Monthly Archives: May 2016

A Modern ‘Roots’ For An American Society Still ‘Based On The Color Line’




STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The history Channel is going back to “Roots.” That’s the name of a famous miniseries from the 1970s which focused the nation’s attention on the horrors of slavery. Over the next four nights, the History Channel will air a new version of “Roots.” NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says this program walks a fine line between recalling classic TV and reinventing a 40-year-old epic.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “ROOTS”)

LAURENCE FISHBURNE: (As Alex Haley) This is how I heard about the boy, Kunta Kinte. And this is how I’ll tell you the story.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Laurence Fishburne’s mesmerizing narration as author Alex Haley in this new “Roots” pulls viewers in immediately. But it also kind of begs the question – why? Why do a new version of “Roots”?

LEVAR BURTON: I heard today that fully 50 percent of the population of the United States that is alive now was not alive in 1977, seven, when the original “Roots” aired.

DEGGANS: That’s LeVar Burton. He starred as Haley’s ancestor, Kunta Kinte, in the original version of “Roots” and serves as co-executive producer of the new version.

BURTON: I’ll tell you, I’m not a big fan of remakes. I didn’t think this would ever happen – you know, retelling this story. And I didn’t necessarily believe that it should happen, but I recognized immediately that there was an opportunity here – one that I had not seen – to retell this story to and for a new generation.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “ROOTS”)

FISHBURNE: (As Alex Haley) There was once a rich and sophisticated city named Juffure in a Mandinka kingdom in West Africa. It was located on the banks of the Kamby Bolongo, the great river of the Gambia.

DEGGANS: Like the original, this new “Roots” portrays the journey of Haley’s ancestors from life in Africa to slavery in America. And it also reimagines some of the most iconic moments in TV history. Here’s a scene from the new series, where Haley’s ancestor, Kunta Kinte, is given his name by his father as a baby and held up to the stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “ROOTS”)

BABS OLUSANMOKUN: (As Omoro Kinte, foreign language spoken).

Behold Kunta Kinte, the only thing that is greater than you.

MALACHI KIRBY: You know what? I had heard of Kunta Kinte before I heard of “Roots.”

DEGGANS: That’s Malachi Kirby, who plays the new Kunta Kinte. He grew up in London as the grandson of Jamaican immigrants.

KIRBY: There were kids that would call me Kunta Kinte if ever my hair was particularly rough that day or I was dressed scruffy. It was a negative attribute from my perspective at the time to be called Kunta Kinte or to be associated with being African.

DEGGANS: Kirby was in his 20s when he actually saw “Roots,” which helped him see Africa in a more positive way. Burton says changing these kind of perspectives is the point of both versions of “Roots.”

BURTON: You know, the original “Roots” 40 years ago, it had the power to change the way this nation, America, views slavery. After “Roots,” it became impossible to think of the institution of slavery without considering, without contemplating the human cost. “Roots” put a face on the institution of slavery.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEGGANS: The original “Roots” was an ambitious project. Based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, “Roots: The Saga Of An American Family,” the miniseries drew more than a hundred million viewers back in 1977 and won nine Emmy awards. It recounted how Haley’s ancestor Kunta Kinte was brought to America as a slave and birthed a family who would eventually be free. The miniseries was revolutionary in presenting that journey as an American story, featuring black stars such as Leslie Uggams, John Amos and Cicely Tyson. Producer David Wolper’s masterstroke was casting beloved white TV actors from “The Brady Bunch” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” as slave owners and overseers. Here, Ed Asner is a ship’s captain carrying slaves for the first time. And Ralph Waite, star of “The Waltons,” is his experienced slave overseer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “ROOTS”)

EDWARD ASNER: (As Captain Thomas Davies) What are they like, the blacks?

RALPH WAITE: (As Slater) Just a different kind of breed, sir – you know, like a man would breed a dog for hunting and breed another sort of dog for his wife and children to play with.

DEGGANS: Burton confirms executive producer Wolper did this to bring white audiences into the show. When it was time to cast the remake, LeVar Burton worked hard to find the new Kunta Kinte. He and his fellow producers searched for six months to find Malachi Kirby, a veteran of British TV shows like “Doctor Who” and “EastEnders.” Once production started, Kirby said Burton did not offer much direct advice. Instead, the “Roots” veteran said something enigmatic just before they re-created the climactic scene where Kunta Kinte is beaten by an overseer with a nail-studded whip until he calls himself by his slave name, Toby.

KIRBY: He told me that he was a mighty child, and I am a mighty man.

DEGGANS: Kirby thought he was talking about their difference in experience. Kunta Kinte was LeVar Burton’s first professional audition and first real acting job. Malachi Kirby had been acting for eight years. But then, the scene began.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “ROOTS”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Your name is Toby. Now tell me your name.

KIRBY: (As Kunta Kinte) I’m Kunta Kinte.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) That’s not your name. Toby’s your name.

KIRBY: (As Kunta Kinte) Kunta Kinte.

KIRBY: And I remembered these words that LeVar had shared with me – I am a mighty man – and it caused me to resist. He goes on for much longer than, I believe, in the original.

BURTON: Twenty lashes longer. In the original, it’s 10 lashes that Kunta receives. It is a fully thirty lashes in this version.

DEGGANS: Those aren’t the only differences. The black people in this modern “Roots” resist more and fight harder against being victimized. The stories move faster and focus more on Haley’s family. We don’t see white slavers agonizing over their decisions. The original “Roots” and author Alex Haley have faced controversy over the years. Haley, who died in 1992, settled a lawsuit by an author who accused him of plagiarizing parts of “Roots.” Burton says new scholarship inspired by “Roots'” success helped them to revise the story.

BURTON: So we know now that the Mandinka were horse warriors. Alex didn’t know that. We know that Juffure was a major center of commerce. When Alex encountered Juffure in the early ’70s, it was a sleepy little burg of a village. This new historical information is now a part of Kunta’s origin story.

DEGGANS: Other recent films and TV shows have told slave slave stories for today’s generations, including the WGN America series “Underground” and the Oscar-winning film “12 Years A Slave.” Burton says these stories are important, though he understands why some black people would find them tough to watch.

BURTON: Black people still live in America. And America is still a society that is based on the color line, OK? I’m really hoping that this time around, we can have that conversation with each other on both sides of the color line and leave behind the shame.

DEGGANS: But accomplishing that conversation without disappointing fans of the original “Roots” just might be the biggest challenge this new miniseries faces. I’m Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

‘Rolling The R’s’ Is A Story About Coming Of Age And Coming Out




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

From music to books now. And for some people, hearing about the book we’re about to discuss will be like running into a beloved old friend. It’s that important to millions of readers. It’s “Rolling The R’s,” the first novel by poet R. Zamora Linmark. It’s a wild coming-of-age story from an immigrant perspective infused with American pop culture and the languages of Hawaii, where he grew up, and the Philippines, where he was born.

Upon its debut, “Rolling The R’s” stunned readers and critics alike with its profane and almost too-true portrayal of a group of teens finding themselves in late 1970s Honolulu, grappling with sexuality, teachers who play favorites, adults who don’t get it. It’s full of drama, fun and pain, all told with a dazzling array of literary styles. For all those reasons, the Asian American Literary Review is honoring the book with a special 20th anniversary edition. I spoke to R. Zamora Linmark recently. And I started by asking him about the title “Rolling The R’s.”

ALEX LINMARK: Filipinos, when they speak English, they roll their ours, particularly the Ilocanos that make up the majority of Filipinos in Hawaii. So it’s a stereotype for Filipinos as well as Latinos. You know, so that when they speak, they roll their R’s.

I also found out that John Milton, who wrote “Paradise Lost,” rolled his R’s to separate himself from the other British ex-pats in Italy. So rolling the R’s means just being yourself and doesn’t have to have that urgent sense of belonging.

MARTIN: Could you read a little bit for us, if you would? And I’m trying to figure out a passage you could read without losing us our FCC license.

LINMARK: OK, this one is rated PG.

MARTIN: OK.

LINMARK: Not even PG-13, rated PG.

MARTIN: OK.

LINMARK: OK. (Reading) The Two Filipinos – Mai-Lan Pham (ph) is Vietnamese. Jared Shimabukuro (ph) is Okinawan. Julian Katsura (ph) is Japanese. Stephen Bean is Caucasian. Loata Fa’alelea (ph) is Samoan. Kal Macadangdang (ph) is one-fourth Filipino, one-fourth Spanish, one-fourth Chinese, one-eighth Hawaiian, one-sixteenth Cherokee Indian and one-sixteenth Portuguese Brazilian. And the rest tell Mrs. Takemoto, who has gone row by row asking them their ethnicity that they are Filipinos, except for Nelson Ariola. “No, Nelson,” Mrs. Takemoto says. “Your nationality is American, but your ethnicity is Filipino.” “Yeah, Nelson,” Katrina Cruz (ph) interrupts. “You was born a Filipino and you can die a Filipino.” “Shut up, Katrina,” Nelson says. “You shut up, Nelson,” she says. “What makes you think you’re not a Filipino?” “Because I was born here.” “So, me too,” Katrina argues. “And because – because I’m not an immigrant. And because my grandfather never came here for cheap labor.

I’m not like them, Mrs. Takemoto.” “What makes you say that, Nelson,” she asked. “Because I don’t speak Tagalog or Ilocano.” “Well, for your information, Mr. USA” – Edgar stands up, hands fisted at his waist – “your mother speaks Tagalog and your father from (unintelligible). Just ’cause you don’t speak the dialect no make you an overnight American sensation.” “Shut up, Edgar. You don’t understand,” Nelson says. “I can’t be a Filipino. I don’t want to be a Filipino because the only Filipino that everyone knows is the Filipino that eats dogs or the Filipino that walks around with a broom in his hands.” “So what? Big deal if Filipinos eat dogs. Big deal if they’re custodians or gardeners. Oh, you’re so full of yourself, Nelson. Wake up and smell the hot pandesal. Windex your mirror because your reflection can tell you you’re the best kind of date for Mr. Pinoy – brown skin, yellow teeth and no nose.”

MARTIN: Oh boy (laughter). How did that scene come to you?

LINMARK: Well, I migrated to Hawaii in 1978, so the height of disco. So that is as close to autobiographical as I got to writing the novel. And being an immigrant student, one of the culture shocks for me was being placed in a bilingual educational program, which required being put in another classroom in another building to learn English, basically, which I found ironic because I grew up in the Philippines, which was colonized by the U.S. And so this classroom scene that I just read, it’s a familiar atmosphere at that time growing up in Hawaii.

MARTIN: There is a lot of sex in this book…

LINMARK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: …OK?

LINMARK: Yes.

MARTIN: So thing one – these are supposed to be pretty young kids. They’re, like, young teenagers, number one.

LINMARK: Yes.

MARTIN: But one of your central characters is in a sexual relationship with the school custodian. And I just have to be honest with you, as a parent, I’m thinking this guy belonged in jail.

LINMARK: Yes, well…

MARTIN: So can I just ask you about that…

LINMARK: Definitely.

MARTIN: …And why you felt that was important?

LINMARK: I wanted to write a novel that went against conventions, against the traditional coming-of-age coming-out narrative. This required me to invent this character Edgar, who is being bullied for being gay. But I also didn’t want to create a victim character. He didn’t have a closet, you know? So what I did in the end was I created my own version of Lolita. So Nabakov has his Lolita; I have my Edgar.

MARTIN: Well, you know, that disco anthem “I Will Survive” does kind of come to mind…

LINMARK: Yeah.

MARTIN: …Because Edgar, you know, for all of his travails, is a really joyous figure. I mean, he’s a good friend, he’s brave in his own way.

LINMARK: Yes. And you also get a sense that the pain does come out, that there is this yearning, there is this desire. And I – I plant enough hints in there as to why somebody tough and vulnerable at the same time would end up having a liaison with the custodian.

MARTIN: What do you think about the fact that your book is still in print all these years later and that it’s become such a staple of – it is like Catcher” In The “Rye for a lot of people. It is a book where they feel that they saw themselves, you know, for the first time. And I’m just wondering what you think about that, if you ever imagined when you wrote it that it would have that kind of impact.

LINMARK: No, I wrote it to get out of grad school. It was my creative master’s thesis. Now, when I was writing it, of course, the idea of an audience, the idea of even being published was not part of the pressure. And I wrote it with no rules because I wanted to experience and also to explore the world of the novel as a collage. I was, after all, writing about a community. So the success of “Rolling,” it still surprise to me until now.

MARTIN: Really?

LINMARK: Yeah.

MARTIN: Wow, yeah. R. Zamora Linmark is the author of “Rolling The R’s.” It’s celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special edition. He was kind enough to join us from NPR New York. R. Zamora Linmark, congratulations once again. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

LINMARK: Oh, thank you. Salamat.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

‘Rolling The R’s’ Is A Story About Coming Of Age And Coming Out




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

From music to books now. And for some people, hearing about the book we’re about to discuss will be like running into a beloved old friend. It’s that important to millions of readers. It’s “Rolling The R’s,” the first novel by poet R. Zamora Linmark. It’s a wild coming-of-age story from an immigrant perspective infused with American pop culture and the languages of Hawaii, where he grew up, and the Philippines, where he was born.

Upon its debut, “Rolling The R’s” stunned readers and critics alike with its profane and almost too-true portrayal of a group of teens finding themselves in late 1970s Honolulu, grappling with sexuality, teachers who play favorites, adults who don’t get it. It’s full of drama, fun and pain, all told with a dazzling array of literary styles. For all those reasons, the Asian American Literary Review is honoring the book with a special 20th anniversary edition. I spoke to R. Zamora Linmark recently. And I started by asking him about the title “Rolling The R’s.”

ALEX LINMARK: Filipinos, when they speak English, they roll their ours, particularly the Ilocanos that make up the majority of Filipinos in Hawaii. So it’s a stereotype for Filipinos as well as Latinos. You know, so that when they speak, they roll their R’s.

I also found out that John Milton, who wrote “Paradise Lost,” rolled his R’s to separate himself from the other British ex-pats in Italy. So rolling the R’s means just being yourself and doesn’t have to have that urgent sense of belonging.

MARTIN: Could you read a little bit for us, if you would? And I’m trying to figure out a passage you could read without losing us our FCC license.

LINMARK: OK, this one is rated PG.

MARTIN: OK.

LINMARK: Not even PG-13, rated PG.

MARTIN: OK.

LINMARK: OK. (Reading) The Two Filipinos – Mai-Lan Pham (ph) is Vietnamese. Jared Shimabukuro (ph) is Okinawan. Julian Katsura (ph) is Japanese. Stephen Bean is Caucasian. Loata Fa’alelea (ph) is Samoan. Kal Macadangdang (ph) is one-fourth Filipino, one-fourth Spanish, one-fourth Chinese, one-eighth Hawaiian, one-sixteenth Cherokee Indian and one-sixteenth Portuguese Brazilian. And the rest tell Mrs. Takemoto, who has gone row by row asking them their ethnicity that they are Filipinos, except for Nelson Ariola. “No, Nelson,” Mrs. Takemoto says. “Your nationality is American, but your ethnicity is Filipino.” “Yeah, Nelson,” Katrina Cruz (ph) interrupts. “You was born a Filipino and you can die a Filipino.” “Shut up, Katrina,” Nelson says. “You shut up, Nelson,” she says. “What makes you think you’re not a Filipino?” “Because I was born here.” “So, me too,” Katrina argues. “And because – because I’m not an immigrant. And because my grandfather never came here for cheap labor.

I’m not like them, Mrs. Takemoto.” “What makes you say that, Nelson,” she asked. “Because I don’t speak Tagalog or Ilocano.” “Well, for your information, Mr. USA” – Edgar stands up, hands fisted at his waist – “your mother speaks Tagalog and your father from (unintelligible). Just ’cause you don’t speak the dialect no make you an overnight American sensation.” “Shut up, Edgar. You don’t understand,” Nelson says. “I can’t be a Filipino. I don’t want to be a Filipino because the only Filipino that everyone knows is the Filipino that eats dogs or the Filipino that walks around with a broom in his hands.” “So what? Big deal if Filipinos eat dogs. Big deal if they’re custodians or gardeners. Oh, you’re so full of yourself, Nelson. Wake up and smell the hot pandesal. Windex your mirror because your reflection can tell you you’re the best kind of date for Mr. Pinoy – brown skin, yellow teeth and no nose.”

MARTIN: Oh boy (laughter). How did that scene come to you?

LINMARK: Well, I migrated to Hawaii in 1978, so the height of disco. So that is as close to autobiographical as I got to writing the novel. And being an immigrant student, one of the culture shocks for me was being placed in a bilingual educational program, which required being put in another classroom in another building to learn English, basically, which I found ironic because I grew up in the Philippines, which was colonized by the U.S. And so this classroom scene that I just read, it’s a familiar atmosphere at that time growing up in Hawaii.

MARTIN: There is a lot of sex in this book…

LINMARK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: …OK?

LINMARK: Yes.

MARTIN: So thing one – these are supposed to be pretty young kids. They’re, like, young teenagers, number one.

LINMARK: Yes.

MARTIN: But one of your central characters is in a sexual relationship with the school custodian. And I just have to be honest with you, as a parent, I’m thinking this guy belonged in jail.

LINMARK: Yes, well…

MARTIN: So can I just ask you about that…

LINMARK: Definitely.

MARTIN: …And why you felt that was important?

LINMARK: I wanted to write a novel that went against conventions, against the traditional coming-of-age coming-out narrative. This required me to invent this character Edgar, who is being bullied for being gay. But I also didn’t want to create a victim character. He didn’t have a closet, you know? So what I did in the end was I created my own version of Lolita. So Nabakov has his Lolita; I have my Edgar.

MARTIN: Well, you know, that disco anthem “I Will Survive” does kind of come to mind…

LINMARK: Yeah.

MARTIN: …Because Edgar, you know, for all of his travails, is a really joyous figure. I mean, he’s a good friend, he’s brave in his own way.

LINMARK: Yes. And you also get a sense that the pain does come out, that there is this yearning, there is this desire. And I – I plant enough hints in there as to why somebody tough and vulnerable at the same time would end up having a liaison with the custodian.

MARTIN: What do you think about the fact that your book is still in print all these years later and that it’s become such a staple of – it is like Catcher” In The “Rye for a lot of people. It is a book where they feel that they saw themselves, you know, for the first time. And I’m just wondering what you think about that, if you ever imagined when you wrote it that it would have that kind of impact.

LINMARK: No, I wrote it to get out of grad school. It was my creative master’s thesis. Now, when I was writing it, of course, the idea of an audience, the idea of even being published was not part of the pressure. And I wrote it with no rules because I wanted to experience and also to explore the world of the novel as a collage. I was, after all, writing about a community. So the success of “Rolling,” it still surprise to me until now.

MARTIN: Really?

LINMARK: Yeah.

MARTIN: Wow, yeah. R. Zamora Linmark is the author of “Rolling The R’s.” It’s celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special edition. He was kind enough to join us from NPR New York. R. Zamora Linmark, congratulations once again. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

LINMARK: Oh, thank you. Salamat.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

‘Rolling The R’s’ Is A Story About Coming Of Age And Coming Out




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

From music to books now. And for some people, hearing about the book we’re about to discuss will be like running into a beloved old friend. It’s that important to millions of readers. It’s “Rolling The R’s,” the first novel by poet R. Zamora Linmark. It’s a wild coming-of-age story from an immigrant perspective infused with American pop culture and the languages of Hawaii, where he grew up, and the Philippines, where he was born.

Upon its debut, “Rolling The R’s” stunned readers and critics alike with its profane and almost too-true portrayal of a group of teens finding themselves in late 1970s Honolulu, grappling with sexuality, teachers who play favorites, adults who don’t get it. It’s full of drama, fun and pain, all told with a dazzling array of literary styles. For all those reasons, the Asian American Literary Review is honoring the book with a special 20th anniversary edition. I spoke to R. Zamora Linmark recently. And I started by asking him about the title “Rolling The R’s.”

ALEX LINMARK: Filipinos, when they speak English, they roll their ours, particularly the Ilocanos that make up the majority of Filipinos in Hawaii. So it’s a stereotype for Filipinos as well as Latinos. You know, so that when they speak, they roll their R’s.

I also found out that John Milton, who wrote “Paradise Lost,” rolled his R’s to separate himself from the other British ex-pats in Italy. So rolling the R’s means just being yourself and doesn’t have to have that urgent sense of belonging.

MARTIN: Could you read a little bit for us, if you would? And I’m trying to figure out a passage you could read without losing us our FCC license.

LINMARK: OK, this one is rated PG.

MARTIN: OK.

LINMARK: Not even PG-13, rated PG.

MARTIN: OK.

LINMARK: OK. (Reading) The Two Filipinos – Mai-Lan Pham (ph) is Vietnamese. Jared Shimabukuro (ph) is Okinawan. Julian Katsura (ph) is Japanese. Stephen Bean is Caucasian. Loata Fa’alelea (ph) is Samoan. Kal Macadangdang (ph) is one-fourth Filipino, one-fourth Spanish, one-fourth Chinese, one-eighth Hawaiian, one-sixteenth Cherokee Indian and one-sixteenth Portuguese Brazilian. And the rest tell Mrs. Takemoto, who has gone row by row asking them their ethnicity that they are Filipinos, except for Nelson Ariola. “No, Nelson,” Mrs. Takemoto says. “Your nationality is American, but your ethnicity is Filipino.” “Yeah, Nelson,” Katrina Cruz (ph) interrupts. “You was born a Filipino and you can die a Filipino.” “Shut up, Katrina,” Nelson says. “You shut up, Nelson,” she says. “What makes you think you’re not a Filipino?” “Because I was born here.” “So, me too,” Katrina argues. “And because – because I’m not an immigrant. And because my grandfather never came here for cheap labor.

I’m not like them, Mrs. Takemoto.” “What makes you say that, Nelson,” she asked. “Because I don’t speak Tagalog or Ilocano.” “Well, for your information, Mr. USA” – Edgar stands up, hands fisted at his waist – “your mother speaks Tagalog and your father from (unintelligible). Just ’cause you don’t speak the dialect no make you an overnight American sensation.” “Shut up, Edgar. You don’t understand,” Nelson says. “I can’t be a Filipino. I don’t want to be a Filipino because the only Filipino that everyone knows is the Filipino that eats dogs or the Filipino that walks around with a broom in his hands.” “So what? Big deal if Filipinos eat dogs. Big deal if they’re custodians or gardeners. Oh, you’re so full of yourself, Nelson. Wake up and smell the hot pandesal. Windex your mirror because your reflection can tell you you’re the best kind of date for Mr. Pinoy – brown skin, yellow teeth and no nose.”

MARTIN: Oh boy (laughter). How did that scene come to you?

LINMARK: Well, I migrated to Hawaii in 1978, so the height of disco. So that is as close to autobiographical as I got to writing the novel. And being an immigrant student, one of the culture shocks for me was being placed in a bilingual educational program, which required being put in another classroom in another building to learn English, basically, which I found ironic because I grew up in the Philippines, which was colonized by the U.S. And so this classroom scene that I just read, it’s a familiar atmosphere at that time growing up in Hawaii.

MARTIN: There is a lot of sex in this book…

LINMARK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: …OK?

LINMARK: Yes.

MARTIN: So thing one – these are supposed to be pretty young kids. They’re, like, young teenagers, number one.

LINMARK: Yes.

MARTIN: But one of your central characters is in a sexual relationship with the school custodian. And I just have to be honest with you, as a parent, I’m thinking this guy belonged in jail.

LINMARK: Yes, well…

MARTIN: So can I just ask you about that…

LINMARK: Definitely.

MARTIN: …And why you felt that was important?

LINMARK: I wanted to write a novel that went against conventions, against the traditional coming-of-age coming-out narrative. This required me to invent this character Edgar, who is being bullied for being gay. But I also didn’t want to create a victim character. He didn’t have a closet, you know? So what I did in the end was I created my own version of Lolita. So Nabakov has his Lolita; I have my Edgar.

MARTIN: Well, you know, that disco anthem “I Will Survive” does kind of come to mind…

LINMARK: Yeah.

MARTIN: …Because Edgar, you know, for all of his travails, is a really joyous figure. I mean, he’s a good friend, he’s brave in his own way.

LINMARK: Yes. And you also get a sense that the pain does come out, that there is this yearning, there is this desire. And I – I plant enough hints in there as to why somebody tough and vulnerable at the same time would end up having a liaison with the custodian.

MARTIN: What do you think about the fact that your book is still in print all these years later and that it’s become such a staple of – it is like Catcher” In The “Rye for a lot of people. It is a book where they feel that they saw themselves, you know, for the first time. And I’m just wondering what you think about that, if you ever imagined when you wrote it that it would have that kind of impact.

LINMARK: No, I wrote it to get out of grad school. It was my creative master’s thesis. Now, when I was writing it, of course, the idea of an audience, the idea of even being published was not part of the pressure. And I wrote it with no rules because I wanted to experience and also to explore the world of the novel as a collage. I was, after all, writing about a community. So the success of “Rolling,” it still surprise to me until now.

MARTIN: Really?

LINMARK: Yeah.

MARTIN: Wow, yeah. R. Zamora Linmark is the author of “Rolling The R’s.” It’s celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special edition. He was kind enough to join us from NPR New York. R. Zamora Linmark, congratulations once again. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

LINMARK: Oh, thank you. Salamat.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

‘Rolling The R’s’ Is A Story About Coming Of Age And Coming Out




MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

From music to books now. And for some people, hearing about the book we’re about to discuss will be like running into a beloved old friend. It’s that important to millions of readers. It’s “Rolling The R’s,” the first novel by poet R. Zamora Linmark. It’s a wild coming-of-age story from an immigrant perspective infused with American pop culture and the languages of Hawaii, where he grew up, and the Philippines, where he was born.

Upon its debut, “Rolling The R’s” stunned readers and critics alike with its profane and almost too-true portrayal of a group of teens finding themselves in late 1970s Honolulu, grappling with sexuality, teachers who play favorites, adults who don’t get it. It’s full of drama, fun and pain, all told with a dazzling array of literary styles. For all those reasons, the Asian American Literary Review is honoring the book with a special 20th anniversary edition. I spoke to R. Zamora Linmark recently. And I started by asking him about the title “Rolling The R’s.”

ALEX LINMARK: Filipinos, when they speak English, they roll their ours, particularly the Ilocanos that make up the majority of Filipinos in Hawaii. So it’s a stereotype for Filipinos as well as Latinos. You know, so that when they speak, they roll their R’s.

I also found out that John Milton, who wrote “Paradise Lost,” rolled his R’s to separate himself from the other British ex-pats in Italy. So rolling the R’s means just being yourself and doesn’t have to have that urgent sense of belonging.

MARTIN: Could you read a little bit for us, if you would? And I’m trying to figure out a passage you could read without losing us our FCC license.

LINMARK: OK, this one is rated PG.

MARTIN: OK.

LINMARK: Not even PG-13, rated PG.

MARTIN: OK.

LINMARK: OK. (Reading) The Two Filipinos – Mai-Lan Pham (ph) is Vietnamese. Jared Shimabukuro (ph) is Okinawan. Julian Katsura (ph) is Japanese. Stephen Bean is Caucasian. Loata Fa’alelea (ph) is Samoan. Kal Macadangdang (ph) is one-fourth Filipino, one-fourth Spanish, one-fourth Chinese, one-eighth Hawaiian, one-sixteenth Cherokee Indian and one-sixteenth Portuguese Brazilian. And the rest tell Mrs. Takemoto, who has gone row by row asking them their ethnicity that they are Filipinos, except for Nelson Ariola. “No, Nelson,” Mrs. Takemoto says. “Your nationality is American, but your ethnicity is Filipino.” “Yeah, Nelson,” Katrina Cruz (ph) interrupts. “You was born a Filipino and you can die a Filipino.” “Shut up, Katrina,” Nelson says. “You shut up, Nelson,” she says. “What makes you think you’re not a Filipino?” “Because I was born here.” “So, me too,” Katrina argues. “And because – because I’m not an immigrant. And because my grandfather never came here for cheap labor.

I’m not like them, Mrs. Takemoto.” “What makes you say that, Nelson,” she asked. “Because I don’t speak Tagalog or Ilocano.” “Well, for your information, Mr. USA” – Edgar stands up, hands fisted at his waist – “your mother speaks Tagalog and your father from (unintelligible). Just ’cause you don’t speak the dialect no make you an overnight American sensation.” “Shut up, Edgar. You don’t understand,” Nelson says. “I can’t be a Filipino. I don’t want to be a Filipino because the only Filipino that everyone knows is the Filipino that eats dogs or the Filipino that walks around with a broom in his hands.” “So what? Big deal if Filipinos eat dogs. Big deal if they’re custodians or gardeners. Oh, you’re so full of yourself, Nelson. Wake up and smell the hot pandesal. Windex your mirror because your reflection can tell you you’re the best kind of date for Mr. Pinoy – brown skin, yellow teeth and no nose.”

MARTIN: Oh boy (laughter). How did that scene come to you?

LINMARK: Well, I migrated to Hawaii in 1978, so the height of disco. So that is as close to autobiographical as I got to writing the novel. And being an immigrant student, one of the culture shocks for me was being placed in a bilingual educational program, which required being put in another classroom in another building to learn English, basically, which I found ironic because I grew up in the Philippines, which was colonized by the U.S. And so this classroom scene that I just read, it’s a familiar atmosphere at that time growing up in Hawaii.

MARTIN: There is a lot of sex in this book…

LINMARK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: …OK?

LINMARK: Yes.

MARTIN: So thing one – these are supposed to be pretty young kids. They’re, like, young teenagers, number one.

LINMARK: Yes.

MARTIN: But one of your central characters is in a sexual relationship with the school custodian. And I just have to be honest with you, as a parent, I’m thinking this guy belonged in jail.

LINMARK: Yes, well…

MARTIN: So can I just ask you about that…

LINMARK: Definitely.

MARTIN: …And why you felt that was important?

LINMARK: I wanted to write a novel that went against conventions, against the traditional coming-of-age coming-out narrative. This required me to invent this character Edgar, who is being bullied for being gay. But I also didn’t want to create a victim character. He didn’t have a closet, you know? So what I did in the end was I created my own version of Lolita. So Nabakov has his Lolita; I have my Edgar.

MARTIN: Well, you know, that disco anthem “I Will Survive” does kind of come to mind…

LINMARK: Yeah.

MARTIN: …Because Edgar, you know, for all of his travails, is a really joyous figure. I mean, he’s a good friend, he’s brave in his own way.

LINMARK: Yes. And you also get a sense that the pain does come out, that there is this yearning, there is this desire. And I – I plant enough hints in there as to why somebody tough and vulnerable at the same time would end up having a liaison with the custodian.

MARTIN: What do you think about the fact that your book is still in print all these years later and that it’s become such a staple of – it is like Catcher” In The “Rye for a lot of people. It is a book where they feel that they saw themselves, you know, for the first time. And I’m just wondering what you think about that, if you ever imagined when you wrote it that it would have that kind of impact.

LINMARK: No, I wrote it to get out of grad school. It was my creative master’s thesis. Now, when I was writing it, of course, the idea of an audience, the idea of even being published was not part of the pressure. And I wrote it with no rules because I wanted to experience and also to explore the world of the novel as a collage. I was, after all, writing about a community. So the success of “Rolling,” it still surprise to me until now.

MARTIN: Really?

LINMARK: Yeah.

MARTIN: Wow, yeah. R. Zamora Linmark is the author of “Rolling The R’s.” It’s celebrating its 20th anniversary with a special edition. He was kind enough to join us from NPR New York. R. Zamora Linmark, congratulations once again. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

LINMARK: Oh, thank you. Salamat.

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Parenting Pitfalls: Renegades, Privilege And Putting On The Boxing Gloves


Playground.i
Playground.

You could call it the parenting trap. Being a parent comes part and parcel with being judged by other parents. And parents aren’t always shy about giving their opinions on others’ parenting style — be it on parenting blogs, articles, books or at the playground.

Last year the major controversy was over “free-range parenting.” This year, two parenting writers are offering new, and sometimes opposing, ideas.

Heather Shumaker encourages "renegade parenting."

Heather Shumaker encourages “renegade parenting.”

John Robert Williams/Courtesy of TarcherPerigee


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John Robert Williams/Courtesy of TarcherPerigee

Heather Shumaker is the author of the book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. She embraces what she calls “renegade parenting.” Shumaker encourages such parenting heresies as banning elementary school homework, letting kids punch each other (with boxing gloves), and rejecting much of the conventional wisdom as “worn-out habits that don’t work.”

Stephanie Land thinks it's important to consider privilege when talking about parenting.i

Stephanie Land thinks it’s important to consider privilege when talking about parenting.

Scott Hevener/Courtesy of Stephanie Land


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Scott Hevener/Courtesy of Stephanie Land

Stephanie Land thinks it's important to consider privilege when talking about parenting.

Stephanie Land thinks it’s important to consider privilege when talking about parenting.

Scott Hevener/Courtesy of Stephanie Land

Writer and blogger Stephanie Land doesn’t like the term “renegade parenting.” Land thinks the ability to be more of a hands-off parent is something of a “privilege.” In an article in The Washington Post, she takes issue with what she says is a stigma against poor parents and how their levels of cleanliness are judged.

“Raising a family on government assistance places you in a narrow margin of acceptable levels of appearance. If my kids are unkempt, dirty, snot-faced, and otherwise disheveled, I fall into the realm of neglect, extremely impoverished, and white trash. Our used car is acceptable if it’s in good running condition, the car seats properly installed, and without trash spilling over or smoke coming out the tail pipe. If I had, say, a newer car, my children had nice clothes, and we all had hair that looked to be well-styled, people would assume I was taking advantage of the system when I paid for groceries with food stamps.”

Heather Shumaker and Stephanie Land spoke with NPR’s Michel Martin about the foundations of their parenting beliefs and what to do about all this judgment in the parenting world.

Interview Highlights

On general principles of parenting and how she came to her beliefs

Heather Shumaker: The fundamental rule, or renegade rule, if you want to say it is: It’s OK if it’s not hurting people or property. So to allow children to play and follow their own play ideas — but set limits too. It’s not a free-for-all. …

A lot of these ideas are based on a preschool that I went to as a child, of where my mother taught for 40 years in Ohio — and they do things differently. For example, they give kids boxing gloves and allow them to punch each other during the school day. And this is not typically done in a lot of places. So I was intrigued, because I felt highly respected when I was a child there.

So when I grew up and I was looking for a place for my own kids, I went back and observed and said, “What are they doing, what are they getting right? And why is it working, why are these kids able to solve conflicts and able to deal with their big angry emotions? And able to be diplomatic when they have a problem that comes up in their play?”

On opposing the term “renegade parenting”

Stephanie Land: I don’t think it’s a term that applies to all populations of parents in America, especially ones who are in poverty or single parents or parents of color. It’s a privileged way of looking at parenting, to allow your children to go against the grain as it were.

On her article about messiness and poverty

Land: There is a meme that I keep seeing on Facebook that says a messy house means that the mother who lives there is more concerned about playing with her kids than she is about keeping a clean house. And at first I thought: well no, it’s just because you don’t want to clean. But then it really hit me that I keep appearances so that I don’t appear low-income. Because I am raising my daughters — in the past it was well under the poverty level and now we’re just about at poverty level. And I’ve been very concerned about how people view us.

If you were a “renegade parent,” would you be seen as negligent, while an upper- or middle-class person would not be?

Land: Yeah. Imagine me sitting on a bench at a playground and my daughter’s running up the slide and all the other kids are wanting to go down it. I think people would look at me as being negligent. Especially if they know a bit about my background — I live in a small town, or I have several tattoos. There are just certain ways that people might look down on me because of my status. And I think that would bleed over into my kid’s behavior and she would be seen as unruly and I would be neglectful. And it’s not an eccentric type of parenting, it would be my neglect as a parent.

Heather, what do you think about that?

Shumaker: Parenting is filled with judging eyes — all kinds of judging eyes. And when families who have certain boundaries and certain concerns come together in a public space, all those types of things clash together. If you see a child going up a slide or doing something else that seems unruly, most adults will try to stop it. Because they’re worried about politeness and they’re worried about safety — and then they’re also worried about what the other adults are judging them as adults on.

One of the things that we need to remember is that playgrounds are for play and that that social interaction between the upgoing child and the downgoing child — that kind of conflict is an important part of play and learning. For the kids to figure out how they can negotiate that and problem-solve it. And generally, maybe with some adult guidance, maybe the kids can do it on their own. They may start doing creative play together and involve each other in a game. But when we step in and try to stop it that can hurt.

But ultimately, it’s very individual, because people have to decide how much they want the judging eyes of others on them. And there’s a lot of factors that go into that, as she said.

On being judged constantly as a parent

Land: I feel like I’m judged harshly, I think especially because I chose to have a second child when I was on food stamps. That is the thing that I think I’m most heavily judged for.

[People judge] almost everything that I write. I wrote a piece about my second daughter’s birth and one of the commenters went straight to: And who is supporting these children, the government? And that is always a default — that I’m a mooch of the system.

It’s Ok to Go Up the Slide

Renegade Rules for Raising Confident and Creative Kids

by Heather Shumaker

Paperback, 363 pages |

purchase

What people should take away from It’s OK to Go Up the Slide

Shumaker: Well I think you need to trust your gut. So that if your child is exhausted after a long day of school and they’re crying over homework, and you know they need to go to bed or let off some steam — you know, trust yourself. Or if they’re having no recess at school, but gym class is being substituted for it and you think that’s wrong, you’re probably right.

So if something’s bothering you, it’s time to make a change. And just because the adults around you are judging or thinking something is right doesn’t mean it’s what’s right for children, doesn’t mean it’s what’s right for child development.

On social stigmas about poverty

Land: Within the context of what I write about for the Center for Community Change, just on social and economic justice, we fight very hard to change the stigmas surrounding people who live in poverty. And especially people of color who live in poverty. And we just hope that by realizing that the parents especially of the working class and the lower classes — we work very hard and we are just as good of parents as the higher classes. And we’re not lazy or neglectful or anything along those lines. And I would just hope that some of those stigmas can be changed.