They Are Us by Cheryl Shainmark

I remember in the ’60s, being six or seven years old, and visiting my great-grandmother Teresa in a nursing home, shortly before she died at age 94. She only spoke Italian, and my Dad taught us a few words to say to her: Come sta? Bene; prego. Her son Henry, my grandfather, was bi-lingual; her grandson – my Dad – had a smattering of the old tongue, and now I had the four words he taught me.

My great-grandparents, Teresa and Antonio, came here from Italy at the turn of the 20th century because a representative from a Rhode Island textile mill went over to Italy to sign up workers and bring them here. The soap works, the silver factory, the coastal fisheries and the other mill towns in New England all did the same, though some went to Portugal, Hungary and Poland to get their workers. The immigrants all lived in the same towns, but had their own neighborhoods, churches, bakeries, and newspapers. My great-grandmother spoke Italian with the shopkeepers, the nuns, and most of her co-workers. Of course, once she had kids, they could translate for her as needed, because they spoke English.  Life was simpler then – everything was walking distance and Teresa didn’t have to get a driver’s license, sit on a jury, make a payment over the phone, or deal with Cablevision.  If she had, I think she would have had to “Press 2 for Italian.”

My mother’s side of the family got here in the 1700s and 1800s, before there was an Ellis Island or formal registration process. Much like the Pilgrims, they didn’t have documentation or anybody’s permission to land here. It was known around the world that America needed workers, and they were looking for a better life, or fleeing religious persecution, war, or famine. If they were alive today, they would have to press 3 for Swedish, 4, for Norwegian, 5 for French, 6 for Rumanian, 7 for whatever it is the Welsh speak, and, I suspect, but cannot prove, 8 for Yiddish. Good thing life was simpler back then, and that the children they bore in Virginia, in the Willamette Valley, in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Idaho, all learned English and translated for them, too. It’s because of this history that I’ve always thought the whole “Press 2 for Spanish” debacle was as American as can be, and one of those “problems” that solves itself in one generation.

And guess what? America still need workers! My ancestors settled here and cleared forests, farmed, opened shops, built and founded towns. They worked the looms and machinery to produce cloth. Today’s immigrants work in the chicken houses in Delmarva, on the farms in Arizona and California, the meat packing plants in Kansas and Illinois, and in the kitchens of restaurants and for lawn care companies up and down the East Coast. Food is rotting in the fields right now and hurricane reconstruction is delayed in Houston because of a lack of workers.  If we were honest brokers when it came to immigration, we would meet the caravans at the border with a hot meal, visas and and a bus ticket to a guaranteed job.

Some enter legally, some illegally. To focus on that issue alone is mean spirited and short sighted. We need these new Americans. They are us – the us of 75, 100, or 200 years ago. They are our next wave of workers and innovators. Their children are the translators who will not need to press 2,3,4 or any other number. In the future their grandchildren will celebrate family occasions with one or two ethnic dishes from recipes that have been handed down through the family, and then send a saliva sample to Ancestry.com to find out more about “the old country.” They are us.

 

Photo credit: PBS

 

 

 


Letting Go With Both Hands

| by Cheryl Shainmark

Several years ago I dreamed I was outside my house as a giant windstorm approached over the horizon. Like the buildup to a hurricane, the trees swayed, and leaves and debris blew over the lawn and through the air. I knew that it was urgent that I find shelter inside, but I was worried about my son and kept searching for him outside. A part of my mind knew that the dream was echoing reality: it was a truly tumultuous time in our household as our son went through a difficult period, moved out, and struggled to live independently. Back in my dream, reluctant to give up, I stayed outside until the storm was upon me.

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The Buddhist Soul in Me

| by Cheryl Shainmark

I am many things, but I am not a Buddhist. Still, every so often the secret Buddhist in my soul demands to be fed: lighting a little incense, placing a flower in a bowl like an offering, sweeping a spider out the door (instead of squishing it), or taking a day trip to the Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, NY.

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The Voice of Your Higher Self

| by Cheryl Shainmark

I learned over time that this is the sound of my higher self. Sometimes it’s barely there in the background, pointing me in the right direction with a nudge or a song lyric, or a bit of humor and love. Other times she comes through loud and clear with precise instructions or suggestions. No topic is too large or too small to engage my higher self, and the range of comments over the years have both startled and amused me.

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Take A Walk on the Wild Side: Encounters With Animals in Nature

| by Cheryl Shainmark

Most of us have had the experience — wonderful, heart-stopping, sometimes terrifying — of unexpectedly encountering an animal in the wild. It may be the tranquil sight of deer off in the woods, or a hawk circling in the canyons of Manhattan. It can be scary, as in some of the recent bear sightings on the East Coast, or inspire reverence for the raw beauty of the creature sighted.

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Tell Me A Story: Stirring Up Cellular Memories with Meditation

| by Cheryl Shainmark

I have been meditating for over fifteen years now and find it an essential part of my life. Many have written about the substantial physical and emotional benefits, and while I’ve certainly found that to be the case, too, I’ve also noticed that there is a component of releasing “cellular memories” that is rarely addressed. People shy away from phenomena that are not so easily explained, but whether you call it “cellular memories,” “past lives,” or releasing “old patterns,” I have found that there is something extraordinary happening that also brings welcome relief to the body and the spirit.

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Feeding Body & Soul

| by Cheryl Shainmark

If you’d asked me a few years ago whether I’d be following a virtually wheat free, 90% vegetarian — hell, 90% vegan diet, I’d have said, “That’s nuts.” Now I’m likely to say, “That’s raw cashews to you, and by the way, do you know how many recipes you can make with them?” It’s safe to say that I’m not alone in making a big diet and lifestyle change, either. Based on the latest bestsellers, opinion pages in the New York Times , increase in vegetarian and vegan websites and buzz on the Internet, it seems we have reached some kind of “tipping point” toward a radical change in the way we eat and what we will accept from the food industry.

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A Few Thoughts About Thinking

| by Cheryl Shainmark

I recently finished reading “Anathem” by Neal Stephenson, for the second time, (not something I usually do) and I was struck by an offhand observation that the young main character makes about another man who may be hundreds of years old. At one point, the old man is chanting and holds the same note for hours, (clearly some kind of re-breathing technique), and the young man ponders what it’s like to have such a different notion of time that you would want to chant the same note for hours. Then he has the insight that a mind that has done that probably has very different thoughts from a mind that hasn’t.

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Have You Seen the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas in Montana?

| by Cheryl Shainmark

This video has lighted up our imaginations! Can you say road trip? Dateline NBC has captured the peaceful and sacred feeling of this wonderful site, called The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas. Located just north of Arlee, Montana, the multi-acre garden is nestled on a beautiful valley that is part of an Indian reservation for the Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Created through the visionary guidance of Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, the Garden aligns positive properties of the physical world…

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If Plants Are Consciousness, What Happens When We Eat Them?

| by Cheryl Shainmark

Last week The New York Times ran an article, Sedate a Plant, and It Seems to Lose Consciousness. Is It Conscious? The new evidence that plants have a type of “conscious,” joins a host of other research indicating that plants are intelligent, understand where they are in space, respond to threats and obstacles, and communicate with each other. We’ve known for years that plants grow faster and lusher when you play the right music or speak nicely to them, but now there is evidence that plants form memories. Does that mean they remember that you were kind to them? And what does it mean now to eat them? What, if any, are the moral or ethical implications?

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