Carlene Bonnivier: Retracing her Filipino roots and enriching cultural identity


With green eyes, light hair, a pronounced nose and light skin, it’s easy to assume that 75-year-old Carlene Bonnivier is of European descent.But if anyone were to ask what ethnicity she identifies with, she would say she’s Filipino.

Born to a Swedish-French father and Filipino-Spanish mother, Bonnivier is half European and only one-quarter Filipino. She has been to the Philippines twice and speaks limited Tagalog.

Still, she identifies most strongly with her Filipino roots.

Bonnivier spent her former years growing up on the corner of Temple St. and Westlake Ave. in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Historic Filipinotown during the 1940s where she lived with her mother and sister.

“I grew up knowing I didn’t look Filipino, but I didn’t look like anybody in the neighborhood,” she says.

The Filipino population in her neighborhood was scarce—they were more concentrated in the Figueroa and Temple area—but Bonnivier was well aware of and strongly connected to that part of her ethnicity.

This was mainly because the Filipinos her mother met often visited their home. Some were chauffeurs, houseboys, cooks, dishwashers and farmers, who came frequently enough to inform them about what was happening in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation.

It was Bonnivier’s mother, Marciana Sobrino, who was responsible for setting the family’s roots in Historic Filipinotown. Sobrino met Bonnivier’s father, Gerhard Gustav Bonnivier, in the Philippines in the 1930s when he joined the US Cavalry. He was stationed in Baguio, around the area Marciana lived. Then they got married, and endured a series of partings and reunions throughout the years.

Eventually, Gerhard sent for his wife (who was eight months pregnant with Carlene at the time) and their daughter Gerri so that the family could be together in Northern California.

Two weeks after the couple was reunited, Gerhard died.

With no friends or relatives up north, Marciana found Bunker Hill in Los Angeles where Filipinos were allowed to live in the 1940s.

And two weeks after Gerhard’s death, Bonnivier was born.

Upon arriving in Historic Filipinotown, Marciana found a boarding house and secured a job at a factory where she worked for nine years at a wage of 18 cents per hour. She typically worked eight to 10 hours a day, leaving Gerri in charge for the most part, an expectation held of the panganay (eldest child) in Filipino families.

Bonnivier’s encounters with Filipinos went beyond those her mother invited over. At the age of 10, she took a trip to Delano where she witnessed how Filipino farm workers slept on wooden boards and spring boards, how plumbing in their living spaces were dysfunctional, and how they were treated poorly. The mere recollection of seeing all of that at a young age brings tears to her eyes.

“What I definitely noticed growing up was that with the Filipinos, there is a gentleness… but they understood it wasn’t received as gentleness. It was received as weakness or stupidity. They wouldn’t say anything. But what I mean is, that gentleness was, I think, natural to Filipinos and it was not well received in America. That’s what I saw,” she says.

In addition to Bunker Hill, Bonnivier’s family had lived in three other areas in Historic Filipinotown: Beaudry, Burlington and Westlake. When she reached her high school years, her family moved to Inglewood. The area was predominantly white at the time, she says, and while she blended in with her physical appearance, the same could not be said of her cultural values.

One memory that stands out is an event that played out in her junior year, when a non-Filipino peer invited Bonnivier to her house to listen to records. The girl had her own room, her own record player and records.

“I was just astounded by this sort of luxury living,” Bonnivier says, laughing.

When it was time for dinner, Bonnivier instinctively – given her cultural background – made her way to the table.

But dinner time for the girl’s family meant something completely different.

“One of her parents said, ‘It’s time for dinner. You should go home now,’” Bonnivier recalls.

She was shocked.

“I couldn’t even speak. Luckily I don’t blush, but if I had, I would have been beet red. It was like I had been slapped,” she says.

At the time, Bonniver had no clue why she was being sent away from the table.

“I was really embarrassed. I was mortified,” she says.

Bonnivier has an abundance of such stories to share about her younger years. She is a published writer (some of her works include “Seeking Thirst ” and “Autobiography of a Stranger”) and says her writing comes from the first 10 years of her life. In “Seeking Thirst,” part of the storyline focuses on an orphan who lives in Historic Filipinotown for a period of time as she figures out her identity, a process that parallels what Bonnivier had experienced.

Her most recent book, “Filipinotown: Voices from Los Angeles,” is a compilation of stories, poems, maps, newspaper articles, photos and various documents that bring to life the earlier years of Historic Filipinotown. Today, the area remains home to many Filipino organizations, churches, medical clinics and hospitals.

Contents of the book include a poem by Johneric Concordia, founder and owner of The Parks Finest restaurant; a letter from Bonnivier requesting the addition of Filipino-American author Carlos Bulosan’s novel, “America is in the Heart,” to the Library of Congress’ list of 100 Books that Shaped America; a map of Little Manila; photographs and writings depicting the struggle of Filipino World War II veterans against discrimination after being denied benefits as US veterans; and the proclamation signed by former president Bill Clinton declaring Oct. 26, 1996, as a day honoring Filipino veterans in World War II.

In addition to being a writer, Bonnivier was formerly a teacher at University of California Irvine where she worked with ESL students and those who struggled with the subject.

“I love working with students like that, partly because my mom only finished third grade and struggled to read and write,” she says.

A lot of things for Bonnivier trace back to her Filipina mother. For one, Marciana always made people comfortable at their home. Bonnivier mirrors the hospitality she describes in her mother.

At her house in Long Beach, she’s quick to offer a seat, pecan cookies, coffee, and explain all the memorabilia and framed photos and artwork in her living room, even without necessarily knowing her guest too well.

Upon stepping foot into her home, one immediately visible frame surrounds a black and white sketch highlighting her mother’s eyes. There are also several figurines she collected during her travels. One of them is a green dragon-like head from Thailand.

Among corners of the globe she’s touched include Austria and Bulgaria. She also trekked the Himalayas and visited Puerto Rico.

“It was the happiest time of my life,” she says of traveling. “I didn’t have a single key, not for a car or an apartment.”

For the six to seven months she explored the globe, Bonnivier shares that she made it a point to take notes in a journal, where she jotted down even the smallest details. In Nepal, she wrote about how when she got stuck playing the string game cat’s cradle, someone swooped in to help her out just at the sight of her needing assistance. In Puerto Rico, she took notes about a time when a young child simply crawled into her lap and sat there while she was reading the newspaper.

“That would never happen in America,” she says with a laugh.

Bonnivier planned on including the Philippines in her travels for two and a half years starting in 1972 through the Peace Corps. However, because former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos uninvited volunteers during his reign, she ended up spending that time in Malaysia.

Although she was not able to immerse herself in the culture in the Philippines, Bonnivier was exposed to multiple facets of it through her mother. One of these was cuisine, as Marciana would concoct Filipino dishes, such as adobo and sticky rice.

And even if Bonnivier can’t speak much Tagalog, she is acutely aware of what it’s like when the wrath of an angry Filipina mother unravels. Whenever Marciana lost her temper, the words that rolled off her tongue consisted of Hala! Hindi!, Bonnivier’s full name, and an expletive that Bonnivier thought sounded like “remember the Alamo!”

While she remembers how mad her mom could become, Bonnivier also recalls how tender she was, how people who didn’t know her family would assume her mom was her maid, and how Marciana handled prejudice well.

In 2010, at the age of 98, Marciana passed away, but it’s not an event Bonnivier dwells on. She reminisces more thoughtfully about how her mom was not always treated well because of her kindness.

“I had to protect my mother’s gentleness,” she says.

As she revisits the sights, scenes and events that have contributed to her identity as a Filipino, it’s a Wednesday morning at her home and Bonnivier is recovering from a hip operation. It’s not obvious, as she manages to walk, sit and stand up without assistance.

She’s in the process of undergoing rehab and relates that experience to her identity, since nearly all the nurses, nurse aids and physical therapists at the facility she visits are Filipino.

“I tell you, I would hear how they were talking to people, how they would try to convince someone they could turn over or be OK. They wouldn’t hurt them and the person might be yelling at them and screaming at them to go away, and they would keep talking to them. It’s just an amazing facility, to love, that just to me seems natural and it gets twisted around,” she says.

In Bonnivier’s most recent book, she acknowledges that Filipinos living away from home don’t necessarily know everything going on in the Philippines, but states this does not eliminate ties to their ethnic identity.

“We may not follow day-to-day what’s happening in the Philippines, in our villages or cities, but…We will always remember where we came from and the value of respecting our elders,” she writes.

http://asianjournal.com/aj-magazines/carlene-bonnivier-retracing-her-filipino-roots-and-enriching-cultural-identity/#sthash.GdKSWr0u.dpuf

Kinesiology professor challenges students to complete the LA Marathon


Andrew Polgar, 25, a kinesiology major trains for the LA Marathon. He ran 16 miles on Feb. 2 with a group of CSUN students, staff and alumni. Photo credit: Loren Townsley/ Photo Editor

While most people are still asleep as the sun creeps up over California’s skyline on weekends, the opposite is the case for runners training for the LA Marathon.

By 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, about 60 people (mostly CSUN students, faculty and alumni) converge at Granary Square in Valencia in preparation for the marathon, set for March 17.

“Once you’re out here it’s fine – everyone is psyched, everyone is pumped up. But to wake up at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday, the only day you get to sleep in, it’s a little bit of a challenge,” said Chloe Thornton, a kinesiology major at CSUN.

Steven Loy, professor of kinesiology, has volunteered to train community members to complete the LA Marathon since 2007 for free as part of a “Complete the LA Marathon Challenege” he spearheaded.

“If I’m going to do something to stay healthy and I’m going to do it anyway, why not take people along for the journey?” he said. “It’s certainly more available if you don’t charge.”

Participating in the marathon and decent shoes costs more than $100 each, and gas money to drive to Santa Clarita is another expense, Loy said.

“If you’ve got the knowledge, time and expertise to do something, then why not share?” he said.

Whether it’s raining or shining, windy or chilly, runners travel miles and miles on foot through the paseos of Santa Clarita. Loy chalks a multi-colored map of the trail on the parking lot of Granary Square so the group knows where to go. He also chalks arrows on the trail itself, pointing runners in the right direction.

The goal for participants isn’t necessarily to achieve a certain time, but to complete 26.2 miles on foot.

“That’s the objective,” Loy said. “I don’t care what speed you run at, because the goal of completing it is a goal in and of itself.”

The group only trains together on Saturdays, so they are responsible for putting in miles the rest of the week on their own. Even so, Loy sends words of encouragement via email to everyone throughout the week.

“Sometimes you feel like you don’t want to go on a run, and you’ll get one of Dr. Loy’s emails saying, ‘You better be doing your mid-week training!’ He pushes everybody,” Thornton said.

After seven years of training about 125 people, this will be the final challenge Loy organizes. After March, he will complete his fourth and final long run in April in the Boston Marathon.

While Loy prepares to retire from long distance running, some of the trainees under his wing are preparing for the first marathon of their lives, like Matthew Carroll, a CSUN alumnus.

“I don’t know if I would actually run this if I did it at my house,” he said.

For Carroll, the sense of community and being around a great group of people are reasons he comes out more than 40 miles away on the weekend.

Some participants have already completed one or more marathons but are back for another long run.

“I think it becomes addicting,” said Brenda Palomino, a CSUN alumna. “The last marathon I ran I said, ‘This is the last one I’m going to do.’ And I’m back here just looking forward to the challenge and learning from it.”

As March approaches, the runners add two miles to their workout each week until they hit 21 miles. Afterward, the training eases, composed of rest days and easier runs until the marathon.

This Saturday, they’ll cover 18 miles of Santa Clarita’s paseos.

http://sundial.csun.edu/2013/02/kinesiology-professor-challenges-students-to-complete-the-la-marathon/

Learning Through Travel – St. Francis Student Shares Argentina Experience

Nov. 10, 2011

Paul Dean poses in front of the Casa Rosada, the “White House” of Argentina. (Photo courtesy of Paul Dean)

Eight weeks in Argentina was all it took for Paul Dean’s perspective on the world to change.

“[This trip] made me think I’m pretty small in the world, and I can affect how countries view each other,” said the St. Francis High School senior.

And now, after having gone to South America, Dean is considering pursuing intercultural business.

Dean traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina this past summer through AFS, a non-profit international exchange organization that operates in more than 50 countries. It allows students and adults to learn about different cultures through various programs.

“For students who realize that there is a world beyond Southern California, an AFS exchange can present a once in a lifetime opportunity to live not as a tourist, but as a citizen of your host country,” said Matthew Jacobs, volunteer sending coordinator for AFS in Greater Los Angeles.

Those who participate in the program live with a local family, attend school in the country they visit, and meet people in that country.

Dean did all of these, and observed differences between the American and Argentinean education systems.

“Schooling there is a really big problem,” he said.

Since he was there during the summer, he wasn’t required to take tests or complete assignments, as his credits wouldn’t count. However, he noticed that there were only three tests given during his time there, that teachers were lenient during class time, and that there was hardly any homework given.

After attending school at Rio de la Plata Sur, Dean finds the American education system better.

“A lot of times teachers there are seen as friends rather than authority figures,” he said.

Another aspect of the culture that stood out to Dean was the friendliness of the Argentinean people.

“If you ever need help if you’re trying to speak Spanish, they’re more than helpful,” he said. “Friendship means a lot to them…. People were glad to meet me.”

Paul Dean poses with his Argentine host family and friends on his last night before returning to California. (Photo courtesy of Paul Dean)

What also helped Dean fit right in was his love for soccer, as the sport is popular in Argentina.

“I’m a soccer player, but soccer in the U.S. is nothing compared to soccer in Argentina. Soccer is like more than a religion there,” he said.

One of the highlights of Dean’s trip occurred on his second day in the country when a riot broke out following the demotion of River Plate, an Argentinean soccer team.

“For a week, that’s the only thing people talked about,” he said.

While the AFS program is designed to have participants live like locals, Dean also visited tourist sights including La Casa Rosada (which literally means “The Pink House” and is the equivalent of America’s White House), El Obelisco and La Plata.

Dean’s participation in the program was encouraged by his mom Terri, who at one point was an exchange student in Ecuador through AFS. Like her son, Terri’s experience gave her an appreciation of different cultures and people. She also remains in touch with her host family and sees several of them every few years.

“The fact I still have another family in another country and still keep in touch is a pretty special relationship,” she said.

Dean said he recommends the program 110%.

Paul Dean is seen here with his host family at an amusement park, “Ciudad de los Ninos.” (Photo courtesy of Paul Dean)

“If you’re willing to give up one summer … it will change your view and you’ll have a ton of fun doing it,” he said. “It’s hard missing your family [while you’re away], but it’s something that’s worth it. I’m glad I did this while I have time.”

More information about AFS programs is available at www.afsla.org and www.afs.org.

Former GCC Softball Player Pursues R&B Career

June 8, 2011

Jamie Avancena

She’s a descendant of a former Philippine president, but that’s not how Jamie Avanceña wants to be labeled.

“I want people to know me for me, [not as the great granddaughter of former President Jose Laurel],” the San Marino resident said.

Avanceña, 23, is initially shy when it comes to meeting people. It’s not an expected personality trait of athletes or aspiring artists, but she is: an athlete, an aspiring artist, and, at first encounter, she’s a bit shy.

It is clear from her activities that Avanceña has a knack for sports. At the age of 4 she began playing golf, and at the same time she took ballet, tap, and hip-hop dance lessons. She began playing softball when she was 7 years old, and continued playing the sport in middle school and high school. In 2001 and 2003 the teams she played for won the Little League World Series, and beat Arizona in the 2002 USA Nationals.

Avanceña attended GCC from 2006 to 2008 and was nominated softball team captain in the 2007-08 school year. During her attendance at Glendale, she ranked in the Western State Conference.

“She was probably one of the hardest workers and one of the finest kids we had as a leader,” softball coach Dave Wilder said. “[She was] absolutely the greatest kid … [she was] a very, very good student. [She] worked hard, never talked back and was always there for everybody.”

In the time she played softball, Avanceña received the recognition typical of star athletes. But that type of attention wasn’t something she sought.

“The only reason people knew me was because of sports,” she said. Beyond that, people didn’t know much about her and she even felt invisible.

Avanceña was offered a full scholarship to the University of the Philippines for her achievements in softball, and she attended college there for a year. Yet despite where her athletic talent landed her, she relinquished her scholarship and came back to California.

While her mom wanted her to play softball, she didn’t know for sure if playing for the national softball team of the Philippines was her dream, or if it was her mom’s.

“I grew up with a family where I felt like I couldn’t be myself,” she said. “I felt like I was in their shadow.”

Other members of the aspiring artist’s family were active in Philippine politics. The sons of former President Laurel became vice president, senators, and congressmen. Some other relatives include a former Minister of Labor of the Philippines and a current justice in Makati City.

She doesn’t intend to follow in her relatives’ political footsteps, but Avanceña sticks closer to the path of her uncle, Cocoy Laurel, an artist who has performed on Broadway.

Last summer she released her first album containing four R&B tracks. She co-wrote the fourth song on the album, “It’s My Time,” which is about her breaking out of her shell.

While Avanceña is pursuing a career in music, she admits to not always having had the qualities of a singer.

“The funny part is, growing up I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, I had no tone, no beat,” she said. Despite this, she said singing has always been her passion.

Avanceña first got into music when her grandmother, who she calls Lola Julie, encouraged her to sing karaoke when she was younger. The first song she learned to sing in tune was “Always and Forever” by the funk/disco band Heatwave.

Because she was close to her grandmother, Lola Julie’s death in 2005 presented a difficult time for the then-San Marino High School student. After getting through it, she decided to take a risk and see where her R&B music career would go.

“To this day whenever I sing I make sure to [also] sing for my other grandmother, my Mama Rose [who recently passed away],” she said. “I really sing for them and I got closer to God because of my grandmother Rose because she was in the Catholic Womens League.”

In the Philippines, Avanceña became a song leader in church because of her Mama Rose’s involvement there.

The stepping stone for the aspiring artist was when she auditioned for Tawag Ng Tanghalan, a singing competition, in 2008. The contest was held at the LA Convention Center, and she brought a CD that was incompatible with the player. She was left with no choice but to sing a capella, and she still managed to win third place.

“That’s when I realized to really believe in myself,” she said. “It gave me that confidence. I thought, ‘If the judges see something in me that I don’t see in myself, maybe I’m really meant to do this.'”

She is currently working on her next album with music producer and artist Big Rod from Fun Factory. Big Rod has worked with big names in the music industry including the Backstreet Boys and music manager Johnny Wright.

While Avanceña continues overcoming her shyness and trying to let loose, the music producer said the aspiring artist has a personality that’s easy to work with.

“She’s been an athlete all her life so she’s used to taking critique and then adjusting her game to it, and that’s what she does with her vocals also,” he said. “If I have a problem, I let her know, and she fixes it.”

Another positive aspect Big Rod highlighted about the singer is the unique vocal quality she possesses.

“Her voice is kind of a shape shifter,” the music producer said. “She can make her voice do what it wants to do. She has power … but she can bring it down and sing nice and mellow.”

The Filipina singer is wrapping up her second semester at Pasadena City College and preparing for her upcoming album. She has been listening to dance tracks and ballads, as these are the types of songs scheduled to be featured on her new record. She’ll also be moving to the Philippines during the summer to further her music career.

Despite having faced a lot of uncertainty before finally deciding to pursue a performance career, Avanceña recognizes the hurdles she’s faced as ones that have shaped her character.

“Everything that’s happened in the past has built me into the person I am today,” she said.

http://www.elvaq.com/home/index.cfm?event=displayArticle&ustory_id=2dfde02f-f856-43c3-bf91-21804f5766c4

Credit Unions Offer Alternative to Banks

May 11, 2011

GIVE THEM SOME CREDIT: The mission of credit unions is to serve their community members. Because they're not-for-profit institutions, community members will typically receive better rates and service than those at banks. (Photo by Agnes Constante)

Money just seems to be getting tighter and tighter these days, and for most people, there’s no choice but to live on a strict budget. Whether your money is in a savings account or locked in a time deposit, you’re really not seeing any more than chump change added to what you’ve got in the bank.

Credit unions offer a viable alternative to the for-profit model of banking institutions, and are able to offer a number of benefits to students based on their strucure:

1. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions

The main difference between banks and credit unions is that banks are for-profit institutions, while credit unions are not-for-profit institutions. This means that they are tax exempt and are there to serve the needs of members of the community.

Unlike banks, where customers don’t have a say in who runs the institution, credit unions are governed by a board of directors elected by their members. Board members are volunteers who don’t get paid.

2. At a credit union, you’re considered a shareholder

“When you open an account, technically you become a shareholder of the credit union,” Stuart Perlitsh, CEO of the Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union (GASFCU), said. “You then own a share of the credit union.”

As a shareholder you have a voice in who sits on the board of directors, and you even have the right to run for a position on board if you’d like.

3. You’ll get better rates

Since the goal of credit unions isn’t to profit, members reap the benefits if there’s any extra income.

“The more members we have, the stronger we become,” Carolynn Lyons, business development director of the Glendale City Federal Credit Union (GCFCU), said.

Benefits may come in the form of higher dividends on savings accounts and/or time deposits, and reduced interest rates on credit cards.

4. More than 28,000 ATMs

One common myth about credit unions is that there is a lack of accessible ATMs, but there are actually thousands available throughout the United States. Both the area schools and city federal credit unions are part of an ATM network consisting of more than 28,000 fee-free ATMs. This outnumbers the roughly 18,000 Bank of America ATMs and 12,000 Wells Fargo ATMs throughout the nation. An added convenience, Perlitsh said, is that there is no fee for withdrawing cash at any 7-Eleven.

Credit unions also typically provide locators on their websites so it’s easier to find an ATM close to you.

5. Your money is insured

Similarly to how money in a bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), funds at credit unions are also secure. Federal agencies like the National Credit Union Administration and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund typically cover $250,000 per account, just like the FDIC does for banks.

6. It’s easy to join!

If you live in a certain city, chances are you’ll be eligible for membership at a credit union. For instance, Burbank Community Federal Credit Union simply requires that a person lives, works, attends school, volunteers, worships, or belongs to an association in Burbank for membership eligibility. Similarly, the GASFCU only requires that a member is a student, faculty, or staff at GCC to open an account.

Most membership requirements can be found on the websites of the credit unions and by calling the institutions.

Other credit unions, like the GCFCU, have more specific requirements, such as being employed by the City of Glendale.

Even if you fall short of these requirements, the Glendale Area Schools credit union has partnered up with the city’s parent teacher association, while the Glendale City union has partnered up with and Friends of the Library. The unions will pay the fee for your membership in these city organizations, so that you are eligible to become part of the credit union.

Money might be getting tighter these days but there are credit unions around to genuinely help you make the most of what you’ve got.

Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union
1800 Broadview Drive
Glendale, CA 91208
(818) 248-7425 or (800) 844-5363
http://www.gasfcu.org

Glendale City Employees Federal Credit Union
517 E. Wilson Ave., Suite 102
Glendale, CA 91206
(818) 548-3976
http://www.glendalecitycu.org

http://www.elvaq.com/news/2011/05/11/Features/Credit.Unions.Offer.Alternative.To.Banks-3998284.shtml

From Leukemia to Legoland: Jonathan Larson’s Journey

May 19, 2010

MAKE A WISH: 10-year-old Jonathan Larson will be traveling to Denmark to celebrate the remission of his leukemia. He loves Legos and hopes to someday become an engineer. (Photo by Agnes Constante)

Dressed in a white T-shirt and khaki shorts, 8-year-old Jonathan Larson returns home from a morning hike with some of his friends.

It’s a Saturday morning in a peaceful neighborhood in northern Glendale near La Crescenta. The cool temperature clashing with the gentle warmth of the sun makes it the perfect weather to be outdoors, and Jonathan is up and about.

As the front door closes behind him, Larson makes his way to the couch and takes a seat. A few minutes after that he walks down the hall and takes a left into his bedroom.

Inside his room there is a tall, light blue bookshelf. There at the top are 10 trophies arranged in a slightly crooked row. The awards attest to his level of performance in soccer, karate and basketball.

On the floor next to his bed is a mini DVD player. A friend slept over at his house and they watched a movie the night before.

But it isn’t any of these objects that is most catching to the eye.

At an angle across his bed sits a chest filled with Legos. Near the chest lay a few complex Lego creations, all originally designed by Larson himself.

He’s eager to talk about his interests, particularly his passion for Legos. He shares that he will be visiting the original Legoland park in Billund, Denmark with his family during the summer, and is excited about the trip.

Visiting Legoland certainly isn’t an ordinary journey that kids of Larson’s age get to embark on, but what’s more out of the ordinary is the journey Larson began when he was just 4 years old.

On Dec. 5, 2005 at 3 p.m., he was confirmed positive for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, cancer of the blood where the count of white blood cells are significantly higher than red blood cells.

“One day in kindergarten, my face turned pale,” he says carefully, giving much thought to how the events played out that day. “And then my teacher called my parents and said my face is pale. So that night my parents took me to the hospital, and then they found out I had cancer.”

In December of last year, Larson was formally selected as a recipient of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and was honored with an award ceremony at the Grove in Los Angeles.

Since its inception in 1980, the foundation has granted the wishes of children between the ages of 2 1/2 to 18 with life-threatening medical conditions.

In the process of deciding what wish to grant him, Tessa Bowser, director of development and communications for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, said, “when the volunteers went over to his house to interview him to determine what his wish would be, he was just showing them all of his Legos. He was so excited.”

The day of Larson’s diagnosis is one that his mom, Annette, remembers clearly.

“I thought I died,” she says, taking a painful walk down memory lane. “I was nauseated, I was sick to my stomach. It’s really hard to describe. It was the worst feeling in my whole life.”

For the next 3 1/2 years, the then 4-year-old underwent intensive treatment, ingesting multiple pills and undergoing chemotherapy on a daily basis. He also became subject to intravenous chemotherapy once a month, and lumbar puncture, also known as the spinal tap. The procedure involved the insertion of a needle into his spinal canal for the withdrawal of his spinal fluids, and was necessary to ensure that the cancer did not spread to his brain.

In addition to the medications and procedures he had to endure, Larson suffered low blood count, which required him to go through multiple blood transfusions.

The first six months of Larson’s treatment were the most intense. The heavy-duty chemotherapy that bombarded his small body to eradicate the cancer cells caused him to lose hair and significantly compromised his immune system.

“He didn’t have an immune system to speak of,” says Annette. “He had to stay home, he couldn’t see visitors, he had to wear a mask if he went outside. He was literally isolated.”

From the frequent washing of hands to changing their clothes as soon as they got home, Larson’s family had to take extreme precautions in order to shield him from outside germs.

Having no choice but to stay at home for the most intensive months of his treatment, Larson’s interest in Legos grew and developed.

“Legos literally kept him sane, because that’s what he did – he built Legos,” Annette says. “[During] the chemo days, those are the things that kept his brain working, that kept him motivated, that kept him happy.”

Sitting in front of the fireplace, Larson holds two Lego creations, one in each hand, and explains what he has designed. The one in his right hand is a cross between a truck and an airplane, while the one in his left is simply a helicopter with a Legoman sitting in the cockpit.

He is quite the expert when it comes to Legos, and knows about them to such an extent that he is able to distinguish certain pieces that are no longer in production. He is owns at least two rare Lego accessories, one of which is a small, transparent yellow head that can be easily attached to a Legoman body.

Larson’s passion for these toys has influenced his aspiration to someday become an engineer, because “they build stuff,” just like he does with Legos.

Last month, Larson celebrated his 9th birthday. This year also marks his fourth year of living in remission, and in six more years he will be considered cured of his illness.

If he doesn’t have a relapse.

But it’s not a possibility that his family, nor Larson himself, likes to dwell on.

“You can’t think about these things,” says Annette. “As a parent, you can only take it one day at a time.”

“I was scared when I had cancer,” Larson admits, but he isn’t one to sulk in his more difficult days. He seems to prefer to share, on a lighter note, “[The cancer] went away when I was 7.”

At just barely a decade old, Larson’s positive attitude and resilience are qualities that are impossible to miss. He isn’t one to delve into the details of the battle he fought every day for 3 1/2 years.

Still, his battle isn’t over just yet.

“I have to go to the hospital every six or seven weeks to get a blood test,” he says. The tests are necessary to keep his condition monitored. “But I don’t have [cancer] anymore, but [the doctors] are making sure I don’t get it again,” he adds quickly, staying positive about his situation.

In the meantime, Larson continues to live his life like any average 9-year-old. He plays soccer and takes karate lessons; he enjoys exploring, likes reading funny books and has an interest in electronics.

Except unlike most kids his age, he gets to spend a week of his summer touring the Legoland park in Denmark.

Campus Hosts Genocide Commemoration Event

May 5, 2010

FIGHTING FOR RECOGNITION: Father Vazken Movsesian explains why the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is still relevant toady. (Photo by Jennifer Elbe)

In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were annihilated.

Some refer to what happened as a tragedy, and others use the phrase “Medz Yeghern,” meaning “great calamity,” to allude to it.

However, today, Armenians are still fighting for recognition of the catastrophe that occurred in 1915 as “genocide.”

The Armenian Student Association held a commemorative event marking the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 22 in LB 220 at noon.

The event featured guest speaker Father Vazken Movsesian, priest of the St. Peter Armenian Church in Glendale. He spoke about why the genocide should be recognized and its implications for the present and future of global society.

Early on in the presentation he discussed what he deemed an inaccurate report made by USC Annenberg TV about an Armenian commemoration held at USC. The report discussed the commemoration and what happened in 1915, but it did not refer to either of these as genocide.

“What they reported was that the Armenians got together to remember the ‘tragedy’ that befell them,” Movsesian said.

“When the event name is ‘Armenian Genocide Commemoration,’ and you as a reporter don’t even report the name, what are you saying? You’re saying that somebody told you to take off that name.”

According to Movsesian, “there is no other side to the story. It’s genocide.”

He continued: “We’re all victims of genocide. We’re all children of genocide, because this affects each and every one of us.”

Movsesian highlighted a response given by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a question posed by California Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Glendale), as to why the Armenian Genocide is the only one the United States is “incapable of recognizing.”

Rice responded to this by saying that the United States encouraged Turks and Armenians to examine their past, and by doing so, “to get over it.”

“So we as Armenians have a tough, tough situation,” Movsesian said in reply to this, adding that the genocide should be remembered and recognized.

Because America has yet to recognize the genocide, Movsesian applied the implications of the event to issues currently facing society, specifically the Rwandan genocide and the war in Darfur.

He shared with the audience that he took a trip to Rwanda in Africa in 2006.

“The reason why I went there, I figured, if I saw Rwanda in 2006, I’d know what it was like to be in Armenia [in] 1925.

“Obviously our stories are a little bit different. Armenians were thrown out of their country, Rwandans still are there, but they do present us an opportunity to [see], how do you survive with the perpetrator right above you?”

He encouraged the audience to maintain awareness of the event that took place in 1915 and of issues facing today’s world.

“You have technology at your hands,” he said. “It’s great to play Farmville; put a time limit. Give it 10 minutes, then spend the same 10 minutes looking into genocide issues … I know it’s fun, keep up with the Kardashians, OK? Now give yourself 50 minutes to keep up with what’s going on in Armenia.”

To wrap up his presentation, Movsesian discussed the war in Darfur to reemphasize the importance of the Armenian Genocide.

“1915 was the first step. The second step was the Holocaust. Then came Cambodia. Then came Bosnia. Then came Rwanda, and now, it’s happening in Darfur.

“Learn about it,” he said about the situation in Darfur. “Blog about it. Put yourself in their shoes. Walk with them. Feel what it’s like. Understand what the story’s about. Right now in Darfur, every morning parents have to make the decision, ‘Who’s going to go out to get the water for the family?’ And you know who gets to go out?

“They send out the girl to go get the water and this is because the worst thing that will happen to her is that she will only get raped…. Parents shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

He concluded by urging those present to also take part in upcoming commemorative events, including a fast that was held on campus on April 24.

“We as Armenians have a past. We need to bring that past into the present and make it work to forge the future,” he said.

As the event approaches the 100-year mark, many are still far from letting it fade away in history without recognition.

“My ancestors experienced one of the greatest atrocities between the years of 1915 [to] 1923,” said Tevin Chopurian, president of the Armenian Student Association. “[We] as a nation are still fighting for recognition and reparation. Fighting to get our historic lands back and advocating so that history won’t repeat itself.”

The event has yet to be recognized by the Turkish government as genocide, and Turks feel differently from Armenians about the issue.

The report posted by Annenberg TV News presented the viewpoints of some Turkish students, including Rifat Tigli who said, “These people, who have never been to Armenia, who doesn’t know about Armenian culture and Turkish culture, are making claims about my history.”

Another Turkish student, Enes Kilic, said that both Armenians and Turks suffered from the event in 1915.

“My father’s family went through tough times. They were attacked by their own neighbors,” he said.

Other Turks appear ready to move forward. According to Hakan Tekin, consul general of Turkey in Los Angeles, said, “We want to build bridges of friendship with the Armenian community.”

Rep. Schiff has previously attempted to introduce legislation to recognize what happened as genocide. However, Turkey, a key NATO ally and U.S. partner in military functions in Iraq, claims that a genocide never occurred.

The Armenian Genocide is commemorated by Armenians worldwide on April 24.

More information about the GCC Armenian Student Association is available at http://www.gccasa.org.

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