Sunday, February 26, 2017

Art Connects Toledo and Mexico

 At the Sofia Quintero art exhibit, Rasquache Artist Residency. Some art work from the exhibit; street paintings and murals along Broadway; artists in Mexico, maybe Puebla; super volunteer Linda greets visitors.  
Exhibit catalogue.
An artist residency in San Francisco Cuapa Cholula, in the state of Puebla, Mexico, led to a wonderful exhibit at the Sophia Quintero Art and Cultural Center in Toledo, Ohio.  The Rasquache Residency, as it's called, honors the traditions and cultures of the pre-Hispanic indigenous people of the Cholula region in central Mexico and connects Mexican and American artists across cultures.

The Rasquache residency also seeks to increase awareness of the difficult situation of undocumented immigrants in the US, now under the threat of building a wall and deportations. It's a nightmare.  A friend at the exhibit said Border Patrol agents were scouring the neighborhood, stopping people, demanding documents. "We know them when we see them," another friend said, "in their large white van with green lettering." They said the intrusions are getting worse and people who have been long-time residents are scared.

Karina Monroy
That's why this exhibit is so important.  It's a bridge to understanding and a testimony to the contributions of Latino/Latina artists to our culture. The exhibit features the works of Mexican and American artists in residence and visiting artists and scholars. It consists of installations, video projects, ceramics, poetry, digital prints and drawings. It's a fascinating mix of artistic visions and mediums.

The 2016 artists are Matthew Sibley, Christina Erives, Sa'Dia Rehman, Karina A. Monroy, Jairo Banuelos, and Federico Cuatlacuatl. Visiting artists and scholars are Amy Youngs, Ken Rinaldo, and Leo Herrera. Kudos to all of them.

Toledo's Mexican-American community has a long history. I remember when Baldemar Velasquez, from a Texas migrant family who settled here, started the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in 1967/1968. Another early organizer, Sesario, was recently honored for his work with FLOC and remains a stalwart member of the community. These were history makers.  I remember meeting Velasquez at a grape boycott protest in front of Kroger's grocery store near the Old West End, and hearing him talk about the struggle here in our own backyard. Migrant tomato pickers, who worked from sun up to sun down, were organizing to secure wages, jobs and decent working and living conditions.

Delicious tacos at Michoacana, the best. 
A walk along Broadway in South Toledo still feels like a walk down a Mexican street in a country I love and visit as often as possible, full of color, paintings on storefronts and restaurants, and fantastic murals. Even on an overcast day, it sparkles. In summer the neighborhood is ablaze with flowers and freshly grown vegetables and herbs in Sophia Quintero's thriving community garden. The bounty from the garden graces meals in private homes, businesses, and in restaurants.

And here's another reason to visit and support this important neighborhood. I think it offers the best Mexican food in the city. For authenticity, this is the place to be. My friend Teddy and I had the best tacos--fresh, homemade, tasty--at Taqueria La Autentica Michocana, a little restaurant next to where the art exhibit was held. Our visit to the barrio lifted our spirits at this time of mourning and outrage over what is happening to our government and our democracy.

Jairo Banuelos
The Sofia Quintero center was founded in 1996 by members of the Mexican American community to support Latino/a art, heritage and culture. The center is named after Sofia Quintero, the first Latina to be elected to the Toledo Board of Education.  Her life was cut short due to illness, but her spirit and determination live on through the multifaceted programs of the Center. "She is our angel, watching over our work," the director has said of her.

Last night, I think Sophia the angel was hovering over us and the neighborhood, and it felt safe and comforting.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Lies, damned Lies: Defamation of Character Grounds for Lawsuits?

Here are some definitions of defamation of character that I looked up online. It seems to me there are grounds for defamation lawsuits against tRump and his regime in the White House and Congress. 

Defamation is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Such defamation is couched in 'defamatory language'. Libel and slander are subcategories of defamation. Defamation is primarily covered under state law, but is subject to First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The scope of constitutional protection extends to statements of opinion on matters of public concern that do not contain or imply a provable factual assertion.

Slander is the oral communication of false statements that are harmful to a person's reputation and causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Slander is a subcategory of defamation.

Libel is published material that is defamatory either on its face or indirectly;  the defamatory statement is about someone who is identifiable to one or more persons; the material is distributed to someone other than the offended party; i.e. published, as distinguished from slander. Publication may consist of a writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which is communicated to another. There is an exception for certain privileged communications, such as those contained in answers to interrogatories, in affidavits, or judicial or legislative proceedings.

Under any of these definitions of defamation, slander, and libel, aren't there plenty of legal cases to be made against tRump/Bannon, McConnell/Ryan,  and other Republicans who stretch the truth to slander and libel opponents?  Aren't "alternative facts" defamation?

Doesn't Hillary have a case against tRump/kellyannspicer/fox/breatbart/Comey and the alt-right and alternative news sources who dehumanized and demonized her beyond recognition? Lied and made up stories? How about McConnell/Ryan obstructing president Obama and attacking him unmercifully for 8 years, and sitting on a Supreme Court nominee out of pure hatred and racism?

Are tRump's tweets and lies grounds for defamation and libel law suits?

Is deliberately undermining a candidate, as FBI Comey did at the end of the campaign, grounds for a defamation lawsuit?

How about the defamation of  a whole religious group identified in Trump's first executive order written by Bannon and Steve Miller, now in the Courts?

We are inundated with lies, damned lies, every day, compounded with the "alternative facts" and made up stories of the alt-right press and it's followers, including tRump. We have Jeffrey Lord and other tRump surrogates (who I can hardly name without cringing) on CNN and FOX spouting one deception after another. We have a guy in the White House who just kicked out some news media he didn't like from a press briefing, an attack on truth and freedom of the press.

We have lies propagated by Russia to interfere with and destabilize our election and in fact our government and our democracy.  It's actually similar to what Putin did in Crimea as he was preparing to invade and occupy Ukrainian land. Hr's gotten away with murder.

Aren't there grounds in any of these written and spoken words and actions for defamation suits?

Monday, February 13, 2017

TIFF Celebrates India's Magic Realism and New Zealand's Majesty

Pari takes her brother Chotu's hand as they begin their journey across the desert to
find the great Bollywood actor Shah Ruch Kahn,who is filming in Jaisalmer 
 and encouraging people to give their eyes so new surgery can restore the sight of the blind.   
The second night of the Toledo International Film Festival (TIFF) featured the films Dharak, (Rainbow in Hindiby Indian filmmaker Nagesh Kukunoor (2014), and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi (2016). They were enchanting movies, beautifully crafted. They opened our eyes to new worlds and illuminated TIFF's purpose to explore and celebrate cultural diversity and promote international understanding.

Both films tell the stories of young children without parents who are on their own paths to find their dreams and their sense of self in the larger world of relationships and place, fantasy and reality. Both films were shot in spectacular settings with stunning cinematography.  Dharak was filmed  in the great Thar desert of Rajasthan state in northern India, home of the fairy tale city of Jaisalmer, while Wilderpeople was shot in the lush green rainforests of North Island, New Zealand, near Auckland.

The stories unfold against sweeping vistas in perpetual motion, tan and yellow rolling dunes and ridges and wild vegetation in every shade of green swaying on mountain tops. These spectacular backdrops lend an almost other-worldly quality to the heroic treks and down-to-earth struggles of resilient and resourceful children in search of hope. Will Pari and Chotu, the kids in Dhanak, make it across the harsh, arid desert? Will Ricky and Hec, the "wilderpeople" in Waititi's film, survive the entangling bush?

Dharak is the story of an orphaned sister and brother, 10-year-old Pari, ever ebullient, and 8-year-old Chotu, who live in a small desert village with a wicked aunt and neer-do-well uncle. Chotu, played by Krish Chhabria, lost his eyesight in an accident when he was four years old, but he is a happy and precocious kid. Pari, played with wonderful effect by Hetal Gatta, had promised her brother that he would regain his eyesight before his ninth birthday, and that birthday is coming up in a few months. When Pari spots a poster announcing that her Bollywood idol Shah Rukh Khan is filming in Jaisalmer and that he is encouraging people to donate their eyes for special surgery there, she believes her hero will help her fulfill her promise.

Thus Pari and Chotu, hand in hand, walk the panoramic desert to Jaisalmer. It's truly a journey across the culture and history of Rajesthan as I remember it when a traveler in the late 1980s. Nagesh Kukunoor's India is full of light and sound and saturated color, sacred temples and profane places, and a lively cast of  cool and crazy characters, literally and figuratively. There is the fake fortune teller in heavy makeup and gaudy red costume; the stereotypical American hitchhiker walking the globe for peace, guitar in hand. There's the kidnapper out for no good and the kindly merchants who help with food, water and transportation. There's the stunning bandita dressed in the finest sari and adorned with beautiful jewelry holding a huge fake or real gun.  And there's the eccentric man who lost his family, went mad, and walks the desert with a steering wheel in his hands, going nowhere it seems. A magic realism combined with gritty reality defines the essence of the Indian spirit, and the filmmaker and the actors capture it beautifully.

The Great Brahmin temple in Pushkar, a holy Hindu city. Our
 driver Mr. Gupta took us there from Jaipur, another beautiful city
I perked up every time Chotu said his parents had lived in Pushkar, hoping for a shot of this beautiful white city. Instead, a deep blue lake surrounded by ghats and whitewashed temples rose up in my memory. I met a Hindu man there who took me by the hand as I was coming out of the great Brahmin Temple. He walked to the lake with me as he talked about being a holy man in India. I listened, enraptured.

When I told him I had to leave to join friends at the bazaar near the Temple, where I had seen a profusion of marigold garlands to buy for the gods, he held out his hand. I hesitated, looked at him, and gave him 20 rupees, not knowing if I had talked to a priest or a beggar.  That's when I learned that in India one never knows for sure, and it doesn't matter. And so it was in Dhanak the movie.

From India, following a taste of wonderful food from the Pan Asian Grill and a fluid and  powerful drumming dance performance by Kaze No Daichi Taiko Drum Ensemble, we traveled to New Zealand for the second film. I was again transported into a long-ago travel adventure that introduced me to the magnificent landscapes, diverse cultures, and wonderfully friendly peoples of New Zealand's North and South Islands, including the history and culture of the Maori.
Ricky and Hec in the New Zealand bush, wild and funny at times, learning
from and about each other, with an undercurrent of loss and abandonment.
Ricky the Maori warrior in mudface, ready to battle his demons.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fascinating adventure drama about the lives of lost kids of all ages who are looking for close relationships and love. Ricky Baker, whose mother abandoned him, is "a city kid raised on hip hop and foster care" (program notes). He is played with great spirit by Julian Dennison. Ricky gets a fresh start in the New Zealand countryside when his zealous social worker Paula and her lackadaisical policeman sidekick Andy drop a jaded Ricky off at the ramshackle home of Bella, played with great warmth by Rima Te Wiata, and her husband Hector (Hec), played in a low key by Sam Neill, New Zealand's gift to cinema.  Hec is distant and self-absorbed, but Bella is able to soften Ricky's defenses with her amazing hunting skills (a wow moment) and the gift of a dog, which Ricky names Tupac, after his hip hop idol Tupac Shakur. Ricky has some pretty good moves, too, and a nice voice.  The happy birthday scene, Bella making up a song and Ricky joining in, is wonderful.

When Bella dies suddenly, and Ricky learns he'll be sent back to foster care, he decides to run away.  A city kid in the bush is pretty helpless,so it's a good thing Hec hunts him down and joins him on the run. Rumors spread that Ricky is with a molester, which starts a wild and crazy national manhunt that spreads like wild fire. It's a comedy of errors and close calls, along with meeting up with some wacky folks like Crazy Sam. Ricky and Hec become folk heroes, while Paula the social worker is given a grand canvas for her over-the-top enthusiastic pursuit of justice.

The film is tops in all categories, a fantastic cast, an up-and-coming director who also wrote the screenplay based on a Barry Crumb novel; and awesome cinematography and music.  I love the bush scenes in winter and spring, so verdant and stunning. Hec, who is illiterate, calls them "majestical."  And they are.

The beauty of the New Zealand Bush.  "Majestical" Hec called it.
"Majestic," Ricky corrected, but he was fine with "majestical," and it fit.
A hilarious car and helicopter chase looks to be the blazing end for our heroes, a sort of Thelma and Louise ending. But wait, that's not really the ending afterall. The end turns out to be a new beginning: the beginning of the blossoming of Hec, who is learning to read; the growing maturity of Ricky, with a new foster family who wants to get close; and the start of a real father-son relationship. It doesn't get any better than that. Ricky and Hec return to the bush, this time not to run away, but to be together, to photograph a beautiful bird, a huia, once thought to be extinct. They have found their calling. Love is not extinct, and hope springs eternal.
NZ Huia bird, sacred to the Maori.
I found it interesting that these birds
find a loving partner for life. Love birds, a
hidden & fitting symbol for this film.
                                                                            * * * *

Saturday, February 18, Last night of the Film Festival 
5:00 pm  Who Is Dayani Cristal? (Mexico/USA)
8:00 pm  Ixcanul/Volcano (Guatemala)

TIFF is a collaborative project of the Lucas County Commissioners' Welcome Toledo-Lucas County (TLC), President Pete Gerken and Commissioners Carol Contrada and Tina Skeldon Wozniak; the Ohio Theatre and Event Center; and United North, a community development corporation in Toledo's Old North End.

Thanks to TIFF's community partners: Zonta Club of Toledo, NAAP (Network of Arab American Professionals), Toledo/Lucas County Public Library, BGSU Department of Theatre & Film, Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, World Affairs Councils of America, BGSU School of Cultural and Critical Studies, Leadership Toledo, Glass City Rollers, ABLE (Advocates for Basic Equality), La Conexion de Wood County, Toledo/Lucas County Sustainability Commission, BGSU Global Village, MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, Adelante.

Sponsors include: Toledo Sister Cities International, Lucas County, The Fair Housing Center, S&G, Toledo/Lucas County Public Library, Manos Greek Restaurant, the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, and Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

3rd Toledo International Film Festival: Celebrating Diversity in a Time of Uncertainty

Photo collage: 3rd Annual Toledo International Film Festival program booklet and friends Teddy, Rosemary and Rey at the Ohio Theatre. Small photos at top: Lucas County Commissioner Peter Ujvagi, a founder and major fan of the Film Festival and a photo of a proposed renovation of the historic Ohio Theatre on LaGrange, a neighborhood noted for its immigrant past and its present diversity.

During this time of chaos and intolerance, emanating shockingly from the top of our federal government, a ray of hope shone brightly at the historic Ohio Theatre with the opening of the 3rd International Film Festival last night, 4 February 2017.  

Mariam, played by Oulaya Amamra, and her best friend Fatimata, 
played by Soumaye Bocoum, fabulous actresses new to most of us. 
The father, le pere, was also excellent, played by French actor Ahmed Haiene.

The opening film, Mariam (2016), by Saudi director Faiza Ambah, centers around a teen's search for her own identity and her decision to wear the hijab, the traditional head scarf, to school after a summer pilgrimage to Mecca with her grandmother. "I loved how it made me if God really existed," she tells her best friend. 

Mariam was born in France to Arab parents, her father a secular Muslim and hardworking man serious about his daughter's education. Mariam is equally serious about wearing the veil. Thus the film explores intergenerational themes and issues of social pressures faced by Muslims after France passed a law in 2004 banning the wearing of 'religious symbols' in public schools. Mariam's choice is between wearing the hijab or being expelled from school. The film was awarded a Special Jury Prize at the 2015 Dubai Film Festival.  The subject is thoughtful and timely.

America's present politics under a new regime of right-wing extremists inevitably intruded. After all, the current residents of the White House had recently issued an Executive Order banning people from coming to America from seven Muslim-majority countries, including refugees who are among the most vetted immigrants of all. It also prevented people who had legal VISAs, and it gave priority to Christians. The indiscriminate executive order was promulgated without appropriate consultations, without real knowledge of the nature and diversity of the Muslim world or the sources and causes of terrorism, without regard for context and shifting realities and alliances, without regard for Rule of Law. This order, its Constitutionality questioned, had just been overturned by the Courts, and it was on everyone's minds. 

     Toledoans rally against the Trump/Bannon Executive Order on Feb. 4, 2017, 
the day the International Film Festival opened. 

Toledo is known for its immigrant past, which it honors to this day.  It is a compassionate city, welcoming newcomers from all over the world; the Film Festival is a testament to that. The Toledo area and neighboring Detroit have contemporary immigrant communities rooted in earlier historic migration stories from Europe and also the Middle East.  

I remember the Lebanese community in the late 1960s and 1970s, which gave Toledo great restaurants like the Beirut, featuring Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as talented teachers, doctors, judges and city officials. I worked on a family violence prevention project with Judge Charles Abood, whose contributions to our city knew no bounds. Our family doctors have been from Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq, among other Muslim countries.  

The Muslim community and diaspora has since become larger and more diverse. Now we have lots of restaurants, shops, and events.  The established residents are well integrated into Toledo's socio-economic life, and the newcomers, including Afghan and Syrian refugees, are working together and with the City and County to make a new place home. Through volunteering with Water for Ishmael's "conversation partners" program I've met many new refugees whose stories are truly painful and astonishing. I wish everyone heard them, especially those in power now.  A literature teacher told my daughter Elissa and me of the incredible hardships in Syria, death and destruction everywhere, and how hard but how urgent it was to get his family to America and begin a new life free from war.

With this historic and contemporary backdrop, Mariam lit up the big screen and helped illuminate critical contemporary issues. The lively and thoughtful teenager Mariam sticks with her values and principles to the end, through joy and angst, her best friend at her side. In the end, Miriam creates a clever compromise that keeps her in school and maintains her developing identity as a French Muslim woman.  The message for today is heartwarming and hopeful. 

Upcoming Schedule: 
Sat. Feb. 11 
5;00pm Dhanak (India)
8:00pm Hunt for the Wilderpeople (New Zealand)

Sat. Feb. 18
5:00pm Who is Dayani Cristal (Mexico/USA) 
8:00pm Ixcanul/Volcano (Guatemala)  

Thanks to the Lucas County Commissioners and the Welcome TLC initiative, a collaboration of community partners working to build a welcoming and inclusive community for immigrants, refugees, and people of diverse cultures. Thanks to the historic Ohio Theatre, 3114 Lagrange Street, and Sarah Allan, Brittany Ford, Kim Sanchez and lots of dedicated workers and volunteers who plan and organize the annual film festival program.  Kudos to the designer/creators of the great program brochure for this 3rd festival! 

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