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/

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

Call for Participation in GCC Holiday Greeting Video

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Holidays are approaching all of us and GCC would like to celebrate the holidays with their students and staff by creating an annual Holiday Greeting Video Projects for 2019. You can check out Holiday Greeting Video Projects of previous years on GCC’s Youtube Channel.  

This year’s theme is one significant word, “Peace.” We are looking for different members of our campus community to say that one word on camera with as much finesse and sincerity as possible. We are asking international students to say it in their native language, theatre students with their unique flair, fashion students with panache, and anyone else who wants to be involved to join us with their own projection and sentiment of the word Peace.

If you are interested, please join Maureen Spindler in Room D360 for approximately 2 – 3 minutes during one of the following time slots:

Wednesday, Nov. 13 (11 am – 1 pm; 2 pm – 4 pm)

Thursday, Nov. 14 (9 – 10:30 am; 1 pm – 3 pm)

Friday, Nov. 15 (12 – 2 pm)

Or By Appointment

To make an appointment, please contact Lori Ivison by:

Credit: Background vector by freepik.

GCC exhibits “What Were You Wearing?” Art Installation

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Inspired by a poem “What I Was Wearing” by Dr. Mary Simmerling, Jen Brockman and Mary Wyandt-Hiebert created the first exhibit of “What Were You Wearing” in 2014 at the University of Arkansas. Since then, many “What Were You Wearing?” survivor art installations were developed across the US to shatter the decades-old myth that the responsibility of an assault lies in the victim. Similar victim-blaming questions, such as interrogating the victims’ alcohol consumption and their sexual history, bring shame and blame upon the victim and take the focus away from the real offenders. Such prejudices intimidate victims from reporting the assault and further feeds the rape culture. 

(Photo by Jennifer Sprague from HuffPost News) The original art exhibit “What Were You Wearing?” at the University of Kansas. 

“you see

i have been asked this question

many times

it has been called to my mind

many times

this question

this answer

these details. 

if only it were so simple

if only we could

end rape

by simply changing clothes.

i remember also

what he was wearing

that night

even though

it’s true

that no one

has ever asked.”

From “What I Was Wearing” by Mary Simmerling

On November 7th, GCC exhibited its own survivor art installation, displaying nine outfits hanging next to 9 rape survivors’ narratives about what they wore when they were assaulted. 

A long sleet shirt and Khakis. A T-shirt and jeans. A sweatsuit. A 6-year old girl’s dress. They were all there. Attendees not only see themselves reflected in the outfits “I have this similar shirt at home,” but also in the settings or contexts in which assaults took place, “a family’s friend came to visit,” “at a social gathering before entering grad school,”…

Within the exhibit were support groups and organizations at GCC and local communities: 

  • Al-Anon is a newly created peer support club for students at GCC that aids recovery for the families and friends of alcoholics. Weekly meeting will be held in room C201 every Tuesday from 12:30-1:30 pm.                                                              
  • Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse (GCASA) is an alcohol and substance abuse prevention and treatment agency whose services include prevention, treatment, EAP and residential programs in Western New York.
  • GLOW Women March empower women of local, rural communities of the GLOW region to participate and rise to positions of power that create positive changes.
  • RESTORE, a program of Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, leads the community response to sexual violence through advocacy and education, by providing the safety, support and validation that changes the lives of all those affected.
  • YWCA Genesee offers domestic violence crisis and prevention services, accessible childcare at Genesee County Family Court, and economic empowerment opportunities.
Al-Anon – new club at GCC
YWCA Genesee

More facts about domestic and sexual violence in the US:

  • October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month
  • April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) – NSVRC
  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men (1).
  • Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime (1).
  • Only 34% of people who are injured by intimate partners receive medical care for their injuries (1).

Sources:  

  1. https://ncadv.org/

GCC celebrating Day of the Dead

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On October 31st, 2019, Global  Education club, in collaboration with WOKE, Student Government Association celebrated The Day of the Dead, or  Dia de los Muertos. It’s easy to be confused, but Day of the Dead is not a Mexican version of Halloween. Dia de los Muertos celebrates the memories of the departed ones and welcomes the visits of their family members’ spirits into their homes with food offerings, beautifully decorated altars and cemeteries. On the contrary, the Celtic-originated Halloween strongly associated with fear of death and spirits from the underworld, with disguised costumes and jack-o’-lanterns to frighten off evil spirits and motifs of graves opening and the dead rising. As both traditions developed and popularized, their influences and symbols influenced one another (1).

Having learned about Mexican’s Day of the Dead during high school, I could not comprehend how people could remember the dead and their lost ones in such a festive mood and vibrant decorations instead of mourning, almost as if death and departure to the underworld is good news to be lauded and strived toward. But after watching Coco (2017 film), I realized by honoring the dead, we are honoring life itself, the time our beloved ones had struggled through and lived to their fullest. By celebrating the dead, we are keeping our departed ones alive even when they are no longer with us, “Our memories, they have to be passed down by those who knew us in life – in the stories they tell about us” (Coco Film, 2017).

The most essential aspect of Day of the Dead lies in Ofrenda (Spanish for offerings), an elaborately decorated altar with personal items and favorite food and drinks of the one being honored. Many mistaken Ofrenda to be for worshipping, but those offerings are to entice the deceased to visit and to have a meal like a family.

I got to enjoy many of the traditional foods during the Day of the Dead at the celebration yesterday, including Mexican Rice and Beans, Churros and Dulce de leche sauce (cinnamon sugar stick with caramel milk sauce), Pico, Tortilla and Mexican Hot Cocoa.

Churros and Dulhe de leche sauce (cinnamon sugar stick with caramel milk sauce)

The most easily recognizable symbols of Day of the Dead are Mexican Marigolds (or Flor de Muerto) and Chrysanthemums. The flowers’ vibrant colors and scent help guide the departed souls to come back to their altars and family for a visit and feast on offerings dedicated for them. Despite its bright yellow and orange colors, marigolds are often known as “flower of the dead.” Many people even craft their own colorful marigolds from colored tissue paper, plastic and pipe cleaners, just like many of the students and GCC staff crafted at the event.

Sugar skull, or Calavera, is another part of the holiday that emphasizes Día de Muertos is all about celebratory, not gloomy. The skulls are often colorfully drawn by hand with smiles, as if to laugh at death (2), and that “death doesn’t have to be bitter, it can be sweet” (3). They are also decorated with colorful icing, beads and confectionery.

The event also educates the attendees on some of the Mexican tradition by introducing Spanish phrases associated with the holiday and the culture. And if you are also learning Spanish like I am, let’s dig in / review some of the Spanish vocab (4):

  1. Día de Muertos: Day of the Dead
  2. La calavera: skull
  3. La Ofrenda: offerings (including personal items, food, drinks, decorations dedicated to the loved ones)
  4. La calaca: skeleton figure
  5. El espíritu: spirit / soul
  6. La ánima: another word for spirit / soul
  7. Flor de muerto: the vibrant orange/yellow marigolds

If there’s one thing you can take away from this post or from this holiday, embrace this irony, “The Day of the Dead makes us reflect on life. In order to have life, we need to have death. It’s that perfect and necessary duality” (5).

Sources

  1. https://parade.com/220221/yvettemarquez/what-is-day-of-the-dead-and-how-is-it-different-from-halloween/
  2. https://dayofthedead.holiday/
  3. https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/sugar-skull-meaning
  4. https://www.worddive.com/blog/ten-spanish-words-to-talk-about-the-day-of-the-dead/
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=203&v=j44yUsIzUks