Friday, August 31, 2007


All you farmers out there would not have believed the size of the JG Boswell ranches that we visited on Wednesday. 120,000 acres-- mostly cotton (they grow 65% of California's Pima cotton, and CA grows 95% of the world's Pima cotton-- get your brain around that!) They also produce huge volumes of processing tomatoes - Romas with a tough skin that they make into tomato paste, which is sold to Heinz, Hunts, and Del Monte, among others to be the base for ketchup, sauces, etc.
We watched tomatoes being harvested, and frolicked in cotton fields... did you know that cotton blossoms look like roses? They are beautiful! The Boswell ranches in Corcoran have over 500 miles of irrigation canals, which we learned about by meeting the Water Master. (his real title- no joke!) Boswell also has one of the largest cotton gins in the world, and we went on a tour, of course. How much do I love "regional learning?!"

crazy Corcoran CA

We've now been in the fabulous, friendly little town of Corcoran, CA, for the past four days. Corcoran is south of Fresno, and is the farming capital of California. It is a town with a population of 12,000, which doubles if you count the CA State Prison that houses a few celebrity inmates, including Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan.
They have rolled out the red carpet for us here: we had a police and fire department escort "parade" when we arrived, the local Assemblywoman presented every cast member with a certificate of appreciation from the CA State Legislature for our service to the community, and everywhere we go people stop and ask us where we're from and welcome us to town. There are even three guys from our cast staying at the local firestation! They get such a kick out of being dropped off in firetrucks every morning. We have visited every school classroom from 4th-12th grade. The school district is one of our main sponsors, so we have led the "Stand for Peace" project for all the 4th-8th graders, and played and led games at the YMCA after-school programs at four different schools for three days this week. Tuesday and Thursday were crazy busy: we had two separate "SFP" sessions in the morning (two hours each), then two mini-shows in the afternoon for the students, and then off to the YMCAs to play with kids for two more hours. Count that up-- it is eight SOLID hours of being "on" in front of kids each day. CRAZY! Needless to say, we were wiped out by the end of the week. But its so fun and totally worth it when you are stopped on the street by a group of teens who are so interested in where you're from and what you're doing while you're here.
The other thing that makes it rewarding is to hear about all the problems with gangs and violence between groups, which seems almost unbelievable in a town this size, and feeling like the message of up with people is what they need to be exposed to. We were asked not to wear red or blue because students aren't allowed to. Also, no bandanas, and nothing with "old English" lettering. Some of our cast members were shocked by the strictness and sheer length of the dress code policies they had to adhere to in order to go to the "Back to School" dance at the high school tonight... which is a cultural experience in itself!

girls' night in San Diego!

Scott & I were hosted separately in San Diego. I was with a wonderful uwp alumna named Jennifer, her roommate Claudia, and Linn from Sweden. Jen has a cute two-bedroom condo in the Scripps Ranch neighborhood, and she gave up her room for the week and camped out on the couch so Linn and I would have a place to stay. We were also "co-hosted" by a friend of Jennifer's, another alumna named Marjorie, who hung out with us throughout the week. We had such a relaxing and fun time-- going down to the cove in La Jolla, chilling with the sea lions, learning to belly dance, and pampering ourselves with chick movies and foot baths. The week went so quickly! Though I missed staying with Scottie, it was nice to get to know another cast member a little better, and to have a great week with the girls.

back to Sierra Vista

On our free day in Sierra Vista (which was, yes, now two weeks ago... sorry- we are such slackers!), our host family, Alma & Pablo Xibille, took us to Bisbee, which is about 20 minutes from Sierra Vista, and spitting distance from the Mexican border. Bisbee is an old copper mining town -- check out the open mine pit! The mine has been closed for about 50 years, so the community is now, as my host mom says, a "hippie" community full of local artists and artisans.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

border bonanza

I don't mean to completely skip over Sierra Vista, AZ (where Scott and I were hosted together in an aMAZing familia Mexicana) but I just have to tell you about our experience at the very most southwest corner of the continental US, and the people we interacted with today.

San Diego is such an international city (the seventh largest metro area in the US), and to take advantage of that, we heard some very different perspectives on border/ immigration issues today.

We began with Kathi Anderson, the Executive Director of Survivors of Torture International. Do you know the difference between refugees and asylum seekers upon entering a country like the US? I sure didn't. (refugees are granted certain rights upon entering a host country because of their status-- they can work immediately, enroll their kids in school, etc. Asylum seekers can't do anything until their hearing, which can take weeks, months, or longer.) How about vicarious trauma? It is a condition that affects service providers to refugees from hearing repeated tragic and traumatizing stories... the social workers, lawyers, etc., start internalizing the stories of those they are working to help!

We also heard from Pedro Rios of the American Friends Services Committee, which advocates for allegedly illegal immigrants that are going through the deportation hearing process, and provides a support and advocacy network for them. They also submit complaints of human rights abuses in border enforcement practices. An example he gave was an eyewitness testimony of an illegal immigrant being detained by border patrol, being handcuffed to the patrol's ATV, and forced to run alongside the ATV at full speed for over a mile. Pedro said that the work has escalated in its pace because all of our immigration practices are now "filtered through the lens of the war on terror." Did you know that if you were a Mexican national that wanted to immigrate legally, the average length of the process is 12-15 years, and that is if you have a family member in the US that is sponsoring you? We also talked about the real issue being the nature of the economies between the US and Mexico that encourages (or forces, depending on who you talk to) people to cross the border to make a living (if their livelihood has been undercut by NAFTA practices, where farmers crops are being undersold by American exports, for example. Whew! heavy stuff, and admittedly, a polarized perspective. I have a hard time taking statistics for fact, because the numbers can shift depending on who does the calculating and how... I am simply repeating for you what we heard.)

We also visited the Wildlife Reserve- the Tijuana Estuary, the watershed of which is 3/4 Mexican and 1/4 American. The politics around protecting the environment in international waters is another story, but what we also learned is that the mandated road (a homeland security project) that needs to be a 10% grade or less along the border in the last few miles before the coast will require major land upheaval -- chopping off two tall mesas (flat-topped hills), which will fill the estuary with sediment, with unpredictable wildlife endangerment and watershed damage.

And lastly, we met a border patrol official who has been risking his life patrolling the Mexican border for the last 23 years. To every day encounter coyotes (people smugglers) who drive or climb or swim over the border leading groups wanting to get across-- to have rocks thrown at your head, be shot at, to drive a vehicle with a huge "Nightbuster" floodlight atop it... I would never want to have this guy's job. Needless to say, he has a few things to say about his thoughts on amnesty for people who have snuck past him.

To be exposed to these various elements of immigration, especially with such an international audience with strong feelings on border policies, was a fascinating opportunity. Our cast will discuss and process the day's experiences and if they changed how we individually think about immigration on Thursday. I am looking forward to that conversation.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Globe (AZ) Trotting

Globe, AZ was our first real city on the road. After the craziness of Tucson, we have found ourselves ready and waiting to dig our nails into our work. Globe is a copper mining town a few hours from Tucson located right next to the San Carlos Apache reservation. Upon our arrival into the city, we visited Besh-ba-gowah (preserved ruins of the Salado people) and then went out to the reservation where we were welcomed with a cultural exposition. We saw native crafts like bead work chokers and handmade moccasins, heard native song and drum, had a demonstration of basket weaving (see photo), ate native cuisine and even heard from the Chairman of the Apache tribe. It was a fun-filled day and a lot to absorb and think about. If we keep up this pace, we will probably know everything in the world by December.

Ellen went onto the reservation to do community service. She worked on something called Project Pride, which was a kick-off event to help beautify the downtown area of San Carlos. SHe painted over grafitti and planted new bushes by the library. There will likely be more of these as the tribe hopes to revitalize its commercial area. I went out and worked with developmentally disabled adults in the morning and then went to paint the locomotive in the middle of town. If you go to and look for the top story (check me out in the locomotive!) you can see some of our handiwork.

Our show in Globe was in the rodeo arena at the reservation casino. This was an interesting venue to say the least, but the town was very pleased to have us. Both Ellen and I had phenomenal host families that really let us see the beauty of the tight knit communities of Globe and Miami, AZ.

Friday, August 17, 2007

US Tour finalized!

Today we got the official confirmation on our tour dates for the rest of North America. (see sidebar on the right for the tour schedule).

We have an incredible opportunity to partner with a youth leadership program that is run by the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The amusing part is that our plane tickets to Milan were already booked out of Seattle. So, we will be in Portland, drive two days down to Vegas for a week, drive for two solid days back up to Seattle, and fly halfway around the world to Milan. Talk about jetlag!

Other exciting news: Up with People was selected to be the opening 3 minutes of the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena on New Years Day! As there will be no current casts at that time (because Casts B & C 07 will be alumni, and A 08 won't have started yet) the performing cast will be all alumni. No word yet on if Scott & I will be there, though the rumor is one of the songs will be from our 1997 uwp show! How fun would it be to perform in the parade... we will keep you posted on if you'll need to set your alarms on New Years morning so you don't miss us!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stand for Peace, Tucson!

I wanted to share a little bit about our first school project. I was so proud of our cast, as they were thrown headfirst into the fire, and they did so great!

Stand for Peace is uwp's classroom curriculum on diversity and how to be peaceful in your own community. The theme is that each one of us is "a piece of the peace", and introduces the concept of having "power with" someone rather than power over them. Conveniently, one of the songs in the uwp show right now is called "Power with." Here's your dose of uwp lyrics for the week: "power with a sister or brother is stronger than power over each other."

The stand for peace program consists of a two-hour workshop in a classroom in the morning with students (usually 3-4 cast members in each room). The cast members share a bit about their home countries, lead a combination of team-building activities, and begin that dialogue about what it means to be peaceful when you're in 3rd-5th grade. We usually eat lunch with the students, and then perform an abbreviated version of the up with people show in the afternoon.

This program was originally designed for upper elementary students, but here in Tucson, the year-round middle school really wanted us to work with their 8th graders. Our Ed team's project for the past week was to adapt the Stand for Peace curriculum to be appropriate for older students, and train our cast to be able to facilitate this workshop in classrooms.

I was most proud of the closing activity, which I adapted from an old uwp curriculum to fit this current structure, and be effective for middle school. The "Piece of the Peace" puzzle consisted of 19 pieces. The class was split into 6 groups, and each group got 3 pieces of the puzzle. On their three pieces they write statements of how they can be a piece of the peace in their school, with their friends, or at home. We put the puzzle together (minus the last piece), stick it to a backing, and it forms a world. The last piece says, "I am a piece of the peace" and every student in the class signs that piece as a commitment to try one of the things they see written on the puzzle. We leave the puzzle with the class as a reminder of the day.

I was really pleased with the visual, though I was worried that the preparations of 10 posterboard puzzles was going to be too much. I spent a long time on creating a stencil so we can mass-produce the puzzle for future use. It ended up being a pretty good system, if I do say so myself.

I was worried that the cast didn't have enough time to prepare for their classroom work, and was pleasantly surprised by how successful they were with their first experiences. They were no CLIMB actors, that's for sure, and I had a hard time not comparing because my personal classroom presentation standards are so high! But for the purpose of the Stand for Peace program, our cast really owned the curriculum and made it theirs.

And the student reactions were so positive, and they showed their appreciation by being an exuberant audience for the mini-show in the afternoon. They cheered and swayed, and stood up and did the "stomp" (which they learned in the morning workshop) along with the cast, and they were just so enthusiastic and really fun to perform for.

I am looking forward to our next Stand for Peace days, coming up in Corcoran, CA.

the week in review...

Many apologies for the delay on new posts. Among other things, my upwithpeople laptop crashed this week, so I've been short on internet access.

We have had a PACKED week in Tucson! BUT, before that, we had a very full end to our time in Denver. The debut show was thrilling, and I was so proud of our cast. You would never believe that it was their first time performing together. We got to have one last weekend breakfast with our wonderful host family on Saturday morning (if you ever have the pleasure of staying with the Stones, request the biscuits and gravy), and I finally bought a suitcase so I could actually pack up my stuff and get on the road!

We left Denver bright and early Sunday morning, and drove all day to Gallup, New Mexico, where we had a "surprise" (to the students) overnight all together in a school gymnasium. There's nothing like seventy people on camp mattresses spread out all over a gym floor to help you get to know people better. We had an amazing potluck dinner hosted by the local Lions club-- and I thought jello salads and ramen-noodle coleslaw concoctions were served strictly in the midwest! I stand corrected.

Drove again all day Monday to get to Tucson, AZ, original home base for up with people (from the 70s until 1993 when they moved to CO) and host to the 2007 Up with People International Alumni Association annual reunion.

It was Scott and my 10 year reunion of when we traveled together as students (in Cast C 1997), and it was, as I mentioned already, a super full week for our current cast, Cast B 2007. We did our first school projects, a second day of volunteer work alongside uwp alumni, performed a show in conjunction with the other current cast, and participated in lots of really powerful reunion activities that exposed us to the rich history of up with people. We met with the founder of Up with People, J. Blanton Belk, and his wife Betty, and he told the classic uwp stories that make me proud to be a part of this organization every time I hear them: the first international student organization to be welcomed to visit China, reuniting the athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics after the Israeli team was killed in the Olympic village, and a new one that I heard for the first time:
Mr. Belk was friends with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and shared with him the uwp song, "What color is God's skin?", the lyrics of which are indirectly referred to in Dr King's I have a Dream speech. Mr Belk was at the I have a Dream speech on the Washington Mall, and actually hosted Dr. King and his party for dinner that evening. The man socializes with heads of state, and the most powerful and influential people in our world, and yet he is at the same time the most down-to-earth, genuine and kind human being, and just a joy to hear speak.

The cast yesterday also heard the Colwell Brothers and Herb Allen, who are the original musicians of Up with People (they wrote the theme song and many many others over the years) perform live at the reunion. These men, who are in at least their mid-80s, just tore up the stage with an early 60s, banjo-struming, zylophone-playing, foot-stomping sound. And to hear them play the original, twangy version of "Up with People" live was a very touching thing to me. We also heard Rajmahat (sp?) Ghandi, who is Ghandi's grandson, speak, as he is a long-time friend of the Colwells and was a special guest at the reunion. An incredible opportunity- one of those things that when I look around the room I think, "only in up with people".

Each day was so full, that more than once I referred to something that happened earlier in the week, and Scott would remind me that it actually occurred just this morning... "Wait, that was today?!"

We stayed out late with our 1997 cast both Friday and Saturday nights. I was impressed that so many were able to attend-- I think 47 of our 150 were there. I enjoyed so much hearing what they were up to, and they were so supportive of Scott and I being back on the road. It was very reassuring to spend good time with them all, which we squeezed in from midnight to 2am each day. And so, I sit here in the Hotel Arizona in downtown Tucson-- its just10pm and I can barely keep my eyes open! What I love best is that tomorrow, it all starts again.