Oscars Half Birthday– Book Review

Finally, a book featuring a multi-ethnic family that is not about “being” a multi-ethnic family. Instead, Oscars Half Birthday follows Oscar, his mom,dad and big sister on a very regular outing on a special day. If you’re thinking of ideas for a party then follow Oscar’s family as they pack lunch,take a walk, observe the city and nature then meet friends to celebrate Oscar.

If you believe there is beauty in simplicity you will adore this colorfully illustrated but not overly produced book. There are a few details–Dad’s low rise pants and mom’s cornrows. This book is a cherished book for us by a loving friend of our unique family.

Prelude to Green

Prelude to Green:  Has the lack of images of African Americans in nature shaped  perceptions about our involvement in Environmentalism?   This February, Mezclados will find out.
The mainstream environmental movement judges that African Americans, although proven to be interested in environmental issues, do not participate in environmental activities at the same rate as other ethnic populations in the United States. Social scientists develop theories of non-participation that include: security,
, ethnicity, prejudice and discrimination—all attempting to explaining why Blacks may not be involved in environmentalism. They may blame this on some form of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in which caring for the environment would seem to be less important to mostly poor African Americans. However, sociologist Paul Mohai, in his work on Black environmentalism, shows that African American concern and participation in environmental activities is equal and in many cases higher than white Americans, and that the above theses that attempt to explain low participation and concern levels, use a distorted definition of environmentalism. This bias against African American participation in environmental activities has had several negative effects. It perpetuates stereotypes about African American association with nature, which, on the contrary, have been represented photographically since the invention of the camera. Additionally, this narrow-mindedness is responsible for the exclusion of African American perspectives, images, or needs from environmental organizations. Finally, these mis-perceptions may cause African American self-exclusion from nature based activities, and environmental organizations. The following is my story.
Before I was green I was blue. I body surfed in San Diego and longed to ride the azure waves on a surf board. My passion was usually dulled: “Black people don’t surf!” almost everyone would remind me.
Surf instructors described my lack of skill on the surf board with stereotypes like, “Black people don’t float.”
Their prejudices were backed by a lack of images of Black surfers, which then solidified their belief that surfing is an inherently Anglo sport. Although I knew that this perception was entirely incorrect, there were no Black surfers to be seen in any surf magazines that I subscribed to. I ignored surfers, parents, and peers and stuck to my interest and desire to ride the waves– until the day before I canceled my subscription to Surfer Magazine.
I had read a passage from a story in Tom Wolfe’s, The Pumphouse Gang, where a company of surfers ditched the beach because of bad waves and headed to Los Angeles to watch rioters in Watts. For all the writing about the camaraderie of surf culture, the beauty of the ocean, and the responsibility to clean it, the surf world seemed to have no compassion or shared decency toward African Americans.
Still, throughout my teens and into college I remained active in outdoor and mild activist activities like letter writing. Most of the time I was one of a few African Americans in attendance, but not all the time. My scouting group, the Pathfinders, was affiliated with my church and was predominately African American. We camped, sang, hiked and prayed in the local San Gabriel Mountains. My family, like many other African American families, was raised reducing, reusing and recycling. In fact, I lined my trash cans with old newspaper until I got married in 2003.
In college though, I was convinced that for the Anglo-Americans with whom I participated in nature based activities, issues of civil rights, economic equity and environmental justice would never be as important as tree hugging. The language of the environmentalists that I knew sounded disproportionately heavy on the beauty of the earth, the spirit-laden world of trees, and the heroism of people such as activist and redwood tree resident Julia Butterfly Hill. Eventually, I became resentful of the environmental movement, especially because it seemed to relate only to a desire for white America to hold on to land that wasn’t theirs in the first place. Also there seemed to be a disconnect between mainstream ideas about who engages with nature, and what I knew about this subject.
Thinking back to my surfing days, the question emerged, has the lack of images of African Americans in nature shaped American perceptions and actions of environmentalists? Has the exclusion of African Americans from this visual history of America and its relationship to nature provided incorrect assumptions of our participation in environmental activities?
To answer the last question, this project aims to reveal the role of representation, specifically photographic representation, in shaping Americans’ perception of African Americans’ involvement with nature. A related goal is to uncover and publicize the rich history of participation among African Americans in nature activities including outdoor recreation and environmental activism, farming, and land preservation. I intend to meet these goals by analyzing and exhibiting photographs of African Americans participating in nature. I examine the types of images that may have shaped notions of African Americans in nature. Using the fields of history and sociology, I examine examples of mainstream photos from America’s past in order to understand how most Americans see African Americans relating to nature. Next, I search for alternative images in order to prove that the mainstream images of the past are not true examples of African Americans’ relationship to nature. Finally, with the help of the fine arts (graphic art and photography), I develop both a campaign of images and an online exhibit to counteract past notions about African Americans and our participation in nature.

Can Serious Games Save the World?

Peacemaker, Food Force, and A Force More Powerful

By Javaughn Fernanders

I. Serious Games.

On February 2003, a subgroup of game developers formerly convened the first Serious Game Summit held during the largely popular Game Developers Conference.  Serious Games, games that are not used for entertainment, are usually instructional and used in various industries. Language software, flight simulators , and  management RPG’s are examples of serious games. Recently, games that address humanitarian issues have become increasingly popular.  Three current serious humanitarian games are Peacemaker, a Palestinian/Israeli role playing game, Food Force, produced by the United Nations and A Force More Powerful a project of the United Nation World Food Programme. Additionally, the subset of serious games that deal with politics, and social issues Their popularity and the rise of developers dedicated to providing the public with nonviolent, strategic serious games,resulted in The first Games For Change Conference held in 2004.

Peacemaker was developed by Carnegie Mellon graduate students who utilized  Palestinian youth groups as advisors.   In Peacemaker, the player is either The Israeli Prime Minister, or the Palestinian Prime Minister.

Launched in 2005, Food Force engages children age 8-13 in solving world hunger issues.  In the game introduction the player is introduced to the World Food Programme Team:  In Food Force, players select a mission to distribute food, or create balanced food packs.  The player is an Emergency Aid worker and gains points in variety of exercises. Players can choose from six  scenarios:   Air Surveillance  Energy Pacs, Air Drops, Locate and Dispatch, Food Run and Future Farming. By 2006 the game was downloaded 3 million times with a million players in the first six weeks. (Kim, 2006)

The player is given 10 scenarios in which to role play and make decisions without the use of force or firepower.  As the regional dictator Mayor  Gavrilovic reaks havic over the town of Grbac, Slovopaknia (fictional).  The player must lead a grassroots, student movement to oust the leader using strategies like, fundraising, hunger strikes and protests.

II. Serious Games Strategies and Advantages

Three basic strategies for learning and action inform our  Serious Games and may encourage further action (like peacebuilding, advocating support for global hunger programs, or understanding conflict in a context of nonviolence).  They are the use of simulation, an environment of unfavorable consequences based on player choices, the “soft fail” and post-game appeals.

Using simulation games stimulate curiosity and experimentation in a virtual environment, while developing strategic and critical thinking skills.  Specifically, simulations offer a training that is more cost effective and practical.  For  example, one does not need join the Peace Corp in order to understand the strategic skill needed to feed a million people during an air drop—they can play Food Force.

Providing difficult choices alongside unfavorable consequences (death, imprisonment in AFMP) creates a high learning curve for players.  Players can see understand the difficult choices their real time counterparts have to make as well as develop the skills to make critical choices under pressure themselves.  In Food Force, players find themselves rethinking the grid and vowing to make better choices in order to feed more people from the air and get more points.  This strategy is directly related to the “soft fail.”

Josh Johns of BreakAway technologies reports that “Games can create a training environment that is totally immersive,” “The technology available in games through simulation can be incredibly realistic. You can play any role or multiple roles. What’s most important, you can fail safely and learn from it. It’s a very affordable, very experiential way to learn.” (Laff 2007)  This “soft fail” strategy allows players time to rethink former decisions without the real time consequences.

Post-game appeals appear at the end of play in Food Force and AFMP.  These appeals suggest ways to support the goals of the game like world peace, an end to global hunger, or peace in the middle east.  In Food Force, players can link to the World Food Programme web site, engage in an urgent action, post their scores (re-playability).  IN this way the U.N. office operates as a salesman at the “closing.” Acting on the players immediate understanding of the difficulty in “playing,” the organizations asks the player to participate in real time.

In the United Kingdom, research about game play in classrooms concluded that :

  • A teacher, or facilitator enhances learning during game play.
  • Using sections of the game to supplements instructional units enhances learning.
  • Simulations offer scenarios which encourage post-game discussion
  • Game play encourages motivation, learning new skills, and collaboration.
  • Students receive immediate feedback from online game play (Kirremuir, 2003)

For the all players Serious simulations offer new thinking about “traditional”  ways of doing. Other studies suggest that actions in online games are often mimicked which is what authors of games like Peacemaker, Food-Force and AFMP aim for.

“Combining simulation, strategy, and the ability to play alone (if partners are not available) electronic gaming builds on basic instincts for competition, interaction, interaction, and imagination that are instinctive in so many people. By combining these elements with instructive materials, or wrapping important content in a gaming package, the hope is to utilize the strength of gaming to elevate learning and especially strategic learning among players”

(Sawyer, 2005)


Sawyer, Ben.  Enhancing Simulations, Models and Their Impact Using Interactive Game Design and Development Practices and Technology. The Foresight and Governance Project:WoodrowWilsonCenter

Kirriemuir, John. The Relevance of video games and gaming consoles to the Higher and Further Education Learning Experience.  Journal of ISC, 3/12/03 v.3.1 Kim, Ryan. Games Get Serious San Francsico Chronicle.  May 22, 2006


Schollmeyer, JoshGames Get Serious Bullitien of Atomic Scientist     (July/August 2006 p. 34-39

Laff, Michael. Serious Gaming: The Trainers New Best Friend The American Society for Training and Development Jan. 2007, 52-57.

Dreamer Por Vida!

My friend and fellow artist is mixing it up in Southern California! As a musician and painter/sculptor, Richard Rodriguez utilizes dreams the way we all wish we could.  As an eternal motivator for a life of beauty.

Raised to accept all the Mexican, African, French, Hindu and Christian roots in his family tree, Rodriguez brings the collage of his life  into his art.  Rick paints on canvas and found objects.   He creates contemplatively in the studio  and live at music shows.  He is also the Conga player for L.A. based band Mexico 68.

“ I decided that art was all I wanted to do , “ says Rodriguez, “for as long as I lived…I’m inspired by everything; Life, happiness or sadness; people in my life, dreams, new teachings, and the unknown…Struggle love and loving life is inspiring.  Even hating life is inspiring you just got to create something out of it!

Enjoy some pictures of Rick’ s work, including pieces from his latest show, “Somos Animales.”


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Practicing Mindfulness

ear shellsPracticing Mindfulness

By Susanna Hamilton

Freedom is a practice. It is in the awakening, the awareness that our feelings and perceptions in the present moment are transient; our happiness and suffering ebb and flow as the tides of the ocean.

When we are happy the people around us are more likely to be happy. As we practice being mindful we recognize that our happiness is directly connected with the happiness of others. Suffering is as much a part of life as joy, and is likewise directly connected with the suffering of others. When we suffer the people around us are more likely to suffer.

Practicing mindfulness provides us with the tools to transform our fear, anger and sense of separateness into compassion, love and inclusiveness.  When we sit with our suffering, breathe and allow ourselves to be present with it, our suffering becomes less.  Likewise, when we sit with the suffering of others and breathe, their suffering lessens.


Our mindfulness practice can be as simple as being present and mindful while washing dishes, eating lunch, or talking with friends. Focusing our attention, our breath, on any given activity, provides us the freedom to know that the choices we make are for the well-being of ourselves and those around us. Over time, as we become more comfortable with our mindfulness practice, being present with our thoughts and feelings, we can deepen our practice with the Five Mindfulness Trainings. These practices are guidelines developed by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, to help us live a more beautiful, peaceful life. We can be of any religious or spiritual path and still practice mindfulness. Being a Buddhist is not a requirement.



Reverence for Life

Interbeing is the understanding that there is no separate self, that we are interconnected with everything; fellow humans, animals, plants and minerals. Our thoughts and actions have an impact on the world around us and we have the ability to be open and supportive toward all living and non-living elements in the world around us. When we are mindful of our choices and their affect not only on ourselves, but on everything on this planet and potentially beyond, we are practicing reverence for life.

True Happiness

True happiness is realizing that we have all we need to be happy in the present moment. Our happiness is contingent on our own mental attitude. When we choose to utilize only those resources that support our growth, we allow others to have access the resources they need. By releasing fear, anxiety and the notion that we do not have enough to be happy, we reduce our own suffering. Practicing true happiness or generosity, sharing our planets limited resources with others, we provide the opportunity for others to also be happy and free from suffering.


True Love

True love arises from compassion and joy. When we engage in relationships that are built on loving kindness and inclusiveness, we increase not only our own happiness, but that of those we are involved with, be they friends, family, lovers, or strangers. Practicing true love we create a lasting peace and deepen our ability to live a beautiful, fulfilling life, receptive and willing to protect children, couples and families from suffering.


Loving Speech & Deep Listening

Communicating with others is one of the most challenging aspects of being human. Each person involved in a given conversation has their own thoughts, ideas and perceptions about the world based on his or her own experiences.


When we engage in dialogue using loving speech we have the ability to create happiness and peace in ourselves and others. This is especially true when we communicate through letters, email and text messaging. Loving speech is language that cultivates confidence, joy and hope.


Deep listening is a practice whereby we devote our entire attention to what the other person is saying, verbally and/or through body language. We allow our own thoughts, ideas and perceptions to rest, providing a forum for the person speaking to be fully heard, therefore reducing their suffering. When we realize we are no longer listening deeply we acknowledge this by excusing ourselves, walking and breathing mindfully until we are able to be fully present once more.


Nourishment & Healing

Through mindful consumption we can nourish our bodies and heal our suffering as well as the suffering of others. Food and beverages, alcohol and drugs, are the most common things we think of, but on a daily basis we also consume information, whether through television, literature, or various other mediums. When we are in the present moment we are aware that what we consume has an impact on our thoughts, ideas and perceptions, as well as our happiness and suffering, and that of others.

Great freedom comes with recognizing that happiness and suffering are only temporary states of being. Each moment provides us with the opportunity to practice being mindful and present. Through our practice of compassion, love and inclusiveness we can be happy, healthy, and therefore at peace.


For a full description of the Five Mindfulness Practices and to learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh, please visit: http://www.plumvillage.org.



Holiday Bingo

holidayWhen our kids were little, we used to joke that we were the “complete multicultural family.”   Our appearance wasn’t too shocking by the 1990sat least on the East Coast.  We often evoked stares and even rude comments traveling in some other places.  But our religious affiliations often left people confused, if not downright dumbfounded or occasionally scandalized.

My husband, of French-Canadian and Huron ancestry, had been raised Catholic.  I had been raised non-denominational non-churchgoing Christian in a mixed Protestant-Catholic family, and my ancestry included Celts of all nationalities, Swedes, Germans, and Algonquins.  But my husband and I had become Quakers in the 1980s.  Quakers aren’t really big on celebrating holidays, period, since life should be kept simple and our hearts should always be filled with the Light; but we carried our earlier traditions with us and made merry on the major Christian holidays.  When our first-adopted reached preschool age, however, research suggested that the best match for him was the local Jewish preschool and kindergarten, and his sister followed in his tracks a few years later.  So for the next six years, we found ourselves going to Quaker Meeting on Sunday, while saying the pre-meal blessing in Hebrew (because our four-year-old was appalled that we didn’t know how, he taught us), celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, attempting (badly I’m afraid) to create our own Passover Seder shortly before celebrating Easter.  We had a Menorah, then hung sparkly dreidels on the Christmas tree.  My daughter loved hamentaschen and her Queen Esther costume when she was little, although now I struggle to remember the name of that spring holiday.

One day our son surprised us by asking:  “We’re Jewish right?”

“No, we’re Quakers,” my husband explained, “You know we go to Meeting on Sundays, right?  But you go to a Jewish school.”

“We’re not Jewish?  But everybody’s Jewish!”

We had to laugh.  We lived in central New Jersey, and he was absolutely right that most of our friends and almost all of his schoolmates were Jewish.  But, we pointed out, we also lived on a street where most of our neighbors were Christians—and half were white and half were black, including our Muslim friends next door.

It was around this time that we tried to introduce Kwanzaa, but without much luck.  The mistake the founders of it made with Kwanzaa, I think, was trying to institute a holiday the day after Christmas.  Our kids, at least, couldn’t have been less interested in principles of self-reliance and making homemade gifts when they still had new Christmas toys to play with.  I gamely kept trying for about five years, even attempting them to get to go to community Kwanzaa celebrations at local churches or colleges.  But they were no more interested in Kwanzaa than they were in the African drumming circles my husband tried to get them to go to.  Still, they at least grew up knowing what Kwanzaa was and what it was all about.

In the meantime, I was taking yoga and meditation classes to counteract the stress of motherhood to these two very hyperactive children, and I became fascinated with Eastern religions.  During this time I believe I described myself as a Quaker with Buddhist blend-ins and Hindu sprinkles.   This did not strike my kids as odd at all.  They learned about different religions in First-Day School and even went on “field trips” with the other Quaker children to visit other kinds of religious ceremonies.

My husband’s aunt, however—a Catholic sister who had strongly supported our attempts to adopt our children in the face of other relatives who worried about it—was concerned for their mortal souls.  Although they’d had a Quaker “Blessing” ceremony welcoming them into the community, she could not rest until she had personally baptized them both as they lay sleeping in their beds.  If I hadn’t assured her that my parents had had me christened as a baby, I’m sure she would have done the same thing to me.  And indeed our blessings are many.

Our holidays have been many, too; although now that the kids are really young adults (still living at home), we’re mostly back to celebrating Easter, Christmas, and birthdays—and of course, Adoption Day.  On the day of each child’s adoption (five weeks past our son’s birthday, eight weeks past our daughter’s), the celebrant gets to choose which restaurant we will go to for dinner.  But they refuse to let us sing the Adoption Day song any more.

How have our children been affected by all these influences?   We have always made attempts to live in multicultural neighborhoods with multicultural schools, and in two of our three locations, we have succeeded.  The kids were a little confused at times, but have grown up open-minded about different cultures and comfortable with all different kinds of people.  My daughter went through a couple phases in junior high where she identified only with the white kids (claiming she was Puerto Rican or “mixed”) and then only with the black ones—a period when she was embarrassed to be seen with us.  But she righted herself in high school and (now “almost a senior”) is friends with both, as well as with classmates who are Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, (as well as gays.  We love New York.)  She is agnostic herself, although she has tried on different religions over the years.  Our son, on the other hand, is very spiritual.  He rarely goes to church, but when he does it’s a Unitarian-Universalist.  And he loves to discuss religion with people.  He has a friend who is a fundamentalist Christian, and they really get into it over Revelations!

I am proud of our kids’ healthy interest in other cultures and belief systems, as well as in the generosity and concern for the disadvantaged they are beginning to show, and I truly believe that their multiculturalism has only enriched them in the long run.  If this multiculturalism is a new tradition, it’s one this fractured world much needs, and I hope my children will pass it down to future generations.



Riverhead, 1998

Danzy Senna

Caucasia follows Birdie’s search for father and sister in the aftermath of coentelpro and the break up her biracial activist parents.  Don’t read if you think this is a how to book for Black and white parents.  It is a lesson in chasing fantasy, identity and in facing family reality with dignity.

Below is a video of  Danzy Senna reading from her latest memoir, Where Did You Sleep Last Night.



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