I’ve had the honor to listen to a few more stories and poems from our grant, “Dear America: Telling the World We Lived.” Just a reminder, the Ventura County Poetry Project is working with CA Humanities to preserve and learn from powerful voices of older people. Due to the pandemic, we’ve experienced a devastating loss. “Dear America: Telling the World We Lived” was created to record significant experiences in poems and stories from older writers and pass them on to the younger generation. I was incredibly moved by Andrea Carter Brown, Ruben Lee Dalton, Shigeru Yabu, and Lydia Cruz-Machlitt’s stories and I hope that you enjoy listening to them as much as I did.
Andrea Carter Brown shared what it was like for her when the Twin Towers collapsed. I got the opportunity to attend one of Andrea’s readings and to hear some of the poems from her book, September 12th. Growing up, I have always heard stories about 9/11 but being able to hear the experience of someone who lived so close to the Twin Towers, was extremely impactful. What really stood out to me is when she said, “dark rivers of smoke pour through windows licked by flames.” Andrea does an amazing job describing her surroundings and the raw emotions everyone was feeling. As we all know, September 11th, 2001 impacted many Americans and we should all continue to remember the people who lost their lives that day. Out of fear, the U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq which cost the lives of many people, from both sides. To this day, hate crimes are perpetrated against the Muslim American community.
Ruben Lee Dalton joined the Marines when he was 17 and was sent to Vietnam. When I was in high school, I always saw people from the military trying to recruit many of my peers. They would go on and on about the benefits and success we could have if we joined. However, no one really seems to talk about the damaging effects. I could only imagine what it was like being so young and seeing so much death. Ruben’s poetry enlightened me on the slow process of reintegration. I really liked the poem about the Fourth of July parade and not being able to celebrate without feeling guilty. A lot of people celebrate the Fourth of July without really thinking about the Veterans and the haunting past they have to endure.
Shigeru Yabu shares his story about him and his family being taken away to an internment camp. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government forced many Japanese Americans to move into internment camps. Shigeru was only 9 years old, an age where he knew what was happening but didn’t know why. His children’s book, Hello Maggie, describes what he went through as a child and befriending a bird. The bird reminded him a lot about the situation many Japanese Americans were going through. As Shigeru watched Maggie in her cage, he couldn’t help but relate to her life, both living behind bars and being completely innocent. Hello Maggie seems like such a heartwarming book but I also think that it will help educate many children about the discrimination Japanese Americas went through.
Lydia Cruz-Machlitt’s talent for storytelling is remarkable. This story really hit close to home. No matter what age you are, everyone experiences death at some point in their life. Being in a situation where a loved one is really sick, it is not uncommon for people to tell “white lies.” Lydia explains how the white lies she was forced to tell were eating her alive once her father passed. The way she told her story was so raw and emotional. She explains how she overcame the painful burden and how her father’s love was much stronger than the guilt. I saw her story as a life lesson and even a piece of advice. I truly believe that her story can help others who are struggling with grief and guilt.