Friday, March 28, 2008

Growing Up in Ohio

I was born in the last few months of the 1950’s and although I grew up in the United States, my perspective has always been international. My earliest education was in France where I attended kindergarten the year my father was on sabbatical, teaching at the Sorbonne. Then, returning to the Midwest, I watched my father’s years of protest against the Vietnam War, and my mother’s active participation in the Civil Rights Movement, including training students being bused to Mississippi during Freedom Summer.

I grew up in the college town of Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University where my father taught French. I remember waiting for my older siblings to return after tense demonstrations, especially the day of the Kent State massacre, where demonstrations were held in front of the local ROTC building. My mother would take me out of school for civil rights marches, and I remember the tensions following Martin Luther King’s assassination; we believed the city might blow up. Our cleaning lady talked about moving her family into our home for safety.

I remember being proud to be the lieutenant of my private elementary school’s Safety Patrol. I was in charge of raising the flag each morning. The day after Kent State I raised the flag to half mast and returned to my sixth grade class. Shortly thereafter the PA system crackled, “James Luce, come to the office.” The principal wanted to see me. He explained that it was his decision when to put the flag at half mast and my job was to follow his instructions. Thinking that he had missed the big news, I explained what had happened the night before. He told me he was well aware of it, that it had nothing to do with our elementary school, and that if I wished to be the lieutenant of the school’s Safety Patrol I would need to go raise the flag to the top. I calmly replied that as our elementary school was in the United States, and as our government seemed to have declared war on its own students, I could do nothing other than mourn those who had fallen. I took my badge off and laid it on his desk and returned to my class. I remember the expression on his face as I departed. I never wore the badge again.

In college I was one of the first freshman to move into the College of Wooster’s international dormitory, where I declared a Japanese Studies major, and went on to spend three semesters in Japan. I also spent one semester in Colombia to test whether I had read my passion for Asia correctly. In Bogotá, I encountered severe poverty and was truly overwhelmed by it; the image of hungry, begging children haunted me for years. In Tokyo for two years, studying at Waseda University and teaching with the Mombusho in the Iwate Province, I realized that juxtaposed with global poverty was global wealth, and that somehow I might one day serve as a bridge between the two.

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