Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Where The Bleep Did That Curse Word Come From?

We all have our favorite curse words to use when we're feeling angry, frustrated, upset, excited, surprised. Curse words provide a lot when it comes to expressing emotion. But, where did those filthy (yet cathartic) expressions come from?  Well, we took a deep look into some of the most common swears around. Warning: vulgar language ahead...

The word sh*& has been around since the early 1500s, and it is used mainly to describe an "obnoxious person." The word stems from the Middle Dutch schiten and the Middle English shiten (meaning "to defecate").  In the early 1920s, people began to use this curse word when describing something they don't care about (not giving a sh*&). Then, in the 60s, it was used to refer to someone who was drunk or sh*&faced. And, these days people use it to describe countries and locations they find unappealing (sh*&hole, anyone?)

This curse word (meaning "something bad" or "a mean person") dates all the way back to the 1300s, originating from the Middle English word, arshole. Back then, it was mainly used to describe someone's rear. Fast forward to the 1930s, when the word became more commonly used in reference to a "contemptible person." Today, we tend to keep up with this usage, showcasing our extreme distaste for someone by calling them . . . this term. (And, don't forget the hole part of the word when you are going for this meaning, because otherwise you're just calling that person a donkey.)

The F word
There are a lot of theories behind the origins of the swear word, f*&# (meaning "to have sex" or "to meddle"). It is believed that it originated from the Middle Dutch fokken, meaning "to thrust, copulate with." However, the truth behind the word still remains unknown because it was banned by the dictionary at the time it originated. What we do know is the word was first seen written in 1495–1505. In the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary it appeared as fukkit and was later seen written by the poet Sir David Lyndesay as we know it today. In the 1900s, it grew into a word used to describe a very bad mistake and to tell someone to leave you alone.

While the word b!#ch (or a "lewd woman" or "female dog") is a rather common term these days (and can be used in both positive and negative ways), back in the 1800s, it was considered more offensive than the word whore.  B!#ch actually dates back to before the year 1000 though. (It could be featured as one of our oldest words!) It originates from the Middle English word bicche. But, it wasn't written until the 1400s when it was first seen in a play to describe a woman.

This swear word (which is normally used to express disgust) can be offensive to those with religious backgrounds (since it's seen as saying the Lord's name in vain). Stemmed from late Middle English, this word came about in the 1400s and became more popular as time went on. The word d@mn itself originates from damnare, a Latin word meaning "to condemn."  Fun fact: During the Hundred Years War, the French were said to refer to the English soldiers as "les goddems" because of their excessive use of profanities.

According to Slate, the phrase m%therf*c%er (referring to someone who or something that is despicable) first came about in the "late 19th and early 20th centuries" and was originally documented during a "Texas Court of Appeals’ account." It was here that a witness referred to a defendant as a “G!d d@mned m#ther-f—ing, b@st@#%ly son-of-a-b—h.” Wow.  Then in World War II, the phrase became a more popular way to say someone or something is irritating or ruthless.  But, as the 1950s rolled around, the word "m%therf*c%er" took a turn for the good if you can believe it. It became used in a more favorable way to describe someone you're close with. For example, "I love him madly, he’s my m—erf—ng man," which was a line from the 1954 poetry book, The Life.

We've all heard (or used) the phrase, go to he!! at least once or twice in our lifetime. But, where does this curse word come from? Sure, we know it has something to do with heaven and the other place, but did you know it stems from the Gothic halja, which translates to the "underworld"?  The term came about sometime before 900 and could also possibly be related to Old Norse hel, which is found in Norse mythology (North Germanic people with ties to Norse paganism) and is the name of the ruler of the "evil dead." 

The word pi$$ might not be as offensive as some of the other curse words on this list, but it's still kind of foul. It can refer to anything from using the restroom to being exceedingly angry. And, the United Kingdom uses it to reference someone who has had one too many cocktails. The word came about somewhere between 1250–1300, originating from the Old French word pissier. In World War II, it was used to describe someone who was performing badly: pi$$-poor. Later, in 1947, the word was more commonly used to reference someone who was angry or irritated.

When formally used, the word b@st@rd simply means a child who is "born out of wedlock." However, when using it as a curse word, it refers to an "unpleasant or despicable person."  It's been said that the word originated somewhere between 1250–1300 and is possibly from Old French. In the late 16th century, the use of the word became prevalent when describing a "brat, or small child" and later became a more crude term in the 1800s. 

The word cr@p (meaning "to talk nonsense" or "excrement") is kind of like the less distasteful way to say s#*t. Nonetheless, the word is still considered a crude curse word.  The word comes from the Middle Dutch word, krappe ("to cut off, pluck off"). Then, in the 15th century, it became a word you'd use more frequently to describe someone or something that is considered "nonsense."

Ready for some great fake swear words  on Screen you Fracking Smeghead?

Orson Scott Card cautioned against using invented swears in fiction because the fake “oaths” risked making the story silly. Fair enough. But, frak it, sometimes cussing is the only way to let it out. On-screen rules occasionally prohibit or limit profanity. So, screenwriters get creative. Even Fantastic Mr. Fox had to release some heat (“This is going to be a total cluster-cuss,” “You scared the cuss out of us”).  Using cuss as a cuss is cute, but pretty vanilla. For real kapow, here are some of the most creative fake swears seen on screen.

"Blurgh, you jagweed"
Liz Lemon first uttered “Blurgh!” in a 2007 episode of 30 Rock. It was so good, so compelling a swear that she used it three other times in the episode. It’s been immortalized ever since as a word expressing “revulsion, deflation, and disgust.” Tina Fey, who plays Ms. Lemon and who is the show’s creator, explained to GOOD Magazine that Blurgh was one of the invented swears the writers came up with while trying to circumvent the no-swear policy of network television. Jagweed, another zesty example of lewd-Lemon lexicon, is synonymous with “douchebag.” The fake cuss is a funny corruption of jerk off and jack off (you know, relating to the masturbatory undertaking).

“You fusking cloff-prunker”
In the early 1990s, the British comedy sketch show A Bit of Fry & Laurie was a platform for Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie to engage in hilarious bouts of wordplay. Aside from “The Language Conversation” (an episode focusing on the flexibility and arbitrariness of language), the most inventive displays of lexical wizardry were the meaningless but nevertheless obscene-sounding tell-offs: “You fusking cloff-prunker” and “Skank off, you cloffing cuck, you're all a load of shote-bag fuskers, so prunk that up your prime-ministering pim-hole."  When asked to explain what cloff-prunker means, Stephen Fry explains it’s a practice whereby “one person frangilates another’s slimp . . . and smuctat[es] them avially.” Very clear.

Frak is one of the most well-known fake swears in fiction. Its appearances off the mothership Battlestar Galactica, in entertainment as divergent as Gossip Girl and the Dilbert comic strip, demonstrate frak’s immense appeal.  A futuristic stand-in for the f-word, frak first appeared in the 1978 series Battlestar Galactica. Originally spelled “frack,” the word was revamped for the 2010 revival of the series so that it reflected its true “four-letter-word” nature. Though not an intention of the producers, the respelling now differentiates the fictional swear from the practice of fracking . . . frak fracking!

Farscape’s frell is another example of how writing teams imaginatively side-step the boundaries of what can be said on TV. According to a Farscape fan site, frell is used by Sebaceans, bipedal beings that look uncannily like humans (and can be played by them on the show, to the producers’ relief). Frell replaces the “coarse Anglo-Saxon monosyllable indicating sexual intercourse,” i.e., our old favorite: the f-word.

In 2002, Joss Whedon combined Western and sci-fi genres in Firefly, set in the year 2517. The language of the show is a mix of English and Chinese, reflecting Whedon’s visionary world in which the U.S. and China are the two most powerful cultures on the planet. Gorram is a substitute for God damn, and may be a “Chinglish” pronunciation of the swear according to Some fans question if gorram is actually a Chinese word, or somehow related to similar sounding words meaning “testicles,” “rotten,” and “f-d up” in various Chinese dialects. Others say there is no connection to Chinese.  However, Charles Dickens coined gormed in the 1800s, possibly as a mild form of “gosh darned” (and therefore of “God damned”) so this one may be older than BrownCoats know.    

“What the cabbage?”
The leap from adult sci-fi genres to a child’s fantasy adventure cartoon is not insignificant. Especially considering this slideshow is about invented cuss words. Adventure Time appeals to both kids and parents through the interactions of the protagonists, Finn and Jake, with magical characters in the Land of Ooo.  Along the way English words conjuring (for some) utter doom and dismay—like lump, cabbage, and math—are cheekily used in especially emotional dialogue: “I lumping hate them!,” “What the cabbage?,” and “I wanna go to sleep and you’re creeping me the math out!” While not coined from scratch, these cusses are certainly creative.

"Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, nerfherder! "
Hop aboard the Millennium Falcon to venture back into the universe of fake swears. Star Wars is rife with inventive curse words, from f-bomb alternatives (farkled and krong), insults (laser brain and the Huttese E chu ta), to general expletives like vape and varp.  In The Empire Strikes Back, Princess Leia insults Han Solo as a nerfherder, someone who—as anyone from Alderaan would know—herds nerfs or “foul-smelling furry quadrupeds bred for meat across the galaxies.” Nerfherders had a bad reputation for being dirty and smelling like nerfs.

Coincidentally, while the human survivors on Battlestar Galactica were yelling “Frack you!” to the Ceylons, Mork (in Mork & Mindy) was exclaiming “Shazbot!” Robin Williams, the actor portraying Mork, might have invented the Orkan profanity in a moment of ad-libbed genius. Shazbot evokes the smelly “shiz” of a robot, and it was comfortably used in place of the four-letter word for the smelly droppings of a human.

"Smeggy, smegging smegger!”
“. . . smeg off . . . you annoyingly little smeggy, smegging smegger!” proclaims a character in the British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf. Based on this insult, in which smeg so flexibly morphs into any part of speech, it seems smeg can be used in place of at least a couple choice curse words. Adding head is a nice option if going for a version of shizhead (we have to euphemize; we know you understand).  The Red Dwarf screenwriters claim no association, but this coined obscenity has a fairly disgusting real cousin in English (and in physical anatomy): smegma is the “thick, cheeselike secretion” that collects beneath and around male and female netherparts. That’s smegging gross.

“Where the smurf are we?”
To help you move on from that last smegging visual, we’ll turn to The Smurfs. The little blue mushroom-dwellers use the word smurf to mean just about anything: “Our village has been smurfed by a smurf that smurfs smurf.” “When you smurf that smurf, you smurf off a whole series of smurfed smurfections . . . .”  Only Smurfs truly understand what one Smurf-speaking Smurf is smurfing. Smurf comes close to a minced oath for God in Papa Smurf’s cries of “Great smurfs!” and “Name of a smurf!” In the 2011 movie, there was no smurf about it: Smurf became a smurf-word: “Where the smurf are we?”


Friday, February 2, 2018

Freedom for California’s Indians


On April 27, 1863, nearly five months after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, California abolished its system of forced apprenticeship for American Indians. Under the apprenticeship provisions of the state’s Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, several thousand California Indians, mostly children, had suffered kidnapping, sale and involuntary servitude for over a decade.

Newly elected California Republicans, eager to bring California in line with the national march toward emancipation, agitated for two years in the early 1860s to repeal Indian apprenticeship. And yet those Republicans’ limited vision of Indian freedom — one in which Indians would be free to reap the fruits of their labor, but not free from the duty to labor altogether — made for an incomplete Indian Emancipation Proclamation. Although California was distant from the battlefields of the Civil War, the state endured its own struggle over freedom that paralleled that of the North and the South.

The Republican campaign to abolish Indian servitude ran up against nearly a century of coerced Indian labor in California. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, thousands of California Indians worked on missions and ranches, bound to their employment through a combination of economic necessity, captivity, physical compulsion and debt.

With the United States’ conquest of California in 1847, the discovery of gold in 1848 and the formation of a state government in 1849, new American lawmakers expanded and formalized Indian servitude to meet growing demands for labor. The 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians authorized whites to hold Indian children as wards until they reached adulthood. Indian adults convicted of vagrancy or other crimes could be forced to work for whites who paid their bail.

Skyrocketing demand for farmworkers and domestic servants, combined with violence between Indians and invading whites in the northwestern part of the state, left Democrats in war-torn counties clamoring for the expansion of the 1850 Indian act. A “general system of peonage or apprenticeship” was the only way to quell Indian wars, one Democrat argued. A stint of involuntary labor would civilize Indians, establish them in “permanent and comfortable homes,” and provide white settlers with “profitable and convenient servants.” In 1860, Democrats proposed new amendments to the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians that allowed whites to bind Indian children as apprentices until they reached their mid-20s. Indian adults accused of being vagrants without steady employment, or taken as captives of war, could be apprenticed for 10-year terms. The amendments passed with little debate.

As the nation hurtled toward a war over slavery, Californians watched as their own state became a battleground over the future of human bondage. Apprenticeship laws aimed at “civilizing” the state’s Indians encouraged a robust and horrific slave trade in the northwestern counties. Frontier whites eagerly paid from $50 to $100 for Indian children to apprentice. Groups of kidnappers, dubbed “baby hunters” in the California press, supplied this market by attacking isolated Indian villages and snatching up children in the chaos of battle. Some assailants murdered Indian parents who refused to give up their children.

Once deposited in white homes, captive apprentices often suffered abuse and neglect. The death of Rosa, a 10-year-old apprentice from either the Yuki or Pomo tribes, provides a grim case in point. Just two weeks before the repeal of Indian apprenticeship, the Mendocino County coroner found the dead girl “nearly naked, lying in a box out of doors” next to the home of her mistress, a Mrs. Bassett of Ukiah. Neighbors testified that the child was sick and restless and that Basset shut her out of the house in the middle of a raging snowstorm. Huge bruises on Rosa’s abdomen suggested that Bassett had mercilessly beaten the ill child before tossing her out into the blizzard. Mendocino officials never brought charges in the case.

The horrors of kidnapping and apprenticeship filled the state’s newspapers just as antislavery California Republicans swept into power in 1861-2. Republicans assailed the apprentice system and blamed Democrats for the “abominable system of Indian apprenticeship, which has been used as a means of introducing actual slavery into our free State.” George Hanson, an Illinois Republican whose close relationship with Abraham Lincoln earned him an appointment as Northern California’s superintendent of Indian affairs, vowed to eliminate the state’s “unholy traffic in human blood and souls.” He tracked down and prosecuted kidnappers in the northwestern counties (with mixed success) and petitioned the State Legislature to abolish the apprenticeship system.

In 1862, Republican legislators proposed two new measures to overturn the 1860 apprenticeship amendments. Democrats blocked these bills and insisted that apprenticeship “embodied one of the most important measures” for Indians’ “improvement and civilization.” Indian servitude lived on.

By the time the legislature met again in the spring of 1863, however, all signs pointed to the destruction of the apprenticeship system. Republicans won firm majorities in both houses of the State Legislature, and in January California became the first state to endorse Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Republicans again proposed to repeal the apprenticeship amendments, and this time they achieved their goal with no debate or dissent. Involuntary labor for American Indians died quietly.

Or did it? Republicans had eliminated all the 1860 amendments authorizing the forced apprenticeship of American Indians. But they had left intact sections of the original 1850 act that mandated the forcible binding out of Indian convicts and vagrants. Moreover, repeal only prevented future apprenticeships; Republican legislation did not liberate Indians already legally apprenticed. After repeal, as many as 6,000 Indian children remained servants in white homes.

The incomplete nature of Indian emancipation in California reflected Republicans’ own ambivalence toward Indian freedom. Most Republicans opposed the kidnapping and enslavement of Indians. They believed that Indians, like former African-American slaves, should be entitled to reap the economic rewards of their own work. On the other hand, they asserted that the key to “civilizing” Indians was to force them to participate in the California labor market. They could not be free to support themselves through traditional mobile hunting and gathering practices that removed their labor from white supervision and tied up valuable natural resources. Such a lifestyle was, in Republicans’ minds, little more than idle vagrancy. Just as their Republican colleagues on the East Coast argued that ex-slaves should be schooled to labor by being bound to plantation wage work through long-term contracts, California Republicans began to advocate compulsory labor as the only way to cure Indian vagrancy.

The Republican vision for Indian freedom quickly took shape after the Civil War. Republican appointees who oversaw California’s Indian reservations compelled all able-bodied Indians to work on the reservation farms. Those who refused, or who pursued native food-gathering practices, forfeited the meager federal rations allotted to reservation Indians. By 1867, one Republican agent declared that “the hoe and the broadaxe will sooner civilize and Christianize than the spelling book and the Bible.” He advocated forcing Indians to work until they had been “humanized by systematic labor.” These policies persisted long after the war. At Round Valley Reservation, one critic observed in 1874 that “compulsion is used to keep the Indians and to drive them to work.” Indian workers received no payment for “labor and no opportunity to accumulate individual property.”

The ambiguous postwar liberty of California Indians reveals that the Civil War was a transcontinental conflict that reached west to the Pacific. The freedoms won in wartime, and the unfulfilled promises of emancipation, encompassed not only black and white, free and slave, but also American Indian peoples who suffered from distinctly Western systems of unfree labor. The Civil War and Reconstruction are best understood as truly national struggles over the meaning and limits of freedom, north, south and west.

On the April 22, 1850, to “craft its own code of compulsory labor”, an "Act for the Government and Protection of Indians” was passed which legally curtailed rights of Indians. It provided that:

  • "White persons or proprietors could apply to the Justice of Peace for the removal of Indians from lands in the white person’s possession"
  • "Any person could go before a Justice of Peace to obtain Indian children for indenture. The Justice determined whether or not compulsory means were used to obtain the child. If the Justice was satisfied that no coercion occurred, the person obtain a certificate that authorized him to have the care, custody, control and earnings of an Indian until their age of majority (for males, eighteen years, for females, fifteen years)." In actual practice this section lead to a trade system of kidnapped Indian children, either stolen from their parents or taken from the results of militia attacks during the 1850s and 1860s. Frontier whites often eagerly paid $50–$100 for Indian children to apprentice and so groups of kidnappers would often raid isolated Indian villages, snatching up children in the chaos of battle.
  • “If a convicted Indian was punished by paying a fine, any white person, with the consent of the Justice, could give bond for the Indian’s fine and costs. In return, the Indian was “compelled to work until his fine was discharged or cancelled.” The person bailing was supposed to “treat the Indian humanely, and clothe and feed him properly.” The Court decided “the allowance given for such labor.”” Local authorities were often required to hire out the “convicts” within the next 24 hours to the highest bidder essentially creating a system of selling slaves out of jail.
  • Indians could not testify for or against whites. It was illegal to sell or administer alcohol to Indians and if Indians were convicted of stealing any valuable or livestock, they could receive any number of lashes (as long as it was less than 25) and a fine of up to $200.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Who was Isabel de Olvera?

A free woman of African descent living in Querétaro, Mexico, Isabel de Olvera joined a relief expedition to the recently colonized province of New Mexico in 1600.  She would travel as a servant to a Spanish woman.  Little is known about Olvera, except for an extraordinary deposition she filed with the Querétaro alcalde (mayor), don Pedro Lorenzo de Castilla.  In front of three witnesses (a free black man, a mestiza woman, and a black slave woman), Isabel de Olvera dictated the following:

I am going on the expedition to New Mexico and have some reason to fear that I may be annoyed by some individual since I am a mulatta, and it is proper to protect my rights in such an eventuality by an affidavit showing that I am a free woman, unmarried and the legitimate daughter of Hernando, a Negro, and an Indian named Magdalena . . . . I therefore request your grace to accept this affidavit, which shows that I am free and not bound by marriage or slavery.  I request that a properly certified and signed copy be given to me in order to protect my rights, and that it carry full legal authority.  I demand justice.

Whether Isabel de Olvera’s deposition worked as a protector of her freedoms remains unknown to history.  However, the document somehow made its way into the Spanish colonial archives, memorializing its progenitor and her understandings of personal freedom for generations of historians. Olvera understood that her cherished freedom could be restricted in two realms of bondage: slavery and marriage.  In Querétaro, her freedoms were a matter of public knowledge.  As the three witnesses verified, Isabel de Olvera was an unmarried mulatta woman of free status.  Her future neighbors in the unknown north, however, might challenge those freedoms and Olvera’s status.  Yet, despite her fear that she might “be annoyed by some individual” on the expedition to New Mexico, she agreed to make the journey.  Perhaps she hoped to find increased freedoms in New Mexico, and not to remain long in the position of servant.


Timeline of Africans and Black Spaniards within the Spanish colonies:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

8 Things You May Not Know About American Money

On February 25, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the National Banking Act (originally known as the National Currency Act), which for the first time in American history established the federal dollar as the sole currency of the United States. On the law’s 150th anniversary, explore eight surprising facts about American money.


1. The Constitution only authorized the federal government to issue coins, not paper money.

Article One of the Constitution granted the federal government the sole power “to coin money” and “regulate the value thereof.” However, it said nothing about paper money. This was largely because the founding fathers had seen the bills issued by the Continental Congress to finance the American Revolution—called “continentals”—become virtually worthless by the end of the war. The implosion of the continental eroded faith in paper currency to such an extent that the Constitutional Convention delegates decided to remain silent on the issue.

2. Prior to the Civil War, banks printed paper money.

For America’s first 70 years, private entities, and not the federal government, issued paper money. Notes printed by state-chartered banks, which could be exchanged for gold and silver, were the most common form of paper currency in circulation. From the founding of the United States to the passage of the National Banking Act, some 8,000 different entities issued currency, which created an unwieldy money supply and facilitated rampant counterfeiting. By establishing a single national currency, the National Banking Act eliminated the overwhelming variety of paper money circulating throughout the country and created a system of banks chartered by the federal government rather than by the states. The law also assisted the federal government in financing the Civil War.

3. Foreign coins were once acceptable legal tender in the United States.

Before gold and silver were discovered in the West in the mid-1800s, the United States lacked a sufficient quantity of precious metals for minting coins. Thus, a 1793 law permitted Spanish dollars and other foreign coins to be part of the American monetary system. Foreign coins were not banned as legal tender until 1857.

4. The highest-denomination note ever printed was worth $100,000.
The largest bill ever produced by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing was the $100,000 gold certificate. The currency notes were printed between December 18, 1934, and January 9, 1935, with the portrait of President Woodrow Wilson on the front. Don’t ask your bank teller for a $100,000 bill, though. The notes were never circulated to the public and were used solely for transactions among Federal Reserve banks.

5. You won’t find a president on the highest-denomination bill ever issued to the public.
The $10,000 bill is the highest denomination ever circulated by the federal government. In spite of its value, it is adorned not with a portrait of a president but with that of Salmon P. Chase, treasury secretary at the time of the passage of the National Banking Act. Chase later served as chief justice of the Supreme Court. The federal government stopped producing the $10,000 bill in 1969 along with these other high-end denominations: $5,000 (fronted by James Madison), $1,000 (fronted by Grover Cleveland) and $500 (fronted by William McKinley). (Although rare to find in your wallet, $2 bills are still printed periodically.)

6. Two American presidents appeared on Confederate dollars.

The Confederacy issued paper money worth approximately $1 billion during the Civil War—more than twice the amount circulated by the United States. While it’s not surprising that Confederate President Jefferson Davis and depictions of slaves at work in fields appeared on some dollar bills, so too did two Southern slave-holding presidents whom Confederates claimed as their own: George Washington (on a $50 and $100 bill) and Andrew Jackson (on a $1,000 bill).

7. Your house may literally have been built with old money.
When dollar bills are taken out of circulation or become worn, they are shredded by Federal Reserve banks. In some cases, the federal government has sold the shredded currency to companies that can recycle it and use it for the production of building materials such as roofing shingles or insulation. (The Bureau of Engraving and Printing also sells small souvenir bags of shredded currency that was destroyed during the printing process.)

8. The $10 bill has the shortest lifespan of any denomination.

According to the Federal Reserve, the estimated lifespan of a $10 bill is 3.6 years. The estimated lifespans of a $5 and $1 bill are 3.8 years and 4.8 years, respectively. The highest estimated lifespan is for a $100 bill at nearly 18 years. The federal government reports that approximately 4,000 double folds (forward, then backward) are required to tear a note.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Following his beliefs: The Ralph Lazo Story

Following his beliefs led him to Manzanar
Ralph Lazo's decision to voluntarily join his Japanese American classmates in the internment camp still resonates 65 years later.
May 27, 2007|Cecilia Rasmussen | Times Staff Writer

Manzanar, Calif., May 1942.

It's a warm morning at the dusty, inhospitable World War II internment camp on the bleak edge of the Owens Valley. Latino teenager Ralph Lazo arrives by bus to join his Japanese American friends from Belmont High School. Lazo, a 16-year-old Mexican-Irish American, was motivated by loyalty and outrage at the internment of his friends. He became the only known non-spouse, non-Japanese who voluntarily relocated to Manzanar. "Who can say that I haven't got Japanese blood in my veins?" Lazo told The Times in a 1981 interview. That sentiment is voiced by actor Alexis Cruz , who plays Lazo in a 33-minute docudrama, "Stand Up for Justice: The Ralph Lazo Story." The film, which also uses archival footage, is part of a project to make local history and civics lessons more interesting for high school students.

The Los Angeles Unified School District recognized Lazo's act of friendship and loyalty last week as the Board of Education presented his relatives with a certificate for his contributions to the Japanese American community. Film participants, teachers and members of the Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress group were also awarded certificates for the project, part of the board's Asian Pacific Heritage Month Resolution. Lazo was "an individual who showed courage. He stood up for his neighbors, doing the right thing at a difficult time," said John Esaki, who wrote and directed the film and is program director at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. "This story has been told hundreds of times, but never through the eyes of a Mexican American. He was legendary, winning the hearts of everyone at Manzanar, and it was hard to ignore such a powerful and enduring character."

The film, made for about $100,000, was produced by Visual Communications, an Asian
Pacific media arts center, and funded by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Project. It recreates the period after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. More than two months later, on Feb. 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order for the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast, believing them to be a threat to national security.

Lazo, who was born in Los Angeles in 1925, grew up in the Temple Street neighborhood on Bunker Hill, a melting pot of Japanese, Basques, Jews, Latinos, Anglos, Filipinos, Koreans and African Americans. As he watched posters go up in community churches giving instructions for the internment process, "it really hit home," he told The Times in 1981. Anger overwhelmed him as he helped his friends hurriedly sell their belongings for a pittance. "Internment was immoral," he said. "It was wrong, and I couldn't accept it."

His father, John Houston Lazo, was a widower who supported Ralph and his sister, Virginia, by working for the Santa Fe Railroad and painting houses. When his father was on the road, Ralph Lazo often ate at the homes of Nisei friends -- second-generation Japanese Americans. He also played basketball on a Filipino community church team.  In May 1942, prodded by Japanese American classmates "to come along," Lazo slipped aboard a train. He'd told his father that he was going to camp with his Japanese American friends but was vague about the particulars. "I think he thought I meant weekend camp," Lazo told The Times. But when his father learned that his son was at Manzanar, he made no effort to bring him home. "He was a wise man," Lazo said. "He knew I was safe."

No government official asked about his ancestry, he said. "Being brown has its advantages." Despite Manzanar's name, Spanish for "apple orchard," the area had been left barren decades earlier when Owens Valley water was diverted to Los Angeles. But Lazo helped to make the place as attractive as possible by planting trees. He also delivered mail and kept spirits up by holding holiday parties that featured punch, deviled-egg sandwiches and the Jive Bombers, the camp's dance band. He even played cupid, matchmaking several friends, according to Esaki, the filmmaker. "He was enthusiastic. He spoke a little Japanese and was a cheerleader who fired up the crowd at all the sporting events," Esaki said. Lazo told The Times that camp inmates tried to make the best of their situation. "We didn't just sit around and complain," he said. "In the summer, the heat was unbearable; in the winter, the sparsely rationed oil didn't adequately heat the tarpaper-covered pine barracks with the knotholes in the floor. The wind would blow so hard, it would toss rocks around."

When everything looked grim, Toyo Miyatake, a renowned photographer who captured poignant scenes at Manzanar with his contraband homemade camera, "would always point out the beauty around us," Lazo said. In 1944, Lazo was elected class president of Manzanar High School, even though he graduated at the bottom of a class of 150. "I didn't mind being at the bottom of that group," he told The Times.  Government officials finally realized Lazo was not Japanese-American when he was drafted in August 1944. The U.S. Department of the Interior's War Relocation Authority touted the fact with a news release: "America's only non-Japanese evacuee, Ralph Lazo In fact, there were other non-Japanese at internment camps -- spouses of Japanese Americans and Japanese citizens.

Army Staff Sgt. Lazo served in the South Pacific during the campaign for the liberation of the Philippines. "The American G.I. couldn't tell the difference between a Japanese and a Filipino. That's why they assigned me." Soldiers "were killing the Filipinos and letting the Japanese go," he told The Times. He was awarded a Bronze Star for heroism in combat. After the war, Lazo graduated from UCLA and earned a master's degree from Cal State Northridge. He became a teacher and joined the struggle to win reparations for Japanese Americans, helping raise funds for a threatened class-action lawsuit. In 1988, Congress passed a law to award each surviving internee $20,000.

Lazo taught at San Fernando Junior High School, then at Grant and Monroe high schools before becoming a counselor at Valley College in 1970. There, he also mentored students who were disabled and worked to persuade more Latino parents to encourage their children to go to college and register to vote.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dolores Huerta: Activist

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”
—Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta has worked to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and to fight discrimination. To further her cause, she created the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA) in 1960 and co-founded what would become the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta stepped down from the UFW in 1999, but she continues her efforts to improve the lives of workers, immigrants and women.

Early Life 

Activist and labor leader Dolores Fernández, better known as Dolores Huerta, was born April 10, 1930, in Dawson, New Mexico, the second child of Juan and Alicia (Chavez) Fernandez. The young family struggled, and by the time Dolores was three, her parents divorced and her mother moved Dolores and her two brothers to Stockton, California. Dolores maintained a relationship with her father, who later became a union activist and a New Mexico state assemblyman. Juan’s own political and labor activism later proved inspirational to Dolores.

Migrant Workers in Stockton, CA
When the family first arrived in Stockton, a farming community in the San Joaquin Valley, Alicia worked two jobs to provide for the family. Dolores’s grandfather, Herculano Chavez, took care of the children, serving as the children’s adult male figure. Dolores admired her mother, who was always encouraged her children to get involved in youth activities and become something. Alicia worked hard to provide music lessons and extracurricular activities for Dolores and her brothers. Dolores played violin and piano and took dance lessons. A good student, she was also a Girl Scout up until she turned 18, and she won second place in a national essay contest.

Despite her achievements, Dolores experienced the racism many Mexicans and Mexican Americans suffered from, especially those who were farm workers. At school she was sometimes treated with suspicion and scorn. She was once accused by a teacher of stealing another student’s work because the teacher was convinced that Dolores was incapable, due to her ethnic origin. However, with time, her family’s economic conditions improved. During World War II, Alicia ran a restaurant and then purchased a hotel in Stockton with her second husband, James Richards. The businesses served the farm workers and day laborers, offering affordable rates and welcoming the diversity of the area.

Dolores with her husband, Ventura
After graduating from Stockton High School, in 1947, Dolores Fernandez went through a marriage, the birth to two children and a divorce. After a series of unsatisfying jobs, she returned to school and eventually completed a teaching degree at Stockton College, part of the University of the Pacific. She briefly worked as an elementary school teacher, but resigned because she was so distraught over the poor living conditions of her students, many of them children of farm workers. Determined to help, in 1955, she and Fred Ross started the Stockton chapter of the Community Services Organization (CSO), a grassroots group that worked to end segregation, discrimination and police brutality and improve social and economic conditions of farm workers. During this time, Dolores married Ventura Huerta, another labor activist. The couple would go on to have five children.

A Life of Activism

Cesar Chavez
In 1960, Dolores Huerta started the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA). She set up voter registration drives and lobbied politicians to allow non–U.S. citizen migrant workers to receive public assistance and pensions and provide Spanish-language voting ballots and driver's tests. During this time, Dolores met Cesar Chavez, a fellow CSO official, who had become its director. In 1962, both Huerta and Chavez lobbied to have the CSO expand its efforts to help farm workers, but the organization was focused on urban issues and couldn’t move in that direction. Frustrated, they both left the organization and, with Gilbert Padilla, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). The two made a great team. Chavez was the dynamic leader and speaker; and Huerta the skilled organizer and tough negotiator.

In 1965, the AWA and the NFWA combined to become the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (later, simply the United Farm Workers). That year, the union took on the Coachella Valley grape growers, with Chavez organizing a strike of all farm workers and Huerta negotiating contracts. After five hard years, the United Farm Workers (now affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) signed an historic agreement with 26 grape growers that improved working conditions for farm workers, including reducing the use of harmful pesticides and initiating unemployment and healthcare benefits. In the 1970s, Huerta coordinated a national lettuce boycott and helped create the political climate for the passage of the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act, the first law to recognize the rights of farm workers to bargain collectively.

During the 1980s, Dolores Huerta served as vice president of the UFW and co-founded the UFW’s radio station. She continued to speak for a variety of causes, advocating for a comprehensive immigration policy and better health conditions for farm workers. In 1988, she nearly lost her life when she was beaten by San Francisco police at a rally protesting the policies of then-presidential candidate George H. W. Bush. She suffered six broken ribs and a ruptured spleen.

Later Life

Dolores Huerta has been honored for her work as a fierce advocate for farm workers, immigration and women. She received the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award and was inducted in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. That year proved bitter-sweet for her as she also experienced the passing of her beloved friend Cesar Chavez. In 1998, she received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award, a year before she stepped down from her position at the United Farm Workers. In 2002, she received the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. The $100,000 award provided her the means to create the Dolores Huerta Foundation, whose purpose is to bring organizing and training skills to low-income communities. Huerta continues to lecture and speak out on a variety of social issues involving immigration, income inequality and the rights of women and Latinos.  


In 2006, Dolores Huerta visits Tucson High School and makes a speech. Within the speech, she states "Republicans Hate Latinos." In 2010, Arizona Attorney Tom Horne and other politicians used these words as their rationale for passing HB-2281-The Ethnic Studies Ban. In this interview, Dolores Huerta discusses the statement and its affect. 

more about Latino History:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Women Prisoners of War at Castle Thunder: Civil War

By Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Castle Thunder at the fall of Richmond, 1865
Castle Thunder in Richmond, Virginia, was one of the few Confederate prisons that held not only male prisoners of war but women prisoners as well. Located along Tobacco row, near Libby prison, Castle Thunder held around 100 women prisoners for various crimes, such as prostitution, spying and smuggling, although most of them were political prisoners. A few of these women were also female soldiers whose true identity had been discovered. An article published in the New York Times in July of 1863, states that some of the female prisoners were also wives and children of Union soldiers who were captured after the Union defeat at the second battle of Winchester. These women and children didn’t remain long at Castle Thunder as they were quickly transferred to the United States Hotel in Washington D.C. Women and African-American prisoners were kept in a separate building at the prison while male Confederate deserters and male political prisoners were held in another.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, 1863
Conditions at the prison were deplorable. Castle Thunder was filthy, overcrowded, disease-ridden and lacked adequate food and medical supplies for the prisoners. Executions of Confederate deserters took place in full view of the other prisoners and a notoriously brutal captain, George W. Alexander, patrolled the prison daily accompanied by his aggressive black dog, Nero, both whom taunted and terrorized the prisoners. The most famous of Castle Thunder’s women prisoners was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. Walker was an army doctor for the 52nd Ohio Infantry who was taken prisoner after she encountered a group of Confederate soldiers at Tunnel Hill in Georgia. Due to her unconventional profession as well as her trademark military uniform, a pair of trousers worn under her skirt, a military jacket and a gypsy hat, Walker attracted a lot of attention from the press and locals in Richmond.

The Richmond Sentinel published the following account of her capture on April 22, 1864:

“The female Yankee surgeon captured by our pickets a short time since, in the neighborhood of the army of Tennessee, was received in this city yesterday evening, and sent to the Castle in charge of a detective. Her appearance on the street in full male costume, with the exception of a gipsey hat, created quite an excitement amongst the idle negroes and boys who followed and surrounded her. She gave her name as Dr. Mary E. Walker, and declared that she had been captured on neutral ground. She was dressed in black pants and black or dark talma or paletot. She was consigned to the female ward of Castle Thunder, there being no accommodations at the Libby for prisoners of her sex. We must not omit to add that she is ugly and skinny, and apparently above thirty years of age.”

Mary Bell, Confederate spy
Walker spent six months at the jail, during which she wrote numerous letters to the press describing the horrible conditions at the prison. She complained that her mattress was infested with insects, rats ran throughout the prison at night and food rations were meager and inedible. According to the book Dr Mary Edwards Walker, later in her life Walker once even complained of a guard who had fired at her while she stood in the doorway to her cell, just narrowly missing her head. On August 12th, prison officials finally released Walker in an attempt to avoid anymore negative press. For the rest of her life, Walker suffered from health problems caused by her malnutrition and exposure to disease at the prison. Other famous prisoners included two cousins, Mary and Mollie Bell. The Bells were secret soldiers who had disguised themselves as men in order to fight for the Confederacy. They fought for two years, under the command of General Jubal A. Early, and took part in a number of key battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg and the Battle of Chancellorsville, before their true identities were discovered after a fellow soldier reported them.

Upon discovery, the Bells were sent to Castle Thunder in October of 1864 and held for three weeks. With no official crime to charge them with, prison officials finally released the cousins and sent them home to Pulaski County, Virginia. Castle Thunder remained an active Confederate prison until the fall of Richmond in April of 1865. Shortly before the city fell to the Union army, the prisoners were evacuated and sent to Danville, Virginia. The Union army later took control of the prison and used it for similar purposes. After the war ended, Castle Thunder was returned to its original owners but was destroyed in a large fire in 1879.

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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