EPISODE 18: POSSIBLY THE COMPLICATIONS: THE IMMIGRANT LIFE OF VICTOR HERRERA

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EPISODE 18: POSSIBLY THE COMPLICATIONS: THE IMMIGRANT LIFE OF VICTOR HERRERA

This is Iconoclast of Things, and I’m your host, my name is John Evans.
Before he ever saw the ICE Warrant ordering his removal from the United State, Victor Herrera describes this one point in his life as an immigrant in the United States like this…

"I feel like I’m in a bucket full of shit, and I’m drowning in it. 

But his life here, including the time in that bucket, is sort of bookended by these two meals that represent the highest and lowest points of his immigration story. 
The low point, was his first when he landed in Guatemala in March of 2017. Victor and a plane-load of deportees, are ushered into a room attached to the City Airport. There’s marimba music playing over the PA. There are rows and rows of folding chairs. On each chair is a paper bag. It’s brought there by the Ministry of Foreign Relations. And in that paper bag is,

”two drinks, bread beans, welcome to Guatemala.” 

That was Victor’s first meal upon returning to his native Guatemala in March of 2017.

The setting of that sack lunch is a lot different from another meal he recalled. One from his first life, back in Brooklyn in August, 2001. Prepared by his 24-year-old Dominican wife, Maria.

"She had all the Dominican customs of how to cook and how to serve their own way and so she had a bunch of plates with different stuff in it and different kinds of food and all and so when she served she said as soon as we’re done we’re taking a nap, and then I’m getting up and I’m gonna go to Sears. That was the last time I ever saw them alive."

Before he ever landed in that bucket of shit or the other side of our border wall Victor Herrera’s found himself on the wrong side of the Blue Wall. In his 27 years in America he’d go from a disconsolate millionaire to an outcast. 
His story is the messy reality of immigration and deportation. It begs us to have a grown-up discussion about these immigration stories. It asks us all kinds of questions.
The biggest? Can we - or even should we - summon compassion for someone once we see them completely; once we know their whole story? And how does the answer to that affect every question we have afterwards?
Today’s things - plural - are Victor Herrera’s two meals. And this episode is “Possibly the Complications: The Immigrant Life of Victor Herrera”

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EPISODE 17: "THE BOOK I READ: FIXING THIRD GRADE LITERACY"

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EPISODE 17: "THE BOOK I READ: FIXING THIRD GRADE LITERACY"

When I was in fourth grade, there was this box in the back of our classroom. It was filled with multi-colored tabs with stories and questions printed on each. Our teacher was Ms. Evans, yes, she was my mom  — and that box was the SRA reading lab.

Dr. Don Parker created the SRA reading lab in 1950 for 32 seventh graders in a cash-strapped rural Florida school. Parker wrote that he created the SRA lab to overcome what he called, “the normal curve of individual differences.”

Last Summer Mayor Sly James told me about Turn The Page KC, a nonprofit organization working to increase the number of Kansas City students reading at grade level by 3rd grade. When I started this story, I thought I’d learn why schools fail kids and how a small group of people are filling the gap. 

I learned something many of our policy makers haven’t — that literacy has so much to do with what happens outside the school building; what infants and toddlers hear from their parents, their proximity to stress and trauma, their attendance, and something called the Thirty Million Word Gap. 


This’s important because literacy is about a lot more than a school building or a talking point. It’s a function of what the SRA’s creator, Dr. Parker, found almost 70 years ago; meet kids where they are, help families lay out a series of stepping stones and help kids move along as they get closer and closer to the developmental milestone of third grade.

Today’s thing, is the SRA Reading Box. And this episode is “The Book I Read: fixing third grade literacy.

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EPISODE 16: “LOOKING THROUGH WINDOWS: A 4,000 MILE WALK TO SAY I LOVE YOU. THEN 8,000 MILES MORE”

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EPISODE 16: “LOOKING THROUGH WINDOWS: A 4,000 MILE WALK TO SAY I LOVE YOU. THEN 8,000 MILES MORE”

In November of 1981, Kansas City Missouri, Bob Hentzen and 3 of his 14 siblings, along with their friend Jerry Tolle, founded an organization known today as Unbound. Bob and his friend Jerry were former missionaries. They used the family Christmas card list to connect families in America with families in Latin America to connect someone who wanted to give help with someone who needed it. 


Fifteen years later, the 60-year-old Hentzen walked four thousand miles from Kansas City to San Lucas Toliman Guatemala. Then, in 2009, at age 74, he walked eight thousand miles from Guatemala to Chile, traversing the Atacama desert. He did these walks because he wanted to meet the families he was serving on their own terms. The boots he wore are these brown, Nike, nylon and leather  . . . well . . . artifacts. The toes have been cut away, and there's a giant hole near the heel on one side. I saw them at the Unbound facility in San Lucas Toliman in a case with some other items Bob wore and carried along the way.

Full disclosure, Unbound flew me down to Guatemala to tell the story of Father Stan Rother; the priest who was martyred there in 1981, a few months before Unbound was founded. 
Stan Rother was an inspirational figure in the founding of Unbound.
I also came away with today’s story, the story of this charity based in Kansas City, helping families all over the world. 


A story told in the thousands of miles walked in these boots. Today’s thing is this pair of once hiking boots and today’s episode is “looking through windows; a 4000 mile walk to say I love you. Then 8000 miles more.”

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EPISODE 15: WASHINGTON BULLETS: THE MARTYRDOM OF FATHER STAN ROTHER

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EPISODE 15: WASHINGTON BULLETS: THE MARTYRDOM OF FATHER STAN ROTHER

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On September 23rd Father Stan Rother will be the first American born martyr beatified by the Catholic church. Though it’s the story of Father Stan Rother, this one doesn’t end in death. Stan Rother was one casualty of the decades long Guatemalan Civil War. A war sparked in the halls of the US congress; fueled in part by our fear of communism and antipathy for any threat to American capitalism abroad. While the killers were Guatemalan, the deaths of Stan Rother and thousands more flicked blood on to American hands. But this is not a murder story. Or even a political story. It’s . . . kind of a love story. The love this Oklahoman had for the people of Santiago Atitlan, and the love they returned. Today’s thing, is this Church at Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. And this episode is  “Washington Bullets: The Martyrdom of Father Stanley Rother”

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- John's trip to Guatemala was funded by Unbound

 

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EPISODE 14: A SOFA, A MASS, AND THE 27TH OUT

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EPISODE 14: A SOFA, A MASS, AND THE 27TH OUT

Juj hasn’t been to a doctor in 20 years. She doesn’t have a doctor. Hasn’t been sick in 20 years. Hasn’t taken a medication in 20 years. Juj is also one of those people who doesn’t vomit. Nausea vomit? Nope. Sympathy vomit? No. Kid puke vomit? uh huh. I’ve been a rock musician, a whiskey drinker, and a serial traveller. I’ve stuck my face in our toilet bowl enough for ten men. But in our time together I can count the number of times Juj’s been sick on one hand. So I’m sitting here listening to cicadas and wondering if now, if after all these years, I’m going to need more hands.
So in the next few days we’ll go to that walk-in clinic. A doctor will touch my wife’s breasts while a female nurse and I monitor him. He’ll leave the room while she puts her shirt back on. He’ll come back in, look Juj in these blue eyes and tell her he’s concerned. Code for “I’m scared too.” We’ll have a sonogram. A mammogram. And in the front seat of her white car we’ll read through tears: malignant. We will send out a few dozen text messages. I always text or email, because I can’t say it out loud. This is the first time I’ve uttered out loud these words: my lady has cancer. 

Today’s thing is the four and a half centimeter tumor in her right breast, and the one in her lymph node. And this episode is “All of God’s money.”

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EPISODE 13: "I'LL BE YOU"

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EPISODE 13: "I'LL BE YOU"

In 1917 a german man named Charles Huffman was making fabric dye in five gallon enamel pots in a vacant store in Chicago. He named his product RIT dye in honor of his friend, Louis Rittenhouse, a vice president his Sunbeam Chemical Company. Their slogan was, “Never say Dye, say RIT.” We’ve all seen it, probably tie-dyed t-shirts, or dresses. People even use it to dye golfballs or frisbees. The colors Rose Quartz, Hyacinth, Pearl Gray, Tangerine might seem mundane by today’s color name standards.


But when he was a kid, RIT dye fascinated 25 year old Phillip.


I’ve known Philip since he was born. I’d babysit him and he’d play with this new un-installed garbage disposal my landlord left in my rental house while he would tell me all about RIT dye. Phillip lived in Kansas City with his parents, Paul and Pearle, until the two split up the early 2000s. Paul was a P H D student in Ames Iowa when Phillip was diagnosed with what we used to call Aspergers, and we now call Autism Spectrum Disorder. 


This is the story of of Phillip and Paul, a 25 year old with autism and the father he lives with. After a childhood of having his world shaped and controlled by others, Phillip was allowed to take risks — big, unsettling risks — and make mistakes. This is the story of how those mistakes transformed him and helped define his way of being in the world. To the point of finding even a little success from the transformative stuff he’s obsessed over since he was a little kid obsessing over that garbage disposal on my living room floor. Today’s thing, is RIT dye. And this episode is, “I’ll be You.”

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EPISODE 12: AN INTERVIEW WITH MAYOR SLY JAMES

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EPISODE 12: AN INTERVIEW WITH MAYOR SLY JAMES

If you want to know what it’s like to sit behind Mayor Sly James’ desk, best not ask him; he’d have to find about 20 minutes in his schedule to clear the space to sit there. There’s two-feet of work stacked on the chair and another couple feet stacked on the desk. Then there’s work strewn across the meeting desk in the middle of his office on the 29th floor of city hall.


If you haven’t yet, listen to the previous two episodes of the podcast on the DIY skate park in Columbus Park called Harrison Street DIY download them and check them out. 
After that story aired, the Mayor’s office arranged some time for us to clear some space on his meeting table and talk about how the skate park can be a model for other civic engagement projects. 


We also talked about KC’s gut-wrenching homicide rate and the Mayor shared some of the things that frustrate city leaders most when they’re just trying to make a city safe place to live.
We also talked about Turn the Page KC - a program charged with achieving reading proficiency among KC’s 3rd graders that earned KC All American City honors in June from the National Civic League. And we talked about KCNOVA, the KC No Violence Alliance — it’s a collaboration between law enforcement, data scientists and community aid groups aimed at reducing crime by re-directing offenders to social services or bear the legal consequences. 


Mayor James also clued me in on what he’s learned about how to solve real problems in our current political climate. 


So, here is my interview with Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Missouri. 
Today’s thing is this mayor’s very crowded desk, and this episode is Time Waits for No One.

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EPISODE 11: BREAKING ROCKS IN THE HOT SUN PART 2

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EPISODE 11: BREAKING ROCKS IN THE HOT SUN PART 2

By: John Evans

To look at the future of Harrison Street DIY Skatepark, I need to be explicit about a few things: First, they did build on land they have permission to build on, but no real agreement. They choose a little strip of abandoned land with all kinds of forces tugging at it from different directions. Governing everything is a court order. Second, the Harrison Street crew didn’t just build a skate park, they built a model to solve a problem; cash-strapped communities who want a public amenity often have a hard time paying for and building it. Finally, the skaters and their guerrilla take over of unused land created a model for civic engagement. One where a group of volunteers forges an open, meaningful relationship with their neighbors, and that sort of rebel alliance builds a community asset together. And that last one? It’s something political leaders and developers had better take note of. 

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EPISODE 10: BREAKING ROCKS IN THE HOT SUN

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EPISODE 10: BREAKING ROCKS IN THE HOT SUN

By: John Evans

For 30 months a crew of volunteers have been building the Harrison Street DIY skate park in an abandoned cul de sac in Kansas City’s Columbus Park Neighborhood, at 4th and Harrison. 

What started out as a few bags of Quickcrete, mixed with shovels and formed into ramps on a few jersey barriers turned into yard after yard of truck-delivered commercial ready-mix concrete. These guys built ramps, a pool, quarter pipe and at least a half-dozen other custom-designed skatepark features. 
All the labor was volunteer. Not just the labor to build the park either. The neighborhood pitched in by advocating for them, helping work with the city and media, and eventually getting approval for this space.

The story of how this skate spot got to this point is the story of how the skaters and the neighborhood banded together. How took up our elected leaders on decades-old challenge to cooperate and build the community they want to live in. 
It’s also the story of how this privately-funded, volunteer-built, amenity has earned the social capital to affect development plans for Columbus Park and lay down the marker for other neighborhoods in Kansas City to affect development in their own community.

Today’s thing is the Harrison Street DIY Skatepark, and this episode is “Breakin’ Rocks in the Hot Sun.”

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EPISODE 9: RUN BABY, RUN

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EPISODE 9: RUN BABY, RUN

By: John Evans

Since 2011 I've run a few thousand miles along the Indian Creek and Blue River Trail. I run this trail because it's safer here than running on the surrounding roads. As much as I think about my own safety when I run, the threats for me aren't as bad as they are for the female runners around here. A few months ago Runners World Magazine released a study that found 43% of women report experiencing some kind of harassment on their run.

For men, that number was 4%.

I wanted to learn more about those experiences. Not just to retrace the steps, but to learn how women respond to them, what they do about about it. To learn as best I can, what this all feels like. So, I reached out to friends who run, their friends, and random strangers. I asked them to tell me about their runs. Their stories follow a pattern of escalation and resignation that is as defeating as it is chilling. 

Today's thing is this Indian Creek Trail. This episode is Run Baby Run. 

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EPISODE 8: THE SILVER SCREEN AND ALL THE MAGAZINES

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EPISODE 8: THE SILVER SCREEN AND ALL THE MAGAZINES

By: John Evans

The first Chapter of Lipstick traces is called "The Last Sex Pistols Concert." That show was on January 14th, 1978 at the Winterland in San Francisco. The opening band was this San Francisco punk rock group called The Nuns. In that chapter and his book, Marcus explains how people and events crashed together to tell the secret history of the 20th century.

The book got me thinking about the music writers I’ve admired in my life and the moments that shaped their work and the way they illuminate this art form. To find out, I asked Tim Finn of the Kansas City Star, and Danny Alexander of Rock and Rap Confidential to tell me the stories of the moments that shaped their writing.

Today’s thing is Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus and this episode is titled “The Silver Screen and all the magazines.”

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EPISODE 7: HORIZONS GET HAZY

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EPISODE 7: HORIZONS GET HAZY

By: John Evans

Throughout human history, structures like the Lighthouse of Alexandria served as a welcoming beacon for the traveller, eaching out to guide them through the perils of a place they may have never seen, or one they may not recognize.

In America - home of more lighthouses than any other country - though lighthouses aren’t used much anymore, they still dot our coastlines and shorelines from the Great Lakes to both oceans. Few of them project a beam for visitors anymore though. But, as author Jeff Vandermeer, wrote, “Even a ruined lighthouse defines the landscape that surrounds it, serving as a daymark by which passing ships can orient themselves on a map.” And, maybe more valuable, a lighthouse serves as a constant instrument by which those of us on land can orient ourselves; making sure we’re never quite lost in our own familiar spaces. 

This episode is about the friendship of two religious leaders; a Muslim — born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt  and a Christian who was born and raised in Minneapolis Minnesota. It’s a story of hospitality and putting faith in human connection. Not just the midwestern kind, but the version of hospitality taught in every culture throughout history. It’s the story of how those two men became a beacon for one another, and - by extension - their communities. Teaching us all to welcome the visitor and to orient ourselves to openness from within our own land.

Today’s thing is the Lighthouse of Alexandria. And this episode is “Horizons Get Hazy.”

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EPISODE 6: THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME, PART 2

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EPISODE 6: THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME, PART 2

By: John Evans

This second episode looking at refugee musicians in the US is the story of a Kurdish family. A musician father, his wife children and the story they share with one another — whether they realize it or not.

They left Syria as refugees and continue the Kurdish tradition to define a home in the United States.

Today’s thing is Kurdistan and this episode is The Distance Between You and Me Part Two.

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EPISODE 5: THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME PART 1

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EPISODE 5: THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME PART 1

By: John Evans

This is the first episode telling the stories of some musicians who’ve come to America as refugees. It’s a creation odyssey. The creation of Kuomba Ministries.

Like any odyssey, this one involves death, new life, near-death, and some inexplicable, supernatural forces inserting themselves in human events from one side of the planet to another.

Today’s thing is this building, the Wesley Heights Methodist Church in Northeast Kansas City. This episode is “The Distance Between You and Me. Part 1”

Check out Kuomba Ministry. 

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EPISODE 4: Emotional Rescue #VeryImportantPicco

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EPISODE 4: Emotional Rescue #VeryImportantPicco

By: John Evans

WHAT CAN WE LEARN ABOUT OUR HUMANITY FROM OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH ANIMALS?

If you’ve never had your heart broken and want to see what it’s like, get a dog. 

Picco and I have run over 5,000 miles together. We’ve touched two oceans. He’s been with me at shows in bars across the midwest, down the Eastern seaboard and Southeast. We’ve fought bigger dogs together - he won. Through all of it I’ve wondered; who rescued who? What can we learn about our humanity from our relationships with animals?
This episode is about rescues. Rescues as nouns. Rescues as verbs. And rescues as metaphors.

Today’s thing is this shaggy mutt, Pico. This episode is titled “Emotional Rescue.”

I have to give a huge thank you to Tomomi Suenaga Summers for helping me line up some of the interviews for this episode. Thank you to my guests, Jacob Meyer, Billy Eichorn, Cat Simpson and Megan Tallman. 

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EPISODE 3: EVERYWHERE AT ONCE

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EPISODE 3: EVERYWHERE AT ONCE

By: John Evans

THE DOGGED TENACITY OF PEOPLE DOING THE ORDINARY.

Over the past month, we’ve had a lot of activity around immigration and refugees and I've been thinking a lot about Presidents. So I started reading what past American presidents have said about it. What guidance is there for us in the past?

 

While this episode is told through the words of some of the Presidents of our history, it’s really a story about leadership. Not the kind of leadership you read about on those inspirational posters in the meeting room at work. It’s about the dogged tenacity of people doing the ordinary. Signing the forms and staffing the offices, getting kids into schools and making sure the vans run on time every day.

These are people who persist in the delivery of human kindness in order to work our new American neighbors into the fabric of our communities.

Today’s thing, is President’s Day. This episode is titled “Everywhere at Once.”

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EPISODE 2: AMERICAN GUITARS

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EPISODE 2: AMERICAN GUITARS

By: John Evans

WHAT CAN ELECTRIC GUITARS TEACH US ABOUT THE AMERICAN ECONOMY?

Big Box retail may have spurred some innovative manufacturing techniques. Automation, robotics, CNC carving; all of it means we can make guitars — or anything — to tighter tolerances and faster and cheaper than a human can. But automation and robotics at the big Guitar Makers mean fewer hands building guitars. Private Equity and financial manipulation are not sustainable substitutes for innovation.

On one level this is the story of two independent electric guitar builders; Seuf Electric Guitars and Swope Guitars. But it’s also a story of the American economy and how big box retail, structured finance, and some of the most iconic companies in America forgot about their customers, took a dump in their own tour bus, and broke up the band.

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EPISODE 1: HOUSES OF CONCRETE AND WOOD

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EPISODE 1: HOUSES OF CONCRETE AND WOOD

By: John Evans

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A FAMILY OF SYRIAN REFUGEES RESETTLES IN A SMALL NEIGHBORHOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE UNITED STATES?

Our first Thing is Blue Dawn Manor, the neighborhood I grew up in. I used to play baseball in the Healys’ back yard. It was the infield which made my back yard dead center field and the Smith’s pool in Left Field the water spectacular. I knew all the neighbors, the Johnson’s. the Belfontees, the Smalls, Hutchisons, Hupps, Cernich’s, the Saladinos, the other Saladino’s and the Domsch’s. We had dirt clod fights and I split my head open playing hide and seek the night Thriller debuted on MTV. 

In the summer my friends and I would meet up at this power pole under the Johnson’s mulberry trees. I’d wrap my purple hands around the grips of my black and gold BMX and race down this hill to a ramp we built at the bottom on the playground at this little school where I’m standing right now. Today, two Syrian brothers brothers go to this school. Their names are Faras and Amar and the story of how these two boys and their family got here, and brought together a neighborhood of people not far from this spot in the middle of Independence Missouri is Episode One of Iconoclast of Things: it’s titled Houses of Concrete and Houses of Wood. 

Available on iTunes and everywhere you get your podcasts 1/20/2017

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