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Mina Chudilowsky is a California girl with a thoughtful, global perspective.In this essay she shares what she has learned from the scores of people who have participated in this very unique class. The multinational population of Norwalk and surrounding communities is very evident in Mina’s recollections. Her observations remind us all to be better listeners. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns.
I have always said that I love my memoir class, my writing groups, and book clubs because we are hearing and learning living history. We have learned a lot about our national history such as: the crash of the Hindenburg, FDR’s presidency, the 911 disaster, the JFK assassination, the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez and his funeral, etc.
We have also learned about other parts of the world and people serving in the military during World War II (both men and women), the Korean conflict, and Vietnam. There are also many world travelers in these groups, and we have learned about Mexico, Guatemala, Sweden, Great Britain, Africa, India, etc., and traveling around the world as an army brat.
Over time, these groups have included people from sixteen different countries. Several people were from Mexico, and the story told by a woman who actually crossed the river on her own as a teenager to seek medical attention in the United States sticks with you.
Two women were from England. One was evacuated to Canada as a child with her mother and sister during World War II. We learned of her journey, her father’s naval service, and her mother remaining in Canada while the girls returned home to live with their father.
And then there was a woman who, as a child, lived in a boarding school while her parents worked in India. When she grew up, she wore a military uniform and worked in a weather station during WWII. She met a Yank, married him, and came over to America on a ship carrying war brides.
Ireland is represented by a charming woman who wrote her story of growing up there in a large family. Her book was published and she was a guest of honor in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Los Angeles.
Hungary is represented by a woman in our class who lived through the frightening Nazi invasion where she had to hide from the Germans. Later she experienced the Soviet Russian Communist takeover of her country. She wrote about funny childhood experiences, and also harrowing, life-threatening experiences of the German invasion, and the stark, oppressing struggle for survival under Russian domination. She escaped with her fiancÃ©e and eventually immigrated to the United States.
One woman lived in Hamburg, Germany, as a child during WWI. She and fellow classmates had to spend parts of their school days picking berries for the troops. We learned how the propaganda worked over there and how the children knew nothing of the world and what was happening or why. Her uncle was a prisoner of war in America and she got his journal and translated it into English. His journal was certainly not pro Nazi.
Sweden is represented by a woman who immigrated with her fiancÃ©e, and then married him in the United States. She wrote of a family heirloom – a silver creamer that was presented to an ancestor who was the wet nurse to a royal baby.
Others in our group include three women and one man from the Philippines. We have heard about the countryside, the customs of the country, and that the country includes 7,000 islands. These people have written about the Japanese invasion during WWII and how the population coped, and of martial law being enforced.
In order to help their families, two of the women had to leave their husbands and children to gain careers as nurses in Israel and the U.S. They all eventually ended up in the United States. The man became an engineer at a toy factory. He travels a lot and we travel with him through his writings.
The island of Guam is represented by a woman who shares her spiritual side with us in her writings. Sometimes she also reads wonderful writings by her daughter, or brings her granddaughter who writes and reads her own stories to us.
One of our members is from Japan, but she lived as a teenager with her family on mainland China during WWII. She and her family were forced to leave and return to Japan after the war. She became a dental assistant, met and married a military man, and came to America with him.
Another woman in the class is of Japanese descent, but she was born and raised in Hawaii before WWII. A few months after she came to the US mainland to attend college, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and she and her brother were put in an internment camp for the rest of the war. We learned a little of what that experience was like.
Indonesia and Holland are both represented by a woman of Dutch heritage whose early childhood was spent in Indonesia right before WWII. Japan invaded Indonesia when she was six years old, and she and her family were put in a prisoner of war camp, suffering harsh treatment for the rest of the war. Her family returned to Holland after the war, where she grew up, married, had two daughters, and moved to Canada. Eventually she and her girls came to the U.S. on their own.
South Korea is represented by a young woman. She once snuck into North Korea to have a look around. Her desire is for the unification of her country. She visited the U.S., fell in love, got married, had two children, and went back to Korea for a few months where she wrote her dissertation and received her PHD in geography.
One lady is from India. In order to feed her family, she went to Kuwait to work as a maid. She lives in America but still has a house in New Deli where she returns to visit her children.
China is represented by a man who grew up in mainland China, but he and his parents moved to Taiwan when Mao gained power. The parents sold their house to enable their only child to pay for passage to the U.S. He went to college here in the U.S. and became a civil engineer who built dams and bridges.
One class member is from the Czech Republic and she is writing her life story. It is hard for her to write of her young life because she was adopted. Her life was harsh and hard to understand until she discovered papers which explained her adoption.
Russia is represented by a woman in our book club who lived under the oppression of Communist rule. She had lots to say during our discussion of the book 1984. She really knew what “Big Brother” was all about.
Scotland is represented by a retired sea captain turned operations manager. He has traveled all over the world on ships and airplanes. We’re learning all about sea transports, a captain’s responsibilities, different ports, and how not to load cargos.
A new member of our group is from Nigeria. We heard about his first “camping” trip which was in a motel!
Interacting with all of these people of different backgrounds adds that bit of spice to our lives, and we learn firsthand of other cultures and experiences in other parts of the world. We are richer for it.
Published: Feb. 27, 2014 – Volume 12 – Issue 46