Learning in Retirement – World in Washington: An Exploration of Literature and Our Lives

Yesterday we welcomed Dr. Anu Taranath of the University of Washington to the Panorama Auditorium for a discussion on literature and how it can shape a community and bring people of diverse identities together.

Dr. Taranath has been teaching world literatures at the University of Washington since 2000. She is the recipient of two Fulbright-Hays Awards and the UW’s Distinguished Teaching Award 2010. She was also included in the Seattle Weekly’s “Best of Seattle 2008.” Dr. Taranath is the founder and director of a study-abroad program based in Bangalore, India.

Changing Demographics in WashingtonHer visit to Panorama brought us an inspiring eye-opener of diversity issues and multiculturalism. Dr. Taranath presented an overview of the changing demographics in the West Coast and, specifically, Washington state. Figures show an increasingly diverse population moving towards a level amount of caucasians and other ethinicities.

Regardless of geographic location, people are naturally preoccupied with the difference between their identity and the identity of those with whom they interact. There is an ever-present focus on “those people” in comparison to “these people.” This concept of human nature highlights the importance of understanding each other. As Dr. Taranath put it: “It’s not easy to get along but we still try” and literature is one of the best ways to better understand others.

She introduced two prominent pieces that offer a window into the minds of others and their ideas.

“No-No Boy” a novel by John Okada, follows an Japanese-American man in the aftermath of the Japanese-American Internment during World War II. The protagonist, Ichiro Yamada, returns to his home in Seattle, Washington after spending two years in internment and two years in federal prison for refusing to serve in the military and denounce the Japanese emperor. Ichiro struggles with finding his place in society, facing the moral and social fallbacks of his decision.

Dr. Taranath shared this brief overview of “No-No Boy” as the novel gave a voice to the silent anger of Japanese evacuees.

The second piece we discussed is a poem entitled “Halfbreed Girl in the City School” by Jo Cochran. The subject in this poem is a young girl who faces stares, questions, and torment from her peers and some adults at her school who are preoccupied by her ethnicity. “You are dark enough to question. You are light enough to ask” say the children at her school. The speaker of this poem offers a glimpse inside the little girl’s world as someone who is different from the majority surrounding her.

Dr. Taranath asked us to reflect on the messages in these two pieces and how they reflect identity. We considered the importance of understanding others in our world and how literature helps us keep our personal worlds growing and our minds stretching.


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