Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Multi-cultural food feast

We’re eating potato latkes, brisket, turkey and gumbo with a side of mac ‘n cheese Xmas day at my daughter-in-law’s parents’ house. It’s our multi-racial family celebration –Jewish, black, Asian relatives gather ‘round the table for blessings and songs, spinning dreidels. With full bellies we stagger into the living room for board games and dancing to rappers, 60s rockers and a bit of jazz.

We’re not a Norman Rockwell portrait of post-war Los Angeles. We’re at the intersection of the new American family blended with my family from Eastern Europe, the Creole, Louisiana-born great grandmother to my grandsons, the auntie from Korea and whatever else fits in the “melting pot” of a large extended family.

Food is a friendly way of sharing cultures. I’ve hosted Passover meals and my grandson’s baptism luncheon. Religious beliefs are just as important as race and ethnicity when it comes to establishing one’s identity. My black daughter-in-law and I go all over the map when we chat about our different holidays and raising children in a country where there’s still a racial divide. When she and my son were expecting their first child I wanted to bond with her so she’d know I’d be a perfect grandmother. I invited her to brunch on a Sunday afternoon. I took her to Leimert Park, an old black neighborhood in South Los Angeles with African shops, men playing drums on the sidewalk and soul food in the local restaurant. We strolled for about 20 minutes then she turned to me and said, “I never come to this neighborhood. Can we go to Canter’s, that Jewish restaurant on Fairfax and eat bagels?”

Like I said, my understanding about race and ethnicity are best served at the dinner table.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Re-connecting with old friends

I get nostalgic this time of year for the teens I grew close to when they wrote for L.A. Youth. In L.A. Youth’s 22 years of publishing I’ve known hundreds (make that thousands) of teens – writers, illustrators, photographers – who joined the staff to share their personal story, or fueled by tenets of social justice, or just looking for a friendly place to hang out. These days I hear from many more young people than I used to (we’re on Facebook), “Are you still there?”

“Yes, we’re here.” I assure them. “We’re thriving and surviving. How old are you?”

“I’m 30 and wrote for the paper in the mid 90s.”

“Eekk! That means I’m getting older, too.”

When I hear the time frame it jogs my memory. I flashback to the face though not always the stories he or she wrote. “So what have you been doing since we last spoke?”

The answers range from, “I’m in grad school,” to “working at a boring job to pay off student loans.” A few are roaming the world with a backpack and a Europass.

“How many are working as journalists?” I’m often asked.

“One or two is my standard answer.” Few teens look to a future career in a newsroom. More often they lean toward education or social service. Legal careers mean representing immigrant rights, not partnerships at prestigious law firms.

There’s a sadness that comes over me when I hear from a few who are struggling with hardships – moving from shelter to shelter with an infant in tow; a Starbuck’s barrista earning low wages and sleeping on a friend’s couch; an emancipated foster youth kicked out of transitional living quarters for a series of transgressions. They share other tales of dysfunctional adulthood and all I can do is listen.

Our annual holiday party is Dec. 19. I hug the alums that drop in and spend a few minutes admiring their mature faces and laughing about the good times when they were teenagers spending hours in my office. My memory rush is full in the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Don't Feed the Homeless!

“Meet me at Third and Fairfax,” is the landmark sign in front of the Farmer’s Market. It’s a must-see on tourist maps, a great place for sampling ethnic food with a comfortable ambience to spend an afternoon. My office is three blocks east so I frequently meet colleagues for leisurely lunch and good conversation.

Charlotte Gusay and I sat under the elm tree between The Gumbo Pot and the Pizzeria food stalls. My seafood gumbo was spicy and welcome on the cool fall day. The garden salad was sprinkled with roasted pecans, accompanied with a corn muffin. Quite a hardy lunch. Charlotte nibbled on her toasted chicken salad.

We pushed aside our lunch trays and continued the conversation. A young man, mid-30s, clean shaven, casually dressed with a backpack slung over his shoulder approached us and inquired if he could have the remains of our lunch. “Absolutely, I responded.”

He picked up our trays and walked to a nearby table. “You can’t eat that food,” the security guard sternly told the man.

“I gave it to him,” retorted Charlotte, “we’re finished and he’s hungry.”

“It’s against the Farmer’s Market rules, this is private property. He’s “panhandling” and we don’t allow that.

“People are hungry,” I shouted at the guard as I jumped up from my seat. “He can eat at our table.”

“No,” as he called for another guard.

“Give me back my food and I’ll wrap it up for him,” I challenged.

Again, “No, it’s against the rules.”

By this time we were attracting attention from other customers. “Please give him my bottle of water,” said the elderly lady at the next table.

The young man was insulted, clearly he was not used to a public display of his situation. He attempted to defend his rights and ward off the humiliation. To no avail. The guards escorted him out of the Farmer’s Market. A gentleman at the next table followed them to the street hoping to provide assistance to the homeless fellow. He, too, was not allowed to buy lunch at the Farmer’s Market for the young stranger. He gave him five dollars to buy lunch somewhere else.

We were helpless as we watched the waitress remove food trays from the tables, all laden with enough leftovers to feed more than a dozen hungry people. I thought this is the season of giving.