Wednesday, July 23, 2014

We're All in This Juntos

We ended up in North Philadelphia today, and walked in the heat (it was twenty degrees hotter here than it is back home) until we reached the Village of Arts and Humanities (which was still in the heat).

What's that, you ask?

Lily Yeh's original mosaic "trees," representative of how this lot rose out of the ashes don't ask?

I'll tell you anyways. The Village is a community area in Philly started by artists like Arthur Hall and Lily Yeh, a group of small art parks for Philadelphia children. It has a focus on learning the arts to pick up where the school system leaves off in the arts, and engaging the community through artistic expression. Jonah, who told us about the Village, explained that without the arts, an education is incomplete, and that "you can't develop a human being that way." He walked us through different art parks, like Meditation Park, which has tile-like blocks that make up the floor of the area, with red, orange, and yellow mosaic pieces to represent the influence of African culture in the neighborhood, and blue and green mosaic pieces to represent the influence of Islamic culture. 

We walked through Angel Park, a small area with mosaic angelsprotectors. Jonah told us that "we've got kids and this is a dangerous neighborhood," and that in a survey, a huge majority of children said that they felt safer in the Village than they did in their own homes. 

Jonah led us through Philly Earth, a garden and a center for environmental education. He told us about earthships; completely self-sustaining homes built with things like tires, bottles, cans, and other recycled materials. We talked about where we were in Philadelphia. Michael told us about recidivism, and explained the situation of ex-convicts, doing the math of minimum-wage jobs and the necessities for life. The numbers just didn't work, there was negative money left over. Michael told us about what our society was saying with all of this, and it sounded a lot like, "We don't want you in this society. Go to jail."

A basketball hoop in North Philly

We had lunch in front of South Philadelphia High School (a feast of pizza and water) and talked about recent events regarding racial discrimination against Asian-American students in the school. From there, we walked to Juntos, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the rights of Latino immigrants in and near Philadelphia. We walked in and met a group of Juntos members, and listened to their stories about anti-immigration laws (it's extremely difficult for poor immigrants to come to the U.S. legally), the challenges for undocumented immigrants in going to colleges ("you're either in the top, or you're nothing," because schools are so competitive, and financial aid isn't available for undocumented students), and the protests and action taken by Juntos (there is an emphasis on protesting with love—they told us about a recent protest in which anti-immigration protesters were yelling, and Juntos members were singing about loving your neighbor). They taught us a protest chant: "Hey Obama, don't deport my mama."

Some of the things that were said had a lot of depth and were very inspiring. "Sooner or later, you have to speak up." I found a lot of truth in another thing that was brought up: if you're looking for the source of a problem, follow money. One presenter said that what the media and the government are doing is make us hate each other, and "when we hate each other, they have power over us." Another said that they were called "illegals" and "aliens," and said that "no human being is illegal." 

"If we don't help our people, who will?"

We went back to our dorms, and discovered through Facebook that Maya, the journalist and feminist who talked to us the day before yesterday, had already written and published an article since then. Oh, and it was about us. I recommend checking it out. (

We left class with new ideas ringing in our ears, just like it has been every day of class. Two more days of class. Two days, and then it's over and we're home, released into our own communities, with a passion and a responsibility to make change.

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