Inspirationally Dangerous: LeVar Burton’s Talk at UWM

People who read, says LeVar Burton, are life-long learners, and life-long learners are dangerous people. This is how the beloved star of Roots, Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek: The Next Generation framed his Distinguished Lecture Series talk about the power of storytelling at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Union’s Wisconsin Room on February 24th, 2016.

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Addressing a full-house of fans, educators, Black History month followers, and proud participants of #GeekWeek at UWM, Burton gave a presentation that was both inspirational and thought-provoking. He honored his mother by telling the audience the story of how she, as a single mother, was an avid reader who made sure her son knew and understood that he, as anybody else, had the right to achieve his full potential. As a related matter, he addressed race and prejudice and why he admired the work of Gene Roddenberry and the sociological possibilities illustrated in Star Trek. Since the original series, people of different races are not merely included but also integrated as core characters. Burton added that seeing one’s race or ethnicity represented in the media–a  topic more and more people are dialoguing about–is crucial for self-esteem.

Regarding the topic of reading, Burton does not favor a specific medium but rather the content. As he explained, whether a print book or an e-book, what matter is that the child (the person) is reading. He unabashedly adds the arts (A) and reading (R) into the push for a STEM education, insisting–and rightfully so–that we need the arts for STEAM as they are pivotal in developing important cognitive functions. Moreover, he could not stress more the importance of reading and how STREAM would provide an integrated foundation for a well-rounded education. Burton elaborated on how reading piques the imagination and it is through the imagination–like with the device Captain Kirk used in the original series to call Scotty to request a beam up–that the sciences and everything else come to be. We adapt to the new technologies, which is necessary. But, what is it that we are teaching, is the question Burton highlighted several times during his talk. All media is educational, says Burton.

The audience was absolutely captivated by Burton’s humble brilliance. We all erupted into applause from time to time, celebrating the deep humanity his words were conveying. The Q&A portion confirmed how much his TV roles, especially Reading Rainbow, have touched and inspired so many people.

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And in closing, with a message of love over fear, LeVar Burton left us with a grand exhortation: “Please be bold in your pursuit of being a dangerous person.”

 

 

 

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The New Winds of 2016

As I return to my blog, I realize I have not posted anything in five months; an unofficial hiatus that I now break with the intention to come back to Aries Point more often. And there is good reason for doing so now that 2016 is here.
My first novel in Spanish will be out soon this Spring. Stay tuned for that!
More details to come…

The Trails and Trials of Boston

The news traveled quickly today (8/20/2015) through social media as it does on any given day. And today, it was the beating of a homeless Hispanic man in the city of Boston.
I have been to Boston twice, once in 2005 and this past July of 2015. Upon my return of my most recent visit, I checked out Upton Sinclair’s documentary novel: Boston, from the public library, which is a long account about the Sacco and Vanzetti case with other fictional additions. Between the memories of that July weekend and the reading of the novel, Boston has been prominently in my mind for the last several weeks.
The news today, as it has been steadily for a while now, reeks of violence, hatred, and sheer disregard for people. (If it is not people, it is the exploitation of the nature, wildlife, and the planet.) During this most recent visit to Boston, eager to learn and explore, my partner and I walked and photo-documented the Freedom Trail on a cloudy Saturday. Trekking on this fascinating tour through history, there was a clear attempt at mindfulness when considering those terms: freedom and trail, and what they signify contextually. What would the trail mean for enslaved African-Americans before 1865? What would freedom mean for exploited factory workers in the Boston of the early twentieth century, the ones who in Sinclair’s masterful prose, were subject to “loan-sharks, peddlers of shoddy goods, fake patent medicines and adulterated foods” (57)?
The homeless Hispanic man who was urinated on and beaten by two adult males with a sense of supremacy embodies the long trail of many toward a basic kind of freedom: the freedom of being considered human regardless of socioeconomic or jurisdictional matters. Any sense of supremacy is false, but that does not take away the detrimental effects on a community when people act upon such premise to abuse and belittle their fellow human being. Sociocultural prejudice and isolation, as well as any type of dehumanization, are manifestations of the most highly flawed detours from basic respect.
Sacco and Vanzetti indeed knew something about the trails and trials of freedom. And while some people question if ignorance is at the root of hatred—like the one enacted by the two men who decided to humiliate the Hispanic man for his socioeconomic status and ethnicity—educating ourselves about history and culture does not hurt our potential for understanding. While the two perpetrators may never decide to rectify, the rest of us may set forth our trails with the dignity of knowing our worth and the humbleness of acknowledging there is still more room for growth.
And, hopefully, as the story develops, we may find out more about this man, at least something as basic as his name.

Sources:
http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/08/19/homeless/iTagewS4bnvBKWxxPvFcAJ/story.html

Sinclair, Upton. Boston. A Documentary Novel of the Sacco-Vanzetti Case. Cambridge: Robert Bently, Inc., 1978.

My thoughts on Cecil, the lion

Caring about animals does not mean one cares less about humans. I deplore the killing of Cecil the lion (as well as the many atrocities perpetrated by humanity). The killing of that animal entails a context of obscene privilege. That someone is able to pay what could be the yearly salary of a working person to get someone to trick Cecil and viciously kill the big cat leaves a lot to wonder. That someone has the hubris to go on an “exotic” sojourn, pay ($55,000! as if just handing out change) to a “local” to get away with his abhorrent trophy killing demonstrates the unfortunate coming together of virtually every attitude that is wrong in this world.

The Path of the Turtle: A Retiro Park Chronicle

At 32º C, one should take a siesta if at all possible. Afterwards, however, the afternoon is still young since the sun does not set until after 21:00. The Madrid Book Fair is currently taking place and it is too hot to do the usual flâneuse-style city stroll. Succumbing to lethargy is not recommended though.

What to do? Hop on the metro at Rubén Darío and connect to Príncipe de Vergara at Núñez de Balboa.
All streets, all plazas, and all neighborhoods intuitively connect in Madrid. Before you know it, one of the many gates to Retiro Park appears and looks unequivocally welcoming.
Yes, it’s the Parque del Retiro on a hot June afternoon!

The trees promise some much needed shade. People of all ages walk around, jog, lie on the grass reading or half-asleep, and almost every other person is accompanied by a small and adoring canine. Terrazas here and there offer ice cream, granizados, personal pizzas, soda, and lots of cañas.
You take pause and sit on the ground. You quickly feel prompted to pick another path and see where it takes you.

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A pond nearby attracts the attention of tourists and locals. Pigeons meander as if they own the place. Ducks amble about in their charmingly clumsy way or rest by the water. Baby turtles reach out from under the water to breathe. A couple of geese are fed like royalty by some park visitors who stop to cater to them. Fish can be spotted doing what they do best: floating through life, immersed in refreshing water.
And then, one of the small turtles begins to roam at a noticeably faster pace than what you would expect a turtle to move. It is not afraid of people. It purposefully reaches the edge of the fence and crawls outwardly, trying to cross the path as if on a mission, maybe wanting to get to another pond.
Eleven humans observe with amusement and concern.
Eleven of us stop and watch the path of the turtle. We want to know if it will make it safely, but hesitation makes its appearance on the route of the picturesque reptile. Still flanked by humans, the turtle does not give up, but it looks like it wants to head back, slowly. One of the humans helps it by lifting it up and putting it back on the grassy area by the pond. The turtle starts making its way down to the water, but stops and tries to find another way, perhaps an incline with an easier slide into the water, to no avail.
The willful little turtle starts heading for the fence and tries to get to the other side again. The humans shout: “¡No, no, quédate ahí! No no, stay over there!”…
And the turtle daringly looks up at the humans. The Book Fair is just a few steps away, probably the equivalent of a mere kilometer in turtle steps.

Why can’t I partake in the literary feast?, thought the willful little turtle, perhaps.

Spain – The 7th Time

I’m back in Spain, for the 7th time in my life.

(It’s hard to “leave” this place once you have roamed its diverse landscapes.)

It was the first country I ever visited beyond Puerto Rico and the United States. And that first time was in 1992, in time for the Expo in Seville.
During that first trip, I went with family to three places: Seville, Puerto de Santa María/Cádiz and Madrid. And yes, there was a side trip from Madrid to the Valle de los Caídos. There was one place missing: Toledo. Since high school, I had always wanted to go there.
My second trip to Spain happened in 1993 when I enrolled in a study abroad summer program – yes, in Toledo! That was at the Fundación José Ortega y Gasset. As part of the program, we went to Segovia, Ávila, and of course, Madrid. I did pay another visit to Seville, since my uncle and my aunt were still living there. That summer, I also went to Paris and Lisbon.
My third trip to Spain was in 1994.
My fourth trip was in 1995, which added not just the Barcelona component to my map of explored cities, but also my second visit (since 1993) to France, plus new countries such as Switzerland and Italy.
My fifth trip happened in 1998, which brought Germany into the picture, and in terms of Spain, it also added Salamanca to the repertoire.
Ten years elapsed without visiting Spain. Too long! Churros con chocolate readings at the lowest levels…
I was back in 2008, with a short visit to the Puerto (visiting with family) to initiate the adventure, and a grand month-long stay in Madrid, that time leading a group. It was also my return to lovely Toledo.
And now, this is my 7th trip! In the first three days, I have already spent two days at the Puerto–with an afternoon in Cádiz–, 16 festive hours in Seville, before heading again to the railways that lead back to Madrid. 🙂
Seville is magical and integral to my personal evolution as a world traveler.

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Cádiz is everything from Old San Juan to Cartagena, Colombia.

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Madrid is home – one of many…

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…unless I go to Toledo…THAT is home (too)…

Madison, Wisconsin

The syrupy not-two-sweet flavor of a peach iced tea at Espresso Royale,
the unique combination of spices in a veggie strudel special at Kabul,
the absoluteness of an iced soy chai at Fair Trade Coffeehouse…
The chirping of modern-day former dinosaurs as amblers go by,
the budding of spring in that green as green as grass,
the casual stroll on a summer morning, light dresses in full bloom…
On State Street, the Capitol approaching in tandem with Bascom Hill,
storefront by storefront, old and rare books, and bright candy,
bikes by the bagels, buses from the lakes…
Views of those worlds, touching the sky,
leaves and laughter, a place forever after
another day, finding home
another day being home.