TIME technology

The World’s Most Profitable Company Ever Was Launched in My Grandma’s House

Nowadays, the famous garage is mostly filled with my grandma’s laundry, cat litter, and her Ford sedan

My grandma’s house is your typical white, one-story house in the suburbs of the Silicon Valley—it has rustic red brick accents, baby blue trim, and a perfectly manicured front lawn. It’s also happens to have signs out front that read “No Trespassing. Security Cameras Are Filming. All Pictures Must Be Taken From Street.” To me, my grandma’s house is a second home, but to the rest of the world, it’s the place where Apple, Inc., was created.

Steve Jobs grew up in this Los Altos house throughout his childhood. In 1976, according to oft-repeated legend, he hatched the beginnings of Apple here, and put together the first 50 computers in the garage with Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak. (Wozniak recently said that that they didn’t do any manufacturing in the garage – they just finalized the computers in there. But the garage did represent them better than anywhere else.) In 1989, my paternal grandmother (Marilyn Jobs) married her second husband (Paul Jobs, Steve’s adoptive father). Soon after, my grandma moved into the house with the (not-yet-quite-so) famous garage.

As a kid, I always looked forward to going to my grandma’s house. It was a 25-minute drive across the South Bay from where my family lived in San Jose. I always knew we were within five minutes of my grandma’s house when we exited the 280 Freeway onto Foothill Expressway. As we turned onto my grandma’s street, we passed a strip mall with a Chevron Gas Station, a Trader Joe’s, and a Peet’s Coffee. When our car pulled into the driveway, my grandma would open the front door, smiling and waving at us from the porch. I always jumped out of the car and greeted her with one of my biggest hugs.

My grandma’s house is where I met my newborn brother for the first time because I was staying with her while my parents were in the hospital. It’s the place I went to after preschool to wait for my parents to pick me up and eat spoonfuls of smooth Skippy peanut butter while curled up in a reclining chair. It’s the place I went when I was sick, snuggling in bed to watch “Tom and Jerry.” It’s the place where, to this day, my family still goes to celebrate birthdays and eat my grandma’s delicious cake.

Throughout my childhood, my parents always mentioned that grandma’s house was a special place and to me it was, but in a completely different way. So when I was 10 and my parents told me about the wider significance of my grandma’s house, I shrugged it off with a laugh. How could this quaint place have been Ground Zero for such a world-famous company that steered the course of today’s technology?

Despite its celebrity status, this three-bedroom, three-bathroom house built in the early 1950s is a humble place. In the living room, porcelain Lladros figurines, Hummel collectibles, and blue and white China fill a curio cabinet by the fireplace. A Japanese bobtail cat named Daisy is always lounging in the small kitchen. A box of Betty Crocker white cake mix and a generic tub of chocolate frosting can always be found in the cupboard, waiting for grandma’s touch of love to make them special.

In 1976, the two-car garage was filled with computer boards, components, wires—and the promise of a great company. In fact, the garage was so packed with Steve Job’s equipment that Paul was forced to build a second garage in the backyard to store the cars. Nowadays, the garage is mostly filled with my grandma’s laundry, cat litter, and her Ford sedan. The only remnants of the garage’s famous past are a few of the original wooden shelves and wood-paneling wall, as well as the same cold concrete floors. It’s funny to think of people traveling hundreds of miles to catch a glimpse of this “treasure trove”!

Paul Jobs passed away in 1993, but my grandma still lives there. I’m in college now, 379 miles away in Southern California, but always visit when I come home on breaks. It’s pretty awesome to imagine that some of the first ideas for a world-renowned company were thought of in a place where I spent so much of my childhood. As a graphic design student, I truly appreciate the innovation that came out of the garage at my grandma’s house. Like so many people, I have an iPhone. When I gaze at it, I’m reminded that technology revolutions have to start somewhere—even if that somewhere is in the garage of a humble home.

Megan Chovanec is a freshman at Chapman University. She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zócalo Public Square.

TIME world affairs

Why Will No One Let the Muslim World Be Secular?

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

We all attach a de facto religiosity to people’s actions in the region that make it impossible to develop secular identities in those states

Here we go again. Each time deranged terrorists invoking Islam strike in the West, alongside the mourning of the victims comes the heated debate over how the world’s Muslims should react to the attack.

Belligerent rightists demand that Muslims distance themselves from terrorists or be deemed their accomplices. Righteous leftists warn against bigotry and Islamophobia while affirming that Muslims, being overwhelmingly moderate people, have nothing to do with terrorism. And then you have the Bill Maher approach: urging Muslims to prove their overall moderation beyond simply condemning terrorism.

It is a truly bizarre ritual, this rush to assess whether Muslims en masse are moderate or terror-friendly; and, in either case, to what extent.

The absurdity of the exercise begins with the way mainstream western discourse defines “Muslims”: a monolithic compact of 1.6 billion people intensely adhering to a faith by mere virtue of geography. Labeling all North Africans and Middle Easterners pious Muslims is akin to assuming that everyone who lives in America, or Europe, is devoutly Christian. There is a difference between cultural heritage and religious obedience. Why would the notion of a “Christian world” be dubious and debatable, but that of a “Muslim world” never be questioned?

As a liberal Moroccan journalist, it was bad enough to have my state refuse me my freedom of conscience; it’s all the more galling when it is Western liberals who refuse me that right with their blanket paternalistic sentiments about what “those people” are like.

It’s no wonder the West has been quick to give up on, or forget, the liberal, cosmopolitan youth that fueled the Arab Spring of recent years – a demographic that hardly fits into the Western view that everyone in these countries is primarily characterized by religiosity.

Islam is not encoded in anyone’s DNA. Being religious is a personal choice, one that every individual is free to make—or not—as stated in the Universal declaration of Human Rights. As it happens, human rights (including freedom of belief) are widely denied to the 1.6 billion persons we’re talking about, by most of the governments they live under—as well as by the prejudices of well-meaning Western liberals who bend over backwards in their politically correct efforts to be understanding of “Muslim countries” and their ways. What well-meaning Westerners need to understand is the wide gap between Islam as it should be—a personal choice—and as it most often is—a set of pervasive constraints enforced by undemocratic States.

In all the countries where Islam is the religion of the State, merely criticizing the faith (let alone leaving it) is a criminal offense. In 2007, as the publisher of the Moroccan weekly magazine Nishan, I ran a cover story about popular humor in my country. Because the issue included jokes about Islam (harmless ones at that—the most notable one featured God assigning a deceased Muslim man of virtue to hell, before teasing him: “Smile, it’s the candid camera!”), copies of the magazine were publicly burnt by grimacing extremists, and my colleagues and I received hundreds of death threats. Yet instead of cracking down against the fanatics, the government prosecuted us for “damaging religious morals,” and banned the magazine for 3 months.

It’s not just about mandatory religiosity. In most “Muslim countries,” school curricula include inescapable religious classes at every grade, with disturbing teachings about the role of women (mainly to procreate and stay at home), the duty to “defend Islam” and “fight its enemies,” and so on. Grown-ups are not spared either, with omnipresent state media never losing a chance to hammer into them that Islam is the highest moral norm, and transnational Arab channels like Al-Jazeera engaging in constant “us-versus-them” rhetoric (“us” being Muslims and “them,” Westerns, of course). Even opposition parties (mostly made of Islamist groups) do nothing but double down on religious intransigence, hoping to outdo the—already bigoted—official institutions. In these conditions, the psychological pressure is such that opting out of Islam is unthinkable—or more accurately, unthought-of—for the vast majority of the people.

This is not to say that no one living in the swath of territory from Morocco to Indonesia adheres to Islam out of intimate conviction. Many obviously do. Yet as long as coercion isn’t replaced by freedom of choice, the extent to which these people can be truly identified with the Islamic faith is dubious. Flatly calling 1.6 billion people Muslims—even with the purpose of praising their moderation—only makes you the accomplice of their oppressors.

The same flawed assumptions are taking place in France. As a consequence of the horrendous Charlie Hebdo massacre perpetrated by local-born-and-bred religious fanatics, “French Muslims” are, once again, in the eye of the storm. Depending on the political sympathies of the commentator, they’re either guilty of moral association with terrorists or misunderstood moderates. But no one is letting them off the hook for their Muslimhood.

All sides of the debate presume that the five million citizens of North- and West-African descent, whose parents immigrated from former French colonies one or two generations ago, are Muslim. Many of these families are certainly religious by choice, but those who’d rather not be are afforded very little space to carry on with their secular lives—especially amidst so many well-meaning efforts to “understand” the immigrant communities’ “Muslim essence.” All this despite the fact that the French republic is supposedly blind to the religious affiliations of its citizens.

Secularism—actually, headscarf-banning laïcité, a more aggressive brand of it—is the cornerstone of modern France’s founding values. Alongside fine wines, exotic cheeses and relaxed sexual mores, its church-bashing culture (of which the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were the proud flag-bearers) is one of France’s main staples. Any French intellectual would gasp in horror at the assertion that 60 millions of his fellow citizens are Christians, yet president François Hollande lumps together the other five million to refer to them as “Muslims” (who should not be conflated with terrorists, yes, we know).

French citizens of North- or West-African origin have attended the same schools as their native countrymen; and they studied Voltaire and the enlightenment age just as much as them. Unless we consider that ethnicity impacts mental processes (the definition of racism) there is no reason to believe that France’s citizens of color are less receptive than others to the proud teachings of the école républicaine laïque. Yet the country’s common discourse singles them out as a religious group. Liberté Egalité Fraternité? Not really.

Westerners are rightly concerned about the danger posed by Islamic radicalism, but anxiously assessing the commitment of more than a billion people to religious moderation doesn’t help in any way. All it does is deepen the—already profound—misunderstanding.

When it comes to Islamic terrorism, the worthy social debate is about the way to drain its breeding ground. My two cents: promoting secular democracy in the so-called Muslim countries (and please, no need to bomb them for that—empowering local liberals is enough) would be a good place to start.

Ahmed Benchemsi is the editor in chief of FreeArabs.com. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

My Neighborhood Doesn’t Need Football or Your Pity

Cars pass along Manchester Boulevard on Sept. 5, 2012 in the Los Angeles-area community of Inglewood, California.
Cars pass along Manchester Boulevard on Sept. 5, 2012 in the Los Angeles-area community of Inglewood, California. David McNew—Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Inglewood, California is an economically diverse Latino and black city, with possibilities to deliver the American dream

To live in Inglewood is to have people make assumptions about you. Recently, people have been making assumptions about what a new pro football stadium, proposed by the owner of the NFL’s Rams, would mean for us. One such assumption now prevalent in the media is that we’ll embrace it, because we’re assumed to be economically desperate because Inglewood is “over 90 percent minority” (LA Times), “a largely low-income suburb” (the U.K.’s Independent), or a bad “neighborhood” (a characterization in movies back to Grand Canyon).

Inglewood, where I live and work, has 100,000 people. It is a city, not a neighborhood. Indeed, it, is made up of very different places. I grew up in Morningside Park, a middle-class neighborhood that borders the Forum and the Hollywood Park property where the stadium would be built. Morningside Park has nearly 10,000 homeowners. According to City Data, the median income in the ZIP code 90305 (which includes Morningside Park) is $65,000. The median income in California is $57,000.

That proximity to familiar landmarks is one reason why my family located here in 1974, before I was born My parents researched many communities and after not being allowed to view a house in Santa Monica—because they were black—they had a choice between a house in Carson or Inglewood. They chose Inglewood.

“The Forum is here, they have a hotel and it’s right by the airport,” my dad often said when asked how he and my mom came to own a home in Inglewood. There was also considerable pride: Morningside Park was one of the first black middle class neighborhoods in L.A., a destination beginning in the ’60s for people moving out of what was then called South Central and now is known as South L.A.

Growing up, I’m not sure I appreciated what a special place Inglewood was. I didn’t realize that not all black kids in Los Angeles enjoyed my carefree life: I rode my bike, did chores for a $10 weekly allowance, and danced around to cheesy ’80s tunes on the weekend. Only after going away to college at UC Riverside did I learn the extent to which people viewed Inglewood as scary.

In the 1990s, if you were Black and lived south of the 10 freeway (whether in Inglewood, Compton, Crenshaw or Watts), you were said to live in “South Central,” even if Central Avenue was on the other side of town. The regional term was code for “black” and living in a black neighborhood in Los Angeles County meant you lived where all the scary black gang members lived.

There was no allowance for diversity in blackness. Blackness was considered—and still is, to many—a personality type like being humorous or empathetic. In high school in Inglewood, I was Teka, “the weird poet girl with all kinds of fun ideas whose mom is the prettiest mom on the block.” In college, I was “the black girl from South Central.”

During my freshman year in the dorms, my roommate saw a picture of my parents and, shocked, said,“You have a dad!?” I guess black people don’t have dads.

I stopped saying I was from Inglewood and said I was from around the airport.

When people assumed Westchester, I just never bothered to correct them.

“You speak very well,” people would say. I was not used to being patronized and complimented for talking like a typical L.A. kid. I did not know how to respond in any way, so I remained silent. And when I did speak, I remained vague.

That is Inglewood’s story in a way. It doesn’t matter that our community is filled with writers and artists (I’m one of them—I came back after college and started a newspaper). Nor does it matter that the black people in Inglewood’s Morningside Park and Century Heights—which border the Forum—are homeowners and among the most highly educated African American populations in California. What matters is that we’re south of the 10 and so we must be in need.

The reality is that my neighbors aren’t happy about the prospect of living so close to a NFL stadium. That shouldn’t be surprising when one considers the traffic, noise, pollution, hassles, and history of communities next to big sports facilities. We’re also not happy about nonstop building in Inglewood – the stadium is part of a large redevelopment of the Hollywood Park property — with no concern for urban planning or the environment. We moved here because of the character of the community and to live in a residential neighborhood with single-family homes where kids can ride their bikes.

We also moved to Morningside Park because it was small and our neighbors said “Hello” to each other. We liked that my mom—who never learned to drive the L.A. freeways—could easily take her Datsun to get groceries and then pick me up from the local Catholic school.

My hope is that, with attention fixed on Inglewood, my neighborhood will finally be recognized as a gem, and that the assumptions people make about Inglewood will float away and people will see it as it truly is. Inglewood is an economically diverse Latino and black city, with some good and some bad. It is also a place that reliably delivered the American dream to my parents. Here a couple with typical jobs can afford to buy a house, raise a kid or two, and go on a few vacations.

Progress and change are not bad, but what good will come from building a football stadium that mostly sits empty? Corporatization of a city under the guise of concern for the community is neither future-minded nor progressive.

It’s the same old tale of “progress” being defined as black people being left with nothing more than the insecurity of jobs as security guards for the rich. Instead of protecting what’s here today, communities are maligned so that the city can “move forward” and bulldoze whatever must be bulldozed to create touristy entertainment. Because if it was black, it couldn’t have been much of anything, right?

It is long past time for people to stop making assumptions about Inglewood.

Teka-Lark Fleming is an Inglewood native. She publishes the Morningside Park Chronicle and is the producer and host its vlog MPC presents The Blk Grrrl Show. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Growing Up in Atlanta, Every Day Was MLK Day

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

"If you grow up black in King's hometown, you can't help but see his story intertwine with your own"

To grow up in Atlanta is to be always aware of the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., and to see it intertwine with your own fate.

I was born there in 1978, less than a mile from the house where King grew up. As a schoolchild, I like others, visited Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue—the street where King was born, worked, died, and is honored. To see King’s neighborhood, and the home he was born in, humanized him for us children, letting us know that he was once young like us, wrestling with classes and playing with siblings. We went to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King declared, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” and to the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization he led until his death in 1968. We visited the King Center built by his widow to spread King’s nonviolent doctrine, and saw the eternal flame that burns near his tomb and reminds us that his work endures.

My grandparents—native Floridians who first came to Atlanta as college students in the late 1930s—and my mother tried to shield my brother and me from the indignities they suffered during the era of Jim Crow. They did this mostly by trying to give us a better life; I seldom spoke to them about the racism they endured. But the living history was everywhere in Atlanta, and the frequency with which I saw King’s lieutenants and associates on television reminded me of both the progress we’d achieved and the work still left to be done. John Lewis, for example, was leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he was gassed and beaten badly on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, during the start of a march to the state capitol that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” But he went on to represent Atlanta as a U.S. congressman and has fought for decades to preserve the Voting Rights Act he, King, and hundreds of foot soldiers helped usher into law.

When I became a journalist, I found myself gravitating toward telling the stories of black people, and focusing specifically on the legacy of the civil rights movement. As a college student, I got my first reporting job at the Atlanta Daily World, a black newspaper first published in 1928. The office was on Auburn Avenue—the same street I’d first visited as a child. I was working blocks away from where King worked.

By taking on civil rights as a beat in Atlanta, I not only had a front row seat to history, but the ability to ask those who lived it how they felt about current-day racial struggles. It was an extraordinary opportunity.

Even though I have left Atlanta, I carry all this history with me. This fall, almost a half-century after the enactment of the federal Civil Rights Act that King supported, I spent a few weeks in Ferguson, Missouri, as a reporter for Fusion covering the Michael Brown shooting and the ensuing protests.

From the day I arrived, the parallels between the Ferguson context and that of King’s struggles were everywhere.

Even though segregation is no longer legal and discussion of the civil rights movement has appeared in textbooks for decades, I still found neighborhoods in Ferguson so divided along color lines that I thought I had stepped into those black-and-white TV images of the 1960s I had seen. In the same way Bull Connor referred to King and other protesters as “outside agitators” in Birmingham, authorities and some residents in Ferguson referred to “outsiders” and the “negative influence of the media” on the African-American community—as if this community had no grounds to be unhappy of their own volition with the status quo before August 9, 2014. I talked to people on both sides of the racial divide who did not know each other’s daily lives.

The way the police deployed tear gas, dogs, smoke bombs, and riot gear certainly reminded me of stories I’d been told by people like Lewis. Images of clashing police and protesters in Ferguson—and the real-time reactions on social media—reminded me of the nation’s horror at the sight of water hoses, clubs, and snarling dogs 50 years before.

The Ferguson rallies, both there and elsewhere in the country, were full of young people—much like those during the civil rights movement. But there were important differences, too. Unlike the masses who rallied around King in Alabama, there was no single leader of the protests I covered in Ferguson night after night. The shooting of Michael Brown had been the catalyst, but inequality—and specifically unequal treatment of black people in the criminal justice system—was the real subject, one with many stories to tell.

During the 1960s, the black church had a central role, serving as the moral foundation of the movement. In Ferguson, churches served as the site of several rallies and meetings, and preachers could regularly be seen keeping the peace on the front lines during protests. But the burgeoning movement was neither started nor maintained through the church.

And while the protesters on West Florissant Avenue were mostly peaceful demonstrators, there were some who would have disappointed King—looting, committing arson, firing guns.

There are some who think of the events in Ferguson as an isolated incident, simply a moment in time. But to me it seemed like part of the continuum in the struggle for progress in our country. When I interviewed King’s aides, they were always quick to mention that the civil rights movement didn’t die with King; it’s ongoing. While our nation has made racial progress, we still have far to go before we achieve full equality among America’s citizens. The reaction to what happened in Ferguson exposed that chasm anew.

Errin Whack is a journalist whose articles, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous outlets, including Fusion News, The Guardian, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post. She currently serves as vice president of print for the National Association of Black Journalists and lives in Washington, D.C. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Thoughts From a Franco-Algerian Charlie Hebdo Fan

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

I deeply hope that we can all live peacefully together in France. But I am a bit pessimistic

I just keep thinking, Oh my God — not Charlie Hebdo, not the magazine that made me laugh over the last 20 years. I had a knot in my stomach thinking it might have been done in the name of Islam. I wanted to be wrong so badly.

Sadly, I was not. I posted a picture my friends had been sharing that said, “Je suis Charlie.” I am Charlie.

I am a French woman, a Franco-Algerian woman. I was born and raised in France. but I grew up within an Algerian family attached to its roots. So the Charlie Hebdo shooting brought up complicated memories.

My father came to France in 1963, for economic reasons and freedom. He brought my mother in 1973, after they married. My siblings and I were all born here in France. My father was able to find an affordable apartment in one of the wealthier Parisian suburbs with good schools. He drove taxi cabs 11 hours a night, while my mom took care of us and other local kids.

I discovered some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were killed when I was around 5 or 6. Jean Cabut — known as Cabu — collaborated with a children’s TV program; his drawings were always very funny, but tame, since the show was for children. When I was older and I discovered Stephane Charbonnier — known as Charb — his cartoon Maurice & Patapon — about a bisexual, anarchist dog infatuated with defecation and sex and a fascist, ultra-liberal cat that mocks the suffering of others — made me laugh so loud.

When I saw Charlie Hebdo cartoons about God and Muhammad, I must admit I found them funny and relevant. They also mocked other religions. I thought they had a right to publish them, though I was afraid of intense reactions in the French Muslim community.

I don’t practice Islam anymore, though my parents do. The Islam my parents know is tolerant, easy to practice. They pray God daily and fast during Ramadan. They even went to Mecca. But they never took me to the mosque, and my father never asked me to wear a hijab, the head covering for women. “We live in France, so we should live as French do, without committing any sin that Islam condemns,” he used to tell me.

In 1984, my parents decided to return to Algeria. They wanted us to learn Arabic and live according to our traditions. But then fundamentalist Islamic movements appeared. Some leaders of the Front Islamique du Salut, the Islamic party, started to call for terrorism in the name of God. Journalists, policemen, soldiers, women and students were killed. Mosque leaders told women they had to obey husbands and fathers. If we stayed, my parents thought my sister and I might end up as stay-at-home wives who were expected to shut their mouths. So, when I was 15, in 1990, we returned to Paris.

In France, God, faith, prayer, dogma are very private items. You’ll never hear a president talking about God or swear with a right hand on the Bible. The point is to guarantee the freedom of conscience and religion and to promote the idea of “vivre ensemble” — living together.

I deeply hope that we can all live peacefully together in France. But I am a bit pessimistic.

Being Muslim in France is hard. News reports have shown how difficult it is to find an apartment, if your name is Mohamed or Djamel, even if you have a great job, a high level of study, and a very correct French accent. The main victims of fundamentalist terrorism are regular Muslim people who only want to live in peace with their neighbors and to not have to apologize for acts they did not commit.

These nights, I am re-reading a book I’ve already read to my young children — Charb’s C’est Pas Là Qu’on Fait Caca (Here’s Where We Don’t Poop). I want them to grow up saying whatever they want and laughing at whatever they want, however rude. I believe that if God exists, he or she has a fabulous sense of humor.

Mounira El Barr Collin is a quality control manager living in Couilly Pont aux Dames, a village near Paris, with her husband and their two kids. They celebrate Christmas, as well as Aîd elkebir. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME women

Women and the Myth of the American West

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

The frontier offered opportunities for land ownership and artistic inspiration—but life there wasn’t without struggle

In the American imagination, the rugged, vast landscapes of the West are dotted with solitary men on horseback—cowboys, outlaws, sheriffs. But the frontier was also home to women whose stories don’t match the standard Hollywood Western script. What brought women to places like California and Wyoming, and what lives could they lead there? Did Western women experience the same freedoms and adventures as their male counterparts?

In advance of the “What It Means to Be American” launch event “The Women of the West,” we asked historians: What opportunities did the American West offer women that they may not have had back East?

A land of contradictions as well as opportunity — Virginia Scharff

Let’s begin with one of those invisible, obvious facts of history: Women had been living in what became “the West” centuries before anyone arrived from “back East.” We have plenty of evidence of the ways they claimed homes and made communities, from the remnants of the Cahokia Mounds to the majestic ruins of Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon, where archaeologist Patricia Crown has found evidence of chocolate and macaws from the 12th century. With the advent of European contact, Spanish and Mexican and indigenous women lived in—and came from—all directions.

So we’re really talking about those recent immigrants who came from the eastern U.S. and from across the globe, particularly in the 19th century. In the years after the Civil War, those women found plenty of opportunities in the West that were not available in the East: everything from the right to vote to equal pay for women teachers to more liberal divorce laws. Wyoming Territory passed a series of such laws in 1869, partly in an effort to attract more white settlement, which, of course, was also intended to unsettle indigenous people. The West was the first home of women’s suffrage in the U.S., with nearly every western state or territory enfranchising women long before women won the right to vote in eastern states.

Is the West still a land of opportunity for women? I’d say it’s more a land of contradictions. We’ve got women in public offices and CEO suites throughout the region. But here in the West, women continue to lag behind men in too many areas to declare the “Woman Problem” solved.

Virginia Scharff is distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico.

The chance to be a landowner — Vicki L. Ruiz

Under colonial Spain and newly independent Mexico, married women living in the borderlands of what is now the American Southwest had certain legal advantages not afforded their European-American peers. Under English common law, women, when they married, became feme covert (effectively dead in the eyes of the legal system) and thus unable to own property separately from their husbands. Conversely, Spanish-Mexican women retained control of their land after marriage and held one-half interest in the community property they shared with their spouses.

As I tell my students, imagine you are a woman on the Illinois prairie, the only child of a prosperous farmer. Your parents die, and you inherit the family homestead. You marry, raise crops, and rear several children. But if your husband has a mind to sell the farm and travel west, you cannot stop the sale, and up on the buckboard you go. However, if you grew up near Albuquerque, your husband could not sell the property you had brought to the marriage, thus giving you significant leverage in household decisions. So you might not end up on that buckboard after all.

There were numerous landed women of note in the West. For example, María Rita Valdez operated Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, now better known as a center of affluence and glamour: Beverly Hills. (Rodeo Drive takes its name from Rancho Rodeo.) After the U.S.-Mexican War, the del Valle family of Southern California held on to Rancho Camulos, and when Ygnacio, the patriarch, died, his widow Isabel and daughter Josefa successfully took over the ranch’s operations. Other successful entrepreneurs and property holders, who defended their interests in court when necessary, included San Francisco’s Juana Briones, Santa Fe’s Gertrudis Barceló, San Antonio-born María del Carmen Calvillo, and Phoenix’s Trinidad Escalante Swilling. In a frontier environment, they utilized the legal system to their advantage as women unafraid to exert their own authority.

Vicki L. Ruiz is distinguished professor of history and Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and president-elect of the American Historical Association, she is the author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America.

Writerly inspiration — Cathryn Halverson

The West gave women special opportunities as authors. Aspiring writers saw literary “material” in the stuff of their daily lives in frontier, rural, and urban western spaces. They shaped that material into letters, journals, sketches, essays, and stories for eastern magazines and presses—and received popular acclaim.

For readers outside the West, the settings these women described were exotic: California gold camps and desert outposts, northwestern logging and mining communities, Rocky Mountain and Great Plains homesteads. Elinore Pruitt Stewart, writing from Wyoming in 1913, placed a series of letters about her homesteading experience in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly. She reported on the letters of thanks she received from appreciative readers, like the elderly woman who told her “the Letters satisfied her every wish. She said she had only to shut her eyes to see it all, to smell the pines and the sage.” Through its association with romantic national mythologies of sublime landscape and heroic endeavor, an ordinary woman’s life on a ranch in Wyoming seemed to mean more—and to reveal more—than one on a farm in Wisconsin or Connecticut.

Yet women writers were just as likely to revise as support these mythologies, which centered on male endeavor, and they frequently portrayed western sites as not wild and liberating, but provincial and claustrophobic. The Story of Mary MacLane, for example, one of the most notorious books of 1902, depicted the 19-year-old author’s desperation to escape her middle-class home in the copper boomtown of Butte: “Can I be possessed of a peculiar rare genius,” she demands, “and yet drag my life out in obscurity in this uncouth, warped, Montana town!” Nevertheless, the city MacLane denounced was key to her literary success: Readers would have been far less intrigued by the thoughts and experience of a girl hailing from a more familiar place.

Cathryn Halverson is an associate professor of American studies at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She is the author most recently of Playing House in the American West: Western Women’s Life Narratives.

It depends on which women, and where — Laura Woodworth-Ney

The answer depends on which women, and the geography of their circumstances. During the post-Civil War period in the American West (1865-1910), middle-class and upper-class white women often did enjoy more flexibility and more freedom—to travel, to own land in their name, to exercise control over their children.

Minority women—particularly Chinese and Native American—did not experience greater freedoms. For these groups, the idea of an American “West” was meaningless. For Chinese women who immigrated during the late-19th century to work in the laundries, saloons, and grimy inns of mining camps scattered throughout California and the Rocky Mountain interior, the West was not west at all but rather east, and it was often not a voyage of choice. Impoverished families in China were encouraged to sell their daughters, who were shipped to San Francisco, held in “pens,” and taken to mining camps. Even though slavery had been outlawed after the Civil War, the isolation of these camps—in places like Warrens, Idaho—meant that slavery existed in fact if not in law.

For the West’s native women of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, the American West represented a battleground of culture, conquest, and hunger. Non-Indian settlement destroyed the food sources and lifeways for the tribes of the western United States, while U.S. government policy forced them onto federally managed reservations. With their peoples ravaged by disease and forced assimilation, many tribal women faced crippling poverty and cultural genocide as the 20th century dawned. The survival and success of tribes in 21st-century America is due to the ability of these native women to hold their families together during the era of the “American West.”

Laura Woodworth-Ney is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Idaho State University. Formerly the chair of the department of history, she has published more than 30 articles and books on topics in history, humanities, and higher education. She is currently at work on a history of women and irrigation settlement in the American West.

Mobility—but not necessarily upward — Judy Tzu-Chun Wu

When we talk about “the American West” and the women who made it their home, what do we really mean? Often, the term conjures images of those who migrated east to west, specifically from the East Coast of the United States. However, the region understood as the “West” was home to indigenous and Mexican women who lived here before Anglo-American and African-American settlers. Some of these women who already resided in the West experienced forced physical, cultural, economic, and political dislocation to make space for “pioneers.” Women also migrated from the “East,” meaning Asia and other parts of the Eastern hemisphere. They also came “North” and “South” within the western hemisphere.

Asking about distinct opportunities for women in the West also assumes that these opportunities didn’t exist elsewhere. This is a long-standing belief in U.S. society that the West epitomizes the American dream and the basis of American identity. This region of presumably “free land” provided opportunities for economic mobility and self-reinvention.

But not all women could participate in these opportunities. State policies throughout much of the Western states denied Asians the right to own land as well as interracially marry. Furthermore, some women were forced to migrate to work in the sex industry, one of the few jobs allocated for women in the male-dominated western “frontier.”

Certainly, many people, including women, relocated to the West based on the belief that opportunity awaited them. For example, Margaret Chung, the subject of a biography I wrote, became the first American-born Chinese female physician. Her mother had been sold into servitude and prostitution, and her father struggled to make ends meet through most of their family’s lives. However, Margaret found religious and educational allies to obtain a medical education. During World War II, she served as an adopted “mother” to over 1,000 “sons”—Anglo-American soldiers, entertainers, and politicians.

On the surface, this appears to be a success story. However, Chung’s economic and social rise also depended upon her manipulation of her identity, including strategically performing a projected role of foreign womanhood. At times, despite her status as a professional woman, Chung played the role of an Oriental mammy. Her story, like others of women in the West, was not a simple one of upward mobility.

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu is a professor of Asian American studies and history at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Dr. Mom Chung of the Fair-Haired Bastards: The Life of a Wartime Celebrity and Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era. She is working with Gwendolyn Mink on a political biography of Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first woman of color to be elected congressional representative.

The opportunity to learn from one another — Jane Simonsen

The American West presented opportunities for some 19th-century Anglo-American women to cultivate a stronger sense of authority by positioning their domestic work as part of nation-building. Middle-class white women reformers interested in promoting Native American assimilation, for example, worked to define the well-kept single-family home—and the woman at its center—as a key marker of civilization. Their widely recognized power as moral guardians of the home justified their action and work outside of the narrow domestic realm, and these reformers carved out a niche for themselves among the politicians, scientists, and field workers who sought to “civilize” the western tribes in the latter half of the 19th century.

Yet working among Native Americans in western locations, from the Nez Perce in northern Idaho to the Cahuilla of Southern California, gave these women the opportunity to measure themselves against their indigenous counterparts—and at least some found their own civilization lacking. Close contact with indigenous women sometimes held up a harsh mirror to “civilized” society, which devalued the very work these women sought to promote. For their part, indigenous women took advantage of new resources on their reservations when they could, and were cannily selective in what they chose to adopt of the lessons and models of conduct offered by Anglo reformers.

The reservation system, land allotment, and reform movements disrupted many social ties and work patterns. Still, resourceful indigenous women sought opportunities to earn seasonal income, own property, and provide health care to their families. By maintaining some familiar forms of work, such as farming, foraging, and needlework, women helped to mitigate new economic realities on the reservation. Remaining at the margins of the new economy, indigenous women used new trade opportunities to maintain some of the very systems that reformers had hoped to destroy.

Jane Simonsen is associate professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. She is the author of Making Home Work: Domesticity and Native American Assimilation in the American West, 1860-1919.

Room to invent new identities — Maria Raquel Casas

On December 23, 1868, a Native American woman died in Los Angeles, and Anglo-Americans paid no attention to her passage. Within the new racial and social order established by Americans after the Mexican American war, Victoria Bartolomea Comicrabit was an Indian, but what 19th-century Americans failed to recognize was that this woman had survived two colonization efforts and lived a uniquely Californian life.

Born in 1808, Victoria was a member of the San Gabriel people and fully hispanicized by the Spanish friars to the point that she and her “Indian” husband, Pablo Maria, were given mission lands once they married and became fully Catholic. As a property owner and hispanicized woman, Victoria interacted and was socially accepted by the other local elite Californio families. When her husband died, she inherited all the lands granted to the couple. If she had remained a widow, Victoria would have continued to work her lands, take care of her four children, and be a respected member of her community. She was an “Indian,” but in the Spanish colonial system race was more fluid. Victoria, however, did not remain a widow, and in September 1836 she married the Scottish trader Hugo Reid, who eventually squandered Victoria’s lands. After his death, Victoria was left destitute, treated as “just another Indian.”

As Victoria Reid’s story shows, women’s lives in the American West have to be understood through complicated categories of race, class, religion, marriage, and legal standing that did not remain static during the 19th century. If we see women’s contributions to settling the West as nothing more than dependent mates to men, we fail to see the complex woman that Victoria represents.

Maria Raquel Casas is an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of Married to a Daughter of the Land: Spanish-Mexican Women and Interethnic Marriage in California, 1820-1880.

This article was written for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Persian Food

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My Iranian mother wanted me to cook recipes from the motherland. I wanted to be independent

My cavalier cooking practices have been a cause for shame and concern for my Iranian mother. To me, eating is just something you do to stay alive; for her and her legion of friends and family that grew up in the Motherland, cooking is a rite of passage to womanhood, the foundation of family and all things good in the world.

You know, everything a ready-made, heart attack-inducing Doritos Locos Taco is not.

So it comes as no surprise to find my mother one day standing by my open fridge grasping a small jar between her index finger and thumb.

“This is hell. I will put it on the side of the fridge, you know, in case you need it,” she says.

It’s just a coincidence that the name of this Persian staple spice—cardamom—is the same word for eternal fiery doom in English.

My mother has been sneaking in her favorite ingredients next to the Hershey’s chocolate syrup and the blue macaroni and cheese box in my kitchen ever since I began dating the man of her dreams, now my husband. Having grown up with his own Persian mother’s everything-fresh-from-scratch cooking, he wouldn’t mind eating a meal that’s not from a box. So the more serious we got, the less subtle her hints. She graduated to telling me, “You seriously need to learn how to cook. It’s not funny.”

Because her comments implied that cooking meant keeping a man, I was very adamant about never lifting a pan. Cooking in this cultural context seemed primitive, sexist, and totally un-American. Where did I get this idea? From my mom who, ironically enough, preached to my sister and me the importance of women procuring financial and personal independence and security through education, privileges she didn’t have growing up in Iran.

Still, I understood where she was coming from. In my mother’s Tehran, it literally “took a village” to raise and maintain a family. The older generation provided food for the burgeoning family, and food was a community affair where everyone helped with the preparing, cooking, and eating. One of my distinct memories from childhood in Iran in the late 1980s is the women in my family cleaning and stemming herbs for rice and stews at our house. Sitting around with their fingers plastered with wet dill and their mouths running with the daily gossip, they were a less sexy version of Sex and the City.

My family moved to Los Angeles in 1991 after a pit stop in Austria for a few months to get our papers together. Or, more specifically, we moved to the enclave known as Tehrangeles where Iranians—especially Iranian Jews—settled after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

But in L.A., I saw less and less of the chattering relatives, partly because they probably got sick of my mom giving them chores. But also because no one has the luxury or time to sit around stemming herbs all day when there are errands to run, e-mails to send, and nails to be manicured.

The idea was to adapt to American life enough to get by, but still speak, breathe, act, and eat Persian. Which led to a lot of awkward conversations at the school cafeteria explaining my pungent green stew to my friend with the crustless PB&J. And every Friday night, we always had to have the Thanksgiving-size Shabbat dinner, complete with the angry drunk uncle who asked the same questions every time (“How much money are you making writing? That’s horrible. You should go into real estate.”)

Starting a family of my own, I’m trying to reconcile this need to connect through food with the American notion of independence and can-do-it-all attitude. While I do need some guidance and appreciate when my mom brings over the occasional leftover split pea stew or herb quiche, I don’t want to come home to a tower of Tupperware in my refrigerator. The constant parade of handouts from my mom make me feel as if I’m failing as a nurturing wife and mother, roles I had totally been reluctant to take on yet will be damned if I don’t succeed at them.

So I decided it was time to add cooking to my repertoire. I mean, how hard would it be to buy some ingredients, mix them together, and throw them in a pot to cook if it meant so much to my family? Between Google and the TV, I was confident I could figure it out. I announced to my mother that I was cooking a traditional Persian meal for my husband. “That’s great, azizam,” she said, in a sort of God-I-hope-you-have-a-fire-extinguisher-handy sort of tone. “Let me know how it goes.”

I searched “dinner recipes,” then “easy dinner recipes” and finally “really super duper easy dinner recipes” and was overwhelmed by the number of ingredients, steps, and verbs. How do you zest a lemon? Dredge individual mint leaves with sugar? What the hell does dredge mean, anyway? Just doing the measurements alone seemed to require a Ph.D. in calculus. It occurred to me that I had never seen my mother use a measuring cup or an oven mitt.

I was not going to solicit help from my mother, so it was fortunate I remembered that someone had once given us a beautiful Persian cookbook called Food of Life. I swiped the dust off its cover and was delighted to find that it was a literary nerd’s dream come true. Besides recipes, there were pieces of Persian poetry, art, and stories.

“If wheat springs from my dust when I am dead / And from the grain that grows there you bake bread, / What drunkenness will rise and overthrow / With frenzied love the baker and his dough—” is Rumi’s erotic take on baked goods.

Excited at seeing my favorite recipe in English, I braved the long list of at least two dozen ingredients and committed myself to making rice meatballs.

It took me two days to prepare and make these meatballs. I shopped at Trader Joe’s for ingredients I recognized (eggs, rice, tomato paste). I headed to “Persian Square”—an area of Westwood Boulevard where the Iranian version of every business has a storefront—for those I did not.

At Sun Market, the couple running the place was happy to see “a young person” take interest in her native food. They helped me find everything I needed and threw in some unsolicited advice while they were at it (“You really should learn how to read Persian”).

So finding advieh—a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, rose petals, nutmeg, and cumin—green plums, and summer savory was not really an obstacle. Putting them to use was.

When I was done chopping, slicing, rinsing, boiling, and whatnot, the kitchen was a CSI murder scene. There were grains of rice and petals of herbs on every exposed surface, including the stove, tiles, floor, and sink. Dante’s “Inferno” would have made a more suitable excerpt than Rumi’s poetic fancies.

My husband was grateful for the effort. He ate carefully, as if to detect poison before it was too late. Having taken one look at my disheveled exterior, he couldn’t fathom why I’d go through all the trouble. But it wasn’t really about him.

I wish this experience had made me fall in love with cooking. But at least I no longer found it synonymous with the Dark Ages. I had now tried on my mother’s shoes and saw what an ungrateful brat I’d been. I understand there’s an art driven by love for family and the incessant desire to feed and nurture them. I’m happily going to taken them up on their offers to bestow leftovers and swallow my pride until I get the hang of basic kitchen measurements.

That’s the paradox my mother embraced all these years slaving over elaborate meals while preaching the importance of prioritizing education, career, and independence: You can strive to have it all. Doesn’t mean you will, or that you’ll be good at it, but you can and should try because you have the freedom to do so. And that’s the luxury of being an American: not settling for one identity, especially if you’re a woman.

She was beyond amused when I recounted to her the tale of the rice meatballs. One day, to encourage me, she came over with a new bottle. “This is zaferoon. In America it’s called ‘saffron.’ It’s originally from Iran, where the best zaferoon in the world comes from. Ask anyone. Even Americans.” She pauses to make sure I’m watching her. “I’ll put it right here, you see? Next to the string cheese.”

Orly Minazad is a freelance writer and essayist in L.A. covering arts, culture, and everything in between. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Sports

Somersaulting Into America

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As a top Japanese gymnast, my dad’s future was laid out for him. He opted for adventure in the U.S. instead

The letter that would change my father’s life—and eventually lead to his recent induction into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame—arrived in 1964, at his high school in Nara, Japan. Addressed to Yoshi Hayasaki, it was from an American.

My father, 17 at the time, could not make out a single sentence typed by Eric Hughes, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. He asked a campus English teacher to translate. “It sounds like he is trying to invite you to come to America,” the teacher told my father.

Hughes, as it turned out, had started a men’s gymnastics team at the University of Washington in 1956, a time when the sport in the U.S. lagged behind Japan and the Soviet Union. While on sabbatical in Japan 1964, Hughes scouted for talent. That was when he first spotted my dad, a 5-foot-3 city and regional champion, ranked as one of the top five gymnasts in Japan.

The letter stated that if my dad earned admittance to the University of Washington, he would be guaranteed a scholarship to the school, and could compete on its team.

All my father really knew of America at the time came from watching translated episodes of Rawhide, an American Western TV series. His mother, on the other hand, had memories of U.S. mortars reducing her Osaka home to ashes, and racing to shelters with her oldest child in her arms as enemy bombs fell. But the family spoke little about these war stories.

Coaches and teammates could not understand why my dad would even consider competing in another country—in the U.S. of all places—when Japan was already the gymnastics superpower. Everybody was against the idea, including his father.

Still, the thought of America electrified my dad. He had been offered scholarships to Japanese universities, and saw that many former champions became physical education teachers, while others became foot soldiers for corporations. “I saw my future,” he told me. “It was like a blueprint.”

There is a Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.” It is a saying I’ve thought about throughout my own life, as someone who feels like I’ve at times stuck out, even in America. Here, however, it is possible to find your own way, and embrace the road less taken. Back then, in Japan, my dad could practically see the hammer’s face.

For him, America was uncharted territory that seemed to offer an escape, or at least an adventure. Grudgingly, my grandfather assented, telling Dad: “Do not come back until you have accomplished something.”

Sending him on a plane would cost too much; my grandfather had lost his plastics company in bankruptcy when my father was in sixth grade, and the family of six was forced to move into my great-grandparents’ two-bedroom, one-bathroom house. My grandmother sold hairpins on the street. My grandfather never worked full-time again.

The family hunted around for a cargo ship. On July 30, 1965, shortly after graduating from high school, my father boarded the S.S. Idaho, which was transporting logs from Yokohama to Longview, Washington. The trip cost $300.

My father packed a week’s worth of clothes, jump ropes, a training bar, and one suit—a gift from his father. No one aboard spoke Japanese. When he could no longer see Japan, Dad wrote: “Should I really be doing this? I almost feel like jumping into the water and swimming back to shore.”

He slept in a cabin in the lowest bowels of the ship, where the rocking was most violent. By day three, the sky turned gray and stormy. Seasick, he vomited liquid for four days, as his body turned nearly skeletal. The pages of his diary went blank.

By the eighth day, he could drink water again. He ate a hotdog. “I’m living again,” he wrote.

Twelve days later, he rushed out to the deck and saw land.

He would attend high school again, this time for a year in Issaquah, Washington, to learn English, before taking the tests to gain acceptance into the university. He was one of three foreign exchange students in an all-white school. It took a while to realize that kids were making fun of him when they called him a “Jap” or a “chink,” but he tried not to care. He had a mission: to make it into college, and become a champion.

Once, while going through the cabinets of his host family’s home, he found an aluminum can, but could not read the label. He opened it, chewing its contents, stomaching the odd taste. He later found out it was dog food.

At night, my father practiced English words in front of a mirror. Still, he failed the admissions test twice. He began to fret, hearing his father’s words: “Don’t come back until...”

On the third try, he passed.

He enrolled at the University of Washington in 1966. His first competition in the national championships took place the following summer. To his devastation, he placed at the bottom.

The next year, “I went nuts training,” he said. He came back to the national championships in 1967 and took first place, becoming the USA Gymnastics all-around champion. He did it again in 1968, winning individual titles on rings, parallel bars, and high bar.

Then, he set another goal: to compete on the U.S. Olympic team.

Dad applied for American citizenship in 1968, knowing this was no small step: A few weeks later, a letter from the U.S. government required his appearance at a physical examination. He was being drafted for the Vietnam War.

Was what happened next luck or misfortune? He will never know. One day, while practicing a back handspring twist, he punched the floor with his legs hard, tearing his right Achilles tendon. He received 24 stitches. He failed the military physical. He also missed his shot at making the 1968 Olympic team.

Two years later, he recovered enough to win back-to-back NCAA all-around titles. But in another stroke of fate, he tore his left Achilles tendon.

He continued to train, but his body was never the same. His Olympic dreams over, he contemplated whether he should return to Japan, become the businessman that others expected of him. His father could be proud now; his son had accomplished something. Beyond athletics, Dad could also speak English. He had a cadre of American friends. He bought a 1957 Volkswagen, and began dating an American woman (who would become my mother). When an offer to become the head coach of the University of Illinois men’s gymnastics team arrived, he did not think twice. It was an opportunity to stay, build a community his way, and raise a multiracial family.

The program had been on a losing streak for a decade, so he reached into lessons from his own journey to turn it around: with the best U.S. athletes already spoken for, he could look abroad to revitalize his Illinois team.

He began traveling to Brazil, Finland, and Portugal to recruit, sharing his own story of making it in the U.S. and convincing athletes from far-off countries to compete for Illinois. Their wins soon attracted more local talent, developing top athletes from within the U.S. In 1980, they won the Big Ten title, and five more after that. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year four times. In his 33 seasons, he coached 14 individual NCAA champions, 89 All-Americans, and three Olympians.

At 67 years old, my father continues to teach gymnastics at the private gym he started, The Hayasaki Gymnastics Center in Champaign, Illinois. For him, it’s not about working with the “stars.” He has most enjoyed teaching the hundreds of gymnasts who trained because they simply wanted to see where the journey would lead.

The ideals my father developed in America are now embedded within his gymnasts, and also within me: Growth comes from taking risks. Reinventing yourself is sometimes necessary. Fear of failure can be a powerful muscle. And sticking out? It might be the most underestimated strength of all.

Erika Hayasaki is the author of The Death Class: A True Story About Life (Simon and Schuster) and an assistant professor in the literary journalism program at UC Irvine. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Science

Dogs Can Get Dementia Too

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Dogs are living longer — and a veterinarian finds himself diagnosing canine dementia at least once a day

Zeigfield waddled, rather than walked, into my examination room. I had been seeing this obese Dachshund at my veterinary hospital for most of his 17 years, treating many of the common ailments of the breed: back problems, mild skin disease, and regular episodes of what veterinarians tactfully refer to as “dietary indiscretion” (in Zeigfield’s case, eating a batch of chocolate chip cookies, part of an old sock, and a half bottle of his owner’s Prozac). But today’s visit was different. “He just hasn’t been himself for the past several months,” his owner Carol reported. “He seems restless at night, but mostly he just lays around. He doesn’t play his old games anymore. There isn’t any single issue, but he just isn’t right.”

Further questioning revealed that there actually was a single issue that prompted the visit: Zeigfield had been urinating and defecating indoors, despite being well house-trained since puppyhood. After ruling out most of the possible physical causes, I told Carol that her dog was likely developing cognitive dysfunction syndrome, the most common type of dementia in dogs.

Pets’ lives are different now than when I started my veterinary practice 40 years ago. Dogs are no longer allowed to run freely outside to be hit by cars, fight with other animals, or eat out of garbage cans. The quality of our dog foods is considerably better, and we have controlled the mostly deadly infectious diseases. Dogs’ lifestyles are safe but sedentary, leading to longer lives and more chronic conditions like obesity, arthritis, and cognitive dysfunction—which I find myself diagnosing almost daily at the Southern California veterinary hospitals where I practice.

People are often surprised that their pets can develop something similar to the Alzheimer’s Disease we see in humans, but our brains are not that different from dogs’. When your dog greets you, the same parts of the dog’s brain sends sensory input to the hippocampus, where memory connections are forged. Just beside the hippocampus sits the amygdala, which links the memories passed on from the hippocampus to emotions (like joy at your homecoming) and refers these feelings to the neural systems that initiate activity. Various parts of the cerebral cortex sort these impulses and modify them so that they are appropriate. This how the sound of the owner’s car pulling into the driveway tells your dog an affectionate greeting, a long walk, and, of course, dinner are on their way.

The cellular changes of canine cognitive dysfunction would be recognizable under the microscope to any human brain pathologist: Plaques of beta amyloid—protein fragments believed to be the result of “oxidative stress”—lead to distinctive “neurofibrillary tangles” within the damaged nerve cells, and shrinkage of the brain appears in areas where memories are made and behaviors are shaped.

Some things are different between our species, of course. Fido doesn’t forget where he put his car keys. But he may not remember which door he uses to go out to the yard. The same inability to evaluate behavioral appropriateness may prompt a person with dementia to disrobe in public, or a dog with dementia to eliminate in the house without hesitation. Many dogs with cognitive dysfunction wander restlessly all evening in a manner reminiscent of the “sundown syndrome” of Alzheimer’s patients. And most significantly, finding familiar surroundings strangely unfamiliar often triggers anxiety and agitation.

When I explain such anxiety to owners of senile dogs, I often refer to a scene in the movie On Golden Pond, in which Henry Fonda’s character leaves the house to pick strawberries and returns a few minutes later, shaking and distraught. “Nothing was familiar, not one damn tree,” he says. “I was scared half to death.”

As with many of the dogs I treat, Sterling, a 14-year-old Labrador retriever from El Cajon, was dealing with dementia along with other health problems. He had recently lost most of his hearing, and arthritic hips made it difficult for him to rise from his favorite sleeping spot. Sterling spent hours every night panting and whining. Once he got to his feet, he could move fairly well. But as soon as he left the house for a walk around the neighborhood, he pulled nervously at the leash to get back into the house, where he would pant and tremble for the next hour. Sterling’s owners felt that he was suffering, and they had started to consider euthanasia.

Once a dog’s cognition deteriorates, it loses the ability to compensate for discomfort, and the dog’s suffering becomes compounded by anxiety. This is the point at which most compassionate owners I’ve dealt with have made the difficult decision to euthanize their long-time companion. Although dementia is almost never fatal on its own, cognitive dysfunction and physical health problems are a debilitating combination.

I told Sterling’s owners we could treat the low thyroid condition that was diminishing his hearing and potentially find more effective treatments for his hip arthritis. We could lessen his distress with the same antidepressant medications given to humans. But I couldn’t offer any honest reassurance of dramatic improvement.

Treatments for canine dementia are most effective when they are started before the signs of cognitive dysfunction start to show. This is equally true in humans, which is why researchers are working on tests to predict Alzheimer’s long before symptoms appear. A number of nutritional supplements (particularly DHA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil) and various antioxidants have been shown to slow the progression of mental decline. S-AdenosylMethionine (SAMe) is an over-the-counter supplement that provides mild help for old brains. There is even an FDA-approved medication to treat canine cognitive dysfunction: Seleginine is a derivative of a drug used in human Parkinson’s Disease. In my personal experience I have not seen dramatic results with this medication, but it is usually prescribed in the later stages of dementia, when it may be “too little, too late.”

We can also borrow from the extensive research that has been done in humans and laboratory animals, which find that eating a healthy diet (high in omega-3), staying mentally active, and getting lots of aerobic exercise can delay the onset of senile dementia. The exact amount of exercise that is required to delay senility in dogs has yet to be studied, but my personal experience has been that when I see one of my canine patients who is still alert and happy at 15 years old, the dog’s owner invariably tell me, “He has always gotten out on his walks every day, no matter what.”

When we are in the middle of our busy lives, old age seems far away, and taking steps to delay senile dementia (for our dogs or ourselves) isn’t a priority. There is even a certain unspoken acknowledgment that old age and a weak mind are inexorably linked. It isn’t until your graying canine companion is anxiously pacing the house at midnight or your mother forgets your name that you think you’d do anything possible to bring back the memory and comprehension that has been lost. Something to think about while you take a long walk with your dog.

Lee Harris, who holds a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, has been taking care of pets for 40 years in the San Diego and Seattle areas. He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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The Science of Why Your Kids Can’t Resist Frozen

Frozen
Frozen Disney

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A preschooler’s emotional world is reminiscent of 'Frozen' heroine Elsa’s internal struggle

Disney’s Frozen, which earned more than $1.2 billion at the box office, is not only the first “princess” movie to make the list of top 10 grossing animated films, but also the number-one animated film of all time. Its songs and characters are culturally ubiquitous.

Little girls have long been drawn to princesses. But what is it that makes Frozen so much more appealing than previous princess movies—and why does it enrapture young children in particular? As psychologists (who happen to be sisters just like the heroines in the film) and the mothers of princess-loving daughters, we decided to consider this question.

First, a preschooler’s emotional world is reminiscent of Frozen heroine Elsa’s internal struggle: Her emotions are strong, passionate — and seem uncontrollable. Preschoolers too, are driven by their impulses. When Elsa laments that she’s afraid that there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me,” it resonates with young children (and perhaps their patience-tested parents, as well).

Second, preschoolers’ imaginations can make the world a wondrous place filled with the possibility of excitement and adventure. Children respond to stories that employ magical realism, so Elsa—as a superhero with what one of our daughters (Maryam’s) and her friends call “ice powers” (the ability to create a whole castle of snow and ice using only her fingers)—has special appeal. Perhaps because they are so in awe of her magic and power, children are less likely to get caught up in Elsa’s experience of isolation and desperation when she is locked away in her room as a girl and hides herself in a remote castle as a woman.

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But with the allure of magic and the sense that anything is possible comes a high potential for terror. Maryam’s daughter particularly liked that there isn’t a witch in Frozen. Though she adores other Disney princess movies, the witch-like characters (like Mother Gothel in Rapunzel) are all too real. The scary parts in Frozen are minimal and temporary, and the villain is an ordinary guy who sings a catchy love song.

Thirdly, Elsa has a genuine connection with her sister, Anna. Despite Elsa’s repeated rebuffs to Anna’s attempts to develop a friendship throughout most of the movie, their bond underscores dedication to family above all. Preschoolers are deeply entrenched in their families and tend to demonstrate a strong in-group attachment, meaning that they favor members within their social circle. Even when Frozen viewers are rooting for Anna to form a relationship with her love interest Kristoff, the love between the sisters is much more appealing. The heroines of Frozen are authentic and real, and no longer solely focused on finding a prince. They preach sisterly love and girl power.

Finally, the sing-along music seals the deal. Maryam’s 4-year-old daughter and her friends love to sing the anthem “Let it Go,” wagging their fingers at each other: “Be the good girl you always have to be!” They stomp in unison, pretending to be Elsa stomping on the ice to create her castle. Even Maryam’s 1-year-old son gets into the act, mimicking their behavior.

When asked what she thought the song was about, Maryam’s daughter smiled and put it succinctly: “It’s about Elsa being happy and free, and nobody bothering her.”

So there it is, the crux of the matter: a universally appealing desire to be happy and free.

Perhaps understanding the perspective of a preschooler can help us appreciate some of what draws us all to this movie: We all feel internal struggles with our impulses. None of us really wants a (too) scary villain. Most of us are pretty loyal to our families, despite their eccentricities and the emotional challenges that we face at times. And all of us want to be happy and free.

Maryam Kia-Keating, Ph.D. and Yalda T. Uhls, MBA, Ph.D. are sisters, psychologists, and, most importantly, moms. Maryam is an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Yalda is a senior scientific researcher at the Children’s Digital Media Center@LA at UCLA and the Regional Director of the non-profit Common Sense Media. They wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

Read next: Frozen Director Now Apologizes to Parents for ‘Let It Go’

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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