Artist talk opening night

Bienvenido a Camaguey and welcome to my show 1 WORLD. My name is Thomas Ferrella and I am an artist from the United States, specifically Madison Wisconsin. Thank you for coming.

First I would like to thank the Cuban government and the people of Camaguey for the invitation, but especially the people that were instrumental in making this happen: Dr. Bernie Mickie, also known as Tio Bernie, Maria and Orestes Larios, Juan Mejias, Julie Mott and Ricardo Gonzalez. Another thanks to Jenny and Leandro for the assistance in helping me install the show.

This talk is not about 1 WORLD. You can read all about that on the wall there. My short talk is actually about my father. And it is titled A LONG ROAD TO ACCEPTANCE. There are no moral principles to learn or underlying messages. It is simply how one man became more tolerant of diversity.

My father was the first generation from an Italian immigrant family. He was born and raised in impoverished rural coal-mining West Virginia. His father died in the coal mines and my father was essentially raised by his mother – barely making ends meet throughout the depression. He never thought of himself as poor since everyone else was in the same boat. He served in World War II and went to college for free under the GI Bill. The only child of 7 to go to college. He had to leave West Virginia because no one would hire educated Italians. Many of his brothers and sisters and friends did the same, so following the great Appalachian migration of the time they moved to Detroit, Michigan. After the racial riots of 1967 and 1969, the business he worked for moved to Toledo, Ohio and so did our family.

In Toledo, Ohio, he flourished. We lived in a middle-class all-white neighborhood. I never really heard my parents express any racial biases, but we always lived in white neighborhoods.

Then one day a black family moved next door. And that started something in my dad that I had never seen before. Immediately he took this as an affront to his civility and did not hesitate in expressing his outrage with racial comments. This family turned out to be highly educated and in fact, the patriarch was a bishop in the local Baptist church. They had children of which one was quite young. The woman, Jenny, asked my mom if she would be willing to watch her youngest after school until she came home from the church. Well that went on for 10 years and both of my parents fell in love with little Jaimie. Jaimie is now over 40 years old and is a United States Navy engineer onboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. Coincidentally just like how my dad served in World War II. My dad was very proud of this and believes he was influential in Jamie’s career decision, especially since my dad was such a winded story teller and loved talking about the war. As the dust was settling with these neighbors all through the love of a small child, on the other side of my parents two gay gentlemen moved in. Once again this tested my dad’s sensibilities and once again he failed. He expressed his dismay and outrage and went out of his way to disrupt these neighbor’s sense of peace and security. Right about this time I started to think of my dad as Archie Bunker from the TV series ALL IN THE FAMILY. How did he develop all of this racial and sexual-orientation animosity. And how did it become so intense and manifest itself so outwardly?, especially when you consider he was on the receiving end of ethnic discrimination in West Virginia.

Well it turns out the neighbors, Randy and Jim were very kind people and great neighbors who were lawyers and loved art. My mom got along with them straight away which only inflamed my dad even more. Well as my dad got older, Randy and Jim took pity on him and while he was away at church or one time while he was in the hospital, they would secretly come over and mow my dad’s lawn, rake his leaves or shovel his snow, which by the way made him angrier. After some time he slowly, passively gave in and accepted these gentlemen. He never said why, except when asked, he would simply say “they’re OK.”

A story such as this is not so unusual. It brings up more questions for me than answers.

Though in general, I believe we as humans are inherently threatened by anything different and it is easy to build walls and categorize these differences as threatening, which leads to anxiety and frequently hatred. Hence racism, sexism, etc…

1 WORLD is my meager attempt at breaking down these walls and encouraging you the viewer to consider our similarities: two hands, two feet, a heart…hair…skin…and to consider we all want the same things – clean air, clean water, healthy food, good schools for our children, safe communities, valued work and to be ‘respected’. I have travelled extensively and this is what 99% of the people on this planet want.

These are simple easy goals, but why do they seem so distant? I live every day a little sad that we as humans are not there yet as a society.

Again thank you for coming and for listening and please enjoy the food so generously offered by Maria and Orestes. Enjoy.