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Bernardo Squires: Behind the Scenes

Posted on: December 15th, 2015 by insidemctc No Comments

The way Bernardo Squires tells his story, he was born twice—both times on March 12 around 11 p.m.

Bernardo, MCTCHis Journey

In 1952, Bernardo was born in Caimanera, Cuba on March 12 to Jamaican and Trinidadian parents. Raised by his grandmother and taught by Jamaican teachers, Bernardo was a global citizen even before he left his home country.

His village sat nine miles from Guantanamo Bay. His and many of his friends’ fathers worked on the base.

“In 1962 when we were in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, everyone’s father went to work at Gitmo and sent money back to their families,” he said. His father took the job because he spoke English and wanted to help support his family. After several grueling years, his father left Cuba seeking refuge in the U.S. Bernardo didn’t know if he’d ever see his father again.

“At the time, the law said if you were 15 or older and male you couldn’t leave the country unless you performed military service,” said Bernardo. It had been six years since he’d seen his father, and he had to find his missing family member.

But first, he had to get out of Cuba.

“Back then, the only way you could get out of Cuba was to end up in Guantanamo,” he said.

And the only way to get to Guantanamo was to swim.

So Bernardo and several friends—nicknamed “guisanos,” or worms—waited until the tide was out and began the very, very long swim across Guantanamo Bay.

“Sometimes boats would come by looking for people, and we had to hold our breath and duck under the water,” Bernardo said. “One of my friends almost didn’t make it. By the time we came ashore in Guantanamo, he was like a ghost. It took him a week before he was normal again.”

Bernardo, MCTCBut he and his friends made it. Once at the military base they sought refuge, and were taken by plane to Miami, coached through immigration and housed with other teenagers in a foster family. “One by one my friends all got in touch with their families in the U.S.,” he said, “but I didn’t have a way to reach my father.” In a time before in-home internet connections and cell phones, Bernardo had to use extensive family and friend connections, borrowed phones and almost a month of time before he had a phone number he hoped belonged to his father.

Around 11 p.m. on Bernardo’s 16th birthday, Bernardo’s father picked up his phone in Brooklyn, and was convinced his lost son had come back to life.

Moving Forward

Bernardo finished high school in New York, attended trade school in Indiana and made a living in several states before taking over the role of caretaker at a little church in south Minneapolis. Saint Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church on the west shore of Lake Calhoun would be Bernardo’s home and livelihood for the next 17 years.

He had a home, a job and a new land-locked life in Minnesota. But—never one to slow down—Bernardo kept moving forward. He began dabbling in art.

“I wrote my first poem at age 27,” he said. “I’ve been writing poems ever since then. I write about whatever comes to me—the writing itself isn’t who I am. I’m just the receiver.” He later picked up a job modeling for an art school in Uptown.

“There was a girl in one of the classes who kept stopping by to talk to me,” he said. “I honestly didn’t know why she kept coming by to visit. It never even occurred to me that she was interested in me.”

He laughed. “Really, I was so dumb.”

Bernardo now has five children in or nearing adulthood. The girl from art school who kept stopping by to chat—now his wife—is still a practicing artist.

Many years later, Bernardo was trying to save money for his kids to go to college. When his job at the church in south Minneapolis was cut, he knew in his heart where he wanted to be.

Bernardo, MCTC“I aimed high and aimed at MCTC. I knew that working there was going to help my family so much.”

As he makes his rounds of the campus during afternoons and evenings, Bernardo’s beaming smile goes with him to each classroom he visits. Working second shift as a general maintenance worker gives him time to exercise and meditate each morning—something he uses to minimize the stress caused by a heart condition.

“I’ve been here now since 2008, he said. “In fact…yesterday was my anniversary.”

He didn’t have to wait long to see the benefit MCTC had on his family: Two of his children have attended or graduated from MCTC, and a third begins classes in January.

“I do my very best because I’ve always been like that,” said Bernardo, who still practices his own form of art. “What inspires poets is the truth. Sometimes I come home and I feel frustrated, so I just write. It helps a lot. That’s why when you see me, I always have a smile on my face.”

“I love it here. I really want to be here until I retire.”

The manner
is the way – you color with emotion
the spectrum of the day – beneath the sun
and sky
your thought was just a seed
lying dormant in the garden – when winter passes
it will awake
to reveal the heart’s intent.

-From Honor Sleeps Within the Heart, by Bernardo Squires

MCTC in the News: Women and Water Reflections

Posted on: December 15th, 2015 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

Rhea Pappas knew she wanted to pursue photography as early as high school, and at MCTC she was able to achieve that goal. She combined her love for water and photography to create stunning images under water. For Pappas, being underwater was serene and comforting and so she uses her photography to emulate that imagery. Pappas’ exhibit is on display in the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

The original story, available here in the Minnesota Women’s Press, is posted in its entirety below.

 

Women and water reflections
CoverArtist: Fine arts photographer Rhea Pappas takes her camera underwater

by Norma Smith Olson

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Top photo: “Beneath the Surface – Free” Lower left: Cover artist, Rhea Pappas Lower right: “Beneath the Surface – Enter” “There’s something about water that feels like home. You can be alone, a moment for yourself, it’s your time, with freedom to express yourself in a non-judgmental way. When I’m underwater, I don’t feel objectified or judged, it’s just a place for me. I think a lot of other women feel the same way.” – Rhea Pappas

“It’s pretty simple – I love the water,” says Rhea Pappas, this month’s cover artist. “I was always considered a water baby. I’d be in the tub for hours.”

She’s a swimmer, sailor, scuba diver and – where she makes the biggest waves – an underwater photographer.

Beyond her own love of being in the water, Pappas also encourages other women to join her in the swimming pool. She takes pictures with her Aquatica AD700 camera of women underwater with fabrics flowing, often surrounded by bubbles. In one series of photos, Lingua Luna, a local music trio, included their musical instruments under the water.

“I think underwater lends itself to a very womanly presence. The light is gentle; there’s a lot of serenity underwater. It’s a very mystical, mythical, just a comforting place,” Pappas says.

That is, once you get past the whole fear of drowning. Pappas works with her models to ease any anxiety. “Being underwater can be scary for some people,” she says. “I’m not one of those people.”

Beneath the surface

A collection of photographs by Pappas will be on display from October to January at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona. The project grew out of her college senior thesis of individual women floating on the water with flowers and fabrics. She graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) with a degree in fine arts photography.

Within a year of graduating from MCAD she had equipped herself with an underwater camera and started taking photographs below the surface, capturing the reflections from above the water.

Pappas knew from her senior year at Perpich Arts High School that she would be a photographer. “I wasn’t built for the stage – my heart wasn’t there,” she says. She had started out in the singing program at Perpich, but learned quickly that she had stage fright. She found she preferred to be out of the spotlight and behind the camera.

Pappas was introduced to photography and darkroom processes in her first year of high school. “I found it very difficult, but I loved the challenge. Put me in an honors class, and I’d excel.”
For Pappas, this art form was mathematical and technical, with variable scientific components, like the sun being too bright for exposure. “I’m nerdy,” she says. Taking photos combines the logicaland the artistic sides of her brain. “My favorite things. It’s very rewarding.”

While in high school she took PSEO (Postsecondary Enrollment Options) classes in photography at MCAD and also at Minneapolis Technical and Community College. Her senior photographic portfolio led to her winning a substantial arts scholarship, which she used at MCAD.

Today, along with her passion for fine art photography, Pappas works with a digital camera and shoots weddings, senior portraits and events for businesses, such as Aveda and Caribou Coffee.

“I love capturing emotions and moments,” she says. “I’m going along on someone else’s journey and documenting it. It’s nice to be a part of somebody’s story, centered on someone else.”

FFI: www.rheapappas.com

You can watch Rhea Pappas at work with her underwater camera in a Minnesota Original episode, produced by Twin Cities Public Television: www.mnoriginal.org/episode/mn-original-show-103/rhea-pappas/

IFYOUGO:
What: Surfacing: Rhea Pappas
When: Oct. 23, 2015-Jan. 10, 2016; Tues.-Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Where: Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 800 Riverview Dr., Winona, MN 55987
Cost: Adults $7; students $3; children age 4 and under, free
FFI: 507-474-6626 or www.mmam.org

Jag Arora: International Fare, Local Grad

Posted on: December 8th, 2015 by insidemctc No Comments

Jag Arora, MCTC“We got where we are in a matter of 18 days.”

Jag Arora isn’t joking. The MCTC alum and owner of Tiffin Man, the College’s new internationally influenced cafeteria, had just over two weeks between when he was offered to step in and run the MCTC cafeteria and the day the doors opened for the beginning of the fall semester.

About Jag

When Jag was 16 years old, his uncle sponsored him and his parents to move from India into the basement of his downtown Minneapolis home. He started 11th grade at Roseville High School.

“My dad brought $50 and three suitcases, and we moved straight into my uncle’s basement. It was a very humble start to this journey. My parents knew if they didn’t come here, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I now have—but still, it took two to three years for me to just start communicating with people.”

After high school, Jag wanted to go on to college, but his family didn’t have much money. “When I wanted to buy a bottle of water on campus, my mom told me I could go home and drink water,” he said. To save money on college, Jag decided community college was the way to go. He started his path at MCTC in 2001.

While pursuing his degree in Computer Networking, Jag made ends meet by working at local restaurants. It was a sign of things to come. “I started cooking more at home, and eventually, cooking overtook my interest in computer networking.”

Jag’s path after graduation took him to Metropolitan State University where he transferred and, a few years later, received his bachelor’s degree in Business Management. “I wanted to learn how to be a manager so I could work for myself and start my own business.”

Jag and a few business partners opened a deli on Harmon Place—right in his old backyard—in 2009. Larger grocery stores honed in on the neighborhood, but Jag’s business model and employees persevered. “We innovated our menu to stay relevant and connect with our customers.”

Taking Over

One day Jag’s quality business and friendly personality landed him an incredible offer: The former operator of the MCTC cafeteria just one block away had left the College, leaving an opening for a new food service provider. Could Jag, his business model and his employees step in to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner for a college of 11,000 students? And could he start in two weeks?

He could. And he did.

“Once I accepted the offer, my employees and I had all sorts of ideas about how to make things better,” said Jag. “We’d serve new, internationally themed food as well as the classic burgers and fries. And we’d do it all better.”

From the day he received the offer to take over operation of the MCTC cafeteria, Jag’s intent for his “Tiffin Man Cafeteria” was to use the best ingredients and cook as much from scratch as possible. “If you go into my freezer, about the only thing in there is fries. Part of our excitement comes from the opportunity to create global food. My chefs are skilled, and we have the state-of-the-art equipment to do it.“

Jag kept the old cafeteria’s sandwich station, but started sourcing his produce from high-quality providers like Boar’s Head and the local Cut Fruit Express. “We’re using better meats, breads and produce, and everything is only good for 24 hours. That’s the commitment we’re bringing to campus,” he said.

The Tiffin Man

In British slang, “tiffing” means to take a little drink. In India, a “tiffin” is a mid-day meal or lunch box. For Jag, it was his childhood. “I was brought up taking my tiffin to school.” Now Jag offers a tiffin to the students at MCTC, who can order everything from freshly assembled burgers and hot fries to falafel and burritos in the same day. In addition to his commitment to quality and diverse menu offerings, Jag humbly pays his chefs, cooks and cashiers a generous living wage.

Looking Back

“My family looks back today and recalls that moment when we couldn’t afford to buy a bottle of water,” said Jag.
“When you go through emotional hurdles with family, money and hardship, it makes you a better person. It makes you humble about what you’ve achieved. I know I worked hard on my path to success, and I’ll never take an opportunity for granted.”

MCTC in the News: Plight of Modern Refugees Strikes a Chord for Immigrant Artists

Posted on: November 16th, 2015 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

Khadija Charif, a student at MCTC and the daughter of Somali immigrants, performed her poem “She Woke Up” at the Refugee Crisis forum at Macalester College recently. As part of our community here at MCTC, Charif advocates for refugees struggling to find safety. The original story is available at this link, is posted in its entirety below.

Plight of Modern Refugees Strikes a Chord for Immigrant Artists
By Laura Yuen

When Khadija Charif performs a poem about a Syrian refugee woman, her mind races to the image that inspired it: a video of a panicked mother searching for her lost child and husband along the family’s journey to safety.

Charif, the daughter of Somali immigrants, said her own mother was moved by the same image.

“My mom found it so, so, so touching, to see a mother and a wife going through that struggle — and here she was, blessed enough to have her family with her,” Charif said.

Charif will perform the poem Thursday evening at a forum where young Minnesota artists will draw from their personal experiences in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The state is home to a vast refugee community whose own stories of escape and rebuilding may ring familiar to the most recent exiles from Syria.

“It kind of hits home,” said Charif’s mentor, Somali-American photographer Mohamud Mumin, referring to the current crisis. “It’s something that we empathize [with], and know firsthand.”

Mumin also mentored another artist presenter, Muna Ahmed, 22, who is majoring in neuroscience and psychology at the University of Minnesota. For the past year, she has been photographing Twin Cities refugees from all over the world and listening to their stories.

Ahmed, a Somali-American born in Yemen, said she could relate to the act of leaving one’s homeland and adapting to a new place and culture. She said that through her photography, she wants to help connect the broader public to the plight of the refugees.

“I think anyone, not necessarily even immigrants, can connect and understand having to be vulnerable, and needing help, and seeking it, regardless of things holding you back,” Ahmed said.

Thursday’s event will also feature speakers from Macalester College, the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee and the resettlement group International Institute of Minnesota. The forum is a collaboration among the college, Public Radio International and the group Gazillion Strong.

Charif, a student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, considers herself lucky; her family left Somalia before civil war erupted in the early 1990s. After that, mother and father were separated for several years while her dad lived in the United States, working to provide for his family in Belgium.

But Charif’s family has seen its share of loss, too. Her younger brother, Abdullahi, drowned last year during a swimming class at St. Louis Park Middle School.

Charif’s grief hasn’t stopped her from advocating for others across the globe struggling to find safe refuge.

“We’re hoping to bring awareness toward the crisis,” she said, “and also to have a ripple effect.”

The forum starts at 4:45 p.m. at John B. Davis Lecture Hall, Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center, Macalester College, 1600 Grand Ave., St. Paul. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.

MCTC Interim President Calls on Community to Support Muslim Students

Posted on: November 16th, 2015 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

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The ISIS led terrorist attacks in Beirut, Baghdad, and Paris over the same twenty-four hour period last week leave me with deep feelings of sadness for the individuals who lost their lives and worry about those whose lives yet hang in the balance. Here at home, I am concerned that members of our Muslim community may become misguided targets for suspicion and retribution.

While none of us here is directly to blame for the terrible events unfolding in France, Lebanon and Iraq, how we respond to these events as they play out will define us as a community. Each of us needs to be thoughtful about how we choose to respond.

I urge you to keep the many victims of the attacks in Beirut, Baghdad and Paris in your thoughts and spiritual observances while reaching out to one another in support. Engage one another in conversation, console one another, and reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters. Together, as one community, we will navigate through these difficult times.

In Peace,

Avelino Mills-Novoa
Interim President
Minneapolis Community and Technical College