IZ (“Traces”): A Poem for the Uighurs

In 2006 I spent six weeks as a scholar/student at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, in a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar.  It was my second time at Manoa, my first being in 2001.  Linda visited for a couple of weeks then and cried on the way to the airport for our return flight. “Dirty work,” a common refrain there was, “but somebody has to do it.”

In 2006 my focus was on the Uighurs, predominantly Muslim, and China’s fifth largest recognized ethnic minority, comprising about .75% of the population.  All ethnicities are dwarfed by the Han Chinese, who comprise over 90%.  Still, in China, .75% is a lot of people: well over 10 million.  Most reside in the far northwest, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which China took over in 1949 during what is often referred to in Chinese historiography as the “Peaceful Liberation of Xinjiang.”  A Chinese seminar colleague, now a distinguished professor of philosophy and law, quipped that the Uighurs were to China what the blacks were to the U.S., while the Han were like uptight whites—a playful comment about a situation that seems to be growing more terrifying each day.

Depiction of writer Abdukhaliq

As China developed the region and encouraged more Han Chinese to move there, the word “peaceful” began to fit less and less as tensions between Han and Uighur intensified, simmering to just under war-like in the 2000’s.  Yet even the cover of Newsweek’s international edition for April 23, 1990, (upper left) shows the buildup was at least a decade earlier, if not many decades.  That cover was the third slide in my seminar presentation, which, before turning to Uighur culture, presented findings from just one-year-old sociological surveys.  Surprisingly, in 2005, when asked about the state of Uighur/Han relations (Good, Fair, Poor, or Bad), 39.5% of Uighurs thought they were Good, compared

Writer Abdurehim Otkur

to only 18.6% of the Hans.  When asked whether they were proud to be a resident of Xinjiang, 91.3% of Uighurs were proud and only 1.7% ashamed, while for the Han only 70.2% felt pride, while 9.4% felt shame.  I highlighted other areas—income, religion, language, and whether respondents felt China was a “unified multinational state”—and the overall conclusion was: 1) Uygurs (the spelling most surveys used) manifest strong local and national identity; 2) There was deeply rooted mistrust between Uygur and Han; 3) The two groups express prejudices against each other; and 4) There was significant skepticism about effectiveness of government policies in maintaining healthy ethnic relations.

Turning to Uighur culture I found stories and poems indicating a deeply rooted sense of oppression and a mistrust of government, especially in the stories of Bogu Khan, Ephendi, and the “Grand Domesticator,” the arch enemy of the “Nomad.”  I’ll share some poems soon.

At a pro-Uighur rally, Hong Kong, 2019

In a report titled “The Targeting of Uighur Muslims in China,” the education resources group Facing History and Ourselves reports that, “Since 2000, Uighurs have protested unfair treatment by the majority and multiple riots have broken out, including a riot in 2009 in which 200 people died. Claiming this violence was caused by separatist-fueled terrorist groups, the Chinese government has responded in recent years with widespread repression targeting the broader Uighur population. The government began implementing surveillance and policing tactics against the Uighur in 2016 that arguably has made Xinjiang “the most heavily monitored place on earth.” Uighurs are banned from fasting during Ramadan, naming their children with traditional Muslim names, and wearing “abnormal beards.”

And people have disappeared.  According to a November 2018 NPR report “Families Of The Disappeared: A Search For Loved Ones Held In China’s Xinjiang Region,” “…a Kazakh rights organization called Atazhurt, has collected more than 1,000 testimonies from ethnic Kazakhs and Uighurs whose families have disappeared into a network of internment camps across the border, a few hundred miles away in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. They’re among an estimated million people belonging to mostly Muslim ethnic minorities who have been detained.”

And now in 2021 there is a book by Gulbahar Haitiwaji, Rescapee du Goulag Chinois (Surviving the Chinese Gulag).  In January 2021 The Guardian published a long interview with her and about her book.  The title is “‘Our souls are dead’: how I survived a Chinese ‘re-education’ camp for Uighurs,” with the subhead being, “After 10 years living in France, I returned to China to sign some papers and I was locked up. For the next two years, I was systematically dehumanised, humiliated and brainwashed.”

Looking back 15 years, following all the links above and many more, anxious for the Uighurs and so many others facing so much oppression, I remember sharing two “Uighur” poems with my NEH colleagues.  Abdukhaliq writes:

The situation is grave,
We must liberate ourselves from exploitation.
Those who are weak,
Are those with the most enemies.
Illiteracy is the path of the weak.

And there is Abdurehim Otkur’s “IZ,” meaning “Traces.”

If the sand blows hard,
Even if the dunes shift,
They will scarcely bury our trace.
From the route of the ceaseless caravan,
Although the horses grow terribly thin,
Our grandchildren, our great grandchildren
Will most assuredly find
This trace one day,
Without question.

Go to the Teaching Diversity main page.

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Bayan Ko

The last day of 2021’s Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a month that saw hate crimes against the AAPI community continue surging.  I was in San Francisco recently, and every second I was on high alert.  Every person seemed a threat.  I looked around constantly, and checked reflections in every shop window to keep track of who was behind me. We can put up all the “I am not a virus” signs we want, but needing a scape goat is one of the greatest evils of human nature, an evil magnified in this particular country at this particular time when polarization is at its height and whites feel their supremacy slipping away.  Or at least being put in its place.

In my sermon “Pentecost Means No Supremacies” I tried to present a vision of society with no supremacies whatever, and said that the fall of supremacies like white supremacy or male supremacy would make whites and males freer than they ever thought they could be.  It’s a thought—and a hope—I stand by more each day.  Supremacy takes a terrible toll on those oppressed, but also on those who fight to maintain their oppressor status.  They don’t often see their fight in these terms, of course, and not seeing it this way diminishes their grip on reality, leads them to follow demagogues and liars, and erodes their capacity to become more fully human.

On the day I preached this sermon, the Filipino members of our church took the lead, and I was preceded not only by a reading of the famous chapter in the Book of Acts by Kloie Valdez, but by Ann Louise Natale singing one of the Philippine’s great patriotic songs, “Bayan Ko,” My Country.  Written in Spanish during the Philippine-American War* by the revolutionary general Jose Alejandrino, it was originally titled “Nuestra Patrina.”  The aftermath of the war was U.S. occupation.  Three decades later the poet Jose Corazon de Jesus translated it into Tagalog:

Ang bayan kong Pilipinas
Lupain ng ginto’t bulaklak
Pag-ibig na sa kanyang palad
Nag-alay ng ganda’t dilag.

At sa kanyang yumi at ganda
Dayuhan ay nahalina
Bayan ko, binihag ka
Nasadlak sa dusa.

Ibon mang may layang lumipad
kulungin mo at umiiyak
Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag
Ang di magnasang makaalpas!

Pilipinas kong minumutya
Pugad ng luha ko’t dalita
Aking adhika,
Makita kang sakdal laya.

Here’s my rough translation.

My country The Philippines
Land of gold and flowers
Love bestowed on her
Beauty and splendor’s glow

Her beauty and grace
Tempted the Foreigners
My country, they enslaved you
Gave you endless suffering

Even a bird that flies free
Will cry once caged
My country, they enslaved you
Gave you endless suffering

Even a bird that flies free
Will cry once caged
My land so fair
Yearns to break free

Philippines that I so adore
Nest of tears and poverty
All that I desire
Is to see you rise and be free

Even a bird that flies free…

As I explained in my notes on my sermon “Pentecost Means No Supremacies,” I cut Ann Louise’s rendition of “Bayan Ko” short because when she was singing, the backing track she was singing to became, for some reason, virtually silent.  Clicking on the picture to the left will take you to a version by one of the Philippine’s most popular singers, Freddie Aguilar.

It’s not a song where the oppressed wants to punish the oppressor.  Oppressors fear that greatly, partly to hide their own guilt, but that’s rarely upper most in the mind of the oppressed.  “Bayan Ko” is a song full of longing and grief just to be free and to enjoy the beauty one can still see despite the brutality. True lamentation on both sides—that’s one of the things it takes to begin breaking the tyrannical, soul-crushing bond between oppressor and oppressed, freeing both sides to pursue a greater humanity. “Bayan Ko” presents one side of the lament as clearly as any song ever has.

♦  Go to Writing About the Philippines, a reflection on and index to what I’ve written about my birth country on this site.  And hear what might be the most popular song ever both in the Philippines and to come out of the Philippines: Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak”  (“Child”).  This version doesn’t have all the translation, but there are plenty of places to find that if you’d like.

*  For more on the Philippine-American War go to “U.S. Returns Belangiga Bells.”

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Over 100 hard, athletic jumps in a little over 5 minutes, an average of about 1 every 3 seconds—though 90% of them are packed into the last 3 minutes of David Parson’s dance piece “Caught.”  That’s probably one reason Nora Fitzgerald, writing for the Washington Post on November 1, 2013, describes the dancer as “a little on edge.”

“One man stands on the stage, in the spotlight, alone and perhaps a little on edge. His dance begins slowly, with single bold movements and a few quirky gestures.

“Suddenly, he takes flight. The audience, thrilled, alternately gasps and cheers as he walks, floats and dances on air. He doesn’t land until the dance ends. Choreographed by David Parsons in 1982, ‘Caught’ was a modern dance sensation so buoyantly accessible that men who don’t like dance much recommended the piece to other men who like dance even less.”

The VIDEO below show about 3 minutes of “Caught,” one of modern dance’s most spectacular, crowd-pleasing pieces.  But videos of “Caught” barely capture the experience.  “I’m proud to say,” Parsons himself has said, “you have to see ‘Caught’ live.’  Seeing things live.  The phrase resonates powerfully as we hope we’re coming close to the end of our pandemic.  We hope.  A little like the dancer, we’ve felt suspended, everything up in the air.

It’s not quite true, though, that the dancer in “Caught” doesn’t land til the dance ends.  Here’s part of Eileen Sondak’s LA Times review, written nearly a quarter century earlier (November 1989), when David Parsons himself was dancing his own creation.

“Sunday night in San Diego, under blinking strobe lights that created a marvelous illusion of flight, Parsons awed the crowd in ‘Caught,’ his most-celebrated solo. The whistles and screams of approval began as soon as the dancer took flight on this exciting airborne romp across the Mandeville Auditorium stage.

“Parsons came down to earth regularly during the course of the dance, but you couldn’t prove it by what you saw on stage. Every time the lights flashed on to capture the nimble dancer in action, he was hurtling through space in gravity-defying, mid-air maneuvers.”

I’d say, in fact, that those moments when we see the dancer firmly set down on earth, breathing hard but standing still, are the most thrilling moments of “Caught,” the ooh’s and aah’s of the audience turning into the most thunderous applause.

  For more on the arts, including dance, go to the ARTS Main Page

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The Cost of Racism: 16 Trillion Dollars

And that’s just over the last 20 years, and “just” when it comes to discrimination and inequities concerning Black Americans.  According to a new report from Citi Corp’s GPS group (Global Perspectives and Solutions), nearly sixteen TRILLION dollars have been lost. You can read the full report HERE.

Titled “Closing the Racial Inequality Gaps: The Economic Cost of Black Inequality in the U.S.,” the report begins by quoting one of the most famous passages from MLK, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”  “We are all caught in an inescapable net of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  And, really, it’s not all that indirect.

The report focuses on four areas, three of which I’ve written about on this site.  (1) The Racial Wealth Gap:  The overall wealth gap has grown to absolutely astonishing proportions since 1965, but the racial wealth gap is even worse.  Closing that gap could have added $2.7 trillion in income, or .2% to our GDP per year.

(2) Home Ownership:  Improve access to housing credit and 770,000 Black-owned homes might have been added since 2000, a gain of $218 billion in sales and expenditures.  Lack of home ownership is the single greatest driver of the racial wealth gap.  (3) Education:  Facilitating access to higher education could have added $90 to $113 billion to lifetime incomes.  Instead inequities in education are still rampant across the nation.  And (4) Fair and Equitable Lending to Black Entrepreneurs:  This could have generated $13 trillion, plus created 6.1 million jobs per years. ***

Sixteen trillion is nearly 75% of the U.S.’s 2019 GDP, but even the four areas above comprising the report’s core don’t tell the whole story of loss.  The report touches on policing, imprisonment, healthcare, and more, and even includes an overview of the Civil Rights Movement as a way to add context and to search for causes of the racial crises which continue to plague us.  Mental and physical sickness, lives traumatized, lives lost—add these as the direct result of unequal policing, unfair imprisonment, and health care inequities and the price soars well, well past $16 trillion dollars.  There’s also much more to pile on, like Voter Suppression, which also costs us a lot.

It’s good to have all these inequities quantified, with dollar signs attached to many of them.  The Clinton campaign coined the phrase “It’s the economic, stupid!” and we seem to listen more when it comes to pocket-book metrics.  But, of course, many don’t experience these inequities, and many don’t believe they exist.  We’re still a nation divided, largely unaware of each other’s experience of life, which is one reason the report concludes that bias and systemic racism have blocked substantial improvement over not just the past 20 years, but over the 158 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and the centuries more since the first African slave landed on American soil.

In his TED Talk “How Racism Makes Us Sick,” public health sociologist Dr. David R. Williams explains a metric that can help us gauge and understand how racism affects the daily health and shortens the lives of so many people of color.  It’s an ultimately uplifting talk, full of “we-can-do-it” optimism, but I believe there’s also an ominous undertone.  If we don’t overcome bias and systemic racism—and we haven’t been doing a great job of it so far—then racism won’t continue to make just Blacks and other people of color sick.  It will continue to make our entire people, and our nation’s morals and body politic sick, too.  And it will continue to rob us of so many life-affirming, life-enriching friendships we could be having across racial and ethnic lines.  Sixteen trillion dollars doesn’t begin to convey the magnitude of such loss.


*** I have written a lot about the first three partly because our family foundation, Emmanuel House—now The Neighbor Project—focuses on home ownership, the single greatest driver of the racial wealth gap.  The stability created by home ownership boosts high school graduation rates by 25%, and college graduation rates by 116%.  The best introduction to The Neighbor Project’s work and vision is executive director Rick Guzman’s talk “Every Person’s God Given Ability to Contribute,” in which he, too, uses the MLK, Jr. passage that begins the Citi Corp report.  But home ownership is all over this site, even including a review of the Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life, or a profile of Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun.  In his talk Rick Guzman also mentions the opening of the Financial Empowerment Center, a joint venture of The Neighbor Project and the City of Aurora, Illinois, which we hope will make inroads into more fair and equitable lending as well.

  Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY page.

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Every Person’s God-Given Ability to Contribute

Rick Guzman is The Neighbor Project’s Executive Director, and so important was his talk during The Neighbor Project’s 2020 virtual gala that I have posted a VIDEO of it below all by itself for anyone who did not watch the whole 45-minute gala, or even the 19-minute Gala Highlights I recently did for this site.

His talk highlighted The Neighbor Project’s impressive growth since early 2018, when Emmanuel House merged with The Joseph Corporation to create The Neighbor Project (see link below for this story), and casted a vision for its expanding service to financially vulnerable families and individuals for the rest of 2020, then 2021 and beyond.

He casted this vision in the larger context of loving our neighbors enough to invest in them, saying, “We have to believe in our neighbors enough to invest in them, invest in others the way we would want to be invested in…[so] we can keep working to break down the barriers to home ownership, which are the single largest driver of this nation’s wealth gap.”  That wealth gap is unbelievably enormous (see my article “Graphic Inequality”) and even larger is the Racial Wealth Gap.

He set all this in the largest context of all by quoting from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King wrote.  “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

This talk is an example of what we need more of in this time of protest and soul-searching.  It ties practical action into a deep vision of our mutuality, and vice versa:  it ties that deep vision to practical steps that make that vision a reality in our everyday lives.  And more, it’s also a question of Who Leads?—a question playing out in the protests and other anti-racists actions across our nation today.   Writing in 1970, Robert Greenleaf, who started the field of Servant Leadership, said,  “…the next 30 years will be marked as the period when the dark skinned and…the alienated of the world assert their claims…” and were not “led by a privileged elite…It may be that the best that some of today’s privileged can do is to stand aside and serve by helping when asked and as instructed.”  Guzman expresses his belief that, “If we enlist and empower and engage financially vulnerable populations with opportunities…these otherwise vulnerable populations can quickly become contributing members and leaders for our communities.”  That’s an expanded version of a core belief he’s expressed many times: “Every person has a God-given ability to contribute.”

♦  Go to The Neighbor Project’s website to donate and get involved, and to “Emmanuel House Becomes The Neighbor Project” for a story of the merger that created The Neighbor Project.  In 2016, Emmanuel House was named one of the “Top 100 Most Innovative” social change organizations in the world.

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Image and the Feminine Self

Over thirty years ago, from April 1-3, 1991, we held one of the largest and most successful conferences in North Central College’s history.  As head of the Visiting Lecturer/Cultural Events Committee and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, I helped coordinate a conference committee of eleven other faculty and staff from Counseling, English, philosophy, computer science, sociology, music, and psychology.  Seven students, plus student groups from the American Marketing Association and Pre-Professional Programs also played a major role, as well as a dozen people from the community.

Subtitled “A Gender Studies Conference for Women and Men,” it tackled issues which have remained central to our struggles over gender roles and the family up to this moment, a fact which is at once gratifying and sad.  How far have we come, really?  Those issues were best embodied by our two featured speakers, Harvard’s Carol Gilligan, and Evergreen State’s Stephanie Coontz, authors of ground breaking works on gender psychology and gender sociology focusing on the nature of the family.  Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development explained how psychology’s largely male lens had persistently and systematically misunderstood women’s personal and moral growth.  “It has the charge of a revelation,” wrote a reviewer from Vogue magazine. “She flips old prejudices against women on their ears. She reframes qualities regarded as women’s weaknesses and shows them to be human strengths.”  That the beauty-celebrity-fashion mag paid so much attention testified to how much the book impacted the general public, and began the widespread discussion of reframing how we see the very definitions of what it means to be “a woman,” “a man,” “a human being.”  Her 7:30 p.m. featured speech on April 2nd was called “Joining the Resistance: Psychology, Politics, Girls, and Women,” and, though girls and women were of course central, the repercussions of her ideas can be seen in the growing efforts today of changing the way we raise boys so they become less destructive and self-destruction men.  The line I remember most was her saying, “When we listen to a person we need to ask, Who is speaking? In What Body? And what story are they telling about relationships.

Stephanie Coontz had written two ground-breaking books:  Women’s Work, Men’s Property: The Origins of Gender and Class, and The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600-1900.  A year later, 1992, she would popularize many of her ideas in her widely-read, widely-regarded The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, with the oft-quoted line: “Leave It to Beaver was not a documentary.”  In her April 1st talk “Images of the American Family” she revealed how much current debates about the future of the family are often based on serious misconceptions about its past.  In The Social Origins of Private Life she had documented how the dominant family form, the “nuclear family,” grounded in close personal relationships, was also based on domestic consumption of mass-produced goods.  It had, as well, blinded us to other rich, alternative family forms, like Native American kin groups.  Her work remains central to debates about family life in America.  I was not really shocked, for example, when the Atlantic made David Brook’s piece “The Nuclear Family Was A Mistake” the cover story of its February 2020 issue.  The popular columnist’s summary heading was: “The family structure we’ve held up as the cultural ideal for the past half century has been a catastrophe for many. It’s time to figure our better ways to live together.”

In my copy of The Social Origins of Private Life, Stephanie Coontz wrote, “Thanks for your incredible hospitality and please let me reciprocate soon.”  I’ve never taken her up on that, though getting to know her and Carol Gilligan better is one of my enduring memories.  As is this one.  A week or so before the conference I happened to rashly open a door in the building the conference would be held in, and found myself in a planning meeting of some of the conference committee members, all women.  I was shocked to have barged in and felt unwelcomed until Madeleine Van Hecke, from psychology, said, “Oh, it’s ok! Guzman’s an andro-male.”  I refused their hearty invitations to come in and sit down. I was at the wrong place, I said, which was true.  But to this day the andro-male description still shocks and embarrasses me a little.  I’m sure it was a compliment, wasn’t it?  My continued uncertainty shows how stuck I still am in the men-are-men and women-are-women mind set.

♦  Go to the lead post in my personal history of significant persons and conferences I helped bring to North Central College.

Here’s the conference schedule:

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