Friday, June 9, 2017

The Japanese Way of Tea & My Global Education

China Tea Set
Blue Willow China 
When I was six, my mother bought me a miniature China Tea Set--cups, saucers and teapot--made of matching imported China, unlike the unmatched China sets we used at our mealtime. When I opened the China tea set, I loved the look and feel of the cool smooth surface, but as my fingers glided over it, I had no idea of its significance to my life and the value it would be to my mother's homeschooling plans--my global education, a college scholarship and professional success.

Rosa Parks Booking Photo Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks Booking Photo
Montgomery Bus Boycott

The year I received the China  tea set was 1955, the year Rosa Parks went to jail for starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

At the age of six, I was vaguely aware of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I did not hear of the civil rights activists or the Civil Rights Movement from teachers in my segregated school. My teachers seemed wary of such discussions. I later learned from my parents that the teachers may have been warned not to talk about the Civil Rights Movement for fear that they may start trouble among the student body.

Thurgood Marshall (center) Brown v Board of Education
Thurgood Marshall (center)
Brown v Board of Education
I learned about Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement and the names of civil rights activists like Rosa Parks from hearing their names in conversations between my mother, father and Bigmama when they talked about current events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Brown v the Board of Education

Rosa Parks Anti-Rape Activist
Rosa Parks
Anti-Rape Activist
At the time, though, they probably had no idea of Rosa Parks' involvement in the protection of black women from rape and lynching from the ills of Jim Crow laws and tradition in the South. I didn't fully understand what Jim Crow laws were until much later in my life. I just knew they were bad for black people and people who were not white. This was confusing to me at times because none of the relatives I knew personally were white, though there was talk in the family about them. And many relatives I knew did not look black. I was too young to know the difference.

When I was six, I knew Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King had something to do with fighting Jim Crow laws during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Jim Crow laws affected everything about our lives and the schools I attended until I graduated from high school; and later getting into a college of my choice. But Jim Crow laws did not affect the global education my mother presented to me with my toy China tea set and other tools, such as an erector set for building structures I imagined. She also discovered meditation, which she adapted to her global education. 

My mother would use that China tea set to teach me about a world outside of Jim Crow, under which my ancestors had lived for nearly a century at that time and my family would live for years to come.

When I saw my mother sitting on the porch staring into the distance, almost trance-like, I knew she was in meditation upon something beautiful or strange or realizable. I learned later that the something she was in meditation upon was me. Living within the circumstances of Jim Crow laws did not give a person an excuse to do less than the best they could offer, my mother always told me. 

"Even the house you live in," she said. "Make it a home. Make your home the best home you can. Organize it. Keep it immaculate. Decorate it. It's where you live. Respect where you live. Take care of your home and it will take care of you; shelter you, nurture you, be standing when you need it!" 

My mother understood what I needed to hear and gave freely and loudly. From primary school through college education with a lot of homeschooling in between, my mother yelled her demands and threatened me if I did not do the work. And she never complimented me unless I had shown extraordinary skill at something. There were no gold stars for mere participation.

"We will find a way of paying for college," she said. "But you have to try to get a college scholarship to help out. If you don't study in high school with college in mine, I don't know if we should strain to pay for college. Maybe you won't study in college and our money will be wasted. Maybe you're not college material. But I won't hold that against you, even though I was smart enough to go to college and would have gone if I had had the chance when I graduated from high school."

Learning to accept and appreciate differences in people is global education.

My mother accepted the way other people lived, even if she didn't approve of their lifestyle. "I do not expect others to let me tell them what to think or how to live," my mother said. "Listen but make your own decision based on what you know. And do not follow or be bullied into going into a certain direction just because others do. Do not be afraid of thinking for yourself. And, likewise, do not bully others into thinking like you." Like you're doing me now, I thought, but had sense enough not to say it out loud.

My mother encouraged me to learn another language. She had learned Spanish when she began her supervisory career in food services and wanted to teach me Spanish so that she could practice her language skills before going off to work and giving orders. 

Image: Early 17th century Japan Stoneware
Momoyama period (1573–1615),
Metropolitan Museum, New York
In one of our many reference books my mother had purchased over the years, she found items about the Japanese event, The Way of Tea. Sasaki Sanmiis, born in 1893 in Kyoto, wrote the original Japanese classic, Sado-saijiki, which was translated into English in 1960. My mother found translations, which cover Japanese tea tradition throughout the calendar year with descriptions, poetry and The Way of Tea: Reflections. She was fascinated by all of this tradition and ceremony, perhaps because so much of her African and Native American traditions were a mystery to her.

Admitting to me that she was probably not saying the words correctly, my mother still enjoyed trying to pronounce of the names and words describing the ceremonies. "I would love to learn to speak Japanese," she said. "That way, I would have a better understanding of these rules of the tea. "Eastern languages are very different from English and Spanish," she said. "It wouldn't hurt, though, if you learned Spanish."

Using my little toy tea set, my mother taught me about the world's fascination with tea, tea traditions, world economies built around tea and legitimate historical political movements named for the beverage, including the Boston Tea Party, one event leading to the American Revolution. From 1775 to 1783, the Founding Fathers, delegates to the Constitutional Convention, along with the other of their kind, had witnessed America's victory in the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain. Jim Crow laws were not far behind.

My mother especially loved the Japanese ceremonies, but she taught me about all tea traditions and the people who created them. Traditionally, powdered green tea is used in the Chanoyu, Japanese Tea Ceremony. Matcha ceremonial-grade tea is different from other green and black teas brewed from dried flakes of loose tea leaves or tea leaves manufactured into tea bags. Loose tea leaves or those in tea bags are steeped in hot water and then discarded. The ceremonial tea is ground to a fine power that is made to dissolve in water, which preserves its essence, making its consumption more potent and effective than tea leaves. Although we didn't have the real Japanese tea, we used the tea my mother could afford and the tea she could find. Then, we substituted what we had and pretended. It is said that using the powdered green tea within the rules of the ceremony makes the five human senses most acute, encouraging high mental concentration, emotional calm and mental composure. 

My mother and I did not have the powdered green tea for our tea celebrations, but we read about the power of the tea when certain rituals were performed in conjunction with its consumption. This thinking was certainly parallel to my mother's thinking, in that, it led to control of one's behavior through control of one's own mind. 

"Thinking about something is good," my mother told me. "But thinking deeply about something is better." She explained that thinking deeply means rolling it over again and again in my brain and examining thoroughly what was being thought about, not to come up with a better answer, but to come up with a better understanding of the answer. That was meditation, the same thing I had seen her doing so many times.

Of course, my mother and I did not have Japanese, Chinese, English or any other exotic tea. We used Lipton Tea because it was cheap and available at the corner store. We emptied the tea leaves into the little tea pot of my China tea set. My mother said the loose leaves made a stronger brew. I didn't really like the taste of hot tea, but I sipped it with my mother--our pinkies pointed toward the sky--because she said I should know about such things. Then, I hosted pretend tea parties for my young cousins and friends. But I didn't bore them with what my mother and I had read about tea, since my friends and I were only drinking pretend tea, not even Lipton, just tap water.

"You can find meaning where there seems to be none," my mother said. "People have been doing that throughout time. Whatever you're doing, do it the best you can. Give it your full concentration. Challenge yourself with every little thing that comes your way; think of them as opportunities. Do all you can with whatever it is that you have or that you are doing." 

My mother made ordinary things, like sipping a cup of tea, into something special. Finding meaning in the simplest of things, she taught me how to make my life rich without reference to money.

"What does all of this tea talk have to do with me," I asked, watching my mother prepare my lesson. "Japanese tea ceremonies have nothing to do with us."

My mother saw differently, though. "You're wrong," she said. "We are everybody. To learn about us, you must learn about all people. If you leave someone out of your study, you leave out part of your."

~~~~~~~~ My Mother ~~~~~~~~

Littie Nash
Littie Nash
Littie Nash was one of the great global thinkers. She did not waste compliments on me. She reserved accolades to celebrate real accomplishments, not just because I dragged myself out of bed before noon on Saturday or because I made an 'A' on my report card. 

"Some things you have to do," my mother said. "And those things pass, not without notice, but without an all-day hullabaloo."

To support me, my mother sponsored my piano, ballet, tennis and swimming lessons, dance performances, recitals, literary and classical music club memberships, summer camps, out-of-state vacations, school trips and science fair exhibits, still managing to squeeze out of our tight budget money for the dentist to install braces on my teeth.

It took a great deal of courage and imagination during the era of Jim Crow laws for my mother to give me what she thought I needed. Jobs for African Americans were scarce and good jobs were mostly nonexistent for them. Black men were economically and politically marginalized and black women were publicly disrespected on a routine basis.

    Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s  Sunny Nash

Hard Cover

Amazon Kindle
In the 1990s, I wrote columns for Hearst and Knight-Ridder newspapers--stories from my childhood with my part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement. Texas A&M University published a collection of the stories about which Robin Fruble of Southern California said:

"Every white person in America should read this book! Sunny Nash writes the story of her childhood without preaching or ranting but she made me realize for the first time just how much skin color changes how one experiences the world. But if your skin color is brown, it matters a great deal to a great number of people. I needed to learn that. Sunny Nash is a great teacher," Fruble said.

Sunny Nash is an author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations. She writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking. Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press), about life with her part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement.

Sunny Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations. Nash's book is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide for black studies at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life--from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women's issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today's post-racism.

© 2019 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. 
~Thank You~

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Mother & The Thinkers

Fine art appreciation, classical music and reading neutralize sting of Jim Crow.

Rodin - The Thinker
Rodin - The Thinker

When I was nine, my mother brought home a book on the French sculptor, François-Auguste-René Rodin (1840-1917). 

My mother loved art, any art--books, literature, paintings, sculpture, music, film, dance, photography, architecture, history, philosophy and intelligent conversation. But I was as confused about her handing this book over to me after she had read it as I was about her making me take ballet and piano lessons, which I am now convinced she insisted upon so that I could notate music to the songs she was writing, another story for another time. 

I remember that on the cover of the book was Rodin's The Thinker, a bronze and marble sculpture, which is now in the Musée Rodin in Paris. "Why do I have to read this book about Rodin?" I asked, mispronouncing his name in my childish innocence and ignorance. 

"Because I said you have to read it," my mother answered. "And because I refuse to raise an ignorant child who can't pronounce Rodin correctly."

"Oh," was all I could muster. "But why do I have to read this?"

"So you will learn to say his name correctly... Rodin," she pronounced it for me again and made me repeat it. "You can't go to college mispronouncing famous names." I knew I did not dare argue with her or just pretend I to read the book because she would quiz me on it like she did everything else. So, I read it.

Rodin Museum in Paris, France: Thinker Statue by François-Auguste-René Rodin (1840-1917)
Rodin Museum in Paris, France
When Rodin was 76 years old, he donated his own works of art and his art collection by other artists to the French government. My mother told me about his donation, which is now in the Rodin Museum.

Rodin Museum: Le Baiser
Rodin Museum: Le Baiser

My mother said people who create, participate in and appreciate art are better thinkers than those who do not. 

"Those interested in literature, music and art can handle conversation," she said. "It has to do with the way their brains work and how they decide to live; maybe because they use their minds in a different way."

Contrary to what I thought before starting the book about Rodin, I did find it interesting. Rodin's early education was not considered good enough to gain him entrance into the elite art academy and still he went on to be a foremost figure in the development of modern sculpture. His piece, The Thinker, became my favorite work of art, representing a superior intellectual quality like my mother's that I wished to possess. 

François-Auguste-René Rodin  (1840-1917)
François-Auguste-René Rodin 
How could my mother have known this man, this book and this sculpture would have that impact on me? 

Was she teaching me something about my own intellect, also considered inferior because I was attending a Jim Crow school at the time? 

My mother knew the book about Rodin was not the type of reading material our school library offered. 

She wanted me to know about people and places far away from my Jim Crow world, one of the reasons we traveled to other states where I could see what the rest of the world had to offer me. Starting when I was four years old my mother took me to the movies at the segregated theater downtown. Once the lights went down, I was transported to wherever the movie took me. . We would lose ourselves in the beautiful clothes and exotic locations. 

"Do not be afraid to explore art, film, books and traditions of other cultures," she always said. "That's how you learn." My mother believed in a global education.

While reading the book on Rodin, I learned that he was born in 1840 in Paris, France. That was the same time that, on this side of the Atlantic, slavery in America was still flourishing in the Deep South. Even as the Civil Rights Movement was in progress, it was unlikely that a little black girl would have been able to discover the genius of Rodin or others without someone like my mother to make the suggestion. At my mother's insistence on exposing me to higher concepts, I was reading about Rodin during the civil rights movement. 

There were people whom my mother admired in the world who were not directly associated with the sciences or the arts, but she believed if she could get inside their homes, she would find art hanging on the walls, many shelves of books and the music of the masters playing in the background. 

"Did you know Albert Einstein was also a musician?" My mother asked me.

The Musical Mind of Albert Einstein:  Great Physicist, Amateur Violinist  and Devotee of Mozart
"Who is that?" I asked her.

The Spring before I started first grade, Albert Einstein died. My mother was anxious to have me understand not only what the world had lost when this genius died, but also what the world had in him. 

"A genius," she said. 

"What's that?"

"A very smart person," she said.

"Like you?" I asked.

She laughed. "No, much smarter than me. He loved Mozart and used his music to help him develop his theories." 

There she goes again, I thought. I didn't understand what all of that meant. I was only five years old! 

And my mother's intellectual admiration did not stop at theoretical physicists. "I'll bet Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks know who Albert Einstein is," my mother said. Rosa Parks started the Montgomery Bus Boycott at the end of 1955 after I was in first grade. My mother kept up with all that news the same way she had kept up with the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v the Board of Education. She bought magazines and newspapers on her way home from work.

Rosa Parks Booking Photo, Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks Booking Photo, Montgomery Bus Boycott
"You can hear culture in people's voices and in the way they use language," my mother said. "Reserved and elegant, those are the thinkers. Thinkers become doers." 

As history has recorded, both Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote books about their lives and experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, documenting those thoughts and the resulting actions.

We had a television in 1955, but there were a couple of problems. In our town, there was only one local station and it was quite conservative and limited broadcasts to those that were none offensive to the majority community. That meant very little to no coverage of Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. Secondly, my mother had her doubts that sitting in front of a screen too much was safe for the eyes or the brain. So, she restricted my television viewing to her approved list of programming. 

Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King booking photos
Rosa Parks & Martin Luther King

My mother received civil rights news through delivery of national black publications to our home on a weekly basis. She required me to read articles and then discuss them with her afterwards. Topics were confusing to me and not always a pleasant experience. I always enjoyed our discussions of art history more, perhaps because, as a child, art history was less intimidating than civil rights. When my mother made me read articles and books she had selected, I read them to be ready for her quizzes.

I read books and articles, and examined art because my mother said a person could not be just a collector of books and art. Art hanging on walls or books on shelves did not pass my mother's sniff test. The person who possessed the books and art had to know something about what was in the books, know about the art or know something about the artist who produce the art. An amateur artist herself, she liked to paint animals, birds and landscapes. My really wanted to me to be interested in art, too.

Brownie Hawkeye Camera 1950s
Brownie Camera
My grandmother bought me a Brownie camera when I was eight in exchange for not bothering her gun again. 

She got really upset when I sneaked the gun out of the house and tried to buy bullets at the corner market. But the storekeeper called my house and told my grandmother what I was up to. I tried to explain that I had a good reason, but no one would listen. 

My grandmother said my punishment was to use the camera to shoot whatever or whoever I needed to shoot, but not without asking them first. "Do not go sneaking around behind people's backs taking pictures of them," she said. "That is a good way to make enemies and to lose your camera privileges." Like I lost my gun privileges, I thought, hoping she wouldn't tell my mother about the gun.

My mother didn't ask why my grandmother bought me the camera, but she restricted my photography even further: Do not photograph people! She felt I would not be sufficiently respectful of their privacy and she was probably right. Although, looking back on it, I wouldn't call what I was doing photography. My photographs were awful. But my mother was delighted that I was interested in photography. "It's a form of fine art," she said. 

I wrote a story, Shooting Without A Gun, in my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, about Bigmama's gun and the camera. Take a look and join my channel.

My mother didn't say much about the incident with me and Bigmama's gun, but I am certain she had all to do with my grandmother giving me that camera.

Ansel Adams Moon and Half Dome Yosemite National Park, 1960
Ansel Adams
Moon and Half Dome
Yosemite National Park, 1960
My mother was particularly fond of sunsets, water, night skies, old buildings and sand. When I was about 11 years old, my mother bought postcards with Ansel Adams photography, saying I should model my own style of photography on his style, which she thought was magnificent. 

I had no photographic style. "Aim high!" She scolded. "And be sure and pack your camera when we go to the beach next weekend." My mother had a friend in Houston who was from a wealthy mortuary family with property in Galveston and one son my age. During the season, we often met her and her son at their beach cottage for weekends. My mother was always happy when her friend's older son, who was a professional photographer, joined us at the beach and let me tag along while he photographed nature scenes and explained lighting and photo composition. 

The summer of my 15th birthday, Aunt Clara took me to the mountains, where I wasted rolls of film trying to take shots as my mother had instructed, only to find out after the photographs were developed that I was no Ansel Adams, nor was I even close. I was very disappointed when I got home from vacation, and my mother and I reviewed my shots. Then, I realized the photography exercise was for my benefit. She was trying to help me develop an eye. 

I did eventually develop an eye for photography. My images were published in a significant reference book on the history of  photography. 

Reflections in Black: A History of Black  Photographers  1840 to the Present
Reflections in Black:
A History of Black 
 1840 to the Present
My photography has been collected by a number of prestigious museums and libraries, published in books, newspapers and magazines, and exhibited around the world with a Smithsonian Exhibition, Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present. I credit my mother for my success by insisting that I take all those terrible pictures when I was a kid.

My mother was totally absorbed in art--the art of others in galleries, her own art creations, my crude and amateur photography or pictures in books. And she liked volumes, not just for the quantity, but for the matching binding. 

"Sets of books make you feel like you're in a library," she said. "The feel of art books and the smell of them make me want to paint or get knee-deep in some clay. You can't pretend to love art or know what's in books. Love and knowledge of these subjects come out in conversation, and if you're pretending, you will soon look the fool. Anybody with money can be advised on what art pieces to buy," she said. "The real test is finding a way to surround yourself with art if you are on a tight budget.

And a tight budget was something my mother knew all about. "But we can't let the lack of money keep us from enjoying the finer things," she said. "People need art in their lives, all people--rich and poor!" 

Bookmobile, converted bus
Converted Bus Bookmobile
When I was a little girl, our town did not allow us to use the segregated public library in the 1950s. Jim Crow laws ordered the public library to offer bookmobile services to neighborhoods. A bookmobile was a converted station wagon, van or bus with rows shelves with books, mostly outdated and tattered. The bookmobile was most active in summer and parked in public parks. 

Back then, until we were allowed to use the library, my mother and I took a Greyhound Bus 100 miles away to Houston to use the Houston Public Library. The trip to Houston was an all day affair, but worth it, even if we didn't qualify for library cards, not because we were not white, but because we were from out of town. We sat among all those art books on the shelves and read until it was time for us to catch our bus back home. My mother used the library, like she used movies, to imagine places we had never been, to see images from faraway places that one day we might see and to teach me to see myself as the Jim Crow south could not. 

From those movies and books, she imagined scenes, learned to paint oil landscapes and restored damaged art she bought in second-hand stores. She collected art, museum, gallery and exhibition books and often dragged me to out-of-town galleries and museums that allowed African Americans to enter if could afford a ticket. Afterwards, she bought greeting cards and program booklets that were not too expensive and she required me to make detailed critiques of shows we had seen.

My mother collected interior design,  architecture and art magazines, too. "Be careful with those," she told me. "They're not cheap." Sketching out plans for home improvement projects was a favorite past-time that my mother loved. Using her architecture and art magazines, and Vogue pattern decorating book, she measured and made multiple drawings before presenting them to my father to see if he could build whatever it was she wanted. Usually, he couldn't or wouldn't produce her final design or, if he did, she wasn't satisfied with the shortcuts he took. So, she went on to construct whatever small project she wanted to create. 

Art, music and literature were my mother's weapons against excuses, which she refused to accept. "Most often," she said, "You get what you give."

Auguste Rodin:  Master of Sculpture
I searched the Internet and could not find a copy of the Rodin book my mother gave me all those years ago. Perhaps the book is out of print. But I found some other interesting selections devoted to Rodin and others that trace art history from the Renaissance to Rodin and the birth of modern art.

Over the years, my mother's interests and book collections changed and I do not know what happened to the book about Rodin that she made me read. The book was probably not responsible for getting me a college scholarship or even getting me through Texas A&M University's Department of Journalism and Broadcast Communications. But my mother knew Rodin would have an influence on me at a time when I needed it most. 


Sunny Nash Author of Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s
Sunny Nash
    Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s  Sunny Nash

Hard Cover

Amazon Kindle
Sunny Nash, former nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, is the author of a nonfiction book about life before and during the Civil Rights Movement with her part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, selected by the American Association of University Presses as a Book for Understanding U.S. Race Relations, and recommended by the Miami-Dade (Florida) Public Library System for Native American Collections.

Sunny Nash is an award winning writer and three-time winner of Arts Council for Long Beach Professional Artist Fellowship Awards: 2003, 2009 and 2014-15. Her most recent Arts Council for Long Beach award is a 2016-17 grant for cultural heritage preservation programs, How a Child Build Legacy, designed to encourage young students to prepare archives of their accomplishments and plan for their future achievements.

Sunny Nash earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism & Mass Communication, Texas A&M University; Postgraduate Media Studies Certificate, Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communications, Arizona State University; Postgraduate Diploma, Instructional Technology, University of California, San Diego; Constitution Studies, James Madison’s Montpelier Center for the Constitution; and Postgraduate Digital Literacy Certificate, Simmons College Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Boston. Sunny Nash’s international studies include Intellectual Property Law, World Intellectual Property Organization Academy, Geneva, Switzerland; Diplomacy, Culture and Communication, United Nations; Research Methodology, Digital Preservation, Online Archival Information Systems, University of London; and Archival Data Governance, National Archives of Australia, Melbourne. 

© 2017 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. 
~Thank You~

Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America