Art in the Age of Magnetic Reproduction

This week in North Philly Notes, Laura Holzman, author of Contested Image, appreciates a magnet of Thomas Eakins’s painting The Gross Clinic, one of the artworks featured in her new book.

GrossClinic1-575x715I have a Gross Clinic magnet on my refrigerator. That’s right—a reproduction of Thomas Eakins’s celebrated 1875 painting helps keep coupons, family photos, and wedding invitations in their place. When I reach for the yogurt I see Dr. Samuel Gross leading a surgical procedure to remove infected bone from his patient’s thigh. If I glance up while chopping carrots, I see a body on an operating table. How did an image that was once deemed too gory for display in an art gallery come to be a regular view during meal prep?

My dad gave me the magnet a few years ago. He knew that I had been studying the painting, so when he saw the magnet in the gift shop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he couldn’t resist. He’d picked out other magnets for me in the past—usually from national parks where he’d gone hiking. But this one surprised me. I did an amused double-take when he put it in my hand. It wasn’t that a famous artwork had been reproduced on an everyday object—anyone who’s been to a museum gift shop has seen the likenesses of notable works of art printed on mugs, t-shirts, umbrellas, and more. I was struck instead by this particular image. In The Gross Clinic, doctors perform an innovative operation while an audience observes from their seats in the surgical theater. Visually, the striking contrast between deep shadows and bright highlights directs a viewer’s attention to the lead surgeon and the patient. A team of doctors hold the patient still, keep him sedated, and probe the incision in his leg. There is blood on Dr. Gross’s hands. A cringing woman averts her eyes. The medical team focuses on their work. This is undeniably an intense scene. It’s apparently also one that makes a good souvenir from a visit to the museum.

The Gross Clinic has taken on different meanings since Eakins completed it. It has been rejected from and embraced in fine-art settings. It has been used to tell stories about the artist, the period when he lived and worked, the history of art, and Philadelphia. Eakins conceived of the painting as a submission to the Centennial Exhibition, the 1876 world’s fair held in Philadelphia. The organizers of the festival, concerned about the raw imagery, decided that it was more appropriate for display in a medical exhibit than in an art gallery. By the time Eakins died in 1916, the painting had been included in prominent art exhibitions, and essays memorializing the artist gave the painting high praise. For more than 120 years the painting was part of the collection of Jefferson University, the medical school where Dr. Gross had been a beloved faculty member. In 2006, when Jefferson University announced plans to sell The Gross Clinic—potentially to an out-of-state collector—the painting acquired yet another layer of meaning. Local audiences who helped the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts jointly purchase the painting embraced it as a city icon that belonged in Philadelphia and nowhere else.

Contested Image_smThe fundraising and public relations campaign to keep The Gross Clinic in Philadelphia is one of the key episodes I examine in Contested Image: Defining Philadelphia for the Twenty-First Century. The book demonstrates how passionate, wide-reaching public conversations about where art belongs in the city were tied to Philadelphia’s changing reputation around the year 2000. By examining the public discourse surrounding The Gross Clinic sale and by looking closely at the painting itself, I show how the identity of the painting and the identity of the city became intertwined.

This important part of the painting’s recent history affects how viewers today encounter The Gross Clinic. In the museum, visitors are invited to connect the story of the sale with their understanding of the artwork because the credit line on the object label acknowledges the thousands of people who contributed to the fundraising campaign. At home, there’s no credit line to provide that context, but the magnet itself reframes the nineteenth-century artwork depicted on its surface. The diminutive scale—just 9 by 6.5 centimeters—and the flatness of the print discourage close looking. When I see the magnet, I recognize the image as The Gross Clinic, but I don’t look carefully the way I would look at the actual painting. Downplaying the artwork as object shifts the emphasis to what it represents: Eakins’s artistry, medical excellence, a trip to the museum, the city of Philadelphia. When I look at the magnet, I don’t see the bloody wound. I see a reminder of a place (Philadelphia) and an activity (visiting the museum, raising money to keep the painting local). In that way it’s not so different from the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone magnets that hang on the door nearby.

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Temple University Press’ Spring 2019 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we feature highlights from our Spring 2019 catalog.

sp19 cover As the cover of this catalog proclaims, 2019 is the Press’s 50th anniversary, and there’s much to celebrate.

We’ve published more than 1600 titles in the past five decades, starting with Marxism and Radical Religion: Essays Toward a Revolutionary Humanism, edited by John C. Raines and Thomas Dean. Since that auspicious beginning, Temple University Press has dedicated itself to publishing socially engaged scholarship. Our list is chock-full of titles related to social justice and social change. We pride ourselves on being pioneers in advancing the scholarly value and social importance of disciplines such as women’s studies, ethnic studies, and the study of race. To that end, we launched highly regarded lists in African American studies and Latin American and Latino/a studies and a field-shaping series in Asian American studies. We’ve been recognized for publishing award-winning titles in urban studies, political science, and gender and sexuality studies. And we have the premiere list of titles on Philadelphia and the region, from arts and culture to history and sports and more.

The titles in this catalog are built upon the strengths of our past. They in turn lay the groundwork for our next 50 years. If past is prologue, our future looks bright. Here’s to 50 more years!—MARY ROSE MUCCIE,  Director


Highlights from the Spring Catalog include: 
contested_image_smThomas Eakins’ 1875 painting, The Gross Clinic, the Rocky Statue, and the Barnes Foundation are all iconic in Philadelphia for different reasons. But around the year 2000, this painting, this sculpture, and this entire art collection, respectively, generated extended—and heated—controversies about the “appropriate” location for each item. Contested Image revisits the debates that surrounded these works of visual culture and how each item changed through acts of reception—through the ways that viewers looked at, talked about, and used these objects to define their city.

Laura Holzman investigates the negotiations and spirited debates that affected the city of Philadelphia’s identity and its public image. She considers how the region’s cultural resources reshaped the city’s reputation as well as delves into discussions about official efforts to boost local spirit. In tracking these “contested images,” Holzman illuminates the messy process of public envisioning of place and the ways in which public dialogue informs public meaning of both cities themselves and the objects of urban identity.


getting_away_from_it_all_smVacations are a delimited period during which social rules and responsibilities are eased, removed, or shifted, and people have increased autonomy over what they choose to do. Recent trends in the travel industry emphasize the appeal of vacations for voluntary identity changes—when bankers can become bikers for a week or when “Momcations” allow mothers to leave their families behind. But how do our vacations allow us to shape our identity?

Getting Away from It All is a study of individuality and flexibility and the intersection of self-definition and social constraint. Karen Stein interviews vacationers about their travels and down time, focusing on “identity transitions.” She shows how objects, settings, temporal environments and social interactions limit or facilitate identity shifts, and how we arrange our vacations to achieve the shifts we desire. Stein also looks at the behavior, values, attitudes, and worldview of individuals to illuminate how people engage in either identity work or identity play.

Vacations say a lot about individuals. They signal class and economic standing and reveal aspirations and goals. Getting Away from It All insists that vacations are about more than just taking time off to relax and rejuvenate—they are about having some time to work on the person one wants to be.


in_the_weeds_smMore and more states are legalizing marijuana in some form. Moreover, a majority of the U.S. population is in favor of legalizing the drug for recreational use. In the Weeds looks at how our society has become more permissive in the past 150 years—even though marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug by the American government.

Sociologists Clayton Mosher and Scott Akins take a deep dive into marijuana policy reform, looking at the incremental developments and the historical, legal, social, and political implications of these changes. They investigate the effects, medicinal applications, and possible harms of marijuana. In the Weeds also considers arguments that youth will be heavy users of legalized cannabis, and shows how “weed” is demonized by exaggerations of the drug’s risks and claims that it lacks medicinal value. Mosher and Akins end their timely and insightful book by tracing the distinct paths to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the United States and other countries as well as discussing what the future of marijuana law holds.


the_palestinian_idea_061818_smIs there a link between the colonization of Palestinian lands and the enclosing of Palestinian minds? The Palestinian Idea argues that it is precisely through film and media that hope can occasionally emerge amidst hopelessness, emancipation amidst oppression, freedom amidst apartheid. Greg Burris employs the work of Edward W. Said, Jacques Rancière, and Cedric J. Robinson in order to locate Palestinian utopia in the heart of the Zionist present.

He analyzes the films of prominent directors Annemarie Jacir ( Salt of This Sea, When I Saw You) and Hany Abu-Assad ( Paradise Now) to investigate the emergence and formation of Palestinian identity. Looking at Mais Darwazah’s documentary My Love Awaits Me By the Sea, Burris considers the counterhistories that make up the Palestinian experience—stories and memories that have otherwise been obscured or denied. He also examines Palestinian (in)visibility in the global media landscape, and how issues of Black-Palestinian transnational solidarity are illustrated through social media, staged news spectacles, and hip hop music.

Temple University Press’s Annual Holiday Give and Get

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggest the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to read and receive this holiday season. 

 

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marking Director

Give: This year I’d give Nelson Diaz’s memoir Not from Here, Not from There because of its uplifting story as the first of many things—from first Latino to graduate from the Temple Law School to the first Latino judge in the state of Pennsylvania, and on and on.  This is a book for all of us who have dual status—American but also “other”—and a dare to dream of life’s many possibilities.

Get: It’s a bit late to give me a book that I’d want to read because I already have it.  Michelle Obama’s Becoming is another inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States. Besides, I still haven’t gotten the book I asked Santa for last year—Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a survey of African American art from 1963-83.

Karen Baker, Financial Manager

Give: The Eagles Encyclopedia Champions Edition by Ray Didinger with Robert S. Lyons, all my family—Mom, Dad, brothers, and kids who are all die-hard Philly fans.

Get: I would like to receive Dog Shaming by Pascale Lemire because it looks so funny.

Sara Cohen, Editor

Give: This year, I’ll be giving Rebecca Yamin’s Archaeology at the Site of the Museum of the American Revolution to the history buffs in my life. It tells the story of 300 years of Philadelphia history through artifacts found in privies on the site of the Museum of the American Revolution through tons of gorgeous full color images. It’s also short which makes it an easy read and an affordable gift.

Get: I’m getting ready to move, so I hope that no one give me any holiday presents this year (just more to pack). Once I get settled, I’m hoping to read Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (I just read a great chapter on it by one of my authors) and Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto.

Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager

Give:  Color Me… Cherry & White. What better way to unwind than with a coloring book?  A great gift for kids and kids-at-heart.

Get: Becoming by Michelle Obama, an eagerly awaited memoir of a truly inspirational woman.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor in Chief

Give: I’m so thrilled to have Steven Davis’s In Defense of Public Lands on the list. This is an academically rigorous and powerfully written book that’s not afraid to take a stand. Davis offers the privatizers’ best arguments in a fair-minded way, then systematically dismantles them. This is engaged scholarship at its best, and there’s simply nothing else like ityou won’t find a more comprehensive and keenly argued overview of this vital and terrifyingly timely debate anywhere.

Get: I hope someone gives me Kathy Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker. I believe this book is still understood to have been the most prescient work on political conditions which would eventually give us President Donald Trump. Maybe I’m not the only one still trying to figure this out?

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give:  Architectures of Revolt: The Cinematic City circa 1968edited by Mark Shiel. This book has all my Venn Diagrams overlapping—it’s about film, it’s about cities, and it’s about 1968. It’s also about protests and architecture. It’s the perfect gift for my cinephile friends, my urbanist friends, my activist friends, and anyone else who turned 50 in 1968 (or like the press will in 2019).

Get: Jonathan Coe’s Middle England. This is the third of Coe’s books about four friends that began with The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle. The only problem with getting this book is that it will make me want to re-read the first two!

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Give: They say that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and to me, that was never truer than in the alliance of Evangelicals with Republican candidate and now President Donald Trump.  How people dedicated to spreading the message of Christianity could support a man who is at best morally ambiguous seems incongruous. If you, too, are perplexed, as are many of my friends and family, the contributors to Paul Djupe and Ryan Claassen’s book The Evangelical Crackup? The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition explain how and why this came to pass.

Get: Technically, I already got this (as a gift to myself), but I’m looking forward to sitting down with a pot of tea and Circe, by Madeline Miller. I love Greek mythology, and books about strong, independent, intelligent woman are always on my wish list. Circe has both covered.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Give: Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America 50 Years After the Kerner Report, edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission’s warning that the United States was headed toward two societies, “separate and unequal” and that “To continue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.” As Americans struggle more and more to find common ground, the keepers of the Kerner flame Fred Harris and Alan Curtis compile the top authorities on the most pressing urban issues and assemble a comprehensible compendium of what we know works: as reasonable a place to start as any in an unreasonable time.

Get: The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, by Merve Emre. I’m a millennial, and if there’s one thing millennials like, it’s taking quizzes to better label, sort, and categorize ourselves, proudly declaring the insights that we’d only discovered moments ago must now be immutably true. Luckily, if there are two things millennials like, the other is reading about how all our habits and values are harmful and wrong. This book tells how the mother-daughter team of Myers and Briggs created our national obsession with slapping four letters on who we are and how we operate and asks what it is we think we’re getting out of it?

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

Give: Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic StudiesThis isn’t a first-time choice for me. Published by Temple University Press on behalf of the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research, Kalfou addresses the many issues and critical concerns that increasingly are plaguing our communities and institutions. The journal gives me a measure of hope in this very crazy time. As per the inscriptions in the beginning: kal ´fü—a Haitian Kreyòl word meaning “crossroads”“This means that one must cultivate the art of recognizing significant communications, knowing what is truth and what is falsehood, or else the lessons of the crossroads—the point where doors open or close, where persons have to make decisions that may forever after affect their lives—will be lost.”—Robert Farris Thompson.

Get: Educated by Tara Westover. I keep hearing wonderful things about it.

Ashley Petrucci, Rights and Contracts Coordinator

Give: Who Will Speak for America? edited by Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin. Who Will Speak for America? draws upon the current political climate to advocate for change, which makes it a very timely piece that I think is important for everyone to read.  This would definitely be a book of great interest to several of my friends, who would enjoy reading about the various perspectives and reading through the various styles of the contributors to this edited collection.

Get: The Supernatural in Society, Culture, and History edited by Dennis Waskul and Marc Eaton. I may be a bit biased, since aspects of the supernatural were key components to my senior thesis on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but this would be the book that I would most like to receive.  I’ve always enjoyed horror movies and studying the supernatural elements of folktales and stories (particularly from the Middle Ages), so I would love to sit down and read this book over the holidays.  A nightmare before Christmas, if you will.

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Manager

Give: Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Politics of Divide and Conquer in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, by Jamie Longazel. To quote the Preface, “This book contributes to an understanding of U.S. immi­gration politics in this tumultuous first decade and a half of the twenty-first century.” 

Get: Dreams and Nightmares: I Fled Alone to the United States When I Was Fourteen, by Liliana Velásquez.

Dave Wilson, Senior Production Manager

Give: Policing in Natural Disasters, by Terri M. Adams and Leigh R. Anderson, is inspired by the personal accounts of triumph and tragedy shared by first responders. The short- and long-term effects of these events on first responders—the very people society relies upon in the midst of a catastrophe—are often overlooked. This book opened my mind about the strength of these responders and the challenges they face while responding during times of crisis. I find it fascinating to weigh the dilemma: How do they take care of their own families first and risk neglecting their needs when the responders are required to place the needs of the people they serve first.

 

 

 

 

All about Mr. All-Around, Tom Gola

This week in North Philly Notes, David Grzybowski, author of Mr. All-Around, writes about why he wrote about Tom Gola.

“History stands on the legacies of others.”

That’s what La Salle University archivist, Brother Joe Grabenstein told me during my senior year at La Salle University in 2013. With the help of Brother Joe, I had the opportunity to exclusively interview Tom Gola in February of 2013, a month before the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn, New York. I didn’t know it at the time, but meeting Tom Gola changed my life. If you were to tell me from that meeting I was going to end up writing a book about Gola I would’ve said you’re crazy!

Well, here we are.

Almost 68 months later, I wrote book about Philadelphia’s most beloved college basketball player, Tom Gola.

When I first started this book I knew exactly what I wanted to cover and had a game plan on what stories I really wanted to tell. It was all about execution.

Mr All-Around_smI wanted to show people the behind the scenes aspect of Gola’s life that maybe fans do not know about prior. I wanted to showcase what Gola was like as a player off the court as a father, friend, businessman, mentor and neighbor. One of the more interesting parts of Gola’s life was his time working in the political field in the state of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. After his time in the NBA, Gola traded in his jersey and shorts for his suit and tie, a opportunity in politics working as a member of Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 170th district in Philadelphia. Gola would go on to become the Philadelphia City Controller from 1970 to 1974, joining politician Arlen Specter on a joint campaign that revolutionized political marketing within Philadelphia. Its not everyday you see a Philadelphia sports figure succeed in basketball, politics and coaching in the same city he grew up in.

To this day, there is no one that is more “Philly” than Tom Gola. He loved Philadelphia so much that while he played for the New York Knicks in the early 1960’s he decided to live in his Philadelphia home with his family and traveled to and from practices and games. You can’t get more Philadelphia than that.

I firmly believe that Gola’s story is so much more than just Philadelphia based. Tom Gola saved college basketball in the 1950’s after a huge point shaving scandal that involved a lot of basketball programs that tarnished basketball for some time. Gola was the first major college basketball star to come out of that debacle and he took the league by storm, winning the NIT in 1952 and the NCAA championship in 1954, both with the La Salle Explorers.

Tom Gola’s legacy will forever be talked about as one of the best college basketball players in history. Gola will forever be the all-time leading rebounder in NCAA history with 2,201 rebounds. Gola is one of two players in NCAA history to score more than 2,000 points and grab 2,000 rebounds during his collegiate career. To this day, Tom Gola’s name is always brought up in the NCAA and NBA game of today. Thats a sign that his legacy still remains.

Tom Gola’s story needs to be told and I’m happy to be the one to tell his story.

 

The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlight a program entitled, “The Working People of  Philadelphia, Then and Now,” which honors a reissue of Bruce Laurie’s classic labor history,  Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850.

The program is one in a series planned in conjunction with the reissuing of 30 out-of-print Temple University Press Labor Studies and Work titles in open access format.

Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Press, in collaboration with Temple University Libraries, will reissue 30 outstanding labor studies books in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats and make them freely available online. Chosen by an advisory board of scholars, labor studies experts, publishers, and librarians, each book contains a new foreword by a prominent scholar, reflecting on the content and placing it in historical context.

VannemanLast week, Matt Wray penned an essay for Public Books on  The American Perception of Classby Reeve Vanneman and Lynn Weber Cannon.

He writes, “… the 1987 publication of The American Perception of Class came as something of a shock. Many in the social sciences, particularly those affiliated with the New Left, seemed not to know what to make of the renegade ideas put forth by Vanneman and Cannon, whose central claim was simple and elegant: one should not mistake the absence of class conflict for absence of class consciousness.”

 

The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now

On November 7, at 6:00 pm at the Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Sq. in Philadelphia, Temple Libraries and Temple University Press are presenting a panel entitled, “The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now.”

Laurie_Cover_SM.jpgIn 1980, historian Bruce Laurie published The Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850. The book has now been reissued and is freely available online thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This title is part of a larger collection of open access books on Labor Studies and Work published by Temple University Press.

In celebration of its return, please join us for a conversation with historians and Philadelphia natives Francis Ryan and Sharon McConnell-Siddorick. They will discuss questions such as: what was it like to be a worker in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century? How was the Philadelphia working class constituted by race, ethnicity, gender, and occupation? What were some of the major problems, hopes, and aspirations that workers shared? What were the cultures, organizations, and institutions that workers created? In what ways have things changed for the better for Philadelphia workers in 2018, and in what ways are they still struggling?”

Registration is requested https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-working-people-of-philadelphia-then-and-now-tickets-50361771414

About the panelists for The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now.

Speakers:

Francis Ryan is graduate program director at Rutgers University’s Masters in Labor and Employment Relations program in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His book AFSCME’s Philadelphia Story: Municipal Workers and Urban Power in the Twentieth Century was published by Temple University Press in 2011. He is the editor of The Memoirs of Wendell W. Young III: A Life in Philadelphia Labor and Politics, forthcoming from Temple University Press.

Sharon McConnell-Sidorick is an independent historian and author. She attended the University of Pennsylvania on a Bread Upon the Waters Scholarship for returning women and graduated with a degree in Anthropology. She received her Ph.D. in History from Temple University. She is the author of Silk Stockings and Socialism: Philadelphia’s Radical Hosiery Workers from the Jazz-Age to the New Deal (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), and has written for Jacobin, H-Net and Pennsylvania History. She wrote the forward for the new edition of Bruce Laurie’s The Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850, published by Temple University Press, 2018.

Moderator:

Cynthia Little began her involvement with public history in the 1970s when she was a doctoral student in history at Temple University. She has worked at the Philadelphia Area Cultural Consortium, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and most recently at the Philadelphia History Museum. She has consulted on public history initiatives including for the local tourism industry and the City of Philadelphia. Many of the projects she created have highlighted labor history.

About The National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov

A Q&A with Judge Nelson A. Diaz

This week in North Philly Notes, an interview with Nelson A. Diaz, about his inspiring new autobiography, Not from Here, Not from There.

You came to America as a child—literally—in your mother’s belly. Can you discuss the experience of being part of the wave of Puerto Rican immigrants post-World War II?
During the 1940’s and 1950’s, many Puerto Ricans came to New York in search of greater job opportunities because the economic hardships confronting Puerto Rico after WWII. My mother came to New York to provide a better life for me. She was a woman who was ahead of her time because she was a working mom at a time when most mothers stayed at home with their children. She did not have a choice. She worked as a seamstress in a factory to make ends meet. Although I grew up in very humble circumstances, my mother always provided the example of love, hard work, and faith. The Marine Tiger where she landed was a famous ship used in WWII for transport of soldiers and many came to the shores of NY the same way having American citizenship since 1917. Public Policy in the availability of Public Housing made a major difference in our lives.

You grew up in Harlem and had some hardscrabble experiences. What was that period of your life like?  You talk about being in fear at age 15. What helped you get through that time and not just survive, but thrive?
Growing up in poverty does not give you many options. Violence, gangs, and drugs are all around. I had a lot of problems in school much of which stemmed from my inability to speak and read in both English and Spanish. Trying to live in two different worlds – Puerto Rican culture and American culture – was difficult. I was not doing well in school and was always struggling to get better grades. At the age of 15, I went from being a D student to an A student in one year through the saving grace of the church.

Through faith, I felt hope. Hope for my future, an expectation that better things lied ahead and a strong desire to work hard for it. Through faith, I no longer felt unworthy and I knew that I could achieve greater things, not only for myself but also for others. The intervention of people in my life made a difference.

Not From Here_smYou faced considerable discrimination in Philadelphia (e.g., passing the bar). Was there a particular experience that made you learn and grow?
Growing up as a poor Puerto Rican kid from Harlem, I always had to overcome the barriers of stereotypical attitudes: a school counselor who believes that you are not college material, or institutional or systemic bias in law schools and government, or law firms and corporate boards that lack diversity even though there are highly qualified people of color. That is why civil and human rights are important issues that I have spent my life fighting for. I have spent a lifetime breaking barriers so others can walk through the doors—whether it was becoming a founding member of Black Law Students Association and the Federation of Puerto Rican Students because I understood the power of coalitions of interest; or becoming a community activist to protest the lack of diversity and open up law school doors for others; or promoting economic development in the Latino community; or becoming the first Puerto Rican White House Fellow, where I worked for Vice President Mondale and was able to promote Latino diversity in the political arena and influence public policy both domestically and internationally; or becoming the first Latino judge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; or becoming the first minority administrative judge and presiding over court reforms that brought seven years of backlogged cases to the present and saved the courts millions of dollars; or fighting for the human rights of Soviet Jews; or becoming the first American judge to sit on a Japanese Court; or fighting against segregation in housing nationwide; or promoting the inclusion and promotion of minority and women lawyers in the profession; or fighting for diversity on corporate boards. I may have been the first, but I did not want to be the last!

The history of anyone but Caucasian who had passed the Pennsylvania Bar demonstrates that until the Liacouras Bar Committee found discrimination in the Bar exam the Commonwealth of PA since its founding, the bar had only admitted 67 African Americas and no Latinos before 1969 when I entered Law School. It was apparent that it was impossible to believe that I might get admitted and the city was so segregated by neighborhoods with continuous racial conflict between neighborhood boundaries.

Eventually, your career took off with appointments as the General Counsel at HUD, and as a city solicitor who helped with immigration issues. Can you describe your experiences?
The White House Fellows program gave me an education on the world and lifted my profile in my professional life.  The Judicial appointment and election also changed the public perspective of me. Both of these appointments, including the Administrative Judge title, were avenues of increasing diversity in the workplace. Although I was flattered to have been asked to by Henry Cisneros, who is a trailblazer and friend, to become his General Counsel at HUD, I did not want to go to Washington, DC. Henry was persistent and I eventually agreed. By breaking another barrier—becoming the first minority General Counsel—I was determined to increase the numbers of minority and women lawyers hired, retained and promoted because of the shocking lack of diversity among the government attorneys. I have always felt that the inclusion of minorities and women is an important step to changing systemic bias that exists in most institutions. As Latinos, we need to select our own leaders and continue to help each other climb the ladder of success.

Your book’s title is curious, it suggests a lack of belonging. Can you discuss that?
The title of my book, “I am not from here and I am not from there/No soy de aqui, ni de alla,” is about being a Puerto Rican born and raised in New York. We are not accepted here because of stereotypes and prejudice and yet not accepted as Puerto Rican from the Islanders because we were born in the States. It begs the question so where do we belong? That is a difficult barrier to overcome. You continue striving for excellence, inclusion, and moving the agenda forward so there is equality for all. There are many examples of rejection on both sides of the Atlantic both professionally and community where Puerto Ricans resided.

My parents lived most of their lives in Puerto Rico while I lived all of my life in the United States. I visited regularly since the age of 10 was educated in the issues of both countries, despite my professional capacity and assistance was there rarely an opinion they sought or cared particularly as you can see from the major Hurricane Maria. When they used my help it was limited to educate their officials and not my expertise which normally was ignored. That never gave me pause to keep trying wherever possible.

Do you think you achieved the American Dream?
Latinos positively contribute to the wellbeing of this great country. My story demonstrates some of the many ways, Latinos contribute to America. I hope that this book is seen in a bigger context than just my story. In the backdrop of the negative and racist attitudes about Latinos being only “criminals and rapists” my story is one of many, Latinos who work hard every day to put food on the table, house their families as best as they can and educate their children to have equal opportunities for the future. Isn’t that what everyone wants – the American Dream? History has eliminated most of our contribution and we fail to tell the story of how we have made America better.  My book will hopefully inspire young people to strive for a better life.

Another chance to see Tommy and Me

Tommy and Me, the autobiographical play by Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and the forthcoming Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, is getting an encore production at the Media Theater August 8-26. This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post the author/playwright’s blog entry, slightly tweaked from what published last summer after the original production ended its run.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling when Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play, had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night last year we would go in different directions. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

Eagles;Champions_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why it was so hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

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