By Wendy Nugent, Newton Now
Newton resident Walt Long brought a photo of his grandfather and grandma taken many years ago to the writing workshop “From There to Here: Immigrant Stories of Kansas” on Saturday at Newton Public Library.
Those attending, which numbered six in all, including two participants, the presenter José Faus of the Latino Writers Collective, a couple library employees and a journalist, were invited to bring a meaningful object that might inspire their writing.
“I like this because it just gives me a strong feeling that they went through all this to do this, and they were so proud of it,” Long said about his grandparents and the photo, which was taken around Oakley. “It just gives me a sense of strength.”
Long said his grandpa was embarrassed he could speak Swedish. Long told the story of how his grandfather used to avoid talking to a woman in town in Swedish by walking on the other side of the street.
“Language can be a killer sometimes,” Faus said. “It’s also something that binds us.”
Long also showed a photo of what he said looked like what kids did in those days, as the photo was of a group of youngsters holding up a deceased bird, which might’ve been a turkey or a hawk.
Although a number of people when immigrating from Sweden to the States stopped in Lindsborg, Long said his grandfather didn’t and just kept going to western Kansas.
Long said he has a letter from “the lady in the photo” saying the couple took a train from Oakley to Jamestown after they married, and they were the recipients of a shiveree there.
“Shiveree is defined as a loud and purposely frightening community party, forced upon newlyweds a short time after their wedding,” according to unionoutside.wordpress.com.
Long said he wanted to attend the workshop to see what opened up, adding his wife asked him why he wanted to do that since it’s all in the past. He said he told her he wanted to learn how to tell their story.
Regarding language and immigrating, Faus talked about being ashamed of his mom’s accent, although he also spoke Spanish, even though he said he was in denial about that years ago.
Faus said he came to America in December 1964 from Colombia.
“My interest in the arts really comes from my mother,” he said. “She was a dancer.”
Faus said his father died when he was young, and his stepfather was in the Air Force, stationed at Fort Leavenworth.
“Often, children are not [told] why they’re moving, why they’re coming,” Faus said, adding his mom wanted opportunity and didn’t want to stay in Colombia.
He said he was 9 years old when coming to the States and that at age 9, a person develops a sense of where he or she belongs. It was cold when they got stateside.
“I think it was in the teens when we arrived,” he said, adding they didn’t have experience with snow.
The next day, Faus, his sister and brother got up and tried to make a snowman but weren’t able to because they didn’t understand types of snow. This snow was dry and cold.
Faus carries his Colombian heritage with him, as he does murals reflecting that, as well as other subjects.
“I went to art school,” he said. “I’ve always written, and I’ve always drawn.”
At one point, he majored in political science in college but changed it to art and writing. His turning point was when he decided to attend a drawing class where there was a nude model, and the instructor sat him down at the front of the room and told him to draw, which he did. After 10 minutes, the instructor said he can attend the class whenever he wanted to, since she determined he wasn’t just there for the nude model.
Faus has painted murals in a variety of places, including Mexico and Bolivia. His favorite artwork, which is abstract, deals with flowing, fluid lines, which reflects his mom’s love of dance.
At one point, Faus unfolded a quilt, saying it was the only thing he had from Columbia and talked about when working with high school students, he’s asked them what’s the most valuable thing they own. Some say their phone or shoes. Then he puts it another way, asking them if they were never going to see their family again, what’s one thing they’d take. Then, the answers get emotional. Now, instead of placing monetary value on items, people place emotional value on objects, like one student wanted to take her phone because it had her deceased grandmother’s voice on it, and another young lady said she’d take her phone because that’s where she keeps her journal and doesn’t see her family much.
The other attendee, Darrell Garwood, archivist with the Kansas Historical Society, said he got his love of history from his grandfather.
He said his grandfather was Swedish and that one of his first jobs was to spray apples in an orchard, since grocers wouldn’t buy applies if they had brown spots.
“Prized possessions, they all go back to childhood,” Garwood said.