March 21, 2014 · Comments Off
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March 15, 2014 · 1 Comment
Blessed once again to experience a week of urban enlightenment, I am even further moved and inspired. It is difficult to convey adequately the impact chi-urban excursion has on its participants. This year like last, I am witness to the subtle transformations Gonzaga students have on this trip. The small steps we begin to take outside of our comfort zones–be it trying a pastry from a culture we are unfamiliar with, sitting next to a stranger on the bus, to beginning to interrogate moments of social injustice that prompt us to consider our own privileges–it quickly becomes evident that in five days something transformational has happened.
Though I do not claim to be well traveled, I feel confident to attest that Chicago in its entirety offers a uniqueness unmatched by other cities. With this bold declaration I am reminded of the word’s of Plato: “This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.” The people that make up Chicago make Chicago. The beauty of this city and the transformative power it enacts on students emanates from its inhabitants. This week we experienced the people through mediums we were perhaps less aware of. The food, the art, the conversations, the neglect, the beauty, the hope, the despair. It would be insincere to boast of Chicago’s amazingness and omit the less glorious details. In all honesty, Chicago is frustrating, while nevertheless beautiful. It would be ideal to relish in the city’s aesthetics–the sky scrappers, the navigable transportation, the art, and the culture, however this trip provides us with the opportunity to examine further what is readily seen and applauded. The blatant social injustices that exist within the city’s limits, elicits a visceral response. Confusion, I believe is the first emotion evoked by this realization, followed quickly by frustration.
Though we do not leave Chicago with our frustrations abated, we do leave with questions and the conviction to ask them. That alone is transformational, powerful, and beautiful. Touched again by the people of Chicago–their tragedy, their hope, and their beauty. Exposure to their world convicts me to ask the questions–not to settle in the city’s already justified beauty, nor to scorn its shortcomings but to love it arbitrarily, because a city is what it is because its citizens are what they are (or are given the opportunity to be.)
March 14, 2014 · Comments Off
Today, Thursday March 13th, we ventured off to the South Asian district of Chicago. Ironically, it is located on far north side. The South Asian District includes people from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The strip took about 40 years to develop and is now filled with shops that sell jewelry, saris, sharwani, spices, snacks, specific need grocery stores, and salons. While visiting we were introduced to a women who is a prominent leader in the community. She has been on many boards and comities about raising awareness about battered women and other oppressions that people in the community face. She was an inspiration to listen to and as we walked in to different stores, you could tell that she was respected by all. She also knew everyone and would ask them questions to get them to share a little of their story with us.
For lunch we were treated with an Indian Cuisine buffet. The food varied from salads, and chutney, to curries and desserts. I personally was still full from our Mexican lunch, but I did sample their garbanzo beans and chicken curry, both of which were excellent in flavor and spice. Of course, I had several pieces of naan. For desert I tried their milk and rice dish, kheer. It was a lot of fun to eat and socialize with the heroine of the town. After we had finished our meal we were invited back into the kitchen to see how naan was made. When I was a senior in high school I had taken a cooking class and had seen the process before, but by seeing this other restaurants method, I realized there was more than one make to make it.
After lunch, Aleksey, Yusra, Michaela, Marilyn, Elena, and I all got their eyebrows threaded at one of the solons. After getting beautified, Aleksey, Jacquelyn and I went to visit Loyola with Maria while the rest stayed up north until dinner time. Our visit to Loyola was very short but very fun. We went to a sound circle and visited their chapel. Since I have been thinking about law school at Loyola it was a great chance to see the community that I could become a part of. After a brief visit at Loyola we went downtown and Aleksey and I met with the rest of the group at the bean while Maria and Jacquelyn went to reserve our table and order pizza at the restaurant. While at the bean we took more pictures and took at nice long walk. Dinner was Chicago Pizza and it was amazing!
After dinner we came back shortly to charge phones and then went to a play. The play was based on crack cocaine and how it affected different people and the relationships between them and others. The play was so well directed and we even got to tell the director. There was such a strong emotional ties that were developed that I was emotionally pulled in.
Well this week has been pretty amazing. I think I speak for all of us when I say that this has been a memorable spring break. I must say though viewing all of these different cultural parts of Chicago, I am leaving with a whole in my heart. I loved visiting all of the other strips and seeing how they have flourished here in Chicago. The black community, which is a part of my culture, has been greatly neglected. The lack of housing and education in the black community is prominent and devastating. I have grown so much through this whole experience and see that I need to make my life change this world in some way. It has started a fire inside of me that is going to continue to grow. To wrap up, today was filled with a cultural learning experience, a trip to Loyola, and an emotional play.
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March 13, 2014 · Comments Off
We seem to be having some technical struggles here at the Boulevard. The lights and circuits on our side of the basement seem to have gone out and the circuit breaker is locked. This means that the space heater is off. This is specifically relevant because today marks a historic day in Chicago’s history; it started snowing again last night and early this morning and with that snow we have set a record for the most snow in one winter in Chicago. Over 76 inches! Long story short, it’s pretty cold here in the basement.
Anyways, on to the activities of the day! I was excited to be blogging today since we were going to the LGBTQ center in Chicago. Center on Halsted was established in 1973 as a safe haven for not only LGBTQ but all people in Chicago that just needed a place to call their own. Although the center has so many amazing services they supply to the community the ones that stood out to me were the free HIV testing services. They really care about developing each person that walks through their doors and taking care of the person mind, body and soul. Another amazing quality of the center is that they are working towards peace of mind for every person who walks through their door. They label their bathrooms male identified, female identified and have neutral restrooms for people who do not identify with the gender binary. It really is an amazing organization who does so much for the community.
After our tour of the facility we had an educational discussion led by David Zak, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights. What I enjoyed most about this portion of the day was that he didn’t just speak to us and tell us things we may or may not have previously known. Instead he facilitated a discussion within the group and got even the quietest people to speak up about their opinions on LGBTQ rights and the experiences we’ve all had with that community. These conversations and safe environments are what bring people together. It was also the last activity we participated in with our PIT counterparts. It was a great way to end our journey’s here together, I already miss having them around.
Next up was our South Side tour. We only covered about a 7×7 square mile radius of the south side which doesn’t even begin to cover it. This amazed me because this is about the same size of San Francisco, which is the area I am from. It is amazing to see the difference between these two cities and it gave me a little of a perspective on how big Chicago really is. We went by the White Sox stadium which, being the sports fan I am, was highly enjoyable. However the part of this trip that shocked me most was the neighborhood right next to the stadium. Bridgeport neighborhood is a primarily Irish Catholic, wealthy neighborhood. Apparently African Americans are not welcome in this neighborhood. Families who have tried to settle here have been forced out. This whole week thus far we’ve been traveling through neighborhoods of specific communities: China Town, Pilsen. As diverse as Chicago is, it is hyper-segregated. Each group has their own part of the city and most of these neighborhoods seem to be struggling. It made me miss home; where it is not frowned upon by a community to be interracial or bisexual, you can just be you.
As much as I have enjoyed these educational parts of the trips and the discoveries made on them, what I love most about this trip is bonding with the people. So far I have gotten to know people of this trip on a whole new level. During free time today while most people went up in the Sears Tower, Elena and I got tea and made wonderful conversation. These are the moments in life I crave, these are the times I feel most alive and most blessed.
Free time wasn’t all fun and games however; very long story very short paying the bill at dinner tonight was one of the biggest struggles we have had on this trip up to date. Things I learned: never try to split one check between a card and cash, don’t ask for a box unless you’ve completely finished eating, and someone else will figure out the bill and no matter how many times you calculate it and argue over how to pay, you will be wrong and still owe $10 more. Good thing we have all the math oriented people to figure that out so I can sit back and watch some hockey in peace.
So yes, today was a historic day in Chicago: I got to bond with an amazing group of individuals, it snowed, and the power in the basement is still not working. Quick shout out to my roommate Erika and my Goddaughter Mikaelyn whose birthdays are today, also making it a historic day. Love you both. Now I’m off to more group bonding, with a heavy heart that our time here is almost done but excited that next things lay right around the corner.
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March 12, 2014 · 1 Comment
it’s Tuesday morning and the weather man was wrong. Although it isn’t sunny outside, we are told that it is fairly warm! Two warm days in a row? In Chicago? We obviously must have brought the good weather from Spokane!
At 9:30am, we climb the CTA’s gray van with Mary as our driver and head to the Pilsen community, also known as the Mexican-American neighborhood, where we are planned to meet local artist Jose Guerrero at his studio. As we reach Pilsen, I began to notice the local Spanish signs, schools, stores, and restaurants. I immediately feel a sense of comfort and am overwhelmed with joy and happiness. No, I’m not from Chicago, but yes, I am Mexican-American so being surrounded by others who can identify with my culture made me feel at ease while driving through the community. Once we reach Jose’s studio building, he explains to us that the building is very old, first being a theater, then a labor union hangout, and now it is not only an art studio but a Quincenera rental location as well. He then leads us to the art studio “Obrero Printing Press” where he astonishes all of us with the breath-taking projects from many different artists. “Art is not done for the sake of art, it is done to create change and make an impact,” states Jose. All of the print projects he showed us had their individual meanings and display of oppression from either the government or society. After the beautiful art work, we headed outside for our murals tour. While walking to our first mural, I learn that Jose has been in Chicago since 1964 and has met many different artist and people who have made an impact in Pilsen. He also mentions how the murals are very significant to the community due to their historical meanings and the impact they make on people who take the time to understand each one individually. One of Jose’s last statements to me was, “These murals are very important because they teach the younger generation of Mexican-Americans to not forget their culture and most importantly, their language.”
After the long walk around the neighborhood, we reach our destination for lunch-The Nuevo Leon. As we walk inside we soon realize that this restaurant is the hot spot! Since there wasn’t enough open tables we had to split the group into half. I got to share my delicious lunch time with Yusra, Justin, and Michaela. As we are deciding on what to order, the waitress brings us caldo de albondigas (meatballs soup), which immediately sent me back to the years when my mom would always make that on winter days. As we eat our authentic Mexican food we began to share about our individual cultures and what we enjoyed about our holidays. After a great lunch, we head to The National Museum of Mexican Art and catch a quick glimpse of the beautiful art work that portrayed many different meanings of what the Mexican culture means to different artists. On our way out we stopped by the gift shop were some of us just enjoyed viewing the unique things they had while others decided to buy unique small gifts to remember this Museum.
Next spot in our agenda is Growing Home Wood that is located in Englewood, one of the small, poor communities in Chicago. Growing Home Wood, grows vegetables and fruits for their community and their mission is to demonstrate the use of agriculture as a way to help those in need of job training, employment, and develop the community. What did I learn from this place? I learned that giving back to your others is essential for creating a strong community and those working in Growing Home Wood definitely showed this. This place is filled with amazing leaders who have the drive to make their home a better place.
At around 3pm we reached Boulevard and had a four-hour break, so we immediately decided to head to downtown on our own and explore the wonderful city life. While Janay and Michaela figured out the buses, trains, and streets situation, we were all getting ready for this exciting adventure. We figured out that we had to take the Bus 15 to the Red line train and then get off at Chicago where we’d reach our destination. As we are riding the bus, the stop we believe is ours reaches closer to us and we get off the bus. To our dismay we had gotten off way too early and had no other option but to walk the rest of the way to the subway station. Twenty minutes later, we reach it and we soon get on the Red line and head towards downtown. As we reach downtown, with our GPS in hand, we explore the city and find John Hancock’s Observatory Center. Since we didn’t want to spend money on the actual center we decide to go up to the 95th floor and watch the view from there. Unfortunately, only 21 year olds and older could be at that spot so again, to our dismay we go outside to find something else to do. When it reaches dinner time we decide to stop at Downtown’s dogs and have a taste of the famous Chicago hot dogs were Aleksey took the challenge of eating a double downtown dog which had double the meat in one bun. After his victory defeating this challenge we decide to head back to the Boulevard. On our way back home, in the bus we meet a girl named Coco who was very outspoken and friendly. She shares briefly with us a few jokes, about being from Jamaica, and her love for cereal.
At 7:15pm we headed out to the KLEO Community Family Life Center were we attended a L.Y.R.I.C youth open mic show. Once we reached the inside of the building we are welcomed by dancing music and it immediately feels like a secure safe place to be able to be yourself. The show soon begins and we all are attentive to the spoken words shared by many local youth. We hear about the struggles many of them faced and their visions of life. Every single performance was a true inspiration but after about 3 hours of amazing talent the show soon comes to an end. But, we are surprised by brief dance party. After a few songs it is time to head back to the Boulevard, then we soon find out that it is snowing outside and our good luck with the weather had washed away.