Tuesday, July 7, 2009

R2W 2009- Day 13 Jam Night

The Jam was the closing celebration for R2W. The participants organized the jam themselves. Jimmy Tsai and Martha Moung were the hosts. Local communities came to witness who the participants were and what they learned. Friends and families joined the jam and one of the participants families, Ronia Auelua, drove up from San Bernadino to support her. There was a lot of love in the room and the participants did an excellent job of representing and speaking their truths. Nina Autajay did a spoken word about gentrification in her hometown, Los Angeles. Fela Yepassis-Zembrou also did a spoken word about the crawls, Chinatown and Salinas, while his fellow comrades acted them out in a skit. Ravi Kong, a Resource Assistant for R2W this summer, led a cultural Cambodian dance. Music done by Ose Hosea, Victor McKaime, and Jimmy Tsai generated positive vibes throughout the room as they sang a song they composed called Stand Up. It was moving and uplifting to have these young leaders teach what they know. Friends, Family, and Alumni of R2W gave big props to the participants as the jam came to an end.

Nina Autajay doing a spoken word about gentrification in Downtown Los Angeles.
Giselle Ramirez giving her testimony.

The art group: Ale, Won, Hugo, Josh, Kim, and Lauren talking about the mural they painted.

R2W Alumni 06 Penitani Moa showing love to the participants.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

R2W 2009, Day 11 - Getting in Touch with Food and Farm Workers on a Community Crawl in Salinas, CA

by Lauren Q.

Today, was about getting in touch with our food -- the industry, the workers that bring our food to us, and people who are working to improve the quality of the food we eat.

Last night, we learned the truth about where our food comes from by watching the documentary Food, Inc. The film exposed how a few large companies, like Monsanto, control all of our food -- where it comes from, what's in it, and how much it costs. This has had a major impact on farmers. Once farmers sign a contract with a big company, the company dictates how they grow it and what chemicals they spray on or put in it. As a result, most of the food we eat -- meat, vegetables, fruits -- are filled with chemicals that are harmful to our health.

At 6:30am this morning, we packed into the vans and drove down to Salinas for a Community Crawl at the Agricultural and Land-Based Training Association's (ALBA) organic farm in Salinas, CA. There, we learned how ALBA is training new farmers to grow organic and pesticide-free, using garlic to get rid of pests and a chicken tractor to fertilize the land. We also spent an hour getting our hands dirty helping one of ALBA's farmers weed the strawberry field and prune the plants so that the good strawberries can thrive.

For some R2W 2009 Participants, it was their first time working on a farm, others were had worked in the fields before. R2W 2009 Participants related to today's Community Crawl in different ways:

Alejandra, a Chicana from Los Angeles, thought about her mom working in a factory in L.A. and about the extra hardship that women who work in the fields experience.

Aaron, a working class Cambodian from Stockton, CA, remembered working in the fields when he was younger and put some economic context to the experience.

Joelle, a middle class Filipina from Minnesota, had never worked in the fields before, but realized that her dad used to work in the rice fields.

Kim, a middle class Chinese American from Alameda, CA, gained an appreciation for the hard work that it takes to bring our food to the grocery store.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

R2W 2009, Day 9-Pride Parade in San Francisco

Before we went to the Pride Parade in San Francisco we had two R2W alumni tell their social biographies of what it means to be queer. One who works with R2W and NRJ (Network on Religion and Justice for API LGBTs) talked about how her church neglected her because she was queer and what a struggle that was for her because she wasn’t accepted. Her faith and church are separate from each other because her definition of faith is having a relationship with God or a higher being and finding ways to practice spirituality such as painting murals or body movement through dance. Her family is very supportive of her and the work she does to fight for the LGBT community.

Another told her story of how she was interested in girls when she was young. Her mom became suspicious of her as she grew and began to question her about her sexual orientation, whether she liked girls or boys. Coming from a strong Presbyterian background she felt she had to front to her mom about being queer because she knew her mom would struggle with that. Her mom would recite scriptures from the bible, explaining that it is a sin to be with a person of the same sex. Michelle is still struggling about coming out but knows that she will get through this.

As we made our way to Pride, participants were anxious and excited to see the parade because it was the first time for many of them.

R2W 2009 Participant Procter, a Tongan from Reno, Nevada, witnessing the parade for the first time.
R2W 2009 Participant Mele standing in solidarity for LGBTQ rights.

"There is no judgement here today and everyone is able to express themselves freely,"-Nina.
R2W Participants having a good time dancing through the streets of San Francisco.

Friday, June 26, 2009

R2W 2009, Day 7 - The Buddhist Cambodian Oak Park Perspective on East Oakland

by Lauren Q.

Today, we went on a Neighborhood Crawl in the East Oakland Cambodian community.

Before we left, we watched a short documentary created by a Cambodian youth who grew up in East Oakland. Mainstream media coverage of East Oakland has created the image of dangerous streets with gangs hanging out in the streets, gambling, and daily shootings. The filmmaker explained that there isn't anything for youth to do in East Oakland -- there is no library and no amusement park, but there are lots of liquor stores. Sometimes, there are three liquor stores on one corner. "Why do we need three liquor stores on one corner? They're all selling the same stuff. Why not put a library or something there?!"

As for the Cambodians in baggy pants and caps who talk street, he explained, "You adapt to your environment - that's what happens. People ask, 'Why do Cambodians act Black?' We grew up around Black people."

Youth shoot dice (gamble) in the alley and the police harrass and sometimes arrest them because gambling is against the law. The father of one of the youth explained, "Shooting dice in the alley,they're not hurting anybody. They're just trying to make a little money because it's hard to find a job around here. If they're shooting dice in the alley, that means they're not robbing houses or stealing cars to make money -- they're safer."

R2W Alumnus and Resource Assistant, Ravy Kong, a working class Cambodian woman who grew up in and still lives and works with youth in the Oak Park apartments in East Oakland, also gave us some perspective on the neighborhood. Many families living in Oak Park are Cambodian refugees who had to leave their country during the Vietnam War. Post-traumatic stress disorder and poverty still plague the community. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and deportation are a threat for many.

Prepared with the knowledge of East Oakland's context, we piled in the vans and drove 20 minutes south of Berkeley. Throughout R2W, we have been intentional about honoring our diverse faith traditions, including Indigenous traditions and Buddhism, so our first stop was a Cambodian Buddhist temple. As we sat on the floor on a patchwork of rugs, a monk in a bright orange robe gave us a blessing with chanting, water, and red bracelets.

We then had the opportunity to ask the monk questions about the tenets and symbolism of Buddhism, how he became a monk, and what it's like to be a monk in East Oakland. Through translators (Cambodian R2W Resource Assistants), he shared that, to him, Buddhism is not a religion, but a choice about how to live your life -- a choice to live peacefully. He explained that to create peace in the world, we must start within ourselves -- wars like the War in Iraq are merely wars within individuals magnified to a massive scale. He also explained why we pay respects to our ancestors as opposed to God, "God is busy doing other things in the world, so ancestors walk with you. Our ancestors are a more concrete entity taking care of us and watching over us, so we pay respects to our ancestors."

Ravy then took us to Oak Park. She told stories of a family of 10 Cambodian refugees who lived in a one-bedroom apartment, moldy showers, and a landlord who raised the rent and disregarded tenants requests for repairs and remodeling because he reasoned that they were refugees and undocumented immigrants who were too scared of the legal system to take legal action. But the story didn't stop there. Ravy also shared the fight for safer and better living conditions that led to a lawsuit and the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation buying the property, remodeling it with 1-4 bedroom units for families, making the rent affordable for working class families, and the creating a central courtyard, community garden, basketball court, and community room. After the tour, we broke bread with the community. We played basketball with some Oak Park youth on the court surrounded by another R2W alum from Oak Park, graffiti muralist Pat Kong.

We also enjoyed some Cambodian curry, vermicelli, French bread, watermelon, and coconut rice and red bean dessert graciously prepared by Ravy's yay (Cambodian elders/grandmothers) under huge origami cranes in the community room.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

R2W 2009, Day 6 - Oceana: A Reframing of Pacific Islander Issues

by Lauren Q.

We followed-up on the Neighborhood Crawl in Sunnydale with a Polynesian Perspectives panel talkshow-style. Tongans, Chamorros, and Samoans were represented on the panel.

They had a new approach to Pacific Islander issues. Often, in the political realm, issues of the Pacific Islands are minimized with the rationalization that the islands are small and there are not many people living on them. But if we recognize the ocean as part of the land and something that connects the islands, the Pacific Islands become much more geographically significant and Pacific Islanders can work together as Oceanic people.

Fuifuilupe and Loa Nimetolu talked about growing up Tongan and Mormon and their fight against racism against Tongans in the No on Prop 8 campaign. Erica, a Chamorro (indigenous person from Guam), talked about the harmful health effects of the military in Guam and Jean Melesaine, a Samoan, shared her work with De-bug, a youth organization working to expose and fix (de-bug) the Silicon Valley technology industry's labor practices.

In addition to educating us about a range of issues affecting Oceana, Erica and the panel they lifted our spirits with not just conscious, but honest, music to help us sustain the struggle: