Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Seed Woman: heavy on historical details, light on story

The Seed Woman by Petra Durst-Benning (translated by Edwin Miles) is the first book of the Seed Trader’s Saga. Set in Gonningen, a village in the Swabian Mountains of Germany where seed trading is the main source of income for its residents in the 1850s. A young woman, Hannah Brettschneider, travels from Nuremberg to find Helmut Kerner, the eldest son of the wealthy Kerner family. She’s pregnant and Helmut is the father. Problem? He’s engaged to be married to Seraphine Schwarz. Helmut quickly marries Hannah and eventually Valentin, his brother, marries Seraphine as he has long loved her despite her affections for his brother. As everyone lives under one roof, jealousy and manipulations begin as the brothers plan to expand their business into other regions. Hannah begins to show interest in the seed trade and offer new ways to conduct business. Will they listen to Hannah, an outsider, and try her new methods? Will the business flourish?

I labored through this book. Pushing myself to finish it. I made it through 60% of the book when a particular scene made me stop. It would so disturbing and unsettling that I didn’t want to continue. I realized that I didn’t care about the characters, especially Seraphine who was a bitch as she treats Valentin horribly and plots to worm her way back into Helmut’s heart, who didn’t love her in the first place and saw Hannah’s arrival as a blessing in disguise. The details of the regions and the seed trade are extensive and beautiful. I liked Hannah as the hardworking outsider who shows the village that there are other ways to do things. And she was the only character I liked. I do not recommend The Seed Woman. It is one of those historical novels where the historical details are extensive with very little or unexciting action.

The Seed Woman

is available in paperback and eBook

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The book of Matthew: a few lessons from Jesus

Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and the first Gospel of Jesus Christ. Matthew was one of the twelve disciples who was a tax collector named Levi before Jesus called to follow him. His purpose in writing this gospel was to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal King especially to the Jews as he begins with the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to David to his earthly father, Joseph. Jesus began his ministry at the age of 30 and taught nonstop for three years. With so much information and lesson in this book alone that I could discuss, I wasn’t sure what to discuss. I will discuss four segments which spoke to me as I read it. Illustration in how to fight temptation, a lesson in prayer, a lesson in what is required to follow Christ and a command to remain watchful and prepare for his second coming.

First, Satan tempts Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he’d be tempted by the devil (verse 1). After he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (verses 2), Satan arrived with the first of three temptations. The first temptation was “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (verse 3). Since Jesus has fasted, he was incredibly hungry and this would be a great temptation. Jesus answers “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (verse 4). This is in reference to Deuteronomy 8:3.  Temptation number 2, Satan takes Jesus to the highest point on the temple and says “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angers concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (verse 5-6). Satan is referring to Psalm 91:11-12. Jesus answers “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (verse 7) which is referring to Deuteronomy 6:16. The final temptation is when Satan takes Jesus to a very high mountain from which they can see all kingdoms and splendor, “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me” (verses 8-9). Jesus’s reply is swift “Anyway from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (verse 10), referring to Deuteronomy 6:13. What’s the point? First, Satan knows the Word of God too. So just because someone has biblical knowledge doesn’t mean he or she is a true believer. Second, Jesus responds with the Word of God, giving us an example why it is important that we know the Word too. It is our best defense against temptations.

Second, Jesus teaches about prayer in Matthew 6:5-13. First, he tell us to pray unseen (verse 5). Do not make a spectacle or a big production about it. I am reminded of this verse when people argue that we need prayer back in schools. I say prayer never left because prayers are still being said in schools today. It is just not a school led activity and it shouldn’t be. Prayer is a private act of worship. There are different examples of when prayer is said aloud like in church or as a family at dinner; however, overall, prayer is a private petition between God and a believer. Second, Jesus tells us that before we ask, the Lord already knows what we need, so there’s no need to babble with many words (verses 7-8). He then gives us a prayer that is known as The Lord’s Prayer (verses 9-13). “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (verse 9) acknowledges God’s holiness as well as his personal and loving relationship with us. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (verse 10) is a reference to God’s spiritual reign as well as praying that God’s purpose be enacted in this world as it is done in heaven. “Give us today our daily bread” (verse 11) acknowledges that God is our provider of all we have. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (verse 12) asks God to forgive us as we forgive others. “Debts” would be sins not just financial debts but hurts and wrongs done against God and against us. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’ (verse 13) is asking for God’s protection against temptation, to recognize it when we will inevitably come across it. When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, think about what each verse means and feel the power and importance in those words. There’s great meaning in this simple prayer.

Third, Jesus eats with sinners at Matthew’s house in Matthew 9:9-13. These verses tell the story of how Matthew is called by Jesus to follow him and he does (verse 9). Matthew had a dinner at his house for Jesus, his disciples and other “sinners” (quotations appear in my Bible) (verse 10). The Pharisees (a Jewish religious group that avidly followed the Old Testament laws) saw this and asked why Jesus was eating with such men? Jesus replied “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (verse 12-13). “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” is in reference to Hosea 6:6 when God didn’t want just the rituals, he wanted the people’s hearts. The rituals were more than just actions to appease God, there are ways to connect with God. When a ritual is done without one’s heart, the ritual becomes empty and a mockery. Like going through the motions because of habit or you are required do, rather than because you want and need to. Like a Catholic who goes to Confession because it’s the day to do so rather than the need to seek forgiveness. By using this verse, Jesus is stating that he is more concerned with the people who need him, need forgiveness, need guidance especially the hurting and sinful ones and not appearances and the righteous. In order to reach those who need him, he needed to meet them where they are, eat with them, and teach them. With Jesus, you do not need to change before you can accept him as Lord and Savior. Follow him and he will help you do the changes needed. For Jesus said “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19). He didn’t say “change your life, then follow me.” No, he said come. Come as you are.

Lastly, Jesus spoke about being watchful in Matthew 24:36-51. In these verses, he speaks about being watchful for his return because no one knows when that will be. Right off the bat in verse 36, he says “NO ONE knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, not the Son, but only the Father” (emphasis mine). So when someone claims to have the date that Christ will come and begin the end of days, pay him no mind because if God the Father doesn’t even tell his Son when that day will be, why would he tell a someone on Earth? Not knowing the date, keeps believers on their toes and continuing their work for Christ as they prepare and await his return. If we knew the date, wouldn’t we be lazy and wait until the date approaches to believe or spread the Word? In verses 40-41, Christ speaks about some people being taken and others being left behind. These verses are to illustrate how shift his second coming will be, Jesus commands us to keep watch (verse 42). And just as a homeowner doesn’t know when the thief will come to his house, we are to prepare for Jesus, as we do not know when he will come back (verse 43-44). Keeping watch and preparing for his coming doesn’t mean that believers can hoard food and hunker down in a bunker in the wilderness somewhere. No, it means to continue our work for Christ and live as if today will be our last. When the opportunity arises to share Christ’s love and gift of salvation, do so. When the opportunity arises to help your fellow man, extend your hand as Christ would. It doesn’t mean always mean money handouts for the needy. It includes acts of mercy to those who need it. Simple acts of kindness and love. As Christ said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mind, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) and “whatever you did not do for one of the lease of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 24:45). For you don’t know when Christ will return, our job isn’t done yet.

In conclusion, the gospel of Matthew is the longest book of the gospels. Jesus taught nonstop in the three years of his ministry whether it was to the disciples in a quiet place or to the crowds in a public place, he taught. It is an example for us. We don’t all need to be a pastor at the pulpit to spread God’s word. We are to know the Bible in order to fight temptation as Christ used the Bible to ward off Satan’s temptations. We are to pray with meaning, with faith and in a quiet place. We are to come to Christ as we are and as we live to follow his words, he will change us to be more like him. As followers of Christ, we are to continue to do his work here until his second coming. There are moments in our everyday lives in which we can extend Christ’s love to those who desperately need it. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Star Wars The Last Jedi: a great action film which takes the galaxy in a new direction

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi opened on December 15th to rave critic reviews and mixed fan reactions. The Last Jedi continues the story of Rey, Finn and the Resistance as they fight against the First Order. In the two years since The Force Awakens, there were many fan theories floating around the internet and fans were eagerly awaiting The Last Jedi to see which theories were right and see how the story continues. I finally was able to see it a few days after it opened and heard the criticisms of fans. I will discuss what I liked, what I didn’t and the critics, fans and even Mark Hamill’s remarks about the film.

There is so much that I liked about the film; however, I will discuss a few storylines I enjoyed the most. First, I liked the interactions between Rey and Luke. The closing scene of The Force Awakens, we see Rey handing Luke his original lightsaber as the camera pans out over the island. In The Last Jedi, the first scene we see with Rey and Luke is the continuation of that scene. While I will not give away what his reaction is, I will say it was highly appropriate. Luke had been living in exile after Kylo Ren destroys Luke’s new Jedi academy and temple and turns to the dark side. Luke realizing his failure as a teacher, decides to leave everything behind and Rey has a tough road to convince him to help the Resistance and teach her the ways of the Force. Second, I enjoyed the character of Kylo Ren in this film. He was far less emo and more dark and conflicted as he struggles with the aftermath of the Force Awakens and his master, Snoke’s, disappointed in him. Adam Driver delivered a superb performance as Kylo Ren, especially toward the end as he decides which direction he wants to go. Does he embrace the dark side? Or does he turn to the light side? Third, I enjoyed Finn and Rose’s (played by Kelly Marie Tran) story as they find a way to help the Resistance escape the First Order. As Finn still struggles with his defection from the First Order and Rose is dealing with her hatred of the First Order, together they learn what they are fighting for and who they can trust in their fight against the First Order.

There was only a couple things that I disliked about the film. First, there were a few unnecessarily scenes. One in particular was on the island as Luke goes about his life, ignoring Rey’s presence. I won’t reveal what the scene was; however, when I saw it both my daughter and I looked at each other and whispered “ewwww!” I understand that the scene’s purpose was to show how Luke survived on the island but I felt it was unnecessarily and his survival on the island could have been shown a litter better. And some of the humorous scenes may have had the joke go on a little too long. There is one scene in which Poe (played by Oscar Isaac) plays a joke on General Hux (played by Domhnall Gleeson). While the joke was funny at first, it dragged on a little too long. Second, there is still a great mystery about who Snoke is. The movie did not reveal anything about where he came from, who he is or how he knows the Force. In this film, we see he is an imposing figure and would strike fear in anyone who stands in his presence. However, we don’t know why he is such an imposing character. Third, the porgs, one of the creatures who live on Luke’s island, are cute but add nothing more to the story than to show the cycle of life on the island. They were in the movie for too long especially once the story leaves the island.

The reviews and opinions run the gambit from favorable to absolutely hated. First, the critics gave this film rave reviews. The consensus on Rotten Tomatoes is that the film “honors the rich legacy while adding some surprising twists and delivering all the emotion-rich action fans could hope for.” I would agree. It paid homage to the original trilogy in particular The Empire Strikes Back and some could agree The Return of the Jedi. Second, fans continue to be adamant in their disagreement with the critics. Many of the fans are blaming Disney for putting profits over story. Some said that the story strayed too much from the original trilogy while others would argue it was a copy of Empire like the Force Awakens was a copy of A New Hope. I disagree with them on both counts. I think some of the fans are just so invested in the Star Wars saga that they don’t know what they want. They don’t want copies of the original trilogy but they don’t like the new material. Fans used Mark Hamill’s remarks about the film where he said he “fundamentally disagreed with every choice for Luke” as proof that Disney screwed up. I disagree with Mr. Hamill and these fans. I loved Luke’s progression in this movie. I think it fit. Without going into detail for those who have not yet seen it, as an avid reader and writer, I can see why the writer took him in that direction. Yes, Luke was very much the optimist in the original trilogy; however 30 years have passed and that’s a long time and a person can change especially when one of his students turns on him. It can be and was the hit to his ego that sent him into exile.  

In conclusion, I enjoyed The Last Jedi. I left the theater with a sense of awe and excitement. I know that many fans did not feel this way, my husband included. He had to see it again to understand more of the story. My cousin in law has seen it three times and he even admits that one viewing isn’t enough. The original trilogy is still beloved to me as an important part of my childhood; however, it is time to move on from the Skywalker storyline of Star Wars into the greater universe and galaxy that’s out there. Of the new Disney/Star Wars films, Rogue One (2016) is still my favorite so far. The Last Jedi adds more depth and drama to the Star Wars universe. It adds the struggles of life, that everything isn’t so black and white, good vs evil. I highly recommend The Last Jedi. Watch it without any expectations and see it for what it is: a great action film with heart and life lessons

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Two Girls Down: a thriller which will keep you guessing

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna is a mystery thriller that becomes a race against time as two girls disappear without a trace. The story opens with Jamie Brandt, a struggling single mother, taking her two daughters, Kylie, 10 years old, and Bailey, 8 years old, to a birthday party. She stops quickly at a local store for a birthday present and leaves her daughters in the car. When she returns, the girls are gone. The family hires private investigators, Alice Vega and Max “Cap” Caplan, to find the girls when it becomes obvious that the local police are overwhelmed with the investigation. Soon Vega and Cap are hot on the girls’ trail, following every clue while battling hostilities from the police department. When the trail leads to the most unlikely place, they must race to save the girls. Will they find them in time? Will the girls be returned alive?

Two Girls Down is a suspenseful hunt with many twists and turns that will keep the reader on his or her toes. Every clue is important and the hints will keep the reader guessing until the very end. While I can’t talk about a lot of details in the book, as it would give away too much, I loved each and every character from the hostile cops to the seemingly minor characters. I especially loved the chemistry and camaraderie between Vega and Cap. It was great to see how their relationship builds and how they become a seamless team. I look forward to more books featuring these two. It is a great book that I highly recommend. If you love mysteries, this is a book for you.

Two Girls Down
will be available January 9, 2018

in hardcover and eBook

Saturday, December 16, 2017

In the Land of Dreams: a ghost story or a delusion?

In the Land of Dreams by Lawrence Swaim opens with a man being checked into a transitional house of Bellevue Hospital after revealing suicidal thoughts in the emergency room the night before. He believes he is being stalked by his ancestor who lived in the area in the 1680s when New York was New Amsterdam. The story then shifts to the point of view of the ancestor, Barnt, who is running his business, raising his family and living his life. When his action leads to a curse because he has knowledge of a vast treasure that he never told anyone about and now he must tell his descendant to lift the curse on the family. Is Barnt a figment of the man’s imagination, a ghost or are they one and the same?

In the Land of Dreams was very hard to read. The open chapter failed to capture my interest but I read on hoping it would…and it didn’t. The end of the book tells the reader that the story was a morality tale about how America, once the Land of Dreams, has become the Land of Desire for unlimited money and power. That would be okay if the narrator then doesn’t insult the reader buy saying “Was not the idea of a treasure quest a big part of what kept you reading?...Grow up, why don’t you?” The book is way too long and overly detailed and jumps back and forth which made it hard to stay focused. I do not recommend In the Land of Dreams.

In the Land of Dreams

is available in paperback and eBook

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Marvel vs DC: is one really better than the other?

Last week I discussed the differences between Star Wars and Star Trek. Today I will post a comparison between DC and Marvel comic book characters. This is another polarizing debate which has fans of both fighting angrily between them about which comic is better. DC was founded in October 1935 and is currently owned by DC Entertainment which is a subsidiary of Warner Bros, which is owned by Time Warner. The first characters featured in their comics were Doc Occult and Superman. Marvel was founded by Martin Goodman in October 1939 and is currently owned by Marvel Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. Their first characters were the Human Torch and Namor. They added Captain America during World War II. What are the similarities and differences between the two comic book giants? Why is there such a heated debate between fans?

There are many similarities between DC and Marvel comics.  First, they both feature superheroes with extra abilities. These abilities are either naturally occurring or are caused by a freak accident. These individuals usually have to conceal their true identities to protect their friends and families (Badgett, 2016). Marvel introduced the mutants of X-Men in 1963 while DC introduced the metahumans in 1986. Second, both comics features the heroes teaming up against a threat or villain. Marvel has The Avengers and X-Men to name a few and DC has The Justice League, Teen Titans and the Doom Patrol. Third, both comics have similar characters. It is common knowledge that the comic writers created characters who were similar to characters from the other comic. For example, DC’s The Flash, who was first introduced in November 1985, is similar to Marvel’s Quicksilver, who was first introduced in March 1964. Another example is Marvel’s Deadpool, who was first introduced in February 1991, is similar to DC’s Deathstroke, who was first introduced in December 1980. What makes these characters similar is their abilities and the idea that they “steal” from each other is evident in the character’s first appearances. Deadpool, whose real name is Wade Wilson, is known as the Merc with a Mouth, an antihero is a mercenary and assassin. Deathstroke, whose real name is Slade Wilson, is a mercenary who is completed the contract his son started. According to Deadpool co-creator and writer, Fabian Nicieza gave Deadpool the real name of Wade Wilson as an inside-joke to being "related" to Slade Wilson/Deathstroke. Rob Liefeld, co-creator and artist, designed Deadpool and was also a fan of the Teen Titans comic in which Deathstroke appears.

As there are similarities, there are many differences. First, DC’s characters reside in fictional cities which resemble real cities. For example, Batman fights crime in Gotham City. Superman saves the day in Metropolis and Green Lantern operates in Coast City. While Marvel characters are live in real locations, New York City being the most popular location for many characters: The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Defenders and Spiderman. Second, the abilities of DC characters are often seen as gifts or blessings which calls them to action and they do their best to embrace it (Diedrick, 2016). The powers are usually developed at a young age or gifts. For example, Superman developed his powers as he grew up under the yellow sun of Earth and Wonder Woman receives her powers as a gift from the gods. In the Marvel universe, the abilities were from freak accidents or a product of evolution which are seen as curse and causing the individuals to be outcasts or seen as monsters and thus becomes a burden. For example, Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk after a lab accident and people fear the monster he becomes. Daredevil loses his sight after an accident with a radioactive substance. Upon losing his sight, he gains heightened senses. There are DC characters who receive their abilities from accidents: The Flash, Green Lantern or even a thirst for justice: Batman or Green Arrow. However, these characters are still treated as godlike figures (Diedrick, 2016). What makes the Marvel characters different is they still deal with real life issues like money, balancing responsibilities (Quora, 2014) or having a jerk of a boss (, 2016). Marvel characters have been featured in dealing with the aftermath of real events, like 9/11 (, 2016). Third, DC has cornered the market with their animation like Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) and movies like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), and Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) just to name a few. While Marvel has found gold in the live action movie market with the massive hit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which DC is desperately trying to catch up to.

While there are many fans of both the DC and Marvel comics, there are many fans who deeply feel you cannot be a fan of one, if you are a fan of the other. Why? To find out, I read different message board threads and the number reason people consistently agreed with is because people get strangely territorial. Look at the different rivalries, which are simply opinion based but because a personal insult when someone challenges that opinion. Coke vs Pepsi, Ford vs Chevy, PC vs Mac, Xbox vs PlayStation, the list can go on and on. According to the individuals who posted on these threads, the majority of comic book fans like both DC and Marvel, although they had a general preference of one over the other, however, not enough to keep them from reading both. One individual said the people who force others to pick a side are either newbies, fanboys or both. These individuals are using wiki as their source material instead of the actual comics. Another individual said fans discuss, fanboys argue and when you don’t share their opinion, the argument usually leads to insult which is how you can distinguish a fan from a fanboy. FYI, a fanboy is a male fan who is obsessive about comics, music, movies, etc. and there is also fangirls too. These fans are known for their complete lack of objectivity and will usually argue in a circular logic that they refuse to acknowledge. With the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the struggling DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the debate between some fans has become more polarizing than ever before.

In conclusion, I like both DC and Marvel. Both companies have been around a long time and with that time have borrowed from each other (one company has borrowed more than the other). My knowledge of the characters are from the 90s cartoons I grew up with and the current movies. I never enjoyed reading the actual comics but I enjoyed the characters. I’ve been a Superman fan since the 1990s show Lois and Clark (1993-1997) and more so with Smallville (2001-2011). I especially enjoy watching Henry Cavil as the current Superman. However, I have immensely enjoyed the MCU films much more than the DC films. But is Marvel better than DC? No, I think both comic books have their merits with different takes on the characters and stories. Most people I know who enjoy comic echo the sentiment I read in the message board threads, they like both but they are more likely to read one verses the other.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Seasons of the Moon: one man's journey through life

Seasons of the Moon by Julien Aranda (translated by Roland Glasser) is the one man’s story through life. Beginning with his birth, Paul Vertune was the youngest son of a farmer on the Brittany coast of France. From the very beginning, it was clear that Paul was not destined for a life as a farmer. From the age of 6, he dreamed of becoming a sailor and seeing the world. However, the world had other ideas. Soon World War II breaks out and his village is under German occupation. After a brief encounter with a German solider, who shows a young man in love mercy, Paul gives a promise that would he was determined to fulfill. He promises this German soldier to tell his daughter he loves her. At 18, Paul is drafted and spends his enlistment at the hands of a cruel drill sergeant. After his time in the army, he marries his childhood sweetheart, Mathilde, and sets out to fulfil his dream and his promise. Will he be able to find the German soldier’s daughter? Or will she be lost to the chaos in the aftermath of war?

Seasons of the Moon is a deeply retrospective, emotional story about the endless possibilities of life and finding the beauty in it all. While the book was slow in parts, I enjoyed reading Paul’s journey through life as he experiences life altering events which teach him that life is precious despite its hardships. It is a beautiful story of one man’s journey through life and his determination to fulfill a promise. I also enjoyed how Mr. Aranda used the phases of the moon as Paul enters a new phase in his life. I recommend Seasons of the Moon.

Seasons of the Moon

is available in paperback and eBook

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Star Wars and Star Trek: there is a difference

Actually, Penny*, there is a difference and as a fan of the Star Wars franchise and a casual watcher of the Star Trek franchise, I say there’s a world of difference. I grew up watching Star Trek. My father is a big fan of the original Star Trek (1966-1969) while my brother is a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). Even my best friend loves Star Trek especially The Next Generation and Voyager (1995-2001). While I’m drawn more to Star Wars as is my husband. While I am not writing to argue which franchise is better because both have their merits, I am writing to distinguish the differences between the two.

First, Star Wars is a dramatic epic rooted in legends like Beowulf and King Arthur, mythologies, world religions and ancient and medieval history to tell a story of a galactic society in conflict. The importance is not on believability of the science but on the characters and the moral choices they make while Star Trek has “ham-fisted dialogue and Gong Show-caliber acting. But the fictional science has always been brilliant” (Herzthe, 1998). Star Trek is rooted in a greater existential dilemma in which an idealistic, utopian prospect of the future human society is explored and debated. Star Wars focuses on the ethics of good vs evil and against totalitarian government systems. Star Trek features the morals of exploration and interference, how to properly confront and ethically resolve situations. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, is said to have been inspired by morality tales like Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.

Second, Star Wars, essentially, focuses on the individual’s power to do good. It is the struggle with feelings of powerlessness and how an individual responds to that feeling. There is a strong connection to faith, mythology, or the Force within the individual and trusting yourself and others. It is about individuals breaking free from governmental oppression (Bedinger, 2015). The Original Trilogy avoided explicit political messages while being anti-authoritarian, the prequel trilogy is clearly a commentary on imperialism and warmongering. Star Trek focuses on a commentary on social structure, defining a society’s obligation to humanity, the world and the galaxy. Star Trek operates within a stable government, The United Federation of Planets, and spreading enlightened values throughout the galaxy (Bedinger, 2015). Each of the Star Trek television series focused on a central worry. For example, in the original show, the central worry was Captain Kirk (played by William Shatner) losing his command and the fight against anything undermined his command. In the Next Generation, Captain Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) was focused on choosing the wise path and being a responsible leader (Anders, 2016).

Third, the debate between the fan bases can be polarizing that it’s hard to image someone being a fan of both. Some fans believe that you cannot be a fan of one, if you are a fan of the other. This sentiment is also reflected in the statements made by the actors in each franchise. William Shatner argues that Star Trek is superior to Star Wars because “Star Trek had relationships and conflict among the relationships and stories that involved humanity and philosophical questions” (Emami, 2015). Tim Russ, who played Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager claims that Star Trek is better than the two because it is set in "our" galaxy and therefore people can relate better to it, whereas Star Wars takes place in another galaxy (Forbeck, 2011). He acknowledged that he could be biased (yeah, you think! LOL). Jeremy Bulloch, who played Boba Fett in the original Star Wars trilogy. He is a fan of Star Trek: The Original Series. He argued that while both franchises are popular, Star Wars comes out as the superior, for its soundtracks and special effects (Forbeck, 2011).

Why does Star Wars seem greater in popularity than Star Trek? And yes, it does. Star Wars has a franchise revenue of $42 billion (as of 2015) while Star Trek has a franchise revenue of $10 billion (as of 2016). While both have large fan bases with fiercely loyal fans, Star Wars seems to speak to the American identity as the rebels, the revolutionaries fighting against an evil empire while Star Trek speaks more to the American political superpower we’ve become with unparalleled military and economic might (although there is some debate if this is even still true). Star Wars plays into the national fantasy as the righteous underdogs and Star Trek portrays our national reality and the moral question as to how to use that power. In a UK program for the Star Wars 20th anniversary, Patrick Stewart said “A belief in one’s own powers; especially one’s own powers to do good because the underlying morality of Star Wars is a very, very positive one.”

In conclusion, while the two franchises are similar in that they depict societies of multiple planets and species, they promote different messages. A philosophical message verses a political message. The story and its characters verses the reality of the science. The individual and his or her role in the galaxy while verses society as a whole. I prefer Star Wars because the characters are relatable and the action adventure is entertaining. I often find the dialogue in Star Trek to be difficult to follow at times. Is one better than the other? It’s simply a matter of choice and nothing else. Both have had a great impact on pop culture that cannot be ignored.


*The Big Bang Theory “The Weekend Vortex” Season 5 Episode 19 originally aired March 8, 2012. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Coco: a review of the newest Disney Pixar film

This past weekend, my husband and I took our daughter to see the new movie, Coco. Knowing only the basics about the film and not reading any reviews about it, I went into the film with high expectations, it is Disney Pixar after all. What I didn’t expect was to be blown away. Normally, for a review, I discuss what I liked, what I didn’t like and what the critics had to say. But for this film, I liked everything. There was nothing I didn’t like and I don’t care what the critics had to say. So I will discuss the different aspects of the film that I loved.

First, the story itself. Based on the Mexican festival of Dia de la Muertos, it is a story about family, remembering those who has passed, and forgiveness. The movie begins with 12 year old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) telling the story of his Mama Imelda Rivera (played by Alanna Ubach), the family matriarch. She was the wife of musician who left her and their daughter to pursue his career and never returned. Angry, she banned all forms of music in the family. Miguel desires desperately to be a musician, he steals the guitar from the tomb of the village’s superstar, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt). When he does so, he has placed a curse on the family and he is transported to the Land of the Dead. He must now find a way to lift the curse so he can return home. He is helped along the way by Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal) who is desperate to get to the Land of the Living before the end of Dia de la Muertos. The story has everything: laughs, tender moments and very sad moments. I cried at the end. So be warned, there will be tears!

Second, the music. The movie is filled with wonderful music. It features the wide range of Mexican music. From mariachi to salsa and bolero. From flamenco to pop and Mexican son (folk music and dance). The music was heartfelt and entertaining. After the film, I immediately went out and bought the soundtrack. The main song is “Remember Me” which helps carry the theme of the film. However, my favorite songs were “Un Poco Loco” (written by Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina and performed by Anthony Gonzalez and Gael Garcia Bernal) and La Llorona (a traditional folk song performed by Alanna Ubach). “Un Poco Loco” is a fun and upbeat song about how the singer’s love drives him a little crazy. “La Llorona” is a soulful and beautiful song about a weeping woman and love. The instrumental pieces are beautiful too. I love music in film especially when it is used probably to enhance the mood and the events of the particular scenes. The music in Coco did that and more. It carried so much emotional that you were crying just by the strumming of the guitar.

Third, the imagery of the film is absolutely breathtaking. The colors of the Land of the Dead are stunning. Marigold flowers, known as cempasĂșchil, are central to the festival and they are everywhere in this film. Marigolds are among my favorite flowers and the animators captured the flower’s brilliant orange color and the delicacy of its petals. Brilliant colors bring the Land of the Dead to life and are very vibrant and reminiscent of the colors have seen in Mexican art. The details in the animations bring you into a world and you sit in wonder at it all. The amazing talent and hard work it took to bring this story to life shows in every detail. I also loved the image of the Mexican family portrayed in this film. With my experiences with Mexican families, I laughed at the antics of Abuelita, Miguel’s grandmother as she enforces the no music rule in the family. There’s a scene where she offers Miguel foods and he politely denies, the look she gives him reminds me of many Mexican grandmothers I’ve known and love.

In conclusion, Coco is the best Disney Pixar film so far. It is definitely among my favorite films. It has everything. A great story, great music and great imagery which comes together and transports you into another world and leave you with a great lesson about love, family and forgiveness. I highly, highly recommend seeing Coco in theaters. You will not regret it! 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

What is cultural appropriation?

This past Halloween, I read a comment on a celebrity’s Facebook page that accused the girlfriend of the celebrity of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is a term I have not heard before. After a quick search, I was intrigued to research it more due to the massive debate about whether or not it is wrong or not. This post will be longer than usual as there is so much information that I want to share to make sure this topic is covered. While I may not cover it all, I want to give enough of an overview that I do not leave anyone confused. I will discuss what it is, the arguments for and against and how we proceed.

First, what is cultural appropriation? The official definition is a term from Sociology which deals with the adopting of elements from one culture by members of another. It is often portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective property rights of the originating culture. In most cases the adoption of the cultural elements are by a dominant culture from a minority culture. Many sociologists feel cultural appropriation is avoidable as multiple cultures live among each other the exchange of cultural elements will occur. These elements may be borrowed and applied by the dominant culture against the wishes of the minority culture and the original meaning of the cultural element is lost or distorted and seen as disrespectful. While some view it as inevitable and a contribution to diversity and free expression.
Examples of cultural elements:
  • Food
  • Fashion, hairstyles, makeup and body modifications
  • Art, iconography and adornment
  • Religion and spiritual symbols
  • Technology
  • Language, including slang

The debate about cultural appropriation is deep and greatly divides people who fight against it and those who feel it isn’t as big a deal as the social justice warriors (SJWs) believe. The proof is in how people define the term and the examples they use.

The opponents of cultural appropriation are deeply passionate about it and argue with which fervor will leave many feeling shame that they would use these cultural elements. Opponents believe it is wrong when the minority culture is subordinated in social, political, economic or military status to a dominant culture or a history of ethnic or racial conflict. The views of colonialism, context and the difference between appropriation and mutual exchange are a part of their main argument. According to many opponents, cultural appropriation is different from acculturation (the cultural modification by adopting or borrowing) and assimilation (the process of taking in and fully understanding information or ideas). The main argument is that the cultural element is taking out of context and is often misapplied. For example, Native American sweat lodges and vision quest ceremonies are being used and run by non-Native Americans who do not understand the significance or the dangers when someone doesn’t know who to perform the ceremonies properly. Another example is the bindi mark which appeared at Coachella in 2014. The bindi is a traditional Hindu head mark with religious significance. Many Hindus were highly offended by those who wore the bindi as they did not fully understand the meaning and it was more than a beauty mark. One strong argument against cultural appropriation is when someone can or will enjoy an aspect of a culture, like the food, but still be prejudice against the people who brought the food to this country. “Cultural appropriation shows that you don’t have to like a person or respect their identity to feel entitled to take from them” (Johnson, 2015). 

As much as there is passion against cultural appropriation, there is an equal fervor by those who think it is simply today’s oversensitivity. Take one definition posted by a user on Urban Dictionary, “The ridiculous notion that being of a different culture or race (especially white) means that you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures. This does nothing but support segregation and hinder progress in the world. All it serves to do is to promote segregation and racism.” Another user posted: “The idiotic conflation of culture with racism. Essentially the absurd belief that the cultural exchange that has served to enriched humanity throughout all of human history is wrong because racists exist.” And lastly, “A pile of SJW bullshit stating that its racists to indulge in foreign cultures.” Of all the user definition posted, the majority were negative like the ones I’ve quoted. Proponents of cultural appropriation view it as benign or mutually beneficial. It is mutation, product diversity, technology diffusion and cultural empathy. For example, George Lucas borrowed elements for Star Wars from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress who borrowed from Shakespeare. John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University and contributing editor at the New Republic, wrote “The idea that when we imitate something we are seeking to replace it rather than join it is weak.” The concept has morphed from the original idea to a parody. According to McWhorter, people get angry simply when whites happily imitate something minorities do as if imitation is a kind of dismissal rather than a sincerest form of flattery. Another article expressed concern over the fervor against cultural appropriation as “unchecked by reason, therefore unworried by hypocrisy, snowflakes creep closer to actual violence” (Wakefield, 2017). The fight against cultural appropriation is seen as simply anti-white sentiment.

So what do we do? I’m not sure where I read this but someone made the comment that social justice warriors and “snowflakes” (a term for an extremist liberal offended by every statement ot belief that doesn’t exactly match their own. I see this behavior with conservatives too but that’s another post), are trying to reinstate an apartheid, a complete separation of cultures, after decades of fighting to remove such separation. In a way, this statement is correct, however, in my opinion, I see both sides of the coin. In many terms, cultural appropriation is bad and even insulting while others are simply the passage of time that it has become a part of both cultures. For example, an element from a culture should never be a costume or the butt of a joke which perpetuates an ethnic stereotype, according to Jenni Avins of The Atlantic. Just as a sacred symbols should not be worn as accessories. For example, in the last decade, individuals started wearing the Catholic rosary like one would wear a necklace. A rosary is not jewelry, it is a tool of prayer. It is not a talisman for protection. In her final words of her article, Maisha Johnson said “I am encouraging you to be thoughtful about using things from other cultures, to consider the context and learn about the best practices to show respect.” This statement makes sense to me, when respect is shown, I see no problem when someone of one culture borrows from another culture; however, the problem is someone may think they are being respectful when they are not or you may have some who, no matter how respectful a person may be, is insulted when someone outside the culture uses an element. This is when I feel the fight against cultural appropriation goes too far.

In conclusion, we live in a society in which we must walk on eggshells especially when you are white. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “not bad for a white woman” when I’ve cooked a delicious meal of traditional Mexican food or other ethnic foods. As if the color of my skin hinders my ability to follow a recipe and cook. On the other side, there are other aspects of different cultures that I would never feel comfort wearing or participating in, simply because I am not a part of that culture. Bottom line, if you are going to borrow something from another culture, be respectful and give credit where credit is due. I would want the same consideration if someone wants to borrow from my culture. What are your thoughts?


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Zechariah and Malachi: the last of the Old Testament prophets

I’ve come to the end of the Old Testament. The minor prophets, Zechariah and Malachi, have powerful messages and lessons that we can heed today. Zechariah’s messages came from visions of powerful things to come and instructions on how to live. He was speaking to the people who had just returned to their land after their captivity in Babylon. Zechariah is the most apocalyptic of the Minor Prophets as his visions detailed coming judgment. He also speaks of the coming Messiah. His purpose was to give hope to the people with the messages of the coming Messiah. Malachi’s message first focused on the sins of the priests and then the sins of the people but ended with a message of hope for those who remain faithful. His purpose was to confront the people with their sins and to restore their relationship with God.

The first half of the book of Zechariah is filled with powerful visions, many visions of things to come. I will discuss two which stood out to me. First, the vision of the Lampstand in Zechariah 4:1-14. He sees a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, seven channels of light to the lights and on either side of the lampstand is an olive tree. An angel of the Lord tells him that the vision means that the lampstand is fueled by the Lord’s Spirit. Verse 6 says “Not by might, not by power, but by Spirit.” The lampstand is kept burning by an unlimited reservoir of oil. It is a vision to remind the people and us that it is only through God’s Spirit that we will succeed, not by our own might and resources but by the pouring out of his spirit. Second, the vision of the four horses and chariots in Zechariah 6:1-8. The first chariot had red horses, the second chariot had black horses, the third had white and the fourth had dappled (spots or patches) (verse 2). The horses represent the four spirits of heaven who go out into the world (verse 5). The chariot with the black horses was sent north, the chariot with the white horses goes west and the one with the dappled horses goes south (verse 6). It is interesting that the chariot with the red horses isn’t mentioned specifically. In verse 7, Zechariah sees the powerful horses go out, “straining to go throughout the world” does this include the red horses as well? Was the chariot with the red horse held back? The Bible is silent about this and I’ve read different commentaries with no clear answer. I'd like to think the chariot with the red horses were held back for some reason, a reason God did not reveal to Zechariah. 

The second half of the book of Zechariah was written approximately 38 years after the first half and contains prophecies of the Messiah. Some have been fulfilled with Christ’s life and death and others have not yet come to pass. In Zechariah 9:9-13 is a specific prophecy concerning the Messiah. Verse 9 -10 states that the king will come to the people, first, riding on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 22:1-11, Luke 19:28-38 and John 12:12-16) and second as a powerful ruler. The Messiah will proclaim peace to the nations and he will rule from sea to sea. Zechariah 10:4 speaks from Judah will come a cornerstone, a tent peg, a battle bow and a ruler. The Messiah will be a strong, stable, victorious and trustworthy. In Zechariah 12:10-14 is the image of mourning. “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (verse 10). This mourning can easily describe the crucifixion of the Messiah. Verse 12 states that the land will mourn as well. Lastly, Zechariah 14 describes the eventual triumph of the Messiah over the earth and his reign on earth. The Feast of the Tabernacle, the feast of thanksgiving, will be celebrated with the king (verse 16). It is the only feast that will be celebrated. The other feasts are no longer necessary as they were fulfilled through Christ. The Passover with his death. The Day of Atonement with acceptance of salvation through him. The Feast of First fruits with his resurrection.

The first half of Malachi focuses on the sins of the priests and the people. First, In Malachi 1:6-14, the Lord speaks to the priests for their use of blemished sacrifices. In Leviticus 1:3, the Lord instructed that burnt offerings must be a male without defect, however, the priests were allowing people to offer offerings with defects. Blind, crippled and diseased animals were offered as sacrifices to God in clear violation. God tells the priests by allowing this violation to occur they were dishonoring him and showed him contempt. They were offering sacrifices as they wanted and not as God commanded. Second, in Malachi 2:1-9, God admonishes the priests for setting their hearts against him and thus breaking the covenant he made with their ancestor, Levi. He calls them to follow Levi’s example. Levi spoke with “true instruction” and “nothing false was found on his lips” (verse 6). He walked with the Lord “in peace and uprightness and turned many from sin” (verse 6). Because they have turned away from this covenant, God has caused the priests to be despised and humiliated before the people (verse 9). Lastly, God turns to the sins of the people in Malachi 2:10-16, specifically to the kingdom of Judah. Judah has broken faith with Israel and married “daughters of a foreign god” (verse 11). The people also weep and wail that their offerings are no longer accepted by God (verse 13). God tells them is it because they have broken faith (divorced) the wife of their youth (verse 14) and failing to raise godly children (verse 15). He tells them to guard themselves in their spirit and keep the faith their wives (verse 15-16).

The second half of Malachi is a message of the Lord’s coming and the attitudes of the people. In Malachi 3:1-5, the Lord tells the people he is sending a messenger who will prepare the way for him (this part is understood to refer to John the Baptist) and the Lord will appear like a refiner’s fire (verse 2). He will sit as a refiner and purify of silver and gold (verse 3). This is the image that God will remove the impurities of our hearts and souls like a refiner does with silver and gold in order to make them pure. As the refiner purifies gold and silver with fire, God will refine our hearts and souls by using the difficulties and storms of life. In Malachi 3:6-15, God accuses the people of robbing him from his proper tithes and offerings (verse 8) as well making harsh statements against him (verse 13). Verse 14-15 is particularly meaningful to me as it reminds me of current attitudes toward God. It states “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’” Wow! Sound familiar? These verses point out the selfishness of this attitude. It’s about “what did God do for me? What good did it do for me?” instead of “what did I do for God?” It is the same attitude of those today who turn from God and deny his existence. Often times when I met someone who doesn’t believe God exists, it’s because they treat God like a genie who grants wishes and that someone didn’t get what he or she wanted, then God must not exist. Lastly, God speaks about the faithful few in Malachi 3:16-18. He calls them his treasured possession (verse 17). Those who revere his name will be healed with the rising of “the sun of righteousness” and they will be freed like calves free from the stall (Malachi 4:2).

In conclusion, as the words of the prophets come to a close, we are left with the same warning. Turn back to God, keep the covenant, and prepare for his coming or prepare for his judgment. Zechariah’s message was filled with visions of the coming Messiah and the end times. His prophetic messages were a blending of present, near future and end time visions. His message is clear that our hope is only found in God and his Messiah who are in complete control of the world. Malachi’s message gives us a practical guideline to serve our commitment to God. Give him the best we can, be willing to change from our wrong way of life and welcome God’s refining process in our lives. Malachi was the last of the prophets. When he died, the voices of God’s prophets became silent. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok a film that has it all

Thor: Ragnarok is the fifth chapter of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It is also the first Thor film which takes place in the other realms besides just Earth and Asgard. When we last saw Thor in The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), he left to find the remaining Infinity Stones as four have now turned up and he senses a greater plot afoot. The official synopsis reads: “Thor is imprisoned on the other side of the universe and finds himself in a race against time to get back to Asgard to stop Ragnarok, the destruction of his home world and the end of Asgardian civilization, at the hands of an all-powerful new threat, the ruthless Hela.” There are many things I liked at the film, a few things I didn’t and I will respond to a few of the critics’ issues with the film.

First, what I liked about the film. First, the cast. Every actor filled their role very well. Chris Hemsworth as Thor as always brings the God of Thunder to life. In this film, Hemsworth was allowed to show more of his comedic side as well as the dramatic and action packed sequences. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie was great. I knew very little about the character when I saw the film and I was pleased to see how she fit in the story. Thompson brought great heart and depth to the character. Cate Blanchett as Hela was amazing! She seemed to be tailored made for this role. Her portrayal of Hela is definitely an improvement in Thor villains over Malekith in The Dark World. Second, the story with all the humor (there were a few laugh out loud moments), the drama (which I will not discuss in case you haven’t seen it yet) and the action from beginning to end kept me entertained and on the edge of my seat. The movie didn’t feel like it was over two hours which is good. If I watch a movie and I am aware of how long it is, then it didn’t hold my attention. I should be so engrossed in the story that I am unaware of the passage of time and Thor: Raganrok did that. Lastly, the music. I loved the use of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song which fits perfectly with the Viking/Norse mythology which inspired Thor and his adventures.

Second, there wasn’t much I didn’t like about this film. However, what I didn’t like about the film were a few of the comedic scenes which were uncomfortable to watch. I cringed like “ewww really?!?” There is one joke in particular which features how Thor returns to Asgard and every time they said it, I cringed. I was glad when he finally returns to Asgard and this particular joke could stop. These types of jokes are so juvenile and unnecessary. They belong in a different comedies like Dumb and Dumber. Thankfully they weren’t the majority of the jokes in the film. While Jeff Goldblum is a great choice for the Grandmaster, some of his scenes were a bit tedious and cringe worthy. However, these awkward scenes were really few and far between so it’s something I could overlook when enjoying the film.

Third, many critics both professional and viewers had quite a few things to say about this film. One criticism I read is that the plotline of Ragnarok was an afterthought and wasn’t central to the film. I didn’t see that at all. While Ragnarok isn’t discussed at length in the film, it is Thor’s motivation to free himself from the Grandmaster and return to Asgard and defeat Hela. So I feel Ragnarok was not a side plot especially in the final act, when you see the final you may understand what I mean. Sometimes I think people wanted the Ragnarok storyline to be used to bash the audience’s head and remind them over and over that the end was coming. Not necessary. I think it worked in the film as they portrayed it. Second, many critics had a problem with the humor. There was too much. While I enjoyed the majority of the humor and didn’t enjoy some of the jokes, I don’t see why a superhero film can’t have humor. Iron Man did. Both Avengers films did. Captain America: Winter Soldier did. Maybe not to the extent of Ragnarok but it was there. Looking back on the first two Thor films, there were quite bit of humor in those films too.

In conclusion, I loved Thor: Ragnarok. It had great acting. The story was good and for the most part the humor fit. Despite finding some of the humor awkward and hard to watch, I look forward to watching it over and over again as part of the MCU. In my opinion, every movie will have flaws. No matter how much they try to cover all the bases, mistakes will be made and ideas will falter. However, this film is a great film which its flaws can be ignored. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Song of a Captive Bird: based on the life of Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhad

Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Dapzink is a story inspired by the life and poetry of Forugh Farrokhzad. Born in 1935 to her father, a man she only knew as the Colonel and his wife, Turan, Forugh was a child who found pleasure in breaking the rules and even greater pleasure in the storytelling afterward. In the summer of 1950, she met her cousin and future husband, Parviz Shapour. He was a satirist who encouraged her to write poetry. They were married in 1951 when she was 16 and her only son would be born two years later. However, she felt trapped by the bonds of marriage and motherhood, she began to travel to Tehran seeking to publish her poetry. Once her poems were published and gained attention, she finds her life at a crossroad. Parviz grants her a divorce and she loses custody of her son, she tries to rebuild her life and gain her voice as a feminist and a poet at a time when Iran was in turmoil.

Song of a Captive Bird is an interesting story of a woman ahead of her time. I wasn’t familiar with her or her poetry but as a lover of poetry I was intrigued. Her life was filled with horrors and heartache. First at the mercy of her father, then her husband (who didn’t treat who horribly but expected her to conform), and then at society who wasn’t prepared for her voice. Ms. Dapzink describes Forugh’s life with such details that I cringed and cried at her pain and at her frustration. Sadly, Forugh was killed in a car accident on February 14, 1967. Her poems would be banned and censored by the government but her poems still found their way into the hands of the people and have been read for decades after her death. I enjoyed how Ms. Dapzink used Forugh’s poems throughout the story so the reader can understand the situation which inspired her work. I highly recommend Song of a Captive Bird.

Song of a Captive Bird
will be available on February 13, 2018
In hardcover and eBook

Why should I stop, why? 
the birds have gone in search 
of the blue direction. 
the horizon is vertical, vertical 
and movement fountain-like; 
and at the limits of vision 
shining planets spin. 
the earth in elevation reaches repetition, 
and air wells 
changes into tunnels of connection; 
and day is a vastness, 
which does not fit into narrow mind 
of newspaper worms.”

-verse taken from “It is Only Sound that Remains”

Friday, November 24, 2017

Foods native to the Americas we might have been aware of

As I continue with my series for Native American Heritage Month, I thought about what foods we enjoy today that was introduced by the Native Americans. Just as spices were introduced to Europe through exploration of the East, a variety of foods were introduced to the world known as the Colombian Exchange. The world today owes the Native Americas of North and South America for many of the food it enjoys. Approximately, 60% of the world’s food originated in the New World. From fruits to vegetables to meats, the Native Americans enjoyed a vast and varied diet. Traditionally thought to be mainly hunter-gatherer societies, Native American tribes were also farmers who cultivated a wide variety of foods.

1. Tomatoes: First cultivated in South America in the region of Chile to Ecuador, birds are believed to have carried the seeds spreading them to present day Mexico as early as 800 BCE. The Aztecs embraced the red tomato as well as the green husked tomatoes known as tomatillo to become a staple in their diets. Europeans first feared the tomatoes. They thought they were poisonous as tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family. There is some debate about how the tomato reached Europe. One story states that Hernan Cortes brought the plant in 1521 while another story states that Christopher Columbus might have brought it back in 1493. The first mention of the tomato in European writings was in 1544. However, it wasn’t incorporated into Italian cuisine until the late 17th or early 18th century.

2. Potatoes: Usually associated with the Irish and the Great Famine of 1845, the potato was first cultivated by pre-Inca peoples of Peru between 3700-3000 BCE. Over 3,000 varieties of potatoes can be found in the Andes of South America. First introduced in Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish, the potato has been estimated to be responsible for a quarter of the growth in the Old World population and urbanization between 1700 and 1900 as the potato yields abundantly with little effort. European farmers were skeptical of the potato but soon it became a staple in European diets. North American, however, didn’t see the potato until the Irish immigrants brought them in the 1700s although a wild variety of potato can be found as far north as Mexico and Texas. 

3. Maize (Corn): I’m sure everyone is familiar with corn as originating in the New World. However, many do not realize how important maize is to the Native peoples. First cultivated in Mexico and Central America, maize plays a vital role in many Native cultures. Corn is one of the Three Sisters, along with squash and beans. Referred to as a relative, corn is essential in many creation stories. For example, Little Giver is a corn spirit in southeastern tribal stories. He presented the people with the gift of corn. Selu of Cherokee legend is a goddess associated with fertility. The Mayans believed that humans were fashioned from corn and based their calendar on the planting season. The Zuni people of southwestern US has a story of the 8 corn maidens whose dance helped the corn grow.

4. Berries: Cranberries were used as food, wound medicine and dye by the Northeastern natives. Due to its bitterness, cranberries were used as a part of a tonic which was given for various ailments. The Algonquian peoples called the berry, sassamanash, and introduced it to starving settlers in Massachusetts. In the 1820s, cranberries were shipped to Europe and became popular in Nordic countries as well as Russia. Currants were used by many native tribes for medicinal purposes. Blackfoot natives used currant roots for treatment for kidney disease and menstrual issues. The Cree natives used currants as a fertility enhancer. The strawberry we know today are a crossbreed of two New World strawberries: Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis of South America. The two species were first bred in Brittany, France in 1750s.

5. Squash: The word comes from a native word askutasquash, meaning “a green thing eaten raw” from the Narragansett, an Algonquian tribe of the Rhode Island area. Although most natives would eat various squash raw, they were also dried and roasted. The most common native squash is the pumpkin. Pumpkins are thought to have originated in Mexico area between 7,000 to 5,500 BCE. Pumpkin seeds, also called “pepitas” have been discovered by archaeologists in caves of Mexico dating back to 7,000 BCE. The natives used pumpkins not only as a food source but medicine as well. In particular, the seeds were dried and roasted and used for intestinal issues and kidney aliments. Another native squash is the acorn squash. The seeds were the most consumed part of the acorn squash as they were dried and stored for a food for lean times as well as for journeys.

6. Meats: While Native Americans consumed little to no meat in their everyday diets, they consumed various wild and domesticated animals. Tribes near water sources consumed various fish, lobster and shellfish. For example, the costal tribes of California consumed abalone. In California’s Northern Channel Island, the natives there gathered and consumed abalone for nearly 12,000 years. Turkey is another meat source that was popular as a feast food especially for the Mayans and the Aztecs who revered the wild turkey known as huexolotlin as a manifestation of the trickster god, Tezcatlipoca. Turkeys were domesticated and spread as a food source from Central America north through the southwest and the eastern America. The Muscovy duck was often fattened and eaten as a feast food in Mexico, Central and South America. The duck is thought to originate on the Miskito Coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras.

In conclusion, this list is just a small portion for the wide variety of food which originated with the New World. I found it interesting that many of us cannot think of the potato without thinking of the Irish or even Italian food with the tomato based pasta sauces. These foods are so engrained in those ethnic cuisine, we don’t realize that they were always there. It wasn’t until the exploration of the New World that the dishes we know today came about. Many of the foods I listed are among my favorite foods. How many of your favorites are on the list?