Thursday, September 25, 2014

Layers of Legend

“We’re just ordinary people
We don’t know which way to go.”
    “Ordinary People,” John Legend
Ohio native John Legend (John Roger Stephens), born in 1978, was a back-up singer and piano man before launching a successful solo career with hits such as “Ordinary People” and “(Give Me the) Green Light.”  Very active in philanthropic projects, he put on free concerts for Barack Obama in 2008 and appeared on the 2010 Hope for Haiti Now telethon.  My first exposure to legend was when in he sang on the 2007 series finale of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
 Planned Parenthood dinner, April 28, 1989; from left, Carol Martin, Donna Whitfield, Trish Arredondo, Sue Byers, Ellen McGuire

Trish and Ray Arredondo donated Planned Parenthood materials to the Calumet Regional Archives, including photos and newsletters from when Trish was executive director of its Northwest Indiana office in Merrillville.  Often she’d have to deal with so-called Pro-Life protestors.  She received death threats and an anthrax scare, and the FBI kept the facility under surveillance.  Ray is on the state Ports of Indiana Commission and at one time was District Director for Congressman Pete Visclosky.  During the 1970s when with the East Chicago police department, Ray secured government funds to establish the first domestic abuse shelter in the country. 
Ray (above) and Trish brought with them several copies of “Maria’s Journey,” which I helped edit, in hopes that I could attend book functions while they were in Florida.  Having done several such events, I’d be happy to comply.  I also want to nominate “Maria’s Journey” for next year’s “One Book . . . One Campus.”  Trish also encouraged archives volunteer Maurice Yancy to inform me of community events such as Gary authors days.

At Maxim’s in Merrillville for brunch Ray, aware that I lived in Chesterton, asked if I knew Joan Gucciardo, whose late husband Frank was a Gary detective and very helpful to him.  In fact, Joan lives in our condo courtyard.  They autographed a copy of “Maria’s Journey” for me to give her.  I wrote the Foreword and IU historian John Bodnar, author of the definitive immigration history, “The Transplanted,” the Introduction.  Bodnar concluded:
  “Maria’s Journey” is more than an immigrant tale; it is a woman’s story that peels back the layers of legend, revealing a life that was marked by a fervent desire to sustain her family in a world and a nation that was intent upon treating her callously. . . .  It is the mix of tragic and the heroic that makes her story so compelling.

Former Judge Lorenzo Arredondo, Ray’s younger brother, wrote a Post-Trib guest editorial for Hispanic heritage Month about the contributions of Mexican immigrants.  Referring to the “Star Spangled Banner,” he asserted that ours is the only country whose National Anthem ends with a question mark (i.e., “does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”).

“Love is an ocean
Swimming and try not to drown.”
    “Hold On Longer,” John Legend

Dave Serynek returned Harry Barnard’s Rutherford Hayes biography.  It ends with President-elect Grover Cleveland attending Ruddy’s funeral on January 17, 1893, signaling an end to Democrats making an issue of the corrupt election of 1876.  Serynek is halfway through a book on James Garfield.  I told him he’d probably have trouble finding a good biography of Garfield’s successor, Chester A. Arthur (although IUN’s library has one by Thomas C. Reeves entitled “Gentleman Boss”).  The former customs house collector for the Port of New York, I claimed, was an inconsequential grafter and accidental president.  Referring to the Garfield book, Dave joked, “Now you’ve spoiled the ending for me.”  When I told him he could peek into the bedroom to say hello to Toni, he pretended to stick only his head in the room. 

A self-described “Region Rat,” Serynek grew up in Glen Park, attended Franklin elementary, and played at Gleason Park (now the site of IUN).  He recalled diving into its shallow oval pool and a nearby hardball diamond.  He, his dad, and grandfather labored in steel mills a total of more than a hundred years.

Corey Hagelberg and Samual A. Love came to IUN for the preview and skype session for “My Name Is Gary.”  In my introduction, I noted that French filmmakers Frederic Cousseau and Blandine Huk arrived last September with an open mind and sought out countless residents, including members of Kinsey Report, former mayor Richard Hatcher, community activists, ordinary people, and several IUN folks, including Mary Lee and archives volunteer Maurice Yancy.  They attended church services and Gardiner Center cultural programs, visited union halls, mom-and-pop stores, bars, and barbershops, and filmed a rousing school parade and a block party on land that was once part of Stewart Settlement House.  Cousseau and Huk previously produced a documentary on Nowa Huta, a district in Krakow, Poland, site of that country’s largest steel mill, whose workers supported Solidarity against the communist regime.  I concluded:
         “Frederic and Blandine embraced our city and are proud to regard Gary as their second home – one reason, I think, that they titled their film “My Name Is Gary.”

“A little trouble in the city
Trouble in my home.”
    “Save the Night,” John Legend

The six-minute “My Name Is Gary” preview concentrated on footage of vacant buildings, the devastating effects of white and (more recently) black flight.  About half of those interviewed had positive things to say.  Mary Lee, for example, pointed out that Southern blacks, including her family, who settled in Gary when the mills were hiring have remained and planted roots.  A Mexican-American car repair entrepreneur said he feels no fear being in Gary.  A young white woman with two kids who recently moved to Gary spoke well of her black neighbors.   Upset nevertheless, Gary spokesperson Chelsea Whittingham thought the brief excerpt unbalanced since it left out references to IUN, the airport, and the lakefront.  She was especially incensed when a resident mentioned to the city’s previous designation as “America’s Murder Capital.” 

Having seen the entire film, I can attest that it accurately represents how residents from all walks of life perceive their city.  The skype interaction was not free flowing because Frederic and Blandine chose to work through a translator. While in Gary, their English had improved dramatically, but they must not have been comfortable directly answering questions.  Unfortunately, most speakers made long, rambling statements.  The sound was somewhat skewed as well, but it was great to see my Parisian friends, especially when they smiled.
The trailer for “My Name Is Gary” opens with a shot of a gray-haired gentleman sitting on an ice cooler in front of a store.  Spotting a camera trained on him, he stared and finally tipped his hat.  Like the city he calls home, the man looked weathered, tired, slightly suspicious of outsiders but proud and resilient with head unbowed.  He can thank Mayor Hatcher for that.
FOX commentators are chortling over a photo of Obama saluting with a Styrofoam cup in his hand.  Karl Rove branded it an insensitive “latte salute” while others labeled it shocking, disgusting, and degrading.  One observer stated: “Not worth getting too excited about unless one happens to be a resident of planet Wingnutia.”  The L.A. Times printed a photo of Bush saluting while holding his dog Barney.  

I bowled two good games after a poor start, but the Town Drunks beat up on us.  Only game one was close, but our anchor missed an easy 8-pin spare to hand them a four-pin victory.  Captain John Piunti (JP), who addresses me as professor, not the pejorative “prof,” sat out, but sons Joe, Jr., and Tony each had 250 games and kid brother Ray rolled way over average, which offset Chris Lugo’s poor night and Sam Grossman’s excessive ten-pins.  Afterwards, I took several photos, which they promised to email me.  I’m still waiting, but Heath Carter sent me one of Mayor Hatcher with some of his seminar students.
Miranda photographed two of her favorite entrees in the Grand Rapids ArtPrize Art Festival.  We’re hoping to catch the annual event.

Ron Cohen gave me a copy of his latest book, “Roots of the revival: American and British Folk Music in the 1950s,” co-authored by Rachel Clare Donaldson, which I helped proof read.  In a section entitled “The 1950s Counterculture” they quote from Hoosier Dan Wakefield’s “New York in the Fifties.”  Wakefield arrived in Greenwich Village in 1952 and discovered the White Horse Tavern:
           “There the talk continued over pints of ale or beer, or the favored arf ‘n’ arf, and soon everyone broke into songs of Irish rebellion, or love, or protest, folk songs joined and swelled by the Clancy Brothers or long-haired, blond Mary travers, who also hung out in the back room of the Horse.”

After three conservatives got elected to the Denver school board, they proposed a resolution to alter the history curriculum to promote patriotism and discourage civil disobedience, prompting teacher to organize a “sick out” that forced two schools to call off classes.  This past week high school students at six schools staged walk-outs to protest the proposal.

1 comment:

  1. a grafter and crony of roscoe many blots on the presidency...