I have one more major announcement before the start of the new year, but I wanted to take a quick second and explain another project I have been working on since January of 2010. The project is called: Mantengase Alejado, Las Puertas Estan Pocierrar. (click to see images on Facebook!)
It gets lost in a lot of conversations, but the Other Awareness Project was actually inspired by the work of Simon Rodia, builder of what’s commonly known as The Watts Towers. Every time I think about the towers or go visit them, I’m always astounded by his 33-year dedication to a project that he didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. He let himself be shaped and guided by the project, and in the end, he gave it all away.
The Other Awareness Project has certainly done that for me. I love the project cause I never know what conversations I’m going to get into with all sorts of people. I know how the conversations end, but what isn’t known is, what point in history people will start at in trying to support their case for continued self-categorization into racial groups.
Most of the OAP was never preplanned. First it was photography, and then it became more video focused, which resulted in my giving presentations and speaking to many groups around the country. Some groups which I have no academic qualifications to be speaking to. In what was only my fifth full presentation, I gave a 3-hour workshop at the 22nd Annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education. The conference was attended by more than 2,000 persons representing higher education institutions, agencies, state and national associations, commissions, and foundations concerned with higher education, from 49 of the 50 states. The presentation received overall ratings of: 17% Excellent, 33% Very Good, 33% Good, 17% Fair.
I had to add some structural points to help other people and groups understand it, but for the most part it is still a free flowing conversation that touches upon a zillion topics, AND can be used to help put things into what I try to support as the proper perspective going forward. (If a person can’t support the words they use, who cares what they think?)
This latest project is switching gears a little, and is also inspired by a guy’s life story that I like a lot, John Muir. To me, one of the more exceptional things he did early in his life, was walk from Wisconsin to Florida! His purpose for the trip was to intentionally seek out nature to examine and reflect upon, then write about the plants and animals he discovered along the way. Later in life his travels and writings throughout Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains, helped create awareness of the beauty of nature in that part of the country, and led to the development of national parks, etc.
How does this relate to the price of tea in China? Well, I have always been fascinated with bus stops, train stations, and airports. Places where people who have no other connection with each other, gather to catch a ride. For every method of public transportation a schedule is created of when that vehicle is supposed to be at a series of predetermined destinations. At numerous times each day, complete strangers gather and disperse and will probably not have any interaction with each other, until it’s time to catch a ride at their station tomorrow or the next day. After a short period of time, these people become like a family. I have seen complete strangers smoke from the same cigarette, give a quarter or even the full amount when people are short on the fare. In my travels I have been offered food, advice, directions, etc. by a wide range of people. And each group is different than the previous group, or the group that comes after. For example the people who catch the 9:18 bus have different things going on in their lives than the 10:27 bus people. I always wanted to film and interview these people, listen to some of their stories and viewpoints.
So, at the start of the year, I sold all of my cars and have been buying monthly Metro passes. I have ridden all over Southern California talking to and shooting pictures of people that I met. If you ever noticed any of my Facebook status updates, I have been all over. I have been to Bell to practice my Spanish. I have been to Burbank, Pacific Palisades, Long Beach, Marina Del Rey, and Compton, literally everywhere talking to people. The Mantengase Alejado, Las Puertas Estan Pocierrar project was also about wondering if a person, who was interested in lowering their dependence on oil, even get around Southern California and conduct business, keep appointments, etc. without the use of a car? Can I realistically change my lifestyle to use less oil and other resources, reduce my carbon footprint? In my opinion, most of the things that we are concerned about as an American society, economy, pollution, natural resources, obesity, doesn’t translate into us having to do things “smarter.” It means our having to stop or significantly reduce our overuse and reliance on said resources. I think it also means a reduction in the types of food we manufacture and eat. If you think about it, the introduction of hybrid cars hasn’t stopped anyone from drilling for more oil, hasn’t even slowed it down. As far as I know not one well that is fully functional has been closed down because we are “saving” oil.
The name of the project comes from riding on the Metro Train Blue Line, it is the Spanish announcement right after the English announcement of; “Stand clear, the doors are closing.” (On the Metro Train Green Line, the announcement is different. It is; “Cuidado, las puertas se estan cerrando.” I don’t know why.)
As I traveled around this year, “Mantengase alejado, las puertas estan pocierrar” is the one phrase that really sticks out the most. If you ride the Blue Line to Los Angeles, there are 13 stations from the Del Amo Station in Long Beach to the 7th Street Station that ends in downtown. The announcement is repeated every time you prepare to leave a new station. Assuming your return trip is also on the Blue Line, that’s 26 times a day! I couldn’t figure out the last word, so I asked a guy standing in line with me at a Bank of America in Carson, CA to correct the spelling of my translation.
The project has been very interesting, for me at least. I don’t think it will approach the level of involvement like the Other Awareness Project, but that wasn’t the purpose anyway.
Michael James Brown