Thursday, January 19, 2012

Martin Luther King and "The Help"

Since it was Martin Luther King Day this week, it’s a good time to talk about The Help by Kathryn Stockett. After all, Dr. King was killed while in Memphis supporting the Sanitation Workers’ Union. The people in it were among the poorest workers in America, so underpaid that even working full-time, they were eligible for Food Stamps. The rights and needs of the poor were a strong focus of Dr. King after 1967. The Help, after all, is about poor working people.  

The Help, which takes place in Jackson, Mississippi is about the complex relationships that existed between African-American domestic help and their affluent white employers and the caste system that shaped those relationships. The layers of complexity are difficult for those of us who weren’t involved to understand. Nevertheless, the characters were richly drawn and I found myself on the edge of my seat reading about their plight.

I have to admit that growing up in New York my only contact with Jackson, Mississippi was meeting the contingent of exchange students at my college Binghamton University. Up North, however, being a maid was hardly an honor. I remember overhearing the mother of one of the African-American girls in my school mention to my parents that her daughter wanted to try out for school plays, but she didn’t because she was afraid that she’d be cast as a maid. Imagine my shock a few weeks later when in Spanish class, the teacher asked this same girl to read the part of La Criada (the maid) in our dialgo. As she sunk into her chair, I thought, “Oh my God! I don’t believe the teacher did that.” For two weeks after that, this girl did not show up at Spanish class. The next time I saw her, she denied that she had been absent. I guessed that was her way of telling me to leave the situation alone so I did.

A lot has changed for the better since those days, in large part because of Dr. King’s leadership. I hope incidents like that one don’t continue to occur.  People should have gained more awareness about race since the 1960's. Our awareness about class has not progressed as much. There are still many working poor of every color and the problems for them cry to be addressed. With food pantries strained and soup kitchens full, there are too many people going to bed hungry. That said, here is another recipe that is inexpensive and nourishing. Prep time is 20 minutes and it feeds four.


                                                Greek Tuna Casserole

2 5 oz. Cans tuna
1 ¼ cups cooked rice
1 can stewed tomatoes
olive oil
2 onions peeled and diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
lemon juice, parsley, and mint flakes to taste
feta cheese crumbled (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
Put rice in pot with twice as much water to cook on top of stove.
While the rice is cooking, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil in a frying pan. Add the tomatoes and seasoning.
When the above ingredients are ready, put them in a casserole dish. Add the tuna. Mix it altogether. Sprinkle feta cheese on top if desired. Bake in oven for 40 minutes.

Have a great week!


Sandra Yuen MacKay said...

Hi Lisa,

I hope you are well. I very much enjoyed reading The Help but as a coincidence I also love tuna casserole!

Lisa Sachs said...

Hi Sandra, Thanks for your comment. I hope that you're well, too. Nice hearing from you.