Asian Reporter Info
Published "Letters to the Editor"
Letter / Readers write
TALKING STORY. Members of Portland’s diverse community joined in launching Ronault L.S. Catalani’s (known to most as Polo) book of essays, Counter Culture: Immigrant Stories from Portland Café Counters. (AR Photo/Maileen Hamto)
From The Asian Reporter, V18, #51 (December 23, 2008), page 7.
Diverse audience gathers at Counter Culture launch
The rain left us to ourselves, but visitors and friends alike were happy to be out of the cold and partake in the event at the Center for Intercultural Organizing (CIO) on Friday, December 5. CIO could not be a more fitting backdrop for the release and book-signing party taking place. Counter Culture: Immigrant Stories from Portland Café Counters, a wry play on words and yet an exact description of what the reader is about to experience, is more than the work of a Portland local.
Written by Ronault L.S. Catalani, known to most as Polo, the book celebrates life in Portland, gleaned from stories told and heard around our fair city’s food counters.
Counter Culture might lead one to think about opposing the mainstream, fighting the norm, going it solo. Instead, one finds stories about everyday life from a perspective that opens doors into a Portland that many of us rarely take the time to see.
As Polo will tell you, "It’s about the food." Many cultures begin or end important gatherings with food, and true to form, many cultures were represented at CIO that night. Food was prepared and delivered by members of the Thai, Indo, Khmer, Korean, Japanese, and Anglo communities, and carried by the willing hands of Muslims, Christians, and Jews with little regard to age, skin color, dialect, or clothing. Indeed, a cross section of Portland’s culture came to honor Polo, and there was simply no way to suppress the smiles.
Diverse cultures were brought together in an environment that was immediately comfortable, a social-action network by default. This included Polo, an Indonesia Americano who many attendees call "brother."
Taking time to introduce an elder Auntie, who was part emcee and part mother for the night, Polo welcomed a crowd that included Portland Mayor Tom Potter, Portland businessman and civic leader Sho Dozono, and many, many community leaders. Next, friends walked to the mic while Polo sat at a side table, listening, sometimes laughing, and signing books.
Soon the time arrived for Polo to read, but instead of reading he stood in front of the audience. In his gentle way, he proceeded to introduce several teachers, mentors, and friends who assembled in a semicircle behind him. They were honored, and yet chose to read from Polo’s work, which was neither funny nor lighthearted. An immigration raid is the backdrop of the chosen story, but so much more is told about real life in Portland, and possible in any city. The feelings, the families, the lives impacted by a singular act soon to fall from the pages of newspapers.
Polo the advocate
The unspoken words allowed listeners to understand Polo’s part in the story. No longer as the writer, but as a lawyer in the trenches. Working behind the scenes, inside courthouses, on the phone, at kitchen tables.
The same impact was felt when members of the Cambodian community met Polo. Recent immigrants receiving help beyond their measure of expectation in a land of foreign language and new customs. Polo’s friendship, help, and brotherhood have only grown stronger over the years, and the people gathered at the event can attest to the depth of Polo’s involvement in Portland culture. This is what community is all about.
The event ended with chatting about the quiet group in the corner, the young adults who sang a song for us. Sang in a foreign language, brave in front of so many faces, from so many places. Recent refugees from Burma who landed here with hopes and questions — and very little else. A request came for help: Did anyone have any extra warm coats, blankets, toothpaste? The smallest donation would help, and would be gladly received.
Many Cambodians in the audience were nearly in tears, feeling the emotions and reliving the memories of being in the exact position: needing help, wanting dignity. A donation drive was undertaken immediately, and the night created an opportunity for the Cambodian community to give back. It was no surprise Polo was the conduit for this chance event; such is the man we respect and honor.
On behalf of the Cambodian-American Community of Oregon (CACO), we want to express our gratitude to Polo and Nim (Polo’s wife) for allowing us to be a part of Portland’s Counter Culture, together. We would also like to thank CIO for facilitating this event.
For more information regarding donations for our Burmese brothers and sisters, visit CACO’s website at <www.cacoregon.org>.
Chanly Bob, CACO Board Chairman
Chhunny Sok, CACO Vice President
Mike Mahoney, CACO Board Member
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To learn more about Counter Culture: Immigrant Stories from Portland Café Counters, or to view photos of the launch party and book-signing event, visit <www.coloredpencilsbooks.com>.
The book of essays can be purchased by e-mailing <firstname.lastname@example.org> or visiting <www.coloredpencilsbooks.com>. Copies are also available at The Asian Reporter, 922 N. Killingworth Street, Suite 1A, Portland, OR 97217.
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