Category Archives: coexistence

gone to the printers

I think this might be like arriving at base camp at the foot of Everest

I know its an awful lot like being 37 weeks pregnant.

maybe you dreamed of it

surely you worked for it

but as the time nears

you realize, increasingly

that you have absolutely no idea

what you’ve gotten yourself into

 

and the dark clouds form and disperse

as you reckon the size of the leap

you have made

peering at the place you think you’re going to land

readying the things you think you’ll need

asking for mentors, safety nets

realizing that when you need financial security more than ever you are sloughing it off

to pit yourself against the challenge

of doing this thing

and doing it well

aprons and layers falling

revealing the dream vulnerable to the raw air:

 

I,

Writer

terrified, quaking, tired and certain

there is no perfect draft, there is no truly ready time

the story is past due

 

and gone to the printers.

finally finished, and only just begun.

Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West.  November 2014

 

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bigger than a blog post, smaller than a breadbox

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately,

because this:

Fox_sketch-1

 

is coming out in the fall and contrary to what I’d somehow fooled myself into thinking,

my work is only just begun.

More to come lovelies, I promise. all sorts of things are moving and shaking.. a website, a video, events, travel. opportunities for folks to support getting the stories in my book out into the world. For now… disjointed waitress poetry will make an attempt to return, because learning how to market a book gives me a headache, and I need to write creatively again.

 

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latkes

Last night, a homeless man politely propositioned me for cash at a gas station.
I held up a fistful of ones and told him we’d dragged the seat cushions for these,
and I couldn’t spare any
and he politely said
no worries sweetheart,
happy holidays.

Inside I handed over eleven dollars to the Sikh cashier,
and watched the homeless man standing against the cold.
while my husband pumped gas I rummaged through a canvas bag full of Hanukkah leftovers.
Returned to the homeless man with a glass container
and asked him if he was hungry
yes, he said
and I apologized that the latkes were greasy
he tugged his glove off and accepted the leftovers into his palms
and said thank you
and I replaced the lid and said you’re welcome.

As we drove away into the dark I rubbed my oil slick fingers together
and caught myself feeling relieved for having allayed my guilt
over having more
rather than less
and thus descended into a hyper-intellectual narrative
about privilege and inequity
and altruism and leftovers

Then it occurred to me
that the homeless man’s fingers were slick with the same cooking oil
as mine
and our bellies now held the same food
and that maybe it was enough to leave it at that

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On Feeding Our Son Food.

Callum with garden beets

This is Callum. He’s 1 year and 8 months old. He likes birds, buses, water, dancing, pushing things with wheels, reading books, especially ones with monkeys, stacking canned food, throwing rocks at the beach, petting his dog-sisters, and roaming around the yard. He also loves food. Avocados, Yams, refried beans, tofu, goji berries, strawberries, kale, tempeh, zuccinni, lentils, brown rice, crackers, peaches, yogurt, blueberries, apples, raisins, spicy things, coconut milk, sunflower seed butter, garbanzo beans, watermelon, garden tomatoes, indian food, thai food, vietnamese food, peanut butter, toast, noodles, calzones, oatmeal, farmers market fresh apple juice, grapes,   (I could go on).

In addition to breastmilk, Callum thrives on whole foods. Fresh foods. Garden foods. Foods high in protein, rich in vitamins, filled with fiber, minerals, and good complex carbs. We supplement his diet with a children’s multivitamin, a vitamin B-12 supplement (he loves it when we spray it right into his mouth)  kiddo probiotics, and plant-sourced vitamin D and DHA. He has an exceptionally healthy digestive system, and he’s never been sick. Runs a fever or gets a runny nose occasionally when he’s cutting a tooth, but that’s about it. He’s exceptionally well-engaged with the world, a keen observer, experimenter, risk-taker, and adventurer. He’s self-sufficient, sweet, creative, and unbearably cute.

He’s also vegan. His poppa is vegan. His momma is mostly-vegan. When I tell people we are a vegan family, it tends to make them uncomfortable. Some ask questions, like “is your son getting enough protein and good fats?” Others change the subject. Rarely does anyone ask why. Of course, I’m not in the habit of asking people why they eat meat, dairy, or eggs. I’ve never asked another parent if they think their children are getting enough complex carbs, fiber, or leafy greens, or if they’re possibly getting too much protein, transfats, or meat- and milk-borne antibiotics and hormones. I assume that they’re educating themselves about their children’s nutrition in the best way they know how.

By their questions and comments, not a few people have made it clear to me they assume we are undereducated about nutrition, or that we’ve chosen a path of deprivation for political or far-left ideals.  Many people clearly believe its one thing for us to “do this” to ourselves, but another thing entirely to subject our son to our beliefs.  Leaving aside the fact that they’re overlooking the superb nutrition that takes place in our home, they miss a fundamental point: every parent “subjects” their children to their beliefs.  Every parent raises their children the best way they know how, based on what they know about the world and what matters to them.

I’ll tell you what though…. Our table is hardly a place of deprivation.  We use our cookbooks like other people use facebook. We season, sautee, bake, experiment, and savor daily. We love flavor, we love spice, we love to eat, we love to share good food with friends. We embrace dessert with gusto.  And we enjoy our food all the more because we know that the choices we make in our kitchen are in line with our most deeply held values.

compassion. health. stewardship and sustainability. community.

compassion.
Ryan and I believe that if we can eat delicious, filling, sustainable, and nourishing foods without causing suffering, then that’s what we want to do. We don’t judge other meat eaters, and we understand that humans and other animals have been eating meat for millennia. What hasn’t been happening for millennia is the factory farming industry, which causes horrific suffering for chickens, pigs, cows, and other animals, for the entirety of their lives. They do not experience the “humane,” painless deaths we would like to believe, and their bodies are flooded with terror and pain and adrenaline as they are slaughtered. That’s just not something we want to eat, and its definitely not something we want to feed our son. The meat, dairy, and egg industries have gotten savvy to the fact that people are disturbed by these realities, so they market things like “cage free eggs” and “happy meat.” Both of these labels are words used in an effort to sell products. They very rarely reflect reality.

I have a great love for cheese, and my periodic indulgence in it is what makes me refrain from calling myself a vegan. I am not oblivious to the suffering that indulgence necessitates. The cow that gave the milk for the cheese I love didn’t give up her life for my smoked gouda, but her male calf did. To get milk from a cow, you need to get that cow pregnant, then take away her baby so you can take the milk for cheese. Male calves aren’t worth much now that veal is unpopular, so they’re not kept alive. In Tillamook County, Oregon, there are so many of these throwaway calves they’re talking about using their bodies for biofuel. Which takes the edge off my cheese craving. Going through the intense, demanding, exhausting, and often painful physical processes of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding also put a dent in my desire for queso. I did these things out of love, and they were hard. I shudder to imagine doing those things under coercion. Sometimes I still eat cheese. But it just doesn’t hold the appeal it once did.

health

Healthy eating habits are learned in childhood.  My parents and Ryan’s parents raised us on balanced meals, and the love which with they prepared the food we ate as children set the stage for our choices as adults.  We want to do the same thing for Callum.  If we can start him off with a craving for kale, an appetite for whole grains, a passion for fruits, and a love for legumes, than by golly, that’s what we’re going to do.

There is a literal epidemic of obesity and childhood diabetes in America. The leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease and cancer.    One of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk or heart disease and cancer is to eat a plant-based diet.  The vast majority of animal products in the United States are filled with hormones, to make the animals grow bigger faster (to achieve maximum profit) and antibiotics, to prevent the animals from succumbing to disease in the severely overcrowded and filthy conditions in which they live (again, to achieve maximum profit). If you consume food with growth hormones and antibiotics, you are incorporating those substances into your body also.  Numerous studies have found that animal products consistently arrive on grocery store shelves contaminated with fecal matter and foodborne illnesses like salmonella.  No thanks.

Thanks to our decades-old habit of using the oceans as a dumping ground for garbage, toxic waste, and the radioactive effluence of nuclear power production, seafood is extremely high in nasty crap like heavy metals. Being at the top of the food chain has its price—small amounts of toxins absorbed by plankton become concentrated in greater amounts in the flesh of the fish that eat that plankton. And so on, in the bodies of the humans that catch and consume that fish. Its called bioaccumulation. That means that if I feed my twenty-four pound son fish, he’s consuming a significant quantity of heavy metals.  That’s a lot of work for tiny kidneys—and our son was born with only one kidney. So we’re not messing around.

stewardship and sustainability.

I was raised to be gentle with the earth, and to consider how my choices impact the air, water, and overall health of the world around me. Animal products exact a severe toll on the environment.  Agribusiness has a vested interest in keeping this toll off the front pages, so you don’t tend to read too much about it.  Two trillion pounds of animal waste are produced by the livestock industry in the United States every year.  It has to go somewhere, and it usually ends up sitting in poorly managed holding ponds (from which it evaporates!) or running into waterways.   It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein.  It also takes roughly sixteen pounds of grain feed to produce a pound of meat.  That same amount of grain could feed a lot more people than that pound of meat.  There’s a lot of people on this planet, and less and less space left to produce viable food crops.  Meat just doesn’t make much sense.

community.

Yes, there are farmers out there raising meat, milk, and eggs who are dedicated to compassion, health, stewardship and sustainability.  If you eat meat, milk, or eggs, seek them out.   They are doing something difficult and noble and their product is worth every penny they are asking for it.  Unfortunately, they produce only a teeny, tiny fraction of the meat, milk, and eggs (something like 1%) consumed in the United States.   Most communities that host meat, milk, or egg production have a long list of chronic health problems, thanks in large part to their exposure to toxic watershed and air pollution.  Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are breeding grounds for infectious disease (think bird flu and swine flu) which can of course spread far from the “farm” on the flesh of animal products).  Slaughterhouse workers have one of the highest rates of occupational injury of any industry in the country.   Animal product production is bad for communities.

When its time to sit down to eat…

We don’t think of our meals as “vegan.”  We think of them as food. We are feeding our son food.  Varied, nutritious, ethical, delicious, plant-based food.   We are not alone in believing this is healthful.  “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. “
We are not alone in believing this is delicious either.  We would love to have you over for dinner. If you live far away, I will mail you cookies.

I’m going to keep feeding my son food.  And I’m going to send him out into the world knowing how to ask questions, think critically, and stand by his decisions—no matter what they may be.

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good ancestors and revenge fantasies

the baby finally goes down,
tiny bananna-hands curled against sweet yam cheeks
skin glowing with the rare-as-of-late may sunlight spilling in through the orange curtains
i slip out
perc espresso

and sit here at the red table
trying to empty my head
and be still
so I can write with efficacy
about Big Picture Things

a frame fell off the wall in the early hours of the morning
and an old black and white image drifted to the floor
after the crash
now i sit here staring at it
my great-grandmother Minnie, and her parents, Louis and Hannah
my great-great grandfather has his arms crossed
and a quizzical look on his narrow, handsome face
his wife looks gentle, and tired
and his daughter stands behind them both
with a white hat
and dark curls
and a face squared with resolve
over her scalloped lace collar
ankles crossed
in the shadows underneath the gilded bench her parents are sitting on

I think: these are good Ancestors.
Beautiful, Resourceful, Gentle, Resolved
And I’d better get to work before the babe wakes up.

good ancestors. Louis, Minnie, and Hannah

decide to make calzones for dinner before my husband leaves town for a conference
and I reach back through time,
to pull homemade pizza dough and sauce out of the freezer
that I made and placed there earlier in the winter
the freezer crystals sting my fingers
which are covered with cuts, lately.

put my good writing song
on repeat
think about making my sister a mix for her travels in Europe
but the cd drive isn’t working
And I’d better get to work before the nap ends

I scoop small mushy lumps of softly browning banana off the floor
and rub my fingers across the roughness on the table
where his sticky fingers spread fruit and yams an hour ago
and I neglected to wipe the table before it dried
because he was rubbing his eyes
with his food-covered hands
and i was focused on
that

Everyone is celebrating because we’ve been told Osama bin Laden is dead
which apparently entitles us
to feel like Americans in the Right again
…a feeling that went stale years ago
no wonder people are excited.
they think it means justice
or the end of something
but to me
it is just one more
revenge fantasy
my friends retaliate against the frat party
peppering the internet with Martin Luther King
darkness cannot drive out darkness
and even though we’re accused of misquoting
I cling to those words

I try to engage with a dilemma in the manuscript:
writing about “common sense” in a way devoid of academic pretension
ha. ha. ha.
I land here instead

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Filed under 11 September 2001, basic goodness, coexistence, motherhood, Ordinary, poetry, politrix

generalizations about anonymous passerby

8:27 am on a tuesday in december, cold rain and 40 degrees outside according to the car, which is where i am sitting to write because i felt a surge of inspiration at the dreary intersection of 200th and 99 after dropping Ryan off at school just now.  I was listening to Amy Goodman explain that Richard Holbrook was dead and the last thing he said to his doctor before he died was something about how we’ve “got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

I was waiting for the light to change, thinking about that, and watching two men in pseudo-cop gear waiting to cross the street.  One was heavyset and the other ordinary, I guess, both Caucasian, both looking pretty certain of their uniformed authority. I strained my eyes to read the white lettering on the back of their jackets but couldn’t.  Decided they were probably Metro rent-a-cops, based on their resemblance to Ryan’s description of ones he’s seen on the buses in that area. I wondered if they were escorting the middle-aged Latina woman who was waiting to cross the street next to them.  She was wearing a warm coat and carrying her purse and I wondered if they had decided to apprehend her because they felt like enforcing law and order on the buses and her transfer was too crumpled and maybe now she would be late to work or worse discovered not to have the Right Sort of “Papers” and thus deported and I seethed at the possibility, even tho I knew it was unlikely that was what was happening in front of me. I knew beyond a doubt that something like that was happening somewhere though. That sort of thing happens every day.

The light changed and I drove thru the intersection and down the hill past the federal prison, and I glanced at the woman and man on the landing by the entrance. In the split-second I had to observe them as I drove past I noticed he looked like a guard and she was wearing heels and a skirt, and I decided she was not someone waiting to visit her boyfriend but probably a lawyer and i realized that if she hadn’t been white and dressed the way she was i would have maybe concluded differently.

But this is what we do…. move thru the world every day making generalizations and assumptions about anonymous passerby based on our prejudices and our prior knowledge and our opinions about the power structures of the society we inhabit.

Ask me and I’ll tell you the judgmental heavily prejudiced assumptive story I composed about the white women at Starbucks this morning that i told my husband to hurry up and get in line in front of when i saw them getting out of their newish SUV… because women like that almost certainly order complicated drinks and they are clearly more privileged than us based on their car and their comportment and after all I am on my way to drop my husband off to teach children growing up in poverty and that is manifestly more important than whatever those women are planning on doing today with their designer handbags and their heavy makeup.

I’ve got another story about “Paul the Plumber” whose van I saw pulled up at the “sexy espresso” stand near the airport that we passed a few minutes later. Paul is a nice enough guy who thinks there’s nothing wrong with getting his coffee from an eighteen-year-old girl in a negligee who’s the same age as the daughter who he’s trying to put through college but that’s different and its no one’s business but his and he tipped her a dollar after all and he’s got a long day of dirty unpleasant work to do and he’s entitled to this small pleasure, right?

I’ve also concocted a story about the girl working in the espresso stand who i can’t even see from my car who’s probably also hoping to get through college and who surely doesn’t understand the larger gender-class-power structures that invisibly enshroud her as she shivers in a negligee in a drive-thru coffeestand steaming milk for the 1.99$ mochas of the working class folks who drive this road or maybe she feels empowered and liberated by making this kind of money and she’s majoring in feminist lit, who knows, I sure don’t but I pretend to myself I do, and it only takes me milliseconds to spin out my narrative about these anonymous people as I pass by.

It occurs to me, (sitting here in a parking lot a little while later, writing in my journal with the engine running because the baby is asleep and i don’t want to wake him before i’m done writing) that i make up these kinds of stories a hundred times a day, based on my assumptions and my prior knowledge and my prejudices, and that I am no better or worse than anyone else.

But I’m going to try and pay closer attention. Catch myself in the act.

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Letting in the Light

 

America is a nation prone to forgetting. We’d prefer not to dwell on the difficult and controversial past, when the American Dream dangles glittering on the future horizon. We privilege only particular stories for remembering, and we retell them in ways that leave out many things, in order that the Dream may continue to seem possible. Yet, despite our best efforts to look forward, the things we’ve forgotten persist. Every now and then, someone diligent excavates them from the shadows, and we are given the opportunity to see something difficult and real about America. If we do not look away, we may make real progress toward realizing the things about America we’ve been promised.  We may even have a chance to make art.

In south downtown Seattle, in the shadow of the sports stadiums and skyscraper bank offices, there is an old brick building tucked at the junction of Airport Way and the Interstate 90 on-ramp. Vacant for the past seven years, its rooms have a fine layer of dust, and the hallways are thick with ghosts, some dating back as far as the 1930s.  For nearly eighty years, this building has been known as the United States Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service.

This past weekend, music and voices echoed through the halls of the building.  Dancers were warming up in old offices, and artists were hanging their work on the walls. Seattle’s old INS building has a new name, and forgotten stories are being invited into the light.  Welcome to INSCAPE: “Seattle’s former INS building redefined by Culture, Arts, Preservation, and Engagement.”  INSCAPE’s mission?  To

[pay] respect to the history of the former INS Building and the people who made that history, the incredible structure and its bipolar spirit, the triumphs of those who became citizens and the tribulations of those who did not, the joys and sorrows that manifested the unique nature of this edifice.  INSCAPE creates a forum for possibilities; a collaboration with artists and artisans, creative individuals and organizations, the neighborhood and the city, to build a mutually supportive alliance that engages the Greater Seattle community in the experience of art and the celebration of culture.  INSCAPE reinvigorates the building and the neighborhood, bringing new life to the district with a renewed spirit created by the investment of the entire community in culture, arts, preservation, and engagement.

INSCAPE will host 125 tenants in nearly eighty-thousand square feet of space, making it “the largest arts and culture enclave in Seattle.”  The name demonstrates the founders’ commitment to remembering what the building was.  It also speaks to their desire to look forward, generating collaboration and community via interdisciplinary artistic expression.  They define INSCAPE in three ways:

noun: the essential, distinctive, and revelatory quality of a person, place, or object; the distinctive, dynamic design that constitutes individual identity, especially as expressed in artistic work.

verb: to bring together the unique, essential qualities of many individuals to form a cohesive, distinct community.

building: a collaboration of creative people and organizations, brought together by a vision of artistic and cultural expression in all disciplines, to form a community that expresses its essential nature through culture, arts, preservation, and engagement.

On October 16 and 17, INSCAPE threw wide the windows and let the fresh air of a sunny October weekend flood in to the old INS building for “Passages,” an open house dedicated to inviting the public to help explore the “past history and future possibility of the building.”

My husband and I visited INSCAPE on Sunday.  As residents of South Seattle, we regularly utilize Airport Way to get into the city, but neither of us could picture the building we’d seen on the INSCAPE website.  As my husband drove, I looked up the address on his phone.  “Its right next to the stadiums,” I told him.  “On Airport Way? Really?” he asked, eyebrows raised.  Once we found it, we were both a little shocked we’d never noticed it before.  Its redbrown roof is visible from the freeway, and up close, the former INS building is no podunk anonymous office building.  Its a formidable four-story structure spanning the better part of a block, replete with dozens of artistic flourishes popular in 1930s American architecture.  We stood on the sidewalk staring up at the neoclassical marble columns and Art Deco sunbursts over the arched windows and wondered how we’d missed it in all our years in the city.  We’ve lived here for over ten years between us, members of our families have called Seattle home for decades, and not one of us had ever walked through the doors of 815 Airport Way.

This is how it goes with government buildings for those of us privileged enough to never have to set foot in them.  They’re just part of the landscape.  Not so for those like artist and filmmaker Ladan Yalzadeh, who emigrated to the United States from Iran with her father as a teenager in 1986.  One of the visionaries behind INSCAPE, Yalzadeh was herself processed in the building in 1995, and she spent the weekend giving guided tours.  She led our group out of the lobby to stand on the sidewalk for the beginning of the tour.  After pointing out some of the architectural elements of the building, she gestured down the sidewalk, and urged us to imagine hundreds of people lined up out front.  “Rain, shine, snow, whatever.  All year round, all hoping to make it inside.  If you were lucky enough to make it to the door, you were greeted by a very unfriendly guard, and things generally went downhill from there.”

We followed her inside, where we were confronted by the dangling black silhouette letters of an installation by artist Katy Krantz, paying homage to the dozens of nationalities that made their way through the INS building’s bureaucratic corridors.

The letters danced and quivered in the draft from the open door, casting flickering shadows on the brick walls.  The installation created a vivid and unsettling presence, a fitting invocation of the thousands of stories that played out here, remembered only by those who lived them.  Sometimes the American Dream turns out great.  Sometimes it gets you deported.  Carrying my infant son through the letters, I felt painfully aware of my privilege.

As we began to walk the halls, we paused at printed squares on the floors, designed by artist Christian French, (also the main curator for the “Passages,”) to resemble spaces in a board game.

Turns out, getting in on the American Dream isn’t quite as simple as showing up and working hard.  In recent years, immigration-reform advocates have been fond of saying they welcome immigrants who are willing to follow the rules and come here legally.  The problem is, we keep changing the rules. We’ve been changing them for over a hundred and thirty years, and pretty much every country of origin has taken its turn on the thumbs down list at one point or another.

If the number of Americans who straightfacedly assert their family tree dates back to the Mayflower is accurate, then that pilgrim vessel had the passenger capacity of a fleet of Boeing Dreamliners. Despite the intensely American desire to have gotten Here First, most of us came much later, and received varying degrees of welcome when we did.  Many of the ethnic groups that seem “uniquely American” today were much less popular in previous generations.  Irish, Jewish, or Italian in your family tree?  In the late 1900s, you wouldn’t have been considered white.  Germans found themselves pretty unpopular roundabout WWI (and WWII didn’t help matters much) and Mexicans have been imported (ever heard of the Bracero program?) and exported by the US government at will depending on our need for cheap labor.  The truth is, America has always been a nation of immigrants, and xenophobic immigration policies have come and gone as regularly as the tides.  Unless your family has access to education, funds, and happens to arrive at the right time (read: your country of origin is in favor at the moment), the American dream of “legal” status is about as elusive as the one where you land in the White House.

Ladan spent her fair share of time waiting in lines, but as she gratefully acknowledged, she came here with the advantages of having already gained legal access.  She showed us Room 121, where she was processed for citizenship back in 1995.  She remembered how unsettling it was, even though she’d done everything by the book.  As part of her naturalization interview, she was asked to declare whether or not she was a Communist, and if she had AIDS.  A Canadian man on our tour added that as part of his green card interview several years ago, he was asked to declare whether or not he was a homosexual.  After demonstrating her English proficiency by writing “I love America” on a scrap of paper, Ladan was approved for U.S. citizenship.

As we made our way through the building, art installations and Ladan’s tour began to  fill the empty hallways and offices with a narrative of history and personal experience.  We were guided through the “Oriental” women’s dormitory and the “Detainee Booking” area, the tiny barber shop and the infirmary and childrens’ dormitories.  An artist had strung muslin sheets from the ceiling to recreate bunkbeds in what was once the “Chinese boy’s Dormitory;” through the windows, sun poured in, and the sports stadiums were visible nearby.  The pile of bars that previously flanked the dormitory windows were visible in the old exercise yard.  While its been almost a century since the wave of Chinese immigration that gave this room its name, young immigrants from other countries were confined here in the last decade.  I wondered if they were cognizant of the fact that American citizens were eating hot dogs at baseball games only a stones throw away.

Artist's recreation of the Chinese boys' dormitory

Grates that previously barred the windows

When we visited the exercise courtyard, we spotted something that may well have inspired Krantz’s installation on the main floor: the names and home countries of dozens of detainees, marked on the walls in black letters.  The ink?  Sun-melted tar, scraped from the corners of the courtyard by detainees on warm days.  Looking at the pile of bars, I couldn’t help but wonder if calling them detainees was just a semantic nicety.  Here, thousands of people who came to America in search of a better life for themselves and their children were held prisoner, until such time as the complex bureaucracy deemed them admissable or shipped them back where they came from.  Granted, some who attempt to come to America have dark pasts, or commit criminal acts while in this country, making their deportation seem legitimate.   Others lived here for years, raised children born as American citizens, paid taxes, went to church and worked two or three jobs at once to make ends meet, trying for years to attain citizenship, only to be deported after decades to a country their children knew only by way of stories.  The vast majority of people who spent time in the old INS building were no different from my great-grandparents, or yours.  They came here—and continue to come here—looking for their shot at the American dream.

The visiting area. Looks an awful lot like a prison.

The final stop on our tour was the basement of the building.  Here, the degree to which we have criminalized immigration was painfully clear.

Ladan Yalzadeh (in blue and white shirt) explains how detainees were told to follow the yellow line, much like in a prison, for processing.

The room behind the door held solitary confinement cells.

Before passing through the door, immigrants were ordered to place their hands on the prints for patdowns. I couldn't help but think of the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..."

The interior of a solitary confinement cell.

Our tour ended in the basement.  The group broke up and scattered to wander the art spaces in the rest of the building.  We stared at the dusty cell for a while before we climbed the stairs back into the daylight.  On the first floor, we visited the studios of artist Alica Tormey, whose mixed media paintings glowed in the warm sunlight flooding through the southfacing windows.  Dancers from the Manifold Motion group were giving previews of a performance they’ll be putting on throughout the month of November, dedicated to dance interpretations of moss and dirt and mold.  On the third floor, a wacky game of “apocalyptic miniature golf” was underway.

In inviting us in, the creators of INSCAPE are asking Seattle to see both the art and the walls behind it.  This INS building may have been decommissioned, but there are others like it all over the country, and the stories that take place behind their walls have been in the shadows for too long.   The folks behind INSCAPE aren’t out to change US immigration policy or throw open the borders.  They’re here to promote art, to “bring together the unique, essential qualities of many individuals to form a cohesive, distinct community.”  Sounds like a recipe for America.

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If you’re interested in visiting INSCAPE, getting involved, or leasing a space, contact Sam Farrazaino at 206.257.3022 or www.inscapearts.org.  If you or anyone you know has a story about the old INS building, contact Ladan Yalzadeh.

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