Thursday, July 26, 2012

South Philly in the Hot Hot Summer Sun

Since I was a little girl, a certain path of life was ingrained in my mind.  I would go through primary and secondary schooling, head off to college, and find a career that fit me.  Although I have gained perspective and understanding of the world over the years, I still expect myself to continue on this "track to success."  The thing that I never really thought about however, is that there are so many immigrants coming to the United States that once believed this path was possible for them too, but then had their dreams shattered when the time came around to apply to college.  This issue is extremely complicated and I am just beginning to understand the life that many immigrants live, and their struggle to obtain rights that I take for granted.

Today, we talked about immigration into the United States and every aspect of that topic itself.  We had a guest speaker named Judith Bernstein Baker who works for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that has been around for the last 130 years.  Once an organization that helped Jewish immigrants, it now serves people from many different ethnic groups who are trying to enter this country.  Nowadays, the primary reason for immigration is for family reunification, but there are also still a great deal of people who seek freedom from the persecution they face in their home countries.  Judith explained the lengthy, nit picky, and slightly skewed immigration process that everyone must go through to try to obtain some sort of legal residency in this country.  The periods of time that people are permitted to stay can range from a couple months to many years; but still, the extensive process causes many people to enter illegally, which is the most dangerous and risky ways of reaching America.  

In the afternoon, around one or two o'clock, we visited the Juntos organization in South Philadelphia.  Here, we were able to talk to a number of undocumented students, many of whom are in the same grade level that we are.  We broke into smaller groups and they shared their experiences of entering this country; most of them came when they were very young.  They also wanted to hear our stories and learn about the everyday reality that we live in.  When this one guy Eric talked about how difficult it has been for him to even keep trying in school because of all of the setbacks and discouraging advice he has received, I felt such empathy for him, and his story made me understand how important it really is for youth especially to have full citizenship in this country.  Without it, they are restricted from being able to make the best life for themselves, and many feel such pressure that they end up falling into the "pipeline prison."  

I am so glad that we talked about this issue today because, while I know a bit about the problem, I have never had a direct conversation with someone my age who lives this reality.  Not only did I learn more about the history of pro-immigration and anti-immigration organizations in Philadelphia, but my mind was widely opened to the struggle of these people; which is one that I only knew the surface of before. 

Appreciate It

This morning's class was taught by two guest speakers, Judith Bernstein Baker and Javier Garcia Hernandez. Judith is a lawyer as well as a social worker, the foundation she works with is called HIAS. She talked to us about what her organization does, the history of it, and immigration here in the U.S.. Yesterday, we focused on Asian immigrants, and so today we turned our attention on over to Mexican immigrants. Javier gave us a lot of information and personal statements regarding the current immigration laws, hardships faced by immigrants, and facts and statistics. I don't want to go into detail about this topic, because I, being Mexican, would be clearly biased to one side. What I will say is that if you'd like to learn more about the organization Judith is a part of, you can visit their website:

Today's lunch wasn't a normal lunch for me, or for anybody else in the class. Instead of letting us go at 12 so we can go get our lunch and reconvening at 2 for the afternoon session, we took a trip. We went to Juntos In the organization's own words, "Juntos is a Latino immigrant community led organization in Philadelphia fighting for our human rights as workers, parents, youth, and immigrants." Since the morning's topic was immigration, more specifically Mexican immigration, it only seemed right that we visited that organization. When we arrived we were ushered into their cafeteria, and they served us lunch. They made us tamales and flautas, which I thought was incredibly thoughtful. Now I don't know if any of you know, but it takes so much time and effort to make tamales especially for a large group of people like us. I felt really welcomed and comfortable in that environment.

After we all finished up the delicious lunch, the organization's leader, Miguel, spoke to us. We separated into small groups of about six, and each group had a member of the organization to talk to. My group had Eric, and he was amazing. He was a bit shy at first and asked Miguel to answer a lot of the questions that we had asked. After a bit of time, he began to open up a bit and confessed that he doesn't talk much because he feels that his English isn't good enough. He wants to go to college but without a social security number, it might not be possible. Eric knows where he wants to go, what he wants to study, and that he will work as hard as he has to, to accomplish his goals. He really made me realize how lucky I am. I can apply to any college I want, he can't even apply. There are so many opportunities here in America, but most of them are only available to citizens. It is hard for Eric, it has been hard ever since he came to the U.S. when he was four, but  he seems so confident that he'll accomplish every goal he has set for himself. He was an inspiration.

The rest of the day was quite productive. The class walked around South Philly mainly at the Italian Marker, with a quick stop at Geno's (cheesesteak place). We looked around to see the influence immigrants had and continue to have in those areas. After walking around for what felt like a million years in a sauna, we headed back to campus on the Septa. I did my last load of laundry, well I hope I don't have to do more tomorrow. I also began to prep my things for packing, all of my drawers are empty and my clothes are all separated and folded. I went to the gym for one of my last work out sessions, but that wasn't until after I returned from a dessert outing with the girls from my floor and RC. The night ended with Chloe, Alysa, and myself pitching in to buy Insomnia cookies. Alysa had been telling me nonstop for the past week that I cannot leave Penn without trying the famous Insomnia cookies, so I thought I might as well get it over with. I must admit they were pretty good, but nothing extraordinary. I think I had set my expectations a bit high since I had heard so much about them, but either way I'm glad I tried them!

Should We Purposely Blind Ourselves?

Today, began as every other day of this week, early and then to Einstein Bros. As strange as it is, I didn't even feel hungry for breakfast, but I pushed myself to finish my conference dollars. This feeling of fullness, in my theory, happened because I have been buying a ton of snacks and drinks at lunch.  And then continuously eating them throughout the day. Nonetheless, I had a huge breakfast to start the day.

These past days, we have had weird scheduling that some may even call disorder. But today, the laws of physics were broken and the disorder became order. Bill started class with a morning lecture, like the good old times were the end was not near. Now if you are a physics buff, you might have guessed what he lectured on, any guesses. If you guessed thermodynamics, then you are correct. For those who guessed wrong, thermodynamics is about the laws of mechanical energy and heat. 

We were then joined by a guest speaker, Professor Phil Nelson, who lectured on the human eye and its reaction with light. So apparently humans don't have the best eyes in the animal kingdom, falling short to our food, the chicken. Our eyes only detect three colors, that combine in different mixtures to form all the other colors. Chicken on the other hand, can detect four, thus giving them a better scope of color vision. Hope is not lost, but it comes with a price. This solution if for those hardcore High Definition fanatics whose dream is to get more color. This is used mostly for the blind, where light receptors, which are far superior than that of the human eye, are placed in the eye sockets and then connected to the brain, thus giving the patient the best vision possible. This is a bit extreme for me, I love my eyes and don't plan on losing them ever.

I suffered from the same feeling of fullness at lunch, to that of breakfast. I decided to eat less and buy just water bottles. Even though my backpack ended up filled with these bottles, I didn't mind it because it was in the 90s today. I will trade in thirst for tired legs any day of the week.

After lunch, we had our second set of presentations. Today was interest groups, which leaves Hershey Park for tomorrow. I found our presentation on the cloud chamber really differnent to that of all the others. Everyone else was able to perform some type ot test, which gave them numbers as data. We had no numbers, but instead pictures and videos.  It was really fun sharing our experiment and know that I will definitly build my own cloud chamber at home, using the YouTube videos Craig showed us.

After class, my Hershey Park group met up to power through our presentation. I got my first chance to actual analyze the data and was shocked. On the GLX, the data appeared only graph, but using LoggerPro, we were able to break it down into three graphs. Thus making it more understandable....thank you LoggerPro. 

The rest of my evening was spent doing laundry and packing everything back into my suitcase. I was then cut short because it was my uncle's birthday today, so I ended up have an hour long conversation with everybody at his bday party. Tomorrow is my younger brother's birthday, and I just know that I will have another hour long conversation. I'm just glad I started packing today. With tomorrow being the last day of class, I just don't know what to feel: happiness to go back home or sadness because I will have to say good-bye.

Red, Green, Blue

I feel like time is slowing down for our last few days at UPenn. In contrast to last week, which flew by like crazy, this week has passed at a more sedate pace. I’m glad that this is the case, since it means that I can savor my last days at UPenn more thoroughly. I remember that when I first came here, I felt like I didn’t have enough to do after class. Now, I feel as though there couldn’t possibly be enough hours in the day to do everything that I want to do before leaving.

This morning was our last lecture, a fact that didn’t fully sink in until writing those words. Bill gave a talk about thermodynamics, one of the topics covered in the latter part of a high school physics course. Most of the talk was review, but it was good to hear the information presented from a new perspective. The talk included heat energy, which is highly relevant to the current energy crisis. As always, our lecture ties in to something current, which just proves that physics is related to everything.

Bill’s lecture was followed by guest speaker Professor Phil Nelson, a faculty member here at UPenn. His talk covered human vision and the nature of color. After so many cosmologists, I enjoyed hearing about a completely new subject. Human eyes are made up of photoreceptive cells, and each cell is one of three different types that each read a different sensitivity on the light spectrum. The three main colors that the human eye detects are red, green, and blue. The rest of the shades are mixtures of these wavelengths. I was a little annoyed at Sesame Street during the presentation, because for most of my life they've led me to believe that the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. Obviously, I was a bit confused as a child. Another cool thing we learned was that there are a few shades of color, like certain butterfly wings, than can be detected by the human eye but can’t be simulated by computers.

Today was our second day of student presentations. My interest group presented our radio astronomy project to the class, going up first.  We first gave a brief overview of the radio waves and their applications, and then explained our experiment and results. I had a lot of fun working on the radio telescope last week, and I’m glad that we had a chance to share our project with everyone. It was also great to hear about all of the other experiments; everything sounded fun and exciting. Like I said, this has been a powerful incentive for me to try and do some sort of research in college.

I met with my Hershey Park group immediately after class to go over our presentation. Clara put together the PowerPoint that we’ll show in class, and she did an amazing job. We went over which part of the ride each of us would be covering, and I think that tomorrow will go smoothly.

The rest of my day was a combination of two things–a fun activity and an impossible task. The fun bit was the Harry Potter marathon going on in the lounge, and I dropped in throughout the evening to see bits of the movies. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and I appreciated that Summer Discovery included that particular activity. I’m especially impressed with their weather control. Engineering a thunderstorm to come roaring in during the marathon was quite appropriate, and the UPenn weather wizards are to be congratulated.

My impossible task was to stuff all of my belongings back into my suitcase. I know that they used to fit because I brought everything here, but all of my possessions seem to have exploded and scattered themselves throughout my dorm room. Add the books, clothing, and souvenirs that I bought while I was here and my suitcase situation is looking pretty dicey. Christine and I will do a thorough room check before we leave to make sure we don’t forget anything, and I think that because I started packing a day early I’ll make everything work. I’m going to really miss Christine, but we promised each other to keep in touch, and I don’t plan to be the one who breaks that promise.

Penultimate Presentations

Yesterday, about 3 and a half weeks too late, I found out that the bagel place at Houston Market takes our Penn ID conference dollars.  I headed over there with Mariko around 8:15 and bought an extensive breakfast, trying to use up the money left on my card.  My breakfast was delicious, and I think I'll eat at the Einstein Bro's Bagels for the rest of the trip- one day.  

For most of the morning, Bill lectured on thermodynamics.  Although most of his lecture was covered in my high school course, he approached it in a completely different way, and included many demos. To finish up the morning, we were joined by Professor Phil Nelson.  He spoke about light and our eyes, combining technical biophysics and information on new medical technology.  We only really see three colors that combine to create the rest of them.  Chickens, on the other hand, see four and therefore have a larger scope of color vision.  Work done to expand our spectrum correlates with advances in genetics and neurology. 

After lunch, where I attempted to spend even more money, we all presented about our interest groups.  No matter how interesting everyone's presentations were, I still felt confident that Quantum Mechanics was a great choice for me and, most likely, the best group (though I may be a little biased).  I felt that our presentation went well and I hope we were moderately clear in explaining our very confusing topic.

I spent most of my afternoon packing, and I;m almost positive my suitcase shrunk over the past month.  It will be a miracle if I can get all my stuff in it, and an even greater achievement if it ends up under 50 pounds.  To finish my day, I caught the tail end of the Harry Potter marathon.  As we started the final movie, a huge lightning storm raged across the sky, it was very poetic.  I think I have seen more lightning on this trip than any other time in my life. Tomorrow, we present our roller coaster projects, and then we will be released for the rest of the day.  I can't believe our class is wrapping up.  There will be many good-byes tomorrow.

A Morning With The Einstein Brothers

I started my morning off with an Asiago bagel with cream cheese and a cafe mocha from a place I discovered thanks to David. This morning David and I were surprised by the long line at Einstein Brothers because we thought it was a well kept secret. Once we both got our orders we went to class and sat through a lecture on thermodynamics. After the lecture, Phil Nelson, a biophysicist came in and talked to us about the relationship between the human brain and colors. It was really fascinating to learn how our brains are so easily fooled.

Lunch time was filled with students buying as much food and retail items as possible to spend up the last of the their conference dollars. We now have one more day to spend the balance remaining on our cards. Tomorrow I plan to buy a lot of snacks for our journey back home on Saturday.

When we came back from lunch we started on our group presentations on special interest groups. My special interest group focused on non-Newtonian fluids, more specifically oobleck. Our presentation went more into detail with our experiments since the class already got to experience the strange properties of oobleck last week.

After class, some of the people on my floor went out to dinner with RC Naya. The six of us ate at a nearby Chilli's. Dinner was a great chance to talk to Naya who will be finishing her senior year of college in a few months. It is always nice to receive advice on college from multiple people. Chloe and I returned to the Quad and played a little in the rain. Later during the night, Ivette, Chloe, and I ordered a box of Insomnia Cookies and enjoyed each others company and laughter.

Tomorrow is the last day of class and I still can't believe it! I have to go plan out what goodies I'm going to  buy tomorrow!

The Divide

Since the founding of the United States of America, people have immigrated from far and wide corners of the world into this land known for its fundamental rights of freedom and roads paved with gold.  The opportunities provided by the U.S. have, and continue to bring in a variety of cultures, which in turn has shaped our extremely diverse nation.  Today's issues with immigrants have resulted from a combination of both past and present events, and involve a number of ethnic groups from all over the world.  For class today, we focused primarily on Asian-American immigrants and their struggles in Philadelphia.  

There was no in-class discussion today because we went on two different field trips!  The first being a visit to Philadelphia's China Town, and then after lunch we headed out to West Philadelphia to visit the Philadelphia Folklore Project.  Personally, the only knowledge I have of injustice toward Asian Americans is what I have learned in the history books at school, so it was very interesting to actually go out into these areas and learn to understand their feat from primary sources.  

We had a visiting professor by the name of Domenic Vitiello who, as stated in the syllabus, is an Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning at University of Pennsylvania's School of Design.  This morning Domenic led us around China Town and we observed the economic structure of the only concentrated Asian-American community in that area.  We noticed how the community was structured so that the occupants did not have to leave China Town to survive if they did not want to.  Domenic was telling us about the many development projects that were once possible threats to the community, and how this caused the people to organize and fight back against these projects.  The justification for tearing down churches to build more urban complexes was that there was nothing going on in China Town and therefore those developers were free to "rejuvenate" the land.  This lack of respect for Asian-Americans' cultures was also discussed when we visited Asian Americans United (AAU) and spoke with Ellen Somekawa.  This organization that she works for is actually a public school which provides the necessary services for English language learners, and it lies just outside of China Town.  Their official mission statement is that "AAU exists so that people of Asian ancestry in Philadelphia exercise leadership to build their communities and unite to challenge oppression."  Although it is a small school with only 450 students, it is one of the only public areas in that neighborhood, as that area lacks any parks or other open spaces that are designed to bring young people together.  Ellen talked about the injustices that Asian Americans in that area have faced in just the last decade, as well as how inhumane the police and other members of that area have responded to having immigrants from Asia come into "their" area.  Overall, the social system in place oppresses Asian Americans throughout that area to such great extents that they are actually dehumanized in a multitude of situations.  This is why I think that it is so important for organizations like AAU to exist because, like Ellen was saying, if the people of China Town want to maintain and even possibly expand their community, they need to be able to mobilize their citizens so that they can counter that dehumanization and speak out on their own behalf.  

During the second field trip, we learned about serious long-term hate crimes against Asian-American students in South Philadelphia High School.  While this issue exploded in 2009 and drew a lot of attention from news stations, the information regarding this story was quickly recreated and twisted into something that the students no longer related to.  As a way to avoid spreading misconceptions about this event, the woman working the exhibit we went to asked us not to photograph the texts or write about the story, as it takes away from the truth of the matter.  The We Cannot Keep Silent exhibit however, tells the journey the students went through to achieve justice, but through their own words.  They were a large part of creating the exhibit in the first place, and they were the final deciders on what to keep as well as what they felt was not relevant to their fight.  We only spent about half an hour there, but I made sure to read up on every section of the exhibit, and I found that these students used a lot of the tactics we talk about in class to fight back against the oppression they faced.  This trip and the visit to the AAU opened my mind more to the everyday struggles that so many people face and how people really fear for their lives on a daily basis.  This is such a terrible and frightening thought that I cannot possibly understand because I have not faced such extreme injustice in my life.  Tomorrow, we are with Domenic again, so I hope that we have time to go into further detail about what we saw and learned during out two trips today.