Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Monday, January 30, 2017

Our Differences Mean Less Than Our Kinship

With counterparts and fellow PCV, Dominican Republic 1994
"Peace may sound simple - one beautiful word - but it requires everything we have, every quality, every strength, every dream, every high ideal."-- Yehudi Menuhin

In 1987 at the age of 50 I joined the Peace Corps. My story about why I did this appears below the photo of the Statue of Liberty below.

Though I left Peace Corps Headquarters in 2004, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer I've continued to promote our Third Goal: To promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. I speak frequently about my experiences in Belize, Dominican Republic and Seychelles, where I served overseas, and about what I learned by traveling to dozens of countries as a progam and training specialist when I worked at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington DC. Currently I belong to the Orange County Peace Corps Association.

So this morning I reminisced a bit about how my life became enriched from these experiences overseas after I opened the following message from the president of our national association:

"In 1958, then-Senator John F. Kennedy wrote A Nation of Immigrants. The text outlines the history and importance of immigration to the United States, as well as proposals to liberalize immigration law.
"As one of his first presidential acts, President Kennedy established Executive Order 10924 to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps. Since 1961, 225,000 Volunteers have been welcomed in 161 countries — including Muslim majority ones, as well as many below our southern border. As foreigners, we were accepted without prejudice into homes, schools, offices, and houses of worship by our hosts.
"At the time, each of us made an oath: I promise to serve alongside the people of my Country of Service. I promise to share my culture with an open heart and open mind. I promise to foster an understanding of the people of my Country of Service, with creativity, cultural sensitivity, and respect. I will face the challenges of service with patience, humility, and determination. I will embrace the mission of world peace and friendship for as long as I serve and beyond. In the proud tradition of Peace Corps’ legacy, and in the spirit of the Peace Corps family past, present, and future - I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.
"Because of this, those of us who have served in the Peace Corps have a special responsibility. We are tasked with sharing, in a spirit of humility and respect, what it means to be an American. We must speak up on behalf of the refugees who have now been prevented from entering our country and receiving our welcome in return...
"Our national security depends not on building walls, but bridges. Peace is a product of friendship and understanding, and the Peace Corps community demonstrates our lifelong commitment to those ideals by following through when it’s needed most.
In service,

Glenn Blumhorst
President & CEO
RPCV Guatemala 1988-91"

Treated with kindness and compassion by some many host country nationals in so many countries all over the world, I owe the same kindness and compassion to those immigrants who have believed the message on our Lady Liberty:

So what can I do to protect Constitutional rights for

Yesterday I joined a group of over three hundred worried people of faith and good will at Temple Bat Yahm at an interfaith town hall meeting, Coming Together to Combat Hate in Our Community. This was an excellent opportunity to hear from our county and law enforcement officials, civil rights experts and community leaders about the recent rise in racist, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic incidents in Orange County.

As a native-born Californian, as descendant of immigrants, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, as a board member of the American Association of University Women, as the volunteer liaison for California's AARP District 47, and as a human being, I will continue to work at the local, state and national level to ensure that Emma Lazarus' words continue to represent the wonderful spirit of America:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)



“Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often.”–Mark Twain
 “My Great Uncle Loring once shook hands with Abraham Lincoln,” my grandmother used to tell me, her face beaming with pride. “This was right after the Emancipation Proclamation. And everybody in our family has been Republicans since." 
I had no idea when I was growing up that I would be the first in the family to stray from the faithful fold. But at 2 a.m. on October 14, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy addressed a crowd of shivering students on the steps of the Union at the University of Michigan. In his speech, just weeks before the national elections, he challenged students to devote two years of their lives to helping people in developing countries. 
When I heard these words on the radio later that morning, I tried to picture myself boarding a plane and heading for Tanganyika where I would teach toddlers to read. Though married and a young mother, I envied those students who might have this chance to serve. 
But it was never going to happen, I told myself. First, it was unlikely Kennedy could get elected. Nobody in my family or my husband’s thought that the young man from Massachusetts could divert enough votes from frontrunner Nixon. I myself had registered as a Republican when I’d turned 21.  
Second, I was married, had a toddler, and was working towards a bacherlor’s degree. When I mentioned Kennedy’s proposal to my husband, he just laughed. “There’s children right here in Los Angeles County who need to learn to read. You don’t have to go overseas to make your dreams come true,” he pointed out. 
When I went to the polls, I hesitated. Until that very day, I hadn’t made up my mind.  But as I went into my booth, I made a decision. Even if I couldn’t have that chance to serve, I’d still advocate for those who could. So I voted for Kennedy, knowing that my husband would tease me later about our votes cancelling each other. 
A few months later, I privately thrilled to JFK’s inaugural address. I had always scoffed at the notion that I belonged to a so-called Silent Generation, a popular designation of the time. Now Kennedy insisted that the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans, one that could be vocal and active. I vowed to be part of that generation. 
My husband had been right, of course, about people needing help at home as well as overseas. I continued with my studies, eventually getting a teaching credential and settling in to become a high school English and journalism teacher right in Long Beach, CA. 
The day Kennedy was shot, I sent students repeatedly to the nurse’s office for more boxes of Kleenex. I turned on the classroom radio and we listened together as the horrific story unfolded. I thought about Great- Great-Great-Uncle Loring, and wished I’d had the opportunity to shake Kennedy’s hand. Now it would never be.  
A few years later, after riots rocked our inner cities, I abandoned teaching to become a caseworker to help rebuild South Central Los Angeles. My parents had a tough time understanding this. They remembered the depression years, and seemed to think I was working in a soup kitchen. No matter how much I tried to explain about Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and the Equal Opportunity Act, they insisted upon telling friends, “Terri’s working for The Dole.”  I suspect they imagined me wrapped in a big white apron, ladling out soup.  Eventually I returned to graduate school and earned an MSW at UCLA. 
Elections came and went, and though I remained a registered Republican, I finally admitted that Kennedy had forever changed my worldview. In the early ‘80’s I finally changed my registration, admitting to myself that I indeed was the family black sheep, or in this case, donkey. 
Then finally, at 50, divorced, my son grown, I joined the Peace Corps. Friends raised both eyebrows and issues:   “Aren’t you a bit, how shall I put this, uhhhh, old?”  “Do you think you’re up for mosquitoes and pit latrines?”   “You know, don’t you, that older people have a lot of trouble learning new languages?” 
I developed some pat rejoinders. Peace Corps told me that a number of retirees join. I would most likely be placed in towns or cities, not living in a mud hut. I could relearn my high school Spanish and college French, if need be. 
I joined, rejoined and then extended. After a decade overseas, I returned to the States and became a health programming and training specialist at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington DC. In this capacity I helped strengthen efforts of Volunteers in dozens of countries to address malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, and the infectious diseases that lead to high infant mortality rates. 
On January 29, 2002, Sargent Shriver, the brother-in-law of JFK, and founding director of the Peace Corps, gave a speech at the Directors Forum at Peace Corps Headquarters to a packed audience of about 200 staffers. Frail, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, nonetheless, Shriver read in a strong voice from his notes and emphasized that peace is more than just the absence of war. He said that peace “is living together based on what we have in common. Our differences matter less than our kinship.”  I took notes.
After his speech, he shook hands with dozens of us, nodding as we told him where we had served as Volunteers. “I’m honored to shake your hand,” I told him. “I owe my whole life to you and to President Kennedy.”  “I’m honored to shake yours,” he said. 
A few years ago I was the keynote speaker at the Oregon School Counselor’s Association Conference, and I’d prepared a PowerPoint. I spent the weeks sorting through photographs in my faded paisley duffle bag. Here I am, leaning against a coconut palm in the front yard of my house on Regent Street in Belize City. Here I am, painting murals on the Youth Center fence with teens in Mont Fleur, Seychelles. Here I am perched behind my counterpart on her motorcycle in San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic. 
And here I am today, still promoting Peace Corps, all because of a campaign speech by JFK over fifty years ago.


1 comment:

  1. Kudos to you for your service and for your big heart. This post should be published in mainstream newspapers. It says so much. You have made such a difference.