HomeNews & EventsArts Midwest visits the St. Croix Valley: Part III

Arts Midwest visits the St. Croix Valley: Part III

On a Thursday earlier this May, four Arts Midwest staff members joined NEA Big Read grantee ArtReach St. Croix in welcoming acclaimed Mexican-American writer Luís Alberto Urrea to the St. Croix Valley for a public conversation with Krista Tippett, host of the popular podcast “On Being”. In this four-part series, they each share their individual takeaways from that evening.

Julie Zhou, NEA Big Read Program Assistant

“…Stories about his family, about growing up in Tijuana, about a line straight down the middle of a childhood kitchen. Stories about compassion in landfills and cruelty in college classrooms; stories about the importance of saying “I love you” to strangers.”

I first encountered Krista Tippett’s work as a sophomore in college, through a five-part TED Radio Hour video series titled Just A Little Nicer. The series, among other things, was interested in compassion: how do we learn it? Teach it? Live it? What is compassion?

In the still, quiet aisles of the St. Croix Valley’s Trinity Church last Thursday, as I listened to Tippett and NEA Big Read author Luís Alberto Urrea begin their conversation, I was reminded of her answer to that final question.

“Compassion is not necessarily about agreeing with somebody else,” she says in the video, gesturing towards each section of the studio audience. “It is about making a choice to honor their humanity.”

It was only fitting, then, that Tippett chose to open their conversation with a quotation from Urrea that captured a similar ethos: “There is no them. There is only us.” The last line of an article that Urrea wrote for The New York Times in March of this year, it was an opening sentiment that foreshadowed the boundless curiosity, lyricism, and yes, compassion in the conversation to follow.

Though there were many other memorable lines—more than I could count—it was those two sentences that stayed with me for the rest of the night, linking all of the stories that Urrea told. Stories about his family, about growing up in Tijuana, about a line straight down the middle of a childhood kitchen. Stories about compassion in landfills and cruelty in college classrooms; stories about the importance of saying “I love you” to strangers. Stories about borders and the people that build them, guard them, see them, cross them.

“There is no them. There is only us.”

It was that line that echoed in my mind again as I sat down to write this post, reflecting on the things that I took away from Urrea and Tippett’s conversation. It is a line that reminds us to love, to bear witness, to share our stories and to truly listen to those of others. To make a choice to honor their humanity.

“Compassion is not necessarily about agreeing with somebody else…it is about making a choice to honor their humanity.”
Krista Tippett, Has the Word “Compassion” Lost its Meaning?

For more in this series:

Luke Rivard, International Initiatives Program Associate

Emma Bohmann, Arts Midwest Development Manager

Joshua Feist, NEA Big Read Program Director