Month: May 2017

The Soldiers You Never Learned About in School

Seven years ago, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that fosters inflexible and close minded conservative political viewpoints. Five years later, the New York Times published a story of a Texas high school student and his mother calling attention to a line in a textbook that described the Atlantic slave trade as bringing “millions of workers” to plantations in the South. Millions of workers? Not Slaves?

Regarding school textbooks, what happens in Texas unfortunately doesn’t stay in Texas. Because they are so big, the state is very influential as a market and publishers tend to angle books toward whatever they want (including matters of science). Reading about Texas got me to thinking about the things I didn’t learn in school. While I thankfully had quite a few progressive teachers (in the sixth grade, one noted how African Americans and Puerto Ricans were put on the front lines during the Vietnam conflict), I also had those who still conveyed imperialistic, manifest destiny points of view (in the eighth grade one described Native Americans as awed by Europeans because “their hair was the color of gold.”) Noteworthy people of color were generally not part of my education growing up.

Media literacy has been on my mind a lot lately, most notably with regards to how minority groups are portrayed. The negative images are ubiquitous and have mythic power. You don’t need much education to comprehend an image. Visibility fosters understanding and unity. Writing this on the eve of Memorial Day 2017, I got to thinking about soldiers of color. If military service to the country is a metric for outstanding citizenship, and seen as a noteworthy contribution, then why didn’t I learn about soldiers of color growing up? Their contributions were significant. I would like to honor three groups of soldiers of color whose histories may be even further buried by the direction this country is going.

The Borinqueneers

The 65th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Borinqueneers, was created in 1899 by Congress as a segregated unit composed of Puerto Ricans. The regiment served in the two World Wars as well as the Korean Conflict. The unit was named after the word given to Puerto Rico by its native Tainos that means, “land of the brave lord.” When the Borinqueneers were sent to the front lines in Korea, the men of the 65th performed exceptionally, earning praise from General MacArthur.

The 65th Infantry Regiment were awarded with a United States Congressional Gold Medal in June 2014, 60 years later, after a passionate two-years of activism by a nationwide alliance of volunteers, organizations and lawmakers in Congress. Puerto Ricans inhabit an exacting place in U.S. history because of the island’s commonwealth status: they don’t have the right to vote in U.S. elections, but serve in the military and can be drafted (Puerto Ricans can vote if they live in the United States).

The Windtalkers

Despite gaining the rights to citizenship and voting in 1924 from the federal government, Native Americans in some states could not vote until 1962, in spite of the esteemed contributions made by the Navajo during World War II.

Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan dominated in the Pacific. Many Japanese soldiers were fluent in English and regularly decoded military messages. The U.S. needed an unbreakable code. In February of 1942, Philip Johnston, an engineer and veteran of World War I, had an idea: What if the military forces were to use the Navajo language as a secret code? Johnston was familiar with the language because he was the son of missionaries who spent a good portion of his life interacting with the Navajo people, and was one of a few non-Navajos who could speak the complicated language.

The Navajo code talker (Windtalkers) program was classified and remained a national secret until 1968. An estimated 375 to 420 Navajos served as Windtalkers. Returning home with no fanfare and sworn to secrecy, the Navajo Windtalkers are finally being acknowledged in mainstream American history. The “Honoring the Code Talkers Act,” introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico in April 2000, and signed into law December 21, 2000, called for the recognition of the Navajo code talkers. During a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on July 26, 2001, the first 29 soldiers received the Congressional Gold Medal.

The Tuskegee Airmen

The Tuskegee airmen were the first African American servicemen to operate as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. Even though they were subject to racism in the U.S. and abroad, the 996 pilots and more than 15,000 ground personnel who served with the all-Black units would be credited with some 15,500 combat maneuvers and earn over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their achievements. The publicized successes of the Tuskegee Airmen helped pave the way for the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces under President Harry Truman in 1948.

After the war, the G.I. Bill was designed to help veterans adjust to civilian life by providing them with benefits that included low-cost mortgages and low-interest loans. African Americans did not benefit from the G.I. Bill anywhere near as much as White Americans. Historian Ira Katznelson notes that “the law was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow.” Of the first 67,000 mortgages insured by the G.I. Bill, fewer than 100 were granted to people of color.

One of the great honors of my life was meeting Dr. Roscoe Brown, former Tuskegee Airman and former president of Bronx Community College, where I have worked for the last fourteen years. He was the squadron commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group and flew 68 missions and would eventually be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Dr. Brown often noted that the Airmen’s activism after the war was as important as their wartime service—having risked their lives abroad, the Airmen were determined to make the U.S. a more equitable place. Unfortunately, not only are we still working on that, we seem to be taking large strides backward.

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“Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” ― Georgia O'Keeffe

The Earth Laughs in Flowers: A Photo Essay from a Visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Flowers. Seeing them is uplifting. Even when you see them here and there in densely packed urban areas, they still manage to uplift. Now imagine seeing flowers in an urban oasis in great variety and color. This blog entry is devoted to a recent visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with my Mother. It is one of her favorite places in New York City and I always try to bring her here when she visits from Puerto Rico. I wanted to complement my photographs with some favorite quotes on flowers. Enjoy the virtual oasis. And remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “The earth laughs in flowers.”

“I must have flowers, always, and always.” ― Claude Monet

“I must have flowers, always, and always.” ― Claude Monet

“Where flowers bloom so does hope.” ― Lady Bird Johnson

“Where flowers bloom so does hope.” ― Lady Bird Johnson

“Collaboration has no hierarchy. The Sun collaborates with soil to bring flowers on the earth.” ― Amit Ray

“Collaboration has no hierarchy. The Sun collaborates with soil to bring flowers on the earth.” ― Amit Ray

“He who does not know how to appreciate flowers will not be able to see the beauty of life” ― Debasish Mridha

“He who does not know how to appreciate flowers will not be able to see the beauty of life” ― Debasish Mridha

“Dreams are the flowers of imagination which bloom on the fertile grounds of the mind.” ― Debasish Mridha

“Dreams are the flowers of imagination which bloom on the fertile grounds of the mind.” ― Debasish Mridha

“If you are a kind and a peaceful person, you will see yourself when you look at an elegant flower!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“If you are a kind and a peaceful person, you will see yourself when you look at an elegant flower!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

botanical bridge

“Man is hypocrite! He says that he loves flowers but he kills them for his own simple interests and for his own joy! Man is hypocrite!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Man is hypocrite! He says that he loves flowers but he kills them for his own simple interests and for his own joy! Man is hypocrite!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Amongst the flowers you always feel yourself you are endlessly far away from all the dangers!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Amongst the flowers you always feel yourself you are endlessly far away from all the dangers!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Come, see real flowers of this painful world” ― Bashō Matsuo

“Come, see real flowers of this painful world” ― Bashō Matsuo

“Nature suffers the most but never complains. Flowers never forget to bloom and beautify the world.” ― Debasish Mridha

“Nature suffers the most but never complains. Flowers never forget to bloom and beautify the world.” ― Debasish Mridha

“Flowers are the beautiful hairs of the Mother Spring! Don’t pluck them!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Flowers are the beautiful hairs of the Mother Spring! Don’t pluck them!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” ― Georgia O'Keeffe

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” ― Georgia O’Keeffe

“A flower blossoms for its own joy.” ― Oscar Wilde

“A flower blossoms for its own joy.” ― Oscar Wilde

“Amongst the flowers you always feel yourself you are endlessly far away from all the dangers!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Amongst the flowers you always feel yourself you are endlessly far away from all the dangers!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Little flowers get more attention than the big mountains simply because they emit love around themselves!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“Little flowers get more attention than the big mountains simply because they emit love around themselves!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“No flower is happy in a vase, because vase is nothing but an ornate coffin for the flower.” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“No flower is happy in a vase, because vase is nothing but an ornate coffin for the flower.” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

“When you love nature, it always loves you back with the fragrance of flowers.” ― Debasish Mridha

“When you love nature, it always loves you back with the fragrance of flowers.” ― Debasish Mridha

“Dreams are the flowers of imagination which bloom on the fertile grounds of the mind.” ― Debasish Mridha

“Dreams are the flowers of imagination which bloom on the fertile grounds of the mind.” ― Debasish Mridha

 

 

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