Thoughts on Cultural Journeys
Carole Haas Gravagno
My involvement in Intercultural Journeys is a reflection of my life experiences. As a young girl I grew up in the segregated South. My schools were separate from those of African Americans. The separation was distinct in places like restaurants, hotels, and even drinking fountains and restrooms. Yes, we lived close to one another—our lives were made better by our interaction with those we wanted to keep out. My family usually had a maid/mother’s helper who was Black! They helped to raise us. Yet our culture treated them as second class citizens.
Two of these women had a profound effect on me—Dorothy in Raleigh and Mary Shank in Kings Mountain. Dorothy had the softest skin. I can remember as a little girl asking if I could touch her arm. Then there was her hair. I was fascinated by it - those tight curls. My mother was always trying to get my hair to curl.
Dorothy lived out in the country and I used to ride with my dad to take her home. She lived down a long dirt road in a very small house. In her yard were her grandchildren whom she took care of after she had spent all day working for us and caring for us.
Then there was Mary. She attended Spellman College for a year and then she dropped out to get married. I was in tenth grade when Mary came into my life. She was a very intelligent and exceptionally kind woman. She may have been my mother’s best friend. Mary and I had many stimulating discussions. I was impressed by how lovingly she served my family and then went home to care not only for hers but for many in her neighborhood. When I discovered how little she was paid, I was appalled. I asked my mother how she could in good conscience give her so little when she did so much. My mother told me I didn’t understand. If she paid Mary more, my mother’s friends would be angry as would Mary’s. Later when I had money of my own, I regularly sent money to Mary and her husband. There is no amount of money that would ever compensate them for their service and for the indignities they suffered.
As the reader can tell I was perplexed by the system that was in place in those days. That confusion became even more pronounced when I spent a summer in Harlem and Jamaica, New York. I was working for the Lutheran Church by helping to set up day care centers. During this time I lived with African American families. We sat around the dinner table and talked about many of the same issues my family discussed. They ate the same cereals, brushed their teeth with the same tooth paste, etc. I kept asking, “How are we different?” Their skin was darker. We laid out in the sun trying to get tanned. We got perms. They already had dark skin and they had curly hair. Mystifying!
When I met Udi Bar David, we had been on opposite sides of a conflict between Board/Management and the Musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He is an Israeli Jew who dreamed of a time when the Jews and Arabs could accept one another. In this case you have people who look very much alike, but who have different beliefs. Udi and I realized that we both were looking for ways to bring people together. Our visits to New Mexico, Israel, and Plum Village helped form our vision. We saw the power of music in opening the hearts of Jewish, Arabic, and Christian poets. We witnessed a young Jewish woman have an “aha” moment as she realized that the Arabic Mayor of Neva Shalom - Wahat al Salom was like her own father. We sat at the feet of Thich Nhat Hanh a Buddhist monk who was expelled from Vietnam for speaking out for peace. We learned that by hearing one another’s stories many of these difficulties can be resolved. Udi and I are convinced that music is a vehicle for opening hearts and minds so that dialogue can begin.
When you seek to cross borders you open yourself and others to a new realm of possibilities, new dreams to be explored, new friendships to be made. Taking this adventurous step can be exhilarating, well met and appreciated. It can also be met with fear, distrust, anger and even reproach. Intercultural Journeys uses artistic endeavors and inspiring discussions to cross borders - between nations and between people.