You know what I like? A good quote. I’ve heard brilliance uttered by three-year-olds and come across lines of text which conjure up those small, red “100” emojis in my mind. To those who can sum up the current state of humanity in just two or fewer sentences, I applaud you.
So, here we are. It’s week six, and I want to share a quote with you that was first introduced to me while on the inaugural Global Service Initiative trip to Jamaica over two years ago: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
No, I did not quote myself, but thank you for thinking that. Folks, that’s Mark Twain for you. He had a way with words, didn’t he? If you need some help with analysis, no fear, Shakespeare! (does anyone remember that?) Consider me your personal Shmoop. Twain is arguing that in order for us to gain understanding of all inhabitants of this strange place we call “Earth,” we need to actively push ourselves beyond the doorsteps of our homes and experience the homes of others. I used to think that Twain’s travel involved a plane ticket to a different country or traipsing across the contiguous United States with nothing but a camera, pen, and paper. My experience this past weekend pleasantly proved me wrong.
I joined Diversity Education – AKA Jacquis Watters, who is singlehandedly knocking it out of the park – and a small group of Stevens students for a small trek across the Hudson River to East Harlem for a workshop and ink-printing session at El Museo del Barrio. I had never heard of this museum, which saddens me because it sits at the northern end of Museum Mile, often overshadowed by the museum giants: the Guggenheim, the Frick, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our tour guide Leslie, an artist herself, began our early afternoon excursion with an explanation of El Museo del Barrio’s mission. She noted the purpose of El Museo goes beyond its literal translation to “museum of the neighborhood,” serving as a space dedicated to highlighting and preserving the art and culture of the Caribbean and Americas. After piquing our interest, Leslie led us through the “uptown: nasty women/bad hombres exhibit,” which was constructed and curated as a response to language that was expressed during the presidential debates leading up to the November 2016 election.
One piece that Leslie discussed was one of her own, called “Uptown Humble Heroes.” Using polyester thread and vellum, she threaded images of caretakers of children she had encountered in uptown Manhattan, representing the underpaid women who are mostly from the Caribbean basin, Mexico, and Central America. As the group moved on, I lingered by the piece, examining the extreme detail and experiencing the outcome of an artistic’s dexterity. A short bus ride transported me across the Hudson, but more importantly, whisked me to a space that gave me access to hear, see, and witness the beauty, pain, and resiliency of another culture. This type of learning does not mandate airfare or a journey to a faraway land; all it called was for an open-mind and enough curiosity to go beyond the gates of Stevens.
This week, let’s peek outside our “little corner of the earth.” For some, that might be your dorm room, campus grounds, or the general Hoboken community. In the end, what matters most is that initial translocation. Move your body, engage in a new space, and make Mark Twain’s advice a mantra by which to live.