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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: 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.

UNITE’s Night of Music and Poetry

Posted on: October 9th, 2015 by marketingworkstudy No Comments

Scatter Their Own, Scotti Clifford and Juliana Brown Eyes

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the MCTC Native American student club UNITE is hosting its yearly event, Night of Poetry and Music. Join students in the Whitney Fine Arts Theater from 6–8 p.m. to see and listen to poetry and music from a Native perspective.

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Performing will be Scatter Their Own, an alternative rock duo from the Oglala Lakota nation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota who write songs about mother earth, social justice and Native American culture. Also performing is Mitch Walking Elk, singer, songwriter recording artist originally from Oklahoma, Austin Owen, hip hop recording artist from Prairie Island Dakota nation, and Anthony Ceballos, writer, poet, MCTC graduate and graduate of Hamline University.

MCTC Instructors and Alum Included in Anthology on Black Minnesota Writers and Writing

Posted on: February 10th, 2015 by insidemctc No Comments

Tish Jones, MCTC alumAlexs Pate, author of “Amistad” and “Losing Absolom,” long ago noted the absence of any compendium of black Minnesota writers and writing. His anthology, “Blues Vision: African American Writing From Minnesota” features nearly a century of poetry, fiction, playwriting and memoirs by black Minnesota writers, including MCTC Instructors Taiyon Coleman, Carolyn Holbrook and Shannon Gibney, and MCTC alum Tish Jones.

This article was originally published by MinnPost. Click here to read the full article.

Alexs Pate’s ‘Blues Vision’ anthology fills a missing place

One book on his shelf, “The Butterfly Tree: An Anthology of Black Writing from the Upper Midwest,” came out in the 1980s and captured an earlier era. In 30 years, however, Minnesota has changed, as has the literary world, which has expanded through the rise of hip-hop and spoken word poetry. An updated book needed to reflect that, Pate thought, especially since black voices haven’t been afforded a greater place in other regional collections.

“I feel comfortable saying black writers are underrepresented in anthologies of Minnesota writers,” says Pate, who says his own writing has been profoundly influenced by his surroundings in the great white north.

With the assistance of the Minnesota Humanities Center, Pate’s idea now fills that gap. “Blues Vision: African American Writing From Minnesota” (Minnesota Historical Society Press) gathers nearly a century of poetry, fiction, playwriting and memoirs by black Minnesota writers. The collection includes quintessentially Minnesotan stories like Susan J. Smith-Grier’s tales about growing up on a lake in Northern Minnesota, and equally Minnesotan memoirs like Evelyn Fairbanks’ stories about St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, now lost to I-94.

There are poems and stories about iconic Minnesota businesses, classic downtown Minneapolis buildings and the way ice forms on the lakes in late October. The civil-rights movement, jazz and blues music, racism and inclusion, the rural Minnesota landscape, family life, loneliness, and beauty fill these pages, through the voices of some of Minnesota’s best writers, including Conrad Balfour, Philip Bryant, David Haynes, Kim Hines, Gordon Parks and many others who may have been left out of other anthologies but have been here and writing all along.

Click here to read the rest of this article from MinnPost.