Ellis Island’s 120th Anniversary Jan. 1, 1892-2012

On January 1, 1892, one hundred years ago today, a small island in New York Harbor called Ellis Island opened its portal as one of thirty US federal government immigration centers.  From that date until 1954, over twelve million immigrants, two thirds of all immigrants, primarily third class passengers, entered the United States through the “Island of Tears.” One of them was my maternal great grandmother.

In 1902 Christiana Norway, at age forty, Eugenie Rosholt, clasped her blond, blue-eyed, four-year-old daughter’s hand and boarded the Oscar II, a 140,000 pound ship with 898 passengers.  They were on route to New York to rejoin her husband, Johan Alfred Rosholt and young son, who unable to subsist in the far reaches of the northern hemisphere, had immigrated to Chicago for work.

My grandma - Martha Olson

My grandma - Martha Olson

Night and day, horizon and sea, merged during their stormy passage. Mother and daughter huddled together. The weight of Eugenie’s unborn child brought warmth, yet stole energy. On a clear, morning September 2, 1902, Eugenie carried Dagny on deck for fresh air. Etched against the shoreline, a giant, golden goddess glistened in sunlight.

They disembarked on a gangplank onto barges carrying them to the Immigration Center on Ellis Island, where the aliens waited in lines, inching forward in a shuffle-step. In the Great Hall (Registry Room), a doctor lifted Eugenie’s chin, poked a knife at her eye pulling down the lower lid and waved her past, nodding at the frail girl by her side. Had he looker closer, he would have noticed the shine of fever in the child’s eyes and turned them away. Mother and daughter, weary from the long voyage, were filled with hope, yet the great dream turned into a tragic nightmare. Dagny died a fortnight after arriving in America. Three and a half months later, Eugenie, pierced by labor pain, was admitted to the Cook County Hospital in Chicago. On January 25, 1903, minutes after Martha (my maternal grandmother) safely entered the new world, her mother left it.

Without a wet nurse for the baby, and unable to cope, a grief stricken Johan sank into depression and returned to Norway with Edward. He never recovered from the loss of Dagny and Eugenie. Martha, placed in the Chicago Children’s Home, became a ward of the state. Four years later, a Norwegian family, Anne and Alric Raymond, adopted my grandma. Martha never knew she had a brother until Edward appeared at her confirmation. She married Gustav Olson, also a Norwegian immigrant, on October 29th 1929, the day the stock market crashed during the Great Depression. Gustav died of cancer at the age of 47 leaving my grandmother alone to put her two older children through college and raise their seven-year-old brother.

My jovial grandmother never complained about her inauspicious debut or hard life, instead she spread good cheer with a welcoming smile and twinkle in her sea blue eyes.

The survival spirit of my ancestors flows through my veins. Like for so many Americans, Ellis Island remains etched in my family history, like a badge of courage.

http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_history.asp

Anniversary of Human Rights- 7 Billion People Share Our Birthday

Every December 10th, we mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the UN in Paris 1948. This defends individuals’ rights such as life, equality, and freedom of expression and includes economic, social and cultural privileges we cherish in western society, but often take for granted.

I live in Geneva, headquarters of the United Nations, World Health Organization,  International Labor Organization, Red Cross and  dozens of world-renowned humanitarian agencies that fight for equality in workplace and promote health and safety, so I never forget the date. The United Nations Human Rights- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights works to protect rights through international laws.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

In her speech addressing the UN General Assembly in Geneva, Hillary Clinton challenged diplomats from around the world by saying “Gay rights are human rights, too” and called on world leaders to stop discrimination against gays. “It should never be a crime to be gay.”

Some of my senior students heard the American Secretary of State’s address at the UN, but not everyone could join in marches, attend celebrations, or hear speeches of global leaders. However, we can each steal a moment from our busy lives to reflect on the millions of people who are not allowed to enjoy their rights and to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives fighting for freedom for others.

The Universal Declarations of Rights, the most translated document in modern history, available in 382 languages, promotes and protects freedoms of individuals or groups across boundaries and civilizations.

Yet we fall short. Actions speak stronger than words. Genocide recurs, oppression continues, violence erupts, women are mistreated, and slavery exists. Human rights are violated. Everyday. Everywhere. We may be powerless as individuals to radically change laws governing countries, but what small step can we take in our own neighborhood to make a difference? Shake hands with someone of another race; stop to chat with an elderly neighbor, slow down to help a handicapped person. Go out of our way to acknowledge human dignity in others, regardless of their religious beliefs, sexual preference, position in society or color of skin.

“By promoting understanding, help us all to celebrate our human rights & in so doing reaffirm your own,” United Nations Human Rights – Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.

This year, people around the world used social media to help, inform, inspire & mobilize, uniting others in celebration of our birthday. Pay it forward, pass it on.

Happy 21st Birthday, Pay It Forward, Son !

From the moment, I knew « it’s a boy, » he filled my life with joy and trepidation.  Ten days later, the  boy born on the go acquired his first passport. He made his first trans Atlantic trip as  a 1 month old. He climbed out of his crib as at 8 months, walked at 9, kicked a ball at 10. As a hyper active, never-nap toddler he banged off the walls of our tiny Parisian apartment.

smiling toddler

smiling toddler

Insisting on doing everything himself, calamity followed in his wake.  While trying to « help » me clean house, he broke the reclining chair, the remote control and the vacuum cleaner.  His Aunt Karen insisted, « Send Nic over  to help me tidy up.  We need a new vacuum too. »

One Christmas, overjoyed to see his Aunt Sue, he gave her a flying, head-butt hug and broke her nose !

As a five-year-old, his body was so strong, we called him Bam Bam, yet his heart was as tender as a poem. When we moved to Switzerland, he told us, « Les nuages font un calin a la montagne. »  (The clouds are hugging the mountains.) At age seven, perceptive, beyond his years, he lamented, « Mom, we’re growing up too fast.  In five more years, Nathalie won’t live here anymore. »

As a kamikaze kid, he slit open his palm at age two, split his head at four, shattered his right ankle at fifteen.  Each time the doctor stitched him up, I prayed, « Please keep my boy in one piece. »

always a high flyer !

always a high flyer !

The only time he sat still was when I read him storybooks. A friend once told me, « Nicolas is too cute for his britches. » He was.  He dumped cereal or yogurt on the floor, then insisted, « Me clean ! » and made a bigger mess. But I could never stay mad. When he looked up at me with a mischievous grin, his turquoise eyes twinkling, all I could do was sigh and love him a little more.

I taught him to speak English, to drive the baseline and to write essays; he taught me patience. In the push- pull, anguish-awe of parenthood, I wondered whether I was saying too much or too little.

From his first footsteps, to first jump shot, to first Swiss national championship, in my role as teacher, coach, mom, I applauded each milestone. Whether he was skiing down the slopes of the Swiss Alps, or wake-boarding the waters of Summit Lake, I admired his balance and agility.

jumping yougster

jumping youngster

With his strong sense of injustice, he intervened when children picked on smaller boys. He gave up open shots to pass off to teammates who never scored. He helped classmates write French essays and rework math problems.

Due to conflict with an uncomprehending teacher and unruly class, we took him out of French public school when he was four-years-old. Yet his love of learning remained intact. At university, he pursues a teaching degree following in the footsteps of his mom, aunts, grandparents and great grandparents. Though teaching these days is a tough sale due to educational cutbacks and job shortages, he signed on to help out underprivileged children in the St. Paul school district and understands the attention problems of our cyber generation kids.

He has been a dedicated teammate, loyal friend, fun loving cousin, adored little brother and cherished son, admired for his witty sense of humor and courage to stand up for his convictions.

In today’s society,  we honor boys for toughness, yet the world needs more tenderhearted men. Raising a son has been a wild ride, but I treasured every moment of the journey.

with sister and cousins

with sister and cousins

Though I will never again be on center stage of his life –  bandaging skinned knees, reading nursery rhymes, or chauffeuring to activities – I will beam from the shadows back stage, as I watch my son pay it forward as a young man.

 

Red Cloud’s School His Legacy to Future Lakota

At the Heritage Center Museum at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation, stands a replica of a one-room schoolhouse where the White Man first indoctrinated Indians by civilizing them into the White Man’s Ways and disseminating from their own people. Young Indians were taken from families into boarding schools to be brainwashed. If a child spoke Lakota, his mouth was washed out with lye.  Lakota language, religion and customs were forbidden. White men annihilated an ancient culture that lived in harmony with the land, at peace with their souls, as one with the Great Spirit.

In 360 degree turn a bout, another kind of school now does all it can to preserve the Lakota culture.   Red Cloud School educates 600 students in primary, middle and high school, by trying to give Lakota children the skills to compete in society, while retaining traditional values and culture of Lakota heritage.   Along side basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic courses in ethics and religion, Lakota culture, religion and language are required.

Red Cloud indian school, South Dakota

Red Cloud indian school, South Dakota

Red Cloud, the Indian chief who led the most successful military campaign against the US by an indigenous group, saw that their way of life was ending.  For his people to prosper, they needed to learn to walk in the way of the White Man.  The school inspired by Red Cloud’s vision was started in by the Jesuits order in 1888.  One hundred percent of its 2010 graduates went on to college, yet it receives no national or state aid.   No longer a boarding school, some students ride an over an hour to get to and from school.

My brother-in-law’s Uncle, Mike Zimmerman, who entered the Jesuits, first worked in Argentina, before his transfer to the Red Cloud Indian School in South Dakota in the center of the Oglala nation.  He agreed to show us around the school.

I expected Brother Mike to be dressed in clerical black robe, but instead a tall, slender man in grease stained green work suit, thrust his large hand into ours.  His eyes were soft brown and kind.  I wondered who was this simple, soft-spoken, articulate man who had dedicated his life to serving the Lord.

Our greeting was awkward, for he rarely had visitors and here we were eight tourists from the Carlson-Zimmerman clan.  When his colleague introduced us to the Indians on campus, she said, “These are Brother Mike’s family, either related by blood or the heart.”

First, Brother Mike stopped in front of the school and told us about the fire that destroyed it in 1996.  He pointed to a display of flames devouring the wooden buildings, turning his head away.  “It still pains me to look at the photographs of that awful time.”

Mike led us into the new church that had been rebuilt after the fire. The wooden pews formed a semi circle in front of the alter which the Indians requested be built in circle representing their belief.  In a picture window, Jesus is surrounded by Asian, Eskimo, Indian and white children.

“Each window forming the circle around the worship area told a story, but in Lakota tradition all stories must be told orally,” Mike told us.  “They refused to write it down or tape record it, for they said that it is not their way.”

Mike invited us to lunch. In a small cafeteria, we filled paper plates with corn, beans, salad and hot dogs and fresh fruit from the self-service counter. We were urged to take seconds, but I felt guilty eating knowing that they subsisted on so little.  We offered to pay for our meals, only a mere two dollars a person, but Mike waved us away.

In the history classroom, where they learned world, national, state and Lakota history, the unabridged edition, phrases in Lakota, had been written on the blackboard. The school also had a new computer lab and the flat screens looked top of the line, but the desks were old, wooden relics from long ago.  The textbooks were worn and outdated.  Nevertheless Red Cloud School continues to draw interest in the wider community. For instance, Dr. Jane Goodall visited the school in several years ago to share her ideas.

As we left, I wondered what the Indians thought of us, this white-faced tribe invading their territory.  Only our 6’2 “ daughter drew a few glances from the short, stout brown-skinned workers.  With Brother Mike at our side, we were welcomed as special guests and I felt privileged for this peek into the life of the Lakota.

The school exemplifies Red Cloud’s dream for Lakota children to learn to walk equally in both worlds.   As I walked across the grounds by his grave, I felt honored to follow in his mighty steps on this hallowed land.

 

www.redcloudschool.org

American Indian Heritage Month – Lakota, A Lost Nation

Brown toasted hills with sparse vegetation looked like scenes out of a Western movie.  I could picture an Indian riding a painted pony over the rise in the Wild West of yesteryear.  Instead, today, rusted cars line the dusty alleyways where trailers and dilapidated clapboard houses replace the stallions and tipis of the past.

desolate Bad Lands

desolate Bad Lands

The land is golden, not from crops or minerals riches, but from sun baked grass.  In clusters resembling tribes of long ago, only the hardiest of trees survive in ravines along dried riverbeds that trickle occasionally with life sustaining water.

The Pine Ridge Reservation, Lakota grounds in South Dakota, is the poorest Indian Reservation in the U.S.  Ninety percent of the population lives below the poverty level on average annual incomes of less than $4000. The 36,000 Lakota left, survive on misery and memories of the Great People they once wear when they existed in harmony with a brutal land, before being driven off their land and away from their natural life.

The Lakota, of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, once covered a territory that extended from the Big Horn Mountains in the west, to eastern Wisconsin.  In the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1851, the Great Sioux Nation was reduced to the western half of South Dakota. Though it remains the second largest reservation in the U.S. it covers an area only about the size of Connecticut.

Once able to live off the land by hunting, the barren landscape offers little in the way of livelihood in today’s society.  Unemployment fluctuates between 85-90 %.  Jobs are scarce and poorly paid.

buffalo & cub

buffalo & cub

Few Indians can make it is as ranchers, so they work for other people on the land they once owned.  Thirty-nine percent of the population lives in homes without electricity and 60% of their houses are infested with black mold.

With limited job options in such a desolate area, destitution has become a way of life.  The Lakota lack financial stability to afford good nutrition and health care.  Infant mortality is three times the national average.   Life expectancy for male and females is twenty years less than the national average.   Half of the adult population suffers from diabetes.  Stripped of their pride and ability to provide for their families, it is no surprise that despair sets in.   The suicide rate among teenagers is 1.5 times higher than national average.

In the 1800’s, the White Man brought alcohol to Indians in exchange for beads and crops.  It was a poor trade for the Lakota.  Now alcoholism runs rampant.  In White Clay NE, population under 35 people just one mile from the dry Pine Ridge Reservation, four million cans of beer (10,958 beer cans a day) are sold annually.

Pine Ridge Lakota reservation

Pine Ridge Lakota reservation

I marveled at anyone’s ability to survive as we drove across the savage lands to visit the Red Cloud Indian School on the Lakota Reservation.  When I stepped outside the air-conditioned car, the wind slapped my face as if to jump-start my breathing, my lungs sucked dry by the heat.

In the Heritage Cultural Museum, filled with artifacts, paintings and beadwork of the Lakota, Red Cloud high school students recaptured the Wounded Knee Massacre in a moving display of black and white photographs. Beside each picture, the story was told in three different perspectives.  The white card represented the White Man’s viewpoint; red card, the Indians interpretation and the blue portrayed the students’ opinion. In what has become the symbol of a horrible genocide of their people and way of life, on December 29, 1890, the 7th Cavalry rounded up Lakota women and children like animals and gunned them down.

“It chills us to the bone,” one student researcher wrote,” to think we weren’t even considered human, as brothers, as sisters, as life.”

Outside the school, a gravel path lead to an Indian burial ground where the tomb of Red Cloud, (1822 –1910) lies.   Buried on a grassy knoll overlooking rolling, baked hills Lakota land the great Oglala chief’s spirit surveys what little remains of his nation, once the White Man arrived.  His soul does not rest in peace.

Apple, Innovation, An Icon – Steve Job’s Legacy

“Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

~ Steve Jobs

The first thing my husband told me on October 5 was that Steve Jobs died. His death struck a chord in hearts around the world, including mine. Gerald born in February 1955, too, is the same age. I am not far behind. For my generation of fifty-somethings, it is a reminder that we are infallible, even geniuses are mortal. It is wake up call to take action before its too late.

Breaking news bulletins across Europe reported his passing and offered tributes to the man whose remarkable innovations changed our lifestyle. His death caused reflection as we enter the digital age.

Steve Jobs name is synonymous with Apple. In 1976, he helped usher in the age of the personal computer by creating the Apple I and then II. Then he further revolutionized the industry with the introduction of the Macintosh.

You didn’t need to know anything about computers to navigate the Mac. The user friendly Macintosh was designed for computer illiterate, technologically disabled folks, like myself.  I still struggle working the television remote control and turning on the stereo system.

He gave me and millions of other writers a voice. When the printed paper began to die out, digital communication took off and blogging was born.

Not only has Steve Jobs contributions to society improved our lives, his own story is inspires our soul. He defied the odds. Abandoned as a child, adopted by a family of modest means, he dropped out of college and started the Apple empire in his garage.  The computer geek struck gold, becoming a multimillionaire before the age of 30.  After being fired from his own company, he created successful ventures as NeXt and Pixar, then was rehired to turn Apple around and make it the most valuable business in the world.

His rags-to-riches, self-made man story, is the essence of the America Dream. His contributions are a tribute to the American spirit of discovery. As a visionary, he transformed the markets of computers, digital music and cell phones. He launched the first iPod, iPhone  and iPad.  As an innovator and entrepreneur, he found a new frontier and then shared it with the world.

His renegade life is a reminder for teachers to encourage students to think outside the box, to foster other pathways to success than traditional education, and to acknowledge that learning is a lifelong endeavor.

His life, cut short too soon, reminds each of us to seize the day. Dare to “think different.” iLove it!