Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Steve Ember.
Today we play music from country singer Julianne Hough ...
Answer a question about American political parties …
And report on the fiftieth anniversary of a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Ben's Chili Bowl
People in Washington, D.C. are gathering on a famous street to mark the fiftieth anniversary of a popular restaurant. Katherine Cole tells us more about Ben's Chili Bowl.
In nineteen fifty-eight husband and wife Ben and Virginia Ali opened Ben's Chili Bowl. Washington was still a racially separated town. There were few places for black people to eat. So Ben's Chili Bowl became far more than just a restaurant. It became an important part of the black community known as the U Street corridor.
During the nineteen fifties U Street was called "Black Broadway." Many famous black entertainers performed in theaters and jazz clubs in the area. They also ate at Ben's Chili Bowl.
But later, there were hard times for the neighborhood and for Ben's. During the nineteen sixties the restaurant survived civil rights protests that took place just outside its doors. Riots and violence after the murder of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Junior caused most businesses in the area to close.
During the nineteen seventies illegal drugs and crime affected the area. Then, in the nineteen eighties the city began building an underground transportation system. The part of U Street near Ben's was shut down for about five years. Many businesses were forced to close. But Ben's remained open. Nizam Ali, son of Ben and Virginia Ali, tells why.
NIZAM ALI: "It's a responsibility to be here, so once you're here for the neighborhood for so many years it's not OK, the weather's bad or it's snowing outside, and let's just close 'cause we're not gonna' make money anyway. That's not the point. The point is you have a responsibility to the community and a responsibility to your patrons and the people that depend on you to be open and to be here."
Ben and Virginia Ali retired last year. Their sons Kamal and Nizam now run the family business. The restaurant still looks the same as it did when it opened fifty years ago. Ben's still uses the same secret recipe for its famous chili. Chili is made with meat cooked with chili peppers, spices and other ingredients. The restaurant is best known for its chili half-smoke, a kind of sausage sandwich with chili on top. Many people also like the chili cheeseburger.
Dwayne Johnson is one of them. Mr. Johnson started eating at Ben's twenty years ago. He says he continues to eat there not only for the food but also for the history. He says eating at Ben's Chili Bowl connects him to the rich cultural past of African-American people and the U Street corridor.
Some local citizens are as much a part of Ben's history as the great entertainers who ate there long ago. For fifty years Jim Blakeley has enjoyed his favorite food from Ben's, a hot dog with chili. He says: "Once you taste Ben's chili dog you want another one."
People come from faraway places to eat at Ben's Chili Bowl. It is not unusual to hear local people and visitors say: "When you come to Washington, you gotta eat at Ben's."
Political Party Symbols
Our VOA listener question this week comes from China. Li Chan wants to know about the meaning of the animals that represent the Democratic and Republican political parties.
Right now, both parties are preparing to hold their presidential nominating conventions. The Democratic Party is represented by the donkey. The party opens its convention Monday in Denver, Colorado. The Democrats will nominate Illinois Senator Barack Obama as their presidential candidate.
The elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party. It will hold its nominating convention in the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota from September first through the fourth. The Republican Party will nominate Arizona Senator John McCain as its candidate for president.
The donkey and the elephant were created long ago in political cartoons. Perhaps the most famous political cartoonist in American history was Thomas Nast. He lived more than one hundred years ago.
Thomas Nast used his drawings to show dishonesty and the illegal use of power in government. His cartoons helped create public pressure on elected officials to make government more honest.
In eighteen seventy, newspapers supporting the Democratic Party denounced a former Republican cabinet member. Thomas Nast drew a cartoon in protest. He called it "A Live Jackass Kicking a Dead Lion." The dead lion represented the cabinet member who was no longer in power. The jackass represented the Democratic Party. "Jackass" is an old slang word for someone who is stupid or foolish. It is also another word for donkey.
The image of the donkey had been used many years earlier. Democratic President Andrew Jackson used it as his personal political symbol in the eighteen thirties. He did so after his opponents called him a jackass. Later it was used at times to mean the whole Democratic Party. It became established as the party symbol when Thomas Nast used it to represent the Democrats.
Thomas Nast was a member of the Republican Party. He chose the elephant as a symbol for his own Party. He first used it in a political cartoon in eighteen seventy-four. And he continued to use the elephant to represent the Republicans in many other cartoons. Soon, it became the Republican Party symbol.
You can learn more about the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions Monday on the Special English program "This is America."
Professional ballroom dancer Julianne Hough has become very popular after appearing on the American television program "Dancing with the Stars." The nineteen-year-old dancer is also a country music singer. She recently released her first album. Shirley Griffith tells us more about Julianne Hough and plays some of her songs.
On "Dancing with the Stars," a professional ballroom dancer partners with a celebrity, such as an actor or sports star. They compete in a dance contest. Professional dancer Julianne Hough and her partners have won the competition two times. But early this season she and her partner were voted out of the contest. She went to Nashville, Tennessee, to record songs for her first album, called "Julianne Hough." Here she sings "That Song in My Head."
Julianne Hough grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. When she was just four years old, she sang in her family's country music band, White Lightning. Like Julianne, her older brother Derek is a world champion dancer and a singer. Julianne recorded a song with her brother for her album. Here they sing "Dreaming Under the Same Moon."
Julianne Hough says her new singing career is a dream come true. She says when she was ten years old she set a goal to become a professional singer by the time she was nineteen years old. Now she has reached that goal. We leave you with another song by Julianne Hough. This is "My Hallelujah Song."
I'm Steve Ember. I hope you enjoyed our program today.
It was written by Lawan Davis and Caty Weaver who was also the producer. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.