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Kingston reading highlights stories of conflict

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The emotional scars war veterans wear are seldom detected because their wounds are commonly bandaged up in silence.

Civilians were able to understand the reality of war better when national award-winning author Maxine Hong Kingston held a reading for the anthology she edited, “Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace,” on Oct. 3 at Claremont McKenna College.

More than 100 people arrived at the public reading to hear Kingston read two stories from the anthology’s collection of 80 essays that were written by war veterans, gang members, drug users, domestically-abused victims and others who endured conflict.

Kingston gathered the contributors to this new volume from the writing and meditation workshops she has led for more than 12 years in which members write their way toward peace.

Two of the contributing authors – Paul Ocampo and Jimmy Castellanos, a former University of La Verne student – also joined Kingston in the evening program.

Castellanos offered a non-traditional voice of courage in his narrative, “Voluntary Disarmament in Iraq,” as guests listened about his double life in the Marine Corps during his seven-month combat tour.

It was his 12-hour guard duty shifts that gave Castellanos the time to reconsider his beliefs in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“Veterans always talk about a grenade blowing up and shooting, but they rarely talk about the transformation and going from a warrior to a peace activist,” Castellanos said.

For Castellanos the turning point to end his double life between being a Marine and being a conscientious war objector came when his roommate died in an explosion from a mortar rocket fire that landed 20 yards away.

Castellanos finally decided to publicly acknowledge his beliefs against the war to his military superiors seven days before his 21st birthday.

He attributed his new values and thinking to Professor of Spanish Andrea Labinger for teaching him to think outside the box during his one semester at ULV before he was deployed to Al Asad, Iraq, in February 2004.

“What’s remarkable about Jimmy and other veterans who have written in this workshop is that they are dealing with that fear in a way that goes beyond the necessity to use violence,” said John Roth, professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College.

The workshop is held once a season, said Ocampo, who is also co-editor for “Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace.”

“There’s no other book like this,” Kingston said. “They are writing like their lives depended on it.”

Castellanos is currently pursuing a biology and chemistry bachelors degree at Claremont McKenna College and plans to publish his own book at the end of next year.

Kingston’s writings have won many awards and in 1997, former President Bill Clinton presented her with a National Humanities Medal.

Claremont McKenna College featured Kingston as one of its 2006 fall semester guest speakers at the institution’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum.

Len Ly can be reached at lly@ulv.edu.

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