Changing US/Cuba Relations

Flags of the United States of America nad Cuba

An trip to Cuba from the US used to mean travel through a third country and risking government fines. Americans wishing to travel to Cuba now have a new option. Just a couple of weeks ago, JetBlue began offering direct flights between the two nations. More commercial airlines will add flights in coming months as well. Travel by cruise ship between Miami and Havana has been possible since May. Visiting Cuba is not completely unrestricted, as the US allows only 12 categories of travel. These include artistic, sporting, research, and educational pursuits as well as family visits and “people-to-people” trips that result in “meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.” But, many people can’t remember a time when something like this was possible at all, since travel restrictions and economic sanctions had been in place since the early 1960s.

Other things are changing as well. It was in December of 2014 that President Obama announced a new course for our nation in relations with Cuba. To follow were the removal of Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism List in May 2015, the re-opening of the US Embassy in Havana and the Cuban Embassy in DC in July 2015, and a visit to Cuba by President Obama in March 2016. The United States has even become Cuba’s fifth largest trading partner and a majority of Americans, Cuban Americans, Cubans, and other Latin Americans have all shown support for normalizing ties between these two former enemy nations.

To find out more about the historical background and changes taking place in US/Cuba relations you can visit the Council on Foreign Relations or check out these books and videos from our collection to learn more about our island neighbor.

Let the Art Events Begin


While tomorrow night’s opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games will certainly be artistic, today’s Olympics lack another kind of artistry that was in place for four decades. From 1912 to 1952, the Olympics included artistic events along side the sporting ones. Over the years, a total of 151 medals were awarded for architecture, music, painting, sculpture and literature for works that took their inspiration from sport.



In 1912, the first gold medal for sculpture was awarded to American Walter Winans for his bronze piece, American Trotter. This was Winans’ third Olympic medal however, having already won two for the sport of sharpshooting.


In 1948, a silver medal was won by John Copley for his engraving Polo Players. This made him the oldest ever medal recipient. He no longer holds that title, since the art competitions have been removed from the Olympic record. The 151 medals awarded for arts also no longer count in current countries’ medal counts.

The Olympic art events saw varying levels of popularity over the years. Their removal from the games came about for a different reason though. The Olympics were always meant to be a showcase of the best amateurs from around the world. It was decided that art could no longer be included because the artists were in fact professionals, earning their livings from their works.

To read more about the history of Olympic art events, have a look at this Smithsonian piece. The library also has many books, ebooks, and videos about the Olympics in general.


Pictured at the top is Jean Jacoby’s Corner and Rugby. Rugby took home home a gold medal in 1928. At the bottom is the 1924 silver medal winner The Liffey Swim by Jack Butler Yeats.

250 Million Trees

Famous trees

Today being the last Friday in April means that we celebrate National Arbor Day today. The very first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska in 1872 and since that time 250 million trees have been planted all over the country through the Arbor Day Foundation. A day set aside to celebrate the importance of trees in our lives and to promote their planting and care came about through the efforts of J. Sterling Morton, an early Nebraska pioneer and editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper. He often wrote about agriculture and environmentalism and promoted the idea of a day for tree planting. Nebraska’s State Board of Agriculture agreed with his proposal and declared the first Arbor Day. Prizes were offered for the largest number of trees planted and over a million trees were planted in Nebraska on that day. Other states soon followed and eventually the day would be celebrated in all 50 states and numerous countries around the world.

Join the celebration today at 1:30 with the MVCC Go Green! Club. They will be planting a magnolia tree on the north side of the pump house in front of Buildings F and T. Then at 2:00 in D116 there will be a talk entitled “Climate Action Plan? What’s That? & Other  Sustainability News.” Also, don’t forget to check out the many books in our collection covering the natural history of trees as well information about different varieties of trees around the country, growing tips, and even a book about famous trees. To find out more about Arbor Day or to add to the next 250 million trees visit the Arbor Day Foundation website.

“Arbor Day…which has already transplanted itself…to every state in the American Union and has even been adopted in foreign lands…is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future.”  –J. Sterling Morton

Happy Leap Day

Today is a special day that only comes along once every fours years, more or less. The ancient Egyptians were the first to discover that the solar year and the man-made calendar year don’t exactly match. It actually takes the Earth 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds to travel around the sun– thus the extra day every four years. The Romans were the ones to designate February 29th as that day. Then in the 16th century, it was determined that this would occur in years divisible by four. But it’s even a little more complicated because the math still wouldn’t come out right. So, we add a further step where no year divisible by 100 can have a leap year, unless it is divisible by 400. This means that 1900 was not a leap year but 2000 was. To find out more about calendar history and to get answers to questions like “How many days in a dinosaur year?” and “Should 2100 be a double leap year?” check out this book from our collection: Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar.

Here are some more interesting facts about Leap Day:

  • People born on February 29 are called “leaplings” or “leapers”.
  • If you receive a fixed annual salary, you are working for free today.
  • Old Irish tradition says that February 29th is the only day of the year when a woman may propose to a man.
  • Queen Margaret of Scotland is said to have taken this a step further by enacting a law that said that any man that refused a proposal on this day would have to pay his proposer one hundred pounds or give her a silk dress.
  • Greek tradition considers marrying in a Leap Year to be unlucky, especially on Leap Day.
  • The chance of being born on Leap Day is about 1 in 1,461.
  • According to Reuters, there are more than 200,000 leaplings in the United States and more than 5 million worldwide.
  • Leap Years are the only years where January 1st and December 31st are on different days of the week — every other year they’re on the same day.
  • Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera The Pirates of Penzance has a little fun with the idea of being born on February 29th. Poor Frederic the pirate apprentice– his indenture will last until his 21st birthday rather than his 21st year.

And for those of you lucky enough to be born on this special day, you may want to check out this article from 9 reasons to celebrate Leap Day on Feb. 29. Here you’ll find great deals from restaurants and other businesses that are only available to leaplings today.

In Honor of Our Presidents


Today, February 12th, is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Coming up soon, on February 22nd, is George Washington’s birthday. Although… there is some dispute about this date stemming from the switch in the 1700s from the Julian-style calendar to the Gregorian, with some placing his birth on February 11th. This coming Monday February 15th, we will celebrate around the country with a day off of work or school and big sales in all the stores on Presidents’ Day.

Why are we relaxing and shopping on this seemingly random date? What about William Henry Harrison and Ronald Reagan who were also born in February? And what of all the other presidents who happened to have been born in the remaining eleven months of year. Find out more about the interesting history of this holiday, including the fact that Presidents’ Day isn’t even the official name, in this article from Time magazine A Brief History of (What You Think Is) Presidents’ Day.  Even more information can be found about the history of Presidents’s Day in this entry from, including how we came to have our three day weekends and why Veteran’s Day used to always be on a Monday but now is not. For further presidential exploration check out some of these materials from our library.

You May Not Want to Read This

How do you feel about bugs in your house? How many do you think there might be? A group of entomologists recently conducted a research study to find out. They started by combing through 50 homes in the Raleigh, NC area with tweezers and headlamps. They collected samples of all the different types of bugs they could find and then took them back to their lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Nature Center for examination under the microscope. They didn’t set out to count how many individual bugs there were, but rather to identify how many different types were present.
They found a total of 579 different species, with each house having an average of 100 different species as residents. If you’re starting to get the heebie-jeebies, it may help to know that most of bugs were less than a few millimeters long. The most prevalent were book lice which were found in over 98 percent of the homes, dark-winged fungus gnats in 96 percent, and cobweb spiders, carpet beetles, gall midge flies, and ants found in every single home.

If you’re not completely freaked out at this point and want to find out more, you can read the full report from the journal PeerJ Arthropods of the Great Indoors: Characterizing Diversity Inside Urban and Suburban Homes. Then you can learn more about the different species of bugs they found with these books and DVDs from the library.

Being Arab American

arab covers

Tomorrow at 11:00am, the MVCC Library is hosting the event The Arab Experience Through Graphic Novels. One of the novels being featured is Arab in America, which portrays the prejudices experienced by Arabs and Muslims in American society. If you want to explore this topic further you might want to check out some other items from our collection.

How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America looks into the lives of twenty-somethings living in the largest Arab-American community in the US, with everything from government surveillance to workplace discrimination being part of their lives.

Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America tells the story of one Muslim American family–“a story of the struggles of assimilation and acceptance in a climate of confusion and prejudice.”

From Veils to Thongs: An Arab Chick’s Survival Guide to Balancing One’s Ethnic Identity in America takes a lighthearted look at being Syrian-American and trying to straddle two very different cultures with two very different views on women.

Homeland Insecurity: the Arab American and Muslim American Experience after 9/11 is an ethnographic study of the post 9/11 Chicago area. Through more than a hundred interviews and five in-depth oral histories, we get a candid look into the lives and experiences of Arab and Muslim Americans. We learn of their experiences with government scrutiny and public mistrust, but also of their experiences of increased social and civic engagement.

In All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim we hear first-hand from Muslim American men from all walks of life. We hear about their lives and about what it means to be both Muslim and American.

In I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim 40 women under the age of 40, who are both Muslim and American, share their individual stories about womanhood as a Muslim and what their lives are like being Muslim in America.

In the DVD Arab American Comedy Tour: Featuring America’s Most Wanted Comedians!, three comedians, Maysoon Zayid, Ahmed Ahmed, and Dean Obeidallah find the humor in the stereotypes that are often experienced in this country and “at all major airports” when you are Arab American.

Ellis Island

old ellis

Immigration is one the topics that we’re focusing on as part of our One Book, One College discussion this year. No treatment of the history of immigration in this country would be complete without a look at Ellis Island. Between 1892 and 1954, over 12 million immigrants entered the United States through this station in New York Harbor.

Ellis video pics

Two DVDs from our collection will bring Ellis Island history to life for you. The first is Remembering Ellis Island. This takes us through the history of the immigration station to its becoming a national museum. We see what the immigrants experienced while on the island, waiting for their chance to start a new life in a new land.

Forgotten Ellis Island tells the story of the hospital on Ellis Island where tens of thousands of immigrants spent time inside its walls, hoping to be cured and therefore not deported. In the three decades of its existence, “where the germs of the world converged,” the hospital saw the birth of 350 babies and the death of ten times that many immigrants.

If you want to explore this topic even further, these books from our collection can tell you even more about the interesting history of the island. For further exploration, you can also visit the The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation website. Here you will find extensive history, many photographs, oral histories, a searchable passenger database, and much more.


Mexican Chicago

Mexican Chicago Books

This coming Thursday, Sept. 17th, the MVCC Library and the Green Hills Public Library are partnering to present the program Mexican Chicago: A History in Pictures. The presentation will take place at 7pm at the Green Hills Public Library on 103rd St. in Palos Hills. Through photographs, storyteller Rita Jirasek will shares stories of the lives and experiences of Mexicans in Chicago.

If the presentation inspires you to enjoy more resources with this special focus, a few books from our collection are great ways to explore this topic further. The first is Barrio: Photographs from Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village. This is a collection of photographs and journal entries by photographer Paul D’Amato that capture life, both public and private, in these Mexican communities in Chicago.  You can also view more of this artist’s work at his website.

Another interesting book is Pots of Promise: Mexicans and Pottery at Hull-House, 1920-40. This is a photograph and essay collection that brings us the story of Mexican artisans in Chicago as well as the history of the Hull-House. From the forward, “If only these pots could talk…the pots speak volumes about Hull-House, its Mexican neighborhood, and transnational material culture.”

Bringing Aztlan to Mexican Chicago is another book that portrays the Mexican experience in Chicago. This is the autobiography of Jóse Gamaliel González, a Mexico born artist, who came to call Chicago home. Illustrations and recollections depict his community advocacy and struggle to bring arts programming to Chicago.

Also, don’t forget that next Tuesday the 15th, Jose Angel N., the author of this year’s One Book, One College selection Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant will be at the library to discuss his book and his life.

One Book, One College, Three New DVDs

The library has just added three new highly acclaimed DVDs that complement our One Book, One College selection this year. These films depict the lives of Latin Americans struggling to reach the United States in search of a better life for themselves and for their families.

Previously appearing at numerous film festivals and now appearing on our library shelves is The Other Side of Immigration. This films takes us into rural Mexican towns where half the population has left to work in the United States. Through interviews with the townspeople, we see why so many leave their homes to find work in the US, as well as what happens to the families and communities that are left behind.

Winner of Best Documentary at several film festivals, El Inmigrante/The Immigrant tells the true story of the life and death Eusebio De Haro, a Mexican immigrant who was shot and killed during one of his border crossing attempts. This film that has been described as graphic, disturbing, poignant, and gripping examines varied group perspectives including the De Haro family, residents of the community in Texas where Eusebio was shot, vigilante border militias, and other migrants trying to make the crossing.

Another film festival favorite, and winner of the Audience Award at Sundance, is De Nadie. Here we meet migrants from Central and South America and learn of their dangerous journey through Mexico as the determined travelers try to reach the United States. We see the risks they are taking with their money, their health, and their lives as they face intimidation from oftentimes corrupt Mexican authorities.