PC: KSB

Introduction to Memoirs of the Trees, a new blog series

I grew up in New England, surrounded by forests. Trees dwelt in my yard, encompassed our vehicle as we drove around town, sat watch at Sleeping Giant where we hiked regularly, and huddled in New York’s Adirondack Mountains where we traveled some summers.

Apple trees lay below us on Blue Hills Road on the way from Cheshire to North Haven. Above me, below me, and around me in Connecticut were oaks, beeches, maples, and pines of earth brown, spotted yellow, vibrant maroon, and green of all shades. No other region of the U.S. can compare to the diversity of foliage in New England.

Perhaps you have heard of Ents. If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, you know of their wisdom and the histories that lie deep within their hearts in the Fangorn Forest.

In this blog series, Memoirs of the Trees, I would like to share the histories of specific trees whose lives have crossed mine. In this way, I will honor the trees that have impacted my life.

Perhaps the tree will share a particular moment in its life, or perhaps it will describe a stretch of years. Spun from my reality, these stories will include creative elements stretching back into history, imagined occurrences as well as actual connections had with humans.

Enjoy this blog series and take some time to honor the land that has shaped you. Next week will begin the first of many stories regarding trees that I hold dear. Thank you.

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PC: KSB

The Bus Fight

Denver,
Summer 2014.

White man on a bus.
Black youth—my age—as well.

Fight.
Words, words of hate.
“N*****,” they both called each other.

I’d never seen anything like it;
I’d never seen such hate.

The white man wouldn’t listen,
Wouldn’t heed a word.
I wanted to tell the black man that he wouldn’t make any progress,
But I held back
>out of fear of the fight
>and because I didn’t want the man to have to be submitted to a white voice
>again.

Help doesn’t always mean stepping in for others.

They wanted to take it on to the street.
“Colfax and—” what crossroad?
Broadway was my stop.

They wanted to fight out of rage
(the white man had started it over literally nothing),
But they were both scared.
I think one got off a stop before me, one after.

I hurried away for fear that I’d be caught in a brawl.

Denver,
Summer 2014.

I witnessed the results
Of a racist history, alive today.

I hadn’t known the divide was so real, still real,
And while I never saw another bus fight, I saw
>discriminatory housing laws causing segregation
>gentrification of the remaining black neighborhoods
>homelessness in men now out of the (broken) criminal justice system
>fear of poor, minority males
>poverty mere yards from wealth.

White man on a bus.
Black youth—my age—as well.
Hate and fear.

Are Syrian refugees safe?

(published in the Wheaton Record on 03 December 2015; edited and updated here on 06 December 2015)

I’m not surprised that well over half of the United States is essentially barring Syrian refugees, despite the illegality of officially doing so and the human rights violations any de facto or de jure laws induce. This country has a history of creating contradictory laws to allow “desirable” immigrants and keep out the “undesirable.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we welcome Mexican workers to our underpaid fields when times are good but blame the seasonal immigrants when the economy is bad. This occurs with other ethnic groups today, and the United States has been enforcing similar, seemingly subtle practices for centuries.

Take the Chinese for example. During the Gold Rush, we welcomed this group. But when the gold wasn’t shining from the mines anymore, we essentially stopped Chinese immigration via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The U.S. picked and chose who was most desirable to immigrate, and the Chinese were no longer “it.” Ironically, we created the Chinese Exclusion Act the same year as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, allowing goods to enter Korea from the West. Around the same time, Japanese inflows increased, only to be stifled 15 years later with the so-called “gentleman’s agreement.” Discriminatory laws later restricted land ownership as well.

To demonstrate more contradictory and unjust immigration laws, the United States upheld the Bracero Program from 1942 to 1964, allowing Mexican citizens to work here, while simultaneously enforcing Operation Wetback from 1953-58, deporting them on the spot if they didn’t have legal documents on their persons when stopped. Does anyone smell racial profiling? Or are you thinking of South African Apartheid?

The contingent manner with which this country creates and enforces certain immigration laws seems ridiculous to me. Now our issue is with Syrian people who are running for safety. We’re afraid because ISIS originated from the same country, but aren’t many Syrians fleeing their homes for the same reason?

Moreover, when we fear that the refugees are terrorists set on destroying this land of “freedom,” we demonstrate our ignorance at the processes refugees go through to leave the camps. My friend from Burundi spent about fourteen years in refugee camps in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo before coming to the States, where he received his green card in the first year and waited five years for citizenship. His wife and children had to wait eleven years before they were allowed to enter the States as refugees. And that hassle was for East African refugees, people not from a place of alleged terrorism.

For all refugees, the paperwork required of refugees entering another country is consuming, and the screenings are intense. Whether immigration is rushed or prolonged, we can be sure that Syrian refugees are not out to harm America. They’re fleeing the terror, after all. Whether they wish they could return to their old home or long for a new one, the camps are not homes. They are meant to provide temporary refuge only. Some of these refugees are well educated, and some are not, but all are displaced and hurting.

As Christians, God commands us to show hospitality to the stranger. He commanded Israel to welcome the stranger, since Israel had once dwelt in a land not their own. Israel had fled terror. Israel was a refugee state.

Are we Egypt, fearing and terrorizing meek refugees, trying to keep their numbers down and mistreating those already here through “protection” laws, unhospitable interpersonal interactions and Facebook posts? Or are we Israel at its best, when they welcomed the stranger because they knew what it meant to need a home?

As Americans, we are a nation of immigrants. As Christians, we are told to love and not fear, to serve and not be anxious. How will we interact with Syrian and Iraqi refugees and with our state and national governments as a result?

 

 

A List of New England Things

“You know you’re a ____ if” lists and “20 things about _____” articles are popular right now. Being bullet point style, they’re easy for Millennials to skim, and they appeal to our sense of identity. Inspired by these attractive albeit shallow articles, I’ve constructed a list of New England identifiers.

Not all of these apply to me personally, having been socialized in Evangelical circles and a private Christian school in Connecticut, but I’ve seen or experienced nearly everything on this list. Keep in mind that these are generalizations and that most of them center on Connecticut.

I could read into many of these and write full blogs for almost every bullet point, but I’ll limit my analysis in this blog and let you get into that in the comments below.

  • New Englanders are known for being “cold” and unfriendly, but at least we’re direct with what we feel.
  • Atheism pervades everything. Even most Catholics are nominal only; my dad would call many people “practicing atheists.” God is never mentioned or welcomed. But people are more receptive than you might expect, if only you initiate. This applies from religious conversations to simple hellos.
  • We’re known for our gorgeous foliage, but we experience all four seasons to their fullest extents, roughly three months each and each one vibrant in its stage of life.
Eating DF ice cream with my mom in Cheshire, CT, the month before I left for college in the Midwest.

Eating dairy free ice cream with my mom in Cheshire, CT, the month before I left for college in the Midwest. Summer 2013.

  • Apple and pumpkin picking are regular autumn activities.
  • Effectiveness and productivity are how we work. We may be running around all the time, over-busy and workaholics, but we get the work done.
  • We have nasty beaches with no waves. Our water is brown.
  • Hiking is readily available, from nature trails within minutes to mountains within a few hours’ drive. And by hiking, I mean forests and hills and rock faces and curvy trails, not flat nature walks.
  • We say “I’m all set” instead of wordy expressions such as “I’m finished, thank you” or “I have what I need.” At least, that’s what I say, and I’ve never met anyone from another region of the States who says “I’m set”!
  • In Connecticut, we eat lots of pasta. Carbs and other simple, unhealthy foods are staples for many.
  • We have a lot of American Italian influence in CT as well.
  • If you’re not Italian (or in addition to being Italian), you’re a “European mutt,” meaning you have some English and probably two to four other European countries in your heritage. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were able to trace your lineage back to a figure from early America!
Spending the end of my time in CT with my dear friend Mia, who is 3/4 Italian and 1/4 Swedish. I'm English, Scottish (my dad's side of the family, so the New England side), Irish, French and a tad bit German (my mom's side of the family from Philly). August 2013.

Spending the end of my time in CT with my dear friend Mia, who is 3/4 Italian and 1/4 Scandinavian. I’m English, Scottish (my dad’s side of the family, so the Connecticut side), Irish, French and a tad bit German (my mom’s side of the family from Philly). August 2013.

  • We are taxed through the ROOF. Literally, look at how many houses are for sale or foreclosed. Everyone’s moving South.
  • We know snow. We can get it feet at a time, depending on the winter. And because of that, we don’t know so much of summer. Our schools probably get out the latest out of all the regions in the States, basically bestowing only two months of summer vacation. But we have record snow days in winter!
  • Many people are wealthy and go skiing in winter. But we’re not all financially rich! For example, I lived in a blue collar community.
  • We keep to ourselves and don’t usually know our neighbors. Town sports through local community centers connect youth and their parents well, however.
  • We were Abolitionists some 150 years ago, and we don’t experience much publicized racism, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
  • We’re mostly White people, and as for Connecticut, we’re fairly suburban. In my experience, the racial and class differences between the cities, suburbs, and rural areas are clear.
  • People will go to Cape Cod or Rhode Island for vacations, but they neglect all Connecticut has to offer.
  • Nonetheless, historical landmarks abound in New England–the Nathan Hale homestead, Noah Webster’s house, Plymouth Rock–the list goes on.
My friend and I parting ways after attending a yearly Christian summer camp in Massachusetts. August 2013.

My friend and I parting ways after attending a yearly Christian summer camp in Massachusetts. August 2013.

  • We also have a variety of museums from the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Butterfly Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery, to name a few. Keep heading east in Connecticut near Rhode Island for more options dealing with marine life.
  • Speaking of Yale, all eight Ivy League schools are located in the Northeast. In the six states that officially compose New England (ME, NH, VT, MA, CT, RI), we have four of the eight: Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale.
  • We’re also known for our seafood and clam chowder, especially in Maine.
  • People go boating on the weekends.
  • We do not have a lot of (contemporary) Christian radio stations (if any), and, at least in southern New England, we only have one country station per region. Pop music it is.
Saying goodbye after visiting some of my cousins in CT, who also enjoy Country 92.5 FM. May 2014.

Saying goodbye after visiting some of my cousins in CT, who share my appreciation for Country 92.5 FM. May 2014.

  • We have amusement and water parks for children (ex. Lake Quassy in CT) and for the whole family (ex. Lake Compounce in CT and Six Flags New England, located in Massachusetts literally a couple miles from the CT border. Bizarro, formerly known as the award-winning steel roller coaster Superman, is housed at here, with its 221 foot drop, 77mph speed and lengthy three and a half minute ride. It’s my favorite.)
  • We root for the Patriots each football season, but as for baseball, you’re either a die-hard Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees fan. In Massachusetts you practically have to be a Sox fan, and nearby NY takes the Yankees, but CT is a total mix. Be careful with whom you side!

Have any New England-isms to add? Comment below!