DAYTON — Their backgrounds may be dramatically different, but it’s their similarities that are the focus of Pamela Ferris-Olson’s new book.
“Living in the Heartland: Three Extraordinary Women’s Stories,” chronicles the lives of three Miami Valley women who represent different minorities.
The idea for her book, she explains in the introduction, originated on a humid summer evening as she sat waiting for New York’s Staten Island Ferry and observed the variety of languages that filled the room.
“The interconnectedness made possible by the Internet has resulted in a burgeoning exchange of information, goods, services and ideas,” she writes. “It has made commerce and ideas readily available, but has not, as yet, transformed attitudes sufficiently to create a world view in which all people are seen as belonging to a single global family.”
Ferris-Olson, who lives in Washington Twp., hopes her self-published book might help remedy that situation. She has been a freelance writer for the Dayton Daily News for the past 15 years.
“I wanted to begin a conversation among people about diversity,” she said. “As different as we may all look, women have similar experiences as wives, mothers and business women.” By sharing three stories of minority women and their struggles, she’s hoping readers will relate and be inspired.
To find subjects for her interviews, Ferris-Olson contacted women’s centers at Wright State University and the University of Dayton, asking them to put out a call for women willing to share their life stories. She chose Dayton, not only because she lives here, but because it’s the Midwest.
“Ohio has become a bellwether for the country since the onset of the 21st century,” she writes. The search eventually led her to Nancy, Ellyn and Ife:
• Nancy Scott, a single mother of three, grew up on a reservation and is a proud member of the Seneca Nation and the Navy. A survivor of mental and physical abuse, she has met President George W. Bush on two occasions, both as an emissary for higher education.
Said Nancy: “If I’ve learned anything, it’s to stay true to yourself. Embrace your culture, your faith, and your beliefs. I really believe that. I always look for the positive in any situation; otherwise life is just wasted space.”
• Ife Shafeek grew up in a housing project in Dayton with a mother who imposed rigid restrictions. At the age of 18, Ife thought marriage offered a way to be free of her mother’s control, but discovered that neither her husband nor her Muslim religion provided the security or peace of mind she’d expected. She has faced many challenges in the process of raising two sons on her own.
Said Ife: “I realize that nothing happens in this world without the hand of God. I think everyone should recognize a higher power and count their blessings when they receive them. I don’t believe my story would be any different had I been raised with a different religion.”
• Ellyn Miller, born in Korea, was put up for adoption by her biological parents who were unable to afford the medical treatment her cleft palate necessitated. Ellyn grew up in Oakwood surrounded by a large, loving religious family but always wondered what her life would be like had she remained in Korea. In 2009, she had the chance to spend several days with her biological family.
Said Ellyn: “I believe my path to fulfilling my destiny started the day I was born. Someday something like a light bulb will click on and then I’ll know what I’m supposed to do with my life. Until then I want to try anything and everything. I don’t have a master plan so until I discover my life’s purpose I’ll just take it one step at a time and see where I go.”
Though Ferris-Olson does not belong to a religious or ethnic minority, she observed intolerance first-hand when her father’s Japanese-Americans friends — who had served with him during the war — came to visit their home and her mother refused to come out of the bedroom to see them.
“I have had an increasing desire to be involved in the dialogue about intolerance,” she said, certain that her father’s stories and respect for those men lie at the heart of her book. “Our country is more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous time in its history,” she said. “American’s population continues to grow, and become increasingly multiracial and predominantly female.”
“Living in the Heartland,” she said, is a celebration of women and an appeal for Americans to embrace diversity.
By Meredith Moss, DailyNews.com. April 24, 2010
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