Even on the airplane my memories of the island had already begun to evanesce. They were no longer so vivid in my mind, and with each passing cloud, they became fainter and fainter. Once we had landed, they were merely vague dreams -- dreams which I am sure I later manipulated into memories which would console me in times when I felt most dejected.
Looking back, the airplane was my last real memory of Puerto Rico. I can distinctly recall the itching behind my bare knees as they were grazed by the coarse, red fabric, the acrid taste of the inedible food as it stuck to the back of my dry throat, the comforting hum of the engine which lulled my thoughts into a deep sleep, only to be shattered by the shrill screeching sound of the wheels as they hit the dark runway, the uncertain path I was to take into my new life.
That night, the night of my arrival, gave me a feeling of isolation I would feel for the rest of my life in this land of freedom and diversity. Even as we filed out of the crowded airplane, I felt unsteady on my two feet which did not belong here.
I had never seen my parents so uneasy until that day at the airport. The anxiety on their faces frightened me so much that I held on tighter than ever to my mother's hand. Sensing my insecurity, my father lifted me up in shaky arms that revealed his confusion among the hundreds of signs which he could not discern with his limited English. However, my father was not one to give up easily, and he discovered where the baggage was by following a young man who had flown with us. We soon found ourselves faced with the dilemma of finding a taxi to take us home. Once again, my father worked his charm, getting a taxi which had stopped to deliver a couple, surely going on their honeymoon.
As we passed New York on our way to our new home in Brooklyn, I saw the lights of the city shining resplendently against the dark background of the night. I thought that I had entered a land of sapphires and diamonds, a land filled with precious opportunities, but the next morning my thought was obscured by reality.
I awoke to the sound of sirens, cars and people. I was not accustomed to hearing so much clamor so early in the morning. In Puerto Rico, I had been awakened only by the sounds of my mother making breakfast, the men cutting sugar cane and the other children laughing as they picked mangos and guavas. Remembering the jewels I had seen from the car window, I excitedly went to open the dusty curtains. A blinding light instantaneously filled the room, and I thought we must be beside one of the gems. When my eyes adjusted, and I came to see what my new home was really like.
Our small house was squeezed between two other ones that looked almost the same. However, I did not think of it as a house. It had no lawn and led directly onto the uneven sidewalk. The backyard was merely an enclosed cement floor. Across from my bedroom window was a row of small apartments with small stores underneath. The white paint job was not yet finished, and in places, the wall still showed its former shading, the color of fresh guavas. For years that wall, which was never painted, filled me with a deep yearning for my home on the island. For ages I glorified the island in an attempt to know where I belonged, in an attempt to get my parents to move back.
My parents would not listen to my arguments, always saying that if only I would give this country a chance I would never regret it. "What you put into this country is what you will get out of it," my father told me, but I learned to block out his reasoning and to love the island more than ever before. He, in turn, learned to block out my opinions in hope that I would accustom myself to this new culture, and gradually, though unconsciously, I did.
I became more American than perhaps I wanted to. I learned to think, analyze and speak like an American. My mouth became more familiar with the taste of hamburgers and fries than of stuffed plantains. However, the thoughts of my precious island always remained with me because I never felt as though I belonged in the United States. I never felt truly American. It was hard to be constantly reminded that I was not from this country, that I was different. Of course, I was never told to my face that I did not belong, but that was how I felt. In my history classes, I never felt right saying "we" when the U.S. was spoken of. Whenever a Latino country was being spoken of, I felt proud, but when it had done something wrong, I felt shame and anger.
I always kept in my mind that someday I would go back to my island. I would eat mouth-watering guavas again, and it would always be sunny and warm. I would have all my friends with me again. So when my parents announced that we would be spending two weeks back in Puerto Rico. I was ecstatic.
However, my dreams, when reflected in the mirror of reality were not at all the same; the island was completely different from how I remembered it. It was warm and rainy when we arrived, and I felt sick to my stomach with my skin so sticky and wet. The next day I went outside in my aunt's backyard to get some guavas, hoping that they would brighten my homecoming to the island, but the flavor was not the familiar sweet and fresh sensation I expected to find. Instead, the fruit seemed exotic and too sweet for my altered sense of taste. I felt again the strange feeling of detachment I had felt at the airport, only this time I was yearning for American food.
Flying back to New York, I felt like as much of a tourist as I had felt as an immigrant coming over the previous time. I no longer felt Puerto Rican, but I could not call myself American either. I felt somewhere in between the two, and I realized that it would always be this way, like in an airplane, sometimes shifting toward America, sometimes moving toward my island.
-- Melina Gac-Artigas, 16, Fair Haven, New Jersey.
Melina's mother is from Puerto Rico and her father is from Chile. She was born in Colombia.
The 2002 Skipping Stones Honor Awards
Educational, Entertaining & Exceptional!
Contact: Arun Toke, editor; e-mail: ">; tel. (541) 342-4956
Looking for exceptional multicultural and nature books? Each year Skipping Stones recognizes outstanding books, teaching resources and educational videos from both large and small publishers and producers.
Titles selected for our 2002 awards encourage close relationships with nature and promote respect and understanding of cultural diversity in our world. They are also bound to provide a great reading adventure!
The selection committee was comprised of over 20 reviewers: editors, librarians, parents, students and teachers.
Reviews of the Ninth Annual Skipping Stones Award winners appear in the summer issue (Vol. 14, no. 3) available now.
Ecology and Nature Books: Promoting an understanding of natural systems, specific species or habitats, human, plant and animal relationships, resource conservation, environmental protection and restoration efforts, community projects and sustainable living.
- Under one Rock: Bugs, Slugs and other Ughs by Anthony Fredericks, illustr. Jennifer DiRubbio. Elementary grades. Dawn Publications, www.dawnpub.com.
- Tough Beginnings: How Baby Animals Survive by Marilyn Singer, illustr. Anna Vojtech. Elementary grades. Henry Holt, www.henryholt.com.
- Trapped by Laurie Halse Anderson. Middle grades. Pleasant Co., www.americangirl.com.
- The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans by Sy Montgomery, photos by Eleanor Briggs. Middle grades. Houghton Mifflin, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.
- Marina Silva: Defending Rainforest Communities in Brazil by Ziporah Hildebrandt. Middle & upper grades. The Feminist Press, www.feministpress.org.
- Nobody Particular: One Woman's Fight to Save the Bays by Molly Bang. Middle grades. Henry Holt, www.henryholt.com.
- Kindred Spirits by Allen M. Schoen. Upper grades to adult. Broadway Books, www.broadwaybooks.com.
Multicultural and International Books: Focusing on ethnic diversity and intercultural and/or global relationships, these books build bridges of communication, understanding, social justice and peace.
- Jalani and the Lock by Lorenzo Pace. Elementary grades. Rosen Publishing, www.powerkidspress.com.
- A Movie in my Pillow / Una pelicula en mi almohada (bilingual) by Jorge Argueta, illustr. Elizabeth Gomez. Elementary grades. Children's Book Press, www.childrensbookpress.org.
- I Live in Tokyo by Mari Takabayashi. Elementary grades. Houghton Mifflin, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.
- Efrain of the Sonoran Desert: A Lizard's Life Among the Seri Indians by Amalia Astorga, as told to Gary Nabhan, illustr. Janet K. Miller. Middle grades. Cinco Puntos Press, www.cincopuntos.com.
- Tiger's Fall by Molly Bang. Coming to terms with disability. Middle grades. Henry Holt, www.henryholt.com.
- Verde fue mi selva by Edna Iturralde, illustr. Eulalia Cornejo, Santiago González & Mauricio Maggiorini. Spanish. Grades four and up. Santillana, www.santillana.com.ec; firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents by Sarah Conover, illustr. Valerie Wahl. Middle & upper grades. Eastern Washington University Press, email@example.com.
- Mansa Musa by Khephra Burns, illustr. Leo & Diane Dillon. All ages. Gulliver Books/Harcourt, www.harcourtbooks.com.
Teaching Resources: Educators will find these books extremely helpful in their work with students and children to develop multicultural and nature awareness.
- Living Traditions: Teaching Local History Using State and National Standards by Mark Skelding, Martin Kemple & Joseph Kiefer. All ages. Common Roots Press/Food Works, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Rainforests of the World, 2nd ed. by Kathlyn Gay. Middle & upper grades. ABC-CLIO, www.abc-clio.com.
Educational Videos: Classroom discussion tools for a healthy, sustainable society.
- The Cost of Cool: Youth, Consumption and the Environment, hosted by Alexandra Paul, director: Michael Tobias, producer: Sonny Fox. 27 mins. Middle & upper grades. Population Communications International & Cognizant Media, www.videoproject.net.
Nobel Laureate Rabindranth Tagore (1861-1941) produced a rich literary wealth of poetry, fiction and essays, mostly in his native Bangla langauge. The parable below represents his distaste for the prevalent educational system in British India, which gave more importance to memorizing than understanding the concepts. He founded Vishabharati, a university, and Shantiniketan, an open-air school, to model his concepts of true education.
There once was a little bird. He sang and flew around but had no manners and read no books. The king said, "This bird is no good. He doesn't do anything except eat fruit in the orchard." He called his minister and told him, "Give him some education!"
The responsibility of educating the bird went to the king's nephew who summoned pundits (wise men) to figure out why the bird was so uneducated. They concluded that the problem was that the bird's nest was made of cheap straw, so the first thing to do was to make a new cage out of choice materials. The pundits went home richly rewarded.
A goldsmith was brought to build a cage of gold. It was such a masterpiece that people from far and wide came to see it. Some exclaimed, "Education at its best!" Others said, "Even if there's no education, at least the bird now lives in a fancy cage. How lucky he is!" The goldsmith was sent home with rich rewards.
The king's nephew brought in textbook writers. They made copies of books and copies of the copies, and soon there was a mountain of books. Everyone said, "Bravo! This is what we call education!" The textbook writers went home, laden with rich rewards.
The king's nephew showered constant attention on the upkeep and maintenance of the cage. A large staff was hired, and to watch over them, even more people were hired. Some people commented, "True, the cage is well taken care of, but nobody pays any attention to the bird." The king heard the comments, and he summoned his nephew.
"Your Majesty," the nephew reassured him, "you can get the truth only by talking to the people who know -- the goldsmiths, teachers, textbook writers and administrators. The critics will make noise since they have nothing else to do." The reply was enough to put the king's mind at rest; he saw the picture clearly now. The nephew got a gold necklace as a reward.
One day, the king wanted to see for himself the progress that was taking place in the bird's education. Along with the courtiers he came to visit the bird's educational center. His arrival was celebrated with a chorus of drums, tambourines, trumpets and horns. The technicians, laborers, textbook writers and supervisors were all at their respective tasks.
Thoroughly satisfied, the king was about to mount his elephant, when a critic who had been hiding in the bush shouted, "Your Majesty, have you seen the bird?"
The king was startled. "No, I forgot about that," he said. "Let's go have a look at the bird."
He was given a demonstration. The education process was so big that the bird was hardly visible. The king was fully satisfied that there was no lack of effort to teach the bird.
However, in the cage there was no food or water. Instead, pages were being torn from books and pushed down the bird's throat by one end of a pen. Not only was the bird not singing, but there was hardly any room left for him to breathe. His guardians felt that things were on the right track.
Day by day, the bird became so weak that he couldn't jump and dance anymore. Still, sometimes out of an old habit, the bird, upon seeing the morning sunlight, tried to flutter its wings. At times he tried to cut through the metal cage with his weak beak.
"What foul manners!" the guards cried. A blacksmith was summoned to make a strong chain to hold the bird, whose wings were soon clipped. "In this land birds are not only stupid," they said, "but have no gratitude either."
Then one day, the bird died. Nobody knew exactly when. The news spread. The king called for the nephew to confirm the rumors.
The nephew replied, "Your Majesty, the bird's education is now complete."
The King asked, "Does it jump anymore?"
"Thank God, no, Your Majesty."
"Does it fly?"
"No, Your Majesty."
"Does it sing?"
"No, Your Majesty."
"Does it cry when hungry?"
"No, Your Majesty."
The king said, "Bring the bird. I wish to see it."
The King prodded the bird with his finger. The bird made no noise, except for that of the dry pages packed into his stomach.
-- Translated by Gurupad Das,
Me and Charles D: A Revolutionary, Evolutionary Adventure
"I can't believe I got a 'D minus' on my Charles Darwin test!" I said to myself. I really didn't understand his Theory of Evolution.
I was walking home from school that day. It was a long walk on a muggy day. The clouds were a ghostly gray. I stopped at the junkyard. I looked up at the sky, which was turning from gray to a threatening black when I felt the first drops. I was still far from my house.
"Rainstorm!" I screeched. I ran into the junkyard to find a pay phone to call for a ride home. That's when I saw it. It was an odd-looking, plum purple phone booth. The rain was getting harder! I looked around the booth for a door. There was no door, so I jumped through the window.
"Ow!" I said when I hit the floor. "This place is bigger than I thought!"
The walls looked totally digital!
Suddenly, a robotic voice said, "Welcome to Relo Five's Time Drive.
Enter the date in time to which you would like to go."
I stepped up to the keyboard. I figured if I went back in time two weeks, I could retake that test. That would be great! So I entered
"February 16, 1832." But it was too late for me to correct the year; I had already pressed "Go!"
The time machine landed with quite a thump. I jumped out the window. I saw a man dressed as a sailor. "Who are you?" I asked.
"I am Captain Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle," he said proudly.
"Why would a dog need a captain?" I asked.
"No, no, no!" he exclaimed. "You are on the ship, HMS Beagle, and we are on the ocean off the coast of South America!"
Another man walked up to me. "Hi, I haven't met you yet. I'm Charles Darwin," he said, putting his hand out. I shook it. "I'm here studying evolution," he said. That's when I knew I was in luck!
"Do you think you could take a couple of hours to explain evolution to me?" I asked hopefully.
"Of course," he said. "Well, I believe that different species of plants and animals adapt to their environments to survive, and that's how they change over time. The ones best adapted to where they live survive, and the others die off. I call this 'survival of the fittest.' Come with me to that island, and I'll show you what I mean." Mr. Darwin pointed across the water.
The ship stopped, and we got off. Mr. Darwin showed me a bunch of finches. He told me that the finches with short, stubby beaks died out on this island because they couldn't reach insects under the ground. The finches with long, sharp, pointy peaks could reach the insects underground, so they survived.
"But, do you see that island over there?" Mr. Darwin asked. "The finches on that island have short, stubby beaks because the main type of food is seeds, not insects. There are no finches with long beaks left over there."
After that, we got back on the HMS Beagle, and, instead of spending two hours with Mr. Darwin, I spent two weeks!
I watched him do experiments with orchids, turtles, barnacles, worms and other exotic creatures. My favorite experiment was when he threw lizards into the ocean from land to see if they would come back.
I couldn't get enough of that evolution stuff, and I was happy that I finally understood it! I decided it was time to go home. I set the date on the time machine and returned to the day I left the junkyard.
The next day, I asked my teacher for a retest. I aced it!
My mother was puzzled when, for my birthday, I asked for two orchids, four worms and two iguanas. I had some theories of my own....
-- Patrick Ford-Matz, 7,
Our town was recently blessed with a visit from the African American poet and hip-hop artist Saul Williams. Saul is renowned for creating poetry that aims to raise readers' consciousness.
"Align yourself with the divine. Allow your inner sage to burn you rageless. 'Cause I find through testaments of time, there is no space for time within your mind. If you're looking for yourself, your self you'll find, through the crystal of your spirit, you'll inherit the divine."
-- from "Wine"
In between reciting his poetry, Saul encouraged an open discussion with the audience. Some people asked about his lyrics or his spiritual path; others just thanked him for being.
One man in the audience asked, "How do we continue to move forward in peace and unity during these troubled times?"
Saul replied, "We continue to move forward in peace and unity."
The action is the progress. So simple. Could it be true?
I held this question in mind as I attended my first potluck gathering of the Eugene Middle East Peace Group. "Middle East Peace Group. Isn't that an oxymoron?" you ask. I was cynical at first too. In fact before we entered the house where the meeting was, my husband and I cautiously peeked in the living room window. "There's no furniture," he whispered to me, "just some pillows on the floor and pictures of a mosque." I could see about 30 people talking, eating or just milling around. As we opened the door voices greeted us in various languages. Israelis, Syrians, Yemenites, Lebanese, Saudis and Americans—Moslems, Jews and Christians—were gathered just to be friends. If their friendliness didn't win me over, the smell of falafel, tabbouleh, couscous and challah surely did. I started to understand their message: We refuse to hate each other. They were simply moving forward.
Yes, the history and politics are complicated. The opinions are diverse and often extreme. So how can we ever sort it all out? Well, listening to the crowd at the peace group, it struck me that everyone has the same basic goals. We all want safe neighborhoods, good food and decent jobs. Though people have many different accents, holidays, skin tones, hair and clothing styles, salaam, shalom and peace all look the same. So let's not brand people as enemies. Let's recognize everyone's right to peaceful coexistence.
We've all been raised with ideas about who "we" are and what "others" are like. These ideas are subtly passed to us through family, peers, the government and the media. Prejudices often grow out of ignorance or an unwillingness to see other points of view.
Examine your own prejudices. When you meet Arabs, Mexicans, etc., what is the first thing you think? Once you are aware of your preconceptions, you can try to erase them. Common ground and differences exist between every person. Why not emphasize our shared interests? Within every country and ethnic group there is diversity. We can see people as individuals rather than as the load of politics their governments have created or its biased presentation in the media.
When we get to know each other and recognize our common ground, we take one step on a very long path to a more peaceful world. But the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow always keeps a safe distance from its seekers. There may never be a definitive moment when we can say, "Wow, we're finally done." Life is a continuum. Each moment is both a small ending and a small beginning. When we act in the best way we know how, with good intentions and open-mindedness, we are already improving our situation and building a solid foundation for the next step.
-- Michelle Lieberman