When presidents had false teeth but spoke the truth & Texas recruited immigrants

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Copyright 2012, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on January 19, 2012. Like what you read? Then please stop “liking” us and help pay for it. Designate your PayPal donation to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or e-mail us at that address to learn about donating in Euros or by check.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Heritage is a messy business, especially in a country built out of multiple heritages. There may be no more vivid microcosm of this principle right now in the United States than that found in the few blocks that make up the Cultural District of this cosmopolis which calls itself “Cowtown” with pride and whose concentration of world-class museums and Western heritage seems to justify the city motto, “Cowboys & Culture.”

Monday at the Will Rogers Memorial Center — named after the American cowboy journalist, humorist, actor and philosopher — the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, running through February 4, celebrated the opening of its 116th year with a Cowboys of Color Rodeo, aptly held on the day honoring Martin Luther King, who did more to emancipate African-Americans than any other American in the 20th century. Across Gendy Street, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame is honoring with her own exhibition (“The cowgirl who became a justice”) retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who, in voting to stop the Florida ballot re-count in the 2000 presidential election, helped enable the disenfranchisement of thousands of African-American voters. Right across the street, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is hosting an exhibition on George Washington — including the last intact set of his dentures — that acknowledges that the father of our country was also a slave holder, as well as an exhibition which recalls when Texas *campaigned* to bring a million immigrants into the U.S. through the port of Galveston… which was also a major entry for… slaves. And the Rodeo, meanwhile, seems to have forgotten that a founding principle of the nation whose Western heritage it celebrates was freedom of religious expression, which also means that the majority should not impose its religion on the minority; spectators for Cowboys of Color had no choice but to listen to the announcer open the event by invoking Jesus Christ before the first bull even hurtled out of the chute. (Here’s what Will Rogers said about religion: “I was raised predominantly a Methodist, but I have traveled so much, mixed with so many people in all parts of the world, I don’t know just what I am. I know I have never been a non-believer. But I can honestly tell you that I don’t think that any one religion is the religion.”)

Being American is not in itself often thought of as an ethnicity. And yet there seems to be at least one ethnic trait that most Americans have inherited: Bad teeth. This correspondent for one feels a little less self-conscious about his own dilapidated mashers after pondering a set of our founding father’s dentures and reading about his troubled dental history in “Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon,” a touring exhibition on view at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History through January 22. Most revelatory is the text accompanying the display of dentures (composed, by the way, of ivory, cow teeth, and human teeth; other sets also included hippo teeth — and none of the president’s eight dentures were made of wood). Beset by dental problems from his early 20s, by the time he was sworn in as the first president in 1789 General Washington had only one of his natural teeth remaining in his mouth, a possible explanation for his sallow cheeks, we’re told. (The exhibition also uses computer science to construct life-sized mannequins of the younger Washington from later portraits.) On another occasion, he provided a lesson in resourcefulness that perhaps ought to be included in our history books alongside Valley Forge for health-care strapped contemporary children to consider: Following his dentist’s instructions, Washington used wax and plaster of Paris to make a mold of the inside of his mouth to send away to the dentist. By the time he left office, all of Washington’s original teeth were gone.

Does the exhibition’s attempt to digest Washington as slave-holder have any teeth? Visitors can watch a series of video interviews with African-American scholars and others who differ on the degree to which perceptions of the president should be influenced by his having owned slaves. Most say it taints him, but one suggests that Washington  wanted to free his household’s slaves, but most of them were owned by Martha Washington, and he couldn’t afford to buy their freedom from his wife.

galveston-1From the exhibition Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island. Images courtesy Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

“Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island,” a massive exhibition running in the gallery next door to ‘Washington’ through April 1, does a much better job of balancing the pride and shame of American heritage related to immigration, devoting almost equal time to the slaves who were hauled in chains through this Texas Gulf port beginning in 1845, and the voluntary immigrants who decamped there through 1924, an immigration not merely welcomed by the nation and later state of Texas, but encouraged. At one point, we’re informed, the state launched a campaign to bring a million immigrants to Galveston. Even the railway companies pitched in, offering free jump on, jump off privileges so that the immigrants could explore the state at their leisure to pick a place to settle, where they could usually find low-cost housing. About the only immigrants who — late in the game, after 1913, when rules became stricter — had a harder time getting in were people like me: Jews, who some immigration officials claimed were shifty. (Perhaps tolerating invocations of Christ at Texas rodeos is one of the costs of our admission.) The exhibition even features a wall with an immigration timeline to which visitors can add their own family’s entry history with handy post-its. The only criticism I have of the exhibition is that it’s heavy on explanatory text, audio, photographs, and reproductions and very light on actual artifacts. A better bet is to head over to the Cattle Raisers Museum, housed in the same building, and into the legacy room, where “legacy drawers” contain photographs as well as personal memorabilia from pioneering cowboys and the occasional cowgirl.

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One of the first things immigrant Charlie Hoffman (left) did after debarking at Galveston Island was to don cowboy gear so he could take a picture to send back home. Jewish immigrants (right) found it harder to gain entrance after 1913, with some officials labeling them slackers.

If you thought the cowboy was an artifact, then you’ve never been to the rodeo. I attended my first on Martin Luther King Day, when the 116-year-old Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo — one of the three largest in the U.S., running through Feb. 4 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center — offered as one of its opening events the Cowboys of Color Rodeo. This wasn’t just about token inclusion; a third of the wranglers who settled the West were cowboys and cowgirls of color. I however felt momentarily excluded with the opening prayer invoking “the Lord,” i.e. Jesus Christ.

I was quickly distracted by the bareback riding, in which the cowboys appear to be surfing the horses while straddling their backs (the legs have to start out over the animals’ shoulders). I was just noting how cruel the tie-down roping seems, with the calves quickly and rudely wrestled to the ground and then bound, including around their necks, when the informative announcer pointed out, “For those of you attending your first rodeo who might be thinking [this is cruel], remember this is where your meat comes from, and to do things like give the cows their medicine and get ’em to the doctor, you gotta rope ’em down.”

More pure — and seeming like more of a collaboration between horse and rider — was the thrilling Pony Express Relay Race, which is just what it sounds like, two relay teams racing around barrels, barely slowing for the hand-off of a rolled up parcel until the final rider drops it into a barrel in the center of the arena. The teams were mixed, cowboys and cowgirls; the prior event, pure barrel racing (with the winner being the fastest to get around the barrels and cross the finish line), was all cowgirls, as young as nine, and all fleet. My biggest thrill came during the bull-riding, when a bull the size of a killer whale tried to bolt from the chute above which I was sitting and into the stands. (“Arts journalist mauled by bull.”) This event still struck me as cruel and, as a Taurus, I found myself rooting for the bulls. Not that the combat isn’t dangerous for the human participants, despite that the points were trimmed from these animals’ horns. The performers who seemed to be putting their lives most at risk were the three ‘clowns.’ I put clowns in quotes because don’t let the make-up, floppy costumes, and wigs fool you: their role is serious, to distract raging bulls from fallen cowboys long enough for the cowboys to amscray. One of these jesters, sporting a multi-colored wig, took up his post in a barrel, ducking into it just before a bull charged and pushed the barrel around the grounds with his horns.

After the rodeo I moseyed (sorry) over to the animal barns, avoiding the ‘swine’ hangar and making straight for the boer goats. Except for the occasional “baaaaaaaaaah,” these animals, about the size of deer and just as pretty with white coats, brown heads, and floppy ears, seemed like they’d make ideal pets. Some even propped themselves up with their fore-legs on the fences of their pens. “Are these used for milk?” I asked a middle-aged woman minding one of the goat pens, meaning “cheese” but not wanting to seem too effete. “Meat,” answered the goat-keeper matter-of-factly. I decided maybe it was time to re-think my hankering for a particular recipe from “The Cowboy Grill” cookbook, edited by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett (Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’s daughter), Ken Beck, and Jim Clark: Johnny Cash’s Barbecued Mexican-Style Fiery Goat.

Finally I left the stock show grounds and gamboled towards the giant blue crop-duster plane hovering over the corner of Montgomery Street, turning left towards the Trinity River. I stopped at the empty lot below the railroad tracks to pour a hot cup of java from my ’60s-era red polka-dot German thermos scored for a buck at a Paris garage sale. (“These days, Tex Ben-Itzak does his wrangling at flea markets.”) A sign by the tracks warns, “Many of these trains have no human conductor and will not stop,” but I still like to look up at the mustard-colored engine cars with “Union Pacific” in red letters over the rusted wheels and imagine there’s a real-life conductor making them march forward and go “choo-choo.” I looked up at the thunder clouds in the big 6 o’clock calico sky and decided they’d dubbed the wrong state “Big Sky Country.” Then I lifted up my dark brown working cowboy boots (Fort Worth garage sale, $10 with bandana) and headed towards the underpass and the Trinity, stepping right into a field of wet cement, a wanna-be cowboy grounded by progress.

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At Artcurial Photography Auction, Frontiers in a Reflecting Glass

photo-newton-smallHelmut Newton (1920 – 1984), “Veruschka on the Terrace of the Presidential Suite, Hotel Meridien, Nice,” 1975. Silver gelatin print, 7.48 x 11.42 inches. Signed, titled, and dated with artist’s stamp on back. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 15,000 – 20,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

One might think that scheduled as a curtain closer on the same evening as its monumental “From the Willy Ronis Inheritance” sale, which offers 163 lots starting with a 1926 self-portrait and finishing with a 1990 nude, book-ending no less than a photo-biography of a largely mid-20th century popular Paris, an auction entitled simply “Photography” might have trouble holding one’s attention. But if the scale is more modest, the scope of tonight’s second Artcurial auction is in a way more audacious than the Ronis sale, with one predominant — and timely — theme emerging: Frontiers. We’ve chosen to share a some samples, ranging from the intimate to the inter-galactic and finishing with a presidential epilogue, from, respectively, Helmut Newton, NASA, Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Man Ray, and Mark Seliger, whose portrait of a retreating Barack Obama is just begging to be Photo-shopped. – Paul Ben-Itzak
To access the full version of the article, including more images, subscribers please e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $49, or $25 for students and unemployed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check or in Euros or British pounds.

 

The Chevalier de la Barre: Akerman and acolytes en prime in Paris; Amélie has two mommies, and they’re concerned (corrected and updated, 11-25, 16h00)

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

To the memory of Jill Johnston, my Chantal Akerman. And for Ingrid, her widow, in profound appreciation. And for Chris, roommate sublime. And for Ben, collaborator, friend, and twin. And for Mark Dendy, idol and vector. And for P., friend and counselor. And for Amandine and spouse, voisines parisiennes des jours du 49 rue de Paradis.

I wasn’t going to take this brazenly political approach to writing about the exhibition Chantal Akerman: “Maniac Shadows,” which opened last Saturday at the Ferme du Buisson outside Paris, where it continues through February 19, because much as viewing art in a political and social context has almost existential importance to me as a journalist and citizen — and is, I feel, an honorable way to promote art’s societal relevance and thus potentially garner it a larger audience — I’m hyper-aware that it’s also unfair to impose my worldview, or angle and prism for viewing the world, on the subject I’m writing about. What should prime is capturing, as best I can, his or her expression as he or she intended it. It also didn’t seem fair to enlist Akerman, ipso facto and post-mortem, in a cause some might perceive as narrowly and exclusively centered on the rights of gay people, given that (as far as I can observe — and I might be wrong, because I certainly haven’t seen everything) her work doesn’t seem to focus particularly on the facet of her identity related to her sexual orientation; like all complete artists worth the designation, she’s neither defined nor limited by her own particular identities. (Even though obviously they inform her work, particularly Akerman’s Jewish background, which includes being the child of a Holocaust survivor, a frequent source of inspiration. But so is having lived in Brussels, Paris, and New York….And Godard’s “Pierrot le fou.”) And as a foreigner in these brittle times, I’m not particularly comfortable commenting on local politics, a subject which might justly be seen as none of my onions and a pursuit which thus might seem ungracious.

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A la MEP, l’Amerique vu par Andres Serrano /At the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, America by Serrano

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Andres Serrano, “Blood on the Flag” (9/11), 2001-2004.  © Andres Serrano and courtesy Galerie Nathalie Obadia Paris/ Bruxelles.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

In a jaundiced media climate in which too many journalists seem more interested in confirming stereotypes than confronting them, what artists can provide is a perspective guided not by fixed political, racial, national, or societal constructs but by their own inherent acute aesthetic antennae and geographic sensibility. Such is the frank portrait etched of the United States — not incidentally providing a much-needed antidote to the tired stereotypes the American presidential election has enabled much of the French media to regurgitate (we’re just a bunch of Puritan sexists, 60 million of us are in prison, ad nauseum) — by the photographs of Andres Serrano in a major exhibition opening November 9 at the City of Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie, where it continues through January 29.

To access the rest of the article, including more images — among them by pioneering 19th century photographer Gustave Le Gray — subscribers please e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $49 or Euros, or $25 or Euros for students and unemployed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check or in British pounds.

 

Tom Hayden (1939-2016) on Vietnam War: We Must Challenge the Pentagon on the Battlefield of Memory / Tom Hayden (1939-2016) sur la guerre de Vietnam: Il faut que nous challenge le Pentagon sur la champ de bataille pour le memoir et le souvenir

(English introduction below.)

Tom Hayden, militant et co-fondateur du mouvement Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) au debut des annees ’60, auteur du fameuse Port Huron Statement qui a lancé la mouvement et a servi comme manifest pour le Free Speech Mouvement des etudiants partout aux Etat-Unis, avec Abby Hoffman et des autres un des mythique « Chicago 8, » arreté et jugé suite des manifestations contre la guerre (vivement reprimé) au Convention Democratic de 1968, est morte ce dimanche derniere, a l’age de 76 ans. (Selon le New York Times, il s’est tombé malade au derniere Convention Democratic. Pas etonnant, car c’etait un idealiste.) Comme trés peu des militants de cette epoch, Hayden a decide d’entré dans la vie electoral. Il s’est presenté et en suite elu au chambre des representatifs et apres au Senate de Californie. Il n’a jamais cessé de milite – pour la justice, contre la guerre et la racisme, pour l’ecologie, et, tout dernierement, contre l’oublié, surtout de cette sale guerre de Vietnam et son mouvement de protestation. Voici (apres l’introduction anglais) ces paroles devant le  conference « Vietnam: The Power of Protest » a Washington DC en 2015, comme diffusé le 25 octobre sur le programme Democracy Now – premiere programme d’information alternatif aux Etats Unis. (Vous pouvez aussi les ecoute en cliquant ce liene .)

Tom Hayden died Sunday. I’ve gone into more details in the French introduction above because, unusually, this has not been reported at all here in France, so it was important to explain his importance to our French readers. Anglophone readers who need more of an introduction can go directly to the Democracy Now page where you’ll also find the audio of the speech below at this link.

Introduction par/by AMY GOODMAN: Legendary antiwar activist Tom Hayden died Sunday in Santa Monica, California, after a lengthy illness. He was 76 years old. Tom Hayden spent decades shaping movements against war and for social justice. In the early ’60s, was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The statement advocated participatory democracy and helped launch the student movement of the ’60s. Tom Hayden was also a Freedom Rider in the Deep South and helped create a national poor people’s campaign for jobs and empowerment. He also organized in Newark, New Jersey; among his books, Rebellion in Newark: Official Violence and Ghetto Response. In 1968, Tom Hayden became one of the so-called Chicago 8. He was convicted of crossing state lines to start a riot after he helped organize protests against the Vietnam War outside the Democratic National Convention. In 1982, Hayden entered electoral politics, first winning a seat in the California State Assembly, later in the California Senate.

We turn now to a speech Tom Hayden gave last year at a conference in Washington, D.C., titled “Vietnam: The Power of Protest.”

TOM HAYDEN: I want to start off by saying how many of you I love very much and known for such a long time, and I only hope that there’s enough minutes and occasions here for us to get to know each other again, because we have really been through a lifetime. Today, we’ll have plenty of time for discussion, for panels, for observations. And at 4:00, we’ll gather to march to the King Memorial. And I want to just say a word about that. I know that Ron Dellums is going to speak to this.

But why was that—why was that chosen? It’s because, in keeping with trying to make sure our history is told accurately, we have to tell it ourselves. And we have to recognize that Dr. King became a martyr because of his stand on Vietnam, not only because of his stand on race, justice, economic poverty. And there’s been a tendency over the many decades to make Dr. King a monument to nonviolence alone, and we need to remember that he was attacked by The New York Times and by The Wall Street Journal and by The Washington Post for being out of place. They wanted to put him back in his place and say nothing about Vietnam, take no stand on Vietnam. There were threats that he would lose funding. There were threats of all sorts. And to distort that, to forget that, to ignore that, his monument would be shaped in a certain way to serve certain interests, but not others, is a disservice to truth. And we have to march there and vigil there and commemorate him as a leader and a martyr for all of us, for peace, justice and civil rights, not only in the United States, but around the world, and persist in making sure that his whole story, including the campaign to end poverty in the United States, is told each and every year and in all of our schools and curriculum. So that’s the purpose.

This is a way of saying that the struggle for memory and for history is a living thing. It’s ongoing. It does not end. Even today, people are debating and reassessing the history of abolition of slavery, the role of slave resistance, the role of the Underground Railroad, the role of the abolitionist direct action movement, the role of the radical Republican politicians, the role of international politics in what came about, and the role—how it was derailed by the assassination of President Lincoln, the ending of the possibilities of Reconstruction, which were not taken up again until 1960, and the coming of Jim Crow. Each generation has to wrestle with the history of what came before, and ask: Whose interest does this history serve? How does it advance a legacy of social movements? How does it deny that legacy? We don’t know.

But we do know that we are here for the very first time as such a broad gathering of the movement against the Vietnam War. It’s been 50 years since Selma, 50 years since the first SDS march. So, it was a time that changed our lives, nearing a second Reconstruction before the murders of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. Then came the budget cuts, the end of the war on poverty. Then came the Watergate repression. And we became a generation of might-have-beens. Like Sisyphus, our rock lay at the bottom of the hill.

We gather here to remember the power that we had at one point, the power of the peace movement, and to challenge the Pentagon now on the battlefield of memory. We have to resist their military occupation of our minds and the minds of future generations. Memory—memory is very much like rock climbing, the recovery of memory. Each niche towards the summit is graphed inch by bleeding inch and has to be carefully carved with tools that are precise in order to take the next step. Falling back is always possible. But as Dr. King himself said on his last night, there is something in humans that makes us aspire to climb mountains, to reach that majesty, if only for a moment. We are mountain climbers.

President Obama has reminded us to remember, he said, Selma, Seneca Falls and Stonewall. But not Saigon, not Chicago, not Vietnam. We have to ask ourselves collectively why that omission exists, and realize that only we can restore a place in the proper history of those times. We suspect that there was a reason, that it has to do with the programming of amnesia, that there are very powerful forces in our country who stand for denial, not just climate denial, but generational denial, Vietnam denial. There are forces that stand for ethnic cleansing, but not just ethnic cleansing, but also for historic cleansing. And that is what has happened. It serves their purpose because they have no interest in the true history of a war in which they sent thousands to their deaths and, almost before the blood had dried, were moving up the national security ladder and showing up for television interviews to advertise what they called the next cakewalks. Only the blood was caked.

There came a generation of career politicians who were afraid of association with the peace movement, who were afraid of being seen as soft, who saw that the inside track was the track of war. Our national forgetting is basically pathological. Our systems—politics, media, culture—are totally out of balance today because of our collective refusal to admit that the Vietnam War was wrong and that the peace movement was right. In the absence—in the absence of an established voice for peace in all the institutions, the neoconservatives will fill the foreign policy vacuum. Am I right? Will it not? Will it not advise both parties? I think, though, that American public opinion has shifted to a much more skeptical state of mind than earlier generations, but the spectrum of American politics and media has not.

So we can never forget that, of course, it was the Vietnamese resistance and their sacrifice that led to our awakening, along with the civil rights movement at home. It began with handfuls of young people, black students who led Freedom Rides, sit-ins. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was the first to resist the war. Julian Bond, who’s sitting here, was rejected after being elected to the Georgia Legislature. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing titles. It also began with the Vietnam Day Committee in Berkeley, growing out of teach-ins, out of SDS, that called the first march, the draft resistance. There had never been a peace movement like the one in 1965 that arose out of the civil rights movement and came just weeks after Selma. At least 29 would die at the hands of police while demonstrating for peace.

I’d like here to introduce Luis Rodriguez and Rosalio Muñoz and Jorge Mariscal from the Chicano Moratorium, where four died, including Gustav [Montag], Lyn Ward, José Diaz and Rubén Salazar. Rubén Salazar was an early Juan González. Rubén Salazar was a great reporter for the Los Angeles Times who served as a journalist in Vietnam before he started critical reporting on the streets of Los Angeles. And he was shot by the sheriff’s deputies. I don’t know if he’s here, but is Alan Canfora here? Alan, please stand. Alan was wounded at Kent State. Four died at Kent State, two at Jackson State two weeks later. And every year, these two groups of people have observed memorials, have fought for their place in history, are coming up on their 50th anniversary commemorations and are here today to learn from us, as we’ve learned from them, the importance of organizing, organizing, organizing around the politics of memory. So, thank you for being here, and we will remember. We will not forget.

We will not forget the eight who sacrificed their lives by self-immolation. We will not forget the students who helped end the war by shutting down so many campuses. We will not forget the veterans who took the risk of standing up to their commanding officers and resisted from within the military. We will not forget this because this was something like a Du Bois characterization of the general strike by slaves who, through noncooperation, walked off plantations across the South when they saw the futility of any other alternative and chose to simply walk away and join the Union army. What happened at the end of the Vietnam War is that people walked away. The campuses shut down. Four million students walked away. The military was described by Marine colonels in military histories as being on the verge of collapse. They walked away. The counterculture walked away. We all walked away.

It might have been otherwise, if King and Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated. We might have been united, at least for a moment, at least for a moment. We might have elected a president. We might have ended a war. But instead, we were relegated to wondering what might have been. We lost any basis for our unity, and thus we have not come together since that time. The question for us is whether today we can unify, when we never could unify before. Can we do that for the memory of our movement and for the meaning that it holds for future generations? I hope so. I pray so. Thank you.

Conclusion par/by AMY GOODMAN: Legendary civil rights and antiwar activist Tom Hayden, speaking last year in Washington, D.C., on the 50th anniversary of the first major anti-Vietnam War protest. It was a conference called “Vietnam: The Power of Protest.” Tom Hayden died Sunday at the age of 76 in California. You can go to democracynow.org to watch all of our interviews with Tom, including a discussion about participatory democracy, from Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street. You can also see our interview with him about his last book called Listen, Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters.