Shadi Rahimi

American Indian Youths Preserve the Past

Eighteen-year-old Kristin Amparo, a tribal member of the Big Valley band of Pomo Indians, lives with her parents and five siblings in a large house on their reservation in Clear Lake, about three hours north of San Francisco. She likes bouncing on a trampoline to slam-dunk a basketball in her back yard, zooming past the creamy white Konocti Vista Casino in a yellow all-terrain vehicle and, now, speaking Bahtssal with her 14-year-old sister Felicia.

The flat and green Big Valley reservation sits two miles from tiny downtown Lakeport on 153 acres encircling the banks of Clear Lake, whose blue-green waters host international bass-fishing tournaments and traditional Pomo tule boat races. On sunny days, kids fish for bluegill and catfish from the dock near the tribe's Konocti Vista Casino.

Only a few elders of the Big Valley tribe are fluent in Bahtssal, a tribal dialect that began to fade after settlers forced Northern California Pomos off their lands. Today, Amparo and her sister are among a small group of young people on the 470-member reservation who are learning to speak the dialect as part of a newly formed language program.

"We tell our mom stuff in Bahtssal, like, 'I have to go,'" says Amparo, who had never heard the language spoken before she began studying it under the new initiative. "It's really fun to learn."

According to tribal historians, the decline in fluency in Bahtssal dates back to 1852, when the United States Senate refused to ratify a federal treaty that had promised the Big Valley tribe 72 square miles of land on the south side of Clear Lake. Settlers began claiming plots of land the following year, making private property of the areas where Big Valley ancestors had gathered food for more than 11,000 years. As tribal members began working in fields and on ranches owned by settlers, and their children began learning English in white schools, Bahtssal began to fade.

James Bluewolf, who directs the language program, sees it as an exercise not just in cultural preservation, but also in healing. "People are still suffering from post-traumatic stress after being forced to give up everything they had," he says. "But every culture comes to a point where they are ready to make a change."

In Clear Lake, the epicenter of that change sits among piles of scrap metal, wood and rusty cars, in a building that looks like it has dropped from the sky. It is tiny and tidy, and painted a bright swimming-pool blue. Inside this building, which houses the tribal language program, young mothers watch their chubby-cheeked toddlers play in a preschool class held by the nonprofit Lake County Tribal Health Consortium.

In a cramped office past the play area, James Bluewolf smiles at the children's squeals. A stocky, soft-spoken man who once ran a landscaping business, Bluewolf has been using technology tribal ancestors could not have imagined to preserve and promote the tribal language. Bluewolf records hours of Bahtssal spoken by elders, which he edits into half-hour audio segments that air on the community radio station, and are available free on CD to tribal members. Bluewolf is also writing a curriculum for a 15-week course in Bahtssal.

In a program Bluewolf directs, local teenagers perform skits that teach words and phrases such as "Chiin the'a 'eh" ("How are you?") and "Q'odii" ("Good"). Bluewolf videotapes the skits and makes them into videos that are played on the Lake County television station, and made available on DVD.

In the play area, Alisha Salguero, 21, rocks her 5-month-old daughter to sleep while her 3-year-old son Brian plays. Brian has learned several words in Bahtssal in the preschool class, where Bluewolf uses hand puppets to teach the language.

"He's really picked it up," Salguero says with a smile. "I don't really know it, so I think it's good for him to learn his language."

While traditional song, dance, and tule boat races have always been part of the cultural life of Big Valley children, holding on to their tribal language has been more difficult, says Marilyn Ellis, 21. "That's why this language program is important," says Ellis, whose father, Ray, was the spiritual leader of the tribe.

Before he died several years ago, Ray Ellis revived the tribe's "Big Time" spiritual celebration. The gathering, held every September on the grassy banks of Clear Lake, includes prayer, dancing and singing -- and now, perhaps, the sound of children trying out their ancestral tongue.

"Our language is part of us," says Ellis, who does not speak the tribal dialect herself, but whose daughters can now name their cat and dog in Bahtssal. "If we don't know it, we're pretty much dead."

We Have No Jobs

At a busy intersection in Kingston, Jamaica, I purchase a newspaper from one of the hard working "ghetto youths" who dodge in and out of speeding traffic every day to wash car windows or peddle peanuts rolled in stiff brown paper. The front page has big bold headlines that scream of war, death, and inflation.

But even though public sentiment in Jamaica is mostly critical of U.S. foriegn policy -- some of the headlines in The Gleaner were, "The Rise of American Totalitarianism," and "Manifest Destiny and the Iraqi War" -- many young Jamaicans still dream of living and working in the land of opportunity."

"Your country has done much damage to our country and other countries in the world, you know?" said one newspaper boy. "But there are no jobs here and many jobs there."

Although the U.S. media has focused on how the economies of large industrialized nations will hurt after the war, small "third world" countries like Jamaica have felt the immediate effects of U.S. actions since the day the war began. When I arrived in Jamaica March 17 -- the same day that President Bush announced his 48-hour countdown -- the exchange rate was almost $50 (for each $1 U.S. you get $50 Jamaican). When I left March 27, the newspapers reported the rate at $55.43.

Jamaica is already billions of dollars in debt due to unfair loan agreements made with the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund in the 1970's. Today, many of Jamaica's skilled and educated workers remain unemployed as U.S. and European products flood the market. And with the ongoing war and subsequent fears of traveling, Jamaica's largest industry, tourism, is suffering.

Although almost everyone I spoke to during my visit rejoiced at the sight of my "Let Iraq Live" button, one unemployed Jamaican in August Town expressed support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Shaking his head at one member of out tour group's insistence that the U.S. is a brutal bully, he replied, "What can Iraq do for me?"

"Look at us," he said, pointing at the four youth standing behind him, "we're all skilled, you know, but we have no jobs. You see me? I want America to win always. It needs to be all right so we can go there to work."

But even before September 11th, only Jamaicans who owned homes and had steady, well-paying jobs were eligible to apply for visas, and even then the U.S. often denied qualified applicants . Some Jamaican community groups are in the process of organizing exchange programs, but until then, some innovative young Jamaican males take matters into their own hands by charming American tourists into marriage to get visas.

"They see tourist girls as a ticket to go out to the States or even Canada," said Jason Henzell, owner of Jake's Restaurant and Hotel in Treasure Beach. "It's a soft-core form of male prostitution."

Jamaica's economic crisis -- which began shortly after British colonial rule ended (August 6, 1962) and has been intensified by greedy international corporate interests like U.S. companies -- has left many of its young people searching for a way out. One young Jamaican, who is a practicing Ethiopian Orthodox, told me she believes the U.S. will soon suffer the wrath of divine retribution for its actions, but in the same breath shared dreams of living in "my country" one day.

Carleen Samuels, a film and music producer who is in her 30's, said, "Everybody wants to be Jay-Z. The worst thing that happened to Jamaica was cable. The new generation doesn't know Jamaica. The culture is dead. American culture is it."

And while television sells American dreams, the U.S.'s tight grip on the country's market has ensured that people cannot purchase anything but American imports.

Although some angry citizens boycott U.S. products, the U.S. has made it too expensive for the everyday Jamaican consumer.

"If I want to buy only Jamaican products, what can I buy?" asked Shani, 14. "For many things there is only the American ones."

There is almost no way to avoid the influence of U.S. culture in Jamaica. Standing near a drink stand on one of my last days of my trip, I bobbed my head as 50 Cent's "In da Club" blasted out of a car filled with young people. A youth standing next to me -- holding a Ting (a soft drink made in Jamaica by Pepsi) and wearing Sean John jeans and a red bandana under a fuzzy white Kangol hat -- asked what I thought about the war as an American.

I told him I was against it. He smiled and nodded. "Yeah mon, I don't like your president and what's going on with the war, he said. "But I wan' go to your country still you know."

Shadi Ramni, 22, is a writer, photographer, as well as a contributing editor for YO!

Thinner Than Air - A Pro-Anorexia Movement in Cyberspace

starvingI know a young woman who is killing herself, slowly and quietly. She practices a sophisticated method of starvation far beyond denial or purging. My friend has learned how to master the art of being exceedingly thin with the help of "experts" on pro-anorexia, on "pro-ana" websites. I believe these must be regulated as strictly and harshly as pornography sites, to save lives like that of my friend.

A pro-anorexia movement has given birth to this collection of websites dedicated to the cause of strategic starvation. They are a platform for the voice of weight-obsessed "ana's" and "mia's" (fans of bulimia) who proudly preach the gospel of starvation, laced with reverse psychology and packed with comprehensive instruction manuals.

Although most pro-ana websites carry disclaimers, the messages read less like warnings than enticing challenges. Ana's Underground Grotto, for instance, calls itself "a place where anorexia is regarded as a lifestyle and a choice, not an illness or disorder...there are no victims here."

In 2001, there were some 400 pro-anorexia websites. With pressure from the non-profit National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders web-hosts such as Yahoo! and Angelfire banned the sites. Pro-ana websites were driven underground, far from regulation.

Like many anorexic and bulimic young women, not only was my girlfriend never fat, she never needed to diet. At age 20, she is 5 feet, 10 inches tall. She was once so attractive that years ago, when I walked with her, modeling agency people would come up to her and offer gigs.

So what motivated her to drop from a healthy 130 pounds to being so thin that today she wears a pair of flannel pants under her size one jeans just to hold them up? Like many young women who are vulnerable to eating disorders, my friend is a competitive perfectionist who does not see beauty reflected in her mirror. And that is exactly what the pro-ana websites feed on.

I know a young woman who is killing herself, slowly and quietly. She practices a sophisticated method of starvation far beyond denial or purging.

"You've made a decision: you will NOT stop," advises one writer named Shadows Truth on a pro-ana website. "The pain is necessary, especially the pain of hunger. It reassures you that you are strong, can withstand anything, that you are NOT a slave to your body, that you don't have to give into its whining."

Although I had known my friend for more than a year I did not realize that she was starving herself until her old roommate warned me, "Please, make sure she eats. She makes it look like she is, but she really stores food in her cheeks and spits it out."

My friend still practices all the diet tricks found on pro-ana websites: Take one or two aspirin a day and sleep less than six hours at night to stimulate your metabolism, constantly fidget to burn up to 800 calories a day.

Sometimes, I came home to the stench of spit-out food in the garbage can. To this day my friend lives on diet soda, water and salty nuts from Chinatown, which she mostly chews without swallowing. My advice goes unheeded as she listens to her "ana" friends on message boards more than to me. The last time I hung out with her, she burped up stomach acid twice and couldn't remember the answer to a question she asked me a few minutes before.
anorexiaLike other psychological disorders manifested through punishment of the body, anorexia and bulimia stem from the mind and can take shape in the form of a masochistic practice with pseudo-religious overtones. Some pro-ana websites feature anorexia prayers and sacrifice rituals. A set of internet "Ana Commandments" includes "Thou shall not eat fattening foods without punishing one self afterwards."

As the friend of someone who learned how to best starve herself from information provided on pro-ana websites, I view them as the equivalent of giving a suicidal person a book on how to kill yourself. Most of the web-sites I examined featured "thinspiration' photographs of famous runway models and actresses with sharp ribs jutting out of their dresses.

We need to regulate pro-ana websites that feed off our society's obsession with body weight and harm youth. Simply requiring pro-ana websites to feature disclaimers, which often sarcastically warn viewers that if they are "under 18 years old and decide to look at the website, it is not the webmaster's responsibility," is not enough. Pro-ana websites should be regulated as seriously as pornography websites, which must ask viewers to punch in credit card numbers to prove they are at least 18 years old.

We must address anorexia the same way we address obesity and other national health concerns. If restricting access to pro-ana websites prevents one more young woman from learning how to starve herself to death, that is good enough for me.

Rahimi, 22, is a contributing editor of YO! Youth Outlook, a publication of Pacific News Service.

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