Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Louisiana”

Saving Nature, Our Natural Defense

A few days ago, I posted A Rude Intrusion, about BP and other multinational oil companies sponsoring an exhibition on the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, highlighting responsible cultivation of our oceans and wetlands. I spoke about the irony of the company who brought the latest oil spill to our coasts, and ironically the Gulf Coast, taking on this role.

The issue of the disappearing wetlands is an important lesson. During this past trip to help rebuild New Orleans, I learned that the disappearing bayou had served as a natural defense to surge water, what essentially destroyed much of New Orleans. This is chronicled in Hurricane on the Bayou. The bottom line is: had we taken care of this beautiful natural ecosystem, it would have protected the people of NOLA from a Category 5 hurricane.

It is scary that, despite possessing this knowledge, despite the harsh lesson that we were taught from Hurricane Katrina, we are still destroying the wetlands, at the incredible rate of an area the size of a football field is vanishing every 38 minutes.

There are a number of organizations trying to raise awareness and instigate policy that would reverse the trend. Unfortunately, they are not gaining much attention. One such organization was set up in our own San Francisco, by Louisiana natives who have raised funds for a new initiative. 

For the Bayou was founded in San Francisco in 2008 by Louisiana natives to increase public awareness of the disappearing Louisiana coastal wetlands, to foster restoration and protection of this culturally significant coastal environment and to aid and assist the people of Louisiana in the event of a disaster.” 

Here is their project:

It costs just $25 to buy and plant a burlap with the grass that can hold the wetlands. For details of how to donate, please click here. Perhaps it is not too late stop the sun setting on the bayou, and by saving this vital ecosystem, save our own beautiful Gulf Coast community and culture.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

A Place For The N Word

Last month I listened to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Two factors were involved in this decision. Firstly, having been educated in the land of Chaucer and Shakespeare, I am woefully ignorant of classical literature in the country I now reside. Secondly, I was about to travel to Louisiana and work a stones’ throw from the banks of the Mississippi.

Just when I began the book, the N-word controversy exploded. NewSouth Books, a publisher based in Alabama, announced it plans to release a new edition in February wherein the word “nigger” is replaced by “slave.”

The word appears 219 times in all, it is hard to miss. I was listening when my 12 year-old got into the car and the word was spoken twice. My son, a proud product of Berkeley tolerance, was shocked. We had a long conversation about literature and artistic license. We have already had a number of discussions as to why I can write swear words and have them published, words that he is not allowed to say.

JULIE BOSMAN in an excellent New York Times article – Publisher Tinkers With Twain – explains that the idea came from Alan Gribben, a professor of English at Auburn University in Montgomery.  The professor has been teaching Mark Twain for decades and talked about always feeling uncomfortable when reading out loud a common racial epithet.

“I found myself right out of graduate school at Berkeley not wanting to pronounce that word when I was teaching either ‘Huckleberry Finn’ or ‘Tom Sawyer,’ ” he said. “And I don’t think I’m alone.”

Mr. Gribben, believes that Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have dropped off of many reading lists and wants to make the books more accessible.

“I’m by no means sanitizing Mark Twain,” Mr. Gribben said. “The sharp social critiques are in there. The humor is intact. I just had the idea to get us away from obsessing about this one word, and just let the stories stand alone.” (The book also substitutes “Indian” for “injun.”).

Does he have a point? While my ancestors were enslaved in Egypt a few centuries ago, it is not part of our scarred psyche – there are far too many more recent acts that scar the Jewish  people. So I am unclear whether I should have a say in the debate.

I would love to hear from people of color whose ancestors were slaves in America. Would you share your opinions in the comments?

Either way, the special relationship that develops between Huck and Jim is what makes this novel so special. It is a timeless lesson in companionship, as relevant today as ever before.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


Last Year, Same Story

At this time last year, I shared with you a passage from the 2nd chapter of Unwanted Heroes. Twelve months later, I am back in New Orleans with a new group of students, and I continue to be astonished by the connection between San Francisco and New Orleans. It is not surprising that so many people gravitate between the two cities. Each have their own unique architecture, music, culture, food…

And yet when I talk with people here there is something familiar, something connecting. I wonder whether the wound on the urban psyche inflicted by the Hurricane on the Gulf Coast, and the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco has anything to do with it? The knowledge that while we build and rebuild, everything is fragile. New Orleans and San Francisco share the knowledge that everything we hold dear in our fair cities could be destroyed…again.

New Orleans will rebuild and regenerate. San Francisco will continue to help, sending groups like our students and other means of help. We do it because of who we are, because of all we share. We do it because of the counter culture, the passion and the mystique. We don’t do it because we think one day we might need the help reciprocated. We do it because while so much is different, what binds us is even stronger.

The Fog Rolls In – takes place in a coffee shop in the financial district of San Francisco. It is told by a young and empathetic barista.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

When The Levees Broke

When I speak about my experiences helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast, whether formally or in conversations with friends, I am often asked for the best source to understand and make sense of what transpired.

The reality is that after coming to Louisiana for five years, after listening to the stories of so many people who lived through the ordeal, and are continuing to live through it, there is probably no way we can make sense of it.

But we should try, lest we forget, lest we desensitize, lest we excuse ourselves.

The documentary that I recommend to those who ask is When The Levees Broke, directed by Spike Lee. It is long, four hours I think, but it is divided into four parts and can be seen in parts or skipped to specific aspects.

It is not unbiased and makes no apologies as it exposes so many factors that contributed to the tragedy. What’s the point in declaring “mandatory evacuation” when there is no gas for those with cars, and no transportation for those who don’t?

For a breakdown of the four parts, please refer to the product description on the Amazon.com page. While you are there, the documentary is currently selling for less than half price ($9).

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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