Monday, February 6, 2012

Let the Fences Sing!

Today in my English 101 classes, I showed clips from my friend Steve Elkins’ film “The Reach of Resonance” featuring the Australian musician Jon Rose, who uses a violin bow to play fences in areas of conflict or division. He played the barbed wire fences in the Australian outback, which divided up the land of the Aborigines. He played the fence along the Gaza Strip in Palestine. He played the fence separating the U.S./Mexico border.

I asked my students to write in response to this prompt: If Jon Rose came to your community, what fence would he play, and why?

Whenever I ask my students to do in-class writing, I also do it. Here’s what I wrote:

If Jon Rose played a fence in my community, he would play the fence surrounding the railroad tracks that divide Fullerton. The tracks have long served as a literal and metaphorical dividing line between rich and poor, white and Mexican. There is a brutal history here. For many years, immigrants lived in barracks and work camps, intentionally segregated from the dominant (white) community. I think Jon Rose would want to play these fences to give a “voice” to this division that still exists today. Fullerton has an opportunity to build bridges, but instead they are building a massive parking structure and “low income” housing that is not really low income, as the lowest rent is $1500 a month. This says a lot. The city says they are all for diversity and community, while at the same time enacting policies that block these things.

Here’s what some of my students wrote:

If Jon Rose played a fence in my community, I think that he would play the fence that is separating Downtown LA and Montebello. As my father was driving to Downtown LA all I saw were people living on the street, lots of trash, and even people walking naked because they couldn’t afford clothes. I think that fences are put there for the people living on the other side, not to see what is happening in Downtown LA. There is so much poverty in Downtown LA that people outside the fence haven’t seen or don’t want to see.

If Jon Rose played a fence in my community, I think he would play a fence near this one freeway. It’s a fence near a desolate land area where quite a lot of homeless people hang out. Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes to go there. The community is “nice” except for that one desolate area. It appears that Rose likes playing in places like that so I think it would be perfect for him. People might start paying attention to the area if someone else would.

If Jon Rose played a fence in my community, I would want him to play at a local park because this would give people a chance to come together to see something extraordinary. Playing a fence is very unique. Just by having people attend Rose’s fence playing could have a positive effect on the community because people might be inspired, motivated, or determined. My community doesn’t have many events, but if Jon Rose played a fence here, it would be wonderful. It would bring people together to enjoy music.

If Jon Rose came to my community, I think he would play on the fence bordering the section of the city called “The Country.” This is a portion of Diamond Bar where the more wealthy residents live. It’s the kind of place where all the homes are custom three or four story buildings located on hillsides overlooking the hills beyond. They have security guards and tennis courts and swimming pools. In short, it’s a place that sets a boundary between the rich families and everybody else. Jon Rose would probably play the fence surrounding “The Country” to raise awareness about the unequal distribution of wealth.

I would like to think that if Jon Rose came to La Puente, there wouldn’t be a fence for him to play. Culturally, the area is homogenous. It’s filled with people of Mexican descent. In terms of social status, it’s all fairly even. Most of the houses are the same size, and most cars are in the same price range. While La Puente isn’t the most social town (there aren’t that many events), it is lucky enough to have little to no division.

If Jon Rose played a fence in my community, I think it would be on the poorer side of town. Because Rose put a major focus on the places that nobody knew about, I think he would take the same approach to my community. He would probably be on the “bad/poor” side of town, because he likes to show people a new perspective on places that many people don’t like to frequent.

If Jon Rose came to my community, he would play the school fences. In my community, in some schools, we still have that division of different races. On one side of the city you mostly have the Latinos and African Americans. On the other side, you have the Caucasians and Asians. There might be a little mixing, but it’s probably like 5% out of 100%. Jon Rose could play on the school fences and show these kids that everyone is the same, that schools should be a mixture of cultures and ethnicities. We are all the same.

Here's a portion of The Reach of Resonance, about Jon Rose.

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