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AAPI/Jewish Heritage Month Spotlight: Rabbi Mira Rivera

Mira Rivera is all about spreading the word of Judaism to those who seek it. Rivera was born in Michigan to Filipino immigrants. Despite being born in the U.S., she was raised by her grandmother in the Philippines before being educated in Varanasi, India. She developed a love for dance early in her childhood.

Rivera eventually found her passion for dance led her back to the U.S. as she enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She graduated with a BFA in Film and the Founders Day Award. Following her time at Tisch, the rabbi danced for the Martha Graham Dance Company and Ensemble under renowned choreographer Yuriko Kikuchi. She spent some time performing in Broadway and off-Broadway productions through the Actors’ Equity. She taught school-aged children through National Dance Institute and the Irene Diamond Summer Institute during her dance career.

Rivera pursued her passion for dance while also exploring her Jewish faith. She taught young children at local synagogues and also practiced yoga and meditation while attending services at B’nai Jeshurun. This love for Judaism led her to enroll at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where she became officially ordained in 2015 and earned her MA in Jewish Studies. She was the first Filipino-American woman to earn this degree. Her studies eventually led her to a chaplain residency at Mount Sinai Hospital after being accepted into Romemu Center’s Jewish Emergent Network Rabbinic Fellowship.

Rivera was an Associate Rabbi and Board Certified Chaplain at Kehillat Romemu in NYC from 2018 to 2022 after completing her residency. During her tenure, she took charge of several initiatives such as the Community Kitchen, Morning Minyan, and Social Action Committee. Later, she took a break from her duties to serve as Rabbi-in-Residence for The LUNAR Collective and JCC Harlem, which cater to Asian American Jews and Jews of color, respectively.

Rivera’s work as a rabbi has extended to social justice causes. She collaborated with the Rabbinical Council of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and the National Council of Jewish Women. Recently, she co-founded a safe space for Jews of Color called the Harlem Havruta and also established the Jewish Women of Color Resilience Circle following the events of 2020.

Rabbi Mira Rivera has been using her platform to promote unity between the Jewish and BIPOC communities. Her efforts have brought attention to those who have been underrepresented in the faith. Rivera has demonstrated strong leadership by empowering and uplifting others. I will say, “Rabbir Rivera, we appreciate you representing and serving marginalized communities.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable, My Rock and My Redeemer.

Mira Rivera

Jewish Heritage Month Spotlight: Richard Hall

Richard Hall amplified and humanized the LGBTQ+ community through his words. Born as Richard Hirshfeld, Hall was born in New York, New York to Southern Jewish parents. From an early age, he faced discrimination as his family was the target of an anti-Semintic incident forcing them to uproot and change their surname. After high school, he was drafted during World War II, serving in the U.S. Army.

After WWII, Hall enrolled at Harvard University, where he graduated cum laude in 1948. He entered the advertising and public relations field upon graduating. He worked for J. Walter Thompson and Western Electric and Celanese. His time in those fields led him to switch up his life and enroll in New York University, where he obtained his master’s degree in English Education. After completing his master’s, the writer secured a faculty position at Inter American University in San Juan, P.R. He flexed his writing aptitude as the acting director of the school’s University Press.

After his career in academia, Hall pursued writing full-time and published his most famous work, The Butterscotch Prince, in 1975. He expanded his reach into the magazine industry, contributing both fiction and nonfiction essays to the growing gay and lesbian media. As a book reviewer and critic for publications such as The Advocate, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Village Voice, he became the first openly gay member of the National Book Critics Circle. Hall’s varied talents and interests have allowed him to make a significant impact in the literary world.

As a writer, Hall expanded his repertoire by creating a trilogy of plays called Three Plays for a Gay Theater. He also published several collections of short stories, including Couplings (1981), Letter from a Great Uncle (1985), and Fidelities (1992). His semi-autobiographical novel, Family Fictions, marked his return to writing longer works.

Unfortunately, Family Fictions and Fidelities proved to be his last works as Richard Hall died from complications related to AIDS on October 29, 1992. His death happened four years after his longtime partner Arthur Marceau.

Richard Hall aimed to promote acceptance and equality for the LGBTQ community. Through his writing, he gave the community a platform to express themselves beyond narrow stereotypes. Unfortunately, his contributions have been overlooked compared to other writers of his era. I will say, “Mr. Hall, we appreciate you using your words to take the otherness away from the LGBTQ community.”

Nowadays, a gay novel rarely explains, complains or apologizes.

Richard Hall

AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: David Henry Hwang

David Henry Hwang showed that Asian American voices are a necessity on Broadway. As the eldest of three children, Hwang was born and raised in Los Angeles, California to a banker father and a piano teacher. His parents were avid supporters of the Asian American theatre company East West Players, which rubbed off on the young writer. He began writing short stories at age 12 to comfort his ailing grandmother. With his family’s support, he pursued a writing career by enrolling at Stanford University.

During his time in college, he kickstarted his writing career by creating his first play called FOB. This was the first of his “Trilogy of Chinese America” series and was inspired by his studies with award-winning playwright Sam Shepard and attending Padua Hills Playwrights Festival. He ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in English before enrolling in the Yale School of Drama’s graduate program. However, he dropped out once his first play began workshopping in New York. Following the success of FOB, he went on to write The Dance and the Railroad and Family Devotions. His career in the theater continued to flourish with his reimagining of M. Butterfly, which made him the first Asian American to win the Tony Award for Best Play and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

While achieving success in the theater world, Hwang also made a name for himself in film and TV. In 1985, he wrote his first TV movie, Blind Alleys, which starred Cloris Leachman and Pat Morita. He went on to write a film adaptation of M. Butterfly, as well as a romantic drama, Golden Gate, featuring Matt Dillon. Additionally, he contributed to an early version of the 2002 mystery Possession. Hwang’s accomplishments extended to Broadway, where he achieved two major successes – the Tony-winning musical Aida and the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.

Without revealing any details about the author, it can be said that they have a remarkable career in theatre and opera. They have written several plays, including Yellow Face, which earned them a second opportunity to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In addition, they have co-written the books for Disney’s Tarzan and an operatic adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The author’s prolific writing continued throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with notable works such as Chinglish and Kung Fu, a play based on the life of Bruce Lee. Their most recent achievement, a timely musical called Soft Power, written in collaboration with Jeanine Tseori, earned them their third Pulitzer Prize finalist nomination.

Hwang has made a name for himself in the film and TV industry by writing screenplays for animated films. He also worked as a writer and consulting producer on the critically acclaimed Showtime drama The Affair from 2015 to 2019. He has several exciting projects lined up, including a live-action adaptation of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and an Anna May Wong biopic featuring Gemma Chan from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He will be returning to TV as the showrunner for the upcoming series Billion Dollar Whale.

David Henry Hwang was a trailblazer in promoting Asian and Asian American culture on Broadway. He skillfully combined Eastern and Western influences and used his platform to showcase diverse storytelling. Although his contributions as a theater impresario have not always been recognized, I will say, “Mr. Hwang, we appreciate the diverse storytelling you brought to the stage.”

You can’t be a playwright without believing there’s an audience for adventurous work.

David Henry Hwang

Jewish Heritage Month Spotlight: Judy Chicago

As the Foremother of feminist art, Judy Chicago placed women and feminity at the center of the art world. Born as Judith Cohen, Chicago was raised by a labor organizer and medical secretary in Chicago, Illinois. Her feminist roots were stoked at an early age by her progressive father while her love of art came from her dancer mother. Her world was devastated at age 13 by the sudden death of her father. She continued cultivating her artistic talents through classes at the Art Institute of Chicago before enrolling at UCLA.

Chicago thrived briefly at UCLA before dropping out to live in New York with her first husband. She eventually completed her BFA upon the couple moving to Chicago. After her first husband’s death, she completed her MFA in painting and sculpture. The visual artist tried fitting in with the LA art scene’s “boys club.” She eventually grew tired of this disposition by changing her last name to Chicago and putting on her first solo show in 1970. She began teaching full-time at Fresno State College at the same time. She spearheaded the first Feminist Art Program at the college. Chicago re-established the program at the California Institute of the Arts (known as CalArts) after leaving Fresno State.

This period led to her best-known exhibition called Womanhouse, where she and other female artists showcased their artwork. The project bolstered her most influential work, The Dinner Party, which highlighted women across history. Despite being a feminist art benchmark now, mostly male art critics called the exhibition and Chicago’s work “vaginas on plates.” However, due to the public interest in her work, she continued highlighting womanhood in her work in the 1980s and 1990s with Birth Project and Power Play. The artist shifted gears briefly into masculinity with The Holocaust Project.

Chicago has been active as both an artist and educator. She has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with numerous solo exhibitions and group shows featuring artists who draw inspiration from her work. Her first retrospective was held at the De Young Museum, following her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Chicago’s feminist art is represented in several permanent collections around the world, including the British Museum and Getty Trust

Judy Chicago used her platform to showcase the art and voices of women who were overlooked by the traditional art world. Her work established a model for feminist art that has endured for years. Despite the value of her art, her contributions as an artist have not received the recognition they deserve. As Chicago continues to create groundbreaking work, I will say, “Ms. Chicago, we appreciate you bringing women out of the shadows and into the spotlight they deserve.”

I think what’s important is to give space to the range of human experience.

Judy Chicago

AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: Bernice Bing

Bernice Bing spent most of her life reflecting Eastern and Western culture through her work. Bing was the eldest of two girls born in San Francisco, California. She and her sister spent their childhood bouncing between foster homes, the notorious Ming Quong orphanage, and their grandmother’s home, following the loss of their parents. Her grandmother fostered her love of the arts, leading the academically challenged Bing to enter local and regional competitions. After graduating high school, she briefly attended the California College of Arts and Crafts before transferring to the San Francisco Art Institute, where she received an MFA in painting.

Following graduation, Bing continued to merge her love of calligraphy and Chinese philosophy in her work. She was heavily involved in the Bay Area Beat Era art scene, participating in several exhibitions during her graduate and post-graduate studies. At the same time, she maintained a studio in San Francisco. The visual artist failed to gain traction with her work and disappeared for a few years. She reemerged in the late 1960s for an exhibition in Berkley before joining the Esalen Institute’s first residential program to continue her philosophy studies. Her involvement in the arts wasn’t affected as she worked with organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, the Neighborhood Arts Program, and the San Francisco Art Festival. Her activism expanded into her local community as she organized an art workshop with the Chinatown gang, the Baby Wah Chings, in the wake of the 1977 Golden Dragon Massacre.

Bing continued working in arts administration as the first executive director for the South of Market Cultural Center (now known as SOMArts) from 1980 to 1984. Her tenure as director led to the program expanding significantly. Her time as an arts administrator ended after she returned to her first loves – painting and philosophy. She traveled throughout China, Japan, and Korea from 1984 to 1985 to get closer to her culture. She studied traditional Chinese ink landscape painting and calligraphy while presenting lectures on Abstract Expressionism.

In her later years, Bing took on menial jobs to support herself after her Southeast Asian trip. Things took a turn for the better as the mixed media artist found a sisterhood with Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA). Fostering this association helped Bing to create later works like the “Cosmic Gap” series and Lotus Root. The painter died on August 18, 1998, after a battle with cancer.

Bernice Bing skillfully incorporated her Chinese heritage into her art as a way of celebrating the culture that had been denied to her for so long. Despite her exceptional talent as a painter, her work was largely overlooked during her lifetime. However, the art world is now beginning to recognize and appreciate her contributions. I will say, “Ms. Bing, we appreciate you skillfully blending your artistic talents and ancestral roots epically.”

Art has really been the way I have been able to understand both cultures, and to undo the wrongdoing of both cultures.

Bernice Bing

Making the Best of a Creative Spring

Flowers are blooming. Birds are chirping. The sun is shining. There’s inspiration everywhere for any creative to craft the best art of their life. However, trying to hit the creative spark while the moment strikes can be overwhelming. Don’t worry about trying to capture the moment. The advice below shows what may work for you in making this best creative Spring ever!

Declutter and reorganize your space

Every artist has an organizational system. But sometimes, you need a little refresher to clear your mind. You can start by getting down to the bare essentials with some decluttering. Your supplies, tools, and a few extras are needed to get those creative juices going. Create organized accessibility with small bins and dividers to make your essentials available. Sketch/notebooks and small calendars are the perfect organizational companions to help you plan your projects.

Photo by Tiana on

Plan out your spring and summer projects

Spring and summer are the prime times to plot out your creative endeavors. Sun, nature, and warm temperatures can inspire you to create art. But don’t forget to plan your projects to prevent being overwhelmed. Grabbing a sketchbook or calendar can help you plan out your next artwork. Plot out every stage, from pre-planning to the final stage, to keep yourself on track. Schedule some days off between projects for rest or catch up on long-term projects.

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Collaborate with other creatives

Warmer weather always brings out the collaborative spirit amongst creatives. Before jumping into a collab, think about the person(s) you want to spend time with. Discussing with them can make or break if you are the right fit. Joining forces with another artist can yield more comprehensive projects that are time-consuming alone. It can be beneficial for both parties.

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Change up your scenery

Sometimes, working in the same space can stifle your creative juices. Changing up locations may be the solution to get them flowing again. It might be as simple as going to a different corner of your studio. Other times, you need to escape and mingle amongst your fellow citizens. You can sit in another room or area in your home or your favorite coffee shop or have a nice day at the park. You can even make it a meetup with friends or loved ones to spark more artistic inspiration.

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Allow those creative breaks

While working on new projects can be cathartic, artist burnout is real. You can tap your creative well dry, which leads to frustration and anger over a lack of progress. You can avoid that by taking mental and emotional breaks from your creative work. Planning resting time between projects usually helps to alleviate exhaustion. If the feeling or mood persists, you might need to take an extended break from your projects until you feel the need to be creative again.

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Take what you need from this advice to make this the most creative Spring and Summer of your life.

The Father of Earth Day: Gaylord Nelson

Gaylord Nelson dedicated his life to improving the world. In 1916, Nelson was born to a nurse and country doctor in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. Growing up in the wilderness stoked his interest in environmentalism, but state hero Senator “Fighting Bob” La Follette influenced his progressive politics. After graduating high school, he took his political ambitions to San Jose State University in California, where he majored in political science.

Following his time at San Jose State, Nelson received his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. He practiced law in the state before joining the Army during World War II. The young lawyer continued practicing until starting his political career in 1948. He served as a state senator before becoming the thirty-fifth Governor of Wisconsin. His time as governor brought reforms to education, health care, and infrastructure. However, his most notable contribution was overhauling the state’s natural resource program into the Department of Resource Development and establishing the Youth Conservation Corps. He created the Outdoor Recreation Acquisition Program to conserve land in his home state.

Nelson continued to merge politics and environmentalism when he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. His ecologically-conscious efforts led to legislation like the Wilderness Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. The environmentalist authored legislation to create a national hiking trail system. He introduced the first federal laws for better fuel-efficiency automobile standards, controlled strip mining, and banned certain harmful substances in everyday items such as detergents and pesticides.

Unfortunately, his time as a U.S. Senator ended in 1980 after losing his re-election bid. He continued his conservation work by serving the Wilderness Society for several years. In his later years, his media presence increased while speaking about ecology, including being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died from heart failure on July 3, 2005, at age 89.

Gaylord Nelson used his legislative power to preserve nature for future generations. His environmental work continues with the efforts of well-known environmentalists and conservation organizations. His contributions as a politician and environmentalist have continued to thrive despite efforts to roll back his legislation. I want to say, “We all appreciate your fortitude and love for the wilderness to make the U.S. more beautiful and sustainable, Mr. Nelson.”

The Unsung Traditions of Easter Monday

Traditionally, Easter is celebrated on the second Sunday in April. However, not all denominations and cultures did so in the past. The designated day wasn’t an official holiday until Pope Victor I decreed it between 189 and 199 AD. Despite his decree, certain cultures celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on Monday instead.

Eastern Orthodox/Greek Rite Celebration

Compared to other Christian faiths, Eastern Orthodox and Greek Rite churches observe the Resurrection of Jesus for an entire week, known as Bright Week. The observance begins Easter Sunday with traditional services, including Holy Liturgy and outdoor procession, through the Second Sunday of Easter (or Thomas Sunday). As the practice has evolved, the faithful only observe on Monday and two additional days.

On Easter Monday, parishioners will attend services. If the day falls on the feast day of a significant saint, they will celebrate the particular saint on that day.

Informal U.S. Holiday

While not an official holiday in the United States, the Monday following Easter is considered an informal holiday in certain states and cities. Public school systems and universities in specific states include the day in an Easter four-day weekend. Easter Monday is part of some school districts and states’ Spring Break.

Polish-American populations throughout the midwestern and northeastern U.S. continue the long-held tradition of Dygnus Day. They often carry on with various celebrations, including polka bands and parades.

Unofficial African-American Holiday

For Black Americans, Easter Monday holds a special place in the culture. This tradition reportedly stems from Washington, DC-area Black families not being invited to the White House Easter Egg Roll. Another theory ties the day to Black housekeepers getting the day off after working on Easter Sunday. It reportedly started in 1891 when Black families wore Easter dress clothing to the National Zoo the day after Easter.

Families go to the National Zoo for a day filled with an Easter egg hunt, trivia games, music, and an appearance from the Easter Panda. In the past, the tradition originally included storytelling and performances from various parts of the diaspora, including gospel and reggae groups and a double-dutch jump rope team.

Forgotten Easter Figure: Saint Victor I

Pope Victor I left his mark on the Christian faith that still endures now. Given the lack of records during his lifetime, there’s very little information about him before dedicating his life to God. Victor I was reportedly born in Roman Empire-controlled African territory during the early second century to a commoner named Felix. At some point in his life, he decided to join the Catholic Church as a brother.

Within a few years after joining the Church, Saint Victor began rising up the ranks as a changemaker and philanthropist. He ascended to the 14th pope in 189 AD and the first African. Victor credited with saving the lives of many Christians from religious persecution. He reportedly worked with Emperor Commodous’s alleged mistress Marcia to help imprisoned Christians at the Saradina mines get pardoned. During his time as the pope, Christians were allowed to practice their faith and serve in higher office freely.

Victor continued making changes within the Church as he wrote and spoke in Latin, becoming the first non-Greek-speaking pope in the leadership’s history. In doing so, he became the first pope to conduct liturgy and write documents in the Romantic language.

His most notable contribution came through his hardened unification of Easter Sunday. During his reign, Catholics in the East celebrated Passover over Easter compared to their western counterparts. Victor made a decree that Christians would celebrate the resurrection on a specific day. Some factions ignored his orders despite the threat of excommunication from the Church. Some bishops within the Church came out against him, leading to the Quartodeciman controversy.

Pope Victor I reportedly continued the position until 199 AD when he passed away. He immediately ascended to martyrdom upon his death as Saint Victor.

Saint Victor I may have ruled with an iron fist, but he made his mark during his ten short years as the pope. His contributions as a religious and community leader changed how Christians celebrated Jesus’ resurrection.

Forgotten Female Figures: Ella Baker

As the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Ella Baker helped shape and mold a movement that would change the world. Baker was the middle child of three born in Norfolk, Virginia, before moving to North Carolina following a race riot. She grew up listening to her grandmother tell stories from slavery, stoking her quest for social justice. After graduating high school, she attended the HBCU Shaw University, where she graduated with honors.

Following graduation, Baker moved to Harlem to seek work but got involved in multiple civil justice organizations. Her time in Harlem was fruitful as she balanced her work at the National Negro News and the WPA with her community efforts as a member of the Young Negroes Cooperative League. In 1938, the civil rights leader began her longtime association with the NAACP, starting as field secretary before becoming National Director of Branches from 1944 to 1946. She eventually stepped down from the position for family reasons before returning to the New York branch as its president (the first woman to hold said position).

Baker desired to move back down South, leading her to relocate to Atlanta, Georgia. The activist helped to form the influential civil rights organization, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), along with Bayard Ustin, C.K. Steele, Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, Joseph Lowery, and Ralph Abernathy. She played a significant role by framing the issues and setting the group’s agenda. However, she faced resistance from the predominately male leadership, including Dr. King, upon her appointment as interim executive director. This schism and differences in activism philosophies led her to leave the organization in 1960.

Her frustration turned to action as she helped form the student-led activist organization Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) with students at her alma mater. Baker mentored future civil rights leaders like Julian Bond, Diane Nash, and Stokely Carmichael. At the same time, she helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to fight for voting rights. She backed away from SNCC as the organization pivoted toward the Black Power movement.

In her later years, Baker worked for the Southern Conference Education Fund (SCEF), where she aided in getting federal civil rights legislation passed by Congress. She eventually returned to New York, continuing her activist work through various causes and organizations. The civil rights leader died on her 83rd birthday, December 13, 1986, from natural causes.

Ella Baker served as a voice for those who faced discrimination and prejudice in trying to advance society. She fought for Black women to have a seat at the table in the fight for civil rights and equality. Unfortunately, her contributions as a civil rights leader weren’t the proper credence during or after her time. While history may refer to her as a footnote, I will say, “Ms. Baker, we appreciate all you did to make life better for future generations.”

Give light and people will find the way.

Ella Baker
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