Celebration of the Lights: Hanukkah & Kwanzaa

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On December 3rd, Global Education club at GCC held a cultural event called “Hanukkah and Kwanzaa” to share with the students the different ways Jewish-Americans and African-Americans celebrate the end of a year, with free food and free books! It was the event I needed to destress during the final week of classes, especially when the dishes of delicious cookies tamed my sugar cravings.

GCC hard-working staffs feeding the students with sweet treats during finals week!
Free books!

But I swear I was not just there for the colorful sucrose, I also picked up some awareness on year-ending cultural celebrations of the Jews and Africans, and I’m not talking about Christmas.

HANUKKAH (or Chanukkah)

Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration inspired by a Miracle that occurred after the Maccabees successfully revolted and chased the Greek-Syrian oppressors out of Jerusalem during the second century BC. While rebuilding the (holy) Second Temple, the only remaining candle, which was supposed to last a single day, continued to flicker for eight nights and provided light long enough for the Maccabees to gather supplies. This ‘miracle’ illustrates the divine intervention of light amid spiritual darkness.

Hanukkah observers light each of the eight candles each night while the central ninth candle (called the “shamash,” means helper) is used to light the other candles. The candle holder is uniquely called ‘menorah.’ During Hanukkah, Jewish observers eat fried foods cooked in oil to represent the oil that burned the remaining candle miraculously for eight evenings (1).

Hanukkah with 9 candles on a “menorah” (a nine-branched candelabrum)

KWANZAA

Kwanzaa holiday was introduced by professor Maulana Karenga in 1966 to unify African-Americans in faith and endurance amid social and cultural unrest of poverty and police brutality.

In Swahili language (an Eastern African language spoken in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe …) Kwanzaa means ‘first fruits’ or first harvest. Celebrants decorate their household with symbolic objects that reflect values of unity and gratitude for the good things in their lives and community. Kwanzaa’s seven-day commemoration surrounds the Seven Principles (“Nguzo Saba”):

  1. Umoja – unity
  2. Kujichagulia – self-determination
  3. Ujima – collective work and responsibility
  4. Ujamaa – cooperative Economics
  5. Nia – purpose
  6. Kuumba – creativity
  7. Imani – faith

During Kwanzaa, a candle, representing one principle, is lit each day on a kinara. Observers would light the central black candle on the first day, then alternates between the red and green candles starting from the outer candles moving inwards on following days.

Unlike Hanukkah which is rooted in the Jewish religion, Kwanzaa is a cultural, not religious, holiday that was traditionally celebrated by African-Americans. Thus, Kwanzaa can be observed by non-Africans due to their universal values of unity and purpose, which were evident in their civil rights movements during the 60s.

Kwanzaa starts annually on December 26th until January 1st, while Hanukkah dates are based on Hebrew calendar month of Kislev, which varies between November and December of our usual Gregorian calendar (2).

Hanukkah with 7 principles, 7 candles on a “kinara” (Swahili word for candle holder).

Were you surprised to find many similarities between the two seemingly irrelevant traditions? 

Sources

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/hanukkah
  2. https://www.thesouthend.wayne.edu/features/article_de2cabe6-a67a-11e5-8f26-cb25d4e32df3.html

Featured photo (from Alma): Kwanzaa candles

Native American Heritage Month 2019: Quill Workshop

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On November 26th, quill master Jamie Jacobs held a workshop at GCC to share knowledge about Native American’s lost art of quillwork embroidery. Guest speaker and Tonawanda Seneca Jamie Jacobs is a collections assistant at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. His role at RMSC includes working as an education expert on Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture and as an anthropological consultant documenting Iroquois ethnological collections at the Museum. He graduated from Genesee Community College with an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice in 2006.

What does a quill look like when observed in close-up? A porcupine quill is a round, hollow tiny tube with a pointy end. A porcupine has around 30,000 quills on their back. So how do Native Americans obtain quills from porcupines? It’s easy to get quills from dead porcupines, but for living ones, native women had to sneak up behind the animal and throw a blanket over it. In natural defence, porcupines will raise its quills which will be stuck in the blanket. Quills are easily detached from the porcupines when touched. Like hairs, porcupines grow new quills to replace the ones they lost. Quills have sharp tips with microscopic backwards-facing barbs that clings to the skin, which make it difficult and (and slightly) painful to pull the quills out of an animal’s or human’s skin (1).

(Photo: AAAS) A zoomed-in of quills’ sharp tips and their backwards-facing barbs that make it difficult to pull the quills out of an animal’s or human’s skin.
(Photos: Land of Strange, Etsy) Porcupine quills before and after dyeing.

Once obtained from the porcupines, quills need to be cleaned with hot water (to avoid diseases if quills get stuck in the skin while working), dyed and flattened. Quills are softened in warm water again before embroidery. When glass beads became widely available from Euro-American traders around the 1850s, quillwork gradually became a lost art. Due to their durability, beads were read-made, easier to acquire, easier to take care of, quicker to embroider and were available in a wider range of colors. It can take more than a year for a master quill worker to quill a shirt, but with beads, it only takes a few months (2).

A fully-quilled purse made by a master quill artist, such as Jamie, can easily cost $1000-$2000, and they are sold out fast.

(Photo: Jacob’s Facebook) Jamie Jacob’s collection of his past quillworks.

Though I was not able to create a $2000 quilled basket ready for sale during the one-hour workshop with Jamie, I did finish a tiny piece of crooked quillwork on paper and had a peek at the immense amount of diligence and time required of quill workers.

The front and back side of my amateur & crooked quillwork 🙂

Sources:

  1. https://powwow-power.com/quillwork/
  2. https://prairieedge.com/tribe-scribe/quillwork-a-vanishing-native-american-art/
  3. https://books.google.com/books?id=liCOtoUbbx8C&dq=quill+work+keep+women+at+home

Featured photo (from Multicultural Kid Blogs): Quillwork on birchbark.

Native American Heritage Month 2019: Dancing with the Tonawanda Senecas

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On November 21st, GCC celebrated the Native American Heritage Month with Tonawanda Seneca Nation Dancers at the Harvest Festival. It was the first time I saw a Native American social dance and their lively garments and experienced the energy brought on by the social bonds between the dancers. They even invited many of the attendees to join in their rhythms and footsteps. 

Seneca was the largest of six Native American nations (the other five nations were Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Tuscaroras) which comprised the Iroquois Confederacy or Six Nations, a government that pre-dates the United States Constitution. As Seneca occupied the most western region of the Iroquois, they were known as the “Keeper of the Western Door.” The Seneca nation’s own name is Onödowága, meaning “People of the Mountains.” Present-day Senacas lives on three reservations: Tonawanda, Cattaraugus and Allegany, each named for the river in which they are located (1).

The Iroquois word for social dances – guyno, so, ohn anndwadek, note, gawdoe – translates as ‘a group of songs for entertainment purposes.’ Social dance comes at an early age in the traditional communities of the Iroquois. Expectant mothers would introduce melodic and rhythmic movements to their developing infants, accustoming their children to the flow of dancing and social bonding that comes with it.

Many social dances are associated with mammals such as the rabbit and racoon, duck, robin and pigeon. Almost every dance is led by the announcer who serves as a “caller” ensuring all the dancers stays on beat and doing the correct steps. Below are some of the common social dances across the Nations:

Women’s Dance

This social dance expresses gratitude for the fertility of Mother Earth and to the “Givers of Life” – corn, beans and squash – which are the complementary crops essential to the agriculture of the native tribes (2).

Corn dance

Corn is the leader within the “three sisters” of plants that provides ecological and nutritional balance. With its high nutrient requirements, corn crops can deplete the soils’ nutrients and needs its sisters, bean and squash crops, to enhance and protect the nutrients of the soil. Corn dance is performed in a double line which symbolized planted rows (2).

Smoke Dance

Originally a war dance, the likeliest origin of Smoke Dance probably has little to do with smoke, and more to do with war. The Six Nations had dances that would help warriors prepare for battle; once the wars stopped, the dances became ceremonial to their ancestors. These dances—performed solely by men at the time—were slow, heavy and dramatic, meant to incite the fortitude for combat. 

The Senecas were particularly skilled at warfare but were also sophisticated in diplomacy with the other five Nations. As war dances had lost their original inspiration over time, they became known as smoke dances (3).

Sources

  1. https://drumhop.com/music.php?page=189
  2. https://folklife-media.si.edu/docs/festival/program-book-articles/FESTBK1993_22.pdf  
  3. https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/on-the-words-tribe-and-nation-NUTfP-tyU0uqza8cle2BSg/

Chicago, Batavia, and the Future

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Dennis Austin

“What is a Batavia, NY”? were among the many questions, family members, friends, and colleagues had asked me as I began to prepare for the move from the glamorous city of Chicago to a region where there were more cows than people.

For most of my life Chicago was home. The people, the culture, the food, the music, and other key characteristics that define our great city, was an everyday experience I had come to know since I was born. For goodness sakes, I was born in 1993, a year the Chicago Bulls accomplished their first three-peat. If Basketball was our religion, Michael Jordan would be God himself. I had made good memories here, met interesting people, and lived a steady life.

Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan

So why leave?

When people from this region would find out about my Chicago origins, I was always asked by default “Why Leave?” “Why Batavia?”

Chicago skyline at night

For me, it was simple. I had grown tiresome of the fast-paced lifestyle that had encumbered my ability to be more flexible as it pertained to seeking opportunity. There was also the reality of friends moving across the country for academic and professional reasons, collapsing my social circle at home. Working in a hospital call-center, albeit with zealous colleagues whom I heap nothing but praise on to this day (except for one individual), was not something I envisioned for myself when younger. If anything, compared to previous years spent travelling across the country campaigning for politicians, this was a rather tedious tenure. While there were several enjoyable conversations with patients and physicians alike, I was beginning to grow weary of my long-term prospects and thus sought an opportunity to change course. In late summer 2017, I began a vigorous search for community colleges with on-campus accommodation housing and respectable tuition fees. At the end of this search were two colleges, GCC being one of them. On November 3, 2017, by way of a 12-hour Amtrak journey I made my way from the city Michael Jordan made famous to Rochester, N.Y. Assisted by my former advisor Lourdes Abaunza, I would register for Spring 2019 classes, spurring a new relationship with this community.

I remember my first day arriving on a cold and wet January vividly. Upon exiting my ride-share, I was introduced to the harsh Western New York weather with heaps of rain pouring down upon my face and luggage. I hurriedly grabbed my bags and began a brief sprint to a room beneath the safety office at College Village. I would be given my keys and a packet for new residents, including an itinerary of weekend activities. Escorted by a tall and lanky Resident Assistant known as Matt, I would find myself standing in the middle of my new home, miles away from the comfortable settings that had become familiar to me. The experience was foreign to me. The absence of 24/7 buses and trains with sprawling downtown buildings that made the city glow, was foreign to me. However, I soon became accustomed with my new surroundings. Learning about the region and inhabitants served as a history lesson. People I saw as strangers would become friends, some of them lifelong.


Getting acclimated to a classroom setting was an entirely different set of challenges. I recall my first class. Math 091 taught by Professor Mark Siena. I remember arriving 25 minutes before class began at 7:45 am.  Awaken by the sound of my alarm at 6:30 am, I began to get ready for my first day of school in nearly five years since dropping out of high school. As the semester persisted, I would eventually find my place academically and socially. While there was hesitation to return, I did the following fall. It has not been easy being in Batavia. My race and sexual orientation as a gay man has proved to be an issue for some people.  However, my brash and abrasive attitude gave it back in kind. Regardless of those struggles, there is some virtue during my time here. It is a theme I have kept coming back to recently.

Resilience has been a major theme in my life. I was born and grew up in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Left with a single mother at home who herself combated the issues of education and poverty as a child, me and my other siblings did not have the proverbial “silver spoon” by any stretch of one’s imagination. What we were given in place of the materialistic possessions not affordable to us, was education. My mother did not have the privilege of finishing her education, thus, she worked hard to ensure we would be the generation of our family to break the glass ceiling of the issues that afflicted my mother’s generation. When I left high school, she was obviously disappointed. I was always seen as the “one with potential” and for that to occur was an emotional hardship for the both of us. However, as life would continue for me, I would find myself in the company of high-profile politicians, working on their campaigns. Meeting President Obama was a turning point in my life as I began to realize the potential I truly had. How to revive and sustain it? Well, I set out to try. In 2016, I obtained my GED and the following year returned to work. It was during this time I began to be honest with myself and future ambitions.

When I was six-years old, my first Presidential Election was George Bush vs Al Gore and while not old enough to properly comprehend the events of that evening it left a small child on Chicago’s south-side awestruck. That feeling never left and would manifest itself over the course of my life. I wanted to be a politician. Which office would I hope to occupy? Senator does sound tempting. However, in order to attain that level of power and prestige, one must obtain an education. A conscious choice I made when arriving at Genesee Community College. Since being here I have been active in various clubs and organizations, winning numerous awards for academic and extracurricular achievement. At present I am working on a lengthy thesis paper, a project that I have come to appreciate for its rigor and challenge.

As for what is next upon departing Batavia? I go back home and then to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, studying Political Science. I will not lie. I am hopeful for the future, but somewhat demurred that as this process continues, I will not get any younger. Comical, I know, however it does present a concern of how long I wish to be in academia. Time will tell. For now, I am excited at the prospects of what my new institution will offer.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus

As I prepare to graduate, I would like to take this time to thank the various professors, faculty and friends for imparting on me wisdom, advice, and friendship through the good times and rather questionable times. More importantly, I am thankful for the opportunity to understand the culture and way of living in this community. I have always believed that getting outside your comfort zone presents an opportunity to grow, and I feel that I have. My advice to those who are younger: Do not be afraid to take risks. The outside world can be intimidating, however, never turn down an opportunity to grow. Whether that process occurs through incidents of failure and frustration, learn to appreciate the journey.

I learned a valuable lesson from two mentors of mine who passed away a few years ago. Life is a like a train station, we all arrive and depart from stops—those stops being certain chapters in our lives. So, enjoy those “stops” along the way and more importantly, appreciate the people you encounter as you venture toward greater opportunities that await you.

Thanks to the many people who left an invaluable mark on me during my time at GCC.

As conductors on Chicago trains say “Doors Closing. Next stop is…”

CTA Train station in Downtown Chicago



Dennis Austin is a graduating Sophomore from Genesee Community College. He will enroll at the University of Illinois’ Champaign-Urbana campus in January.

GCC Social Justice Day 2019: The Voice of Farmworkers’ Rights

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On Thursday November 21st, 2019, GCC invited the campus and overall community to its second annual Social Justice Day featuring Robert F. Kennedy Humanitarian award winner Librada Paz as the keynote speaker. The keynote speech was followed by the breakout sessions of various topics surrounding the labor rights of farmers and minorities.

Librada Paz speech, The Voice of Farmworkers’ Rights documented her personal journey from being a 15-year-old migrant farmer picking tomatoes after crossing the Arizona desert into the US. Her teenage daily consisted of laboring in the field up to 10-14 hours a day, seven days a week and living in cramped living quarters with 16 other people. While being a voiceless migrant farmer, she suffered from sexual assaults and discrimination that were rampant in the agriculture industry in which labor rights were nonexistent. With financial support from her siblings, she attended high school in Brockport while working in the fields during weekends and eventually earning a mechanical engineering degree from RIT while juggling part-time jobs, farm works and advocating for farmer’s rights. After her RIT graduation, instead of diving into the fruitful career as an engineer, she worked full time to advocate and educate migrant farmers communities to know their rights.

You can learn more details about her tirelessly inspiring journey on how she became a national human rights activist for farmworkers’ rights here.

(Photo: National Farm Worker Ministry) “Let migrant farmworkers live and work with the dignity befitting the importance of their task.” – Dr. Gloria Mattera, Founder of Geneseo Migrant Center

Here are some background and key takeaways on farm workers’ rights in the US:

“Since the 1930s, farmworkers across the US have been denied the most fundamental labor protections: minimum wage, a day of rest each week, overtime pay, disability insurance, collective bargaining, worker’s compensation, and a safe and sanitary work environment.” (1)

Yes, you read it right. Farmers work 10 hours a day, seven days a week with no break, not even a single day, lest they risk losing their jobs.

“Farmworker work up to 16 hours a day with no overtime and no protections from retaliatory firing. They also suffer from higher rates of cancer and other health hazards due to pesticide and herbicide.” (1)

One of the breakout session titled Social Justice Work and Migrant Workers: Past, Present and Future , presented by Geneseo Migrant Center members, addressed all aspects of a farmer’s life (from their seasonal follow-the-crop migration, to their lack of healthcare and education) was an eye-opening lecture for me. One of the slides detailed a devastating healthcare condition of a farmer that Geneseo Migrant Center worked with,

“Dr. Matlin remembers one extreme case found through in-camp health screening. A diabetic man had severe osteomyelitis. An ulcer had eaten through his skin and flesh into the bone. Lacking money, insurance or first aid supplies, he had stuffed the ulcer using toilet paper and kept on working. With the center’s intervention, he was finally admitted to a hospital, where the ulcer was treated.”

Two decades after New York farmers fight for their basic rights, the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act was finally passed in 2019 and will be in effect on January 1st 2020 (2). 

The last time the bill reached the Senate was 2010 (almost a decade ago!), which it lost by three votes. Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act will grant New York farmer the most fundamental  labor protections that all other hourly workers enjoys. 

We all want to feel good about the food we consume every day, and the unending ignorance and injustice in labor rights against farmworkers are just some of the many disgraces in our food system that must be stopped. “Imagine the time that people were slaves,” Paz said. “A lot of the farmworkers were slaves, and since that time, they’ve excluded farmworkers from having equal rights with other industries.”

Sources:

  1. https://rfkhumanrights.org/assets/documents/Librada-Paz062018-2.pdf
  2. https://citylimits.org/2019/02/12/will-new-yorks-farmworkers-get-labor-protections-in-2019/

Featured photo: ROC United

GCC Internship Program: Inside Look

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By: Ta’tiana Lee

My first internship is literally changing my life! I am an intern with the Marketing & Communications department at Genesee Community College, also called MarCom, and already have experience gained in areas that I never thought would be within my reach. I have documented and created event calendars throughout the local community. In doing this I found great free sites to advertise publicly and the structure and manner of creating an event. I got the opportunity to work under a trained photographer while practicing photography myself. At this moment, I knew that I would enjoy being a part of MarCom at GCC.

The hours are flexible and my portfolio will definitely look a lot better because of the opportunities provided by MarCom. I have two days minimum in an office setting and one day minimum working from home. New opportunities come often and they are things to brag about. For instance, I arrived on one of my office days to a professional videographer hired by the school. I was able to witness the beginning process of videography. I was even able to sit in and brainstorm with the team for that project, which included my supervisor and the videographer himself. Not only was I able to sit in and bear witness but I actually felt as if I had a voice. That opportunity will forever stay with me because it became motivational in a way. It reminds me that this can be my life and that I can have a career!

I am also a student at Genesee Community College and MarCom is very understanding when it comes to education. If I have a test or need the day to study, they will not only assent but they would help me find the time to make up the hours that I’ve missed. My goal was to gain experience in an office like setting and in the business world and MarCom has made it possible for me to do exactly that plus more. I can’t wait to blog an update with even more experiences gained by completing my internship with the Marketing & Communications department at GCC.

Here is a picture taken by me at Discover the Stars

This was the first event that I had attended for GCC’s Internship Program. This was also where I was able to learn from and work under a Professional Photographer. It was filled with students and donors, which made the moments I’d captured even more special.

Here is a picture I captured at an event for student athletes

At this event I got to practice taking in motion shots. This event was the same day as Discover the Stars.

Here is a picture taken by me at the Homecoming Weekend Car Cruise

This picture was taken at a car show at Genesee Community College. I love cars so this event was also a lot of fun.

Seeking a Challenge

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By Dennis Austin

As a GCC Honor’s Program student, I approached Professor(s) Garth Swanson and Anne Wood last semester with a goal in mind: complete a thesis project with a 100-page count. Suffice to say, I was met with concerned reaction. Thesis projects of this size and stature are not normally undertaken by community college students.  Initially, I was discouraged in approaching this project, and advised to seek a more specific topic with a shorter page length.

 I said no.

 I’m glad I did.

Throughout my tenure here at Genesee Community College, I have searched high and low for opportunities to expand and build upon my intellectual capabilities, which undoubtedly will serve me will in later stages of life. I had gotten used to the usual essay outlines which my professors feverishly assigned me. In essence, writing an essay became too simple of a task. The routine became boring, predictable, and mundane. There is no intention of disrespect toward my professors. One in particular remarked to me that their reason for being a light course load was their concern that many students would be unable to keep if they increased the rigor.

Not entirely unpredictable but unfortunate. Education, to me, should be an opportunity for students to dive deep into a subject of their choice and familiarity, with no restrictions applied. Many days and nights pondering what the next academic challenge could be. As a six-year old, my first Presidential Election was Bush V. Gore. While not of an age to properly perceive the events of that campaign, I was enthralled by the pomp and circumstance of that evening. Getting older led to more political awareness which eventually I found across the “pond.” Inspired by the events of Brexit and previous political developments in the country, compelled me to choose Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as the basis for my project. While already familiar with her Premiership, I wanted to examine how her government’s economic policy and theory, led to what I deem as an unraveling of the British working-class.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Currently in my research, I am reviewing her flagship policy known as the MFTS (Medium Term Financial Strategy), in which her decision to raise interest rates, eliminate credit controls, and how the concentration of Britain’s money supply range, led to unsavory conditions for lower-income individuals and families. For example, 1981 saw a peak of unemployment at 3 million, which was the highest number recorded since the Great Depression. During the period of 1979 to 1980, industrial production fell by 6.4%, with downturn in manufacturing output and capacity, at 20%.

As the project continues throughout the semester, it is with great intention to (hopefully) provide updates on newer findings and to offer further explanation of how her policies were applied in working-class Britain.

Professor Swanson remarked to me that this is the first project of its kind for our Honors Program. While there have been other creative projects in the past, nothing of this nature has been done before. To our knowledge, there has been no other student at this institution, past or present, who conducted and penned a project of this magnitude.

Why 100 pages? To admit, there is some braggadocio involved, however I feel that for the first time since arriving on campus that there exists a subject within familiar realms which require a discipline and focus arguably unlike any other form of study I have taken here or anywhere. Not just due to page requirement or quantity of work involved. It is due to the fact that I am asked to go beyond my comfort zone in search of not just finishing the project, but in search of my own potential, henceforth the insistence that I adhere to this project—from start until finish. I have been given the support, encouragement and occasional sternness from my professors, since this project began. They know what I am capable of and as such, are holding me to a high standard.

As I prepare to graduate from GCC, I hope this project in some way can inspire one student to go outside of their familiar realm and seek an opportunity to truly challenge themselves. Not for the prospect of failing, but for the virtue of expanding one’s creativity. This has been a journey and while the final page has not yet been penned, this has been an experience that I will appreciate many years from now.