Monday, May 4, 2009

Oral History Blurb

Here's my attempt
Oral History is a complex history, a human history, and a voluminous one. Perhaps it is best understood by approaching it the way one might approach an archaeological site, examining it layer by layer, piece by piece. “Oral” tells us that it is spoken, that there is a voice, one human voice that drives it, one voice with which it all begins. “History” tells us that this one voice speaks of past events, of memory and all its shifting, unreliable whims. But it is this unreliability, this personal quality that makes Oral History so valuable. It complicates the sterilized, official story, challenges it with the perceptions of traditionally ignored participants, the individual human voices, our voices. We are all witnesses to history and our individual stories balance the “facts,” bringing us closer to, if not the truth, then perhaps a truer understanding.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Titles for Exhibit

ps to my last post:

Titles are so often difficult! But, because of the idea of voices, layers, and other things, that were mentioned in class last Monday, I've started noticing things that may go along with that idea. I was reading a poem this past week by Nick Flynn, called "Radio Thin Air." In it he says, "Marconi believed/we are wrapped in voices." And I just wanted to share that with everyone, because I loved that, "wrapped in voices," and the idea that in all these oral histories, there are many voices surfacing, and those who experience those stories and who are drawn into them, are literally wrapped in the voices that speak them.

Anyway, just wanted to share that!

(Brian Gadbois)
I was born in Manhattan, on Christopher Street, probably the gayest street in the city, I never knew if my father was straight or maybe he went both ways. I grew up in the Village ‘till I was about five and then I moved to the Berry Project. I lived in the Berry Project until I was 11 and then I moved to…my dad bought a house in Eltingville and I moved there. Um…what else do you want to know? Eh? And then I went to the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, uh…I went to my junior year. I had a teacher who was a pervert and I was going out with this girl in school and I was only 4’11 and this guy…uh…I went into the bathroom and I came out and this girl was in there and she was a little Italian girl, cute little Italian girl, and I was looking for her and everyone was looking kinda funny so I knew something was going on, and I asked where she was and they said in the bathroom and I walked in and she was crying and it turned out that this teacher…she was in a play, she had to unbutton the top button of her dress and he said “you’re doin’ it wrong” and he went over and unbuttoned a couple of other buttons to her dress and…uh…I was a very non-violent person but I took a chair and broke it over his face. And he told me there was nothing he could do to me because he was a real perv…and…he told me he’d get me back the following year and get me thrown out of the school so uh…I quit high school, I went to the Navy.
This was the very beginning of an interview I did back in March (I think) with one of my father's friends. I just loved how he kept asking me what I wanted to know, but then he would just continue right on, one story into another.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Separate But Not Equal - Carol P. Bartold

On September 4, 1954, eleven black students entered the 10th grade at Milford High School in Milford, Delaware. Civil rights leaders in the state decided to test the May, 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision reached in the Brown vs. Board of Education. The decision struck conventional wisdom of providing a "separate but equal" education for black public school students.

I interviewed Orlando Camp, one of the original eleven students who enrolled at Milford High School in 1954.
"There were no black high schools in Milford. There was Jason High School in Georgetown and William Henry High in Dover. This was a real coup for us as minority students because we felt, for the first time, that we would have the opportunity to get a quality education. And theat was the only goal we really had in terms of integration. We did not consider the mixing of the races as something we were advocating."

"On the fourth or fifth day of the first week of school the crowds began to multiply outside the school to the point there were hundreds of people standing outside, protesting, calling us names. We started going to school in State Police cars."

"This is an example of the separate but equal school, William Henry High School. It's all modern, all glass and state of the art. "

My thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for giving me access to supporting material, including the papers of Governor Caleb Boggs. I also thank the Graduate Student Senate of Sarah Lawrence College for funding to cover travel and research.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Christina's Mission Statement

We go through each day surrounded by untold stories. Maybe there was a time when they could not be told; maybe they were told but since forgotten. Through oral history, we find the memories that are submerged beneath daily life, and give them a way out so others can hear them. By sharing the histories of individuals, we become closer to discovering a history of ourselves in the vast context of our world.

Exhibition Title Ideas:
Archaeology of Memory
Beneath the Lives You Know
Talk to the Story-Keepers

Words for Titles:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Land of the High Sky

This is the Land of the High Sky, you know, very open and freedom lovin’ and free enterprise spirit.

If we can’t show people how to do it in Texas, then I don’t know who can.

I’m an engineer in my background and I enjoy solvin’ problems. Also, the people in this industry—phenomenal group of individuals that, have an incredible work ethic, who don’t mind taking risks.

Hold on a minute. Larry, Hi. Yeah. Larry, I gotta call you back. I’ve got a young lady in here, doin’ an interview. What? Look, if you’re not excited about it, I’m not gunna be excited about it. Let me know about that acquisition. Alright. Yup.

You do big things, you have to take risks.

Take me for example. I mean, I was doin' fine, workin' here in oil and gas. Comfortable. But then President Bush called me up. And so, you know, when the president asks you to be Secretary of Commerce, you don't say no. Hahaha. So, I have lots of stories from that. Two come to mind. (holds up two fingers).

One. (hold up one finger). I was meeting with President of China…here’s a guy from West Texas meeting with the President of China…he’s responsible for 1.3 billion people, you know, 20% of the people living on the planet. He said Thanks for comin. Appreciate you bein’ here. Enjoy your stay in Beijing, in Shanghai. But if you want to come back as our friend, go West. Figure out what I’ve got goin’ on out there, where I’ve got 800 million people livin’ in poverty.

Powerful statement, really powerful.

I did go west. Met two blind brothers. I befriended them. I still stay in touch with them. They are two Chinese boys that have grown on up now. They’re doin’ good. Both of em, blind. Legally blind. Helped one of em get surgery, he can now see at some level. It’s all part of a neat story, it’s a much bigger story. But. Kind of just bring it back to focus to leaders of the world and the challenges they have.

(picks up phone) Sarah, yeah. Could you come in here and bring me some water. (hand over phone) You want some water darlin’? Alright. Thanks hon.

And the other story would be meeting with President Putin after 9/11. And, he asked me, How has America been so successful after 200 years. It’s a pretty interesting statement. Facts are, we’re a young country. Huh! And uh, and I told him, I said, well, I think, I don’t think, I mean, it’s our people. Extraordinary people. It’s our freedoms, grounded in our constitution. The people in America are good people that wake up each morning tryin’ to do the right thing. You can put all the rules and regulations and laws you wanna put in place, but if the people aren’t basically good people, then it won’t work.

….Thanks Sarah. And uh, call Larry’s office and tell em to fax that spreadsheet.

So, yeah. We’re here to serve other people…That’s it. That’s it. I mean, I’m here to make your life better, not me, you. Pretty simple. I think it’s why I stay so busy. Whether it be church activities, United Ways, or, president’s library, or stayin’ in touch with young people, doing interviews for nice young ladies that come through here, hahaha. (wink) I’m just tryin’ to impart a little bit of that wisdom that got imparted to me. You see?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

How to Talk to People

There were a few times, like when I’m riding around in a patrol car, and because, again, they look at you and they go, “Oh, look, a woman police officer,” the first thing in their mind is that they can challenge them, you know? And we…I guess, you know, there was women police officers but it was not a lot. And…I guess people are so used to the fact that women should be behind a desk, at home, whatever, so they don’t look at us and take us seriously. Um…I remember one time we were driving down the block and we stopped at a…in our patrol car, and we stopped at a traffic light. We were in this area where it was all Projects. And we pulled up…we stopped at a stop light, and this guy who looked like some war veteran, with his army fatigue jacket, he’s walking, you know, he comes up to the window, and he goes, “I wonder what you would do if I decided to take your gun now.” Right?

So again, we’re back to that verbal command and, you know, how we look at this thing. So I…I looked him straight in the eye and I said, “You’re gonna have to try that and you’ll find out what’s gonna happen to you.” Then he…he looked at me, for like a couple of seconds, and he didn’t even look at my partner. My partner was like a…um…like a 5’8”, 5’9” guy, um…and he didn’t even like, address it to him. He just totally looked at me and said that. And when I responded, he didn’t expect that response. So he just goes, “Oh…have a nice day officer” and he walked away. You know? So I said, “Okay! One for me!” because, you know, it’s the way I responded, that kinda put him in shock.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Do You Know Babi Yar?

Our mother, two children, and we go in train and go to Siberia. First, we go to Ural. Do you know Ural? It is mountain in Soviet Union between Siberia and European part of Soviet Union. Ural very big mountain and we go to small, small town and she work factory, that made grenade for soldiers. We live very badly and one time I look in window and saw wolves walking under our house, and very cold because wood, we don’t have wood. Sometimes factory give his employees wood, sometimes not, and we sit [wraps arms around himself] and sit in room, brrrr, and put on all that was in room. I remember because I was small, because it is very big impression and when we go, my brother, older than me five years, and when we go in train, Germany planes begin to bomb-throw and train stop and all people run and our mother lost us and I began to cry but she sit in last wagon after bomb and I cried two hours. Without mother at three years, it is impossible because I not remember father, only mother and my mother was very beautiful, very beautiful and she died young. Cancer. And my grandfather don’t wish go to Siberia. He said, “Impossible!” He remember First World War and Germany army very nice relate to Jewish people—“No! Impossible!” and with his sister, he stayed in our room. We had not apartment, only one room in big apartment in this home where we lived. ...During Second War, my grandfather live with his sister in our room, but in our home was a man—in Russia every house or two houses was man or woman who clean street and around buildings and he said to Germany that in house live two Jewish people and they require him and he take them with machine gun and go into Babi Yar. Do you know Babi Yar? It is place—all old people know this place because in Kiev there is very big gap between small mountains, very big gap, and 200 people go to here and shooting. Yes. This man, after war, was caught, judged him, and he received 25 years because he was crime and he—but he sit in prison 22 years because 1967 was very big holiday for Soviet Union. Fifty years Soviet Union, and release him and he return, and my mother ask him, “Why you our father go to Babi Yar because we always help you and your family?” “If I not take them to Babi Yar, other take them but Germany soldiers kill me.” It is empty phrase.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Leaving Afghanistan

I was born in Afghanistan in 1970 to the best of my parents knowledge. My mom wrote it down July 22nd of 1970. They wrote it down on a piece of paper, there was really no birth certificates or anything like that.

I don’t remember too much, I just remember little, little details about certain things, like for instance I remember having this little eraser that smelled like fruit, and I remember getting out of school and buying this little dish of food every day that they would sell, it was like a spicy sort of thing with a lot of vinegar in it that I loved. I don’t even remember until I was in America that somebody showed me a picture, I think it was my cousin’s picture, I was like “What is that?” She goes “That was my uniform.” I was like “You wore a scarf with a white shirt and a black skirt?” She goes “Yeah, that's what we used to wear in school there.” I don't even remember that, my uniform, but those are the things that, you know, I guess stuck in my memory, and I just remember one packback that I had, a bag. I loved it. So I don’t remember a recollection of a lot of things from there, I just remember little details of eating certain fruits that I loved, berries, but it wasn’t too many of other things.

I just know that when we were coming to America we were all excited, and we were all packing up and leaving and, um, all of a sudden my aunt was crying, my grandmother was crying, and I was wondering “Why are they crying?” because my parents told us we were going to a wedding, my uncle’s wedding, but we were really leaving the country quietly without knowing.

But on our way coming to America I do remember we had these camels to go through the desert, and we were like “Wow! We’re going to dress like nomads!” We were very excited, we never got to see a camel before, we didn't’ get to dress like that, we were very excited, we thought we were in a zoo. We didn’t know, they didn't’ tell us so it wouldn't slip out of our mouths. I do remember in the middle of the desert they were like “All right, everybody stop,” and we were in a lot of pain from our legs and everything, and we were like tired and like wondering “Why is everything so hush-hush?” and not realizing that we were leaving. It was kind of sad but we thought, it didn’t click to us, we were very young and very naive. There was more to it and we weren’t supposed to know.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Nicole's Footage of Colin

Hey Class,

Sorry we couldn't get the dvd running in class today but here it is as a youtube link! Click on the link, or cut and paste it into your browser, should work. This is Colin:


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Stan at Mt. Olympos Diner, Yonkers, NY by Carol Bartold

Stan breezed into the crowded Mt. Olympos Diner alone, with a big smile, a wave and a personal greeting for each server on duty.

"Somebody talked me into sitting down next to you," he said as slid into the counter seat. The dark brown hair on top of his head didn't quite match his gray sideburns and didn't look as if it was quite attached to his scalp. He wore a man-sized chunky gold ring on the pinky of his right hand.

"Some great weather," he said. "I told the wife I'm going out for a cup of coffee.

"Oh sweetheart," he called to a waitress behind the counter.

"Hey Stan! I know what you want, fried egg sandwich, dry, on wheat toast. Right?"

"That's right, dear, and be sure to bring me the cole slaw this time." She laughed

"Good weather for flying. I hope it holds out for tomorrow. Vegas. I go out three, four times a year. I've been going to Vegas for 50 years. They all know me, the pit bosses, the dealers. I used to know all the comedians who played the showrooms, too. Great bunch of people. Bally's. I always stay at Bally's."

What do you play?

"Blackjack, craps, pai-gow. That's Chinese poker. I used to count cards at the blackjack table and the casinos don't like that. They say it's cheating but it isn't. It's nothing but keeping track and calculating probability. But you can't count cards any more the way they deal from a bunch of decks.

"Let me tell you a story. Way back, after World War II there were these Quonset huts set up as casinos on the Strip. They'd put three or four of them in a row. One night I went into one and at the blackjack table, a young woman got an ace and an eight. She didn't know much about the game and she asked me what she should do. Well, she had either a nineteen or a nine, depending on how you want to look at it so I explained to her she could either stand on nineteen or take a hit on nine.

"So the dealer says to me, 'You can't help her. that's cheating.'

"'No,'" I says to him. 'You're the one cheating because you didn't call what she had in her hand and that's what you're supposed to do.' The dealer calls the pit boss over and told him what happened and I tell the pit boss I had done the dealer's job for him. That pit boss tells me to cash out and get out of the casino." Stan shrugged. "What're you gonna do?"

"Vegas had some class back then. Remember the old Flamingo? That was the first big hotel on the Strip. Some of the new hotels are nice. I like Bally's and the Wynn is nice. I always like the old MGM Grand. The wife and I used to stay there. Let me tell you something. Were were staying there and we checked out maybe an hour before the big fire started. Were were down the Strip and people were running, yelling about the fire. 'What fire? What are you talking about?' I said. We looked back and all we could see was this black smoke pouring from the windows of the rooms. You just never know?"

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I Never Say Anything Bad About Anyone // Why Are You Telling Me This While I'm Drinking Shots?

by Shannon Hardwick

I was in the corner, watching him.
It’s not like we go and socialize.
It will be easier in a couple years—
I’m very worried about her.

It was that summer they shared the house. I never told you about that?

He says to me: So, you still living up in Connecticut?
And I was like,
He says, Are you still happy there?
And you know what I said to him? I said,
My house is bigger than yours
(I was kind of drunk that night)

I hate him. I really hate him. I swear.
He’s setting himself up for politics. Ugh.

He would verbally abuse his wife in front of us, at parties and I felt so uncomfortable. He was so verbally abusive.

And like, her father, his wife’s father, he was very ill and he died. And she called me and asked if we could watch her kids. And I had five kids at my house! It was not an easy task and he did nothing!

And we decided to move, we, you know, we did…
It was a huge mistake.
I hate him.
I wish him ill and I don’t wish that on anyone.

Wait, who were the neighbors I met?

Um, Connie and Bill—across the street from the Garrons—our kids played together, went to ballet and everything!

You know, like things couldn’t be better for us in Connecticut, it’s our dream home.

...I have to support my mother, you know what I mean?

...I was crying, Why are you telling this to me….while I’m drinking shots!

She wanted to buy a house, stay home, have kids, but she was like, 25 years old. She should be enjoying herself!

Did you have a different picture of how it would turn out?

Totally. We all did. But you have to respect people’s choices. I mean, here I am in my breeches on the train!
I remember thinking, she’s turning 40!

She worships her, she does, because her husband makes so much money

Yeah, well, you know, she’s just….

She’s a princess! I know!

She said to me, No one called me to say congratulations on your pregnancy—I, I was on BEDREST!

I mean, I never say anything bad about anyone!

I mean, I wanna go to Vegas when I turn 40!

Ha, but who knows, we may be living with my mother by then, you never know. This is a bad year for us.

Oh, don’t say that!

I may have to sell my aquarium!

Aww, I love your fish!

They each have their own tank—the kids just love it!

I changed the water on Saturday. Some of the real colorful ones died. Mary said, Do you think dad poisoned them? I said, Mary, no! Don’t say things like that!

She’s only eight years old! Where does this come from?!

The nanny isn’t helping you Easter weekend?

Yeah. Well, the kids are in middle school, so they don’t get home until 3:15.

Who walks your dog?

Um, my mother. I’ll walk them on some weekends because I like it, you know. But I’m usually not at home.

I wake up at 4:30.

John says, You’ve got bags under your eyes
And I’m like, Thank you! I love you, too!

Well, my first class is at 7:30 and I have to set up beforehand.

The kids are so funny. I said to them,

Settle down.
It’s Spring.

There’s this little girl, she wrote:

Cells are parts of our bodies.
There’s blood cells,
Hair cells,
Sperm cells.
But sperm cells are only in boys

And she just went on and on.

Those kids, they just are something else.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cookie Love

by Christina Verigan

February 21, 2009, Q train from Atlantic Avenue to 42nd Street

It’s Sunday night, 8 o’clock, warm for February. A black woman gets on the Q train at Atlantic Avenue and sits across from me. She’s constantly moving, her motions charged, alternating between jerky and fluid. She has a large black bag, wild hair rising straight off her head and wears a bright turquoise tank top, like people wear clubbing. Her make-up is thick and the traces of black eyeliner and mascara thicken her lashes. She’s wearing combat boots and a short black skirt and carries a torn black parka on her lap. I say “she” but her muscular legs and jaw give her away—she is definitely a man. She drops the bag on the floor between her feet and rummages through it, removing a shiny package of dental dams, holding them between her teeth as she gathers cosmetics in her fists. She sometimes talks to herself quietly, occasionally letting out a “HA!”

The woman beside her, also black, is wearing blue jeans, black Sketchers, and a black quilted jacket. She wears no make-up and a scarf wrapped around her head and watches the woman in teal out of the sides of her eyes. She inches to the end of the bench and the black parka expands into the space between them. A purple pedicure kit, toe separators, bronze nail polish, a comb, and the cosmetics are piled on top of the parka and the woman in jeans inches over more. The woman in teal smiles slyly and glances at the woman in jeans from time to time. Jeans woman keeps her head turned straight ahead with her hands folded in her lap. Sometimes she raises her eyebrows and sighs with disapproval. A young white couple sitting beside me whisper to each other, keeping their eyes on the woman in teal. The woman in teal opens a compact and smoothes foundation over her face without using a mirror. She shakes the nail polish and globs it onto her nails, which are already painted in the same color. She pulls down her eyelids and lines them with black eyeliner, then takes the mascara wand and flicks her arm in front of the woman in jeans before bending her elbow to stroke her lashes. She leans closer to the jeans woman with each stroke and laughs.

You don’t pay me no mind, do you? HA! No mind! I’m getting’ ready to go out. I’m goin’ out to 42nd Street I’m gonna sell some ASS! Tonight I’m not even wearing my false teeth because some guys like head with no teeth. But I’ll talk a little more feminine—[higher pitch, softer voice] I’ll talk like this. Does this sound feminine—does this sound more feminine to you? [Bats her eyes. Deep, gravelly purr returns.] But I gotta let ‘em know I’m TOUGH! That’s why I have the lumpy nail polish, shakin’ up my hair—I got my combat boots. [Speaks to the young white woman beside me, who laughs and addresses her as “ma’am.”] Thank you. Thank you so much—$65 for your grandpa, honey! I wanna have a comedy show! Right on 42nd Street. Would you see it? Would you really? OK, well my name is Cookie Love. Look out for me. You’ll enjoy it. You will. [Motions to shoes.] I don’t know how you women put up with all this shit every day. What! Oh my God! Should wear combats. The heels?! I don’t wear none. But do you ever wear the heels? How you guys do it? What a fuckin’ pain, huh! How you all do that? Your foot, your foot mustn’t be built for that. I don’t see how you can walk on your tippy-toes like that. It looks sexy, yeah! But, you know. It doesn’t matter. I could be barefooted, no teeth—that’s how nasty some men are. [Subway recording, male voice: Stand clear of the closing doors please. Subway chime.] I could be barefooted, no teeth, holes everywhere, you know? Isn’t it terrible? Isn’t that mor’n pathetic though? And you should see some of the clients I get. I mean, I’m talking about men in suits—you would be shocked. And they probably got beautiful women at home. And the shit that they wanna do—WHAT! [sings at top of lungs.] UNBELIEVEABLE! REMARKABLE! When I put it on paper, and when I have it done professionally, I’m telling you, it might be a joke, but it won’t really be a joke. From 42nd to 43rd there’ll be a new comedy show openin’ up. You ever go to plays and shows in midtown? Actor? I thought so. I thought so from the first glance. Alright you come see my show. I really hope you do. I’ll see you at the show. [Walks down the platform singing.] [Subway recording, female voice: This is a Queens-bound Q Express train. The next stop is midtown-57th Street.]

Postscript: I was interested in the different responses Cookie Love got from the black woman and white woman. For the monologue I took out the white woman's responses--they were quite short and usually affirmations of what Cookie Love had said to her--but I wonder if the white woman would have engaged with her so much, or so positively, if they had both been white. Glen from Fortune Society talked about how white cops, prison guards, and judges treated him differently--worse, even--than they treated black and Latino prisoners. He said, "...when you’re white it’s ten times harder ‘cause they think you should be one of them and on their side. What are you doin’ hangin’ out with these hoodlums, with these bums in the city? You’re just like them so they treat you worse because you’re of their kind yet…." This might explain why the black woman was not amused by Cookie Love, whereas the white woman enjoyed engaging with her; a black prostitute doesn't threaten her white identity. I may do some digging into psychology to find out more about this--I'll keep you posted. Any tips? ~CV