Echoes of Peace Choir

Echoes of Peace Choir

Thursday, April 26, 2012

You Are My Other Me

[The following is the summary of how "You Are My Other Me" became the theme for our 10th Anniversary Concert, which was held April 22, 2012 at Sacred Heart Music Center, Duluth. Proceeds for the concert went to Grant-Nettleton Community Collaborative.]

You are my other me. 
If I harm you, I harm myself. If I respect you, I respect myself.

The Mayan concept of “In Lak Esh”

In January 2012, as this 10th anniversary choir season began, a news report from Tucson, Arizona caught my attention. The Mexican American Studies Program had been deemed “illegal,” and must be discontinued by February 1. If they did not comply, the school district would face loss of funding. And so it was. Books were taken off shelves, boxed up, put away in storage under lock & key.

I scanned through the list of “banned books” and discovered I had one on my own shelves: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire, Brazilian educator. I put the other titles on my wish list: Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, edited by Elizabeth Martinez, Message to Aztlán, by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement, by F Arturo Rosales, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuña, Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow.

I dug a little deeper to find out what sorts of things this program, deemed illegal, was teaching. I should be working on learning the tenor and bass part to that one song, and the soprano and alto part to that other song so I could teach it at choir practice. But books, boxed up and taken away?

My mind flashed on a trip to Berlin years ago. I was walking across the city’s large public square Bebelplatz, with fellow musician and travel mate Hans. We stumbled across a large clear glass plate set into the cobbles beneath our feet. Startled, we bent down and peered through the glass to find a room with nothing in it but a bunch of white empty bookshelves. “They must have taken down the display,” I remember thinking. I hoped the museum and gallery we were about to visit was more up to date.

Then we saw the following words of Heinrich Heine engraved on a tiny plaque: “Das war ein vorspiel nur wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen” (“Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people”). Flipping through our travel book, we discovered we were standing on the site of the infamous Nazi book burnings. 20,000 books up in flames. I looked again at the empty shelves. I don’t remember what else I saw that day. But I remember the books. That I didn’t see.

I really should figure out what’s the best key to do that one song in, so it’s not too low for the basses this time, and I have to remember to get copies of the lyrics for that other tune. But I couldn’t focus on the music. I needed to know: What are they teaching in this Mexican American Studies Program? I stumbled upon these words by María Federico Brummer, a Tucson high school teacher:

“Our opponents claim we teach hatred of “Whites.” There’s no truth to that. Our students see the anti-Mexican sentiment in Arizona, but we teach that we are all human beings and race is a social construct used to divide us. We teach the Mayan philosophy of “In lak ech,” which means “You are my other me.” We ask students to look into each other’s eyes. What you see is your reflection. We teach that human beings should not just respect, but love one another.” *

Tonight we dedicate this evening of song to the Mayan philosophy of “In lak ech.” Everybody’s story is important. If I don’t learn about your story, I don’t fully know my own story, because “you are my other me.” We are linked, one to another, interconnected, inter-woven. We really should get to know ourselves better. Eat, drink, sing, tell stories. Loosen up a little, and get to know your other me.

Sara Thomsen
Artistically Distracted, Echoes of Peace Choir

NEA(National Education Association) Journal, January 2011

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