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:
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 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).
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).
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.
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.”
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:
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.
i have been asked this question
it has been called to my mind
if only it were so simple
if only we could
by simply changing clothes.
i remember also
what he was wearing
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.
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.
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).
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.
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):
Día de Muertos: Day of the Dead
La calavera: skull
La Ofrenda: offerings (including personal items, food, drinks, decorations dedicated to the loved ones)
La calaca: skeleton figure
El espíritu: spirit / soul
La ánima: another word for spirit / soul
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).
Runo Suzuki is a sophomore majoring in Theatre Arts at GCC. She is an international student from Hokkaido, Japan. She’s currently a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Student Government Association, Forum Players Theatre Company and a Resident Assistant at GCC’s College Village.
During high school, Runo partook in at least six theatre productions in various roles as an actress, lightning crew, stage manager, and director. At GCC, she had participated in four productions including Bakkhai (as one of the Bakkahs), Single Black Female (as a dancer), Encounters (as an actor), and Children’s Theatre: The Lamp is the Moon (as an ensemble member). Together with the Forum Players Theatre Company, Runo Suzuki performed The Rocky Horror Show as Janet Weiss on October 17-20, 2019 at GCC’s Stuart Steiner Theatre.
“Your heart will thump and your blood will sing / So let the party and the sound rock on / We’re gonna shake it til the life has gone” (lyrics of “Wild And Untamed Thing”). Runo Suzuki and cast performing “Wild And Untamed Thing.”
Were there any difficulties being an international student at GCC?
Absolutely. Last year I was too scared, too shy and too embarrassed to talk to people, ‘cause I thought my English was not good. I’m involved in theatre, have to communicate with the crew and the cast, I was in the situations that I have to talk. Also, my American roommate, Brittany, who is also a theatre major, was also extremely helpful; she always stayed to help me and we hung out a lot, and that boosted my confidence in English speaking.
Why did you choose GCC? And why the theatre major?
I’ve always loved theatre since I was little. In Japan, there are very few colleges that provide theatre programs, and they are mostly very expensive. And I love English, so I want to learn more about it, and I want to learn theatre in New York, since it is the hotspot of theatre and arts. I searched through various colleges with theatre programs and specifically chose GCC to start my English and theatre studies.
What’s your favorite theatre course or professor at GCC?
My favorite course was “Lighting the Stage” taught by Instructor Brodie McPherson, who is also the director of the show. Brodie is so amazing, he can do everything, from light tech to staging and building set props and designs. Currently, I’m working as a lighting design assistant under Brodie as well.
How was the audition process? Why did you choose to audition for this role?
Actually, I initially chose to audition for Frank-N-Furter (Big laugh). I only wrote down Frank-N-Furter and that’s it, I did not write down any other roles. I just loved Frank-N-Furter and after I auditioned for the character, and I was shocked when I was cast for Janet. Because Janet is a pretty, girly and extremely Janet, and I am absolutely not that kind of person.
And I’m shocked to hear you were shocked that you were cast for Janet. I skimmed over the main cast and I could not imagine another cast member that can fit the role and exhibit the bubbly and mischievous innocence as well as you did. It’s either the director cast really well or you acted really well, or both. Why were you shocked you were cast as Janet?
Long story short, I attended an all-girls high school and I mostly played male roles, so I have always been used to the masculine role-playing, so my mind and my comfort zone has always been filled with male’s roles. This was one of the reasons why I auditioned for Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Then one day, I had to be Janet, an utterly feminine, cute and sexual woman.
So the most difficult for me was transforming my gender identity as an actress from masculine roles to feminine roles. There are many different versions of Rocky Horror Picture Show and I watched everything I could find and especially focused on Janet’s pretty and womanly movements. The part I felt most difficult was performing Janet’s “Toucha, Toucha, Touch Me,” which was about her pent-up sexual frustrations and lust awakenings. The scene I feared the most was the scene at the start of Act II (shyly giggles), in which Janet had her first sex with Frank, who disguised himself as her fiancé, Brad, to seduce her.
What are your strong and weak points as an actress? Let’s start with your strong points.
I think one of my strengths so far is adaptability [to different roles]. I’m overly facially expressive. I think another one of my strengths is craziness. Brodie always told me, “you’re a weirdo!” I’d proudly response, “I know!” – maybe that’s a strong point for an actress. I love moving my body, I can’t stop moving my body and dancing whenever I’m hyped.
For weaknesses, I’m not a good singer. I’ve played the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” in high school, but I think I was terrible, I think no one was moved by my singing. During the first few weeks of rehearsal, the musical director, Lauren, taught me vocal lessons on learning how to breathe, how to project my voice. I also need to improve more on understanding, analyzing in-depth and empathize with the character’s backgrounds and motives.
Did you learn anything new about American culture through this production?
YES! Americans are more open-minded regarding LGBT and they are not too bothered about what others are wearing or what their gender and sexual identity labels are. In Japan, it’s more conservative, the topic is not openly address and people of Japan’s LGBT community in most of the time feels they have to hide a huge part of themselves.
What are your plans post-graduation?
I plan on transfer to a 4-year university or work in a theatre-related position for a year on OPT (Optional Practical Training).
Any words or tips for future GCC theater students?
I experienced so many wonderful experiences with the theatre people here and I couldn’t be more proud. I do hope they will get to have the same terrific experiences as I did.