing the West, will deliver
the keynote address. Oregon Poet Laureate
Elizabeth Woody will deliver a lunchtime
presentation. Willis says the gathering will
give participants a chance to connect across
communities.
Ive led so many Conversation Project programs around the state, and one thing Ive
often heard people say is that they wish they
could hear what people in other communities
are talking about, she says.
For more information about This Place
a n d a l i s t o f l o c a l c on v e r s a t i on s , v i s i t
oregonhumanities.org.
BEN WAT ER HOUSE

Oregon Humanities News


F I NA L T H I N K & DR I N K OF 2 016

Oregon Humanities Think & Drink


series featuring Pulitzer Prizewinning
writers concludes with a conversation
with Katherine Boo on October 19, 2016,
at 7:00 p.m. at the Alberta Rose Theatre in
Portland. Boo is the author of Behind the
Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope
in a Mumbai Undercity. Go to oregonhumanities.org for more information about
the event and to purchase tickets.
W EL COM E , N EW B OA R D M EM BER

Oregon Humanities is pleased to


announce the election of Paige Hill to
the board of directors in May. She is a
member of the leadership team at College
Possible, a nonprofit that helps students

with low incomes get into and graduate


from college. We seek nominees for our
board who are interested in connecting
Oregonians to ideas that change lives
and transform communities. Find more
information at oregonhumanities.org/
about-us/nomination-process.
2 017 PU BL IC PRO GR A M GR A N TS

Oregon Humanities Public Program


Grants between $1,000 and $10,000 are
awarded to nonprofit organizations and
federally recognized tribes in Oregon
to support programs that get people
together to think and talk about challenging issues and ideas. In 2016, the
Oregon Humanities board of directors
awarded $70,000 in grants to sixteen

nonprofits around the state. The deadline for 2017 grants is October 31, 2016 for
letters of interest, and guidelines are now
available at oregonhumanities.org.
FACI L ITATOR T R A I N I NG

Oregon Humanities now offers training on how to lead ref lective conversationsacross differences, beliefs,
and backgroundsabout vital issues
and ideas. Remaining training dates
in 2016 are full, but look for opportunities in January, April, and October
2017. A limited number of scholarships
are available for the two-day trainings.
Learn more and register for a training
at oregonhumanities.org.

Summer 2016

Forgotten Children
A conversation series considers how prisons
affect families.

N M AY 22 , 2 016 , MOR E T H A N SI X T Y

people gathered at the First Unitarian


Church in Portland to learn and talk about the
experiences of families of the 15,000 Oregon
children who have a parent in prison. The gathering was one of a series of four conversations
that will be hosted over the next year by the
YWCA of Greater Portland to address the challenges of parenting from inside prison.
YWCA program coordinator Jessica Katz
says these conversations are important
because while people are aware of the housing
and employment struggles faced by formerly
incarcerated people, we have talked a lot less
about what the consequences [of incarceration]
are [for] children.
Each program in the series, called Forgotten
Children: Understanding the Impact of Parents Incarceration on Children, Families, and
Society, begins by screening Mothering Inside, a
film that follows women and children involved
in the Family Preservation Projecta program
that works to keep incarcerated women and
their families connected. Next, participants
hear from members of the program and break
into facilitated small-group discussions. Three
more of these conversations, supported by an
Oregon Humanities Public Program Grant,
will take place in Portland and Eastern and
Southern Oregon through March 2017.
Nova Sweek, a former participant in the
Family Preservation Project, serves as a facilitator at the Forgotten Children conversations.
She says that her role in the program has
helped her to take something negative that
hurt my family and flip it inside out to become
a silver lining.
Sweek, a social worker, a single mom, and an
advocate for children of incarcerated parents,
hopes that the dialogues will help improve outcomes for families with an incarcerated parent. I want a more well-rounded approach for
helping kids and families who go through this.
Maybe by sharing information and gathering
more, we can come out with a shared vision in
the end.
J U L I A W IT H ER S

Ebony Howard speaks at a public conversation after a screening of


Mothering Inside in Portland.

KEITH IDING

Beyond the Headlines


Salem residents dig into the history behind
current events.

N J U LY 21 , 2016, S A L E M R E SIDE N TS

gathered in the Dye House at the Willamette Heritage Center to talk about how
Oregonians have shaped national convention
politics. It was the first installment of History
in the News, a new discussion series that seeks
to help participants understand current events
and issues in a historical context.
One of the things thats lacking in discourse
nowadays is a nuanced understanding of the
past, says Bob Reinhardt, executive director
of the Willamette Heritage Center. Newspapers and television only have so much time, and
were hoping to have the time to develop that
complexity.
History in the News takes place the third
Thursday of each month through October
2016 and consists of a panel discussion followed by a question-and-answer period. Ten
days prior to each event, Reinhardt meets with
Leslie Dunlap, an assistant professor of history at Willamette University and former Oregon Humanities Conversation Project leader,

Want to keep
up with the
humanities in
Oregon?
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to sign up for our monthly
enewsletter
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Oregon Humanities

10

Funders Keep
Oregon Listening,
Learning, and
Exploring
Thanks to the support of
our generous funders,
each year Oregon
Humanities brings more
than 60,000 Oregonians
togetherface-to-face,
online, and on the page
to talk, listen, and learn
from one another. The
following funders have
recently offered support to
make Oregon a more connected and dynamic place
to live:
James F. and Marion L.
Miller Foundation: $50,000
for core operating support
Pulitzer Prizes Board:
$30,000 for Think & Drink

and Michael Davis, executive editor of the


Statesman Journal, to choose a theme for that
months discussion and select panelists from a
roster of local scholars and experts.
The series is funded in part by a Responsive Program Grant from Oregon Humanities.
These grants support programming created in
response to timely issues and events. Events
funded by the grants have included a public
discussion in Beaverton about community
responses to violence and a summit in Oregon
City about problems facing children of incarcerated parents.
Reinhardt says he hopes History in the
News will leave participants with an appreciation of the value of historical context: If people understand that things have changed in the
past, he says, then theyll know that things
can change in the present.
More History in the News discussions are
coming up on August 18, September 15, and
October 20. They take place from 5:30 to 7:00
p.m. at the Dye House at Willamette Heritage Center, 1313 Mill St. SE, in Salem. Visit
willametteheritage.org for more information.
BEN WAT ER HOUSE

Oregon Community
Foundation: $20,000 for
partnerships and training
Collins Foundation:
$18,000 for core operating
support
Kinsman Foundation:
$15,000 for Conversation
Project
Wyss Foundation: $5,000
for core operating support
Leotta Gordon Foundation:
$2,500 for youth programs

The Conversation Project catalog expands to


include nineteen new programs.

Just a Number: Aging and Intergenerational


Friendship
Looking for Leadership: What Do We Want
from Leaders?
Marking Milestones: Ritual and Ceremony
in Modern Life

Homeless in the Land of Plenty

Lets Fix This


A DA M DAV IS

The Purpose of Prison: What is Punishment


for?
The Space Between Us: Immigrants,
Refugees, and Oregon
Stone Soup: How Recipes Can Preserve
History and Nourish Community
Talking about Dying
What Are You? Mixed-Race and Interracial
Families in Oregons Past and Future
What Makes Life Meaningful?

Whats in a Label? Thinking about Diversity


and Racial Categories

Where Are You From? Exploring What


Makes Us Oregonians
Starting in September, Oregon Humanities
will partner with organizations across the
state to offer discussion-based programs from The World to Come: How We Feel about the
Future
the 201617 Conversation Project catalog.
This years catalog includes thirty-two topics
Youre In or Youre Out: Exploring Belonging
to choose from, including the following new
programs:
The purpose of the Conversation Project is
to bring Oregonians together to talk in per Arab Refugees in Our Midst: Terrorism,
son with others in their communityacross
Bigotry, and Freedom
differences, beliefs, and backgroundsabout
important issues and ideas. To learn how
Are International Trade Agreements Good
an organization can host an event or about
for Oregon?
conversations scheduled in your area, visit
oregonhumanities.org.
Fish Tales: Traditions and Challenges of
Seafood in Oregon

Summer 2016

F ROM TH E DI R ECTOR

In Good Faith: Exploring Religious


Difference in Oregon

What We Risk: Creativity, Vulnerability, and


Art

Thinking Big

11

MONG TH E MOST VA LUA BL E WOR K W E DO AT OR E-

gon Humanities is work in collaboration with other community organizations. Partnerships help a range of community
organizationsOH includeddo as much as possible to shape a
better future for all Oregonians.
Earlier this summer, we collaborated with August Wilsons
Red Door Project on a series of Hands Up! theater performances
in Portland. Each performance, which was followed by a community conversation, featured seven monologues commissioned by New Black Fest after high-profile police shootings
of black people in 2014. The performances and the subsequent
conversations about race and policing are intense, provocative,
and raw.
The morning of one of these performances, we and other
Hands Up! partners and sponsors received the following message by email from Kevin Jones, director of the Red Door Project
and a resident artist of Portlands Artists Repertory Theatre.
Instead of the usual executive directors note, Id like to use this
space, with Kevins permission, to share his account of life in the
United States as a black man:
MOR N ING, YOU WON DER F U L PEOPL E .

I was profiled [by police officers] last night in front of


Artists Repertory Theatre [in Portland] sitting in my
car. Our production/program assistant was with me. She
was pretty shaken up by it. So was I.But were ok. No guns
were drawnI wasnt man handled. But the hand was on
the gun.I was spoken to like a child and told that I was giving them attitude when I was trying to explain who I was. I
went brain numb.
I said, If you look inside the theater youll see a picture
of me on the wall. They didnt look. He ran my license and
checked out the car. Then he said, We dont know who you
are,you could be anybody. Could I?
I was in a 1976 BMW 2002. Im an older gray-haired
man. What am I going to be doing parked in front of a
theater? He said, The theater is closed. I said, I know.
I have a key. Did he check any of that out?What would I,
orcould I be doing?

The incident shook me up. Im usually


pretty good about keeping this kind of shit
quiet. I dont like to scream racism. But given
the nature of what our days have been likeIm
pretty shaken and confused.
Im sixty-three years old. I thought I outgrew this. But its not about my outgrowing it.
Its about our culture outgrowing it.
Im angry. I want to give up. I want someone, someone in powersomeone whiteto
get mad and stop this. I feel debilitatedbone
weary. I want it to stop. I feel angry at those
who get to choose when and how they actually
get to have a feeling about this.
I get it now. I remember what it was like in
my teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and now 60s. I
get it now. This shit hurts. Im not mad at the
copstheyre just a product of a culture that is
designed to keep certain people out.
I understand that the police are doing their
job. But when a thirty-something man looks
at me like Im nothing and tells me Im giving
him attitude because I question why Im being

Im angry. I want to
give up. I want someone,
someone in power
someone whiteto get
mad and stop this.

surrounded with lights and approached menacingly, something is wrong.


What does that do to ones sense of self?
What does this say about how welcomed you
are in the world? What does an individual have
to say to himself in order to move forward, to
get on with their day and their life?
Something is wrong. Lets fix it. My plea is
that we stop what were doing and fix this. We
can do it. Lets do it.
Lets build a machine that can transform
all this into something that renews and
heals.

12

Oregon Humanities

13

Summer 2016 Edge

The Farmers
of Tanner
Creek
The little-known history of Chinese farmers and
vegetable peddlers in Portland
PU TS ATA R E A NG

JW APPLEGATE /COURTESY GHOLSTON COLLECTION

A tintype depicts a Chinese cook named Ho posing on the corner of Sixth Street and Ankeny Street in Portland, circa 1870.

N A SM A L L STAC K OF NO T E B O OK SH E ET S C R E A SE D A N D BROW N E D BY T I M E ,

ledgers belonging to the prominent AL Mills family, is a record of daily visits by a Vegetable
Man in Portland in 1907. Some days, he sold twenty cents worth of produce to the Mills family;
other days, he pocketed a bounty of more than a dollar.
He has no name, no age; there is no clue as to who he was or what particular vegetables he
harvested and hawked on the streets of Portland more than a century ago. There is only proof that
the peddler was paid. That he was, as referenced simply in later Mills household ledgers, a Chinaman. And that he likely hefted his produce in wicker baskets hung from a pole and slung across
his shoulder, trekking uphill from the gulch along Tanner Creek in Southwest Portland where his
garden grew and along the hill to the Mills mansion every day, faithfully, for much of 1907.
The Vegetable Man was one of dozens of Chinese immigrants, mostly men, who eschewed life
amid the laundries and lotteries of downtown Chinatown, opting instead to eke out a living on
the fringes of town in what soon became the moneyed neighborhood of Goose Hollow. The gardens cultivated by the Chinese farmers supplied Portland residents with a daily selection of fresh
fruits and vegetables while providing many of the citys earliest Chinese immigrants with a steady
stream of income starting as early as 1879, when the first known Chinese gardens sprouted in the
foothills overlooking downtown Portland.
No one is alive to say for sure why, but by 1910, the vegetable gardens and the men who tended
them with relentless efficiency began to rapidly disappear. Likely it was some combination of elements that eroded the Chinese garden community in Portland: explosive urban growth in the
early 1900s, racist practices and exclusionary laws, and local policies that restricted the Chinese
gardeners ability to sell their produce.

14

Oregon Humanities

15

COURTESY GHOLSTON COLLECTION

The farmers shanties existed in


the shadow of mansions owned
by business tycoons.

Tanner Creek runs between Chinese gardens and shanties, circa 1892. Providence Park, the Portland Timbers soccer stadium,
now stands where these gardens once did.

It was real estate that was once undesirable and became desirable that disbanded the
vegetable garden community, says Tracy J.
Prince, professor emeritus at Portland State
University. The same pressures are gentrifying Northeast Portland, having the black community move out.
As Portland navigates its latest round of explosive urban growth, the story of the Vegetable Man and the other Chinese men who cultivated seasonal crops in the clefts of Portlands
West Hills has become a potent analogy to understanding the present. It is a familiar story of
immigrants straining to survive on the margins
of society, working lands they could not legally
own, and ultimately being displaced by development and the kind of hard-charging progress that has both defined and undermined the
Rose City. In this way, it is the story of now.

ON A DR I V E TH ROUGH G OOSE HOL LOW TODAY, PEDE S -

trians stroll down the street toting Trader Joes bags and yoga
mats; telecommuters hunch over lattes and laptops at Starbucks
shops tucked into tiny strip malls. There, in a natural bowl in the
earth adjacent to the Multnomah Athletic Club, roaring fans
cheer as the Timbers dribble a soccer ball up and down the field
on sun-dusted summer evenings, while stately mansions perch
along the hills above. That is where, more than 120 years ago, the
farmers once plowed perfect rows along the slope, creating one
of the largest Chinese gardens in Portland.
Back then, the Goose Hollow neighborhood was a palette
of uneven, uninhabited land knobbed with hills and prone to
flooding. This land was marshy and undesirable. But it was land
that, to the Chinese men who originally immigrated to the United States to work on the railroads, was perfect for farming.
No one can say for sure what brought the first Chinese gardener to the West Hills in 1879, but it was probably the lure of
that wild land and an interest in cultivating crops that many had
brought from their homes in the agrarian Pearl River Delta of

China, an area known for terraced farming, according to Marie


Rose Wong, who wrote about the Chinese gardens in her book,
Sweet Cakes, Long Journey.
Its likely that no one really thought of creek bed land as being as productive as it was, and since the Chinese could never
legally own the land, they could be easily displaced, Wong says.
Wong writes that Portland city leaders, anticipating the
growth of the city, eventually turned their attention to the Tanner Creek gulch area located between W Burnside and SW Morrison Streets and 14th and 17th Streets. When a wooden bridge
over the creek that connected the burgeoning neighborhoods
from 14th Street to 17th Avenue North collapsed during a flood
in 1873, the city used the calamity as an opportunity not only
to repair the bridge, but also to tame Tanner Creek. That summer, the City of Portland contracted Chinese workers to build
a 115-foot cylindrical culvert to pipe the creek sixty feet below
Burnside Street, a solution that both controlled and ultimately
prevented flooding in the area.
Maximizing every opportunity to make a living, and seeing
the potential for fertile fields fed by Tanner Creek, the Chinese
men who built the culvert remained in the area and began farming the sediment-rich lands, according to Wong. This led to the
first recorded Chinese gardens in 1879, which lined both sides of
Tanner Creek on a narrow swath of land along Burnside..
T H E M E N WOR K E D A N D L I V E D C OL L E C T I V E LY,

traveling between Chinatown and the West Hills to sell their


produce. Because of exclusion laws that prohibited Chinese
women from immigrating to the United States and anti-miscegenation laws that banned interracial marriage, many of the
gardeners remained bachelors, living out their days as laborers
without families. Instead of looking to start families and settle
in America, the men focused on their farm work, sending their
earnings back home to their families in China, according to
local historians.
Fed by the nutrient-rich creek water, the gardens grew from
only a few acres in 1879 to more than twenty acres a decade
later. And the Vegetable Man, along with dozens of other Chinese gardeners, made a modest living peddling his vegetables
door-to-door. Local lore is that the Chinese gardeners doubled
down on the days work by selling their vegetables door-todoor to Chinese cooks living in the mansions of Goose Hollow,
and then loading up laundry for the return trip down the hill,
delivering it to downtown Chinatown laundriesa demonstration of the resourcefulness that came to define the citys
Chinese immigrant community.
By the early 1900s, the abundant and beautiful Chinese gardens and the men who peddled the vegetables plucked from

Summer 2016 Edge

the fields became a permanent part of the


citys streetscape. The men had found a successful way of earning a living and surviving
in a new land.
Portlands Chinese gardeners reveal
other dimensions of these immigrants in the
nineteenth century that included a degree
of entrepreneurship and financial independence, Wong says.
However, discriminatory policies restricted the gardeners success. Oregons state constitution of 1859 barred anyone of Chinese
descent from owning property, which meant
that the Chinese gardeners could be evicted
from their farms at any moment. As the city of
Portland grew, so, too, did the threat that the
gardens would eventually be squeezed out of
the West Hills.
Development quickly began to impinge
upon the lands covered by Chinese gardens.
The farmers existed against a backdrop of
the American dream that was literally within
sight but impossibly out of reach. They built
and lived in shanties constructed with assorted scraps of wood in the shadow of mansions owned by such business tycoons as
Amos King, and Thomas Cartertwo disparate worlds cordoned off with a lengthy span
of wooden fence.
Right across from the shanties were the
wealthiest people in town, says local historian
Norm Gholston, who has spent the past several
years researching the Chinese gardens.
The gardens became increasingly vulnerable to development. In 1893, the Multnomah
Amateur Athletic Club (later renamed the
Multnomah Athletic Club) leased a five-acre
tract of land in the Tanner Creek gulch, and
over the next eight years, several Chinese
gardens and shanties where displaced. By the
early 1900s, the Multnomah Athletic Club
began building out its facility, ultimately constructing a sports field that is now the modern-day Providence Park.
The gardeners responded by simply relocating their farms and shanty buildings farther south along SW 20th Avenue and Jefferson Street.

16

The story of
the Vegetable
Man is the
story of now.
But more development was on the way. One
of the citys biggest growth spurts occurred
soon after the city hosted the 1905 Lewis &
Clark Centennial Exhibition. This worlds fair
attracted more than 1.6 million visitors and
spurred the arrival of a massive number of new
residents in the following years: Portlands
population spiked from 161,000 residents in
1905 to 207,000 in 1910.
Land was getting valuable, Gholston
says. Gentrification is how Chinese farmers
got crowded out. After 1910, you dont see the
shanties anymore.
But development was not the only pressure
that ate away the Chinese gardens. City leaders further accelerated the demise of the garden community by creating strict policies that
governed street peddlers. In 1897, the Portland
Common Council adopted an ordinance requiring street vendors within city limits to obtain a licensea move that angered white owners of several fish companies that were affected
by the law. The white business owners protested and by 1910, the city adopted an additional
ordinance limiting the area of downtown
where street peddlers could sell their wares to
an area that effectively covered most of downtown Portland. Those who sold meats, fish, ice,
bread, and newspapers were exempted from
the ordinance, which effectively banned only
the Chinese vegetable peddlers from operating, according to Wong.
The Chinese farmers suffered a final indignity in the form of overt discrimination
by rogue groups of young white men bent on
trouble. Prince says an active chapter of the Ku
Klux Klan was known to harass and persecute
Chinese gardeners and peddlers for sport in
the early 1900s, and news stories from the time

Oregon Humanities

reveal how the Klan eventually burned Chinese farmers and ranchers off their lands.
There are no traces left of the Chinese gardens, or of the men who spent their days tending the land. But if you ever go to Providence
Park to cheer for the Timbers, or if you live in
a part of Goose Hollow where the land slopes
and curves into a bowl, this is what you should
know: that a Vegetable Man, a long time ago,
was there, planting his way into an American
dream that was out of bounds in his lifetime.
It would be another three decades before Chinese immigrants could legally own land, beginning in 1943, when the Chinese Exclusion Act
was repealed. After this, Chinese families could
move into neighborhoods with less fear of being chased out by unfair laws, encroaching development, or men in hoods.
Jeff Lee, the great-grandson of a Chinese
hog rancher and vegetable farmer in Northwest Portland, was surprised to learn that his
great-grandfather, who lived on and farmed
a swath of land near Linnton for more than
twenty years, may have been among the immigrants driven off their land by the Klan.
Lees great-grandmother is believed to be
the first recorded Chinese American born in
Portland, in 1866. She spoke no English but
lived on the farm with Lees great-grandfather.
They had at least eight children, one of whom
was Lees grandmother, who was one of the first
Chinese Americans to buy a home in what is
now the Ladds Addition neighborhood.
Lee wonders how his great-grandparents
did ithow they built new lives from scratch
and eventually snatched an edge of the American dream and held on.
You always wonder how your ancestors
survived, Lee says. Its perseverance, and the
community, all the people that come from the
same village and keep close contact and help
each otherthats the only way they know how
to survive.

Putsata Reang is a journalist with deep roots in Oregon,


where she grew up and graduated from the University of
Oregon. Her last article for Oregon Humanities was Full
Circle (Spring 2015). She is working on a book about her
familys escape from the Cambodian genocide.
Thanks to the Fair Housing Council of Oregon for sharing this
story with Oregon Humanities through its history bus tour.

17

Summer 2016 Edge

Uncovered

An undocumented familys long wait for adequate health care

D ON N EL L A L E X A N DER

PHOTO GR A PH S
BY K I M OA N H NGU Y EN

*Not her real name.

P F RON T I N T H E R E SI DE NC E S E C -

tion of Estrella Barajass* trailer, two


of her three sons watch television. Through
the doorway, the trailer garage is the headquarters for her small business. Estrella has
apportioned the tiny space into two sections
for separate functions. One is where she sews
dresses and aprons for Michoacn transplants
in the mostly rural local pockets where they,
like her, revere the old ways. The other section is where she stores raw fabric and finished

pieces. The setup is a poor cousin to the tiny


home movement, but without one shred of its
social currency.
Whats in the air back here is microcosmic:
pequeo was also the size of the impoverished
Michoacn village that birthed this fortyseven-year-old woman with a sad smile.
On the far side of the doorway, the falling early-summer sun puts both the park and
the trucks into shadow; the working vehicles
signifiers of Oregonians earning off the land.

18

One of the
two sewing
machines that
Estrella uses in
her tiny textiles
operation,
which is housed
in the garage
of her trailer
home.

And in her off-the-books work space Estrella is


unfurling fabric, rolls of the material that shes
imported from Mexico by the meter for more
than a decade. She wraps an intricately pleated
piece around the waist of our interpreter. She
says her busy season is the months and weeks
leading up to the most popular festivals, one
in October and another in January. The pieces
carry about them an aura of observance as
much as festivity.
Estrella has imbued the clothing with an air
of ritual. In her work space, shrines to the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus commingle with space
heaters, both indispensable to her practice. In
comparison to the average maker of clothes,
Estrellas operation is small. Preferable to life
in the village where she was born, but small
regardless. She makes maybe $300 per week
for twenty pieces. Her husband earns another
$400 each week picking fruit, and the trailer
mortgage note is a manageable $450.
Last year a health care crisis rocked the
Barajas family, reacquainting Estrella with
the dangerous edge of under-the-radar existence. In the eleven years since she and her
husband brought the children from Southern

Oregon Humanities

California to this trailer park in the Willamette Valley, no one


has had health insurance. No access to eye doctors or dentists or
any other kind of doctoraccess that some Oregonians may take
for granted. Small-business people such as Estrella, humans in
the United States whose papers are not in order, are not entitled to taxpayer-funded health care. The Affordable Care Act
completely ignored them, with exceptions made for emergency
medical treatment.
This has been more or less acceptable to them, until early in
2015 when two of Estrellas adult sons were attacked. They were
taking the youngest son, who was nine at the time, for ice cream
in a nearby town when the older sons were stabbed and beaten
with a bat by a jealous boyfriend. A passerby happened upon the
scene and reported the crime. Emergency room treatment, at no
cost to the Barajas, addressed the harm done to the older sons,
but not the little one.
On the attackers command, Estrellas baby boy had run, but
fell hard on the concrete. But that is not why he needs health care
coverage. He could stand to see a doctor because he is different
now than he was before the attack. These days he hurls objects
across the trailer without warning and cries for what looks on
the surface to be no reason. The boy wakes up screaming.
Hes tormented by night terrors, Estrella explains as she
sits at her sewing machine about to feed into its bed a pleated
brown apron with gold trim.
Although this youngest son was born in the United States

19

If I had insurance,
I wouldnt worry.
Instead of spending
money at the clinic,
I could buy things.
I could save money.
and could be eligible for coverage under the Oregon Health Plan,
Estrella struggles with reading, making an already overwhelming system impossible. Information and applications are available in Spanish and several other languages besides English, but
Estrella cant understand them, not in any language.
Her melancholy smile features a broken tooth thats gone
unattended. She offers to show me the home remedies and the
enormous bottle of Tylenol that function as fixes for most health

Summer 2016 Edge

issues in this trailer. She says she watched a


relative die after being slow to have a tumor
looked at. The absence of medical care keeps
her awake at night.
If I had insurance, I wouldnt worry.
Instead of spending money at a clinic, I could
buy things, she says. I could save money.
W E DN E S DAY MOR N I N G , ON T H E F I R S T

floor of the Mexican Consulate in downtown


Portland, theres a throng in need. Once a
month, more than a hundred immigrants
without health care coverage pack the buildings bottom floor, children of grade-school
age helping their baffled parents navigate the
mornings course of information booths, clinic
options, and one especially vigilant security
guard. They seek information through La Ventanilla de Saludthe health access window.
They get their blood pressure checked and
perhaps commiserate with a representative
from Catholic Charities, a nonprofit that offers
the kind of counseling that would benefit the
youngest Barajas. The interpreter explains to
me that the waiting list for mental health therapy is six months long. Adding to the feeling

Estrella holds
the hand of her
granddaughter,
who, with her
father, has
recently moved
into the trailer
home while the
family gets back
on its feet after a
divorce.

20

Estrella
sometimes
uses Nutrilite
herbal
supplements
(this page top)
and a tea drink
with limes (this
page bottom
and opposite
page top) in
place of a
clinic visit.
Opposite
page bottom:
Estrellas
granddaughter
holds her
beloved
stuffed animal.

of too much need and not enough resources is


the fact that the Mexican governments sponsorship of La Ventanilla de Salud is to address
needs of undocumented immigrants not just in
Oregon but also in Vancouver and other Washington communities along the border. If this
facet of Northwest life isnt usually visible to
most Oregonians, it would be hard to miss here.
The needs of the undocumented are vast:
according to a 2014 study by the Oregon Latino
Health Coalition and the Oregon Center for
Public Policy, 17,600 undocumented children
in the state are uninsured. The impact of this
neglect on local infrastructureschools and
criminal justice as well as hospitals and doctors officesnot small.
IN 2013, OR EG ON M A DE PR ENATA L CA R E

available to undocumented women living


within its boundaries. Four years later, the legislature in Salem passed a bill to allow immigrants who are not citizens to drive: they were
undeniably on the roads and creating a legal
avenue seemed in everyones best interests.

Oregon Humanities

A year and a half later, Oregonians reversed the decision at


the polls, despite officials talking up the overall public safety
improvements that would have resulted from the law.
Thats not just politics, says Daniel Lpez-Cevallos, associate director of research at the Center for Latino/a Studies and
Engagement at Oregon State University and coauthor of a 2015
study on discrimination faced by foreign-born Latinos living in
rural areas. Its drawing a line.
A line of the times, on one side a simulacrum of ignorant
bliss and on the other, unpopular practicality. Deem this line
of divide either political or social, it hardly matters; the times
just might be growing less amenable to dialogue on improving
rights for those who have migrated from Mexico without papers.
Deportations are also on the rise. In 2002, 165,000 undocumented immigrants were kicked out of the country. Eleven
years later, the figure had climbed to 438,000. Back in the 1990s,
Estrellas husband was deported while working at a brewery in
Southern California. He went back and forth between Mexico
and the United States for eleven years before moving the family
north to Oregon, where many Michoacn migrants have built a
community since the 1970s, becoming established and providing job contacts and housing assistance for friends and family
that followed.
The remedy may be in the political process. New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have granted limited exemptions
allowing some undocumented immigrants to enroll in Medicaid or CHIP (Childrens Health Insurance Program). In Oregon,
Lpez-Cevallos says, exclusion muddies up the picture of whats
happening among these citizens. Mothers like Estrella turn
away from potential government assistance because of language
or literacy barriers; those injured and infirm turn away from lab
tests when ID is requested.
Immigration comes up almost every election cycle, because
its unresolved, he continues. In this climate of heightened tensions, both tangible and imagined, the risk is very real for people.
AT T H E B A R A JA S S T R A I L E R PA R K , B OY S R I DE BI K E S

between the parked trucks while Estrella stands at the stove,


demonstrating how she prepares a home remedy. Her granddaughter tosses a stuffed animal in the air. The girl and her
father are also living here now, as a divorce plays out. That
makes seven current residents in the trailer.
E strella knows that Michoacn fashion alone wont feed
the family and pay for medical bills. No one is buying in the
early spring months so far from festival season. So, during
her eleven years in this trailer, this life, Estrella has studied
and networked and begun producing pieces for other smalltown traditional Mexican festivals. Beaming, she takes out her
cell phone and shows me a video of young girls dancing while
dressed in her creations.
Still, she worries. According to Alberto Moreno, executive
director of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition (and member of
the Oregon Humanities board of directors), Salem legislators
recently prepared a bill that would have brought coverage to the

21

undocumented children of the state. That bill


never advanced beyond committee stage.
The state of tolerance being what it is,
Estrella shouldnt hold her breath: not for the
legislature to get behind such a bill, not for any
passing version to survive a voter-driven referendum if that bill became laweven though this
would improve the lives of her family and thousands of people like them, as well as provide continuity to Oregons health care system.

Donnell Alexander is a Portland-based


creator of cultural content whose writing and
commentary has been featured in Time, Al
Jazeeras Inside Story, and Narrative Global
Politics (Routledge, 2016). His Northwest
Mixtape Conversation Project is in its second
year with Oregon Humanities.
Kim Oanh Nguyen is an award-winning
photographer based in Portland. She has
worked for the Internews Network, USAID,
and other publications.

Summer 2016 Edge

22

Oregon Humanities

23

Summer 2016 Edge

Wonder, Bread
Seeking the
sacred in the
mundane world L begin with Wonder Bread. I dont remember what took me

The following is an excerpt from Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change, reprinted
with permission from Counterpoint Press.
E T U S BE GI N W I T H WON DE R . AC T UA L LY, L E T U S

K AT H L EEN DE A N
MO OR E
I L LUST R ATIONS
BY JAY BER RON E S

to the Oregon seacoast on the day I want to tell about. My memory begins as I was standing by my car on the south jetty on a
gray day. I was watching sea lions dive for fish along a rock gabion
that jutted into the channel. What had caught my attention was
the small cloud that appeared each time a sea lion snorted to
clear its nostrils. It was a measure of how cold the day was, and
how hot and wet the sea lions lungs must have been, and I was
thinking about the miraculous transformation of cold wet fish
flesh into hot wet mammal breath and flaring my own nostrils

to catch the smell of the little clouds, when I heard a car slowly
grinding gravel along the jetty road.
It was a white Buick, trailing a string of gulls. It parked beside
me in a gravel pullout. Catching up the wind, the gulls winged
furiously over the Buick, squawking. The passenger door opened
on the far side of the car. Bedroom slippers on thin legs lowered
themselves to the ground. Without warning, slices of bread flew
up like toast from a cartoon toaster, and gulls swarmed to the
open door, screaming and fighting.
On the drivers side, a woman opened the door, grasped the
door frame, and pulled herself to standing. From her shoes to
her blouse, she was dressed in lavender, and her hair, short and
tightly permed, was brick red. The gulls circled her as she made
her way to the back of the car. When she opened the trunk, the
gulls went wild. Screeching, they swooped in close, colliding
in midair. More bread popped up on the far side of the Buick.

The gulls glanced over and dove for it, clattering their wings
together, crying out.
The woman reached into her trunk for a loaf of bread. She
unwound the twist tie and held it between her lips. Then she
pulled out as much bread as she could hold in one hand. Gulls
pressed against her legs, stumbled over her shoes. In spasms of
excitement, they tilted back their heads and gulped out the raucous food call. The woman tossed up a handful of bread. Gulls
caught the bread on the fly. What fell to the ground disappeared
under slapping yellow feet and flapping wings. Gulls swooped in
to pull at the bag the woman held in her hand. They swallowed
quickly, and who could blame them, tossing back their heads and
gulping down the scraps before another gull could snatch them.
How many gulls? A hundred? Two hundred? I sidled closer, not
wanting to scare the birds or intrude on the old woman, but wanting to feel the wind of these flapping wings. She saw me coming.

24

Want some? she offered, and in fact, I really did. She beckoned me over to her trunk. Every niche was crammed with
bread, one plastic grocery bag after another, each bag stuffed
with five full loaves. This was soft, white Wonder Bread. When I
was a kid, this was the bread we used to slather with margarine
and coat with as much sugar as wouldnt shake off. Its a wonder
we ever grew up.
Safeway sells it, she said, although I hadnt asked. Five
loaves for a dollar.
Good price, I said, because it was.
Weve been doing this every day for ten years. Its what we do.
I stood next to her and tossed bread into the wind. Knowing
perfectly well that gulls couldnt live on white bread, knowing
perfectly well that it deformed their wings, I fed it to them anyway. I threw a slice to a pure white gull that had only one eye,
firmly fixed in my direction. I threw a slice to a gray-winged gull
that had only one leg. But it didnt matter where I aimed; every
bird mobbed every piece of bread. Birds hung at our heads, wings
flapping and legs dangling. They swarmed at our feet. Feathers and bird droppings fell from the sky. Experimentally, I sidearmed three slices into the crowd. The volume of screaming was
directly proportional to the amount of bread in the air.
Another handful of bread shot up from the far side of the car.
A phalanx of gulls peeled off and settled by the bare feet in the
bedroom slippers.
My husband, the woman said.
Ah. Do the birds follow you home? I wanted to know.
No. But they know well be back, she said, and turned to
pull another loaf from her trunk. She gave me fully half the loaf.
I would have liked to have eaten it, I was that hungry for what the
old woman offerednot just for the bread but for her closeness
to the birds. But I tore the bread to pieces and threw it to the
birds. Then I backed out of the melee. There stood the woman in

Oregon Humanities

her purple shoes, her face lifted to the birds, her arms wide open
in the universal gesture of exaltation. Gulls fluttered around
her like moths.
In the weeks after I met the gull lady, I thought about how
one goes about living like that, with that extravagant joy and
astonishment, how it becomes what you do, that hard embrace
of what is wonderful, which is everything, when you think about
it, every single thing in this mysterious, miraculous, morningdrenched world.
And her husband, the mechanical bread-throwing machine
in the maroon bathrobe? He had fellowship, I would say. He had
beautiful beings who flocked to him, the way his children probably once ran to him at the end of the day, the way his students
(Im guessing) once gathered around him, all eager hunger.
Every day for ten years, faithfully, without fail, living beings
sought him out for what he had to give them, even though he had
so little leftexcept for the Wonder Bread, which he had in great
abundance.
It fed us, the woman, the man, and me. Thats what I want
to say. Never mind the 140 calories, 180 milligrams of sodium,
twenty-nine grams of carbohydrates, and two grams of dietary
fiber in every two slices. It nourished us, we humans, to be surrounded by flocks of living beings of astonishing beauty and
intelligence. (Astonishing, from the Latin word tonus, which
means thunderto be struck, as by lightning: the sudden
flash that startles and, just for a moment, lights the world with
uncommon clarity.) Humans need this delight, the way plants
need sunlight. So we seek it out, going to the places where life
is abundant, or bringing it into our homes, drawing it toward
us with sunflower seeds and cracked corn. People by the thousands, sitting at their desks, link to webcams focused on endangered peregrine falcons who are feeding pigeons to their young
in nests in high places: the Mid-Hudson Bridge near Poughkeepsie, the Times Square Building in Rochester, the fourteenth floor
of 55 Water Street in New York.
If there is a fact true of human beingstoday, as alwaysI
would suggest it is this: that we want to love and be loved, delight
and be delighted, give and be given, in the back-and-forth relatedness that earns us a meaningful place in the pantheon of all

25

Summer 2016 Edge

When I look with those new


eyes at the story of the world,
what I see rattles me, body
and soul.

being. The very muscles that allow us to raise our arms in gladness are the muscles that allow a gull to fly. I believe that this
universal yearning, lifting toward life, is the greatest, most
enduring, wonder of all.
Not so long ago, my daughter called from Tucson. Hearing a
strange noise, she had come out the front door to investigate a
sort of cracking and scratching noise, as if somebody was trying
to tear a mesquite tree apart with bare hands, she said. As she
glanced around, she noticed that feathers were drifting from the
sky and alighting on the gravel. She looked up. There, perched
on top of a utility pole, was a sharp-shinned hawk, a mourning
dove pinned in its talons. With its bony beak, the hawk pulled
out the doves feathersthat popping noiseand tossed them
away. Each floating feather was soft and gray, with a puff of white
at the end of the vane. My daughter stood in the yard, her arms
spread, her face raised into a snowfall of bloody feathers. She
was smiling, she said, but trying to keep her mouth closed so
feathers wouldnt drift in.
Souls that are focused and do not falter at first sight, the
philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, can behold
the mountains as if they were gestures of exaltation. And
here it was, on the jetty. The hovering gulls raised their heads
and spread their cantilevered wings in the same gesture as my
daughters. Here was the bread and the tide in the channel and
women in the wind of wingseverything beautiful and ineffable. Look! Look as if you have never seen this before, with that
surprise, that wonderment. Look as if you would never see them
again, with that yearning.
When I look with those new eyes at the story of the world,
what I see rattles me, body and soul. From a single point in space
and a single point in timea roaring force from one unknowable moment, Mary Evelyn Tucker calls itall the elements
in the universe burst forth. The elements self-organized into

nebulae and stars and then galaxies and planets; in startling


bursts of creativity, their patterns unfolded again and again.
From those elements unfolding came cells and the beginnings
of self-replication and self- complexifying, life and lives developing like a fugue, variety unfolding, complexity unfurling, until,
with the evolution of human consciousness, the generative
urgency of the universe created a way to turn and contemplate
itself. We are, she says, beings in whom the universe shivers in
wonder at itself.
Wonder, indeed, because here we are in the Cenozoic era,
when evolution has achieved a great fullness of flowering, what
theologian Thomas Berry called the most lyric period in Earth
history, the time of thrush-song and thirty thousand species of
orchids, the time of microscopic sea angels with tiny wings and
whales that teach one another to sing, the time of crocodiles and
butterflies with curled tongues. Call out the names of the exquisite and roaring animals. Call out the names of spores and seeds.
I dont know if you think it was God who struck the downbeat
that began this music, or if you think this glorious Earth is the
result of the creative urgency of the universe alone. In a way, it
doesnt matter. If you think it was God, do not think for a minute that He is indifferent. And God saw that it was good, and it
was good, it was very good, day after day, as the waters and the
firmaments rained glistening life.
But say there is no Creator: that life created itself in great
bursts of variation and selection, and filled the sky with midges
and birds and filled the seas with not just fishes but the most
extraordinary collection of creatures too various to be imaginedthe creeping, chirping things with thin legs or sucking
parts. If this is so, then this world is astonishing, irreplaceable, essential, beautiful and fearsome, generative, and beyond
human understanding. If the good English word for this combination of characteristics is sacred, then that is the word I will

26

Every extinction,
every suffering,
every destruction, is
a diminishment of
creativity, and so it
is a profanity.

use. We are born into a sacred world, and we ourselves are part
of its glory.
This is the wonder-filled world that we are destroying,
the lyric voices that we are silencing, the sanctity that we are
defiling, at a rate and with a violence that cannot be measured
because we have only the paltriest understanding of the worlds
multitudes of lives. Nonetheless, its an extinction, scientists are
able to agree, on the scale of the extinction that ended the Cretaceous period and the fern- and swamp-graced era of the stupendous dinosaurs. Then, an asteroid smashed into the Yucatn
peninsula. Now, the destructive agent is human intention and
disregard. This year, there are 40 percent fewer plants and animals on the planet than there were in 1974, when my daughter
was born. In 2050, when her son is raising his own children,
there will be 50 percent fewer species. His field guides will need
only half as many pages, and the picture books about penguins
and owls will be fantasies.
What does that matter? Why is it important that there be this
planet with these odd little creatures? It could all end tomorrow. So what? Why should we care? We wouldnt know. Would
anything of value be lost?
The answer of course is yes. It matters that a hundred years
from now, salmon return to the streams, children hum themselves to sleep, red-legged frogs burble underwater.
We are struggling to talk about something of deep sacredness,
anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson says. The creativity of
this living world is continuing to unfold. And that unfolding is
sacred. Be prepared, she goes on to say, be prepared to wonder
at this unfurling. Be prepared also for this: that every extinction, every suffering, every destruction, is a diminishment of
creativity, and so it is a profanity. Be prepared for anger and for
grief. The world is a mystery of infinite and intrinsic value. Be
prepared to love it in ways beyond our own understanding. This

Oregon Humanities

wondering love is what brings us to the work ahead of us and


sustains us in the struggle.
Why is it wrong to wreck the world? Because the world is a
wonder, beautiful and creative, unique and irreplaceable. And
what is wonderful ought to be honored and protected. The failure to honor and protect it is a failure of reverence.
Philosophers put this somewhat differently and debate it
endlessly, but the point is the same. Two kinds of value can be
distinguished, Immanuel Kant said centuries ago: instrumental
value and intrinsic value. Some things have value as means to
the ends of others. Some things have value as ends in themselves.
A shovel, for example, is instrumentally valuable if you want to
dig dirt. But in itself, apart from its usefulness, it is not worth
much except as an example of human invention.
So what of the world? Does it have instrumental value? Absolutely, yes. It provides food, water, sanitation, warmth, shelter,
beautyall the necessary and sufficient conditions for human
life. Economists call these ecosystem services and run the
numbers about the replacement value of these services until
their computers overheat. But something with instrumental
value can also have intrinsic value. For example, my husband
has great instrumental value. He is a wonderful provider; he
fixes things that are broken, builds what needs to be built, and
provides any number of pleasures. But he also has intrinsic
value. His life is something of great worth in itself, apart from
its usefulness as a means to my ends, and if I should forget that
for any length of time, I will soon find out that his services are
in fact gifts that can be readily taken away.
This planet, with all its lively systems, has instrumental
value, beyond doubt. But it also has intrinsic value. Surely it is
goodin itself.
To be clear about that, try what has come to be called the
last man thought experiment. If you were the last person on
Earth, leaving the planet in the last spaceship, never to return,
would you, as you fastened your seat belt, press the hypothetical button that would destroy everything on the planet and
leave it ruined and smoking in the rearview mirror? If the
world has value only as it is useful to humankind, there would
be nothing wrong with this. Nobody will return to the planet;
it is suddenly useless. But if the world has intrinsic value, then
pressing that destructive button would be wrongthe wanton
destruction of something that is of value, even when human
uses have rocketed away.

From Great Tide Rising, 2016. Courtesy of Counterpoint


Press. Kathleen Dean Moore is the author of numerous
award-winning environmental books. As Distinguished
Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University, she
taught critical thinking and environmental ethics. She lives
in Corvallis.

27

Summer 2016 Edge

Sunday,
Laundry Day
Every quarter counts in subsidized senior housing.
JO SEPH I N E CO OPER
I L LUST R ATIONS BY EL E ONOR A A RO SIO

N S U N DAY, I DI D M Y L AU N DRY W IT H A ST E A DY F L OW OF F E L L OW T E N A N T S . I

live in affordable senior housing in inner Northeast Portland, where Ive been since the
economic downturn of 2008. Everyone here is at least sixty-two and living on limited financial
resources. The communal laundry room is quite competitive on a Sunday. Recently, one of the
dryers became spontaneously generous. Now it provides fifty minutes of drying time for twentyfive cents, while the other dryers still require two quarters. Saving twenty-five cents matters to
tenants who live on incomes that allow very little margin for error.
The laundry room is near the back door, where vehicles can wait in the yellow loading zone.
Several people sat nearby, waiting for a ride to church. Prudence sat a proper distance from two of
the waiting men in her consistently styled gray wig and Sunday dress. She is an extremely modest
woman who has never been married and never speaks out of turn or with unkindness. I have seen
her face engage in a visible struggle to hide her disapproval of behaviors around her. Her mouth
becomes a slash as it tries to control a frown but stop short of a smile. She left the workforce early

28

to care for aging parents. Her story is familiar.


Many of the women who live in my apartment
building spent their prime years caring for children or other family members. Thirty-seven of
the forty-two apartments are occupied by single
women whose only income is their Social Security pension. There are only five men living here.
I recently became curious about the gender
ratio of the tenants and learned that, according to the Social Security Administration, more
than 17 percent of unmarried, elderly women
live in povertyalmost twice the percentage of
men. In 2012, the average annual Social Security income for a man was $16,398, compared
with $12,520 for a woman. Social Security for
women who never married, or who divorced
prior to ten years of marriage, is even lower.
The system does not make adjustments for
time out of the workforce to care for family
members, although most people would agree
this is an important social contribution and
certainly qualifies as work. Thus, retirement
benefits for these women are extremely low,
often in the range of $500 to $850 per month.
Women like Prudence are penalized because
they did not marry and sacrificed career to
care for family. They enjoy their golden years
perched on the economic edge.

Oregon Humanities

Linda was pushing a cart down the hall. It was stacked with
miscellaneous household items. She was hauling her belongings
from her old apartment into a vacated unit on the sunny south
side of the building. She stopped for a while to answer my nosey
questions. Linda has a lot of arthritis pain in her feet and hips.
She shuffled her balance from side to side, exchanging the pain
in one foot for the pain in the other, like she was dancing on hot
coals. I helped her move a few cartloads because it was easier
than watching her struggle alone.
Linda grew up in Southern Oregon. A dentist pulled all her
teeth when she was fifteen. She doesnt seem to have a clear
understanding of why and has worn false teeth ever since.
She needs a new pair because her jaw has shrunk with age, but
she hasnt been able to figure out how to get Medicare to pay
for them. She married right out of high school and was soon
divorced with two children to raise on her own. She worked as
a nanny during the final ten years of her working life, raising
two children for a professional couple. They showed their appreciation to her by paying her well, which allowed her to retire on
about $1,100 per month in Social Security. Even so, at the end
of the month, she stands in line for several hours to get into the
food bank at the church up the street. It is the only way she can
make ends meet.
Most people have a backstory about how they came to live in
subsidized housing. It is a story that they may have told openly
and it becomes a story that gets told about them to newcomers.
Poverty is confining, like a prison. Sharing our stories is like saying, This is what I did. What are you in for?

29

My full-time working life began in 1964. I worked as a waitress for seventy-five cents an hour at a Greyhound bus depot in
Montana and, again, for a dollar an hour at Archies Waeside
in Iowa, a hangout for farmers who hadnt studied the art of
tipping. I was rescued from Archies when a friend told me
about a production-line job at the meatpacking plant thirtyfive miles away that paid three dollars an hour to start. The
jobs that required fine motor skills, like the vacuum-packaging machine where I started, were entry-level jobs. They
were also considered womens jobs and paid less. Other jobs
that required more strength, and sometimes more size, had
the highest pay. They were called heavy breaking jobs and
were considered mens jobs.
At the plant, I progressed through a few jobs with better pay
and then I bid on a heavy breaking job. I could see that not all the
men on the line were big, and I was strong and understood the
physics of my body. The management was surprised at my boldness but did not put up any resistance. I was able to do the job in
the qualifying time. As long as the chain was moving at the speed
they wanted for optimal production, they were satisfied. None of
the men on the line cared because I did my share of the work. I
made eight dollars an hour on that job in 1970.
Management kept their eye on a good production worker and
might eventually offer a position working for the company off
the line. A man working a heavy breaking job would be offered
a position as foreman (yellow hat), with firing authority over
the line workers. A woman would be offered quality control
(green hat), with authority over the product (and less pay than

Summer 2016 Edge

I planned to
find stable
employment with
a decent salary
and benefits for
the first time in
my life, but my
timing was off.

30

We imagined that
our dedication to
family would be
recognized down
the road and we
would receive
some fair share of
the social benefit.

a foreman). Management watched me do the


heavy breaking job for a year, and offered me
a quality control position. I told them I would
like to be promoted to foreman, just like anyone else working a heavy breaking job. They
said no, and I went back to work on the line
until we went out on strike.
I spent the first twenty-five years of young
adulthood at jobs like these, working while raising my own children. After that, I was called
in to pinch-hit in my youngest daughters and
granddaughters life when it unraveled, which,
until my daughter got sober, was frequently.
In all, I dedicated almost forty years to work
and caregiving centered on family. In the midst
of all this, I still managed to complete my college education, in December 2007, at sixty-one
years of age. I planned to find stable employment with a decent salary and benefits for the
first time in my life, but my timing was off. In
the face of the economic crisis, most jobs disappeared from view for several years. According

Oregon Humanities

to the National Council on Aging, older workers like


me had an especially difficult time finding a job. After
the recession, we were half as likely to have regained
employment as the nationwide average. I applied for
my Social Security retirement at age sixty-two. This
meant I would receive a reduced monthly stipend of
$826 per month. But what choice did I have? It was the
only way I would have any steady income.
My lifetime strategy of teeter-totter economics
paying some bills this month and setting others aside
until the nextwas on the verge of collapse. I was fortunate to get an apartment here after only two years
on the waiting list. Many waiting lists for affordable
senior housing are closed or can be at least three years
long. As a resident here, my rent will be no more than
30 percent of my income. I work part-time, which
improves my income and also helps me feel included
and useful in the real world.
The women in my building are mostly white
women from blue-collar roots similar to my own. We
were brought up to believe that hard work, dedication,
and loyalty to family were the pillars of American
society. If we thought about it at all, we imagined that
our dedication to family would be recognized down
the road and we would receive some fair share of the
social benefit. We did our duty as women and trusted
in fairness. My generation of women raised families
at a time when attitudes were changing about divorce,
sex outside of marriage, and women working outside
the family. The divorce rate climbed to 33 percent in
1970 and hovered around 50 percent between 1975 and 1985,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By 1982, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 20 percent of children in America lived with
a single mother. The courts regularly awarded primary custody
of children to women, but child support awards were uneven and
not well enforced.
In my case, I was afraid to petition for support because I
feared retaliation and wanted no contact with my ex-husband,
who almost killed me more than once. Law enforcement treated
domestic disputes as a private matter and often practiced minimal interference. When women like me could get the abuser out
of the house, we took whatever jobs we could to keep food on the
table. It left us with little time to notice that we received fiftyeight cents on every dollar that men made, as estimated by the
National Committee on Equal Pay, and still paid 100 percent
for rent and full price for food. The inability to earn a fair wage
adds up over a lifetime of work and makes setting aside savings
much more difficult. By one estimate, wages lost due to the pay
gap can equal $700,000 over a lifetime for a woman with a high
school education. Many jobs for women of my generation did not
come with a career path or a retirement plan other than Social

31

Security. We did not plan on failed marriages and did not know
that we had to stay married for at least ten years to benefit from
our husbands higher wages. As for child support, by the time
I felt safe enough to pursue it, I received little help from the
Department of Justice and nothing ever came of it.
Kay lives down the hall from Lindas new apartment. That
Sunday afternoon, I brought her a chicken breast and some flowers. She fell on the ice in February while trying to walk her dog,
Mr. Dickens. I discovered her lying facedown on the ice-covered
asphalt driveway. She must have felt very vulnerable because
the garbage truck was due at any moment. She begged me to help
her up and insisted she was fine. She did not want me to call 911. I
could barely stand on the ice myself and couldnt really imagine
trying to support another body. I am very cautious about these
things. A neon sign in my head flashed a persistent message,
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as I imagined
a lifetime of paralysis for her (or me). A man from the mental
health facility across the street stood watch over her while I
brought Mr. Dickens inside my apartment. I felt like a traitor
as I called 911. However, she was grateful later on when she was
diagnosed with a cracked pelvis.
Kay leaves her apartment door unlocked now. People come
and go with various offerings of assistance. Her cell phone is off
because she ran out of minutes for the month, due to repeated
robotic collection calls from her dental provider. She had a hip
replacement last year. The surgeons required a cavity-free
mouth to avoid infectious complications. So she had to have
many teeth pulled in order to qualify for surgery. After the
surgery, she needed teeth to eat with and signed up for a loan
to get some dentures. Medicare does not pay for luxuries like
false teeth. It doesnt even pay for maintaining natural teeth in
our aging mouths. Kay was a working single mother too, and her
income is similar to mine. She was working in a special program
for low-income seniors. It allowed her to earn $200 per month
without losing any of her benefits, such as the lower co-pays for
medical and pharmacy, or her food stamps. She worked about
twenty hours a week helping out with the kids at the Boys & Girls
Club, which penciled out to around $2.50 per hour. Im not sure
if she will be able to continue her job after the injury.
Back in the laundry room, my next-door neighbor Donna was
washing clothes for the second time that day. This is part of her
daily cleaning ritual. She is very nervous and extremely thin and
pale with large circles of rouge on her cheeks. She frequently
traipses out to the garbage with two or three individual items
pinched tightly between her thumb and index finger. When
we pass in the common areas, she explains herself incessantly
through clenched teeth, with her head tilted downward and a
clandestine body posture, as if she were confessing to a crime.
When I first encountered her, I assumed she was very timid.
However, I learned that she is capable of being surprisingly
aggressive and angry when she does not get her way. She has several especially noisy cleaning rituals on Sundays, which I hear

Summer 2016 Edge

through our shared wall. She leaves her bathroom fan on for long periods of time. It vibrates
along the ceiling into my bedroom. I complained
to her about the noise several months ago. She
explained impatiently that she needs to get the
moisture out of the air, as if anyone in touch
with the inherent infection that is life would
understand. Whatever I may think of her lifestyle, it is clear that regular cleaning routines
bring her a sense of satisfaction and purpose.
Yesterday in the laundry room, she pointed out
that shed discovered some pennies that had
fallen out of a pocket in her laundry and shared
gleefully that at least they would not have germs.
She seems to lead a relatively happy life.
Before I returned to my apartment for the
evening, I stopped to visit with a group of women
in the community room. They were talking about
money. One woman said shed worked a state job
for several years and accumulated a modest sum
in her retirement account. Her husband lost his
job and wanted to start his own business, so she
gave him the money shed been saving. The business failed, and they divorced after nine and a
half years. She wondered how much better her
life would have been if shed kept the money or
stayed married a little bit longer. Other women
blamed themselves for not planning better for
retirement. It was painful to hear them judge
themselves so harshly. These are hardworking
women, not inclined to make excuses. They have
always accepted more than their share of responsibility. I would like to see more appreciation for
the many service-oriented roles that women fill,
especially caregiving. It is easy to lose track of
this in a culture that is infatuated with beauty
and money. The ladies who live in my apartment
building may have never had much money, but
beauty ah, you should see the pictures. And that
is a story for another day.

Josephine Cooper lives in Portland. She has worked a wide


variety of jobs to support her familyamong them, butcher,
meat inspector, human resources manager, butler, and
housekeeper.She believes in the power of words and wants
to use them to explore aspects of American culture that
deserve closer examination.

32

Oregon Humanities

33

Summer 2016 Edge

Slow Ascent
A Chinese American woman searches for
belonging in the country of her grandparents.
BY J E S SICA Y EN
I L LUST R ATION BY S A R A WONG

S W E M A DE OU R WAY THROUGH THE R ESTAU R A N T,

a hush swept the tables. A woman pouring tea paused, eyes


tracking us, the metal teapot hovering over a circle of white,
handleless cups. Heads swiveled, chopsticks lay abandoned. A
couple of people stood up for a better view. I froze, and my language partner, Chai, had to gently push me toward the round
table at the far left of the room.
Chai and I were in Chengde to visit Guan, our other language
partner, in her hometown. Chai and Guan were the first- and
second-ranked students in their class, and so inseparable that
their classmates had nicknamed them husband and wife.
Guan had red glasses and a pair of slightly bucked front teeth,
whereas Chai was dark and tomboyish.
Guans mother smiled at me. Hows your Chinese?
Mamahuhu, I replied, the Chinese equivalent of so-so. Id
cultivated this response over the years: it was modest enough
to demonstrate humility, yet colloquial enough to show that I
knew what I was talking about.
Most people replied with a smile or widened eyes, accompanied by, Good enough to know mamahuhu! Guans mother

just nodded, as though taking my statement at face value. My


heart sank. This trip was not going to be like the rest of my forays
into China where, after two awkward transitional months, Id
learned to pass as a native, relishing the anonymity of being an
unremarkable face in a sea of 1.3 billion.
Of course, if Id been thinking like a Chinese instead of as
an American, I would have anticipated the welcome banquet
and my role as guest of honor, and would not have shown up in
a grubby T-shirt and limp capris. Id been in China for nearly a
year, and every time I thought I had the system down, something
new popped up to remind me of how ignorant I remained.
Are you used to our food?
Can you use chopsticks?
We better watch her to see what she likes to eat. Questions
and comments erupted in every direction.
I notice she speaks fluidly enough, said Guans uncle Shu,
but she has difficulty expressing herself.
My parents had enrolled me in a bilingual school when I was
three, and Id spent the past nineteen years studying Chinese.
The Chinese language had always been my window into the culture. As a third-generation Chinese American, Id spent most
of my life trying to get closer to my roots, culminating in this
year abroad immediately after college. Id chatted up cabbies
and street vendors, befriended strangers whenever I traveled
solo. I loved these adventures. Id grown up a foreign transplant,

and as I explored the native soil of my ancestors,


it continually surprised me how a nation could
simultaneously feel so familiar and yet so alien. As
I struggled to track the conversation beneath the
clatter of chopsticks and clanking plates, I realized
that group dynamics remained unfamiliar terrain.
Lets all speak English then! said Guan. The
table fell silent.
Uh, I said. This is a very good meal. I really
like the food.
After a pause Guan said, The soup is quite
good. I have long thinking it, when in Beijing.
How come when you speak English, Uncle
Shu asked Guan, switching back to Chinese, I
understand you, but I dont understand it when
she speaks English?
The table laughed.
And she has to pay close attention when I
speak Chinese he continued, but she has to pay
really close attention when you guys speak English! More laughter.
Heat crept into my cheeks. I hadnt realized I
was so transparent, and now I felt even more selfconscious. Words that once flowed smoothly grew
tangled in my mouth. Instead, I concentrated on
eating, and tried not to notice the glances that
tracked every dish I triedall of them, that much I
knew to doand where I reached for seconds.
Hey! Uncle Shu nudged Guan. Tell that
foreigner I want to toast her! He opened a fresh
bottle of Tsingtao beer and poured out glasses for
Chai, Guan, and me.
Im right here, you dont have to refer to me in

34

Oregon Humanities

I knew enough Chinese to pass as a native in


casual interactions, but this trip offered constant
reminders of the many intricate
layers that remained
unexcavated.
T H E N E X T MOR N ING, W E JOIN ED GUA N S CHIL DHOOD

third person, I thought, missing his consideration at cuing me to his invitation.


To the foreigner! He used both hands to
grasp the lip of his glass and raise it in my direction. I mimicked his pose, elbows out, almost
like a martial arts bow but with a glassful of
amber liquid instead of fist into palm.
The entire table raised their glasses. To the
foreigner!
Ganbei! he cried, then downed the beer in
one gulp.
The men have to ganbei, but its OK if the
women dont, Chai whispered in my ear. She
placed her glass back on the table. Guan took
a demure sip before likewise placing hers back
down. I nodded, grateful for the hint.
A round of drinking began. Uncle Shu
toasted Guan for her excellent grades, at which
point Guan turned around and toasted Chai
for being a wonderful friend and study partner.
Then Chai toasted Guans parents for hosting
us, who toasted the entire table for coming. The
adults toasted one anothers health, toasted
their friends cooking skills, toasted their
neighbor for winning a business deal. At one
point, Uncle Shu went around the table one by
one, tossing back glass after glass before slamming it down, roaring with laughter, his face
the color of beets.
Id never observed a group of Chinese getting drunk before. I realized that when Uncle
Shu toasted me, I should have raised my glass
first to him, and then to the whole table to
acknowledge hed toasted me on their behalf.
I should have then followed with a toast about
Americans and Chinese and cross-cultural
friendship. Raised on American soil, Id missed
all these cues, and I wondered how much I
could ever absorb, how close Id ever get to the
nation of my grandparents.

friends, her boyfriend, and his classmates from the Hebei Provincial Police Academy for a hike. A rented van carried us down
a two-lane highway, passing small brick homes with a smattering of chickens out front, before turning off onto a dirt path.
The driver eased the van over large rocks that jutted out of rich
brown clay, weeds swaying by the windows, until we could go
no farther.
Our guide had a leathery face and wore thick glasses. I could
have mistaken him for an uneducated peasant, except for the
large digital SLR that was slung around his neck. He located a
narrow footpath among the scraggly bushes and led us along the
slow ascent to the top of the mountain. He pointed out wildflowers with medicinal properties and an icy stream where the water
still ran clear enough for the locals to drink unfiltered.
The path flattened into a gentle meadow that was rimmed
with towering firs. A bird rustled in a nearby bush. Light banter
bubbled around me, hidden behind an indecipherable wall of
local accent, dialectical puns, verbal shorthand, and riffs on pop
culture or historical references I didnt know. I knew enough
Chinese to pass as native in casual interactions, but this trip
offered constant reminders of the many intricate layers that
remained unexcavated.
Our guide clutched his camera. Friends, lift up your cameras to capture a shot of those magnificent trees!
Im going to concentrate on lifting up my feet to get through
this vegetation, Chai muttered.
I laughed for the first time all day. Chai had parroted our
guides sentence but swapped out three key words, completely
altering the meaning. This kind of wordplay was classic Chinese
humor. It was also the first joke Id understood throughout the
entire trip, and it felt good to catch it.
The guide scurried along the path, then turned around and
waved us into a clump. We flashed peace signs as he clicked away.
That person sure likes to take photos, said Guans boyfriend through his frozen smile.
Your wife has a camera? A boy with short spiky hair and a
pale blue polo looked at Guan, the joke dancing across his features. Guan shot him a bemused smile. I squinted in confusion
and looked from face to face. Do you know what neiren means?
he asked, slowing his speech slightly to make sure I could keep
up. Hed punned on the phrase naren (that person) by swapping in neiren (literally inside person), which, centuries ago,
was used to refer to ones spouse.

35

You see it more in books, Guan added. People dont usually


use it in spoken Chinese.
I laughed, feeling a bit like an eight-year-old who laughs too
hard and too late at an adults joke. Still, delight bubbled up
in me. I love this aspect of the Chinese language, these subtle
intricacies that wind together, the wordplay, the references that
cross genres. Its why Id majored in Chinese literature in college; with every sliver of information I pieced together, I felt
like I was inching my way closer to my roots. Although this trip
reminded me that the wellspring of source material was vaster
than I might ever hope to tap, I thrilled to every new drop of
understanding.
Our guide continued his energetic pace up the mountain,
but we faltered, spreading out along the path in small clumps.
I found myself hiking alone, and paused to take in the rolling
valleys that unfurled beneath us. After months spent navigating cities populated by tens of millions of people, the solitude
felt nice. I remembered an early moment in the hike, when Blue
Polo offered to carry my backpack. First, Guans boyfriend had
hoisted her backpack onto his shoulders; then his friend held
out a hand for Chais messenger bag. Initially Id demurred,
but Guan and her boyfriend insisted to the point where it felt
impolite to refuse. As I walked unencumbered, it occurred to
me that perhaps this offer had been Blue Polos attempt to initiate contact.
The Chinese have a saying about overseas Chinese: zanmenshiyijiaren, or we are all one family; they think of us as
branches that have been grafted onto foreign trees. At our core,
were still family. My visit threw that assumption into question,
and we all struggled for ways to bridge the gap.
After the hike we drove to a restaurant where Guans parents
had reserved a private room for us. We piled around an enormous circular table already decorated with pots of tea and two
platters of cold cuts. We served each other long, translucent tendrils of jellyfish, thin slices of marinated beef. As waiters arrived
bearing plate after plate I felt embarrassed at the generosity
showered upon us, realizing yet again the great pains her parents had gone through for this visit. Yet I also understood that
they might never host an American again, that my arrival had
given them the opportunity for faceto be the ones to show off
a foreigner to so many friends, neighbors, and family.
One of the boys looked at me. Will you read from your passport? he asked.
I looked around, startled. Nine pairs of solemn eyes looked
back at me. On the ride to the restaurant, one of Guans friends
had asked to see my passport, which was quickly passed around
the entire van. Most Chinese, I realized, had no access to a passport, and I felt embarrassed at all the stamps in mine, a marker
of the privilege that sprang from the soil that had nourished me
and that Id taken for granted.

Summer 2016 Edge

Uh, sure. I retrieved it from the bottom


of my backpack. The Secretary of State of the
United States of America hereby requests all
whom it may concern to permit the citizen/
national of the United States named herein to
pass without delay or hindrance and in case of
need to give lawful aid and protection.?
I glanced up. Surely nobody wanted to hear
this administrative gobbledygook. A couple of
the boys leaned forward to listen, and Guans
eyes were closed in concentration. Blue Polo
got up and shut the door. The sound of ceramic
clanging against tabletops receded. Keep
going, he said. I flipped the page and read a
section.
Is America like The OC?
Like American Pie?
Did you all really learn to drive? To
school?
I nodded.
Wow. They leaned back in their chairs,
taking it in. Language was also their entryway
into culture, it seemed, a portal facilitated by
the bootleg movies and TV shows sold on most
street corners of every major Chinese city. Just
as Chais joke and Blue Polos cultural translations created the bridge that allowed me to
cross from West to East, my passport served
a similar function, opening the floodgates to
more questions about America.
Remembering Blue Polos explanation of
neiren, I slowed my speech ever so slightly to
be sure they could follow it. We talked about
college in America, about Thanksgiving and
its traditional foods, the attendant family tensions that usually accompanied the holiday.
I could see the confusion in their eyes; the
Spring Festival and Autumn Moon Festival
were Chinas holidays for family reunions, but
didnt carry the same family angst that similar
occasions did in America, the land of rugged
individualism and bootstrapping, where the
self was defined solely in individualistic terms
and not in relation to a larger group.
Slowly, the conversation drifted back to
casual banter, my comprehension fading in
and out. I looked over at Guan and Chai, and
we smiled.

Jessica Yen is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland.


Her personal essays have appeared in The Drum Literary
Magazine and Seamwork Magazine, and she was a finalist for
the 2016 Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Prize.

36

Oregon Humanities

37

Summer 2016 Edge

Making
Men

bounced around the house after school singing LMFAOs line, Im sexy and I know it.
I tried to be light as I cautioned, Children
are never sexy, which obligated me to talk
about sexiness. I explained it as an appeal so
strong it drew the desire for mushy kisses from
most all potential mates. My boys, cringing,
decided they could just as well be socks-y.

On raising sons to not rape


BY BOBBI E W I L L IS S OEBY

A WHILE BACK, A LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL GIRL


V ERY TIME I R E A D THE WOR DS R A PE CU LT U R E , I

feel the distinct weight of being a mother to two young


boys. I feel the responsibility of evolving beyond or around the
scourge of sexual violence that people (often men) perpetrate
upon others (mostly women). I think, This problem is my problem; it is my husbands problem; it is my sons problem, and I
feel heavy with its implications and complexities.
Im not sure its enough to say, Teach boys to be good people,
and they will know not to rape. We must be deliberate in rejecting the casual violence and rampant dehumanization that permeate our cultural norms.

JEN WICK STUDIO

IT SEEMS EXCEPTIONAL, THE HYPERSEXUALIZATION AND

hyperviolence of modern-day American culture. But it isnt.


Raping and pillaging is a waaaaay-back thing. Like, the thing
with which power has historically been taken, the thing upon
which empires have been built. We live in a time, right now, of
ethnic cleansing, a.k.a, literally raping the identity out of others, but it is not different or distinct from the violence that has
always been used to take over the land, the lives, the identities
of those overpowered.
I make a tacit promise to my sons that their empires will
be built on saying please and thank you, on focus and followthrough, on remaining calm, on the belief that there will usually be enough, and if there isnt, there will be a reasonable way
to work things out.
But, between you and me, Im not certain. You know,
because of the raping and the pillagingeverywhere and
throughout time.
We use sex to sell triple cheeseburgers and sports cars.
We stock checkout stands with magazines full of beautiful,
perfect, sexy bodies and faces, all staring empty-eyed at
our littles idling in their grocery-cart seats. Objectification
starts here.
And then we overlay objectification with sexualization so
casually, it just comes home via pop radio with your preschoolers: a few years ago, my then four- and five-year-old boys

wrote an editorial in the newspaper rightly


chastising her schools administration for a
student handbook that discriminates against
females: the dress code for female students
outlines strict guidelines on how long skirts
should be, what parts of the body should be
covered, what undergarments can or cannot be
exposed. Boys are advised simply to look neat
and tidy. This writer ends her essay by saying
we should teach all students that an exposed
leg is just a leg.
And, whether from prudishness or my own
lack of body confidence or my fear of being a
mother-of-sons, I flashed to, But what about
an ass cheek? Or full cleavage? Or midriff
bared from rib cage to hip bone? Why wear
clothes at all?
In the neighboring high school where I am a
teacher, we, too, debate the boundaries around
appropriate student dress codes. A fifty-something female colleague, steeped in the revolutionary feminism of the 60s and 70s, mutters
to me after a staff meeting, Let the girls wear
whatever the hell they want. Teach the boys
not to look.
I swallow hard, no courage to say, Im not
sure yet how to teach that.

T IS TH E MIDDL E OF AUGUST A N D W E

drive by a teen girl in Daisy Dukes. My thensix-year-old son asks, Mom, why do some people like to wear shorts so short they look like
underpants?
I realize this is the moment when we
will evolve.
I say first, Well, its hot. And that kind of
shorts is popular fashion.

38

Our young people


often find themselves
navigating these
stomach-lurching waters
alone, no voice with which
to call to their adults for
guidance or protection.

We dont talk about hootchies or trashiness


or womanly wiles. We dont talk about sexiness
or hotness or sluttiness. And we dont do this
because these are the social constructs and
judgments that justify predation.
We talk instead about how teenagers are
at the beginning of the reproductive phase of
life, that hormones may have them wanting to
attract a mate. How one dresses ones body can
do that. I tell my sons there can be pride and a
sense of being beautiful and powerful when you
dress in certain ways.
This should be part of how my sons understand women from the get-go: that often their
clothes have nothing to do with men.
My sons know from books that in cave days,
attracting a mate and reproducing would have
built up the tribe. But we talk about how todays
society has contrived a lot of requirements for
modern-day survivaleducation, employment, acquisitionand that society frowns on
reproduction before meeting those requirements has gotten under way. But, I explain,
our urgesboth to look for an ideal mate
and to be looked at as an ideal matesurface
nonetheless.
Society frowns on shorts as short as underpants, but society also sells shorts as short
as underpants. My sons and I talk about how

Oregon Humanities

complicated that is, for your biology to conflict so strongly with


the judgment of your double-talking culture.

H I L E MODE R N A M E R IC A N S E X UA L I T Y I S C ON -

founding, violence is a kind of cultural dope, manifested


in gruesome, bluish or sepia-tinged Saw and Hostel movies; in
dozens of basic cable TV programs (I admittedly am a fan of
several of these); in video games that are both otherworldly and
totally, terrifyingly of-this-world.
And this is just the surface, speaking nothing of the vast
virtual world, where anythingno matter how exploitative or
inhumaneanything that can be typed into a search engine can
be brought to liferight in the middle of your family room or
on the handheld device in your minivan. Images that may once
have been just the inner workings of societys outliers are now
accessed in a few clicks by the masses. Our society is full of people who have seen things that cant be unseen, and I cant help
but wonder if it dehumanizes us to some degree.
Additionally, as a friend, also a parent of two sons, pointed
out to me: around the age of four or five, we shift the role of
human touch in the lives of boys. There arises a distinct fear
that loving and hugging on our boy-children will somehow compromise their masculinity, that it will feminize them. It actually
speaks, in some part, to our cultures deep homophobia, that on
some level there are many people who believe that loving and
hugging on our boy-children will make them gay. So we withdraw that physical affection, we curb the softness with which we
approach boys. We resort to hair-tousling and chin-chucking;
we tolerate when they jostle and roughhouse with one another.
We aim to toughen them up, to make them into men.
To further complicate the impact of violence, we popularly
define personal power in frat-boy terms of letting loose and
going wild. We mistake these catchphrases for lack of inhibition or freedom or authenticity. But its really just when we
divest ourselves of personal responsibility and empathy. We
mask entitlement as enlightenment and ambition: I am ready
to have what I want, or I deserve to have what I want, or Real
go-getters take what they want. Our culture approves, as evidenced across all platforms of media, the use of violence in pursuit of satisfaction and fulfillment.
This is a critical juncture wherein violence and sex can converge into the realm of assault.

H ER E IS POW ER IN H ER EN T IN BOTH SE X A N D V IO -

lence. I think it is instinctive to desire and fear that power.


Perhaps in some mysterious proportion, desire and fear can
produce respect.
The desire to explore and understand these elements is natural. But I would agree with the arguments that there are no real
American rites of passage that guide our children safely through
either of these realms.
It is mostly a psychic collision wherein we are jarred out of

39

the innocence and wonder of childhood into the titillation and


taboo of adolescence and adulthood. I believe that the earlier
this collision occurs in ones life, the more desensitized one is
to empathy and compassion. My theory is that if we can keep
innocence somewhat intact through the tween years and allow
it to fade or be peeled away, rather than shattered or ripped away,
we can cultivate compassion and enlightenment.
In American culture, kids learn about sex and violence
mostly from one another: the blind leading the blind; the predators and coquettes sexting and catfishing; the bullies haranguing the weak in hallways and in cyberspace. Our young people
often find themselves navigating these stomach-lurching waters
alone, no voice with which to call to their adults for guidance or
protection.
And how this being unmoored educates: I think of the TED
Talk Make Love Not Porn, where speaker Cindy Gallop talks
about teaching a young lover that no, she did not want him to
ejaculate on her face, as he had thought was normal from all of
the online porn hed seen.

H E N I R E M E M BE R T H AT GI R L I N H E R S HORT S

that hot day, or think of my high school students whose


spring and summer fashion choices are carefree and bare, I wonder about the judgment that takes shape in my own mind: how
I want to pull these girls aside in cautious whispered conversations; how their outfits trigger in me an urge to Cover. Them. Up.
Why dont I feel this way about my pierced and mohawked
kids? Or my disheveled and schlumpy kids? I guess piercings and
spiked hair say, Back off. Sweatpants and shapeless t-shirts
are camouflage, invisibility. But intentional bareness, a peek at
the parts of us that society deems private, says, Come look. It
reads like an invitation, which troubles me when it is not.
But that my judginess comes from a place of concern does not
minimize the judginess of it. And if theres anything I know after
all these years of being me, when I am judgmental about others,
it usually speaks directly to an insecurity I have about myself.
Truth: I have rarely felt confident enough for bare exhibition; I
have often thought of men on some level as intimidating, dangerous, even lecherous. Even as I recognize the unfairness of
that prejudice, I also believe that prejudice has protected me on
numerous occasions.
So can I teach the crux of what I want my boys to learnhow
to distinguish between exhibition and invitation? How not to
be dangerous, lecherous, threatening? At some point, they will
feel the draw of that exhibition, their hearts will race and their
blood will heat, and they will feel drawn. That heat is part
of what makes us human.
But can exhibitionwhen it is just the outward appearance
of someonebe neutralized? The weather is hot, and those
shorts are just shorts, or A low-cut neckline is what many find
more flattering and empowering, or, in the words of that young
womans editorial, A bare leg is just a bare leg.

Summer 2016 Edge

Maybe the more we humanize the objectification and neutralize the judgment around
sexuality, the further we untangle it from force
and violence and assault.

H AT DAY W H E N M Y SONS A N D I SE E

the young woman in her shorts, and we


talk about the desire to find a mate and to
reproduce, they are curious. They have known
for a long time that it takes a man and a woman
to make a baby. They know that penises and
vaginas play a part. But now they are curious
about the mechanics.
I am driving, but I think a second and say
simply, Well, you know mens private parts
and womens private parts? They fit together.
In the rearview mirror, I see the boys look
at one another with eyes as big as saucers, their
mouths shaped into astounded Os.
A week later, my younger son sits, shakes his
head side to side, and out of nowhere, sighs, I
just cant believe the parts fit together.
It occurs to me then how sensitive and
impressionable their imaginations are, even
without diagrams or charts or blue language
or scenes from PG- or R-rated movies; how just
considering that the parts somehow fit together
is astounding enough for now.
So, on raising sons not to rape: I hope measured matter-of-factness lights my way in
these early years, as I set out to essentially dismantle the stereotypical paradigms of American sexuality for my two children. I hope that
early and consistent neutrality in language
and tone and pacing can combat how we have
normalized violence as a part of our culture. I
hope that I can oversee, for the time being, just
an IV drip of knowledge, slowly, deliberately
circulated into the psyches of my sons so that
they can eventually express the range of their
masculinity without being assholes; that what
dictates the range and motion of that masculinity is their humanity.

Bobbie Willis Soeby is a writer and high school teacher


raising two sons with her husband in Eugene. More of her
writing is available on Facebook and Instagram.

40

Oregon Humanities

41

My Ecotone

Posts

R E A DER S W R ITE A BOU T ED GE

The Snapshot

S T I L L H AV E A S N A P S HO T I T O OK OF

my parents one late-summer afternoon


when I was probably twelve or thirteen. We are
at the coast, on some lookout high above the
water. My mother leans against a fence, her face
turned toward me; I have just called out to her.
My father looks away through his own camera.
My point-and-shoot, cheap film, and teenage
bumbling rendered the scene in a gauzy afternoon haze, which is just how I remember late
summer at the coast.
My mother does not lean forward over the
fence. Her forearms rest on the rail, but her
weight is back over her hips, a well-practiced
act of bracing herself. When she stood too close
to a ledge, especially something quite high, she
felt an overwhelming urge to jump, a wild stirring to fling herself into space.
I must have learned this around the same
time the picture was taken. I doubt very much
that I would have been able to understand at a
younger age that this impulse had nothing to
do with dying. I have since met others who get
the same feeling and I have experienced some
of it myself. It is nothing like wanting to die. If
anything, it is much more like wanting to live.
Several summers later, when I was eighteen,
my mother was diagnosed with cancer in her

When my mother stood too close to a


ledge, especially something quite high,
she felt an overwhelming urge to jump, a
wild stirring to fling herself into space.

lungs, liver, and brain. The tumors had been


growing for at least a decadeeven as I took
that photograph. We were still trying to understand how, when, two months later, she slipped
into a brief, restless catatonia and died.
This September will mark eighteen years
since. On that anniversary, I will have lived longer without my mother than with her. I used to
wonder how that day would feel. The remoteness of such a thing was then unimaginable,
and is equally so now. But as it draws near, I
think I feel some of that same wild stirring
like wanting to jump, and like wanting to live.
THOM A S B A H DE , Corvallis

A Story People Tell

WA S SU PPOSED TO BE TH E ON E W ITH

the words. The folklorist. The writer. The


storyteller.
But after all those days and all those explanations, as we sat at her memorial service, I
had to keep my mouth closed. Had to hold it
in. No words.
She was only four.
And sitting there beside my own five-yearold, I knew Id run out of things to say.
We cant explain it
Shell become something else
We dont understand
Shell go somewhere else
So many starts. So many ways to begin at
the end of things. After so many words, I had
nothing left.
So, when he asked, What is heaven? his
Daddy answered: Heaven is a story people tell.
And that story helped him look over the
edge. But instead of looking down deep, he
looked up.
K ATE R ISTAU, Tigard

G R AV I T A T E T O E D G E S W H E R E

trees meet grass. I wrote those words


at my first writing workshop. I went to that
workshop because I wanted to step out of academic and technical writing into a more personal space. I wanted to put more of myself in
my writing.
When the instructor asked us to write
about our special place in the landscape, the
roomful of writers paused. Then pens moved
across pages. Ideas flowed. Time ticked on.
There was no report to write, no preconceived idea of the outcome.
I wrote about the delights of hiking out of
a cool, shady forest into a bright, flower-filled
meadow. I recalled camping in the open ponderosa pine country that separates mountain
forests from high-desert grass and sagebrush.
I noted the abundance of wildflowers and wildlife in these transitional spaces that biologists
call ecotones. I wondered if my preference had
been shaped by the evolution of humans on the
savannas of Africa, where trees provided protection and grasslands, food.
It was a revelation to me that such potent
ideas could appear without planning or forethought. In the world of writing that I knew,
I gathered facts, data, and theories. I thought
about how to organize the material, wrote an
outline, and knew the main points to make.
Writing was the act of clearly expressing ideas
already thought out.
But in that workshop, writing became a process of discovering what I had to say. It became
a place of learning more about myself. I had
entered my own ecotone, a place straddling
the organized way I had learned to write and a
future that seemed more open and promising.
J U DY DAV IS , The Dalles

A Maddening Lack of Respect

N THE 1970S, IN NORTHE A STER N

Oregon, I was teetering on many edgesa


failing farm, a shattered marriage, despair.
Earning money while taking care of my young
children was challenging. So I started a business with one hundred dollars. I had taught
craft classes in my home. A small, affordable
shop was available in La Grande where I could
give classes, while the sale of necessary supplies
would grow my business.
As soon as the towns bankers learned I had

Summer 2016 Edge

I recalled camping in the open


ponderosa pine country that separates
mountain forests from high-desert
grass and sagebrush.

leased retail space, they sent me invitations


to visit. Heartened, I applied for a small loan.
A manager at the first bank invited me into
his office, explained he needed my husbands
approval, wished me luck, and ushered me out.
In the second bank, a male executive met me at
the counter, asked about my husband, ignored
me when I said it would be my business, told me
an established retailer was considering adding hobby supplies, and dismissed me. While
I understood the rejection, the lack of respect
was maddening.
I drove 250 miles to Portland for wholesale
craft supplies, a one hundred-dollar bill tucked
safely in my purse. Disappointed at how little
my precious money purchased, I still followed
my plan. Eventually, shelves were loaded and
the break-even point was surpassed.
One day, in strolled a young suit-clad man
accompanied by my adversary from the second
bank. With no sign of recognition, the older
man delivered his sales pitch, an obvious lesson for his trainee. I should have a credit card
machine from their bank, he explained.
If I were to get one, it wouldnt be from your
bank, I said.
Why not?
Because when I came to borrow money,
you didnt even invite me to sit down.
The men left. Later that afternoon, Mr.
Banker returned. We had a training today,
he said, and I shared my experience with you.
We received an in-depth lesson on how to treat
women in business. I do apologize.
I had been too isolated, too busy, and too
unaware to even approach feminism. News
blurbs on bra-burning and off-putting comments by men regarding who opens a door first
had smoke-screened legitimate issues. That
day, I understood. The issue was about respect,
money, and position. I had made my first strike
for equality.
R ITA GL EN N HOF F M A N, Lopez Island

P OSTS

42

Oregon Humanities

continued from previous page

A New, More Vital Life

R E G ON WA S M Y C OM F ORT Z ON E . I

knew the trails, the plants, and how


to survive its terrain from an early age. It
was Mexico where I first encountered the
unknown. I faced jaguars, bats, masks, curanderos, and conversations I could not understand. It required alertness.
Years later, I have landed in a permaculture
pocket of international people in Mexico where
conversations revolve around cisterns, solar
panels, swales, manure, seeds, and rainfall, as
living here is offgrid.
Life is richest on the edge is a basic permaculture principle. Where two living organisms
meet, a new, more vital life occurs. Where two
ecosystems or watersheds meet, life becomes
richer. New life forms evolve at this place
of converging. This core principle is behind
many of the permaculture tasks as one tends
the land.
Runoff creates a watershed environment,
and the result is the rich purple blossoms of
jacarandas; a swale holds water long enough to
nourish a palo dulce tree. Life is richer where
the Columbia and Willamette meet; where the
valley floor meets the Cascades; where the Cascades meet the high desert. Life is richer at the
edge of the Little Deschutes, and richer again

Where two living organisms meet,


a new, more vital life occurs. Where
two ecosystems or watersheds meet,
life becomes richer.

43

where the Little Deschutes feeds into the Big


Deschutes.
Far from the known comfort of Oregon, I
must now interface with the properness of a
British neighbor, the dry humor of a Canadian,
the nuts-and-bolts approach of a New Englander, the triple-kiss greeting from my neighbor from southern France, and the incessant
joy in everything my Mexican neighbors bring
to each day.
I see life in Oregon with new vision, and the
country I have known all my life through the
eyes of those who have come from different
trails and rivers. This edge, with its alertness,
brings new life to me, and my world is richer
by far for interfacing new trails, new plant life,
new languages and cultures through a reawakened vision.
FIONA M ACN EI L L , Bend

Under Attack

H E FE A R COM E S FROM NO SPECIFIC

place and for no specific reason. I may


even be sleeping when my mind senses the
chemical change occurring in my bodya
change auguring a day of living on the edge of
extinction with a wave of merciless terror that
shouts over and over again, Youre about to die
soon. Youre about to die soon.
But there is no soon, no time, no past or
future, only a miserable present I live in from
moment to miserable moment, longing for
some kind of release. I just wait and survive
so I can wait and survive once more, and once
more, and ten times more. Let the fear pass
through me, let me live through it, let me survive it just one more time, one more hour, one
minute and, there, nowyes, nowmaybe this
will be the last one.
It isnt. It is still morning, and the fear will
continue all day, maybe into the night. Wave
after wave of terror, heart palpitations, dissociation, fear, convinced I am dying. Im on the
edge of passing out of existence.
By nightfall I am shattered, waiting for the
clear, the all clear, the last wave. This one?
Now, pleaseyes, maybeyesyesyes.
My body tells me this is the last one, the last
wave of terror. Its over. I breathe normally.
But I know it will happen again, as it has
happened ever since I was nine years old
and the walls of my bedroom would begin to
close on me, then recede. The glass of milk at

breakfast seemed to be getting bigger, as if it


were moving toward me. Everything else vanished from my vision. Nothing helped. I prayed.
It did not help. Even God didnt help.
I grew up wondering what was wrong with
me or what I was doing wrong or eating wrong or
praying wrong. I wondered for forty-five years,
until a family doctor finally said, It sounds like
a panic attack to me. It wont kill you.
As I walked out of the doctors office into
a soft rain, I wondered what the benefit is of
being told it wont kill me when I am certain
that the next one will.
M ICH A EL CO OL EN, Corvallis

Stand and Fall

T WA S N T T H AT L AT E , E V E N I F T H E

stars were to tell her anything of time,


which they hadnt, shot out into the black as
they were.
The wide moon cast its light about the pier,
the sea lions asleep on the scaffolds beneath.
She thought it was a good idea, like all the
other good ideas shed ever had, those strokes
of risk in the company of those who were only
there to impress: the night behind the wheel
of her jeep with too many empty bottles in the
back, reckless and toxic on remote roads that
dropped off in cliffs; or the tabs of acid blotted
on paper when she was too young, with little
understanding of her choice, but knowing that
she could wind her way through the county
park watching children in paddle boats laugh
across the duck pond; or later, a swim into the
belly of the sea, floating a bit on her back, tossing kelp through her fingers while the tide carried her awaya romantic vision of the ocean
that pulled her too far with only the glow and
shine of the village drawing her back to shore.
She could have floated off, never to return.
She scaled the railing of the historic pier, a
stretch of lumber no wider than her foot, and
walked, one foot, then the other, forward into
the night, balancing on the palisade forty feet
above the sea, thinking of nothing but the way
the salt settled onto her cheeks and skin.
Maybe you shouldnt do that, she heard.
Come on down from there. She thought nothing of it, until she did. She peered at her friends
under the moon and there, she reckoned with
death, or it reckoned with her, then looked to
the mighty ocean holding the world in place,
her body still now, fixed and immobile, until

Summer 2016 Edge

she willed herself to jump and grip the splintered wood beneath her fingers, touch the piers
earth, the collective hush of her friends slicing
the night. Shed made her choice.
Perhaps it wasnt choice at all. Providence,
maybe, though she cant think of that now,
because the ocean waits for her stillthe sea
beside her, like a warning.
M EL IS SA M ATTH EWS ON, Applegate

Driftwood Beach

N THE SHORT TR A IL TO THE BE ACH

I see a flattened chocolate milk carton


and remind myself to pick it up on the way back.
Weve come to watch the sun set. We search for
a large log to sit on and find a perfect one with
another log behind it for a backrest. I call this
place Driftwood Beach. Ive never seen another
beach like it, covered in scattered stacks of
wave-washed driftwood. Wood of all shapes
and sizes, piled high to create hills.
My husband pulls from his pocket a pamphlet he had read earlier in the day. He wants
to discuss it, but I strain to hear him as he reads
aloud. Eventually we just sit, looking out over
the froth. The sun slowly slides down. We can
barely distinguish the globe-shaped blur in the
hazy clouds. It is not a spectacular sunset, not
even colorful.
Remembering the empty milk carton, I
point to the driftwood and remark, This
beauty is Gods trash. I consider all the rubble that will one day cover this beachand far
inlandwhen the earthquake and tsunami
arrive. The human tragedy. Under this turquoise ocean lies a ferocious tectonic boundary. The edge of Oregon will unzip a cataclysm
of fractured earth and rising sea. Who can be
prepared? Camping gear, water, food, a stove,
a radio, clothing, toilet paper, and a first aid kit
wait in our car.
Back at the campground we bicker while setting up the tent. I arrange our sleeping bags. He
builds a fire. We silently watch the flames. The
driftwood burns without a sizzle or pop. Soon
we clamber into the tent, undress, and snuggle
into our separate sleeping bags. My husband
rests his hand on my hip. We fall asleep at the
edge of oblivion.
M A RG A R ET PA RTN ER , Coos Bay

Next theme: Might


For the Fall/Winter 2016
issue, tell us your stories about
potential and possibility, what
could be, what should be, what
wehope for and aspire to. Share
a story about the use of power,
force, or brawn to make something happen or to keepsomething from happening. Explore
the heroism and hubris of the
mighty. Send your submission (400 words maximum)
bySeptember 26, 2016, to
posts@oregonhumanities.org.
Submissions may be edited for
space or clarity.

44

Oregon Humanities

45

Summer 2016 Edge

The idea that


your identity is
something that
stays the same
throughout your
life is foolish to
me. Its fluid. Its
something that
changes.

Read. Talk. Think.


When you imagine your future
older self, who do you see?
What are you doing?
How do you feel?
If you were to invite your future
older self over for a glass of wine
or a cup of tea, what would the two
of you talk about?
The failure of contemporary
activism is good news. The
ingredients for global revolution are
now here. Democracy functions
because its citizenry believes that
protest, if performed properly and
when no other redress is available,
is effective. The possibility of
revolution keeps politicians
beholden to the people. Without
our faith in the assumption
that elected representatives
can be ousted by collective
uprising, and without our elected
representatives fear that protests
can end their political career,
democracy would be tyranny.
Micah White, Nehalem activist, writer,
and cocreator of Occupy Wall Street,
The End of Protest: A New Playbook for
Revolution (Knopf Canada, 2016)

Jenny Sasser, an educational gerontologist


and Oregon Humanities Conversation Project
leader, uses questions like these to get people
talking about connecting with others of different
ages and life stages.

So many signals, she said.


All at once. Some say static is
the lack of motion, but that is
incorrect. Static means there is
so much movement in so many
directions that the vibration is
inward, not outward.
Peter Rock, Portland novelist and
Reed College professor, Klickitat
(Amulet, 2016)

MAT THEW GRIMES

t h ing s t h at m a k e you s ay o. h m.

The pop cultural framing of


empowerment is basically
the one defined by the
fluffmongering OK magazine
articlethe ability to do what
you want to doa meaning that
isnt about change or action or
demands or even community.
The term is apolitical, vague,
and so non-confrontational that
its pretty much impossible to

Laila Lalami at Think & Drink


at the Volcanic Theatre Pub in
Bend, February 17, 2016, with
artist, educator, and Oregon
Humanities Conversation Project
leader Jason Graham

argue against it. In only a


few decades, empowerment
has gone from a radical socialchange strategy to a buzzword
of globalization to just another
ingredient in a consumer word
salad.
Andi Zeisler, Portland author and
cofounder of Bitch magazine, We
Were Feminists Once (Public Affairs,
2016)

Now its your turn.


Share your thoughts about the quotes on these pagesand the rest of this issue on Twitter (@orhumanities),
Facebook (Oregon.humanities) or Instagram (@oregonhumanities) with the tag #readtalkthink.

CROPPING S

46

Oregon Humanities

Oregon Humanities connects


Oregonians to ideas that change lives
and transform communities. Oregon
Humanities programs encourage
Oregonians to learn about and discuss
social, cultural, and public issues.
The Conversation Project offers Oregon nonprofits
and community organizations low-cost programs that
engage community members in thoughtful, challenging
conversations about ideas critical to our daily lives and
our states future.
Think & Drink is a conversation series that brings
Oregonians together to discuss provocative ideas.
Humanity in Perspective (HIP) is a college-level
humanities course. HIP provides economically and
educationally disadvantaged individuals the opportunity
to study the humanities with the guidance of college
and university professors.
Oregon Humanities magazine is a triannual publication
devoted to exploring important and timely ideas from a
variety of perspectives and to stimulating reflection and
public conversation.
Public Program Grants provide financial support for
nonprofit organizations and federally recognized tribes
across Oregon to conceive and implement public
humanities programs.
Russell Childers, Aunt Day, 1974

Russell Childers: Oregon Outsider


July 30 to October 23, 2016
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
700 State Street
Salem, Oregon 97301
(503) 370-6855
willamette.edu/go/hfma

N 1926, A COU RT OR DER ED TH AT TEN-Y E A R- OLD RUSSELL CHILDER S

be removed from his familys care against his wishes and placed in the Oregon
State Institution for the Feeble-Minded. He lived there for the next thirty-eight
years. The reasons for Childers placement in the state-run facility, which would
later be renamed the Fairview Training Center, are unknown. He had a hearing
impairment and did not speak until he was released from the center in 1965.
Childers took up woodcarving in the early 1940s, producing small sculptures
of animals and eventually exploring autobiographical themesa child holding
hands with his mother, a child on a bench with his mother and sibling. After his
release, Childers works were featured in a traveling exhibition organized by the
University of Oregon Museum of Art shown in Portland galleries. By the time
of his death, in 1998, he was considered one of Oregons most important selftaught artists. This exhibition features twenty-five Childers carvings, including
animals, busts, and depictions of memories of the artists childhood and time at
Fairview Training Center.

Staff
e x e cu t i v e di r e ct or
Adam Davis
pa rt n er sh i p a n d t r a i n i ng m a nager
Rachel Bernstein
proj e ct a n d e v en t co or di nat or
Tiara Darnell
com m u n icat ions a n d pro gr a m a s s o ci at e
Eloise Holland
a s s o ci at e di r e ct or /edi t or
Kathleen Holt
pro gr a m of f icer
Annie Kaffen
of f ice m a nager
Mikaela Schey
di r e ct or of f i na nce a n d oper at ions
Carole Shellhart
de v el opm en t a s s o ci at e
Maggie Starr
com m u n icat ions a s s o ci at e
Ben Waterhouse
pro gr a m co or di nat or
Kyle Weismann-Yee
com m u n icat ions a s sista n t
Julia Withers

Responsive Program Grants support programs created


by Oregon nonprofits and federally recognized tribes in
response to timely issues and events.
Facilitation Training equips community members and
workplace teams with skills in planning and leading
discussions.
Oregon Humanities also convenes reading and discussion groups, hosts panel presentations on topics of
public relevance and concern, and collaborates with
nonprofit organizations and community groups on
projects that explore challenging questions and invite
diverse perspectives.

Oregon Humanities programs are


funded by the National Endowment
for the Humanities and the Oregon
Cultural Trust, and by contributions from
individuals, foundations, community
organizations, and corporations. For
more information about Oregon
Humanities, or to learn how you can help
more Oregonians get together, share
ideas, listen, think, and grow, please
contact us at:
921 SW Washington Street, Suite 150
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 241-0543 or (800) 735-0543, fax
(503) 241-0024
o.hm@oregonhumanities.org
oregonhumanities.org

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Oregon Humanities
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Board of Directors
ch a i r
Sona Karentz Andrews, Portland
v ice ch a i r
Janet Webster, Newport
t r e a su r er
Jeff Cronn, Portland
se cr eta ry
Matthew Boulay, Salem
Robert Arellano, Talent
Paul Duden, Portland
Paige Hill, Portland
Kimberly Howard, Portland
Nels Johnson, Portland
Emily Karr, Portland
Shannon Mara, Bend
Win McCormack, Portland
Alberto Moreno, Portland
Pamela Morgan, Lake Oswego
Denise Reed, Astoria
Chantal Strobel, Bend
Dave Weich, Portland