An Interview with Les AuCoin, author of Catch and Release

Les AuCoin was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives for two terms beginning in 1971 and was selected majority leader in 1973 at the age of thirty-one. He represented Oregon in the US House of Representatives for 18 years, from 1975 to 1993. The dean of the Oregon delegation and member of the House Appropriations Committee, he was described by the Oregonian as “the most powerful congressman in Oregon.” He helped create the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, the Seafood Consumer Research Center in Astoria, the Oregon Trail Center at Baker City, and the Lewis & Clark Visitors’ Center at Fort Clatsop. In 1992, he gave up his seat to run for the Senate.

AuCoin grew up in Redmond, attended Pacific University and Portland State University and served in the U.S. Army as a public information specialist. Trained as a journalist, he is award-winning magazine editor and public radio commentator, and his articles have appeared in major newspapers throughout the country. Today, he and his wife, Sue live in Portland.

His memoir, Catch and Release, has been published by Oregon State University Press.

Ed Battistella: I really enjoyed Catch and Release. Can you tell us a bit about the title?

Les AuCoin: Many will recognize the fly-fishing term, of course. I became an addicted fly-fisherman once I put Congress and politics behind me. As the years passed, I came to see catching and releasing as an allegory for my life. I “caught” a blissful early childhood until I had to release it when my dad turned out to be an addicted gambler who blew the family savings and abandoned us in the late 1940s, leaving my mom with two boys to raise on a waitress’ wage. In manhood, I “caught” a life someone with my background wasn’t expected to catch when I climbed to one of the top rungs of national politics. Although it ended with one of the most controversial and painful losses in modern Senate history, I like to think I let go of it with dignity and equanimity. If anything, I think the ethos of “catching and releasing” works better in life than in fishing. Besides, all we can ever do is toss out the best cast we can, the one thing we can control. What comes next is entirely up to the fish.

EB: I was impressed with your ability to find a dramatic moment in each of the vignettes you present—your father abandonment, the JFK assassination, your romance with your wife Sue, and much more.

LA: I’m glad you do. I didn’t set out to create drama. I wanted to share important memories from a life that turned out to be eventful. My good luck and bad seemed to heighten my capacity to observe. And not knowing what would happen next as a kid made me inquisitive. Inquisitiveness helped me find a way to stop James Watt from opening up the earthquake-prone western oceanic shelf to oil drilling. In a similar way, studied observation helped me identify the often unspoken but deeper desires of politicians. That, for example, is how I figured out how to get Jessie Helms’ right-wing Senate allies to drop their attempt to destroy the National Endowment for the Arts.

EB: A lot of political issues you dealt with, gay rights, legalization of marijuana, consumer rights issues, the environment are still in the news today. Where do you see progress as having been made since the seventies and eighties?

LA: Some issues that were venomous in my early career have become non-issues today. Guaranteeing LBGTQ citizens access to public accommodations was radioactive in 1973, when I was House Majority Leader in the Oregon Legislature. Today, gay marriage is legal in every state. Marijuana possession was a felony at the outset of my political career. I’m proud to have worked to make it a minor misdemeanor in Oregon in the mid-Seventies; today, ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for recreational use and 23 more allow it for medical use. As progress, that’s a sea change.

I wish I could say the same for the environment and consumer rights. Greed and its disciples are magnifying wealth disparity, and Trump and his acolytes are working to undo decades of progress on forest ecology, clean air and water, and protection for endangered and threatened species. That doesn’t even begin to describe Trump’s knuckle-dragging indifference to climate change, an existential threat to the earth and all its living things. The elections of 2020 may be our last best hope to reverse the destruction.

EB: You started your career as a journalist. What do you think of the state of journalism today?

LA: Once upon a time, it wasn’t hard to find news that was impartial, deep-digging, informative and fearlessly run by professional editors and program directors. Today, what’s left of newspapers is mostly run by the business office. Business values are not news values. We’re being entertained or titillated rather than informed. I’ve seen local TV coverage that devoted 10 to 15 minutes to a helicopter’s live coverage of an armed standoff at a warehouse where nothing happens. The station could have used the time to report on what it means if Northwest salmon go extinct. We risk becoming a nation of civic illiterates at a time when democracy faces an existential threat and economic, environmental, and scientific issues demand more sophistication than ever for their solution. Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter channeled Thomas Jefferson when he said, “An ignorant people can never be free.” It shouldn’t have surprised us that someone like Donald Trump could find his way into the presidency. I pray that Americans don’t let that stand.

EB: What convinced you to move on from electoral politics? You mentioned at one point that you felt like a telemarketer.

LA: In 1974, I won my seat in the US House for the first time. Back then, my opponent and I were limited by state law to $75,000 in our primary election and the same amount in our general election—for a total of $150,000. That law was struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court. Subsequent US Supreme Court decisions chipped away at post-Watergate federal laws until in my last reelection race, I had to raise more than $1 million to keep that same seat. Then, in 2010, the high court deemed political donations as “free speech.” Eight years later, my friend and First Congressional District successor, Suzanne Bonamici found it necessary to raise $939,392.52 for a reelection that initially cost me $150,000. House leaders of both parties now expect their members to spend 30 hours a week in “call centers”—buildings near the Capitol configured with small desks and telephones. Thirty hours! There, incumbents telephone total strangers to solicit campaign donations. I was long gone from the Congress at this point, but I distinctly remember having a goal of $3,500 a day in contributions. If I fell short and, say, raised $2,500, my next day’s goal would be $4,500. I’m told that nowadays, if you want to sit on a major committee, like the appropriations committee I served on, party leaders judge your bid in large part on how much in additional money you’ve raised for the party.

In the book, I state that today you have to raise money like hell to go to Congress to raise money like hell. I can’t stand the thought. I will fight for any constitutional proposal that will stop the money chase.

EB: What was the most important lesson you learned as a Congressman—something you might want to pass along to today’s aspiring leaders?

LA: Know what you believe and vote it. Nothing could be worse, Wayne Morse told me, than voting against your values but losing an election anyway.

EB: What did you miss the most after you left Washington?

LA: Well, it certainly wasn’t summer’s humidity, which at times felt like swimming in a bowl of boiling chicken broth. The capital, though, is a gathering spot for some of the most stimulating and knowledgeable people I ever encountered in one place. Hemingway called Paris “a movable feast,” but in DC, the diplomats, authors, statesmen, scientists, actors, scholars, and journalists I knew fed me copious servings of brain food all through my 18 years there. Where else could a fatherless boy from Central Oregon befriend the likes of George Plimpton; Dr. Spock; Mary McGrory; Hans Bethe, a Manhattan Project scientist; Elizabeth Drew; Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s UN ambassador, Christopher Reeve; Neil Sheehan; or Mark Shields?

EB: I was taken by your description of mentoring your son’s basketball team and also by the time he borrowed George H. W. Bush’s sneakers. Is it still the case that the Congressional gym lockers don’t have locks? I’m curious when that might have changed.

LA: (Laughter.) It’s a rare father who watches his son fill the shoes of the vice president of the United States. Members and former members who are current on their dues may keep their gym membership and locker. Yes, it is hard to believe this age of hyper-partisanship, the custom of leaving your locker unlocked endures. So does the understanding that you can borrow something you need so long as you return it. Kelly and I would use the gym on Saturdays to work on his jump shot and free throws when I was in town. One Saturday, Kelly absent-mindedly forgot his tennis shoes. Teenagers! We went from locker to locker to find a pair that fit. Finally, we reached the Veep’s locker. Size 10-and-a-half—perfect! What the hell, I thought, Bush is a former member and he knows the rules. Fortunately, Kelly replaced the shoes a few minutes before three congressmen, Bush, and his Secret Service detail barged through the gym door.

Here’s a side story. That morning, Kelly watched Bush and his friends play paddle ball when a dispute arose over one of the Veep’s shots that landed in front of my son, close to the line. After a lot of shouting, Bush swung around for an independent verdict. He yelled at Kelly, “Hey, kid! In or out?” Without hesitation, Kelly said, “Out.” Bush turned carmine red and, jumping so that he knees virtually hit his chin, he screamed, “Noooooo!!!” That’s when I knew my son had chops.

EB: I understand that your papers are part of the Oregon Historical Society collection. Did you keep a journal as a Congressional Representative? I was impressed with the level of detail in your book—and also with the terrific photos.

LA: I kept journals on and off throughout the years. Never consistently. But I was grateful to find so many of them stored in boxes. Some of them I had not opened in 30 years. We have kept hundreds of family photos. Political photos, too. Politics was a big part of our family’s life.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Good luck with Catch and Release.

LA: Thanks. It was a three-year effort and I loved working with the talented team at the Oregon State University Press.

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Summer Reading 2019

Years ago, a friend complained that everyone was so busy writing books that they had no time to read books. She was talking about people with no time to read her books, but you get the idea. I still don’t have time to post to Goodreads or Amazon, but I did commit to a lot of summer reading and to some mini-reviews. Here they are.

Last Days by Brain Everson– A bizarre but compelling tale of a cop kidnapped by a mutilation cult. Rod Serling meets Stephen King.

Freakonomics

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dunker–I’ve been wanting to read this for a while but kept putting it off (no incentive, I guess). It was excellent—informative and stylistic. It would be fun to do a course using this, Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge.

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The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler –Almost all of Chandler’s notebook were destroyed at his death. This included some of the material from the two black loose-leaf notebooks that escaped including lists of similes (a face like a collapsed lung), Chandlerisms (She threw her arms around my neck and nicked my ear with the gunsight), slang, and drafts of sketches of scenes and characters.

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles–Towles’s meditation on how to live a meaningful, even exemplary, life in difficult circumstances. Plus a lot of great Soviet-era history and spycraft. Top notch.

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Exhalation by Ted Chiang –A great collection of speculative fiction – time travel, artificial life, free will, memory and more –by the writer who gave us The Story of Your Life. Chiang’s work is thoughtful and thought-provoking and optimistic. Linguists will especially like The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling and The Great Silence.

How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco

How to Love a Country by Richard Blanco—Richard Blanco visited Ashland this summer for a series of workshops and reading which gave me the opportunity to delve into his latest poetry collection. Evocative, accessible writing about place, justice, belonging, exile, love and family, with a spectacular landscape piece in the epic “American Wandersong.”

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The Dictionary Wars: The American Fight Over the English Language by Peter Martin— I reviewed this for Choice so I won’t repeat that, but suffice it to say it’s a compelling addition to the story of American lexicography with Noah Webster at the center.

An American Language: The History of Spanish in the United States

An American Language: The History of Spanish in the United States by Rosina Lazano—This is a detailed and thought-provoking history of Spanish from the times of westward expansion through World War II covering of legal, political, and social issues as arising in keys states (New Mexico, Arizona, California, and more), and more all of which informs present-day debates. Great insights. The main drawback is that the book still read like a dissertation.

Image result for Southern Oregon Beer: A Pioneering History Phil Busse

Southern Oregon Beer by Phil Busse—The story of the Jacksonville origins of southern Oregon beer, the impact of prohibition and the sustainability of the hops industry and the re-emergence of Southern Oregon as a brewing destination in the late twentieth century. Engagingly written, well documented and illustrated with both historical and contemporary photos.

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The Prisoner of Guantanamo by Dan Fesperman—This is the first book I’ve read by Fesperman. It seemed to start slowly, but once I got used to the characters and figured out who was who, I was hooked. There was plenty of unpredictability and enough cynicism to capture the intelligence community milieu. I’m ready for more Fesperman.

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Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography by Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan— I had been wanting to read this Seuss bio for some time and it didn’t disappoint.
Engaging and packed with both information and insights about Seuss, the publishing industry, and sweep of the twentieth century.

The Crossword Century: 100 Years of Witty Wordplay, Ingenious Puzzles, and Linguistic Mischief by Alan Connor–Some interesting information but it felt like the author ran out of material quickly and had to fill the book crossword trivia. Ho hum.

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Real Tigers by Mick Herron–I started reading Mick Herron last year–Slough House around Thanksgiving, Dead Lions at Spring Break, and now Real Tigers. Herron is darkly funny and the intriguing concept involves what happens to intelligence agents who screw up or become unreliable. They are assigned to Jackson Lamb’s Slough House, where they are given busy work in hopes that they will resign or quietly fade away. But the slow horses of Slough House manage to continually stay in the game thwarting the designs of the careerists at Regent’s Park.

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Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead– A hilarious sendup of American culture, following in the footsteps of John Henry Days. A town with an identity crisis based in racial history and, best of all, the protagonist is a nomenclature consultant without a name. But with an inflected toe. What name will he choose?

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Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny Kate Manne–Insightful treatment of the distinction between “misogyny” and “sexism.” As she notes, the argument extendible to racism and other form of prejudice and injustice). It was interesting to read this in conjuction with Zerubavel’s Taken for Granted.

Manne writes well (and has a knack for terminology like “himpathy” and “misogynoir” and gritty real world examples) however, I thought at times the writing was still too dense.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch—Filled with clever examples and histroical insight, McCullogh’s book shows nicely that internet language is written speech, which its own conventions and, yes rules. BTW, there’re emojis, memes, and more! A good gift for prescriptivists, if you are included to gift them. And I’m thinking about how to incorporate this and Lynne Murphy’s The Prodigal Tongue in the history of English class.

Hardcover Born to Run Book

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen–I started this last summer, but didn’t have time to finish. This summer I did, to the background of Western Stars and Blinded by the Light. Born to Run has Springsteen’s voice and imagery. And like the stories he tells in concerns, there are moral tales and wacky adventures throughout. Springsteen presents himself as determined and tough but vulnerable and striving, which seems about right for a guy from New Jersey.

Taken for Granted by Evitar Zerubavel–Taken for Granted is about the theory of markedness—asymmetry in language and culture—a topic that I have a long standing interest in. Zerubavel’s book brings together the social and cultural aspects of asymmetry. A solid non-academic style, but the examples are sometimes dated and some terms could have been defined more sharply.

Things Too Big to Name by Molly Tinsley—A literary thriller seamlessly weaving together of three stories covering in different time frames and themes, ultimately centered the realities love, goodness, fidelity, justice, and sacrifice. Oh, and the protagonist is a retired English professor living in the mountains near the fictional town of Pine Springs, Oregon.


Catch and Release by Les AuCoin—A political memoir that sparkles with heart and humanity and tells us all what democracy and leadership are about. AuCoin went into political in the “Ask not what your country can do for you” era and his witty, well-crafted memoir tells us not just about how things were in the past but what is missing today.

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An Interview with Molly Best Tinsley–author of Things Too Big to Name

In a fit of sanity, award-winning writer Molly Best Tinsley resigned from the civilian faculty of the US Naval Academy and moved west to write full-time. She is the author of My Life with Darwin (Houghton Mifflin) and Throwing Knives (Ohio State University Press), she also co-authored Satan’s Chamber (Fuze Publishing) and the textbook, The Creative Process (St. Martin’s). Her more recent books are the memoir Entering the Blue Stone and another Victoria Pierce spy thriller, Broken Angels, the sequel to Satan’s Chamber. She is also the cofounder of Fuze Publishing.

Tinsley’s fiction has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award. Her most recent book is the literary thriller Things Too Big to Name.

Ed Battistella: Where did the idea for this novel come from?

Molly Best Tinsley: The short answer is I don’t really know. I do know the incident that got it started: I was driving home at twilight, minding my own business, when a stag with impressive antlers jumped out of the woods and hit my car. The animal disappeared, and my car was totaled, though I managed to drive it the rest of the way home without power steering.

The event left me shaken and whiplashed and feeling terrible that somewhere in the woods on the other side of the road, a large, stately creature was dying a slow death. I turned to writing about what had happened as a way of managing the traumatic effect. I thought it would become a short story, but it just wouldn’t settle into the confines of that genre.

Then during one writing session, the car’s driver, Margaret Torrens, staggered into her kitchen to find the ghost of her deceased husband waiting to engage her in conversation. Neither I nor Margaret believes in ghosts. But for some reason, we both realized we should accept this one. For one thing, he arrived bearing a pretty detailed backstory about the seven years of their young marriage that ended with his early death.

At that point, I began trailing my intuition, often reluctantly, as it suggested what would happen next.

EB: Can you say a bit about the title?

MBT: I’m pretty uninspired when it comes to titles and the file name for this narrative was deerstory for the longest time. By the time I’d completed a zero draft, though, the deer had become a minor player, and I actually had a braid of three different stories covering three different time frames and thematic territories. I went through the manuscript looking for a phrase that might apply to all of the above and landed on a message Margaret receives from her own heart: “Trust in things too big to name.”

I realized that I’d been working with all sorts of “big names” in my text and finding they didn’t come close to encompassing reality. Words like soul and death, love and evil, fidelity, justice, sacrifice–these are crude simplifications of the agonies and ecstasies life puts us through. The more I revised, the more I played on that note, and I’m satisfied now with how the title works.

EB: Your protagonist Margaret Torrens is a retired English professor living in the mountains near Pine Springs, Oregon. And you are a retired English professor living outside of Ashland, Oregon. How much of Molly is there in Margaret?

MBT: Initially, Margaret and I were the same person; I invented her in order to process my own difficult “deerstory” by telling it through her. I fleshed out her past as an academic with my own anecdotes. And I understand her cultural despair and her craving for solitude. But as the story began to grow, Margaret became more and more autonomous.

Our separation became absolute maybe halfway through the zero draft. In the process of reading an article about the interrogation of Edward Snowden, I was taken with the tension of his situation, the cat-and-mouse game, the hovering possibility of an unreliable narrator surrounded by “helpers” he can’t really trust. I wanted to capture all that with Margaret, and so I cut her loose. Faced with a decision-point in the action, I could no longer ask myself, “What would I do?” I had to check with Margaret, who was more innocent than I and also, I think, more brave.

EB: Who was the easiest character to write? And the most difficult?

MBT: The psychologist, a man in his late 30’s, came to life most slowly. His immediate job is to evaluate Margaret’s sanity after an act of violence, but I had no idea when I started who he was beyond a “Qualified Mental Health Professional” working for the criminal justice system. His official title itself invites irony, and it was tempting to consider him Margaret’s antagonist, and set her up to get the better of him. But the world isn’t that simple, even when it’s a fictional one. The psychologist seemed to be taking sides, but his position kept shifting. I had to wait until the end to find out where he would come down.

Jane, Margaret’s former student, was also slow to become herself. Still beautiful in middle age, this former California girl, with her blond hair and blue eyes, had outgrown one stereotype by the time she’d graduated from college, thanks in part to Margaret’s chilly mentoring. But it took constant nudges and shoves to keep her from slipping into some other one.

Meanwhile Victor’s appearance well into the story began a hostile take-over of the antagonist role. He was probably the easiest character to write because he was unpredictable, tactless, and he made things happen.

EB: I was taken with the wonderful writing and some of the turns of phrase you use—like referring to one character’s “stay thither look.” I wonder if, as a writer, you have an inventory of turns of phrase that you’re waiting to deploy.

MBT: I like your choice of the word “deploy” because writing a story is so much a matter of conscious strategy—how best to hook your reader in then keep her turning the pages to find out what happens next. And at those times when propulsion lags, you need to offer different surprises, of diction, imagery, wordplays, to hold attention.

I used to keep a Writer’s Notebook to catch phrases, metaphors, bits of dialogue, character studies that a day would offer. It’s a good idea, and I’m not sure why I stopped, maybe because I realized my process took a different route. Whatever I’m working on, I tend to channel into it the material that arises in real time. I bump into people whom, I decide, certain characters can look like or sound like. I notice things in my own setting to fill out a fictional one. I come across something in the paper that provides a key incident in a story. As for turns of phrase, my greatest pleasure in writing is playing with style, finding original ways to connect words. I can get absorbed for an hour with finding the right phrase when I should be building and making alterations to structure.

EB: I’m also curious about how you decide what to write. You’ve crafted plays, literary fiction, spy thrillers, a memoir, a middle-grade novel, and a creative writing textbook. What motivates you to take up a particular project or form?

MBT: I suppose that if my first novel (My Life with Darwin, Houghton Mifflin), a work of literary fiction, had been a blockbusting success, I might have stuck with that sub-genre and built my career around it. But it didn’t, and my mainstream publisher lost interest in a collection of short stories I’d put together. Thus after I found a home for that volume myself with Ohio State University Press, I turned to playwriting, where I’d had some surprising success. The collaboration involved in staging a play was new, stimulating, expansive. It taught the importance of structure and propulsion, and though I wound up setting aside narrative for many years, when I returned to it, it was with a stronger grasp of storytelling.

In a way, I shifted literary genres in a search for both technical growth and an audience. But it’s also true that certain ideas come with genre attached. The middle-grade novel, Behind the Waterfall, conceived in collaboration with my twin grandsons, could only be a middle-grade novel. Some topics seemed to lend themselves to drama, others to narrative, and the plots that became spy thrillers didn’t leave room for the more leisurely pace of literary fiction. As I mentioned, Things Too Big to Name refused the constraints of a short story and insisted on becoming a novel.

EB: Your narrative technique involved a number of flashbacks. How did you manage to maintain order?

MBT: Though Things is a first-person novel, the narrator, Margaret, is actually braiding three different stories. One took place in the distant past; another in the recent past; and the third in the present. As each strand unspooled, I began to realize I also had three different narrative voices, determined by who the audience for the story was and what Margaret’s purpose was in delivering it. In the immediate present, she keeps a hidden journal for herself to keep track of her sessions with a psychologist she cannot trust. He has requested that she compose an account of the recent past, and carefully, strategically, she does so. More spontaneously, she writes letters to the ghost of her husband and in the process comes to terms with their brief, flawed relationship and his death.

This might sound confusing, but it was the distinctness of each voice that helped me sort out the way they fit together and what information was available to each.

EB: What was the toughest decision you had to make as a writer in crafting this book?

MBT: I fought a lot of inner resistance in following where this story was taking me. It felt like too dark a place, and it required research I didn’t want to be identified with. So it was tough to keep going. I’m content that I did because the book wound up representing the times I fear we’re living in now.

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

MBT: Thank you.

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Researching Lesbian Separatism, a guest post by Mary Gently

Mary Gently is an aspiring historian based in the Rogue Valley. She recently graduated from Southern Oregon University with a Bachelor’s degree in History and a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with Departmental Honors and is the recipient of the Arthur S. Taylor Award for Outstanding Student in History 2018-2019. She intends to begin a Ph.D. program in History in the fall of 2020. Mary enjoys traveling, watching classic movies, and drinking craft beer.

This spring, I had the privilege of conducting an oral history with nine Southern Oregon lesbian separatists and land lesbians. This demographic was brought to my attention by SOU researcher Maureen Battistella as I was nearing the completion of my undergraduate degree in History at Southern Oregon University. Before 2019, I had little awareness of either of these movements, let alone the fact that the area I live in is home, or home away from home, to over a hundred of these women, the majority of whom are now in their 70s or 80s. During my research, I learned that lesbian separatism was a movement that emerged out of radical feminism in the early 1970s and called for women to remove themselves from the world that men have made and pour all of their sexual, economic, and political energies into other women as a means of achieving the goals of feminism. At the same time, land lesbians, many of whom did not resonate with some of the militant and anti-men extremities of separatism, were inspired by the Back-to-the-land Movement and were similarly dedicated to rural, women-only land.

Getting in touch with these women was not easy, as many are understandably quite protective of their privacy. When I was finally able to make contact through email addresses listed in a 2011 Curve Magazine article, I was thrilled. During this exploratory period I also submitted paperwork and received SOU Institutional Review Board approval. Over the next two weeks, I spoke to several land lesbians over the phone as they sought to ascertain if I was someone with whom it was safe to share their stories and beliefs. As a woman married to another woman, I had an immediate relatability that undoubtedly helped to set them at ease. Soon I began to schedule interview appointments, ultimately visiting three women’s lands. Of the nine women interviewed, five were video record, one was audio recorded, and three were sent a dozen or so questions via email.

I went into this project with a variety of possible points of focus concerning these women’s ideologies and legacy, but was surprised when my research was led in an entirely new direction after several women initially brought up concerns around the transgender rights movement, a point of contention of which I was only minimally aware. I found that while this is far from the only issue that these women are passionate about, many are deeply concerned about what they describe as the mounting pressure from the queer community for butch women to transition to male, the violent demands for trans-women’s inclusion in “womyn-born womyn” spaces, and other similar concerns.

To be clear, those who live on or frequent women’s land hold a diversity of opinions regarding the inclusion of trans-women. The spectrum varies from fully embracing trans-women as women and welcoming them onto women’s land to excluding them from these spaces for a mixture of deeply held reasons. Though trans activists are not currently knocking on the doors of Southern Oregon lesbian land communities, each of the nine women I interviewed has thought at length about this issue and each believes that they are justified in maintaining spaces that include only women who were assigned female at birth and have lived their entire life as a woman. My work, “Lesbian Nation: Separatism, Women’s Land, and Trans-inclusion,” traces the history of lesbian separatism and women’s land while documenting the reasons these particular advocates for women-only space do not believe trans-women are a fit for either some or all of their spaces and events.

Undoubtedly, several of the views recorded in my work are controversial and offensive to segments of society. Yet, I believe this historical record is extremely important and valuable, both to those of like mind and those in opposition. However, we unfortunately find ourselves in an increasingly intellectually segregated society in which the norm is to avoid discomfort, suppress what is offensive to us, and practice selective listening and selective study. This means that it is becoming more and more common to only research and read perspectives that align with one’s own. Because of this gradual societal shift, it is often assumed that if you are reading a particular book, taking a particular class, or listening to a particular commentator, you are of that ideological persuasion. I encountered this on two separate occasions when telling a close family member and then later an acquaintance about my research. They both immediately expressed concern that I was holding what they believed to be radical beliefs. They instantly assumed that by undertaking this project and choosing to study this demographic, I must be in ideological alignment with my subjects. In fact, aside from the constant quest to be aware of and transparent about my own implicit and explicit biases, my personal beliefs and to what extent I agree or disagree with the theory and aspirations of “womyn-born womyn” spaces, are largely irrelevant to my research. My job as an aspiring historian is to work toward impartially recording and relating the events and beliefs of the past and present, not only those that align with my personal worldview.

But what of those historical realities that some label the dark side of human thought? I would go so far as to say that there is no viewpoint that is too dangerous to be recorded and accessible. Perhaps that is a somewhat uniquely American value, but I hold it quite dear. Everything that has happened in the past and all the ideas behind the events, have value of a kind because it is all precious knowledge and can do much to illuminate the present. Conversely, when portions of history are excluded from study, certain historical beliefs and realities are minimized, and sometimes nearly erased, leading to dangers of naiveté, shortsightedness, and ignorance. The oft-quoted Edmund Burke’s assertion that “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it” is in fact devastatingly true.

While undoubtedly all ideological positions past and present do not possess equal merit and certainly all positions do not deserve the same time, platform, and visibility, every feature of the past should be recorded for posterity and accessible for research and understanding. This is the job of the journalist, historian, sociologist, and anthropologist. Additionally, historians do well to avoid moral commentary in their work. I aspire to trust the intelligence of my future students and readers and to allow them to determine for themselves shades of right and wrong, good and bad, without interpolating my own moralizing judgments.

One effective means of giving voice to disparate historical memories is oral history. From the lips of the people themselves, oral history provides a glimpse into the why behind the beliefs and actions of those in question, providing vital insight into human nature for the religious leader, policymaker, philosopher, activist, psychologist, or voter. In a sense, oral history is really just the practice of empathy, listening to diverse views and life experiences in order to understand what has led a person to think and act as they do. Rarely do beliefs arise out of thin air. Rather it is life experiences and context that propels people forward into disparate belief systems and ways of living. Accessing oral history gives the listener or reader the opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of another.

In the specific instance of the debate over trans inclusion, much of the rhetoric on both sides is characterized by caricature and a lack of empathy. My aspiration is that this work, written by someone who has is neither a trans activist, nor a champion of women-only spaces, could provide useful insight into the motivations and convictions of separatists and land lesbians. I believe that an oral history of trans-women seeking inclusion in these communities is also in order.

Truly listening to one’s ideological counterpart is increasingly rare in America today and consequently the “other” is easily dehumanized and villainized. Without hearing opposing positions, positions that may feel offensive, one can never understand those who think differently and no two sides will ever be able to hear each other speak. Listening does not mean that one will or should change their beliefs, but it does enable them to begin to disagree well, to present a compassionate and informed disagreement, devoid of caricatures.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions | Comments Off on Researching Lesbian Separatism, a guest post by Mary Gently

Sentence Diagramming, a guest post by Maggie Alvarez

Maggie Alvarez

Maggie Alvarez recently completed her second-year studying English and Spanish at Southern Oregon University. Originally from Sacramento, California, she found a love for writing through a series of creative writing and stage performance classes at her high school. Those classes gave her the courage and opportunity to publish original work within her community. Some of her pieces even placed second and third in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards in 2015 and 2016. Alvarez plans on teaching English at the high school level after she finishes school.

Grammar is a difficult concept for many individuals to understand, and it is even more difficult to teach. One common teaching technique that was popular at the start of the 20th century is sentence diagramming, which is a visual representation of the grammatical structures within sentences. Sentence diagrams influenced grammar education for decades; however, most students today have never even seen or heard of a sentence diagram. What happened to this form of grammar instruction? This paper will observe the process and history of sentence diagramming to discover when and why the technique was phased out of the American school system and identify if the process should be reestablished in curriculum.

In its most basic form (identified in Image A), a traditional sentence diagram divides a sentence into two parts: the subject phrase and the predicate phrase. All elements of the subject phrase sit on the left side, and all elements of the predicate phrase are located on the right; separating the subject and predicate is a short, straight line. In this section, we[1] will examine three different but common formats for sentence diagrams (Vitto 50).

Let us examine the sentence: The cat is outside. The first step before diagramming is to identify the subject and predicate. In this case, subject equals “cat” and predicate equals “is.” Image B places the subject and predicate into their proper places. However, the diagram is not complete as it lacks the words “the” and “outside.” In any and all sentence diagrams, articles, adjectives, adverbs, and modifying pronouns are placed below the word they modify on a slanted line. Since “the” is a part of the subject phrase and modifies “cat,” it will be placed on the left side beneath “cat.” Furthermore, “outside” needs to be placed on the diagram. In this context, “outside” is being used as an adverb to identify location. Therefore, the adverb will be placed on a slanted line below the verb it modifies. “Outside” is a part of the predicate phrase, so it will be placed on the right side below “is.” The sentence diagram in Image Ba[2] reflects the final product of the sentence: The cat is outside. Next, we will investigate how to diagram a sentence which includes either a predicate adjective or predicate noun (Vitto 50).

Predicate adjectives and nouns are diagrammed similarly. As they are a part of the predicate phrase, they are located on the right side of the diagram. Unlike articles, adjectives, and adverbs, which are located below the word they modify, predicate adjectives and nouns remain on the same line as the predicate. It is separated from the predicate with a backslash. To show this, we will use the sentences: The cat is crazy and The cat is my pet. Since we already diagrammed a version of this sentence earlier, we know what the subject and predicate are and how they should be formatted. It is also known that “the” modifies “cat,” so the article should be placed beneath the subject on a slanted line. Now, however, the predicate adjective “crazy” needs to be added, which is illustrated in Image C. Since we know predicate adjectives and predicate nouns are diagrammed in the same fashion, the sentence The cat is my pet would look similar to Image C. The only difference is “my” which modifies “pet” would need to be placed beneath the word it modifies on a slanted line as shown in Image Ca. Since the overall format of the diagram does not change with the variations of the sentence, it is a beneficial grammar teaching tool. New elements can be added, and once a student recognizes the basic idea of a diagram, it is not difficult to bring in those new grammatical constructions (Vitto 51).
Now, we will add one more new piece to the diagram: prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases, in general, are also located below the main line as they often function as adjectives and adverbs. The prepositional word itself belongs on a slanted line just as the words “the” and “my” do. The object of the preposition is on a connecting horizontal line which may have modifiers beneath it. For example, let us look at the sentence: My cat is a lover of smelly tuna, which Image D reflects. Notice how the predicate noun “lover” has both “a” and the prepositional phrase “of smelly tuna” beneath it. There is no limit to how many modifiers a word can have. While it may make for a complicated looking diagram, it is all correct. There are some situations where the predicate adjective is in the form of a prepositional phrase. In these cases, the phrase is put on a pedestal which floats above the main line as identified in Image Da with the sentence: My cat is in a good mood.
Examples B, C, and D show only a few of the various structures one could make with sentence diagrams. With the many different parts of speech and ways to structure sentences, the possibilities are almost endless. In fact, there are many teachers who may present a different style of formatting just for preference.

Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg are recognized as the pioneers of sentence diagramming; however, the concept was actually first created by a lifelong educator named S.W. Clark. The sentence diagrams that most people are familiar with today are an evolved version of Clark’s original work. The practice of sentence diagramming was established in 1860 when Clark published his book A Practical Grammar: In which Words, Phrases, and Sentences Are Classified According to their Offices and Their Various Relations to One Another where he compared “grammar to both geometry (‘an abstract truth made tangible’) and architecture (‘like the foundation of a building’)” (Burns Florey, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog 20). The original sentence diagram was formed by a series of balloons, as seen in Image E. Clark thoroughly and confidently believed his method was the best way to teach grammar as “the diagrams are made to render the Analysis of Sentences more perspicuous” (21). While Clark did have a solid understanding of sentence diagramming, his approach with balloons made the sentences difficult to understand and look at. Therefore, in 1877, Reed and Kellogg published their book Higher Lessons in English which introduced an improved version of sentence diagrams to the world. Their diagrams follow the same ideas as Clark, but their approach was better recognized by society as the straight, organized lines made for easy instruction. Both Reed and Kellogg were dedicated educators and were fascinated by the nuances of English grammar. Their attraction (and the amount of unenthusiastic students who struggled with grammatical concepts) led to the evolution of the sentence diagram which became a part of the American public school curriculum…to a point (Burns Florey, Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog 19-33).

Sentence diagramming was a national phenomenon throughout America from the moment Reed and Kellogg’s work was published. However, sometime during the 1960s, new research was produced by the Encyclopedia of Educational Research which criticized Reed and Kellogg’s technique stating, “Diagramming sentences … teaches nothing beyond the ability to diagram” (Summers). Furthermore, around that time, teachers began encouraging students to express themselves through writing rather than expressing themselves accurately (Burns Florey, Interview). With no actual educational purpose and a need for expression, the sentence diagram began to die off. The technique was still taught regularly within schools; however, in 1985, the National Council of Teachers of English decided “repetitive grammar drills and exercises [are] a deterrent to the improvement of students’ speaking and writing” (Summers). From that consensus, sentence diagramming became a mostly forgotten teaching technique. There are some teachers today who will integrate sentence diagramming into lesson plans, but those reasons are really only for nostalgia’s sake. There is a more modern style of sentence diagramming, presented in Image F, which is called the sentence tree and is easier to decipher than the traditional form (Vitto 46). Again, however, only a select few of educators across America actually integrate sentence diagramming into their curriculum. The majority of the current generation of students has no idea what sentence diagrams are or how to produce them as it has become a forgotten teaching technique.

Image F: The Sentence Tree (Vitto 46)


However, what would be so harmful in bringing the sentence diagram back? Yes, the process is tedious and the structures can get fairly complicated, but the technique is much more intriguing than a normal lecture on grammar. One of the most difficult concepts teachers have noticed when trying to teach their students about grammar is the process of engagement. As examined in the article, “Student Engagement in the Teaching and Learning of Grammar,” researchers examine the benefits of implementing engaging lesson plans into the curriculum and techniques for creating them. During their study, they realize, “traditional grammar instruction is the only [method] that has a negative impact on students’ writing, and to a compellingly significant degree” (Smagorinsky, et al. 78).

Simply identifying the different parts of speech and having students use them within sentences may not be the most engaging practice for students. Sentence diagrams, on the other hand, “is logical and especially helpful for visual learners, who can see the sentence in non-linear fashion…in addition, kinetic learners, puzzle lovers, and those with a penchant for putting things in their place typically find diagramming simultaneously challenging and satisfying” (Vitto 46). Sentence diagrams can be seen as one huge game for children, so they could be extremely effective for grammar instruction. Also, the clear, concrete ideas are much more effective than the abstract way grammar is currently taught. This teaching technique could have a place in the classroom once again. However, since Smagorinsky et al’s research found that traditional grammar negatively affects student learning, perhaps educators should shift to the more modern approach to diagramming reflected in Image F. The simplicity of the sentence tree would make for easier instruction but would still maintain the puzzling thrill of traditional diagrams. So, perhaps there is still a place for sentence diagrams within American curriculum after all.

Works Cited

Burns Florey, Kitty. Interview with Scott Simon. “Writer’s Subject? Diagramming Sentences.” NPR, 2006.

Burns Florey, Kitty. Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog. Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company, 2006.

Smagorinsky, Peter, et al. “Student Engagement in the Teaching and Learning of Grammar.” Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 58, no. 1, 2007, pp. 76-90.

Summers, Juana. “A Picture of Language: The Fading Art of Diagramming Sentences.” NPR, 22 August 2014. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6569894. Accessed 15 May 2019.

Vitto, Cindy. Grammar by Diagram. 2nd ed., Broadview Press, 2006.

  1. As this is an educational paper, the author is purposefully writing in the first person for some sections in order to engage readers in the teaching technique.

  2. It is recommended that all capitalization remains the same when placed within a diagram. Perhaps a teacher may challenge their students to work backwards from a sentence diagram and create the full sentence just by looking at where the words are formatted. By maintaining proper capitalization, the un-diagrammed sentence is much easier to comprehend.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions, Language | Comments Off on Sentence Diagramming, a guest post by Maggie Alvarez

A Historical and Cultural Examination of Central Yup’ik, a guest post by Gwendolyn Bogard

Gwendolyn Bogard is member of the Honors College at SOU, where she studies Chemistry in preparation for a career in science communication.

The village of Atmautluak sits in the middle of the Alaskan tundra about four hundred miles West of the city of Anchorage. A flat expanse of packed white snow extends in all directions, and no roads connect it to any neighboring communities. Despite the ostensible isolation, residents of Atmautluak are a part of a larger network of similar villages dotted across Alaska and other arctic countries, including Russia, Canada, and Greenland. The residents of Atmautluak are largely Yup’ik, one of the many indigenous groups in Alaska. The only non-Yup’ik residents are a few teachers at the Joann A. Alexie Memorial School, a K-12 institution that has about one hundred students.

My mother was one of these teachers from 2010-2012, my freshman and sophomore years in high school. She taught in several Alaskan villages during her early years as a teacher, but later in her career, she wanted to return and retire within the Alaskan school system. Unlike her first time in Alaska, she had a family—my father, my middle school-aged sister, and me—so though she stayed up in Atmautluak for both school years, the other three-quarters of our family remained in Oregon to continue school for most of the year, but we traveled to Atmautluak and lived with my mother during the two winters.

As a high school student, being uprooted was difficult, and the village was a tough place to live. Poverty was widespread, as was drug and alcohol abuse, though the Atmautluak was supposedly a “dry” village—alcohol was banned. Only the school building and teacher housing had running water; the rest of the village either got water from a well in town or, more commonly, cut ice from the frozen river.

From the beginning, however, my mother emphasized that we were the visitors and therefore should be the ones listening and learning, not the other way around. Most of the students I met at school spoke both Yup’ik and English, and as I began to make friends, I learned bits and pieces of the language. The Yup’ik language is inextricably tied with the Yup’ik history and culture, and its structure is quite distinct from English. However, it seemed that in this bilingual environment, both languages had influenced the other—similar to Spanglish, my peers spoke Yup’ik-influenced English, or “village English.” In this essay, I will explore the intersection of these disparate languages within a cultural and historical context.

The History of Central Yup’ik

The Yup’ik spoken in Atmautluak is a dialect of a language within a larger umbrella of languages spoken by indigenous groups in Alaska and around the Arctic circle. About 4,000 years ago, the Eskimo and Aleut families of languages diverged; then, Yupik and Inuit (Inupiaq), which fall under the Eskimo language family, split approximately 1,000 years ago. Yupik is a modern family that contains five languages: Sirenik, Naukan, Siberian/St. Lawrence Island, Central (Alaskan) Yup’ik. In Atmautluak, people spoke Central Yup’ik, which is differentiated from other Yupik languages by the apostrophe in its name (Yup’ik). Within Yup’ik, however, there are several dialects: Yukon, Kuskokwim, Nelson Island, Bristol Bay, Nushagak River, Hooper Bay-Chevak, and Nunivak Island (Jacobson, 1984).

Until the 19th century, Yup’ik language was completely oral, and the people relied heavily on storytelling to pass on information. The first missionaries’ arrival changed this—Russian missionaries spreading the Russia Orthodox religion needed a way to communicate with locals. They focused on translating the Bible into Yup’ik using the Cyrillic alphabet, which is the Russian lettering system. There was no cohesive system as the missionaries had spread across Alaska and did not work together to construct one (Jacobson, 1984). Though the Cyrillic lettering system is no longer used, many Russian words have been incorporated into the Yup’ik language (Hensel, et al., 1983). My mother often observed that the Russian word “Cossack,” which referred to a group of people who lived primarily in Russia and Ukraine, sounded like “kassaq,” which means “white person” in Yup’ik. The relation makes sense because Russian missionaries were the first white people to come in contact with the Yup’ik people.

I also saw the Russian influence in Atmautluak through the presence of the Russian Orthodox church traditions. Part of the Christmas traditions was holiday called “Slaviq,” where most of the village followed a Russian Orthodox star on a pole from house to house. People crowded into houses, where they sang hymns, served food, and passed out small gifts. This tradition is common to Southcentral Alaskan communities and is, along with language, one of the most enduring marks of Russian missionary influence on Yup’ik culture.

In contrast to the methods of Russian missionaries, those from the United States, as well as the U.S. education system run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), imposed an English learning requirement. More recently, though, efforts have shifted toward language preservation because the English learning requirement leads to language loss. In the 1960s, linguists at the University of Alaska worked with native Yup’ik speakers to create a cohesive Yup’ik lettering system using the Roman alphabet. The goal was to make the language easily typeable with few diacritic marks and nonstandard symbols but to accurately represent the Yup’ik oral language (Jacobson, 1984).

Language Structure

The Yup’ik alphabet consists of the letters a, c, e, g, i, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, and y. Voiced consonants include b, d, j, and g; voiceless consonants are p, t, ch, and k. The vowel system is simple, only including a, i, u, and e (Jacobson, 1984). Naturally, not all letters are pronounced the same as in English. The first Yup’ik word I learned was “quyana,” which means “thank you”—an essential component of a beginner’s vocabulary. When I first heard the word, though, I assumed it was spelled “guyana” because “q” is pronounced more like an English “g.”

Additionally, Yup’ik geminates consonants more frequently than English. That means that either double consonants appear in the middle of a word or an apostrophe is used to indicate that the consonant sound is extended, like the word “Yup’ik” itself. The apostrophe also puts the emphasis on the first syllable (Hensel, et al., 1983).

The stark contrast between English and Yup’ik becomes apparent when letters are combined to form words. The Yup’ik system builds words from a stem, the root onto which other grammatical components are added. Stems can be verbs or nouns (Jacobson, 1984), but the line between verb and noun is often hazy. The stem “mer-” means “water” or “to drink,” depending on usage (Hensel, et al., 1983).

Verb endings indicate mood (e.g. statement, question, request), as well as person and number of the subject and object (Jacobson, 1984). However, they are rarely marked for time (present or past), so this is usually inferred from context.

Nouns can stand alone, but they can also be marked for number: singular, dual, and plural. Nouns can also be marked for possession, both by whom and the number of possessors. Unlike in English, gender is not differentiated through pronouns, so it is usually inferred through context. Pronouns are only used to add clarity or emphasis, like demonstrative pronouns, which specify the spatial location of the subject or object. One such pronoun could be “that one approaching the speaker” (Hensel, et al., 1983).

Instead of using separate words for adjectives or preposition, in Yup’ik, parts of speech are added directly to the stem through the use of suffixes called postbases. This frequently results in long words that may convey the same meaning as a complete sentence in English (Jacobson, 1984). Thus, the classic, though incorrect, example of the many Eskimo words for snow has a sort of truth—the postbase system means that snow could have almost infinite variations.

The order of parts of speech within a word is stem, postbase, then ending. Word order is less important in the Yup’ik system because when using a transitive verb, subject and object endings are different. Below is an example from A Brief History of Yup’ik: Construction and Usage of the Language (Jacobson, 1984):

    The dog bit the preacher.

    Qimugtem keggellrua agayulirta.

    Agayulirta keggellrua qimugtem.

    The preacher bit the dog.

    Qimugta keggellrua agayulirtem.

Aside from postbases and verb endings, Yup’ik also modifies words with enclitics. These one-syllable parts of speech “1) define the speaker’s attitude toward what he is saying (e.g. -tuq ‘one hopes); 2) indicate that information is being added (e.g. -llu ‘and, also’); or 3) indicate that what is being said is a yes-no question (e.g. -qaa)” (Hensel, et al., 1983).

Though my 15-year-old self did not pick up on these nuances, I regularly observed the nonverbal aspects of Yup’ik communication. Perhaps the clearest of these was the eyebrow flash, a quick raise of the eyebrows that signals “yes.” It is an efficient way to communicate, so by the end of our time in Atmautluak, my sister and I had incorporated it into our communication between ourselves and our classmates.

English and Yup’ik

Just as Russian words were incorporated into Yup’ik due to the missionary’s presence in the villages, Yup’ik has about sixty words borrowed from English. For example, “ingek,” is derived from “ink.” Not all new words are borrowed from English, however. “Airplane” is translated as “tengsunn,” which means “device for flying.” The opposite occurs, as well. English has also borrowed words from Yup’ik, like “kayak” from “qayak” (Jacobson, 1984). As I spent more time in Atmautluak, I also noticed some features that seemed to be common in all of my classmates’ English speech patterns beyond simply borrowed words.

This was what most people in Atmautluak referred to as “village English”—patterning English speech off of Yup’ik conventions. I remember frequently hearing phrases like “He wants to go college” instead of “He wants to attend college.” In this example, “go” is used as an auxiliary word to turn the noun “college” into the act of attending college. This sounds odd to an Oregonian ear, but the structure is derived from the Yup’ik convention discussed above—one stem will often function as both a noun and a verb (Jacobson, 1984).

Another common pattern is replacing “make” and “have” with the word “let,” as in, “My mom let me clean my room.” Because the Yup’ik postbase “vkar” expresses the action of compelling (make and have) and allowing (let), the two functions are often combined when translated to English (Jacobson, 1984).

I also remember slight confusion when friends complained “I have never eat yet” until I realized this meant “I haven’t eaten yet,” where “never” is substituted for “not.” Another frequently substituted word is “always.” In English, the simple present, like “they use them” implies habitual action, whereas the present progressive implies ongoing action. However, the Yup’ik postbase “-lar” indicates habitual action, but no postbase exists to describe ongoing action. Thus, Yup’ik-influenced English uses “always” to denote habitual action (Jacobson, 1984).

Despite its ubiquity in Alaskan villages, the school system has historically tried decrease its use in an attempt to teach students “correct” English. Howevever, currently, bidialectism, is taught (Jacobson, 1984). Bidialectism is essentially codeswitching, which means that students switch back and forth between dialects and languages depending on the situation. This can prove useful in settings when students encounter people who may not consider their way of speaking professional—village English can pose an obstacle during job applications or college essays. Bidialectism also acknowledges the validity of village English, allowing students to speak the way in which they feel comfortable.

The shift toward increased respect of indigenous language and culture in the Alaskan school system took place fairly recently. Only in 1969 was bilingual education implemented in village schools across Alaska (Tennant & Bitar, 2000). By the time I arrived in Atmautluak, primary grades (K-3) were completely taught in Yup’ik, and then older students transitioned to learning primarily in English. Thus, most of my peers were bilingual.

The purpose of bilingual programs in village schools is to preserve language, which is a major concern for indigenous populations around the word. Though the Yup’ik language is relatively widely spoken compared to other indigenous Alaskan languages, the system still faces hurdles, which the Alaskan education system is currently attempting to address. For example, barriers in teacher certification have contributed to a lack of native Yup’ik teachers in the school system. This presents an issue because native speakers are crucial in bilingual schooling programs. One feasible proposed solution involves online certification routes—this would literally close the gap by removing the physical obstacle of the remote location of many villages and their residents (Berg, et al., 2018). Other initiatives have involved village elders in recording stories that teachers can incorporate into lessons to teach both the language and the oral traditions of the Yup’ik people (Lincoln, 2016).

During my time in Atmautluak, I saw how important Yup’ik heritage was to my classmates and their families. The Yup’ik language is inextricably tied to the culture of the same name, and it bears the markings of a history spent surviving both the harsh arctic tundra and outside groups infringing on an established way of life. This language merits preservation not only due to its intriguing lexical and syntactic complexity but because the language currently spoken in these villages carries with it a historical record of the Yup’ik people. It is unrealistic, however, to expect any language to remain static, and as I experienced in Atmautluak, village English is a prime example of how languages interface and influence each other. Facilitating the acceptance Yup’ik and English dialects is much more respectful, and pragmatic, approach to language and cultural preservation.

Works Cited

Berg, P., et al. (2018). Disrupting Higher Education in Alaska: Introducing the Native Teacher Certification Pathway. In A. Altman (Ed.), The Disruptive Power of Online Education (pp. 147-166). Emerald Publishing.

Hensel, C., et al. (1983). Qaneryaurci yup’igtun: An Introductory Course in Yup’ik Eskimo for Non-speakers. Bethel, AK: Kuskokwim Community College.

Jacobson, S.A. (1984). Central Yup’ik and the Schools: A Handbook for Teachers. Juneau, AK: Alaska Department of Education.

Lincoln, R. (2016). Elitnauryarait Qaneryaramta Quliratgun; Teachings of Our Language Through Storytelling. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Master’s thesis.

Tennant, E.A., & Bitar, J.N. (Eds). (2000). Yupik Lore: Oral Traditions of an Eskimo People. Bethel, AK: Lower Kuskokwim School District.

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An Interview with Phil Busse, author of Southern Oregon Beer

Phil Busse is an Oregon writer and publisher. Raised in Wisconsin, he graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, and began as career as a journalist with the San Francisco Weekly. He has written for the Eugene Weekly and helped start the Portland Mercury, where he was managing editor. Busse is the executive director for the Media Institute for Social Change and is the publisher and editor for the Rogue Valley Messenger, which provides news, entertainment and reviews to southern Oregon.

Southern Oregon Beer: A Pioneering History, his first book, was published in 2019 by the HISTORY Press as part of its American Palate Series.

Ed Battistella: How did you come to write a book on the history of Southern Oregon beer?

Phil Busse: I helped start the Rogue Valley Messenger six years ago—and have been the Publisher for the paper. Part of that job is writing beer reviews now and again. Last summer, I received an email from a publishing house asking me to write a book about the history of southern Oregon breweries. It was completely out of the blue.

I took a day to do some quick research to see whether there was even a story there—and quickly found some fascinating stories and characters, and wrote back to the publisher saying, “heck yeah!”

It was such a fun project to research – to learn about the dusty gold rush days of Jacksonville, to learn about how the railroads impacted local economies, to find out how big the hops industry was in the 1920s, not completely unlike the weed industry is today! It was just a great vantage point on history. I had so much fun researching this topic.

EB: The origins of brewing in the region seem to be in Jacksonville. Why there?

PB: Starting in 1851, Jacksonville was a gold rush town—a gold rush that coincided with a massive immigration of Germans; more than 1 million Germans arrived in America in the 1850s, with many finding boom towns like Jacksonville where they could make an impact and with a decent number of those Germans with beer brewing talents (Miller, Busch, Coors, Weinhart; these were all German immigrants arriving in America in those years). In the 1850s, southern Oregon was fairly desolate, but these settlers came with ideas about striking it rich—and a couple decided that starting up breweries for the their miners would be their ticket.

It was extremely isolated, though, so it is amazing that breweries started. Consider not only how tough it was to get the basics like wheat and hops, but to drag cooper tanks across the mountain passes!

EB: Some of the earliest breweries were run by women. Tell us about Fredericka Wetterer and Marie Kienlen, who you profile in the book.

PB: Yes, it is amazing that half of the breweries in southern Oregon in the 1880s/90s were owned and run by women. Beer brewing has been – and continues to be – a male-dominated profession, but in the late 19th century, it was a different story in southern Oregon.

Fredericka Wetterer was a German woman in Jacksonville. She came from a family of brewers, and outlived her husband who had started one of the first breweries in Jacksonville. She was interesting in the records she kept. Hundreds of receipts that helped tell the day-to-day story about running a brewery back then—about buying bales of hops from the Willamette Valley, about doing business with Henry Weinhart.

Marie Kienlen was a bit more zany. She was a French woman who landed in Grants Pass, and walked around town with parrots on her shoulders. With her husband, she bought a brewery – which, in turn, burned down. They rebuilt on the same spot, a brick building that today is Climate City Brewery. Unlike Fredericka though, there weren’t many records kept by or about Marie. Even basic information – like her birthdate – was impossible to pin down.

Even so, these two women give a lot of insights into what it was like to run a business in southern Oregon at the turn-of-the-century.

EB: There are some interesting historical and contemporary photos and lots of observations from the newspapers of the early years. What was the research like for you?

PB: Researching this book was both fun and like trying to solve a mystery. I was trying to piece together information to build a picture about what life was like. I found a number of great resources. Southern Oregon Historical Society was fantastic; just really wonderfully kind, helpful and interested in what I was doing. And, there were a couple databases of newspapers that gave me contemporary insights into people’s lives back then.

The book also talks about what is happening now, and has been happening for the past quarter-century. For that, I had a number of interviews with brewers, who all were excited to talk and share their thoughts—and beers.

EB: What was the impact of prohibition? How did brewers cope with that social change?

PB: Obviously, Prohibition had an impact. It shut down the breweries for 15 years (more in Grants Pass, which passed a resolution a full decade before the rest of the country). Interestingly, though, there were other market forces that were as big and damaging. I was surprised to learn that the peak of breweries in America was in the 1870s, with more than 4000 breweries, a number that wasn’t surpassed again until 2005!

The decline in that number started decades before Prohibition and was all about consolidation – and about local economies being undermined with national products like Budweiser came about and had distribution from a nationwide network of railroads. It isn’t a completely different story from what we’ve been seen in the past 20 years with the internet; a tension between locally-produced products and those easily available from national companies.

There was an upstart brewery in Medford, for example, but that was bought out by the Portland-based Weinhart, which was a big regional force.

It was a double whammie to local breweries – first, trying to compete with national brands and, second, becoming illegal from Prohibition. By 1933, when FDR lifted Prohibition, the number of breweries had sunk into the several hundred. It has taken decades for the diversity to recover.

EB: One of the results of prohibition was a ban on homebrewing, which lasted until the 1970s. How did Oregon become such a center of the homebrewing and then the craft beer movement?

PB: I’m not sure why Oregon became such a hub for homebrewing; really, all of the west coast. Maybe it is the pioneer spirit and spunk, or the notion of doing-it-youself. But yes, even after Prohibition was lifted, homebrewing was still illegal for five more decades. This was like removing the minor leagues from baseball; there was no training ground for small breweries to come up through.

Once legal again, though, there is a boom with small breweries. Something like 90% of that first generation of small breweries came from homebrewers; in southern Oregon, that was guys that started Walkabout and Caldera, and Wild River Pizzeria’s craft brewing.

EB: Any predictions for the future of Southern Oregon brewing?

PB: That’s a tough question. I like to think that the trend towards regional breweries will continue.

Southern Oregon Breweries really are gems—places like Portal and Opposition and Conner Fields that are so tied to their community. That is the spirit of the mid-19th century breweries that served as adult community centers in a way. I like to think that philosophy will only deepen. The economic trends seem to indicate that, although it can be a tough business, and is increasingly competitive.

EB: Where can readers get Southern Oregon Beer?

PB: The book is available at most book stores, and online at Amazon. I will have some readings and events in southern Oregon in late September and early October. I have a barnstorming tour, stops at Bloomsbury Books and also at various breweries and other events. We will announce those in the Messenger.

EB: Thanks for talking with us. Cheers.

PB: Cheers! I appreciate the interest in the book. I really am happy for the opportunity to share the history that I was able to piece together and write about.

Posted in Ideas and Opinions | Comments Off on An Interview with Phil Busse, author of Southern Oregon Beer

Eating With Our Eyes, a guest post by Jordan Hartman

Jordan Hartman is an aspiring writer and photographer based in the Rogue Valley. He has recently graduated from Southern Oregon University with a Bachelor’s degree in English. Jordan has been honing his culinary skills for over eighteen years.

Being able to taste an image means that a photographer has done their job perfectly. Food is not only meant to be eaten it is meant to be experienced. Photographs can only do culinary masterpieces so much to convey the plethora of senses that are experienced during the act of eating. Many professional publications come close to portraying the senses experienced while eating in their photography. But as amateur photographers and chefs we could never come close to the perfection that they portray. I decided to try my hand at preparing and photographing dishes in two cookbooks that are photocentric.

One of the books used for this study is Better Homes and Gardens an extremely well known culinary text, and many would not consider a home complete without this book. It is a culinary text that mainly focuses on homemaking and hosting for beginners. It is a wealth of culinary knowledge. The other cookbook I used for this project was The World in Bite Size by Paul Gayler and photography by Peter Cassidy, this book is not quite as prominent as Better Homes, but has a lot of value in regard to photography. The book focuses on the recent surge in popularity of tapas and other appetizers. When I was contemplating this study I scanned through the books and decided that the two recipes that contrast each other well were the “piggyback dates on polenta” from Bite Size and “Flat-Iron Steaks with Avocado butter” from Better Homes. The reason I chose these two recipes is because I felt that “piggyback dates” would challenge me more due to the polenta component, and the “Flat-Iron Steak” recipe because I have never worked with Flat-Iron steaks before, but it was a fairly basic recipe. Although these recipes seemed fairly basic the “piggyback dates” recipe gave me extreme difficulty in preparing it.

The photos for the recipe gave a false sense of simplicity:

“Piggyback Dates on Polenta” Peter Cassidy, The World in Bite Size

“Piggyback Dates IN Polenta” Jordan Hartman

To begin, the recipe called for instant polenta which I prepped twenty-four hours in advance by bringing to a boil and simmering. I then placed the polenta in a greased baking dish and let chill. Unfortunately I am not well versed in making polenta so it did not set correctly. I then placed it in the freezer for the day hoping that when I revisited it later I might be able to salvage it. I was wrong, the difficulties with this recipe had only begun. When I finally came back around to make this recipe I realized I did not have a grill pan so I tried to just use a regular frying pan coated with olive oil. This decision was costly, because when I added a polenta square to the pan it sizzled and shot a chunk of corn meal into my eye. The polenta square then began to turn to mush in the pan, and I quickly changed my attention to my barbeque. When I switched to the barbeque I first placed a polenta square on the grates and it slowly started to melt through. I decided to just throw the remaining polenta in a baking dish and make creamy baked polenta. I then placed the bacon wrapped dates on the grill, but forgot to keep an eye on them and returned to a grease fire with most of the dates charred to a crisp. Unfortunately the only salvageable date was the one photographed above. This recipe seemed so novice at first glance, but proved to be one of the most difficult, and frustrating, recipes I have ever undertaken. One of the main lessons for this recipe was to actually read the recipe all the way through before attempting. I also realize now looking at the photo post-production that the lighting on the image is too flat. I needed to deepen the light with a darker filter, and angle it from the back more. Taking into consideration all of the failed aspects of this recipe, the learning experience was more valuable than anything.

The other recipe, “Flat-Iron Steaks with Avocado Butter”, was much easier to execute than the “piggyback dates.” The recipe is a straight-forward grilling recipe with an avocado compound butter pictured below next to my attempt:

“Flat-Iron Steaks with Avocado Butter” Photographer Unknown, Better Homes and Gardens

“Flat-Iron Steak with Avo Butter and Home Fries” Jordan Hartman

Obviously the potatoes are different, I will get that out of the way now. I forgot to write the type of potato I thought the recipe called for before go to the store, and thought that the small yukon golds were the right potato. This is most certainly the case, but they were still delicious. The process for grilling the steak was fairly easy, and it looks as though I matched the coloration of the official photograph. The avocado butter ended up being slightly lumpy, and in the future needs a food processor to gain the smoothness of the official photograph. The execution of my photograph turned out better than I had hoped. I feel as though my photo is slightly cold compared to the original photo, but I feel as though my attempt does the recipe justice.

Although I had a moderate amount of difficulty between the two dishes I am very satisfied with the outcome. Most food photography is not meant to be eaten and that was a factor that had to be taken into consideration throughout the duration of this study. Many of the photographs used in the culinary world use inedible items to make them more appetizing to the eye, but would cause major harm if ingested. Although these photographs did not turn out exactly like the original images for various reasons the outcome was satisfactory.

Works Cited

Gayler, Paul. The World in Bite Size: Tapas, Mezze, and Other Tasty Morsels. Edited by Peter Cassidy, Kyle Books, 2008.

New Cook Book: Better Homes and Gardens. HougHton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Works Referenced

Bright, Susan. Feast for the Eyes the Story of Food in Photography. Aperture, 2017.

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An Interview with Sophia S. W. Bogle, author of Book Restoration Unveiled

Sophia S.W. Bogle is an expert in book restoration with a diploma from the American Academy of Bookbinding and over 25 years of hands-on experience. She founded Save Your Books (formerly Red Branch Book Restoration) in 2000. 

Among her thousands of book restorations are first editions of Darwin’s Origin of Species, The Kelmscott Chaucer, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  She is the author of Book Restoration Unveiled, which is just out and available in three formats: See below for more details.

Sophia will be at the Ashland Book Exchange celebrating and signing books from 4-6 on July 5.

Ed Battistella: Who is Book Restoration Unveiled for?  Who is your audience?

Sophia Bogle: The book evolved as I wrote. I started out writing it only for book collectors and then it expanded to include book dealers and then it expanded again because I realized that anyone who loves books should know these things. 

EB:  One of the things I found fascinating in the book and in your presentations is the history of book restoration and repair—can you tell our listeners a bit about the Florence Flood in the 1960s?

SB: The Florence Flood was a huge turning point. Before the flood, innovations in book repair technology just sort of followed behind whatever the art world was doing for art restoration. The flood damaged so many books all at once (millions) that it forced a shift. New techniques had to be invented quickly. Some worked, some didn’t, but the combination of moisture and heat made the books into time bombs for mold as well as pages getting stuck together. It was a real Mission Impossible moment and Peter Waters emerged as the hero. He led hundreds of “mud angels”(as the volunteers were called) through the muck of the detritus from the flood to rescue as many books as they could. 

EB: What’s the distinction between repair, restoration and conservation in a nutshell?

SB: First of all, Conservation is a profession. The people who do it are Conservators. What they do mostly is preservation but they also do restoration. The goal of preservation is to maintain the original object into the future with minimal change to the object. You can use the words conservation and preservation in the same ways but I find that confusing. 

Second, repair is both the overarching term for any treatment of something broken and it can also refer to simple treatments that are not fussed about matching or being invisible. 

Third, restoration is focused on invisible treatments that will bring the book back to functionality and its original beauty. 

EB: How does it feel to work with rare books—you’ve handled some first editions and even a Shakespeare First Folio in your career.  Do you have a sense of awe when you work with such rare pieces? 

SB: It is certainly wonderful to hold such a book and imagine the history. It means even more to me now that I have seen the play The Book of Will which was at OSF last year. The First Folio came through the shop when I was working for David Weinstein. It didn’t actually need any restoration at all. David just did a bit of treatment on the leather for preservation. In my interview with David in the book (BRU) he talks about the very interesting story of its sale.

EB: In Book Restoration Unveiled, you mention that some people think that book restoration and making facsimiles is inherently a bad thing. What do you say to that?  Can book restoration be used for good and evil?

SB: I am not sure that there is anything in the world that cannot be twisted with evil intent. I truly believe that the answer is always more information. I say that because I have had experience with some book people who have suggested that I should not be telling people about how some of these frauds are perpetuated. Their thinking is that now more people will commit crimes. I say that no information can create the intent. The intent exists aside from information. It is more important to arm the general public with the tools to spot it!

EB: You also talk about book restoration fraud? What is the most common type of fraud?

SB: There are three things that come to mind. Swapping out pages with publishers information in order to make the book appear to be a more valuable edition. Scratching out/removing numbers or words for the same purpose. And lastly, swapping out pages to insert the author’s signature.  None of those things can be done without intent to defraud and it is the intent that matters most. 

EB: One of the great features of your book are the many interviews with book professionals.  What was your idea in doing that? What did you learn from talking with them? 

SB: The interviews came out of a need to understand how others in the book world saw restoration. I was aware of a certain paradox that I wanted to clarify. You see, book restoration is both revered and shunned or hidden. Book dealers will only reluctantly tell you about who does restoration for them because they don’t want their book restoration person to get backed up and not have the time to do that dealers’ books. 

Also, dealers and collectors know that a book that has been restored is then not seen as a perfect book and so a stigma is attached. The stigma is attached even though the book was broken in the first place. This is due to the top 1% of book collectors preferring untouched books and so is market driven. 

The last part of it is that some people have been using the skills of book restoration to have shady things done and they don’t want to be caught. I have turned away some people when they asked me to do sketchy things. In the book I mention how one person asked me to change the name of the publisher on the spine of a book. I could have done it but I could not see how that wasn’t fraud so I declined.

EB: There is an Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America code of ethics.  What does that entail?

SB: The important thing is that they must declare any changes made to a book meaning restoration or re-binding mostly. Also they must accept returns if the book is not as stated. 

EB: Can you tell us a little about the Print-to-Sew version (sew-your-own-version delete) of Book Restoration Unveiled and about your video courses and book repair kits.

SB: I have created a Print to Sew format that is a set of downloadable pdfs. You just print each signature double-sided and then you can sew them together and bind it however you like. No instructions are included at this time.  I might be the first person ever to offer this as an option. There is a risk that someone will print a ton of copies to sell and so I will lose out on money. But aside from the fact that I could sue them for copyright infringement, I believe the bookbinders out there to be honorable. Teachers can just let me know they need more copies for a class and I will approve such uses. Otherwise they can print three copies to bind as they like. That comes out to about $5 per copy. They can sell the three copies that they bind themselves as long as they have bought the download properly.

AND, I have decided to donate 10% of all sales of the Print to Sew book to the Save Your Books Scholarship Fund. I have three applicants this term already. Scholarships are awarded quarterly. To donate or apply go to: https://saveyourbooks.com/scholarships/

EB: Is there a book out there that you are just dying to work on but haven’t had the chance yet?

SB: Not really. I actually get excited about each book that comes through my shop, I love meeting with the owner and finding out why the book is important. I do love working on illustrated children’s books though. Rackham and Sendak are favorites and I also love all the Wizard of Oz series that has come through the studio.

EB: How can readers get copies of Book Restoration Unveiled?

SB: There is an e-book format that is available through Amazon, while the Paperback and the Print to Sew formats are available through http://saveyourbooks.com/ .  I have decided not to sell the paperback on Amazon in order to encourage independent bookstores to carry it.

The Paperback is also available through several  local independent bookstores including the Ashland Book Exchange, Bloomsbury Books, Rebel Heart Books and Oregon Books and Games. It is also available in the rare book room in Powell’s City of Books and at Chaparral Books in Portland and J. Michaels’ Books in Eugene. Please support your local independent bookstores!

EB: Thanks for talking with us.

SB: It is my pleasure! 

Posted in History of Publishing Observations, Interviews | Comments Off on An Interview with Sophia S. W. Bogle, author of Book Restoration Unveiled

An Interview with Octavio Solis

Octavio Solis is a playwright and director. His works include Mother Road, Quixote Nuevo, Hole in the Sky, Alicia’s Miracle, Se Llama Cristina, John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, The 7 Visions of Encarnación, El Paso Blue, Santos & Santos, and La Posada Mágica. His plays have been mounted in many theaters across the United States including Mark Taper Forum, Yale Repertory Theatre, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Dallas Theater Center, the Magic Theatre, Latino Chicago Theatre Company, the New York Summer Play Festival, and El Teatro Campesino. Solis has been the recipient of numerous awards: an NEA 1995-97 Playwriting Fellowship, the National Latino Playwriting Award for 2003, the United States Artists Fellowship for 2011, and the 2014 Pen Center USA Award for Drama. Solis is a Thornton Wilder Fellow for the MacDowell Colony, New Dramatists alum and member of the Dramatists Guild. He is working on commissions for the Arena Stage, SF Playhouse and South Coast Repertory Theatre. Solis lives on a small farm in Southern Oregon.

Alma Rosa Alvarez is a professor of English at Southern Oregon University where she has taught for twenty two years. Her teaching focus is on ethnic literatures in the U.S.

Alma Rosa Alvarez: You have a considerable production of plays: over twenty. You are generally categorized as a Latino playwright, yet in 2018, your collection of short stories, Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border was published by City Lights Books. Congratulations! Is there a different creative process you have to engage in to write short fiction than the process you engage in when you write plays?

Octavio Solis: The process I employed was very different in writing Retablos. There was no emphasis on dialogue; I made an effort to eschew dialogue in favor of descriptive action. I could allow myself long imagistic stretches and major shifts in time and place, foreshortening these in order to tell the story in a concise and lyric manner. Some of the “retablos” were hardly more than a character sketch, but that felt right at times. A play is very different, leaning more on dramatic action than on descriptive passages.

But I also used an approach that served me well in theatre. I determined that these stories had to be written in the first-person pronoun and in the present tense, because then I could think of them as extended monologues and the present tense allowed the stories to be relived in that zone that falls between memory and dream. And almost all of my “retablos” eventually landed on a single event where all the elements gravitated toward. That focal event felt like a scene in a play or movie, even if it lasted no more than a few paragraphs.

ARA: In your introduction to Retablos, you tell the reader that retablos are “… a kind of flash-fiction account of an electrifying life-altering event.” Can you explain what other qualities of the retablo you are connecting to your fiction?

OS: The principal feature of the retablos I have seen and collected is the picture, the diorama, if you will, of someone’s earthly crisis, at which the divine is also present in the figure of a particular saint or Holy Virgin. This simple crudely drawn and painted image is wrought with drama, depicting a moment of powerful tension, pain, and transcendence. I took my cues from these images, and determined to use them as the motif for the moments in my life that defined me. So I crafted my personal stories so they would feel as terse and vivid and magical as these painted images on tin.

ARA: Your short story, “The Mexican I Needed” really resonated with me. My parents also had Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights. You close that story with “One day, thirty years later, someone tells me Herb Alpert is actually of Ukrainian and Romanian extraction…To me, he’ll always be the Mexican I needed for dreaming.” Can you speak to the way you are conceptualizing Mexican identity in this story? Can you speak to how you conceptualize Mexican identity in general?

OS: For someone born in the US but whose parents hail from Mexico, there is always a disconnect that happens between the present culture and the one before. Sometimes, it is a flimsy synapse, and sometimes the disconnect can be a chasm. My mother and grandmother had a record collection that ranged wildly from Trio Los Panchos and Agustin Lara to Petula Clark and Diana Ross and the Supremes, an amalgam of distinctly Mexican and wholly American (yes, we thought Petula was American) musical styles and genres. Landing right in the middle of these was Herb Alpert, who played his horn and dressed like he was a pop star from Mexico. He appropriated my parents’ culture and adopted it as his own, and made a career for himself using their music. I didn’t know this as a kid growing up in El Paso, where already the cultures were so thoroughly blended and Chicano bands were playing their own Latin-infused versions of Beatles tunes and Santana was about to appear in Woodstock. I saw Alpert’s dark skin, his charrostyle outfits and heard that distinctly Latin sound and that said to me “I am Mexico.” So I appropriated him in turn, and now that he claims his Jewishness and Eastern European roots; I claim them as my own too. Because there are Mexicans, I have since learned, who are also Jewish of Eastern European extraction. His music awoke that part of me that ached for Mexico in ways that even more authentic music could not because, generally speaking, even as the music had that Latin beat and summoned images of rural Mexico, the titles and credits on the album covers were all in English. These albums were the bridge between my Dad’s Mexico and my America.

Of course, I gave them up once I found more genuine Mexican music, but there was something special that lingered in my mind about these silly albums, because they made me grasp a clearer sense of my self-image as someone who straddles two cultures without even thinking about it.

ARA: In the Introduction of Retablos you tell your reader that the stories have a basis in memory. You also mention, though, the various ways those memories necessarily get fictionalized when they are set in written form. How important is that overlay of fiction for you, particularly in stories that involve your family members? I am thinking about “Wild Kingdom,” for example, that begins with “He fired his gun at us but not ’cause he wants us dead. How could he? He is our dad.”

OS: In reading a lot of fiction over the years, I’ve learned that much of it comes from actual experience, but as a rule, writers don’t make that connection for their readers. I flatly declare that they are based on moments in my life, and I add that I made things up when memory failed. Obligation to story is paramount for me. But what I learned, however, is that whatever I made up in the service of these stories, it still had to be the truth. Wild Kingdom is a real memory; the only thing I made up is what the little boy wishes he could tell the cop about his dad. But it’s the truth. And yet once I wrote that down, it all became fiction. Because I am telling a skewed story about a real event, purposefully or accidentally misremembered, from a single point of view. Mine.

ARA: The Chicano Movement was heavily influenced by the Mexican Revolution idea that “the land belongs to those that work it.” Early Chicano writers used this idea to create a sense of belonging for their exploited farm worker characters. If they work land in the United States, then they are of the United States, despite discrimination and marginalization. Did any of these ideas on land influence you as you wrote your play Mother Road?  

OS: Yes, they do. The idea of belonging cannot be merely expressed through a piece of paper, a document. It is expressed through labor and commitment to the land. Citizenship is an ideal, or should be, that is manifested in real effort to build community and contribute to the culture we share. American citizenship can’t be defined by what it’s not and who’s not, but by the positive values that transcend borders and race and religion and language. I refer to the great writer Cherrie Moraga who says that we must disabuse ourselves of this national amnesia and wake up to the fact that “we”, ie. the descendants of our native forbears, can’t be aliens in a land we have always lived on. For millennia. We’re a migratory species like the buffalo and the butterfly and the birds, but we have always been here. So easy, once we consider this, to rise from picker to patron, from campesino to captain. This will to be what we were fully born to be is what defines American to me.

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