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Fix

Spring 2015
Defending press
freedom in
Southeast Asia
The complexities
of dam removal
Finding beauty in loss
Parenting through the
fog of mental illness
$8

Oregon Humanities (ISSN


2333-5513) is published triannually by Oregon Humanities,
813 SW Alder St., Suite 702,
Portland, Oregon 97205.
We welcome letters from
readers. If you would like to
submit a letter for consideration, please send it to the
editor at k.holt@oregonhumanities.org or to the
address listed above. Letters
may be edited for space or
clarity.
Oregon Humanities is
provided free to Oregonians.
To join our mailing list, email
o.hm@oregonhumanities.
org, visit oregonhumanities.
org/magazine, or call our
office at (503) 241-0543 or
(800) 735-0543.

edit or
Kathleen Holt
a rt di r e ct or
Jen Wick
com m u n ications
co or di nat or s
Ben Waterhouse
Eloise Holland
cop y edit or
Alex Behr
com m u n ications/
pu bl icat ions i n t er n
Priscilla Wu

Oregon Humanities

edit or i a l a dv is ory
boa r d
Debra Gwartney
Julia Heydon
Guy Maynard
Win McCormack
Greg Netzer
Camela Raymond
Kate Sage
Rich Wandschneider
Dave Weich

Spring 2015

Departments

Features: Fix

4
Editors Note

12
Full Circle

6
Field Work
Oregon Black Pioneers
exhibition Race and policing
programs Excerpt from Think
& Drink with Barry Lopez OH
News OH online OH Public
Program Grants
11
From the Director
40
Posts
Readers write about Fix.

by pu ts ata r e a ng
Photos by k i m oa n h ngu y en

Two journalists return to their


native countries hoping to help.
18
The Problem with the
Immigration Problem
by e l l io t t you ng

Whats behind the belief that


immigrants harm our society?
22
The River Fix
by va l e r i e r a pp

28
Perhaps, Perhaps
by robe rt a r e l l a no

A son waits for his alcoholic


father to stand up.
31
Kansas in Technicolor
by gr et ch en iceno gl e

After a mastectomy, finding


the beauty in loss
34
Resume Usual Activity
by ja m i e pa s s a ro

Parenting through the fog of


mental illness

Dam removal isnt simple, and


neither are rivers.

44
Read. Talk. Think.
Spent edited by Kerry Cohen
Loitering by Charles DAmbrosio
Overstory: Zero by Robert Leo
Heilman Get It While You Can
by Nick Jaina The Brightwood
Stillness by Mark Pomeroy
Drone by Adam Rothstein
Untangling the Knot edited by
Carter Sickels

PHOTO BY SHAWN RECORDS

46
Croppings
Gordon Parks: Segregation Story
at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland

Oregon Humanities

Editors Note
Beyond Repair

ithin a minute of what sounded like an explosion,

a fire
truck, sirens blaring, raced past our house. Out the living
room window, the beautiful blue sky, so unthinkable and alluring for a February afternoon, was nearly obscured by thick,
black smoke.
Somethings on fire, I said. My husband and I, followed by
our kids, rushed out onto the porch, each of us bare- or sockfooted, then down the steps and to the corner where several of
our neighbors already stood looking north: one block away, a
truck was engulfed in flames, and fire fighters were working to
extinguish the blaze.
We watched as a fire fighter and paramedic darted toward
the drivers door, then back, shying away from the heat. Soon
the fire was under control, and they approached again, disappearing beyond our view. In a minute, they reappeared wheeling a gurney with a sheet-covered figure lying prone atop it. Moments later, an ambulance sped off.
The kids in the neighborhood were almost giddy, strangely
energized by the event that had split wide open what had been a
typical Saturday. We adults puzzled through what we had seen
and heard: An accident? But there was no other vehicle and the
burning truck was parked on the side of the street. An explosion,
then, but how? And the fire truck: how did it get there so fast?
When it became clear that we couldnt make sense of what had
happened, couldnt help each other or the driver of the truck or
the fire fighters and paramedics in any way, we drifted back to
our homes and went on with our days.
Hours later, a tow truck came and took the blackened truck
away. My five-year-old son was shooting baskets in front of our
house. He, my husband, and I watched as it drove past. Thats a
new truck, my husband said. What happened? I went inside
and searched online and eventually found a brief news article
about the fire: The driver was in critical condition. Police said

he had been involved in a domestic dispute just before the incident and had used an accelerant to set the truck and himself
on fire. Witnesses tried to put the flames out with a blanket. I
whispered the information to my husband and we exchanged a
glance, each of us feeling helpless.
That night, I heard my son crying in his bed. I cant stop
thinking about the fire, he whimpered when I went to check on
him. I crawled in next to him and wiped the tears from his face
the same wide, soft face Id gazed at over the years that, at times,
reminded me of the moon. I put my arm around his solid little
body and whispered the things parents whisper in the dark to
calm their frightened children: dont worry, I love you, Ill protect
you, youre safe.
Early the next week, the newspaper reported that the man,
only twenty-six years old, had died from his injuries. In smaller
conversations, those of us whod stood on the corner that Saturday puzzled again: Was there anything anyone could have done
for him? Before the accelerant and the flames and the overpowering black smokeanything?
Later in the week, I was home from work before my family
and, through the screen door, heard their voices as they made
their way up the sidewalk. I went onto the porch to meet them.
My sonwearing his bike helmet, one hand clutching his monkey lunch box, the other his beloved blanketwas hurriedly
making his way up the steps toward me.
Guess what? he said, jubilant. I saw that tow truck today
and it had the burned-up truck on it, but its all fixed! Its okay!
Do you think it was the same truck? I said, though I knew it
couldnt be. That truck, Id seen it. It was beyond repair.
He thought for a moment. I dont know for sure, Momma,
he said, looking up at me, his face, again, the moonaglow,
beatific, hope and light in the dark. But I really think it was.
k at h l een holt, Editor
k.holt@oregonhumanities.org

Cover Art Ideas for Safe


We are excited to feature the work of new
writers and artists in the pages of Oregon
Humanities. The cover of this issue is Ground
Control by Bill Finger.
If youre an artist and have work that we
might consider for the Summer 2015 issue,
on the theme Safe, wed love to know
about it. Please familiarize yourself with our
publication (back issues viewable online at
oregonhumanities.org), then send us the

following by June 8, 2015:


A high-resolution digital image (300 dpi
at 8 x 10; scans or photographs, JPEG
or TIFF)
Your name, the title of the work, the type
of media, as well as contact information
(email and phone number)
Description of the relationship of the
image to the theme
Please consider the constraints of a

magazine cover (e.g., vertical orientation,


nameplate, and cover lines). We are most
interested in works by Oregon-based artists.
Submissions can be sent to
art@oregonhumanities.org or by post
to Oregon Humanities magazine,
813 SW Alder St. Suite 702, Portland,
OR 97205.

Spring 2015

Oregon Humanities

Field Work
H U M A N ITI E S ACRO S S OR E G ON

Tenth Annual Les Femmes


Debutante Ball, 1961. Photo
courtesy of the Oregonian

A Community on the Move


An exhibition by Oregon Black Pioneers shares
the history of African Americans in the state.

HE HISTORY OF OR EGONS A FR ICA N

Americans is largely unknown, explains


Willie Richardson, board president of Salembased Oregon Black Pioneers. Our mission
is really to break through that misconception
that there isnt any black history in Oregon by
lifting it up, says vice president Gwen Carr.
The nonprofits latest effort is A Community on
the Move, an exhibit at the Oregon Historical

Society focusing on Portlands African American community in the 1940s and 50s, which is
funded in part by Oregon Humanities. It runs
through June 28, 2015.
The exhibit, accompanied by a series of
community dialogues, takes its name from
interviews with longtime black Portlanders,
many of whom came to Oregon to build ships
for World War II. Many lived in the city of Vanport, which flooded in 1948, forcing its residents to move again. Construction of Interstate
5, the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, and the
Veterans Memorial Coliseum destroyed more

African American homes and businesses.


In the exhibit hall, African American doctor DeNorval Unthanks optical case stands
near the story of Portlands own Tuskegee Airmen. Music from the clubs on North Williams
Avenuesometimes called The Stemplays
overhead. The jazz venue the Dude Ranch was
described by jazz historian Robert Dietsche as
the Cotton Club, the Apollo Theater, Las Vegas
and the Wild West rolled into one.
For Richardson and Carr, quotations from
African American Portlanders are among the
most powerful elements. Somehow when
you read the wordsgood, bad, and ugly
that makes it an intimate experience, makes
it personal, Carr says. On one panel, former
shipyard worker and professor McKinley Burt
recalls coming to Portland: I wasnt expecting Shangri-la, you know, being from the South.
But its so far north you contemplate a difference, like you thought New York was. But it
wasnt like that.
Recollections of White Trade Only signs
along Union Avenue (now Martin Luther King
Jr. Boulevard) appear next to an explanation
of housing discrimination known as redlining.
Percy Hampton, the child of shipyard workers,
remembers continuing the civil rights struggle:
We were talking about holding the government
accountable for poverty, for the lack of affordable health care, for the way urban renewal
was eating away at the black parts of town, and
especially for the fact that the cops werent
being held accountable for violence.
Richardson and Carr hope visitors will draw
their own conclusions about how this history
relates to 2015. Still, Richardson says, In order
to have a clue about charting a future path, you
really have to know what your past is about.
ER IC G OL D

To Protect and Serve


Oregon Humanities-led series invites all
perspectives to the table to talk about race and
policing in Portland

N FEBRUA RY 14, 2015, A BOU T T WO

dozen peopleincluding community


leaders and students, activists, and academicsgathered at the Kenton Library in North
Portland to talk about race and policing. The
conversation was part of a series organized by
Oregon Humanities and supported by a grant

Spring 2015

from the Emily Georges Gottfried Fund.


Portland has a deep history of antagonism
between police and communities of color. The
series was inspired by a desire to offer a different kind of exchange locally around a topic that
has inspired a passionate, and often divisive,
national conversation following the recent
deaths of black men at the hands of police
officers.
We dont talk to each other enough across
boundaries, says Reiko Hillyer, a professor
of history at Lewis & Clark College who led
the Kenton Library discussion. Face-to-face
conversation is important to create awareness,
understanding, indignation, and connection to
our communities. Everyone needs to be talking
about this.
Hillyer asked participants to break up into
groups of two and three to talk about their
experiences with the police, both positive
and negative. After sharing personal stories,
the group talked about concepts like broken
windows policinga widely accepted style
of policing based on the theory that focusing
on enforcing minor laws and keeping order
will prevent more serious crime from taking
place. As one program participant pointed out,
everyone has unconscious biases, and critics
of broken windows policing say this style of
enforcement allows biasesparticularly those
based on raceto determine the outcomes of
police interactions.
Overall, the February discussion series
brought together two hundred people at seven
libraries and community spaces across the city.
Events included a screening of the film In His
Own Home, followed by a panel featuring the
director Malini Schueller; a forum featuring
new Portland police chief Larry ODea with
the City Club of Portland; and five facilitated
conversations at three Multnomah County
library locations, the Center for Intercultural
Organizing in North Portland, and Mt. Hood
Community College in Gresham.
Hillyer hopes that participants left her discussion with a sense of responsibility about
what needs to happen next. She ended the discussion by inviting everyone to think about
how police could play a more positive role in
our communities. We need to begin to imagine a world other than the one we have, she
says. It is not inevitable; injustices can be
undone and a new world can be created.
EL OISE HOL L A N D

Face-to-face
conversation is
important to
create awareness,
understanding,
indignation, and
connection to our
communities.

Want to keep
up with the
humanities in
Oregon?
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to sign up for our monthly
enewsletter
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Oregon Humanities

Oregon Humanities News


THIN K & DR IN K 2015 Oregon
Humanities 2015 Think & Drink series
continues on May 21 at the Alberta Rose
Theatre in Portland with writer and activist Walidah Imarisha. Imarisha is a Conversation Project leader whose program,
Why Arent There More Black People
in Oregon? A Hidden History, is one of
the most frequently requested and highly
attended offering in the Oregon Humanities catalog. Later this year, award-winning
essayist Eula Biss, whose book On Immunity explores the fear of vaccinations, will
be the Think & Drink guest on July 30. More
information about both events are available
at oregonhumanities.org.
CON V E R S AT ION PROJ ECT Oregon
Humanities will present Conversation Project discussions in twenty-four communities
around the state this spring. This seasons
programs address topics such as the purpose of the Second Amendment, how we
find community in the age of the Internet,
and the future of racial diversity in Oregon.
Visit our calendar at oregonhumanities.org
to find a discussion near you. Want to host a
conversation in your community? Through
May 31, 2015, nonprofits and community
groups may apply to host discussions to be
held from July through October 2015.
DE A R STR A NGER : FI X Oregon
Humanities letter-writing project, Dear
Stranger, which invites Oregonians to send
a personal letter to someone theyve never
met and receive a letter in exchange, continues this spring on the theme Fix. To
participate, write a letter about something
youve repaired and send it, along with a
self-addressed, stamped envelope and a
signed release form to Dear Stranger, c/o
Oregon Humanities, 813 SW Alder St.,
Suite 702, Portland Oregon 97205. Letters must be mailed by May 8, 2015, to be
exchanged. You do not have to include any
contact information in the body of your letter. For more information and to download
a release form, visit oregonhumanities.org
or call Ben Waterhouse at (503) 241-0543,
ext. 122.

Awake and Afraid


An excerpt from Think & Drink with writer
Barry Lopez

U R ING HIS FE BRUA RY T HIN K &

Drink conversation with Oregon Humanities Executive Director Adam Davis, awardwinning writer Barry Lopez encouraged the
audience in the sold-out Alberta Rose Theatre to turn to stories, elders, and each other
when working to right the wrongs in the world.
Heres a brief excerpt from the conversation;
the full event is available to view or listen to at
oregonhumanities.org.
ADAM DAVIS: In a couple different places in
your writing, especially A Dark Light in the
West [published in the Georgia Review], on
racism and reconciliation in the West, you talk
about ways that Oregonians misunderstand
their own history, to some extent. I guess I
want to ask if you think that is still true now.
Do you think there are things about us that we
dont pay sufficient attention to?

Having been a part of this community for more than 100 years, weve learned just how
important it is to be involved. Whether its planting a tree, reading to a child or proudly
supporting Oregon Humanities, were working to strengthen our community.

Insurance, Retirement,
Investments and Advice.
standard.com

Spring 2015

TIM L ABARGE

BA R RY LOPEZ: Oh, of course. Its easy to


feel, if you grow up in this country, that youre
informed and to miss entirely that you dont
know whats going on. The world is incomprehensible, and thats part of what makes it so
profoundly beautiful.
Its really, really hard to become a fullblown human being. And when you are making
that effort all the time, youre so aware of the
ways in which you fail and you fall short in your
own eyes, and you fall short in the eyes of others. I think we all have similar ways of dealing
with what comes over us, which is were afraid.
Were afraid to be alive. It is a difficult thing,
and it is easy to become afraid. You should
become afraid. The more awake you are, the
more afraid you should be, I think. And we all
take this step that I wrote about in that essay,
which is to just ignore the things that contradict the bliss that we think we have here.
[We] rearrange the past in order to be able
to bear the present, and you do this thing that
I call colonizing the past. And you know, thats
Oregon Humanities Executive
Director Adam Davis (left) and writer
Barry Lopez at Think & Drink on
February 5. Photo by Tim LaBarge

A Partnership to Promote Public


Conversation Around Palliative Care

The Cambia Health Foundation is proud to partner with Oregon Humanities to


help communities across Oregon talk about what matters most.
Learn more at oregonhumanities.org

10

Oregon Humanities

happened in Oregon. Oregonians believe that


theres less racism in Oregon than there might
be in, say, Alabama, and I would say, no. There
are so few people of color here that the issues of
racism that have to be dealt with have remained
unspoken. Nobody really talks about them.
The answer to not being overwhelmed is
to recognize that youre in a community. If we
dont do that, we cant face the things that overwhelm us. Nobody is in this alone. Were in this,
for better or worse, with each other.

Off the Page


Oregon Humanities expands online.
TIM L ABARGE

Be a conversation
starter
When you join our sustaining donors circle, for as little
as $10 per month, you help create more connected,
imaginative, and vital Oregon communities.
Plus, youll get great benefits, like tickets to Think &
Drink and a limited-edition O.Hm. pint glass to match.

ave you checked out the Maga zines


Extras page at oregonhumanities.org
recently? With the help of a grant from the
James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation,
Oregon Humanities has been exploring new
ways to share and explore ideas. These include
online-only essays and podcasts and videos
inspired by stories from Oregon Humanities.
One of those videos is Future: Portland,
inspired by Ifanyi Bells essay The Air I
Breathe in the Quandary issue. Produced in
partnership with Brushfire Creative Partners,
the video features black community leaders
talking about making a home in the whitest
major city in America. It debuted in March
and, as of press time, has been watched nearly
26,000 times.
All of these videos, podcasts, and stories
may be found at oregonhumanities.org/
magazine-extras/.

Set up your monthly gift today at oregonhumanities.org.

2015 Public Program Grants

Oregon Shakespeare Festival


(Ashland); $7,500

Southern Oregon Historical Society


(Medford); $7,500

This February, the Oregon Humanities board


of directors awarded $59,900 in grants to
thirteen nonprofit organizations around the
state. These grants will support public programs on topics such as local history, naturalization, and criminalization. To learn more
about the organizations listed below (sorted
alphabetically by city) and their grant-funded
projects, visit oregonhumanities.org.

Clatsop Community College


(Astoria); $5,408

Boom Arts (Portland); $5,625

Cannon Beach History Center and


Museum (Cannon Beach); $2,800
Josephy Center for the Arts and Culture (Joseph); $3,750
Eastern Oregon Regional Arts Council/
ArtsEast (La Grande); $5,204
Rogue Community College Foundation (Medford); $3,488

Hand2Mouth (Portland); $3,375


K BOO Foundation (Portland); $4,500
Miracle Theatre Group (Portland);
$2,250
Pathfinders of Oregon (Portland);
$5,000
Skanner Foundation
(Portland); $3,500

Spring 2015

KIM NGUYEN

11

Questions as Tools
A DA M DAV IS

W E N T Y- F I V E Y E A R S A G O I
worked for a man who wouldnt answer
questions. We worked in the woods and sometimes our work was dangerous. One afternoon
Randy made a bad choice with a chainsaw and
a large section of tree from above suddenly
hurtled through the air and just missed him.
In silence Randy walked away from the snag
he had been cutting. He handed the saw to me
and kept walking. I had hardly used a chainsaw before. I had a lot of questions. Randy was
somewhere behind me, lost in the trees.
What I wanted from Randy was fairly
straightforward: I wanted to know how I could
safely take a tool I was unfamiliar with into a
dense tangle of fallen trees. I wanted him to
tell me what to dowhether to cut from above
or below, which limb to cut first, and when and
where I should run. I remember very clearly
that I yelled in the direction Randy had gone:
Just this once. Tell me just once what I should
do. I wont ask again.
Two years later I worked for a man who
stood above me and yelled as I cut two-by-fours

F ROM TH E DI R ECTOR

and other pieces of lumber. Bernie poured


forth answers to questions I hadnt begun to
think up, most of them unprintable here. He
delighted in demonstrating greater knowledge
than those around him.
Working for Bernie, I never knew enough.
And even when I thought I knew what I ought
to be doing, I was still incapable of getting my
hands to do it. Plumb, flush, and level eluded
me. The more Bernie told me how I should do
things, the further away they got. At night,
worn out, I could only think of Bernie telling
me how it ought to be done and what time I
would have to be back at work the next morning. I had no time for questions.
Now the chainsaw and the circular saw are
mostly gone from my life. Instead I use questions as tools. Theyre strange tools, in part
because the questions I most like are those
that get past the instrumental. Reflective questionsquestions about meaning rather than
knowledge, questions that one can only answer
for oneself if often in conversation with othersthese, I believe, are the most important
tools we have available to us.
When I was using chainsaws and circular
saws at work for Randy and Bernie, I was working on becoming. I think most of us are working
on this most of the timeand whether were
working on it or not, were doing it. And its here
that reflective questions are important tools and
perhaps the best way of becoming: becoming ourselves, becoming communities, becoming more.
What I thought I wanted from Randy was an
answer. What I thought I wanted from Bernie
was a chance to come up with my own answer.
What I want nowand what I think we most
needare shared questions. How should we
protect ourselves? What do we mean by community? When do we feel most free, most connected, most alive?
I lost contact with Randy only a few months
after he handed me the saw and walked into the
woods. There was one answer he was regularly
comfortable providing. When I would prepare
to lay out my sleeping bag and he was getting
ready to go into his tent, I would ask him, Hey,
do you think its going to rain tonight? He
would pause with a hand on the fly of his tent.
He would look up at the sky and then he would
look almost at me. Oh yeah, he would say, its
going to rain. And then he would pause again,
a little longer and say, Maybe not here, but
somewhere, its going to rain.

12

Oregon Humanities

Full Circle
Two journalists return to their native
countries to help other journalists
express dissent.
BY PU TSATA R E A NG
PHOTOS BY K IM NGU Y EN

THAILAND
Arthit
Suriyawongkul,
a blogger
from the
Bangkok-based
Thai Netizen
Network,
works to
protect Internet
freedom and
digital rights.

13

Spring 2015 Fix

There may be times when we


are powerless to prevent injustice,
but there must never be a time
when we fail to protest.
ELIE W IESEL

H E N I FI R ST M ET T U Y E N * i n t he su m mer of
2013, she shook my hand and smiled nervously, her eyes
darting left and then right, right then left. She scanned the area
around us, flicking her glance past my shoulders. You could see
it in her eyes: the alertness, the taking in, the careful calculating that becomes habit to someone accustomed to being under
surveillance. We were in Manila, one thousand miles across the
Pacific Ocean from her home in Hanoi, but fear had followed her.
By then, she had been living in exile for nearly nine months
one among Vietnams numerous bloggers forced to flee because
theyd exercised a privilege that many of us in the United States
take for granted: the right to speak freely.
In Vietnam, we have a joke, Tuyen said. We have freedom
of expression, but not freedom after expression.
The joke refers to Vietnams record of being the second biggest jailer of bloggers in the world, following China. Tuyen was
certain that had she remained in Vietnam, she would have been
arrested for blogging about a range of controversial social, environmental, and political issues in her country.
Around the world, bloggers, journalists, authors, and activists are being targeted for exposing injustice. Recent brutal
attacks on freedom of expression propelled the issue into the
global spotlight: the massacre of political cartoonists at the
Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo; the deaths of
Steven Sotloff and James Foley, American journalists who were
among the more than seventy journalists killed covering the
Syrian conflict; and the death of Egyptian poet Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, who was shot by Cairo police at a peaceful gathering to
honor slain activists in Tahrir Square.
The world remains outraged about these high-profile attacks
on freedom of expression, yet few of these reports focus on
Southeast Asian countries, where those who speak out publicly
about wrongdoing or voice criticism of their government are
quickly silenced. For instance, just one day after the slayings
at Charlie Hebdo, Nerlita Ledesma became the first journalist murdered in the Philippines in 2015. Local media reported
that she was shot four times in the chest by unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle while waiting for a ride to work. Though
the motive for Ledesmas death is still unclear, attackers had
targeted her home two years ago, spraying bullets that barely
missed her daughter. If her death is determined to be workrelated, she will have been the 172nd journalist murdered in

the line of work in the Philippines since 1986,


according to the National Union of Journalists
of the Philippines.
How many people have heard about Sombath Samphone, a much-revered Laotian
environmentalist who disappeared in 2012 in
a state-sponsored kidnapping for making too
much ruckus about injustices endured by Laotian farmers forcibly evicted from their homes?
Or Chhut Vuthy, a Cambodian activist who was
found in the trunk of his car, shot dead for trying to expose illegal logging in his country? Or
that the Philippines ranks third in the world
among the deadliest for journalists, according
to the Committee to Protect Journalists?
That such attacks across Southeast Asia
continue unabated and largely unreported by
mainstream media is a big reason why I left
my safe, quiet life in Northeast Portland and
returned to the region in 2013. My year-long
assignment with the international nongovernmental media organization Internews was to
find ways to support journalists in their efforts
to expand freedom of expression since voices
of dissent are increasingly being muzzled

MYANMAR
Lin Thant, a
journalist for
The Irrawaddy,
holds up
a photo of
himself as a
young boy. The
forty-four-yearold journalist
spent more
than nineteen
years in
prison. He was
arrested while
in college when
he protested
against the
Burmese
government.
Three of his
friends were
shot and killed
during the
protest.

14

MYANMAR
Mon Mon
Myat, a
filmmaker
and writer,
is currently
producing a
documentary
film on
political
opposition
leader Aung
San Suu Kyi.
She believes
journalism is a
way for truth
telling and
a necessity
to get
information to
the people.

by threats, intimidation, and by the ultimate


attack on free speech: murder.
The project covered the ten countries that
comprise the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN), including Cambodia, the
country where I was born forty years ago.
Researchers were dispatched across the region
to canvass each Southeast Asian nation and
collect information for what would become the
first large-scale regional research on media
and information ecosystems, with a focus on
the current state of press freedoms.
Through the project, I learned that I
couldnt escape the fact of my own legacy, which
set the path for the rest of my life. After leaving
a career as a newspaper journalist in the United
States, I spent the better part of the last decade
working abroad with writers and journalists in
places like Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. All the while, I made draggy stabs at
living back home in the United States, with a

Oregon Humanities

more valid attempt to settle when I bought a house in Portland.


But living in Portland and sitting at my favorite coffee shop
writing about war and injustice with a soy latte warming my
hands didnt feel quite right. I had unfinished business back in
Southeast Asia, back in Cambodia, where, more than forty years
ago, journalists were among the first to be slaughtered by the
Communist Khmer Rouge regime, launching the country into
a four-year information blackout. In the darkness that presided
over the country, unimaginable horrors unfolded. More than 1.7
million people died.
The world remained largely oblivious to Cambodias killing fields because the Khmer Rouge had so carefully created a
closed, informationless society. And because the world was emotionally fatigued by the Vietnam War and tragedy in Southeast
Asia. And because the storytellers, by then, were dead.

IS T H E R E A N Y T H I NG YOU WOU L D DI E FOR?


I recently asked my best friend, Kim Nguyen, an award-winning
photojournalist working for Internews to take images for our
freedom of expression and right to information project.

15

In Vietnam,
we have a joke,
Tuyen said. We
have freedom of
expression, but
not freedom after
expression.

Spring 2015 Fix

Yes, Kim said, without missing a beat.


Freedom. Thats why my family came here and
risked our lives to be here.
Kims family, of Vietnamese origin, hails
from Laos. When Viet Cong infiltrated her
familys village in Laos, they knew they had
to flee. The Communists had taken over and
began initiating authoritarian policies. Kim
was six years old when she and her family fled
under the cover of dark by boat across a floodplain that fed into the Mekong River. Just days
before the escape, her mother had bought her a
pencil for school. With that pencil, Kims aunt
wrote on the back of a photothe only one that
survived the warthat Kim had just turned six.
Kims family settled in Portland, starting one
of the citys first Vietnamese markets. It still
exists today on 82nd Avenue.
My family left Cambodia in 1975 just as the
murderous Khmer Rouge regime took control
of our country, fleeing on a Cambodian navy
vessel built for a crew of thirty-five. Instead,
nearly three hundred people crammed onboard
for a twenty-six-day odyssey at sea that took
us to the American naval base at Subic Bay in
the Philippines. We were granted asylum and
wound up in Corvallis.
Kim and I met while journalism majors at
the University of Oregon. While enmeshed
in core curriculum focused on the First

PHILIPPINES
Eighty-threeyear-old tricycle
driver Demetrio
S. Legaspi from
Manila reads the
paper every day,
sometimes with
his granddaughter watching.
He reads all the
newspapers he
can get ahold of.

16

Oregon Humanities

With American passports and all the


accompanying privileges, we were
returning to see our people still stuck in
a cycle of injustice and increasing human
rights abuses.
CAMBODIA
Land activist
Youm Bopha
spent over a
year in prison
for protesting
against the
governments
plan to lease
to a private
company
the land
surrounding
her community,
the Boeung
Kak Lake.
Bopha and
thousands of
other residents
were forced
off their land.

Amendment, we eventually collaborated on a


feature story for Flux, the journalism schools
magazine. On UOs predominantly white campus, we examined the challenges Asian Americans face straddling two distinct cultures.
Working on the story helped us examine our
own lives and experiences with war.
Some twenty years later, Kim and I teamed
up again and traveled across the Pacific Ocean,
back to our respective origins, and faced again
the duality of straddling two distinct cultures and countries. In our adopted home of

America, we could pursue our professions, unafraid to cover any


story, free to write and photograph anything we wanted. In our
birth countries, however, journalists like us were being beaten,
threatened, harassed, or worse for doing the same thing.
Going back to our homelands to help was fraught. We felt the
attacks on our fellow journalists keenly and deeply. We appreciated the value and urgency to defend freedom of expression in
a way many of our American colleagues couldnt. We learned in
journalism school about American journalists willing to go to
jail to protect their sources and to honor their profession. We
learned in Southeast Asia that freedom of expression is a matter of survival, that journalists risk their lives to defend their

17

profession because the truth is sometimes all they have.


Early on, Kim and I understood that solving the regions
worsening situation for freedom of expression and diminishing
human rights was an impossible task. But there has to be a first
stirring. Every effort toward improving freedom of expression
in Southeast Asia and in the world builds toward the next. And
Kim and I both met extraordinary bloggers, journalists, and
activists who were all part of that start.
In the Philippines in 2013, I met Grace Albasin, a newspaper
editor who goes to work each morning wondering if she is going
to live out the day and return home safely to her family. Albasin knows too well the dangers of her profession, particularly
in the Philippines. When I met Albasin, she spoke of the democracy in the Philippines and how her country is viewed by media
colleagues and society in the region as a bastion for free press,
whereas tight state control of the media in other countries in the
region means that journalists regularly practice self-censorship and avoid getting on the radar of authorities. Albasin said
freedom of expression comes at a high price in the Philippines,
where journalists can and do express themselves openly and
fervently, only to be targeted by those they dare expose in the
public spotlight. Meanwhile, journalists deaths in other countries in the region such as Burma and Laos are sparse because
journalists there are often too afraid to speak up for fear of retribution by reigning regimes.
My colleague in Burma would be envious of our freedoms,
Albasin said. But meanwhile, were getting killed here. Thats
the irony.
In Cambodia, Kim photographed unintentional advocates
of freedom of expression who began lobbying for the right to
protest after being forcibly evicted from their homes in the capital city, Phnom Penh, to make way for a business owned by a
senators wife to redevelop the site. The protesters had endured
attacks by water cannons while demonstrating against forced
evictions in the Boeung Kak Lake area of the capital. Several of
the women who chose to speak up consequently ended up in jail.
Kim also photographed Burmese journalist, Lin Thant,
a commentator and senior reporter with the newspaper The
Irrawaddy, who returned to his journalism profession after
serving nineteen years in a Myanmar prison. He managed to
survive on a starvation diet. He had no way to speak up, no way
to protest as he was beaten and poorly treated, so instead he
began to eat, piece by tiny piece, the newspaper wrappings of
Burmese cigarettes smuggled to him into jail. He gleaned what
bits of news he could from those small wrappers and ate the
pieces to destroy the evidence.
Throughout the project, Kim and I grappled separately
with the same dilemma of duality: We came from that part of
the world. Our families put their lives on the line to bring us to
safety and freedom. Now, with American passports and all the
accompanying privileges, we were returning to see our people
still stuck in a cycle of injustice and increasing human rights
abuses. Our return as journalists was a reckoning of sorts, a way

Spring 2015 Fix

to come full circle in our own lives and legacies,


a way to use our escapes to help other journalists like Tuyen shape their countries narratives. We knew we couldnt solve the problem of
shrinking freedom of expression in Southeast
Asia in a single year. But we wanted to be part
of the start.
The Vietnam War from which Kims family
fled unfolded more than forty years ago. There
is a new war in Vietnam and across the region
the war on free speech. And in Cambodia, the
authoritarian regime of Prime Minister Hun
Sen has clearly taken a page from neighboring
Vietnam by scrupulously clamping down on
viewpoints that differ from the ruling party line.
When I think about my hope for the pendulum to swing back the other way, for Cambodia and Laos and Vietnam to have functioning
democracies and true freedom of expression,
I think of Tuyen. Like Kim and me, she was
forced to flee to safety so that she could continue
to speak up and speak out. Also like us, she has
committed the rest of her life to the cause.
The right to assert ourselves, the right
to raise our opinions about the wrongdoings
of government, that right is really precious,
Tuyen said. If we dont fight to keep this right,
who will?
When my friends ask me how they can help
the situation, I tell them simply: When you
see an injustice, use your voice. If you can, do
something. But at minimum, use the privilege
you were born into, the right to speak freely.
Speak. And if you can, speak up.
*Notes: Tuyen is a pseudonym to protect the identity of the exiled blogger featured in this story. All
photos in this story appear courtesy of Internews.

Putsata Reang is a Pacific Northwest journalist and author.


She has worked for newspapers including the Oregonian,
the Seattle Times, and the San Jose Mercury News.
Putsata traveled to Cambodia in 2005 under the Alicia
Patterson Journalism Fellowship and has, for most of
the past decade, worked abroad for various international
organizations and nongovernmental organizations training
journalists in investigative reporting and advocating for
social and environmental justice.
Kim Oanh Nguyen is an award-winning photographer based
in Portland. She has worked for the Olympian, Portland
Monthly, CitySearch.com, and other publications.

18

Oregon Humanities

19

Spring 2015 Fix

The Problem
with the
Immigration
Problem
Whats behind the belief that immigrants harm our society?
EL L IOTT YOU NG

JASON STURGILL

N 1 9 1 1 , T W O C O R N E L L U N I V E R S I T Y professors, Jeremia h W hipple Jen k s


and William Jett Lauck, published The Immigration Problem, which laid out an argument for
immigration restriction. The professors were involved with Senator William P. Dillinghams fouryear Immigration Commission, which published its results in a forty-two-volume study that was
and continues to be the most exhaustive treatment of immigration. The Dillingham Commission
concluded that unrestricted immigration was a problem and proposed limitations on southern
and eastern Europeans that would later be enshrined in the first legislation to establish quotas on
immigration in the 1920s.
Well before the professors published their book, immigration to the United States had been
thought of as a problem that needed to be solved. Politicians, journalists, and white trade unionists first singled out Chinese laborers as particularly dangerous due to their hard work, thrift, and
perceived unassimilability. In 1882, Chinese laborers became the first ethnic group to be excluded
from entering the country. Prostitutes and Chinese contract laborers had already been excluded
by previous legislation.
Over the course of the next thirty years, laws blocked entry to all Asian laborers, in addition
to illiterates, convicts, prostitutes, and those with contagious diseases. By the 1920s politicians
had formed a general consensus that migration had to be controlled and severely limited to protect
the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant roots of the country and sustain economic prosperity. Although
such explicitly racist arguments have waned somewhat since the 1960s, the notion that immigration weighs down the economy remains prevalent. The idea that certain ethnic groups are unassimilable looms behind many of the anti-immigrant arguments.

20

Oregon Humanities

Economists have found


that immigration has
been responsible in
large part for American
prosperity and vibrancy.
Ever since immigration restriction began,
there has been an uneasy balance between
the hopes of nativists to stop migration and
the desires of businesses for cheap labor. The
1920s nation-based quotas were designed to
keep out southern and eastern Europeans and
nonwhites to maintain the prevalence of white
northern Europeans in the country. The farm
lobby, dependent upon cheap migrant labor,
demanded and obtained an exemption for
immigrants from the Western Hemisphere,
which meant that Mexicans were not subject
to the quotas. Nonetheless, Mexicans could be
excluded based on their likelihood of becoming
public charges, or based on the results of illiteracy and medical tests. Millions were deported
during the 1930s and 1950s in waves of antiimmigrant hysteria. Immigration legislation
had racial discrimination encoded in its DNA
from the start.
Fifty years ago the United States passed
landmark immigration legislation that dropped
the nation-based and racially discriminatory
quotas, but the ideas that migration should be
limited and that immigrants should be chosen for their skills, education level, and family
connections were further enshrined as foundational principles of any sound immigration
policy. Since 1965, immigration laws have privileged family reunification, skilled workers,
and wealthy migrants over poor and unskilled
laborers with no family links in the United

States. These preferences have become so ingrained in our consciousness that few people question their legitimacy or efficacy.
For more than a century we have operated under the assumption that immigration must be controlled to protect our homeland. This assumption is wrong. Immigration has not hurt our
country; in fact, economists who have studied this question have
found that immigration has been responsible in large part for
American prosperity and vibrancy.
In 2007, the Council of Economic Advisors under President
George W. Bush issued a report that concluded, Immigrants
increase the economys total output. Although measuring
such effects is notoriously difficult, the report estimated that
US workers gain $30 to $80 billion annually as a result of immigration. How can this be? If low-skilled workers come into the
United States, doesnt that drive down the wages for low-skilled
jobs and therefore hurt US workers? The answer is no, not
exactly.
Economist Giovanni Peri has shown that although an influx
of cheap labor drives down wages in certain areas of the labor
market, the benefits of increased economic productivity help US
workers who have shifted to higher skilled and more languageintensive jobs. For example, while average wages for roofers
have declined with an influx of low-wage immigrant workers,
there has been an increased demand for dispatchers and general
contractors who tend to be native US workers. The ones who
are most negatively affected by immigration are actually previous immigrants who are competing directly for the same kinds
of jobs. These average statistics do not mean that there are not
some low-skilled US workers whose wages have declined or who
have been fired, but Bushs Council of Economic Advisors estimated that 90 percent of native-born US workers have gained
from immigration.

21

Some may argue that while a limited number of immigrants


can help the economy, too many will undermine it. Today 13 percent of the population are foreign-born, which is coming close
to the historic high of 15 percent in 1890, causing alarm in some
quarters.
At what point would the presence of foreign workers undermine the economy? The case of Qatar in the United Arab Emirates is a telling example of the upper limits of immigration. Over
88 percent of the workers in Qatar are foreign-born, and they are
mostly guest workers. Obviously the laborers slave-like conditions and their segregated lives as second-class citizens are
not to be admired or emulated, but the presence of these immigrants has economically benefitted Qatari society. Qatar is the
richest country in the world with a per capita gross domestic
product of more than $93,000 a year. In purely economic terms,
immigrant labor helps the economy grow.
The question, however, may not be purely one of economic
benefit but of culture. At what point does the foreign-born population overwhelm native inhabitants sense of cultural identity?
Toronto is a good example of a cosmopolitan city whose population is almost half foreign-born. Toronto remains Canadian, but
it has managed to incorporate and assimilate large numbers of
immigrants and today has one of the fastest-growing economies
in the country.
To put it simply, with a foreign-born population of 13 percent,
the United States is far from being overtaken by immigrants.
Of course, certain US cities have much larger immigrant populations: Miami, 50 percent; Los Angeles, 41 percent; New York
City, 36 percentbut these are all economically and culturally
vibrant places where all sorts of people, foreign and native, want
to live. Immigrants go where the rest of us go: where the jobs are.
Given the economic and cultural diversity benefits of immigration and the relatively low proportion of immigrants in the
country, why is there such a fear of immigrants flooding the
United States? Part of the answer has to do with the story we
have been telling ourselves for more than a century about immigrants threatening our welfare. We spend so much time, energy,
and resources trying to prevent immigration that we forget to
ask whether there is a problem that needs fixing in the first place.
The 2014 vote to legalize marijuana in Oregon provides an
interesting analogy for how we may get beyond the immigration fix. The panic over marijuana in the United States began
during the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s with an influx of
Mexican immigrants, with whom the drug was associated. By
the 1930s, marijuana had been declared illegal by twenty-nine
states, and the film Reefer Madness in 1936 created a general
panic about the violent and criminal effects that the drug
would have on its users.
In spite of this generalized hysteria and harsh drug laws
that have put more than six hundred thousand people each year

Spring 2015 Fix

behind bars for marijuana use, Oregon voters


decided that the problems of marijuana were
mostly associated with its illegality and not its
use. Its not that there are no problems caused
by marijuana use, but voters decided that the
costs of criminalizing the activity far outweighed the benefits.
In the same midterm election where the
majority of voters decided to legalize pot, they
also voted overwhelmingly to deny drivers
licenses to undocumented immigrants. Given
the lopsided vote, it seems like a good number
of people who were able to overcome the panic
about marijuana still believe the hype about
immigration.
Why do we continue to believe that immigrants harm our society and need to be excluded
and denied basic rights once in the country? Its
simply because we have been focused on fixing
the wrong problem. Throughout the twentieth
century, economic crises have led to heightened
immigration restrictions and more deportations. However, immigrants are not the cause
of the economic crises but may be part of the
solution.
Many who argue for tougher immigration
restrictions argue that its not immigration
that they oppose but illegal entry. The restrictions, however, are what drive the illegality. The
solution is simple: make it easier for people to
migrate legally and the problem disappears. We
dont have an immigration problem. We have a
war on immigrants problem.
Its not that legalization of pot or immigrants will make all problems associated with
pot or immigrants go away, but it will make the
biggest problems disappear. Sometimes the
need to fix something is the problem.

Elliott Young is professor of Latin American and


Borderlands history at Lewis & Clark College. Young
has published two books on borderlands history,
Catarino Garzas Revolution on the Texas-Mexico
Border and Continental Crossroads, both by Duke
University Press. His most recent book is Alien
Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the
Coolie Era through World War II (University of North
Carolina Press).

22

Oregon Humanities

Dam removal isnt simple.


Neither are rivers.
VA L ER I E R A PP

AST OF PORTLAND, THE SANDY The Bull Run Hydroelectric Project included the Marmot Dam
River purls downhill from the glaciers on the Sandy River and a smaller dam on the Little Sandy River.
of Mount Hood and flows into the River water was diverted into wooden flumes and eventually
Columbia. Along its fifty-five miles, the into tunnels dug by hand through mountains. Finally it dropped
Sandy has it all: icy cold whitewater, wilderness, six hundred feet to the powerhouse on Bull Run River. The
old growth, and wild fishChinook and coho elaborate hydraulic engineering powered the razzle-dazzle of
salmon, steelhead, and coastal cutthroat trout. a growing Portland. It also blocked migrating salmon and steelOver two-thirds of the watershed is national for- head from about 280 miles of high-quality river habitat, mostly
est, wilderness, or protected conservancy areas. above Marmot Dam.
In the early twentieth century, Portland
Like all private dams in the United States, the Marmot
General Electric (PGE) engineered the Sandys Dam operated under a license from the Federal Energy Reguwatershed to power electric lights in Portland. latory Commission (FERC). Licenses are issued for thirty- to

JOHN GUSSMAN

JOHN GUSSMAN

23

fifty-year periods and when they expire, dam owners have to


apply for renewal. Increasingly, salmon and watershed advocates are looking at FERC relicensing as a once-in-a-career
opportunity to overhaul dam operations so that ecological
needs are balanced with human needs. Conditions attached to
a new FERC license can result in far more watershed restoration
than a hundred smaller projectsriverbank plantings, added
logjamscould ever accomplish.
By 1999, the FERC license for the Bull Run Project was in
its final years. John Esler, currently PGEs licensing project
manager, was working on the Sandy relicensing application
when he realized it didnt pencil out. The project produced

only a fraction of PGEs power supply at a high


cost per kilowatt hour and, because the Sandy
Rivers spring and fall Chinook salmon, winter steelhead, and coho salmon were listed as
threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, he knew PGE would be
required to add fish passage and other mitigations as conditions of relicensing.
PGE went to federal and state agencies
and proposed dismantling the hydro project
instead of relicensing it. The company ran into
opposition where it expected support: from the
state agency for salmon, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). ODFW
didnt want to lose the money PGE gave it for
a salmon hatchery, as mitigation for the dams
impacts on wild salmon. Esler says, Agencies
dont hate dams, they hate change. Theyre
addicted to the mitigation money they get from
dams. Eventually, ODFW and all other agencies supported the dam removal.
In July 2007, after years of negotiations and
planning, the forty-seven-foot-high Marmot
Dam was dynamited. As planned, a temporary
earthen cofferdam continued to block the river
until fall rains raised the river level. On October 19, rising water breached the cofferdam.
US Forest Service research hydrologist Gordon Grant and other scientists were watching.
What the river did next amazed these seasoned
scientists who study rising rivers for a living:
it immediately began to cleanse itself of the

Top: Elwha
Dam ceremony,
September 17,
2011. Bottom:
Early stages of
deconstruction
of Glines Canyon
Dam

24

one million cubic yards of sediment trapped in


the reservoir. A knickpointwhere a river has
a sudden change in gradientformed on the
cofferdam, which eroded quickly over the next
forty-five minutes. As the eroding current got
stronger, the knickpoint moved upstream at
hundreds of yards per hour and the 165-footwide cofferdam eroded in several hours. Next
morning, a new gravel bar downstream was the
only sign of the cofferdam.
In one day the river transformed downstream from a single channel to a braided
channel. It created new gravel bars and islands
and resculpted riverbanks. It flushed reservoir
sediments downstream in waves. Grant says
that about 20 percent, or two hundred thousand cubic yards, of the stored sediment was
exported within the first two days, exceeding
all expectations.
Three days after the initial breachand
weeks earlier than fish biologists had predictedcoho salmon swam upriver through the
breach. They swam up a river still turbid with
sediment into habitat where coho hadnt been
in nearly a century.
The Marmot Dam is part of a small, select
group of large dams in the United States that
have been removed in the past decade. Close to
eighty thousand large dams (defined as higher
than twenty-five feet or storing more than sixteen million gallons) have been built in North
America, most in the twentieth century. In the
last decade, according to the American Rivers
organization, from twenty to fifty dams per
year have been removed or decommissioned.
The removals total less than 1 percent of dams,
but even this small number represents a sea
change in thinking: from constructing dams as
tools for human convenience to removing dams
to restore rivers and fish, including salmon. If
dam removal is seen as a quick fix, however, it
reflects an arrogance that humans can engineer natural systems and completely control

We now know that


a dam fixes a river
like neutering
fixes a male dog.

Oregon Humanities

the results. Dam removal can become the latest iteration of the
simplistic view that rivers are merely channels with dams as
stoppers that can be put in and taken out.
IN THE L ATE 1800S, ENGINEERING advances made it
feasible to build large dams and the invention of alternating current made it possible to transmit electricity long distances: river
water could be turned into abundant electricity, replacing coals
foul smoke and dangerous kerosene.
Dams on the Pacific Northwests rivers solved other problems as well. Winter storms flooded young cities like Eugene and
Portland. Untreated sewage, pulp mill wastes, and other industrial effluents were discharged directly into the Willamette and
other rivers. In winter, all these foul discharges flushed downstream, but during low summer flows, a stench rose from rivers.
Dams in the mountains controlled disastrous winter floods and
released water gradually over the summer, diluting the wastes
poured into rivers.
Demands for electricity, flood control, irrigation water,
and waste dilution propelled the construction of large dams
throughout the Pacific Northwest. When the last dams were
finished in the 1970s, three-fourths of the Pacific Northwests
power came from hydroelectricity, and electricity rates were
the cheapest in the nation. Water from reservoirs irrigated millions of acres in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
Since little was known about river ecology, people believed
that the year-round stability of river flows benefited fish and
rivers as well. But we now know that a dam fixes a river like
neutering fixes a male dog. The dam cuts the rivers potency,
upstream and down. Below the dam, the river is starved of the
driftwood logs, gravel, and sand that build riverbeds, gravel bars,
and salmon spawning habitat. Not surprisingly, a fixed channel
eventually suffers channel shrinkage. Water flow is regulated
to meet human needs. Wild salmon, whose life histories are
finely adapted to rivers natural flood pulses and flow changes,
encounter water that is low or high at the wrong seasons. Adult
salmon can climb fish ladders, but young salmon migrating
downstream are chewed up and spit out from dam turbines.
The decline or loss of wild salmon is a loss for the entire
ecosystem. In undammed salmon rivers, scientists have found
that up to 30 percent of the nitrogen in the upstream food web
derives from ocean sources, carried upstream in the bodies of
spawning salmon. Salmons upstream migration brings ocean
nutrients to mountain watersheds, a natural fertilization cycle
that enriches forests.
JUST AS THE LAST LARGE DAMS WERE COMPLETED
in the late twentieth century, several factors converged to create
a time when dam removal became a real possibility. Many wild
salmon stocks were being listed as threatened or endangered,
the first dams built were about a hundred years old and needed
upgrades for safety, and the regional power grid had enough
power sloshing around that the loss of a few small power sources
was not catastrophic. Watershed councils were connecting

people to their watersheds through salmon festivals and weekend projects such as riverbank plantings. The possibility of a
fast explosive cure for damaged rivers was alluring.
But slicing through the snarls of a knotted-up, damaged
ecosystem is not the same as thoughtfully teasing apart the
tangles. Successful dam removal takes teams of hydrologists,
fish biologists, engineers, botanists, and economists to look at
the whole watershed and its ability to rebuild itself. Teamsand
local communitiescan see what costs, benefits, and tradeoffs,
ecological and cultural, are possible in that watershed.
The complexity of a well-designed dam removal is evident
in the story of the biggest dam removal ever done in the United
States, and probably the biggest dam removal in the world: taking out the two dams on the Elwha River on Washingtons Olympic Peninsula.
Glacial meltwater from the Olympic Mountains plunges
through old-growth forest, deep gorges, and open bottomland,
nourishing the Elwha River. Historically, the Elwha had ten
runs of anadromous fishspring and fall Chinook, coho, pink,
chum, and sockeye salmon, plus summer and winter steelhead,
sea-run cutthroat trout, and sea-run bull trout. Although the
Elwha is only forty-five miles long with a hundred miles of tributary streams, about four hundred thousand salmon used to
return every year.
The 105-foot-tall Elwha Dam was completed in 1913 and
completely blocked salmon from all but the lower five miles of
the river. Although state law required fish passage, none was
provided. Run after run of salmon bashed themselves against
the concrete barrier, trying to find a way upriver.
Dick Goin, longtime local fisherman, recalls that even in the
1940s and 50s, quite a few salmon returned to the lower river.
The operation of the dam was always destructive to the fishery, Goin says. Dam electricity mainly powered mills in nearby
Port Angeles. Operators tended to overrun it during the week
and shut it off on the weekend to let it refill. Killed millions of
fish. He remembers seeing big Chinooks, still gravid with eggs,
stranded on suddenly dry riverbed, just flopping.
Upriver, the 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam went online
in 1927. The bedload of gravels and sand that eroded from

Spring 2015 Fix

JOHN GUSSMAN

VALERIE R APP

25

the geologically active Olympic Mountains


dropped in the reservoir behind the Glines
Canyon Dam. With no new gravel and sand
coming downriver, beaches at the river
mouth eroded by up to 150 feet. To the east,
Ediz Hook, the long curved sand spit protecting the harbor of Port Angeles, eroded.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe dreamed
of the Elwha dams being removed some day,
but never thought it would happen. However,
in the 1980s, FERC relicensing was coming
up for the two dams. One night in September
1987, an unknown person painted a giant crack
and the words Elwha Be Free! on the face
of Glines Canyon Dam. Radical group Earth
First! claimed responsibility for the prank.
Slowly the idea transformed from the tribes
dream and monkeywrenchers pranks to an
idea backed by the Friends of the Earth, Seattle Audubon, Olympic Park Associates, and
Sierra Clubs Washington State chapter.
Although the dams were privately owned,
Olympic National Park surrounded the two
dams and included the Elwha backcountry,
about 80 percent of the watershed. National
Park Service and tribal leadership got deeply
involved in the dam relicensing process. By the
early 1990s, federal money was appropriated
to study the idea.
After years of river studies, negotiations,
and meetings with tribes, local residents, and
environmental groups, the decision was made
to remove both Elwha dams. In 2000, the
federal government, which provided most of
the $325 million of the ultimate removal cost,
bought and began operating the dams. Brian
Winter, Elwha River Restoration project manager, says that $75 million of the dam removal
budget was spent on a water treatment plant

Left: Elwha
Dam, before
deconstruction. Right:
The very first
day of dam deconstruction,
September
15, 2011

Oregon Humanities

JOHN GUSSMAN

26

Former Elwha
Dam site in
January 2014

and related work to clear dam-removal turbidity from Port Angeles drinking water: A reality check of what you have to do if you take a
large dam out. Native trees, shrubs, grasses,
and wildflowers were planted or seeded on the
exposed slopes and terraces as reservoirs were
drawn down, to avoid colonization by nonnative plants after removal.
Finally, after years of planning and preparatory work, dam removal started on September
17, 2011. The damsmuch larger than Marmot
and more difficult to removeand powerhouses were deconstructed over three years.
Final pieces of the Glines Canyon Dam came
out on August 26, 2014. The first wild Chinook
salmon returned to the upper river in less than
two weeks. A fish biologist spotted the first redd
(gravel nest built by spawning salmon) above
Glines Canyon on September 29, 2014.
DA M R EMOVA L CA N CERTA IN LY BE
a powerful action to restore rivers. A wellthought-out dam removal is an act of humility. It removes human-made barriers and
frees wild rivers and wild salmon to do what
they know how to do. Reconnecting streams is
highly effective ecologically and can be a costeffective means of restoration. Big flushes of
sediment accumulated behind dams can
rebuild downstream river habitat and, in the
Elwhas case, renew an estuary.
Dam removal can also be powerful for
reconnecting people. Loss of the salmon was a
source of sorrow for the Lower Elwha Klallam
Tribe, but many other people didnt like losing
the dams and the locally generated electricity
for nearby Port Angeles. Before removal began,
the community went through a long consensus-building process that got most people to

support the project.


In cases where upper watersheds are mostly protected wilderness, such as the Elwha and Sandy, dam removal can unlock
miles of high-quality habitat. Eighty percent of the Elwhas
watershed is within Olympic National Park, never logged, with
salmon habitat in excellent condition, and permanently protected as wilderness. The eagerness of wild salmon to return has
surprised even salmon biologists. As with the Marmot Dam site,
wild Chinook salmon and bull trout swam past the old Glines
Canyon Dam site less than two weeks after the last chunks of
concrete came out.
Ecologically, dam removal seems like a no-brainerbut
thats not always so. Dam benefits, such as power with minimal carbon emissions, flood control, irrigation, and reservoir
recreation, have to be balanced against the costs and benefits
of removal. Sediment may hold old industrial toxins. In some
cases, dams effectively separate wild and hatchery stocks of
native fish. Former reservoirs can become hotspots of invasive
plants that are inedible for most wildlife. After a dam is in place
for decades, river systems and human communities adapt to
the dam and reservoir. Relicensing can be a rare opportunity
to require changes in dam operations to benefit fish and rivers.
On the east side of the Cascade Range, the Deschutes River
runs 250 miles north to the Columbia River, through forests of
ponderosa pine, sagebrush rangelands, and canyons of red-brown
rimrock. The 204-foot-tall Pelton Dam sits astride the Deschutes
River west of Madras, and generates enough electricity to power
about 45,000 homes. Besides power, the Pelton Round Butte
Hydroelectric Project provides irrigation and supports recreation
and tourism, especially in popular Lake Billy Chinook.
PGE also owned the Pelton Round Butte project. In the late
1990s, ahead of FERC relicensing, PGE paid for scientific studies of the river, project, and salmon. Research hydrologist Grant
and his team found that the Deschutes was different from other
Pacific Northwest rivers. Because its water came mostly from
porous volcanic rocks, which acted like a giant rocky sponge,
its flow was unusually stable. Unlike the Elwha and Sandy rivers, the Deschutes River had been little changed below the dam.
Little sediment had accumulated behind Pelton Dam.

27

The important
change we should be
considering isnt from
build dams to blow
up dams, but from
rivers are simple to
rivers are complex.
The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation
wanted to buy into the project and change its operations to be
more salmon-friendly. The tribes purchased a share of the project in 2002, with options to eventually buy up to 50.01 percent
ownership. Tribal members worked at the project, and the project powered tribal industries.
In 2005, FERC issued a new license, good for fifty years, to
PGE and the tribes. The multiparty agreement signed earlier
by twenty-two organizations, state and federal agencies, tribes,
and environmental groups became conditions of the new license.
The agreement requires spending about $135 million to
make the project more salmon-friendly. The original fishpassage system failed, and a new fish-passage system has been
built at considerable expense. That system, plus other projects,
should reestablish steelhead and Chinook salmon to the Upper
Deschutes, Metolius, and Crooked rivers.
Some people see relicensing as a chance to take out every dam
up for renewala way to redeem the original sin of damming
free-flowing rivers. Others see any dam removal as a sacrilege,
an attack on the basic infrastructure of Western civilization. As
a scientist, Grant sees relicensing as a chance to honestly evaluate the past, present, and potential future impacts and benefits
of dams. All dams are different, Grant says, and our tradeoff
space is far more complicated than we give it credit for.
Each possible dam removal will be unique, as individual as
our Pacific Northwest rivers, ecosystems, and communities. As
the science of dam removals grows, so-called knowledge bases
and decision-support tools will be developed. They will be useful,
in the way that any flashlight helps when youre exploring in the
dark. But ultimately, dam removal will be as much a social science
as a geomorphic science, a cultural upheaval and readjustment as
much as a river system digesting and sculpting sediments.
Undammed rivers will never be the same as they were
before dams. Terraces of sediments will remain in former reservoirs, and nonnative plant species will have at least a foothold.
Because of climate change, some winter precipitation will fall as
rain instead of snow, mountain snowpack will melt earlier in the

Spring 2015 Fix

spring, runoff will peak earlier, and late-summer streamflows will be lower. Tree species
are already slowly migrating. New ecological
mixes of plants will develop. Some of the insect
outbreaks plaguing our forests have a distinct
climate signal.
The important change we should be considering isnt from build dams to blow up dams,
but from rivers are simple to rivers are complex. We should find ways to work with natural
systems, undo our harm where possible, and let
rivers and wild salmon rebuild watersheds.
We need to get it right with our experiments
on the Elwha, Sandy, and other rivers before we
make decisions about the really big dams of the
Columbia Basin hydropower system, especially
the four federal dams on the lower Snake River.
The completion of these final four dams in the
late 1960s and early 1970s seemed to be the
critical point at which salmon smolt mortality became so high that runs already in decline
crashed to extremely low numbers. Recovery
plans for Columbia Basin salmon have repeatedly been ruled inadequate even though hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually
on attempted recovery efforts.
All the costs, benefits, and mitigations on
the Columbia and Snake rivers will be many
times bigger than they were for the Elwha,
Sandy, and Deschutes rivers. The expected
gain will be a moderate reduction in extinction
risks for salmon. To breach the Snake River
dams, find out we were wrong, and rebuild
them, would be unthinkable.
No dam lasts forever. Concrete crumbles.
Trapped sediment slowly fills reservoirs. Our
rivers will take out every dam eventually, the
same way theyve carved through lava flows
and glaciers in the past. We can decide only if
we want to free some rivers in our lifetimes.
Our vision of dam removal is essentially cultural. On the day that demolition of the Glines
Canyon Dam began, one man said, Its the end
of an era.
Another man replied, Its the beginning of
an era.
Valerie Rapp is a science writer and the author of six books,
including What the River Reveals, Protecting Earths Land,
and Protecting Earths Air. She has collaborated with visual
artist Jennifer Williams on installations using images and
words to explore environmental themes. In 2013 she was a
visiting writer in Alaskas Voices of the Wilderness program.
Her scientific reports and papers have been published by
the US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Oregon Humanities

MIGUEL ARIAS

28

Perhaps, Perhaps
A son waits for his alcoholic father to stand up.
ROBERT A R EL L A NO

Y F A T H E R A N D I A R E I N H I S C A R . I A M d r iving and he is in the passenger seat, his shirt unbuttoned


to his navel, his hair on one side matted forward against his
temple. He is drunk again, or perhaps he is still drunk.
This morning at his apartment we talked. I have come at a
bad time, but the doctor said such a time would be good to confront him. I told my father that I knew from his voice during our
phone conversations recently how much he was drinking. I told
him that as we spoke, he appeared drunk. I told him I thought we
should try to do something about it.
He shook his head while I spoke, as a child might.I dont
deny it. Im a lonely man, he said in slurred Spanish. And after
a pause: It wasnt bad when I was dating L., or when I had a job.

29

I want to leave behind something for you and your brothers and
sisters. Its true he has nothing to do all day; he has nothing
to do at night. He is waitingto get a job, to get a woman. I am
afraid that neither will ever happen.
Miami is a swamp filled in. My father lives in the southwest
section. The houses are pink, the sunsets are orange, and the
Christmas will surely be green. A police car passes and I am worried, but then I realize that I am doing nothing wrong. Beside me
in the passenger seat, my father says, I just dont want them to
make me stand up in front of everybody and tell them that I am
an alcoholic; I dont want to do that. I turn into a parking lot full
of cars, still wet from the afternoon rain.
W HEN I WA S A CHILD, M Y MOTHER WOU LD TELL
me I had a new brain. She and my father were still married, and
my mother would say I had a clean soul. Pray for your father,
she whispered to me when I returned to the pew after receiving
my first Communion. Your prayers are worth very much. To
her, there were no prayers more valuable, more surely at the top
of Gods daily list, than mine that first day I wore my light blue
shirt to take His wafer body and wine blood on my tongue.
Before flying down to Miami I met my mother for coffee.
She spoke to me across the small tabletop about seeing friends,
about the counseling she is getting. Her friends all tell her she
looks terrific. She does. I told her that I was going to Miami to
visit my father. Only when she changed languages to speak to the
waitress did I realize she had been speaking Spanish the whole
time. When our cups were empty she mentioned suddenly, as if
she were indifferent, that she might be interested in speaking
to my father again. I stirred the coffee, saying, Perhaps, perhaps. As I thought about what she said I repeated only these two
strange syllables: perhaps. I did not want her to hear the hum of
my eagerness, my hope. I did not want to hear it myself.
M Y FAT H E R A N D I A R E I N A DA R K , S MOK Y H A L L
full of tables covered with ashtrays and soda cans. A microphone
is getting passed around. People say their first names and everyone in the hall echoes their names back with a hi.
The people speak candidly, fluently about their problems. My
father and I sit in a corner. He is drunk, but they told me on the
phone that it was OK to bring him that way. A young man at our
table leans in close, clasping my fathers shoulder, and says to
him in an anxious whisper, Are you tired of being tired?
My father, slouching forward, says, What do you mean? Im
not tired. The young man has no knowledge of my fathers past,
of my familys struggles. I want to say, Do you know what my
father has gone through to provide for his family, the things he had
to do when he came over to this country?
The young man keeps talking: If you want to stop, youve got
to make a decision to stop. If you want to, at the end of the meeting, take a white poker chip. When they ask if theres anyone
whos made a decision to try to go clean for thirty days, you can
go up and take a chip and that chip will be your symbol. You can
keep it to remind you that you made a commitment.

Spring 2015 Fix

Beside me in the passenger seat, my


father says, I just dont want them
to make me stand up in front of
everybody and tell them that I am
an alcoholic; I dont want to do that.

My father tells the young man, I just dont


want to have to stand up and say my name and
Im an alcoholic. The young man assures him
that he does not have to do anything like that,
just take a chip and make a commitment.
A S T H E M EETING IS EN DING, A
young woman stands up in front and says into
the microphone, Now is the time when we celebrate anniversaries and new beginnings. She
asks if anyone has been clean for a year. The hall
is quiet, people lean forward in their chairs and
turn their heads, but no one stands. The young
woman says, Ninety days? and a middle-aged
woman immediately stands up. Everyone claps
as she walks to the front, and the young woman
embraces her and gives her a red chip. She
returns to her table holding it tightly in a fist.
When the young woman says, Thirty days?
two men come up from the back and again
theres applause. Each of the men takes a blue
chip back to his table.
Now the young woman speaks in a hushed
tone. She says, Is there anyone, new or old, who
would like to try, with the support of us all, to
make a commitment to try and go clean? The
smoky hall is silent. People lean forward and
heads turn. The young man at our table looks at
my father. He is still drunk. A moment before he
seemed almost asleep, but now he feels people
watching him and raises his head. He looks into
my eyes. I cannot tell if he is afraid or annoyed.
His wide eyes seem to say he wants me to make
the decision for him.
I hear myself say, Would you like me to help
you?
My father says, Sure.

30

I watch my father, who once was


my hero and who now drinks
loneliness into forgetfulness, hug
the young woman. She smiles,
squeezing the microphone
beneath her armpit, and presses a
white chip firmly into his hand.
M Y MO T H E R T E L L S A S T ORY OF C OM I N G OV E R
from Cuba. A man wearing a cast on his arm was boarding the
airplane in Havana. The soldiers stopped him and interrogated
him. He was not, of course, allowed to take any money or valuables with him, and they had seen the trick with the fake cast.
The soldiers took off the cast and found nothing. His arm really
was broken, and the man was sent back to the hospital in great
pain. He returned to board the plane the next day, wearing a new
cast. The soldiers waved the man through, and the man came
to this country with $10,000 wrapped tightly under the fresh
plaster. The hardest part for him, my mother tells me, had been
breaking his own arm.

NOW W E A R E U P, W E AV I N G B E T W E E N T A B L E S
and chairs, my hands on his shoulders, guiding him, supporting
him. People clap and pat my father on the back as we pass. They
say things like Were all behind you! and Good luck! When
we reach the young woman, I let go of my father and crouch
down in front of the first row of tables. I watch my father, who
once was my hero and who now drinks loneliness into forgetfulness, hug the young woman. She smiles, squeezing the microphone beneath her armpit, and presses a white chip firmly into
his hand, holding my fathers hand for a long moment between
both of her hands.
The noise of applause is like hard-falling rain, and all the
bright, sympathetic smiles have bedazzled us, my father and
me. I am crying. Tears are streaming down my face, and I am
weeping uncontrollably, gulping for air. My father is asking
the young woman something, cupping his hand to her ear. The
young woman seems unsure and looks over her shoulder to a
man standing in front of the PA. The man nods to her. My father
wants to say something into the microphone.
My father takes the microphone and says his name. The clapping stops and the hall is silent except for the sound of my soft
sobbing. My father, with his loose collar and wrinkled pants,
looks out over my head, his wide-eyed gaze darting about at all
the faces, and says, I am an alcoholic. The applause thunders
back, and I weep out loud again. Someone from one of the front

Oregon Humanities

tables reaches out and places a firm hand on my shoulder.


We are driving home, my father in the passenger seat. My head
feels empty from weeping. My father, his voice sounding more
peaceful than Ive heard it in years, says, You know, it would be
so much better if your mother and I were still together. I stare
straight ahead through the windshield. We would save so much
money. So much more for your brothers and sisters and you.
We return to his apartment, both exhausted, and I decide to
stay and sleep on the sofa. My father insists on getting it ready
for my bed. I go to the bathroom and think through what has
happened. I think of the swamp beneath the vast, thin crust of
white cement they covered it with to make a city. I come out of
the bathroom and find my father sitting on the edge of the couch
in his underwear, a stiff pillow pinned between his boney knees,
working clumsily with the pillow cover. He looks up at me. Its
a good pillow, he says, struggling with the cover. I return to the
bathroom and cry for the second time this evening.

I H AV E SL E P T, SL E P T L ONG . I F E E L R E F R E SH E D.
I am confused upon waking, but I know where I am and remember the night before. I can tell through the closed shade that the
sun is shining. The rooms are warm and fragrant with the scent
of wet grass outside.
The telephone rings and I remain in bed, thinking my father
will answer it.
It keeps ringing and I swing my feet over the side of the bed,
rushing into the hall to answer.
It is my mother. From her first words I can tell that she is
upset about something. She says that it is good that Im the one
who picked up the phone. She tells me that she does not want to
talk to my father after all, that I should forget about arranging a
meeting for them. I ask her what is wrong, what happened. She
tells me she has been speaking to her friends and that they dont
think it would be a good idea. She speaks as if she were angry at
me, as if I had tricked her to consider visiting my father.
I carry the telephone into my fathers room and he isnt
there. I do not know where he is. I sit on his bed. It is unmade.
The shade in my fathers room is closed. I walk to the window.
In front of the shade there is a wooden valet where my father
hangs his jacket and a shallow tray on top where he puts loose
change. There in the dish, along with some pennies and a ball
of blue lint, I see the white chip. My mother keeps talking into
the telephone.

Robert Arellano is the author of six novels published


by Akashic Books and Counterpoint / Soft Skull
Press. In 2014, Literary Arts awarded him an Oregon
Literary Fellowship. He is a professor at the Oregon
Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University.

31

Spring 2015 Fix

After a mastectomy,
finding the beauty in loss
GR ETCH EN ICENO GL E

JEN WICK STUDIO

M A F R A I D I M A D I S A P P O I N T M E N T T O M Y pla stic
surgeon. I wouldnt mind so much, but shes an engaging
woman with an unusual professional history. In her first career
Dr. Murphy studied questions of heat transfer for NASA, but
a plague of political-bureaucratic hassles eventually made her
jump ship for medicine. Shes still an engineer of sortsshe just
gave up mechanical for structural challenges, and abandoned
metal and carbon fiber materials to work with skin, muscle, and
fat.
My plastic surgeon is not a phrase I ever expected to use,
but many of my expectations about how my life would progress
got upended in December 2013, when I was diagnosed with an
aggressive, invasive cancer in my right breast. A California lab
would need another month to determine whether I had a BRCA1
mutation, but when my general surgeon and oncologist tallied
my moms lousy luck (melanoma at thirty-five, inflammatory
breast cancer at forty-five) with my own (triple-negative carcinoma at forty-four), they agreed that Id likely drawn the genetic

32

short stick. The test result later confirmed


their assessment. Your breasts or your life!
was the message I heard. The answer didnt
take much thought, but it did take an emotional reckoning.

TO R ECONSTRUCT OR NOT TO
reconstruct? My first impulseone shared by
my husband, Peterwas to leave well enough
alone. If I could get back to well, back to health,
I thought, I really shouldnt give a damn about
my topography. But I knew that I would in
the longer term, and I needed to keep faith
that I had a term long enough to let me sweat
the small stuff again. I needed to resist the
sneaking expectation that a cancer diagnosis
should function as the secular equivalent of
beatification. I soon realized that the state of
being scared shitless does not in itself confer

Oregon Humanities

saintlike perspective or patience; if I were lucky, I could look


forward to many more years of vanity and its petty frustrations. Past experience strongly indicated that quite a few of
these would center on my body, and more than a handful on my
breastsor their alarming absence. I scheduled a consultation
with plastics in a sop to my future self, the one who would outlive this crisis and forget to be grateful for days at a time.
I immediately liked Dr. Murphy, with her straight back and
straight talk. I liked her description of the satisfaction she took
from her work: Most surgeons have the job of cutting away,
but I have the job of restoring. I love helping women feel whole
again, giving them back something of what theyve lost. She
didnt claim to be a miracle worker. She was relieved to hear that
I didnt expect or even want to fill out a D cup ever again, but a B+
was a reasonable aim.
Id read enough to know that, if I chose to reconstruct,
implants were the way I wanted to go. All of the more natural options involved stealing flesh from parts of my body that
so far remained healthy and intact. The least violent of these
was a relatively new procedure, DIEP flap surgery, wherein a
surgeon slices plump half-moons of skin and fat from below the
navel and grafts them over the pectoral muscles. I might have
considered it if Id had enough extra belly to make even one small
breast. As it was, if I wanted new breasts that approximated the
tender resilience of the old, the surgeon would need to transect
perfectly functioning abdominal or dorsal muscle and tunnel
the severed ends under my skin to make molehills where there
had once been mountains.
T his prospect seemed simply insane to me, a horrifying
abrogation of the reflex toward self-preservation. But of course
we all locate our selves in different places; we weave identities
like webs, spinning them between the nodes where physical
contingencies intersect with memory and imagination to make
meaning. Strong lay closer than soft to the heart of what I
felt my self to be. A shoulder injury had put me off rock climbing
years before, but amid the aftershocks of my diagnosis I somehow grabbed onto a vision of myself back at the local gym on the
pocked face of a concrete boulder, swinging from hold to hold
more gracefully than Id ever managed in my buxom days. (Surgery was two weeks out, but I was already projecting myself into
a flatter future.)
Dr. Murphy recommended silicone implants. Despite their
bad old reputation, she said, the modern versions had a good
safety record and looked significantly more natural than
saline, which could visibly ripple and slosh. She did warn me

33

of potential embarrassment at the gym: the firm jellies (nicknamed gummy bear implants) would be anchored under my
pecs and jump sideways whenever I flexed. Now theres a neat
party trick, Peter joked, but he looked as unsettled as I felt.
T hen we arrived at the question of nipples. The plastics
department had terrific tattoo artists on staff, Dr. Murphy told
us, people whod gone through rigorous training in order to master the natural shading of areolae and some remarkable trompe
loeil effects. If relief was important to me, she said, the tips of
my new breasts could also be deliberately scarred to raise the
skin, but it was important to note that these nipples would be
forever erect. And of course neither nipples nor breasts would
have the sensitivity or responsiveness of the originals, as the
nerves would be scrambled by the mastectomy and recovery of
feeling was rarely total. She knew it was a lot to process, but not
to worryas long as I didnt want immediate reconstruction,
Id have months to deliberate the finer aspects of my decision.
She wanted to leave me with the assurance that her patients
reported strong satisfaction with her work.
I wanted to believe, I really did. For a few hopeful hours after
our consultation, I indulged bionic boob fantasies: theyd be
better, run faster well, theyd certainly jump higher than they
ever had before. But that night Pete and I pored over hundreds
of images on our respective computer screens, sharing the best
and worst of what we found and getting more despondent with
every jolly, eye-popping rack.
We couldnt escape the question: What are breasts for? Their
biological purpose is pretty well understood, their erogenous
sensitivities widely (if not universally) appreciated, but what
are breasts for when they can neither feed nor feel? The whole
project of reconstruction seemed to reduce function to form.
Id needed thirty years to learn to love my own boobs despite
what had often seemed to me their overgenerous proportions
and superfluity to my needs. All I knew when they first came
on the scene was that they slowed me down terribly on the soccer field, and I soon found that they exercised another kind of
downward drag on boys gazes. Though they never realized their
evolutionary calling as sources of nourishment, they later did
become sources of pleasure and finally (I didnt realize how
finally) the recipients of my grudging affection. My husband
lovingly called them my bloomps: they were friendly, droopy,
and warm-nosed as feverish basset hound puppies. Facing their
imminent loss, I felt a surge of regret that I hadnt let them out
to play more often. I wished Id never even joked about longing
for a perky pairthey would have suited me about as well as a

Spring 2015 Fix

matched set of teacup poodles.


Nothing we saw online could rescue us from
the work of mourning. Even the most natural
looking of the high, taut orbs would serve most
powerfully to remind us of what they were
not: not flesh, not me. They would be dead as
marble, if not as hardtwin domes erected in
memorial. Id take them with me wherever I
went and never be allowed to forget.
Our hopes began to lift only when we
changed the terms of our image search: mastectomy and tattoo. Here was joy. Here was play.
Turquoise peacocks, crimson roses, amber
mandalas. Here were women whod kept moving and refused the temptation to chase their
own ghosts; women who lit a side path to a radically different vision of wholeness. I started to
research local artists and created a Pinterest
board; Pete fell down a rabbit hole, transfixed
by bad tattoos. Suddenly we were having a
blast.
That was seven months ago. One month
ago I finished chemo, and in three weeks Ill be
meeting Dr. Murphy for a preop appointment.
She seems to have forgiven me for opting out of
reconstruction. Im wasting all her engineering
skills on a simple cleanup job, the removal of the
excess skin that my first surgeon left behind.
Ive asked her to make my chest a beckoning
canvas, flat as the unfruited plain.

Gretchen Icenogle is an award-winning playwright and


the founder of Bridgetown Dog Training. She recently
moved with her husband and dogs from Portland to a
high hilltop in McMinnville, where everyone assumes
shell be eating a lot of peaches. She is also, along with
many mighty but mortal women, on her way to becoming a breast-cancer nonsurvivor. In the meantime,
however, shes bloody blooming.

Oregon Humanities

ANGIE WANG

34

35

Spring 2015 Fix

Resume Usual
Activity
Parenting through the fog of mental illness
JA M I E PA S SA RO

N A NO T E B O OK , I F I N D A SE R I E S OF not e s I
made to myself during a rough patch. Call it an inventory
of unwell. Some are lists of times I heard sirens, like this one
from March 18, 2013:

8:35 a.m.
2:00 p.m.
3:38 p.m.
3:40 p.m.
3:51 p.m.
4:10 p.m.
5:00 p.m.
6:56 p.m.

Discharge instructions:

A conversation from the psych ward:


Marti: Do you know the one
about the asshole?
Juan: No.
Marti: Me neither. I never
remember jokes.

While in the hospital you were


treated for Psychotic Disorder
NOS [not otherwise specified].
During your hospital stay you
were treated for either emotional
or behavioral needs. If you are in
crisis, call . . . . Your home diet is:
You may resume your usual diet.
Your activity recommendations
are: Resume usual activity.

A conversation with one of my


daughters:
Another conversation:

Or a list of things I am good at:


driving,
silent reading,
food storage.

A quiz to rate self-compassion: Rate 15, 1


being almost never, 5 being almost always:
Im disapproving and judgmental about
my own flaws and inadequacies. My
answer: 5.

A note to my husband explaining why I have


driven with our daughters to California:
Well come back when someone tells us
whats been going on.

Me: Good morning.


Marti: Good morning.
Me: How are you?
Marti: Im well. But Im not
wearing any underwear.

Child: Where were you?


Me: The hospital.
Child: What were you doing?
Me: Resting.
Child: But what else were you
doing?
Me: Playing foosball.

In the notebook Ive folded in an old Seattle Post-Intelligencer feature story from August 2, 1983. Theres a big
above-the-fold photo of Mom and me with our arms around
each other. I have the same bobbed hair I had through most
of my childhood, bucky front teeth, OshKosh overalls. Mom

36

Oregon Humanities

Later, I would
realize how
not normal we
were. Later, I
would remember
the waiting
room of Moms
psychiatrist more
clearly than the
bedrooms of
any childhood
friends.
has a sweet smile, her hair curled around her
face, a blouse with a Peter Pan collar. Its six
months or so after shed traveled to Boston for
an experimental and controversial brain surgery in which they used lasers to kill the part
of her brain they thought was making her sick.
The story says the surgery was successful and
uses a kind of hyperbole and arc (from a cruel
sentence that drove her to the edge of madness
to freed from the prison of her own mind) that
makes me wonder how much of the story is true.
To punctuate the arc, the story says that six
months after her surgery, my parents took me
to Disneyland for my birthday. This was true,

except it was for spring break, not my birthday.


The article describes how Mom and I spent
my second birthday in a psychiatric ward, being
observed. The doctors put us in a pen together
to see how we interacted. There was cake, which
is sad to think aboutsome nurse running out to
the bakery of a grocery store on her lunch break to
pick one up, my name in pink icing. And then it says
Mom spent the next six years in and out of hospitals. Ive always said it was two years, but I dont
really remember.
What began, or is said to have begun, with postpartum depression after my birth in 1974 grew into
an even darker depression as Mom became suicidal
and agoraphobic, the agoraphobia because she was
afraid of the panic attacks she would suffer when
she went to the grocery store or the post office. So
she didnt go out. She wore a velvet bathrobe and
chain-smoked. I remember her lying on her stomach on the floor in front of the stereo speakers and
listening to Barbra Streisand or Karen Carpenter
or Carly Simon. I would lie on her back and sing
along.
In the newspaper article, Mom says, I was
helpless and hopeless. I couldnt do anything. I
couldnt talk. I couldnt relate to anything. Id lie
on the couch with a blanket over me, watching
Jamie play. I couldnt be anything but a lump.
This is around the time she lived in a nursing home
in Sequim, Washington. An hour and a half away
from our isolated town, it was the closest thing to a psychiatric
ward Dad could find for her.
On a tape-recording I have of a conversation I had with my
grandfather, Moms dad, while she was away, he asks: Wheres
Mommy? testing to see if I know. Shes resting, I say in my
two-year-old voice, at the rest home.
Mom says something to the newspaper reporter Ive never
heard anyone else describe: There was a constant weight on
my chest and the feeling of a crushing band around my head. If
it hadnt been for Jamie, I wouldntcouldnthave gotten up.
The band. Ive felt that band around my headthough not
crushing for memore like a sweatband, but always there. Reading about this sensation was the first time I acknowledged that
I could have any of what she had, that its remotely similar. I

37

wouldnt say that my life has been defined by depression as much


as Moms was, if depression is even the right label for her suffering or whatever it is when I get the sweatband. It seems like too
tidy a description.
The best way Ive ever heard anyone describe depression is
that its like a deep homesickness. The sense of unease becomes
so pervasive that it grips your brain and renders you useless
for all but the easiest, most rote activities. I remember sitting
in our living room with Olive, my older daughter, when she
was about four. Its February and Im wearing three layers in
our 69-degree house and still my nose and hands and feet are
cold. My daughter and I are trying to put together a three-story
Victorian Playmobil house. I cant figure out how to make one
piece fit into another, how to make the structure rise up. I keep
moving on to different parts of the house like a carpenter with
ADHD. Nothing makes any sense. The instructions might as
well be in Sanskrit. I look at them and look at them and look at
them and Olive busies herself with putting plastic flowers in
plastic planter boxes. Im trying to channel a spirit of can-do.
Im thinking, We will do this ourselves and it will be all put
together by the time Daddy gets home, but Im blanketed in a
fog of dumb.
Instead, I say, Im going to make us some blueberry muffins,
covering my ineptness with some very important Mom business.
I am remembering that a mom I admire gave Olive and Vivie, my
younger daughter, homemade blueberry muffins the previous
week. So this is what normal moms do. Only I slosh in too much
milk to compensate for the whole-wheat flour Ive substituted
for white flour, and I substitute honey for the sugar, so my muffins are too wet. They dont firm up, even after the tops are nearburned. By the time the white-blue-browned blobs come out of
the oven, Bob gets home and saves the day with the Playmobil
house, constructing all three stories, plus the widows walk, in
the time it takes me to cook a pot of brown rice for dinner.
When Im in this state, I try to keep busy, offer tight smiles
to the girls, fight the urge to lie on the couch, though at the same
time I question even that, wondering if it would be healthier to
model being one with my emotions, empty as they are. When
Im in this state, I question everything; I stare at an email for
hours, unsure of how to sign off. The paralysis over one thing or
another is near constant, and the couch, or bed, can seem like
the more honest way to go, though Im stubborn and proud and
determined not to let my daughters see me like that.
That time with the Playmobil house, some things had upset

Spring 2015 Fix

me a few weeks earlier, and I turned them


over and over in the little wheels in my brain
on too many nights. Food became lumpy and
unappealingand then the sweatband, a rush
of psychiatric appointments, a prescription.
Its almost always the same pattern for me,
though never as debilitating as what Mom went
through for much of her adult life.
I was only in the psych ward for a few days
that time. I wasnt getting better theremaybe
I was getting more depressed, alone with my
increasingly paranoid thoughts in that scary
beige place with all the locks, the staffs keys
jangling against each other as the staff members unlocked the doors. (Did they really need
to make so much noise with their keys or was that
some part of the treatment plan, some hint about
the keys to wellness?) Over the phone, my daughters little girl voices didnt sound the same.
They sounded like other peoples children, and
I had this sneaking suspicion they were someone elses childrenthat mine had been taken
away because I was a bad mother. I wanted to
feel their soft hands in mine, to snuggle with
them and sing my girls to sleep.
When Im feeling better, I order a book
called Daughters of Madness: Growing Up and
Older with a Mentally Ill Mother. Its more useful, more relatable to me, more attentive to
the gray areas of mental disorders than some
of the memoirs Ive read. I star some passages.
One is about how young children of mothers
with psychotic disorders are more likely to have
insecure attachments by the time theyre two
and more than half of the children of a mentally ill parent have either a mood disorder or
a substance abuse problem. Another one says,
Adult children from dysfunctional families
frequently talk about not knowing ordinary
things other people seem to know, and being
embarrassed by those holes in their awareness. Also: I am my mothers daughter. That
is the single most important and most devastating fact of my life.

38

I tell my psychiatrist that I have a genetic


predisposition to an inability to cope. My psychiatrist says I can call it whatever I want, and I
find this statement as freeing as it is flip. I dont
have to call it bipolar, my official diagnosis, a
label like a doctors stamp on a set of inherited
and learned behaviors. Isnt it more complicated than that? Im supposed to stay on the
meds but I dont. A part of me thinks that I can
break the pattern; I can think my way out of
it. And a part of me remembers all those meds
Mom took every day, brightly colored tablets
and fluorescent capsules I used to break open at
the sink to see what was inside. Theres a believable line of reasoning that says those pills kept
her functioning over the years. But I wonder
how they changed herher personality, her
habits, her hair, her smile.
Growing up, I would not have told you that my
mother was mentally ill. She managed my dads
electrical contracting business and ran first an
appliance store and then an arts and crafts gallery in the storefront space connected to Dads
shop. She was president of the local chamber
of commerce for a time and was active in the
Soroptimists. She loved shopping and romantic comedies and lattes and walking around the
track at the high school with her friends.
She went to see her psychiatrist in Seattle a
few times a month when she was depressed, or
sickthats what we always called it, sick being
a catch-all for a traveling band of symptoms
that came and went for most of her adult life:
panic attacks, agoraphobia, depression, headaches, insomnia, light sensitivity, canker sores
so plentiful they impaired her speech. When
I got older, sometimes I, her only child, would
drive her; other times it would be Dad, if he
wasnt too busy with his business. Sometimes
it would be someone from our town who needed
extra cash. Two of those drivers were mothers
of kids at my school, and when Mom came home
from being driven by them, Id pump her for any
bits of gossip theyd shared during the five-hour
drive. I remember waiting, not for what the
doctor said, but what I might learn about whod
gotten a DUIone of the womens husbands
was a state patrolmanor if there was any
insider information from one of the daughters,
who was a year ahead of me in school. This was

Oregon Humanities

my experience of Moms illness. Because we were in it, because


it was our normal, because it wasnt as dramatic as the memoir I
would read later of the woman whose schizophrenic mom would
show up at her grade school barefoot, with cigarette holes in her
nightgown. Later, I would fill in gaps and realize how not normal
we were. Later, I would remember the waiting room of Moms
psychiatrist more clearly than the bedrooms of any of my childhood friends.
Mom has been gone for five years. The sympathy cards are
piled up and mixed with the congratulations cards for the birth
of my second daughter. The cards are all stacked together now,
a lot of sentiment in serif-y fonts. I dont like to look through
them, but I cant throw them away, either. I have trouble thinking about Mom in any singular way that makes sense, and I think
the jumble of cards symbolizes thatgrief, sadness, happiness,
love, hopewhile at the same time neglecting to mention the
darker stuffregret, guilt, anger, and Jesus, what can I do to
pass down just the good stuff?
M A M A , M A K E YOU R MOU T H L I K E A SM I L E ,
Olive tells me. Im a worrier, a brow furrower, a hurry-up-sowere-not-late kind of person. Another time I laugh a big, hearty,
genuine laughthe kind that doesnt come easy. Olive says,
Mama, I like it when you laugh like that. That she would even
notice such a thing, to be known that way, makes me want to
laugh more.
I am trying to be a good mother, and I think I am. But most
days I still feel like the girl I was in my twenties when I wrote, in
an essay about being uncertain about having kids, that I was held
together by bobbie pins and compliments.
My girls eat fistfuls of almonds, scattering them everywhere.
They leave the house strewn with tiny beads that hurt when you
step on them, naked dolls bearing Sharpie tattoos, dried-up
bits of clay, pen caps, a dreidel, a hockey puckthough we are
neither Jewish nor do we play hockey. Theres a tambourine in
our bed shake-shake-shaking whenever Bob or I move in our
sleep. Honey, I say to my husband, theres a tambourine in
here somewhere. We both fall back asleep. Vivie jumps into my
arms from a stool in the kitchen. I back up as far as I can, and
she flies for three feet or so, grinning, then cackling. Back up
farther, she says. Every day after preschool, she asks, How was
your day? How was your work?
Olive writes, We are fun! in white crayon on the interior
of the window of our beat-up old minivan. She says going to the
post office is as boring as boring on toast. She tells me she
loves me like a big goat. She cups my face in her hands, tells
me she wants to take me to the copy shop and make copies of
me so I will be with her all the time. All this normal, mundane,
joyful, I want to hoard it, scrapbook it, bottle it, save it for later
when I might need it.

39

Spring 2015 Fix

In the psych ward,


things did not get better.
My every word and
action were focused
on getting home to my
sweet girls and husband.
T H E T I M E I T O OK T H E G I R L S T O C A L I F O R N I A ,
I was deeply paranoid. (If I told you that every time I heard sirens
or saw a red car drive by my house I thought it was related to something Id done wrong, would you think I was crazy? If I told you
it was spring break, would you think it was closer to all right?) I
wanted to get away from all of the noises I was hearing, and I
thought that if we left, someone would admit that theyd been
messing with me, that it wasnt all in my head like everyone said.
I thought we might go to Disneyland or at least to San Francisco
for some dim sum. The girls were six and almost four and they
were game.
Heading south on I-5, I spotted a gold Lexus like the kind
Mom used to drive and I took it as a sign that she was with me
in spirit. We made it as far as Arcata, where we jumped in the
waves at Moonstone Beach. On the road from the beach, I parked
the van and talked to my husband on my cell phone. We were at
a Y in the road. If I turned the car left, we would head north. If I
went straight, we would head south. Bob convinced me to drive
north and met us in Brookings. Three days later, Bob and my
father and stepmother had a kind of intervention, one in which
my options were few.
The second time in the psych ward, things did not get better.
My every word and action were focused on leaving that place,
getting home to my sweet girls and husband. I said what I needed
to say and apologized for the impromptu road trip, took the pills
they said I needed to take. When I got out, nothing had changed,
and nothing did change for at least a year. I went off of the meds
as soon as I could, and life was much the same. Red car. Green
car. Blue car. Gold car. Ambulance. Trainsong. I learned not to
talk about the crazy thoughts.

I wish I could say I read everything there is


to read about bipolar or actually use the bipolar
disorder symptoms checklist that a therapist
friend gave me. Or that I learned meditation
or took the vitamins people are always telling
me to take or had deep, cleansing conversations with all of my friends and loved ones. The
truth is I just slowly got better. The truth is, my
psychiatrist says, that the chances of another
episode are pretty great.
One night after I put the girls to bed, I
stepped out to our back porch to smoke a cigarette. I have a nonsmokers guilt about my
occasional habit, and as soon as I opened the
back door I heard sirens. There was a time
that I would have believed those sirens had
something to do with me. This time, I knew
they didnt, and I knew that meant I was okay
for now.

Jamie Passaros articles, interviews, and essays have


been published in the New York Times, Full Grown
People, The Sun, Utne Reader, and Oregon Quarterly,
among other places. Her last essay for Oregon
Humanities was Love Thy Neighbor (Sometimes)
(Fall/Winter 2010). She lives in Eugene and is at work
on a collection of essays.

40

Oregon Humanities

Posts

R E A DER S W R ITE A BOU T FI X

Portrait of the Carpenter as an Old


Man Awaiting the Elusive Plumber

hen you have grandchildren, sometimes


the best thing you can do is to sleep near
your tools on a thin mat on the floor of an old
house with the walls open and floors ripped
up, awaiting the elusive plumber (to say nothing of the plaster man, electrician, laborers,
insulation guys, roofers, painters, and the
grandmother tending the cook pot through
the chaos), attempting to turn an address into
a home as if you were born to do this, nail by
holy nail.
K A Z SUS SM A N, Junction City

Soul Repair

he faded cotton robe is old and frayed, so


threadbare it can scarcely hold a patch. I
carefully pin the fabric, hoping it wont tear
when I sew the pieces together. It holds. The old
man smiles gratefully; I let out a sigh of relief.
Around me the metallic rumble of four sewing
machines provides the sound track as I take a
sip of water and pick up the next item.
Thirty years of cerebral toil in the academic
trenches leaves me thought weary and craving
the use of my hands for craft, not for pecking out words. I am volunteering at a repair
event. The skills I bring are modest, yet I find

enormous satisfaction in mending clothes. I


feel competent, in command, even hip.
Never mind that my old Singer portable rattles like an old jalopy; it works fine for hemming,
stitching, patching. Elsewhere in the spacious
room, a volunteer takes apart a toaster while
another sharpens scissors on a small sanding
belt; a new clasp makes a necklace whole again
while a broken bike is hoisted onto a stand. Let
no object enter a landfill that can be saved.
I smile earnestly at a new customer, a young
woman in a hurry. My parking meter runs out
soon, so please be quick, she says. Of course
she would hand me a zipper to fix, a complicated task that many workers refuse to accept.
I take my time to do it right, and she becomes
agitated. I dont react. I have entered the sweet,
serene sewing zone. The woman makes it out
the door just in time, repaired dress in bag. I
sigh louder this time, and gulp down more
water.
By the end of my three-hour shift, I have
repaired six garments. I am tired and weary,
but feel incredibly accomplished. After-visions
of seams coming together, threading needles,
hand stitching, edges trimmed, all blur together
in a soothing balm. The background din recedes.
I can relax because I have done enough.
M . J. COR EI L , Portland

Fake Parts Dont Last

All my blood was mixed up, casting


a purple hue over my lips, nails,
and skin and severely limiting my
physical abilities.

n a sunny afternoon in 1976, as we drove


home from school, I excitedly told my dad
about the last field trip of the school year. Our
fifth-grade class was going to the hospital to
meet with doctors and nurses and to find out
what their jobs were like. As we pulled into our
garage, he told me that I wouldnt be able to join
them, because I was already scheduled to go to
the hospital to have tests. There was a doctor,
he said, who thought he could fix my heart.
I was always told that it was a miracle I was
born alive. Later, doctors predicted I would

41

die by the age of five. I persisted, despite being


born with a heart on the wrong side and backward on the bottom, with arteries hooked up
to the wrong part of the pumping mechanism,
obstructed blood flow to my lungs, and five
holes in the upper and lower chambers that
separate oxygenated and nonoxygenated blood.
The circulatory system depicted in crisp red
and blue illustrations in anatomy books did not
exist in me. All my blood was mixed up, casting a purple hue over my lips, nails, and skin
and severely limiting my physical abilities. No
sports, no recess, no physical activity for me.
Later in life, I learned that the experimental
surgery that saved my life, giving me pink lips
and nails and energy like never before, didnt
really fix my heart. In the 1970s there was no
record of the long-term outcomes of surgical
intervention. Now congenital cardiologists are
circumspect about saying fix, which gives the
impression of permanence. Truth is, theyre
often not able to make significant structural
changes. In complex cases like mine, they
can only use prosthetic devices and patches
to make a funky heart act more like a normal
heart. Fake parts dont last as long as the real
thing. At twenty-seven I had open-heart surgery again to repair and replace parts from the
first surgery. As a bonus, I also got a pacemaker.
Im closing in on my fiftieth birthday now
and the parts are wearing out again. Ive had
new minimally invasive procedures that were
only partially successful, and I know more
open-heart surgery is my future. I had my fifth
pacemaker replacement surgery not long ago.
Battery-operated things dont last forever.
Im grateful every day for my wonderful life,
but its sometimes psychologically and emotionally exhausting to have to go through so
many fixes. In my dream world, fixed is fixed
forever.
TINA R INA L DI , Eugene

Pretty Much Abandoned

he peculiar house my parents built was


clearly out of place. Its disproportionate
size, its odd turrets, and its neglected grounds
offended members of the community.
The first time people hurled rocks through
one of our windows, they shouted profanities
and fled. I was fairly young. I hid in my closet
and rocked myself to sleep. The window was
eventually repaired and life went on until it

Spring 2015 Fix

The first time people hurled rocks


through one of our windows, they
shouted profanities and fled.

happened againand again, and again. Even


today I can hear the yelling voices that accompanied the assaults: Shame, shame, shame
on you. You got what you deserved. I can also
remember the silence from the local authority
figures who chose not to see or hear anything.
Over time, the broken windows were simply boarded up and not repaired. I suppose it
was somehow safer that way. Eventually my
parents gave up on the house and pretty much
abandoned it.
Years later I returned to that peculiar place
with its boarded-up windows and overgrown
shrubbery that stood like sentries on guard.
With as much determination as I could muster,
I worked to reclaim what was rightfully mine.
Friends new and old supported my efforts and
helped me remove weathered boards covering broken windows. The months I had anticipated restoring that old house ended up taking
years. Finally, I stood back and saw a grand old
home rather than an old misfit dwelling. Ive
accepted that the floors will always squeak a bit
and the house is drafty at times, but it is mine. I
own it, and Im proud of it.
Indeed, the windows of my life were opened
and the world was full of possibilitiespossibilities I never knew were possible, such as
getting an education and learning to speak up.
Now Im an educator who wants her students
to discover that world of possibilities. I know
some of my students have boarded-up their
windows just like I did. I believe their voices
matter and need to be heard.
PAU L A M A R I E USR EY, Sutherlin

P OSTS

42

Oregon Humanities

continued from previous page

Not Even God or Scared Little


Brothers

A
My dad could
fix anything
except the two
of us. He and I
were doomed,
I think, from
day one.

ll through junior high and high school I


was sure prayer could fix my older brothers drinking, because when I went to my Irish
Catholic mother in tears, she would tell me to
pray about itfor him, for our family. So I lay
awake nights praying hard Id hear him come
home before the curfew our father laid down
with a fist on the kitchen counter. The digits on
the clock beside my bunk bed always clicked
past, and my heartbeat quickened, knowing
what was coming when he finally got home.
I prayed that maybe when he turned eighteen hed stop, because at eighteen you could
get drafted. Go to Vietnam. Then it was
twenty-one, legal drinking age. Then it was
thirty. Then thirty-five. Then fortysurely
by forty. By then Id realized nobody has the
power to fix addiction, not even God or
scared little brothers.
My mother, frustrated by our lawsuit-happy
society, once said, The only time Id ever sue
anyone is if a drunk driver killed one of my
kids. Ironically, a drunk killed her on a rainy
December evening as she was driving home
after playing bridge.
Even her death didnt fix my brother. He
wrecked cars, had close calls, and did time
in prison.
A few years after our mothers death, our
father arranged a family intervention for my
brother, guided by a counselor in Portland. We
all read him letters wed written that cut off
options and laid out consequences, including
taking his daughter away if he didnt agree to
go into treatment. When my father asked if
hed go, my brother replied, Seems you havent
given me much choice.
Today, my brother has fifteen Alcoholics Anonymous coins, one for every year hes
been sober. I couldnt be more proud. Each fall,
when he goes back to his treatment center in
Utah for a reunion, he hikes into the mountains and slips his new coin into a small rock
memorial he fashioned for our mother in an
alpine meadow.
Last September, our eighty-five-year-old
father and all five of us siblings and spouses
went with my brother to celebrate his fifteen
years. We hiked through quaking aspen groves

to the memorial to celebrate our mother, too.


I wish shed lived to see us all standing there
in that sunlit meadow honoring her life, my
brothers sobriety, and the way he fixed himself.
GR EG G K L EIN ER , C or vallis

Anything Except the Two of Us

he sound coming from my little record


player sputtered. I was twelve, sitting on
the floor of the bedroom I shared with my three
sisters, trying to figure out what was wrong
with it. Many times I had watched my father
retrieve discards from the dump and breathe
new life into them. For years, we had two or
three televisions stacked on top of each other
in the living room so that he could raid Peter
to pay Paul, as hed say. At least one of those
TVs always worked.
My dad could fix anything except the two
of us. He and I were doomed, I think, from day
one. He was expecting a son after the three
girls and three boys that preceded me. He was
away, troubleshooting one of Western Unions
new computer terminals, when my mother
birthed me at the local hospital. Seven more
pregnancies and five more kids followed.
I grew to hate him, especially after he took
a lilac switch to my bare legs when I was six. I
hated him so much so that I once put a plastic
bag over my head and tried to suffocate myself.
Another time, I plotted with my sister to poison
him. He overheard only me.
Six years later, I dived into fixing the record
player, tearing it apart screw by screw, piece
by piece, carefully diagramming on paper the
location of each screw or part I removed, just
like my father always did. When I couldnt
go any further, I put it all back together and
plugged it in. The sound was still broken. Suddenly, it hit me like clap of thunder on a hot
midwestern summer night: it was the speakers.
I disconnected them and did what I had
watched my dad do many times before: I
trimmed each speaker wire by about half an
inch, then carefully bit into the covering and
used my teeth to pull the little sleeves of plastic from each. I now had fresh wire, which I
twisted and wrapped around the connection
terminals on the record player.
Then I turned it back onthe volume up a
bit more. Music filled the room. My speakers
were fixed.
Eventually, it was memories like this that

43

helped me fix my dad and me, tooalthough


forgiveness proved a lot harder to finesse than
electronics.
JO OSTG A R DEN, Por tla nd

Fixer-Upper

y husband, Chris, and I were desperate.


We had one month to vacate our rental. A
family had bought our home. We had searched
for three weeks for a place to live without even
finding a temporary landing place. Then our
friend Bruce called.
Have I got a deal for you, he enthused. A
woman wants to just give away her mobile
home. Shes tired of commuting.
What kind of shape is it in? Chris asked.
Bruce hedged. Well, its a fixer-upper, but
youre a handyman, right?
It seemed like an answer to our prayers,
until we arrived at the property. The arborvitae hedge had bald spots, the lawn was a dandelion field, and the flower beds grew a dense
crop of weeds. Inside, the dark paneling was
yellowed with cigarette smoke, the kitchen
cabinets over the stove were warped from a fire,
and the long, brown shag carpet was decorated
with dog pee spots.
One step from living on the street, we tried
to focus on the newer roof, furnace, and the
abundant cabinets.
After work each day until late and all weekend, we labored. Each week brought unforeseen
difficulties. The stove gave out. When we tore
out the old bathtub, we discovered the plumbing connecting the hot water heater had been
improperly installed. The drafty windows had
to be replaced. The dimensions were never standard, so enlarging or framing had to be done.
Whats that minty perfume youre wearing? a coworker asked me.
Um, its Bengay, I said.
As the place took shape, after scrubbing,
painting, repairing, and decorating, friends
would come over and say, in amazement, Wow,
you got this place free? Well, yes, but also no.
Twelve years have rolled by. We keep making improvements. When we sit in our backyard swing, looking at our part of the world,
we feel a sense of accomplishment. Our nightmare work project turned into the ideal place
to retire.
R A MONA SCA R BOROUGH , S alem

Spring 2015 Fix

Architecture of the Broken

have an opal-colored, oval rock on my fivedollar rummage sale bookshelf, carved with
the word inspire. My licensed addiction counselor gave me this rock on my graduation as a
message of encouragement, something to turn
to when times were tough. It made my triumph
traceable and palpable, something I held in my
hand after a difficult day.
One year and six months after graduating,
I got a call from my counselor. I immediately
recognized the fluttering frequencies of her
sweet soprano. I had sent her a card almost a
year ago to thank her. I thought she had forgotten about me, that I was just another faceless
patient. But she asked me to come to treatment
and tell my story.
Maintaining sobriety for more than a few
months seemed beyond my outstretched fingertips. But I made it. And I would be on the
other side of the equation this time.
Upon returning to treatment, I felt a strange
alchemy of emotions: elation, pain, happiness,
apathy, pity, gratitude.
Since I left the treatment center, management had changed. They had taken down the
fading picture of a haggard-looking Pope Benedict that was plastered on the wall outside the
cafeteria. My junkie friend Tom and I tried to
steal that picture for a souvenir of our pilgrimage through rehab. We meant no disrespect to
the pope.
Other things had not changed. There was
still a group of young and old and in-between
people hovering around the perimeter of the
building, stitched together by billowing cigarette smoke and brokenness. The bathroom
still smelled pungently like garlic cloves.
I was among the architecture of the broken.
These walls seemed too sturdy and at the same
not sturdy enough. The lighting was still fluorescent, harsh, unforgiving.
I spoke, fidgeting, shaking, and fumbling.
The patients eyes brimmed with the same
emotions I felt when I was in those same hardbacked brown chairs. I knew how their bruised
limbs yearned for tenderness and hoped my
words might provide some solace. I realized
how peaceful I felt among them despite, or
maybe because of, their brokenness, because I
am still one of them. Broken people know this
without asking. It is an invisible thread that
knits us together.
TE S SA TORGE S ON, Por tla nd

Next theme: Safe


For the Summer 2015 issue,
tell us about the pleasures and
problems of being trustworthy
or cautious, of being risk-taking
or controversial. Tell us what
you think is the biggest threat to
our collective safety. Share your
insights on what it would take
for a community to feel free
from harm or risk.
Send your submission (400
words maximum), by June 8,
2015, to posts@oregonhumanities.org. Submissions may be
edited for space or clarity.

44

Oregon Humanities

Read. Talk. Think.


t h ing s t h at m a k e you s ay o. h m.

Get It While You


Can
Nick Jaina
Perfect Day Publishing, 2015

Loitering

Nick Jaina, a songwriter whose


music has attracted critical
praise and devoted fans but
never much money, grapples
with the suspicion that he has
failed at life in this debut memoir. In a narrative punctuated
with personal letters and music
criticism, he writes about a lifetime of temp work, heartbreak,
and the meaning of artistic success with wistful geniality.

Charles DAmbrosio
Tin House, 2014

Charles DAmbrosios essay


collection Loitering is perfectly
named. At first the voice is hard
to hear, there in the shadows
on the corner or the warehouse
or the freight car or the bar. But
once you dial in, you cant stop
paying attention. Youre struck
and twisted by the details: the
scent of blood or brick, the
imprint of a wayward father,
a suicidally poetic brother, the
accumulation of dirt on the face.
When DAmbrosio writes, I
guess my true Here will always
be an Elsewhere, you get it,
and you are surprised to realize
you want to go there with him.

B e n Wa t e r h o u s e

A d a m D av i s

Overstory: Zero: Real Life


in Timber Country
Robert Leo Heilman
Sylph Maid Books, 2015

This twentieth-anniversary edition of Heilmans


beloved 1995 book about small-town life in the
mountains of Douglas County expands on the
original with a handful of newer essays. These
ruminations on Hoedads and landslides and the
search for a place of ones own are a generous
addition to an already incisive consideration of the
people and landscape of Oregons forestlands.
B e n Wa t e r h o u s e

45

Spring 2015

Untangling the Knot:


Queer Voices on
Marriage, Relationships
& Identity
Edited by Carter Sickels
Ooligan Press, 2015

As the legal recognition of samesex marriages rapidly moves toward


becoming a national reality, Portland
State Universitys student-run press
presents essays from twenty-five
LGBTQ writers, many of them
Oregonians, on love, sex, and family.
The collection represents a great diversity of lived experience, but a uniting
theme is that there are injustices that
remain unmitigated by the victories of
the marriage equality movement.
B e n Wa t e r h o u s e

Spent: Exposing Our


Complicated Relationship
with Shopping
Edited by Kerry Cohen
Seal Press, 2014

This essay collection features personal


stories from female writers, including nine
Oregonians, about the joys and frustrations
of buying stuff and the tangled emotions
guilt, resentment, doubt, boredomthat
inform and arise from our consumption
habits, be they overspending, couponing,
or shoplifting.
B e n Wa t e r h o u s e

Drone

The Brightwood Stillness


Mark Pomeroy
Oregon State University Press, 2014

This debut novel delves into the worlds of two


Portland high school teachers whose lives are
painfully real and troubling. Using sparse but poignant language and descriptive imagery, Pomeroy
explores friendship, family, cultural difference, and
Vietnamese identity in the face of accusation and
trauma against the familiar backdrop of the Pacific
Northwest.
P r i s c i l l a Wu

Adam Rothstein
Bloomsbury, 2015

Portland writer and artist Adam


Rothsteins contribution to
Bloomsburys Object Lessons series
digs into the history and meaning of
autonomous aircraftthe ways they
work, the tasks they perform, where
they come from, and how the way we
talk about them reflects the priorities
and anxieties of our age.
B e n Wa t e r h o u s e

To have a new book by an Oregon writer


considered for Read. Talk. Think., please send
review copies to Oregon Humanities magazine,
813 SW Alder St., Suite 702, Portland, OR 97205.

CROPPING S

46

Oregon Humanities

Outside Looking In, Mobile, Alabama, 1956. Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

Gordon Parks: Segregation Story


June 4 to 28, 2015
Blue Sky, the Oregon Center for the
Photographic Arts
122 NW 8th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97209
(503) 225-0210
blueskygallery.org

In 1956, photographer Gordon Parks traveled to Mobile, Alabama, to document


the lives of one extended African American family under Jim Crow segregation
for Life magazine. (Parks was the first African American to work as a staff photographer for the magazine and, later, the first to direct a film for a major Hollywood studio. He also wrote novels, poetry, and music.) Life published twenty-six
of the resulting photos in an article titled The Restraints: Open and Hidden, but
the majority remained unseen by the public until 2011, five years after his death,
when they were discovered in a storage bin. The photos, a portion of which will
be shown at Blue Sky in June, offer a rare look into Americas recent past without
the distance afforded by black-and-white photography. The images remind us
that Jim Crow existed within living memory, and that many of the injustices it
imposed are still with us today.

Oregon Humanities connects


Oregonians to ideas that change lives
and transform communities. Oregon
Humanities programs encourage
Oregonians to learn about and discuss
social, cultural, and public issues.
The Conversation Project offers Oregon nonprofits
and community organizations low-cost programs that
engage community members in thoughtful, challenging
conversations about ideas critical to our daily lives and
our states future.
Think & Drink is a happy-hour conversation series that
brings Oregonians together to discuss provocative
ideas.
Idea Lab is a summer institute for Oregon teens and
teachers who use the humanities to consider the pursuit of happiness and how it shapes our culture.
Humanity in Perspective (HIP) is a college-level humanities course. HIP provides economically and educationally disadvantaged individuals the opportunity to study
the humanities with the guidance of college and university professors.

Staff
e x e cu t i v e di r e ct or
Adam Davis
com m u n icat ions/de v el opm en t co or di nat or
Eloise Holland
edi t or /com m u n icat ions di r e ct or
Kathleen Holt
de v el opm en t di r e ct or
Kamla Hurst
pro gr a m of f icer
Annie Kaffen
of f ice m a nager
Mikaela Schey
di r e ct or of f i na nce a n d oper at ions
Carole Shellhart
com m u n icat ions co or di nat or
Ben Waterhouse
pro gr a m co or di nat or
Kyle Weismann-Yee

Oregon Humanities magazine is a triannual publication


devoted to exploring important and timely ideas from a
variety of perspectives and to stimulating reflection and
public conversation.
Public Program Grants provide financial support for
nonprofit organizations across Oregon to conceive and
implement public humanities programs.
Oregon Humanities also convenes reading and discussion groups, and hosts panel presentations on topics of
public relevance and concern.

Oregon Humanities programs


are funded by the National
Endowment for the Humanities
and the Oregon Cultural Trust, and
by contributions from individuals,
foundations, community
organizations, and corporations.
For more information about
Oregon Humanities, or to
learn how you can help more
Oregonians get together, share
ideas, listen, think, and grow,
please contact us at:
813 SW Alder Street, Suite 702
Portland, OR 97205
(503) 241-0543 or (800) 7350543, fax (503) 241-0024
o.hm@oregonhumanities.org
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Board of Directors
ch a i r
Paul Duden, Portland
v ice ch a i r
Sona Karentz Andrews, Portland
t r e a su r er
Ed Battistella, Ashland
se cr eta ry
Matthew Boulay, Salem

Stephen Marc Beaudoin, Portland


Jeff Cronn, Portland
Kimberly Howard, Portland
Erious Johnson Jr., Salem
Emily Karr, Portland
Win McCormack, Portland
Pamela Morgan, Lake Oswego
Ron Paul, Portland
Denise Reed, Astoria
Chantal Strobel, Bend
Rich Wandschneider, Enterprise
Janet Webster, Newport
Dave Weich, Portland