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The mock battle that ended the Spanish-American War

National Museum of American History
Blue, white, and red banner with an image of Admiral Dewey in center of white stripe, surrounded by laurels.George Dewey was promoted to the rank of rear admiral after the Battle of Manila Bay. Dewey was celebrated in American culture with songs, paintings, and public sculptures.

The Spanish-American War ended with a fantastic performance. It starred an American hero, a veteran commander taking control of a crew of both fresh-faced and veteran sailors in a corner of the Pacific few back home had heard about. His opponent: a Spaniard at the helm of his empire’s last stand in a far-flung colony. Both were aided by an efficient Belgian consul who brokered a plan to save Spanish honor, guarantee a bloodless victory, and, most important, keep a revolutionary Filipino general in the dark about the entire operation. But before we get to the main attraction, the fanfare.

Encrusted bugle with ship's nameplate visible in backgroundAn explosion aboard the USS Maine, which had been anchored in Havana harbor, ignited the Spanish-American War. An investigation argued that the ship’s ammunition stocks had caught fire but was not the result of Spanish sabotage.

On April 25, 1898, Congress declared war against Spain, and the U.S. Navy secretary cabled Commodore George Dewey, commanding the Asiatic Squadron, with orders to engage the enemy, not in the Caribbean but across the globe in the Philippines, where military commanders knew the empire was weakest, with a flotilla described as antiquated and decrepit.

Spanish flag with large yellow stripe with anchor and coat of arms. Red stripes on either side of yellow.By 1898, Spain had lost control of its once global reach, with the last of its colonies in the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba seized by the United States.

Often referred to as decisive, the United States’ battle for control of Manila involved Dewey’s squadron facing off with a Spanish flotilla described as a "grab-bag collection of mostly obsolete vessels" which was in "poor repair." Even so, this event has become the kind that has inspired the creation of songs like "Brave Dewey and His Men (Down at Manila Bay)" and public sculptures like the Dewey Monument in San Francisco’s Union Square. While Dewey controlled the bay with a blockade, Filipino General Emilio Aguinaldo and his army had cornered the Spanish on land. By late May, Aguinaldo’s troops had captured 5,000 Spaniards and surrounded the walled city section of Intramuros in an attempt to starve the colonizing army.

On June 12, Filipino revolutionary forces proclaimed the Philippine Declaration of Independence. The United States refused recognition. The result was a standstill: the U.S. Navy blockaded the bay, Filipino troops controlled the city, and Spanish troops found themselves cut off from support. Over the next two months, reinforcements for Dewey arrived from the United States, including 7,000 landing hundreds of kilometers north of Manila, with another 20,000 troops followed by two battleships.

With the help of Belgian Consul Édouard André, Dewey began secret negotiations with his Spanish opposite, Governor-General Basilio Augustín. The Spanish commander, whose family had been taken prisoner by Filipino troops, sent a telegram to his superiors describing the harsh conditions the Spaniards faced in the city: starvation, sickness, weak and swollen legs from exposure while defending trenches, and low morale among the troops. For telling the truth and proposing surrender, Augustín was dismissed and ordered to transfer command to General Fermín Jáudenes, whose job it was to hold the city for Spain.

Handwriting on paper attached to bamboo.This handwritten note, written in English, was directed to U.S. forces occupying the Philippines, offering them cash for surrending themselves and their weapons.

The Spanish, who had control over the Philippines since at least 1565, were not about to surrender to their colonial charges. The Americans, on the other hand, were new to the Philippines. The U.S. military’s treatment of native Filipinos echoed the longer histories of Americans’ attitudes toward African Americans and Native Americans back home.

During negotiations between Dewey’s camp and Jáudenes, U.S. Army General Wesley Merritt, commander of the San Francisco–based VIII Corps, shared his views of Filipinos. In an 1899 interview, Merrit told a journalist from the New York Sun that he had come "with orders not to treat with the Indians [sic]; not to recognize them, and not to promise anything," adding, General "Aguinaldo is just the same to me as a boy in the street." The Spanish commander held a similar attitude; he was "willing to surrender to white people," but never to Filipinos.

The players had agreed on the terms for the performance. Only André, Dewey, Merritt, and Jáudenes knew of the complete plans. The success of the performance hinged on keeping Filipino troops out of the city while U.S. and Spanish troops exchanged places.

On the morning of August 13, the mock battle for Manila began. The band on board the British armored cruiser HMS Immortalité serenaded the Americans with "patriotic aires." At 9 a.m., the "attack" commenced with Dewey’s flagship, the protected cruiser Olympia, lobbing a few shells into the old fort at Malate while the Spanish guns on the coast provided no response. Recently arrived land-based U.S. forces held back Filipinos outside the central city. The historian Teodoro Agoncillo understood the theatrical nature of the event when he wrote: "The few casualties on both sides in the phony attack were due to some ‘actors’ bungling their ‘lines,’ or possibly to the fact that very few officers were let in on the charade."

Rusted rifle made with pipeTo confront thousands of U.S. occupying forces, Filipino combatants, low on ammunition and weaponry from revolting against the Spanish in 1896, resorted to guerrilla warfare and improvised military tactics, including making their own arms.

According to plan, Dewey’s staff transmitted the code for surrender to Jáudenes, and the Spanish obliged by raising the white flag at 11:20 a.m., just in time for lunch. To bring the morning’s shock and awe to a close, the crew of the British armored cruiser HMS Immortalité fired a twenty-one-gun salute in honor of the U.S. flag that was hoisted atop Manila’s Fort Santiago, prompting Dewey to say, "I hope it floats there forever."

The mock battle offered Spanish forces in the Philippines an opportunity to save face by surrendering not to their Filipino charges of more than 300 years, but to militarily superior Americans. The Americans played the well-crafted role of savior. But Philippine freedom fighters were not convinced by either of the performances.

The mock battle that ended the Spanish-American War reinforced the Filipinos’ debt to their new American masters for the gift of regime change. That military engagement proved only to be the prelude to the United States’ war with the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, which took the lives of 4,200 American and at least 20,000 Filipino combatants. The U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian estimates that 200,000 civilians died.

The most popular writer of his time, Mark Twain, had much to say about the U.S. mission in the Philippines: "It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land."

Adapted from The Day the Dancers Stayed: Performing in the Filipino/American Diaspora by Theodore S. Gonzalves. Copyright © 2009 by Temple University Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Theodore S. Gonzalves is Curator of Asian Pacific American History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 16:15
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The mock battle that ended the Spanish-American War

National Museum of American History
Blue, white, and red banner with an image of Admiral Dewey in center of white stripe, surrounded by laurels.George Dewey was promoted to the rank of rear admiral after the Battle of Manila Bay. Dewey was celebrated in American culture with songs, paintings, and public sculptures.

The Spanish-American War ended with a fantastic performance. It starred an American hero, a veteran commander taking control of a crew of both fresh-faced and veteran sailors in a corner of the Pacific few back home had heard about. His opponent: a Spaniard at the helm of his empire’s last stand in a far-flung colony. Both were aided by an efficient Belgian consul who brokered a plan to save Spanish honor, guarantee a bloodless victory, and, most important, keep a revolutionary Filipino general in the dark about the entire operation. But before we get to the main attraction, the fanfare.

Encrusted bugle with ship's nameplate visible in backgroundAn explosion aboard the USS Maine, which had been anchored in Havana harbor, ignited the Spanish-American War. An investigation argued that the ship’s ammunition stocks had caught fire but was not the result of Spanish sabotage.

On April 25, 1898, Congress declared war against Spain, and the U.S. Navy secretary cabled Commodore George Dewey, commanding the Asiatic Squadron, with orders to engage the enemy, not in the Caribbean but across the globe in the Philippines, where military commanders knew the empire was weakest, with a flotilla described as antiquated and decrepit.

Spanish flag with large yellow stripe with anchor and coat of arms. Red stripes on either side of yellow.By 1898, Spain had lost control of its once global reach, with the last of its colonies in the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Cuba seized by the United States.

Often referred to as decisive, the United States’ battle for control of Manila involved Dewey’s squadron facing off with a Spanish flotilla described as a "grab-bag collection of mostly obsolete vessels" which was in "poor repair." Even so, this event has become the kind that has inspired the creation of songs like "Brave Dewey and His Men (Down at Manila Bay)" and public sculptures like the Dewey Monument in San Francisco’s Union Square. While Dewey controlled the bay with a blockade, Filipino General Emilio Aguinaldo and his army had cornered the Spanish on land. By late May, Aguinaldo’s troops had captured 5,000 Spaniards and surrounded the walled city section of Intramuros in an attempt to starve the colonizing army.

On June 12, Filipino revolutionary forces proclaimed the Philippine Declaration of Independence. The United States refused recognition. The result was a standstill: the U.S. Navy blockaded the bay, Filipino troops controlled the city, and Spanish troops found themselves cut off from support. Over the next two months, reinforcements for Dewey arrived from the United States, including 7,000 landing hundreds of kilometers north of Manila, with another 20,000 troops followed by two battleships.

With the help of Belgian Consul Édouard André, Dewey began secret negotiations with his Spanish opposite, Governor-General Basilio Augustín. The Spanish commander, whose family had been taken prisoner by Filipino troops, sent a telegram to his superiors describing the harsh conditions the Spaniards faced in the city: starvation, sickness, weak and swollen legs from exposure while defending trenches, and low morale among the troops. For telling the truth and proposing surrender, Augustín was dismissed and ordered to transfer command to General Fermín Jáudenes, whose job it was to hold the city for Spain.

Handwriting on paper attached to bamboo.This handwritten note, written in English, was directed to U.S. forces occupying the Philippines, offering them cash for surrending themselves and their weapons.

The Spanish, who had control over the Philippines since at least 1565, were not about to surrender to their colonial charges. The Americans, on the other hand, were new to the Philippines. The U.S. military’s treatment of native Filipinos echoed the longer histories of Americans’ attitudes toward African Americans and Native Americans back home.

During negotiations between Dewey’s camp and Jáudenes, U.S. Army General Wesley Merritt, commander of the San Francisco–based VIII Corps, shared his views of Filipinos. In an 1899 interview, Merrit told a journalist from the New York Sun that he had come "with orders not to treat with the Indians [sic]; not to recognize them, and not to promise anything," adding, General "Aguinaldo is just the same to me as a boy in the street." The Spanish commander held a similar attitude; he was "willing to surrender to white people," but never to Filipinos.

The players had agreed on the terms for the performance. Only André, Dewey, Merritt, and Jáudenes knew of the complete plans. The success of the performance hinged on keeping Filipino troops out of the city while U.S. and Spanish troops exchanged places.

On the morning of August 13, the mock battle for Manila began. The band on board the British armored cruiser HMS Immortalité serenaded the Americans with "patriotic aires." At 9 a.m., the "attack" commenced with Dewey’s flagship, the protected cruiser Olympia, lobbing a few shells into the old fort at Malate while the Spanish guns on the coast provided no response. Recently arrived land-based U.S. forces held back Filipinos outside the central city. The historian Teodoro Agoncillo understood the theatrical nature of the event when he wrote: "The few casualties on both sides in the phony attack were due to some ‘actors’ bungling their ‘lines,’ or possibly to the fact that very few officers were let in on the charade."

Rusted rifle made with pipeTo confront thousands of U.S. occupying forces, Filipino combatants, low on ammunition and weaponry from revolting against the Spanish in 1896, resorted to guerrilla warfare and improvised military tactics, including making their own arms.

According to plan, Dewey’s staff transmitted the code for surrender to Jáudenes, and the Spanish obliged by raising the white flag at 11:20 a.m., just in time for lunch. To bring the morning’s shock and awe to a close, the crew of the British armored cruiser HMS Immortalité fired a twenty-one-gun salute in honor of the U.S. flag that was hoisted atop Manila’s Fort Santiago, prompting Dewey to say, "I hope it floats there forever."

The mock battle offered Spanish forces in the Philippines an opportunity to save face by surrendering not to their Filipino charges of more than 300 years, but to militarily superior Americans. The Americans played the well-crafted role of savior. But Philippine freedom fighters were not convinced by either of the performances.

The mock battle that ended the Spanish-American War reinforced the Filipinos’ debt to their new American masters for the gift of regime change. That military engagement proved only to be the prelude to the United States’ war with the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, which took the lives of 4,200 American and at least 20,000 Filipino combatants. The U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian estimates that 200,000 civilians died.

The most popular writer of his time, Mark Twain, had much to say about the U.S. mission in the Philippines: "It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land."

Adapted from The Day the Dancers Stayed: Performing in the Filipino/American Diaspora by Theodore S. Gonzalves. Copyright © 2009 by Temple University Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Theodore S. Gonzalves is Curator of Asian Pacific American History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 16:15
OSayCanYouSee?d=qj6IDK7rITs OSayCanYouSee?d=7Q72WNTAKBA OSayCanYouSee?i=BzWwA2-F5fM:O-90n3kvVi4:V_sGLiPBpWU OSayCanYouSee?i=BzWwA2-F5fM:O-90n3kvVi4:gIN9vFwOqvQ OSayCanYouSee?d=yIl2AUoC8zA

Library of Congress Digitizes Taiwanese Watercolors, Rare Chinese Texts

Smithsonian Magazine

A woodblock-printed set of 400 illustrations depicting the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha, painted silk scenes by Qing dynasty court artist Jiao Bingzhen, and 12 watercolors detailing indigenous life in Taiwan are among the 1,000 rare Chinese texts now available via the Library of Congress’ online catalogue.

Digitized in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, the trove of books, manuscripts, Buddhist sutras, illustrations and maps represents only a small portion of the LOC’s China-centric holdings. According to a press release, the library’s Asian Division boasts more than 5,300 titles, 2,000 of which will ultimately be featured in the online collection. This initial offering, curated in conjunction with the National Central Library of Taiwan, is limited to 1,000 or so titles, but the LOC notes that “more will be accessible in the future.”

All of the digitized texts—encompassing fields ranging from history to geography, philosophy, literature and classics—date to before 1796, the year after the end of the early Qing period. As the Chinese Rare Book Digital Collection portal explains, the majority of the titles date to the early Qing (spanning 1644 through 1795) or Ming (1368 to 1644) dynasties. Around 30 are even older, tracing their origins to the Song (960 to 1279) and Yuan (1279 to 1368) dynasties.

Some of the titles included in the collection are the only extant copies of their kind, meaning that the average researcher, student or history buff would never be able to study them in-person. The digitization effort, in the words of Qi Qiu, head of Scholarly Services at the Library’s Asian Division, “offer[s] users across the globe unprecedented access to the study of pre-modern China that would otherwise be off-limits due to physical distance or rarity of the items.”

Image by Library of Congress, Asian Division, Chinese Rare Book Collection. Watercolor painting of the Miao people (original image)

Image by Library of Congress, Asian Division, Chinese Rare Book Collection. Watercolor depicting Formosa islanders' lives and customs (original image)

Image by Library of Congress, Asian Division, Chinese Rare Book Collection. Watercolor depicting Formosa islanders' lives and customs (original image)

Of particular interest are the watercolors from Taiwan, which center on the aborigines who populated the island prior to the 17th-century arrival of Han settlers from China’s mainland. Atlas Obscura’s Jonathan Carey writes that these individuals, consisting of 16 Austronesian tribes, had lived on the island for more than 6,000 years, but this claim meant little to the conquering Han, who forced the indigenous population to assimilate and give up their lands or face outright violence. Today, just 2 percent of Taiwan’s more than 23 million inhabitants belong to an aboriginal group.

As Duncan DeAeth reports for Taiwan News, the watercolors in question were commissioned by Qing Emperor Qianlong following a 1747 visit by his royal inspector. Although of “little artistic merit,” according to the album’s LOC entry, the 12 paintings offer an intimate glimpse of the islanders’ lives and customs. In some scenes, subjects partake in food-related duties such as picking coconuts, hunting bison and deer, catching fish, cutting and storing grain, and planting taro. In others, the focus is more on the inhabitants of Taiwan: schoolboys engaging in recitation, workers placing the roof on a house, a sentinel on duty and even a child bathing. Overall, the album acts as a helpful “pictoral study of the island before it was transformed into a modern community.”

Other digitized highlights include a 24-volume collection of effective medical remedies, as tested by generations of physicians living during the 14th century and earlier, and a separate set of 48 watercolors featuring the Miao, an ethnic minority native to the mountains of southern China. These paintings, dating to between 1736 and 1820, are accompanied by essays detailing the traditions or events they depict.

Hurry In! These Smithsonian Exhibitions Won’t Be Here Much Longer

Smithsonian Magazine

This gold and pearl hair ornament from the days of China’s Qing Dynasty shows the symbolic significance of the phoenix in Chinese culture. Come see an exhibit at the Sackler Gallery showcasing materials from the creation of Chinese artist Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project, on display until September 2.

As the weather heats up, some of the Smithsonian’s exhibits are preparing to cool down. To make way for future shows, a dozen current ones at various museums will close their doors by summer’s end, so don’t miss a chance to see some of these historic, unique, beautiful, innovative and thought-provoking exhibits. Here is a list of all exhibits closing before September 15.

Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color

Thomas Day was black man living in North Carolina before the Civil War. An expert cabinetmaker with his own business and more success than many white plantation owners, he was a freedman whose craftmanship earned him both respect and brisk sales. His style was classified as “exuberant” and was adapted from the French Antique tradition. Step back in time to the Victorian South and view Day’s ornate cabinetry work on display. Ends July 28. Renwick Gallery.

Black Box: DEMOCRACIA

The Madrid-based artist group DEMOCRACIA created a video featuring the art of movement in a socio-political context. The film features practitioners of “parkour,” a kind of urban street sport with virtually no rules or equipment and where participants move quickly and efficiently through space by running, jumping, swinging, rolling, climbing and flipping. The actors are filmed practicing parkour in a Madrid cemetery, providing a spooky backdrop for their amazing acrobatics and interspersed with symbols of the working class, internationalism, anarchy, secret societies and revolution that pop up throughout the film. Ends August 4. Hirshhorn Museum.

Arts of Japan: Edo Aviary and Poetic License: Making Old Words New

The Edo period (1603-1868) marked a peaceful and stable time in Japan, but in the world of art, culture and literature, it was a prolific era. These companion exhibitions showcase great works of the Edo period that depict natural beauty as well as challenge the old social order. “Edo Aviary” features paintings of birds during that period, which reflected a shift toward natural history and science and away from religious and spiritual influence in art. “Poetic License: Making Old Words New” showcases works demonstrating how the domain of art and literature transitioned from wealthy aristocrats to one more inclusive of artisans and merchants. Ends August 4. Freer Gallery.

Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture

This exhibit, held at the American Indian Museum’s Gustav Heye Center in New York City, explores the significant contributions of Native Americans to contemporary music. From Jimi Hendrix (he’s part Cherokee) to Russell “Big Chief” Moore of the Gila River Indian Community to Rita Coolidge, a Cherokee, and Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Cree, Native Americans have had a hand in creating and influencing popular jazz, rock, folk, blues and country music. Don’t miss your chance to see the influence of Native Americans in mainstream music and pop culture. Ends August 11. American Indian Museum in New York.

Nam June Paik: Global Visionary

The exhibition featuring works by the innovative Korean-American artist Nam June Paik, whose bright television screens and various electronic devices helped to bring modern art into the technological age during the 1960s, features 67 pieces of artwork and 140 other items from the artist’s archives. Ends August 11. American Art Museum.

Hand-held: Gerhard Pulverer’s Japanese Illustrated Books

Come to the Sackler Gallery and learn about the Japanese precursor to today’s electronic mass media: the woodblock-printed books of the Edo period. The books brought art and literature to the masses in compact and entertaining volumes that circulated Japan, passed around much like today’s Internet memes. The mixing of art with mass consumption helped to bridge the gap between the upper and lower classes in Japan, a characteristic of the progression during the Edo period. The exhibit features books in a variety of genres, from the action-packed to the tranquil, including sketches from Manga, not related to the Japanese art phenomenon of today, by the famous woodblock printer Hokusai. Ends August 11. Sackler Gallery.

Portraiture Now: Drawing on the Edge

In this seventh installation of the “Portraiture Now” series, view contemporary portraits by artists Mequitta Ahuja, Mary Borgman, Adam Chapman, Ben Durham, Till Freiwald and Rob Matthews, each exploring different ways to create such personal works of art. From charcoal drawings and acrylic paints to video and computer technology, these artists use their own style in preserving a face and bringing it alive for viewers. Ends August 18. National Portrait Gallery.

I Want the Wide American Earth: As Asian Pacific American Story

Celebrate Asian Pacific American history at the American History Museum and view posters depicting Asian American history in the United States ranging from the pre-Columbian years to the present day. The exhibit explores the role of Asian Americans in this country, from Filipino fishing villages in New Orleans in the 1760s to Asian-American involvement in the Civil War and later in the Civil Rights Movement. The name of the exhibit comes from the famed Filipino American poet Carlos Bulosan, who wrote, “Before the brave, before the proud builders and workers, / I say I want the wide American earth / For all the free . . .” Ends August 25. American History Museum.

A Will of Their Own: Judith Sargent Murray and Women of Achievement in the Early Republic

This exhibit features a collection of eight portraits of influential women in American history, but you may not know all their names. They came long before the Women’s Rights Movement and questioned their status in a newly freed America by fighting for equal rights and career opportunities. Come see the portraits of these forward-thinking pioneers—Judith Sargent Murray, Abigail Smith Adams, Elizabeth Seton and Phillis Wheatley. Ends September 2. National Portrait Gallery.

Nine Deaths, Two Births: Xu Bing’s Phoenix Project

Take a peek into the creative world of Chinese artist Xu Bing in this exhibition showcasing materials Bing used to create his massive sculpture Phoenix Project, which all came from construction sites in Beijing. The two-part installation, weighing 12 tons and extending nearly 100 feet long, features the traditional Chinese symbol of the phoenix, but the construction materials add a more modern message about Chinese economic development. While Phoenix Project resides at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Sackler’s companion exhibition displays drawings, scale models and reconfigured construction fragments. Ends September 2. Sackler Gallery.

Whistler’s Neighborhood: Impressions of a Changing London

Stroll through the London of the 1800s in this exhibit featuring works by painter James McNeill Whistler, who lived in and documented the transformation of the Chelsea neighborhood. Whistler witnessed the destruction of historic, decaying buildings that made way for mansions and a new riverbank, followed by a wave of the elite. With artistic domination of the neighborhood throughout the transition, Whistler documented an important part of London’s history. The exhibit features small etchings and watercolor and oil paintings of scenes in Chelsea during the 1880s. Ends September 8. Freer Gallery.

Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913 to the Present

From Picasso to Man Ray to present-day sculptor Doris Salcedo, many of the most innovative and prolific modern artists have set aside paint brush and canvas to embrace mixed media. View works by artists from all over the world during the last century and see the evolution of the collage and assemblage throughout the years. Featured in this exhibit is a tiny Joseph Stella collage made with scraps of paper and Ann Hamilton’s room-sized installation made of newsprint, beeswax tablets and snails, among other things. Ends September 8. Hirshhorn Museum.

This charcoal portrait of Merwin (Merf) Shaw by Mary Borgman hangs in the National Portrait Gallery as part of the “Portraiture Now: Drawing on Edge” series. The exhibit features portraits created by artists using a variety of media to explore the different ways to create the personal works of art. Image courtesy of Mary Borgman

Colorado - Cultural Destinations

Smithsonian Magazine

In Colorado, art awaits around virtually every street corner, as evidenced in John Villani’s book, The 100 Best Art Towns in America, which features more Colorado towns than any other state in the nation.

A headline-grabbing addition to Denver Art Museum, which Time magazine dubbed "the most captivating new [building] to appear in the U.S. in a while," has propelled the renowned museum onto the world’s art stage. Designed by celebrated architect Daniel Liebskind, the new 146,000-square-foot wing is a jagged titanium-clad showplace for the museum’s impressive collections of Western and American Indian art. The museum also features the only Asian art collection in the Rocky Mountain region and dozens of other collections and exhibits.

Modern art aficionados are eagerly awaiting the debut of the permanent home of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. Set to open in October 2007, the David Adjaye-designed building will provide an innovative forum for contemporary art.

Denver’s Colorado History Museum is the work of the Colorado Historical Society, whose in-depth exhibits include Tribal Paths: Colorado's American Indians, 1500 to Today and Ancient Voices: Stories of Colorado's Distant Past.

Visiting art aficionados will appreciate the Aspen Art Museum, where world-class exhibits of contemporary art make it a must-see. Housed in an historic brick building on the scenic Rio Grande Trail, the museum offers stimulating year-round programming that includes educational workshops, gallery tours by prominent artists and art talks.

In Colorado Springs, the Fine Arts Center features works by renowned artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, John Singer Sargent and John James Audubon. Its brand-new FAC Modern, which opened in April 2006, is entirely devoted to contemporary arts; collections include the work of renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. Nearby, more than four thousand mining artifacts make up the collection of the Western Museum of Mining & Industry.

At the Fort Morgan Museum, the life of Big Bander Glenn Miller is captured through historical photographs, concert movie footage and sheet music. Other exhibits relate to the town’s military past and Native American history.

Visitors can glimpse Colorado’s cultural diversity in a variety of locales. Through its extensive collection of art and artifacts tracing the history of pioneering black cowboys, Denver’s Black American West Museum & Heritage Center opens the door to a little-known dimension of the Old West.

The state’s Latino/Hispanic culture comes to life at the Museo de las Américas located in the heart of Denver’s Santa Fe Art District. Through innovative exhibitions and collections, bilingual programs, educational activities and special events, the Museo educates visitors in the vibrant complexity of Latin American arts.

The annual Longs Peak Scottish/Irish Highland Festival in Estes Park celebrates the area’s deep-rooted Scottish and Irish heritage. The low-key festival brings together locals and visitors who share a passion for pipe bands, as well as Irish step and Scottish highland dancing.

The Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials bring the centuries-old British tradition of sheep herding to life. Border collies and other breeds gather in September for qualifying trials in preparation for The National Finals. The tradition dates back to Colorado’s early mining days, when herders on horseback and their hard-working dogs moved large numbers of cattle and sheep to the west.

American Indian heritage is the focus of the Council Tree Powwow in Delta. American Indian dancing, singing, arts, crafts and food create an unparalleled showcase for visitors to immerse themselves in the passion and pageantry of this spirited culture. There is also a Northern Colorado Intertribal Powwow in Ft. Collins, which was created in 1992 to provide opportunities for the Northern Colorado communities to share and participate in Native American cultures. Similarly, the Denver March Powwow, which marks its 34th year in 2008, is a showcase for fine American Indian singing and dancing, as well as storytelling, arts and crafts and more.

In Pueblo, the annual Chile & Frijoles Festival in September celebrates the city’s famed chili, the homegrown fire pepper known as Mira Sol. A requisite chili cook-off keeps local cooks at the top of their culinary game.

The state also boasts a number of highly qualified Mexican folklorico dance troupes, such as the Greenley Rodarte Dancers, which express the diversity of Mexico through the costumes and dance steps of 16 distinct cultural regions.

The state’s Asian heritage takes center stage in summer with the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, which celebrates Denver’s many thriving Asian Pacific American communities. Festivalgoers gather for performing arts, dining, shopping and dragon boat racing that showcase the city’s Japanese, Chinese, Laotian, Vietnamese, Filipino and Indian cultures.

How Museums and the Arts are Presenting Identity So That It Unites, Not Divides

Smithsonian Magazine

A question posed to visitors to the new Smithsonian exhibition "Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation" asks: “What does an American look like?” And then, rather provocatively, also asks if the wearing of a turban signals that one is not an American.

Traditionally in the Western imagination, the exhibition declares: “India conjures up … elephants, saris, and spices…turbans, temples…and the pulsating energy of Bollywood movies.” But what lies beyond pop culture stereotypes? This thoughtful show ventures beyond the familiar by focusing on several periods of Indian immigration—including the first in the 1790s, when workers were first drawn to America as ship crewman, and another in the 1950s and 1960s, when a highly-educated wave of doctors and engineers immigrated to fill a surplus of American jobs. 

To tell the story of Indian Americans, Smithsonian curators "crowd sourced" the collection of artifacts. The Sharma family sent this photograph, taken in San Francisco in 1983. (Courtesy of Prithvi Sharma, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center)

"Beyond Bollywood" curator Masum Momaya told the Wall Street Journal that she wanted to explore what makes an “American,” and to examine the imprint Indian-Americans have made on our collective experience. In the exhibition, she selected familiar stereotypes of Indian-Americans—notably in such vocations as taxi drivers, motel owners and doctors—to serve as “entry points” for contemporary discussions about identity. Discussing the show with me, Momaya explained that people who identify themselves as “Indian-American” may have ancestral roots in the Indian subcontinent, but “the way they embody and experience their ‘Indianness’ and ‘Americanness’ varies tremendously.” 

For the show, despite the Smithsonian Institution’s robust collections of 137-plus million items, a deficit of material representing the Indian-American story was discovered. Though the first immigrants from India had arrived in the late 18th century and now number almost 3 million, very little of their history was represented in the collections, so the curatorial team decided to “crowd-source” for artifacts. Momaya explained that appeals for photographs and objects were made via digital media, and that her parents even contributed some household items. “People sort of emptied out their basements and sent us boxes and boxes of things,” she recalled

Her objective was to convey the texture and vibrancy of the Indian-American experience by using these collected photographs and artifacts along with audio-visual and interactive stations. “I would love for people to walk away with a sense of the deep and diverse contributions that Indian immigrants and Indian-Americans have made to shaping the United States,” she told the Washington Post

A photograph of choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess by Cindy Hwang (CYJO) appeared in a 2012 National Portrait Gallery exhibition called "Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter." (KYOPO © CYJO, 2007)

"Beyond Bollywood" shows how the cultural push-and-pull of the American experience has evolved. The exhibition goes far beyond old tropes about diversity as much as it transcends pop culture stereotypes, and offers a fresh perspective to a museum world that often still thinks in terms of race, class and gender “silos.”

But perhaps things are changing, both among artists and curators, and in the media at large. In a recent review, the New York Times cultural critic Edward Rothstein examined the newly-reconfigured Skirball Museum in Los Angeles. The Skirball’s new childrens' exhibition “Noah’s Ark,” of nearly 400 life-size animal constructions particularly caught his eye, and he used it as a springboard to consider the question of identity.

This exhibition is powerful partly because it forces us to pay attention to each animal in all its strangeness. Each creature, with its eccentric assemblage of found objects and mechanisms, is a singular world with its own idiosyncrasies and principles; by immersing yourself in one, you begin to understand others. And that brings us to one of the more vexing themes in the contemporary museum world—the nature of identity—that lies beneath the surface of this unusual institution and requires more exploration.

Rothstein writes that the Skirball is the oldest Jewish museum in the United States, established in Cincinnati in 1913 and then transferred to Los Angeles in 1972. “Typically,” he explains, “such museums are created by immigrant or minority groups to trace their history, demonstrate their sufferings and celebrate their triumphs, ending with an assertive embrace of their identities.” This has been the traditional narrative shaping recent museums devoted to such groups as American Indians, Japanese-Americans and African-Americans.

The difference the new Skirball has introduced, however, is an emphasis not simply on diversity, but on connections to a universal community: a video at the conclusion of the “Noah’s Ark” exhibition shows how “Faces of different ethnicities morph into one another, demonstrating an interchangeable unity.” Jewish-American identity here, for Rothstein, triumphs “not in distinctiveness, but in resemblance.” Ultimately, he concludes, museums that focus on identity need to include not only diversity and individuality, but universal connections: “The challenge is not to see one way or the other, but both at the same time.”  

I agree with Rothstein, and when I was organizing the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition "Dancing the Dream," I sought to spotlight dance as an art that illuminated America’s diverse and universal roots. The Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company partnered with the museum to do exactly that, rehearsing and performing in residence during the exhibition. 

"The cultural terrain is changing as is my company’s focus," says, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, who created the performance "Confluence" as an artist-in-residence at the National Portrait Gallery (Jeff Malet)

A Korean American, Burgess has always treated the quest for identity as a central theme in his choreography. One of his earlier works, “Hyphen,” concentrated on “the identities of the Asian-American, the Hispanic-American, the African-American and so many other individuals searching for a sense of belonging within our ever changing cultural landscape.” But the final work he choreographed for his NPG residence, “Confluence,” reflected a different sensibility. This work, says Burgess, explores “the psychological terrain of brief encounters” to reveal “an underlying inter-connectedness.” When I asked him if this new work was influence by America’s increasingly diverse population, he said, “Yes, I think the cultural terrain is changing as is my company’s focus. Somehow I feel that my aesthetic is embracing a much larger vision of humanity’s shared emotional journey.” 

Burgess’ photograph by Cindy Hwang (CYJO) appeared in a 2012 Portrait Gallery exhibition called "Portraiture Now: Asian American Portraits of Encounter." CYJO chose Dana as one whose life reflected the diversity, identity, and immigration of the global KYOPO—those of Korean descent who live beyond the Korean Peninsula; she was particularly interested in exploring “issues of individual identity in relation to both ancestral heritage and contemporary life” in America. 

CYJO’s newest photo exhibition, "Mixed Blood," opens May 30 in Beijing at the Today Art Museum. Supported by a grant from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and curated by the Portrait Gallery's Associate Director Nik Apostolides, the show features CYJO’s portraits of 19 families of mixed ethnicity, and continues her “exploration of identity and its relationship to migration and culture.” The artist has been living in Beijing recently, and her experiences there encouraged her to broaden her exploration of cultural encounters. In the “Epilogue” to her exhibition catalogue, she writes “Historical migration movements continue to help shape the American culture. . . and it was important to share this reality, which is also my reality.”  This exhibition, she hopes, will enhance understanding beyond the “us and them” mentality and “will allow us to focus on the connective qualities within people, the humanistic aspect, where both similarities and differences can be celebrated.”  

Curator Nik Apostolides believes that “CYJO’s images, and the space between the individuals, suggest that the nature and boundaries of racial and ethnic identification are, incrementally, becoming more of a personal choice than a socially-imposed condition in today’s society.” Her perspective conveys “a radical new sense of the family and the individual as the points where race and culture…can combine in transformative new ways.”

CYJO’s work echoes Dana Tai Soon Burgess’s current interest in choreographing works that showcase cultural “confluence.” Their ideas also resonate with Masum Momaya’s idea in "Beyond Bollywood" that she is telling not just an Indian American story, but an American story in which leaving behind one’s homeland for another country and building a new life is a common, universal theme. “While conversations around identity in the United States have long centered around diversity, multiculturalism and fusion,” Momaya told me recently, “these words inadequately capture the fluidity and transmutation that characterize people’s experiences of their identity.” Like the Bollywood stereotypes of popular culture, she argues, it is too simplistic to imagine a fusion of Indian and American cultures “because what in fact are either of those entities?” There is no universal definition of either, and “both are continuously changing and influencing each other—and they always have.

"Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation," produced by the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Center, is on view at the National Museum of Natural History throughout 2014. "Dancing the Dream" at the National Portrait Gallery will run through July 2014.

Discovering Chinese Heritage, Part 2: Food

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
The ubiquitous Chinese takeout box. Photo by Flickr user gabrielsaldana, Creative Commons
The ubiquitous Chinese takeout box.
Photo by Flickr user gabrielsaldana, Creative Commons

Discovering Chinese Heritage, Part 1: Chinatowns

Whenever I travel to New York or Philadelphia, I make time to go to their Chinatowns to get the best bubble tea, roasted chicken, and barbecued pork, without costing me a fortune. Many Chinese Americans continue to go back to Chinatowns for the food after they have moved to other neighborhoods. In addition to serving the practical needs of Chinese communities, Chinatowns are a primary means through which Chinese-style foodways have been introduced and sustained in this country.

During the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival China program, Cedric Yeh, curator at the National Museum of American History, and Adriel Luis, curator at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, participated in a discussion session on the topic of Chinese American foodways. Yeh explained how the spread of Chinese food corresponds to a timeline of immigration patterns. In the beginning, most Chinese restaurants served Cantonese cuisine because many early immigrants were from the Guangdong area. Since the 1960s, new waves of immigrants brought with them the spicier and more intense flavors and tastes such as Szechuan and Hunan cuisines of western China, diversifying the impression of Chinese food that has been defined in American minds for decades.

In a San Francisco business directory from 1856, only five restaurants were listed among Chinese businesses in the area. By the 1950s, there were around 4,300 Chinese restaurants in the United States.¹ Currently there are around 50,000—outnumbering U.S. McDonald’s, Burger Kings, and Pizza Huts combined. The rise of chop suey houses across the country in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century gave Chinese immigrants an opportunity to survive during the exclusion period and establish connections with outside communities.²

As Chinese cuisine develops in the United States, Chinese immigrants and their descendants continue to negotiate their ethnic identities through food, carrying with them their cultural values and traditions while adapting themselves into American society. Food plays an invaluable role in keeping traditions alive. Many immigrant parents prefer cooking the food that reminds them of home, and family meals are prepared in accordance with this familiarity.

As with others who have grown up in immigrant families, Yeh and Luis enjoy food that represents their Asian heritage as well as their American upbringing. Both grew up in the United States after 1965, the year Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, lifting restrictions based on nationality and thus allowing large-scale Chinese immigration to begin. Growing up on the East and West coasts, respectively, their experiences with Chinese and Chinese American food were different, but they both had plenty of opportunities and appreciation for experiencing Chinese culture.

China program co-curator Jim Deutsch, Cedric Yeh, and Adriel Luis in the Teahouse Commons at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Photo by Pruitt Allen, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution
China program co-curator Jim Deutsch, Cedric Yeh, and Adriel Luis in the Teahouse Commons at the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Photo by Pruitt Allen, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

Both Yeh and Luis agreed that part of the appeal of American Chinese cuisine is that, no matter where you are, you can find something you recognize.

“If you’re moving from one coast to the next, you don’t have anything in your house, you know you can ring up the local Chinese place, and you know what you’re going to order” Yeh said. “It’s reached the saturation point where everyone feels comfortable with it, and it helps generate its own forward momentum.”

In 2013, the first Chinese American restaurant in China, aptly called Fortune Cookie, opened its doors, catering to expats who grew up eating dishes such as orange chicken, crab Rangoon, and, of course, General Tso’s chicken. While we still do not know for sure who General Tso is, the dish is well known. For expats, their taste of home is American Chinese food, and local Chinese are curious to try this new cuisine.

“Typically you could get a good meal in China for maybe $4 or $5, but you would go into these fancy restaurants and could order sweet and sour chicken for $15,” Luis said, recalling his experience in Beijing. “Now you have American-style Chinese food cooked by Chinese chefs who grew up cooking actual Chinese food.”

This past summer when the flower plaque craftsmen from Hong Kong first arrived in Washington, D.C., to begin work on their installation for the 2014 Festival, we took them to a local Chinatown restaurant for lunch. At the end of the meal, along with the check, we were given fortune cookies. The craftsmen were befuddled by the cookies and surprised by our explanation of this Chinese “dessert.” Although fortune cookies and the white takeout boxes are ubiquitous in American Chinese restaurants, they are foreign to Chinese people.

The prevalence of Chinese restaurants in the United States reflects changes in American culture and the degree to which Chinese food has transformed the American palate. The restaurateurs and chefs are constantly negotiating between new flavors and accommodating the American palate. The mix of Chinese spices and cooking methods with American ingredients is similar to being immersed in both Chinese and American values and culture. Shaped by the country’s immigration experience and history, Chinese food has become an integral part of American food culture.

Karlie Leung was born and raised in Hong Kong and is currently an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a graduate student at The George Washington University studying anthropology with a museum training concentration.

¹ Liu, Haiming, “Chop Suey as Imagined Authentic Chinese Food: The Culinary Identity of Chinese Restaurants in the United States,” Journal of Transnational American Studies (2009):1-24, accessed September 24, 2014.
² Ibid.

Eighteen Podcasts to Listen to in 2020

Smithsonian Magazine

By 2020, the podcast will be a whopping 17-or-so years old; the Apple Podcasts catalogue contains more than 700,000 unique offerings, not counting episodes. With such an abundance from which to choose, Smithsonian magazine turned to scholars and podcast fiends across the Smithsonian Institution for guidance. From a critical look at Disney tales to poetry to a podcast that’ll get the kids in the carpool group interested in science, here’s a curated list of the podcasts that’ll make perfect earbud fodder for 2020.

“Sidedoor”: This Smithsonian podcast delves into the stories behind some of the 154 million objects in the Institution’s collections. It’s subject-omnivorous; episodes explore vaccine science, Adam Rippon’s boundary-breaking figure skating and dueling paleontologists. For a plane-flight listen, host Lizzie Peabody suggests an episode from their current season, “The Worst Video Game Ever?” which takes listeners back to the 1980s, when a truly abominable E.T. spinoff video game managed to tank the industry.

“Uncivil”: The version of the Civil War taught in classrooms is often an incomplete history, and this podcast seeks to correct that by spotlighting lesser-known stories about the Union-Confederacy conflict. Melanie Adams, the director of the Anacostia Community Museum, says, “I enjoy [“Uncivil” episodes] because they help to explain the nuances of history and the multitude of players and events beyond a single batter or a single heroic figure.”

“Her STEM Story”: Carol O’Donnell, the director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center, says, “I like “Her STEM Story,” which is a weekly podcast about extraordinary stories of real women in the STEM fields…It covers the amazing work of women across the globe who work in different STEM and STEM-related fields. Students (and others) who listen to the podcast learn about what motivates women in STEM, what struggles they overcame, and how we can close the gender gap in male-dominated fields.”

“VS”: This bi-weekly podcast from the Poetry Foundation sees hosts Danez Smith and Frannie Choi dig deep in conversations with fellow poets. Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, a curator for the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC), describes it as “a beautiful, hilarious, deeply felt mash-up of poetry and racial and queer justice.” The most recent season features an episode recorded live at the APAC’s Asian American Literature Festival.

“The Museum of Lost Objects”: This BBC podcast comes with a recommendation from Nora Lockshin, a senior conservator at Smithsonian Archives. She’s a fan of the podcast, which tracks lost, stolen or destroyed objects—from the items turned to ash by Brazil’s National Museum fire to a stolen Nobel Prize medal. It’s an “incredibly poignant, cross-cultural and sensitive examination,” says Lockshin, that offers “reflections on the values of people, museums and collected objects.”

“Time Sensitive”: The thoughtful conversations with luminaries like architect Liz Diller and designer Stefan Sagmeister about “culture, nature and the future” (plus the slick logo and branding from a National Design Award-winning firm) keep Caroline Baumann, director of design-focused museum Cooper Hewitt, tuning in. “In keeping with its name, each episode is one hour long and focuses on curious and courageous people who have a distinct perspective on time,” says Baumann.

“The Right Time with Bomani Jones”: “In an era in which many sports fans implore commentators to ‘stick to sports,’ host Bomani Jones is not afraid to address how race shapes the sporting contests we consume. A former academic turned sportswriter, Jones has a way of breaking down and analyzing social issues within sports and pop culture that is desperately needed in a sports media environment often devoid of intellectually stimulating conversation about such issues,” says National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Justin Hudson, the assistant curator of sports, of why this ESPN podcast ranks among his favorites.

“You Must Remember This”: The latest season of this pop-culture-time-machine podcast dives into the Disney canon from long before Moana, Elsa and Merida to scrutinize the legacy of the 1946 movie Song of the South. “From the casual Disney fan to the classic film historian, there's something in this podcast for everyone,” says National Museum of American History museum specialist Bethanee Bemis. “My work investigates the relationship of the public with Disney, so I found host Karina Longworth's deep dives into how the film and its products have been received at different points in time based on the cultural and political moment in America particularly relevant.”

“Yale Climate Connections”: This daily podcast keeps it short—as in, each episode clocks in at 90 seconds. But those one-and-a-half minutes pack in a lot of learning about climate change and the environment, with recent episodes spanning carbon removal technology and climate change’s influence on immigration. This appetizer of a podcast came recommended by not one but two Smithsonian scholars—Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s forest researcher Kristina Anderson-Texeira and Earth Optimism communications manager Cat Kutz.

“This Land”: In its next term, the Supreme Court will hear a case—McGirt v. Oklahoma—that on its face is about who can prosecute a criminal. But the real question at hand is about treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. Journalist Rebecca Nagle (Cherokee) examines the history that undergirds McGirt’s sister case (Sharp v. Murphy, decision still pending) and its lingering effects. Alexandra Harris, an editor for National Museum of the American Indian’s magazine, recommends a listen.

“Heavyweight”: Lizzie Peabody is a podcast person; she hosts Smithsonian’s “Sidedoor” podcast, after all. Of all the podcasts on her radar, “Heavyweight,” hosted by Jonathan Goldstein, stands out as “absolutely one-of-a-kind.” Why? “In each episode, Goldstein steps into someone else’s life and helps them confront a moment in their past that they haven’t been able to let go of,” she says. “Usually this involves making contact with long-lost relatives, friends, or even acquaintances, and as an audience member you get to enjoy that ever-elusive (in our own lives anyway) sensation of closing the circle, answering a long unanswered question. It’s voyeurism, therapy, humor, and generosity all in one show. Each week I count the days until Thursday.”

“Radio Ambulante”: NPR is an audio storytelling titan, and their Spanish-language podcast “Radio Ambulante” is predictably top-notch. Sojin Kim, a curator for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, recommends it for “the production quality, the range of topics, and the accessibility of the content—including for people like me, who are Spanish-language learners. I like that stories pull from communities in the U.S. and Latin America—the podcast offers a transnational space and glimpse into the ways that experiences and issues connect and are relevant across communities and geographies.”

“with out meaning”: Think D.C. is all about politics? Adriel Luis, curator of digital & emerging media at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, likes this podcast because it shines a floodlight on another dimension of the nation’s capital city, offering “a refreshing source of local perspectives” on art, culture and gentrification. “I also love that the podcast takes on experimental and unconventional formatting and sound design that reminds me of 'This American Life,' 'Mr. Robot,' and Parliament Funkadelic all at the same time,” he says. For a good starter episode, give its second installment a listen.

“Still Processing”: This production from the New York Times also received multiple nominations for its incisive pop culture coverage. “Each episode is a thoughtful examination of our cultural landscape, as told through the unflinching critical eyes and compelling personal insights of two people [hosts Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris] on a perpetual quest to get to the heart of the matter,” says Anne Showalter, a digital interpretation specialist at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“Future of X”: As an exhibition designer for the National Museum of American History, Isabella Bruno spends a lot of time mulling over the past. But, she told Smithsonian magazine, it’s also critical for her as a museum staffer to keep her eyes trained on the future. Last season, the show asked what the 21st century might have in store for health and healthcare; now, host Fay Schlesinger has turned her attention to the modern workplace.

“Portraits”: The National Portrait Gallery’s new podcast is, naturally, a favorite of curator Taína Caragol. But this podcast doesn’t paint by the numbers; it uses portraiture as a way to understand how these works of art capture big historical currents just as clearly as they depict the details of someone’s dimples. A recent episode, for example, looked at (literally and figuratively) a portrait of Pocahontas and, she says, “brought forward her place as a foundational figure of American history, but also one that has been really mythologized to different ends, either deployed by white Americans to signify their national authenticity as her descendants, or simply painted in a sweeter light in order to illustrate the ‘happy’ assimilation of Native Americans.”

Brains On!”: This kid-geared science podcast, says Cat Kutz, is one her first-grader eagerly listens to. With a Bill Nye the Science Guy approach to making science accessible, the show is downright fun. As the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism summit communications manager, Kutz says she is “really hopeful and optimistic that youth are the future and youth are our climate leaders.” So if a podcast teaching about narwhals and the inner workings of pianos can get Gen Z invigorated about science, weather and the climate, that gives Kutz hope (and her son some carpool entertainment).

“Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness”: This podcast has been a passion project since before JVN became a household name as the hair and grooming guru on “Queer Eye.” Van Ness’ over-the-top earnest enthusiasm and genuine curiosity are near-propulsive forces that carry the listener through questions like “How Are Turtles Doing These Days and Are They the Same Thing As Tortoises?” or “What Do District Attorneys Do?” David Coronado, the senior communications officer for the Smithsonian Latino Center, endorses the episode “Why Don’t We Know Enough About Ancient Latin American History?” which sees JVN interviewing the Latino Center’s own Ranald Woodaman.

The Podcast Shortlist (also recommended)

"Revisionist History"
"Lab Out Loud"
"The C Word – The Conservators’ Podcast"
"Disney History Institute Podcast"
"I’m in the Band"
"How Did This Get Made?"
"Outside/In"
"Museopunks"
"Drilled"
"Mongabay Newscast"
"Native Lights Podcast"
"Throughline"
"How to Survive the End of the World"
"All My Relations"

2012 Festival: A Volunteer's Reflections

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

I have volunteered and worked at several Smithsonian Folklife Festivals before, but I did not know what to anticipate when I went down to the Festival grounds on Sunday, July 1. Deadly winds had ripped through the D.C. metro area the previous Friday night, downing power lines, toppling trees, and creating havoc in the District, Maryland and Virginia. Even the Festival itself, which almost never closes unexpectedly, was forced to close down on Saturday, June 30, because of damage to Festival tents and exhibits.

Arriving on the Sunday morning after the Festival closure, I was thrilled to see that the Festival staff and volunteers had worked overtime on Saturday to make the Festival grounds as good as new. Some signs were still blown over, and some piles of tree limbs and debris remained on the periphery. A few display items were still drying out. Yet, as opening time approached, everyone was in good cheer and ready for a fun day on the Mall.

I was slated to volunteer at the Campus and Community program, so I took a few minutes before things opened to view the tall, moving murals at the Citified program and some of the personalized panels on the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Creativity and Crisis program. The exuberant murals, with flashes of color and both representational and abstract pictures, made the Citified program grounds come alive, even though the steel drums, choral groups, master storytellers, and other performers had not yet appeared. Clusters of excited youngsters preparing to dance, sing, or just watch the performers added to the anticipation as another Festival day was about to begin.

Over at the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the staff and volunteers had created a more somber but equally moving experience. With the sun still behind the Capitol building, rows of quilt panels stretched almost to the horizon. These 3 by 6 foot panels, each roughly the size of a grave, stood as mute reminders of lives cut short by AIDS.

Yet, because they were created by loved ones, each quilt panel was a visual haiku. Photos, favorite clothing items, car keys, and references to favorite musicians memorialized each person as more than a name. Combined into a web of care, the panels brought the tragic cost of the AIDS epidemic down to human scale. Each life, so precious, had left a hole that even this giant quilt could not cover.

The Campus and Community program—which celebrated 150 years of Land-grant colleges and their contributions to the United States—was so varied that there was literally something for everyone. For example, music lovers could enjoy Texas mariachi, a West Virginia steel drum band, and Hawaiian hula. Representatives from some of the nation’s Land-grant universities and colleges demonstrated how to preserve fossil specimens, milk a cow, create robots, and much more.

When I think of Land-grant institutions, I think of big public universities in rural settings, so I was surprised to see that even though the District of Columbia is a city, it has its own land-grant institution: the University of the District of Columbia. Dean Sabine O’Hara of UDC’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability & Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) was at the Festival, speaking on a Transforming Communities panel with Jimar Jimenez of Iowa State University and Brian Boulanger of Texas A&M.

Reaching out to immigrant communities, designing innovative water filtration systems using ceramic pot filters, and creating green spaces on the tops of urban parking garages were some of the innovative solutions discussed by the three panelists. Dean O’Hara also discussed five pillars of sustainable economic development (education, health and wellness, environment and recreation, social and cultural amenities, and technology and transportation) that are applicable far beyond the urban campus of UDC.

In sum, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival continues to expand our horizons—whether seeing the nation’s Capitol building framed in quilting, celebrating D.C. communities east of the Anacostia River, or remembering that even urban D.C. can be a leader in sustainable agriculture. Thanks to all the participants, staff and volunteers for making this another memorable year.

Phil Tajitsu Nash is a Festival volunteer, Asian American Studies faculty at the University of Maryland, and curator of the Asian Pacific American program at the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

"If We Don't Have a Voice For Our Community, Who is Going To?"

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Presentation by Kiran Ahuja, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

East-West Interchanges in American Art: J.M. Mancini

Smithsonian American Art Museum
J. M. Mancini, lecturer, National University of Ireland Maynooth "Destructive Creation: Instrumental Aesthetics and Geopolitical Relations in the American-Occupied Philippines" "A Long and Tumultuous Relationship" East-West Interchanges in American Art October 1--2, 2009 This two-day symposium at the Smithsonian American Art Museum explored the complicated interactions between American and Asian artists and visual traditions from the eighteenth century to the present. The history of American art has long been discussed primarily in terms of European training and influence. When scholars have looked eastward, they often have considered the Asian influence on art of the United States as a unidirectional and limited development, suggesting that Asian culture was monolithic and unchanging while characterizing American artists as dynamic and original in their ability to absorb and meld the best of diverse global outlooks. For more information, visit the website: http://www.americanart.si.edu/research/symposia/2009/

Link Love: 5/9/2012

Smithsonian Institution Archives

Burning leaves, autumn dawn, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, photograph by Ansel Adams, 1943, Library of Congress.

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Reflections on the Sounds of California

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

In many ways, the 2016 Folklife Festival represented a rallying cry, an alliance, a remarkable display of kinship and respect. Artists, musicians, and performers celebrated their cultural identities in a space that allowed them to share their stories in their own words.

The buoyant strains of Homayoun Sakhi’s rubâb, the animated drumming of the Banda Brillo de San Miguel Cuevas, the Native crafts of the Kumeyaay community—each event served as a critical form of storytelling, a manifestation of voices that needed to be heard. In this way, a resonant dialogue emerged between performer and participant.

MC Bambu, a rapper, community organizer, and youth counselor, established an easy rapport with his audiences. Groups of students, families, tourists flocked to the Sounds of California Stage to hear his candid deconstruction of social activism and political unrest. He rapped forcefully about gentrification and police brutality. His music validated the fears, frustrations, and quiet aspirations of immigrants confronting the tensions of a fluctuating political climate. Bambu performed twice a day for an entire weekend. Each time, people squeezed onto available benches or crowded outside the tent, mouthing his lyrics and pounding their fists to the beat.

Martha González, lead singer and songwriter of GRAMMY-winning band Quetzal, passionately discussed the ways in which Chicana feminism keenly shapes the arc of her music. A student of feminist history, González recognized that a vast network of social events, ideas, and people have often existed beyond standard historical frameworks. She has consciously sought to create a forum for the voices of her Chicano community. When she performed on the Ralph Rinzler Concert Stage, claps, cheers, and whistles mingled with the energetic rhythm of her music. In the heavy humidity, groups linked arms and paraded through the grass.

At the On the Move: Migration and Immigration Today tent, a panel dissected the historical and present-day ramifications of Japanese internment. The speakers onstage included men and women who had lived in the camps as children, including FandangObon members Nobuko Miyamoto and George Abe. While sharing his story, Abe marked his experience with a frank statement: “I’m an American, but I was born behind barbed wire.” When they spoke, the audience remained silent—but distinctly, clearly present.

Throughout the Festival, artists and onlookers maintained connections through conversation, music, and dance. Open dialogues helped destigmatize difficult, complex topics. Striking melodies, colorful attire, and spirited dancing allowed participants and performers to work together. Again and again, these events stripped away preconceptions and formed layered, honest portraits of human life.

Production and editing: Michelle Mehrtens, Alexis Ligon
Videography: Pruitt Allen, Andrea Curran, Joshua Davis, Caleb Hamilton, Chris Lee, Helen Lehrer, Max Lenik, Alexis Ligon, Michelle Mehrtens, Anne Saul, Ryan Shank, Lillian Schneyer, Albert Tong, Kamila Young
Text: Michelle Mehrtens

Michelle Mehrtens and Alexis Ligon are video production interns at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Mehrtens is a student at Brown University, where she studies English and history.  Her work at the Center is part of the Katzenberger Foundation Art History Internship program. Ligon is a student at Amherst College majoring in anthropology, music, and ethnographic film.

The 2016 Sounds of California Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Emerging Melodies: A Lesson in Collective Songwriting

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
"Collective Songwriting Workshop" in The Studio. Photo by Prayoon Charoennun
“Collective Songwriting Workshop” in The Studio. Photo by Prayoon Charoennun

The process of writing a song has always seemed daunting to me. Especially at the Folklife Festival, surrounded by wildly talented musicians steeped in generations of tradition and bursting with innovative ideas, I can’t even imagine how to begin.

I think many Festival visitors felt the same way on the morning of July 3, sitting down to a Sounds of California session called “Collective Songwriting Workshop.” And I think we were all a bit shocked to see that a eleven-year-old boy was leading it! Sandino González-Flores, son of Quetzal Flores and Martha González from the Smithsonian Folkways band Quetzal, confidently took the microphone and got us started.

First, he had everyone call out words, whatever resonated in the moment. The first word: “Festival!” Quetzal transcribed everything to a whiteboard. Although we started out shy, soon there was an outpouring of very Folklife themes: “making peace,” “countries,” “communities,” “colors,” “friends,” among many more. From there, together we teased out more developed thoughts and phrases. Quetzal organized these into lyrics, making the executive decision to nix a non sequitur about gooey pancakes.

Quetzal Flores helps collect words from the audience. Photo by Ying Diao srcset=
Quetzal Flores helps collect words from the audience. Photo by Ying Diao
Sandino and Quetzal Flores encourage the crowd to sing along. Photo by Ying Diao srcset=
Sandino and Quetzal Flores encourage the crowd to sing along. Photo by Ying Diao

Meanwhile, in the corner, the band was cooking up their own tune, quietly arranging our accompaniment. Quetzal bandmates Martha on jarana, Juan Perez on bass, and Tylana Enomoto on violin were joined by Smithsonian Folkways director emeritus Daniel Sheehy, presenter Russell Rodriguez, and luthier Ramón Gutiérrez also on jarana.

As they presented their results, Sandino read the lyrics in an even tone, inviting the audience to suggest a melody. One young boy was too bashful to come to the stage, but he sang aloud when Sandino brought him the mic.

A young visitor leads the melody. Photo by Ying Diao
A young visitor leads the melody. Photo by Ying Diao

In this recording, you can hear a little bit of the process of collective songwriting and the premier of—what I am taking the liberty to title—“Time for the Festival.”

Audio
“Time for the Festival”

Time for the Festival
Cooking up something special
Food brings people together
Making happiness possible

We laugh, we learn, we love

After the sing-along, visitors suggested more elements, adding a two-part harmony to the chorus and a jarana solo. We ran out of time before getting to the second verse, but I think everyone came away with a sense of amused accomplishment and the inspiration to create and collaborate.

Elisa Hough is the editor for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Sound recording by David Walker.

The 2016 Sounds of California Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Arevivia Amos with Marcellus Breach--Classical/American Song

National Museum of the American Indian
Arevivia Amos (Soprano) is a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Boston Conservatory of Music (B.M.), Trinity College (M.B.A.), with further studies at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana and the Teatro Donizetti in Italy. Ms. Amos has served as an artist-in-residence to Smithsonian for many years performing for special events such as "Brown vs. the Board of Education" and 9/11 Bearing Witness to History Exhibit openings, Congressional Family Night, Jazz Appreciation Month with Anthony Brown's Asian Pacific Orchestra to name a few. A past winner of the Paul Robeson Competition she has toured as a guest soloist for the Amalfi Coast Music Festival, and has distinguished herself as a guest soloist amongst several organizations and churches, performing benefit concerts and fundraisers coupled with work in opera, oratorio and sacred music. Her operatic roles has ranged from Scott Joplin's "Treemonisha" (title role) to Marzelline in Beethoven's "Fidelio. Marcellus Breach (Piano), holds a Bachelors (cum Laude) and Masters (Summa cum Laude) in organ with a minor in piano. He is currently organist for First Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. He has been accompanist for the 24th Infantry Division Soldiers' Chorus in Germany, guest accompanist at colleges and universities, the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington National Cathedral, and The Inter-Faith Conference Of Metropolitan Washington concerts at the Washington Hebrew Synagogue and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and numerous places across the US. He has also been accompanist for the Amalfi Choir at the Italian Amalfi Coast Music Festivals in Naples, Vietri, Salerno, Maiori and Amalfi Italy. This performance took place on January 18, 2013 as part of the Out of Many multicultural festival of music, dance, and story.

A Brief, 500-Year History of Guam

Smithsonian Magazine

That Guam once again finds itself in the crosshairs of foreign adversaries is nothing new. It was 500 years ago, in 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan’s ships, weary and hungry, pulled up to this island, beginning 300 years of Spanish conquest. Nowadays most Americans, if they know of Guam at all, think of this and neighboring Saipan as sites of World War II battles. It was from neighboring Tinian that the Enola Gay took off to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. And as is always the case in these struggles between external powers, the presence of the Chamorro, the indigenous peoples of the islands, is lost.

Most Americans likely have some inkling that Guam exists and is somehow American. Few know how or why. While geographically, Guam is among the Mariana Islands, so named by Spanish missionaries in 1668, it is a separate U.S. territory from the Northern Mariana Islands, which is technically a commonwealth. Guam remains on the United Nations list of 17 non-self-governing territories—colonies, that, under the U.N. charter, should be de-colonized. It’s “American soil,” but the residents do not have full American citizenship, and cannot vote in presidential elections. They have a non-voting representative to Congress.

In 2002, I conducted community-based research in the southern village of Inarahan (Inalahan in Chamorro). The project, Pacific Worlds, is an indigenous-geography cultural documentation and education project, sponsored by Pacific Resources for Education and Learning (PREL). Later I did a similar project in Tanapag village on nearby Saipan, part of the Northern Mariana Islands, and published a paper about the history of colonialism (American, in particular) in the region.

I do not speak for the Chamorro people, but as a scholar of colonialism and indigeneity, who was taught directly by the people who shared their lives with me. The full community study, with maps, photos and illustrations, can be found here, but given the current circumstances, a short history is merited.

People arriving from islands off Southeast Asia, most likely Taiwan, settled Guam and the Marianas more than 4,000 years ago. One could sail west-to-east from the Philippines to the Marianas just by following the sun. A clan-based society arose by 800 A.D. that included villages characterized by impressive latte houses, one-story houses set atop rows of two-piece stone columns; these were still in use as late as 1668. Archaeological evidence indicates rice cultivation and pottery making prior to European arrival in the 16th century. By then, the Chamorros had developed a complex, class-based matrilineal society based on fishing and agriculture, supplemented by occasional trade visits from Caroline Islanders.

Image by Doug Herman. Large signs draw attention to park units along Marine Corps Drive, heading south from Hagåtña and ending at the base of the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces (original image)

Image by Doug Herman. Map of the Spanish Galleon route (original image)

Image by Doug Herman. The church still dominates the landscape of the quiet village of Inarajan on the southern coast. (original image)

Image by Data from U.S. Census. Changing demographic structure on Guam, 1920-2000. The post-war influx of white Americans is clearly visible, then the influx of Filipinos, Asians and Pacific Islanders. (original image)

Image by Data from U.S. Census. Population of Guam by place of birth, showing the growth of immigrants as a percentage of the overall population. (original image)

Image by CNMI Historic Preservation Office. Spanish-influenced Chamorros (left) and Carolinians (right) on Saipan. (original image)

Image by Doug Herman. Map of Guam (original image)

The Mariana Islands proved not terribly useful to the Spanish. “Magellan’s view of the world as a Portuguese Catholic in the early 1500s did not help the encounter,” explains Anne Perez Hattori, a Chamorro historian at the University of Guam. “On seeing the Chamorros, he did not view them as his equals…. He definitely viewed them as pagans, as savages…. [T]he Chamorros took things. And then because of that, Magellan calls the islands the ‘Islands of Thieves.’"

Magellan's characterization of the Chamorros as "thieves," discouraged further European  intrusion; and while some ships still visited, the Chamorros lived in relative isolation for the next century or so. The nearby Philippines, where traders found an entryway to the Chinese market, attracted most of the seafarers from abroad.

That all changed when an aggressive Jesuit missionary, Father San Vitores, arrived in the Marianas in 1668. Relations were tense with occasional violence. In 1672, San Vitores secretly baptized the infant daughter of a local chief, Matå‘pang, against the chief’s wishes, a last straw that ended with San Vitories' death.

His death was the turning point that transformed this hitherto-ignored Spanish outpost into a subjugated Spanish colony.

“After San Vitores dies, the military took over the mission, so it became really a war of subjugation,” Hattori says. Twenty-six years of Spanish-Chamorro wars ensued that, along with introduced diseases, decimated the population. By 1700, just 5,000 Chamorrossome 10 percent of their former number—remained.

A clan-based society arose by 800 A.D. that included villages characterized by impressive latte houses, one-story houses set atop rows of two-piece stone columns. (happyfish70/Flickr)

The Spanish then began transporting Chamorros from the northern islands to Guam, where they could control them—a process that took nearly a century, as the fast native canoes could outrun the larger and slower Spanish ships and elude capture. Canoe culture was then banned to keep them from escaping.

Once on Guam, the Chamorros were resettled into newly created villages, each under the watchful eye of a Spanish priest. And so began the assimilation of the Chamorros. They lost their millennia-old connections to the land, their traditions and their stories. Today, the Chamorro language retains its traditional grammar, but 55 percent of the vocabulary borrows from Spanish.

Nonetheless, indigenous culture continued in other ways—in values, in traditions surrounding weddings and funerals, in housing styles, and many other forms not obvious to the outsider. Small-island living requires a system of codes and practices, evolved over millennia, which no outside culture can replace, even today.

The Spanish maintained a lazy rule over the islands for the next century and a half. The northern islands were off limits, until typhoon-devastated Caroline Islanders arrived from the south—as was their traditional practice—looking for temporary shelter around 1815. The Spanish governor settled them on Saipan, where they still live alongside of—if not intermarried with—Chamorros who were allowed to return there in the mid-19th century.

The Spanish empire was approaching its twilight years by the time the United States acquired California from Mexico in 1848, an era when the ideology of “manifest destiny” justified aggressive American expansion.

By 1898, with the Spanish-American War, the nation’s ambitions expanded beyond the U.S. continent, and extended American “Indian-hating” to the far western Pacific.

The Spanish troops and officials stationed in Guam were at first glad to have visitors when the USS Charleston arrived. They didn’t know that war had been declared between the two nations, and mistook their cannon fire for a salute. A peaceful transfer of power ensued.

The 1898 Treaty of Paris between Spain and the U.S. would later formalize the handover of Guam. The reason why Guam remains a U.S. territory, while the rest of Micronesia is not, can be traced to an ironic accident of history and geography. The American negotiators neglected to inquire about the Spanish claims to the rest of the Marianas and much more of Micronesia, and Spain quickly sold these other islands to Germany. Thus began a rift between the Chamorros of Guam and those of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Guam has persisted under American rule to the present day, while the northern islands experienced first almost two decades of benign German rule, then nearly three decades under the thumb of the Japanese empire, which took all of Germany’s Pacific territories at the outset of World War I.

Right after the U.S takeover, the leading families of Guam met and established a legislature in anticipation of a democratic, representative government. To their surprise, the island was instead placed under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Navy, and was ruled by a series of military governors who, though generally benign, wielded absolute authority. The Navy maintained the islandboth physically and discursivelyas an essential American forward base, and under their administrations, Guam was run like a well-ordered battleship under what was essentially martial law.

In a series of Supreme Court rulings known as the Insular Cases of 1901, it was decided that new territories might never be incorporated into the union and were to receive only unspecified ‘‘fundamental’’ Constitutional protections. They were to be governed without the consent of the governed in a system that lacked the checks and balances that underlie the principle of limited government.

As one legal scholar noted in 1903, the new insular possessions became “real dependenciesterritories inhabited by a settled population differing from us in race and civilization to such an extent that assimilation seems impossible.” With these newly acquired lands, the U.S. became an empire in the manner of Britain, France and Germany. The contradiction of a “free,” “democratic” country holding colonies unfolded powerfully on Guam over the ensuing century.

The Chamorros persisted in their pursuit of democracy, sometimes with moderate support from the naval governors, sometimes not, but always without success.

As late as 1936, two Guam delegates, Baltazar J. Bordallo and Francisco B. Leon Guerrero, went to Washington to petition in person for Chamorro citizenship.

They were positively received by President Franklin Roosevelt and by members of Congress. But the Navy convinced the federal government to reject the petition. As Penelope Bordallo-Hofschneider writes in her book A Campaign for Political Rights on the Island of Guam, 1899-1950, the Navy cited, among other things, “the racial problems of that locality” and asserted that “these people have not yet reached a state of development commensurate with the personal independence, obligations, and responsibilities of United States citizenship.”

While the bombing of Pearl Harbor still lives on in infamy in American memory, the bombing of Guam—four hours later—is virtually forgotten. In a brief but locally well-remembered air and sea attack, Japanese troops seized control of the small American colony and began an occupation that lasted three years. More than 13,000 American subjects suffered injury, forced labor, forced march or internment. A local priest, Father Jesus Baza Dueñas, was tortured and assassinated. At least 1,123 died. To America, they are forgotten.

The battle to re-conquer Guam from the Japanese, however, does stand out, at least for war buffs. The National Park Service commemorated it with a park spanning seven different locations. It virtually dominates the landscape. It was not until 1993, with the 50th anniversary of the liberation approaching, that Congress was moved by Guam’s congressional representative, Robert Underwood, to overtly recognize the suffering of the Chamorros. Public Law 103-197 authorized construction of a monument to commemorate, by individual names, those people of Guam who suffered during the occupation.

In his book Cultures of Commemoration: The Politics of War, Memory and History in the Mariana Islands, Chamorro scholar Keith Camacho remarks that in military narratives of World War II’s Pacific theater, Pacific Islanders play no central role. Instead, military historians tend to envision the Pacific Islands as “a tabula rasa on which to inscribe their histories of heroism and victimization,” forming “a body of discourse in which only Japanese and Americans constitute the agents of change and continuity in the region, erasing the agency and voice of indigenous peoples.”

Whatever happens with North Korea, which has threatened to attack Guam with a nuclear weapon, let us not forget that Guam and its fellow Mariana Islands are a locus of indigenous peoples, culture, history and traditional civilization. This is not just a U.S. military base, but a place with a long history and deep cultural roots, whose “American” people have striven for democracy for over a century, and still don’t have it.

East-West Interchanges in American Art: John P. Bowles

Smithsonian American Art Museum
John P. Bowles, assistant professor of African-American art, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill "New Negro on the Pacific Rim: Sargent Johnson's Afro-Asian Sculptures" "A Long and Tumultuous Relationship" East-West Interchanges in American Art October 1--2, 2009 This two-day symposium at the Smithsonian American Art Museum explored the complicated interactions between American and Asian artists and visual traditions from the eighteenth century to the present. The history of American art has long been discussed primarily in terms of European training and influence. When scholars have looked eastward, they often have considered the Asian influence on art of the United States as a unidirectional and limited development, suggesting that Asian culture was monolithic and unchanging while characterizing American artists as dynamic and original in their ability to absorb and meld the best of diverse global outlooks. For more information, visit the website: http://www.americanart.si.edu/research/symposia/2009/

Beneath the HIVe: Unifying at the Quilting Bee

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

On the far edge of the Festival, a wide white tent shelters those deeply immersed in their work, stitching memories onto bright cloth. Over the past two weeks, a Quilting Bee workshop has sprung up under this tent, dedicated to helping the public create 3′ x 6′ panels to add to The AIDS Memorial Quilt. Using needles, threads, an array of textiles and any number of quilting techniques, the workshop is an opportunity for the public to work with others, no matter their level of experience or stitching history.

The workshop provides the public with all of the materials to get a panel maker started, and it is just one in a series of workshops around the country that The NAMES Project hosts all year round. AIDS Quilt curator Jada Harris says, “We don’t want there to be any impediments to anyone making their panel. If you are unable to make one, either due to your sewing ability or it’s just emotionally too much, we can still help you get it done. Every process is different for different people, and most panel makers had never sewn before. You want glue, we can glue. You want paint, we can paint.”

Many of the Quilting Bee’s most dedicated volunteers work regularly for Call My Name, a NAMES Project program that fosters the creation of new panels by African Americans in honor of their friends, family, and community members who have died of AIDS. According to Harris, fewer than 400 of the 47,000 panels in The Quilt honor African Americans, despite the fact that approximately 42 percent of those diagnosed with AIDS in the U.S. are Black.

Quilters
Sam Arbizo stitches at the Quilting Bee.
Photo by Patricia Wakida
Quilters
Michelle “Mo” Moore, from Seattle, WA, working on a panel.
Photo by Patricia Wakida

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2008 statistics, 23.8 percent of the AIDS cumulative cases are Latino and 2.8 percent are Asian Pacific. While Asian Pacific Islander Americans have the lowest percentage, in some ways, this may contribute to keeping the subject taboo in our communities. For many people of color in the U.S., the stigma of being HIV-positive is even further complicated by cultural pressures, generational gaps, homophobia, and even language barriers.

I myself lost a beloved uncle in the early 90s to AIDS, and although my immediate family was aware of his status (and largely supportive of him and his partner), the cause of his death was not mentioned at the funeral. It has been difficult to navigate dialogue about this in the following decades particularly because AIDS-related deaths in the Japanese American community are so rare and the subject is burdened with conceived notions of shame.

Quilters
A visitor makes dream-catchers to attach to a group panel.
Photo by Patricia Wakida
Quilters
Patricia Wakida builds a panel for her uncle.
Photo courtesy of Patricia Wakida

It is the act of remembering—not alone, but together—that has allowed me to find a place at the Quilting Bee, to piece together feelings and to celebrate an awareness of my uncle’s life by starting my own panel today. In just an afternoon’s worth of work, we have gathered as strangers, yet with so much in common in our souls; and we talk and sew together on a task that once seemed so lonely and impossible.

“This goes back to the day and the root of why these things used to take place,” said panel maker Michelle “Mo” Moore, who is visiting from Seattle. “Quilting Bees were a way to commune with each other—to sit with people, to talk, share stories. Art is the great unifier. I’ve seen that it’s very cathartic. I’ve watched someone come in, put a few stitches in, and as they contemplate the action, they cry.” Moore, who is in D.C. visiting her son, hadn’t come expecting to get involved, let alone begin work on a quilt panel in honor of her late friend Donald Dixon. But for the past four days, it’s all she’s cared about doing.

Come to the Quilting Bee. Build with fabric. Share. Stitch. Grow.

Patricia Wakida is a writer and historian based in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

From the wok to the frozen food aisle

National Museum of American History

In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, archivist Cathy Keen explores how a Chinese-American entrepreneur helped introduce new cuisines to the American diet in an affordable way: frozen foods. The Patrick F. Taylor Foundation Object Project, opening in July, will explore how social and technological changes, like new culinary preferences and advances in refrigeration, transformed everyday life.

When we open our freezers after a long day at work, packaged frozen foods are a welcome time-saver. We can heat up paneer tikka masala or chicken teriyaki in minutes. But not long ago, consumers were mistrustful of foreign foods, and of packaged frozen foods of any kind.

The combination of time-saving, cost effectiveness, variety, and ability to keep food for a length of time is what has made frozen food a mainstay of the American grocery list. It also provided a way for Americans to experience cuisines other than their own. Today, we can easily enjoy Indian, Chinese, Latin American and many other cuisines once considered rare or exotic. But there was a time when people were mistrustful of foreign foods, and of packaged frozen foods of any kind.

1955 Birds Eye frozen food advertisement

Today we don't have a second thought about frozen foods being well-preserved and long-lasting, but that hasn't always been the case. Slow and uneven freezing were once major concerns that contributed to consumers' fear of poor taste, or worse, unsafe foods. In the 1920s, Clarence Birdseye experimented with freezing food in small quantities and "quick-freezing," enabling food to reach a lower temperature faster. He also developed better packaging and methods to pack food more tightly and achieve even freezing throughout. But consumers remained skeptical about the safety and quality of frozen foods, and grocers weren't convinced it would be profitable. Birdseye took huge risks to pioneer his products, beginning with enlisting the aid of a small number of stores. He supplied them with freezers containing a variety of frozen foods sold on consignment and hired demonstrators to convince consumers that frozen foods were the future.

Percy Loy at Kubla Khan factory

Another frozen foods pioneer, Percy Loy, was born in Vancouver, Washington, to Chinese immigrant parents. He became an Army Air Force pilot during World War II, serving as a bombardier and flight instructor before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Yet, like other Chinese-American pilots, Loy was unable to find work with a commercial airline after the war. He opened a Japanese restaurant, feeling it would be perceived as more high-end than a Chinese one. Ultimately, however, the more successful venture proved to be selling his native cuisine in the form of frozen meals.

In 1950, Percy Loy and his brother-in-law Robert Wong started Kubla Khan in the basement of a Chinese restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Their plan was to sell prepared frozen Chinese entrées, believing that the convenience of frozen meals would appeal to consumers.

Kubla Khan Chicken Chop Suey

While they weren't the first to offer frozen Chinese-inspired food—Breyers Ice Cream had its Golden Pagoda brand that sold frozen chow mein and chop suey—Kubla Khan had little competition at the time.

Kubla Khan employees preparing meals in woks

Kubla Khan kept up with the changing technology but held onto traditional cooking techniques. Under Loy's guidance, the company made much of its food in woks or with steam, eschewing the automated, large batch vat cooking that other makers used. Loy said that this ensured uniform heating and an authentic taste.

Kubla Khan 1960s billboard

The Kubla Khan Company was not the largest frozen Chinese food manufacturer, but it was pioneering. It helped increase American familiarity with a cuisine previously considered foreign and exotic. It also helped spread the word about frozen food, something we now take for granted, with access to multiple frozen aisles at the grocery store. Kubla Khan did this not only with their products, but also through Loy's vigorous promotion of frozen foods.

Percy Loy on the cover of Oregon Food Merchants magazine

Loy was tireless in campaigning for the industry and convincing grocers of frozen food's profitability, hoping to build consumer trust and make Chinese food accessible. A strong believer in giving back to his community, Loy supported other minorities who wanted to start businesses, including some of his own former employees. He also helped several universities create foreign exchange programs and led the first trade delegation to China after Nixon's visit. Kubla Khan is still a family company, no longer manufacturing but still run as an import-export business by Loy's daughter. With Percy Loy's unique vision, Kubla Khan helped popularize frozen food in America and encouraged Americans' now indisputable love of Chinese food.

Cathy Keen is an archivist at the National Museum of American History. She has previously blogged about the history of sports brasJackie Robinson’s life in comic books, and baseball teams of Washington, D.C.

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Ration can of roast beef

National Museum of American History

Link Love: 5/1/2015

Smithsonian Institution Archives
On October 14, 1947, the Bell X-1 became the first airplane to fly faster than the speed of sound. Piloted by U.S. Air Force Capt. Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, the X-1 reached a speed of 1,127 kilometers (700 miles) per hour, Mach 1.06, at an altitude of 13,000 meters (43,000 feet). Yeager named the airplane "Glamorous Glennis" in tribute to his wife. (National Air and Space Museum)

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The Kumeyaay Communities of California

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
SFF2013_JG_7-07_0039_5.jpg
Stan Rodriguez sets up a round of sarap, a Kumeyaay betting game that introduces students to numbers in the Kumeyaay language. Photo by Maureen Spagnolo, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

This year the Folklife Festival focused on resilient communities: groups of people who have survived and thrived through political oppression, forced migration, social discrimination, and more. In Sounds of California, a prime example was the Kumeyaay, a Native tribe that is not likely mentioned in California history books but is quite active around San Diego. Stan Rodriguez, a language teacher at the Kumeyaay Community College and legislator for the Santa Ysabel Tribe of the Iipay Nation, came to Washington with his family to represent the Kumeyaay.

Between Native song and story performances, Stan was busy in The Studio demonstrating Kumeyaay games, making animal traps, knotting cordage into nets, answering questions about his culture, and asking others about theirs. He beamed as a wealth of knowledge and curiosity, encouraging people to research their family lineage and language. A dedicated lifelong learner, Stan is now, at age fifty-eight, earning his doctor of education degree at UC San Diego.

Always eager to share, Stan stepped away from The Studio for a few minutes to explain the history of the Kumeyaay people.

Stan Rodriguez leads a traditional Kumeyaay song. His wife Marta, here in the black top and purple skirt, leads the accompanying dance. Photo by Hank Douglas, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Stan Rodriguez leads a traditional Kumeyaay song. His wife Marta, here in the black top and purple skirt, leads the accompanying dance. Photo by Hank Douglas, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Who are the Kumeyaay?

Our traditional area is from Southern California into Baja California, Mexico. Our tribe is a people of the ocean, the valleys, the mountains, and the desert, all the way to the Colorado River. That has been our territory for thousands and thousands of years.

San Diego has more tribes and more reservations than any other county in the country. We have eighteen reservations in San Diego. Of those eighteen, thirteen are Kumeyaay, and then there’s another five or six in Baja. So the total population prior to contact was over 60,000 people, and now it’s about 4,250.

Our people have been encroached upon first by the Spanish government, then the Mexicans, and then the American government. Diseases took their toll—small pox, measles. It devastated the communities. Warfare took a big part out. We fought against the Spaniards. We burned down the missions. That resistance continued in the Mexican era. San Diego almost fell three time to Kumeyaay forces, but we lost a lot of people.

Right now our tribes, our reservations are starting to recover.

Stan's family joined him in Washington to represent the Kumeyaay: (L-R) Marta Rodriguez, Maricella Rodriguez, Raymond Martinez, and Hwaa Hawk. Photo by Josh Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Stan Rodriguez’s family joined him in Washington to represent the Kumeyaay: (L-R) Marta Rodriguez, Maricella Rodriguez, Raymond Martinez, and Hwaa Hawk. Photo by Josh Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

How does the border between the United States and Mexico affect Kumeyaay culture?

It’s very similar to what the Basques talk about. They’re caught between France and Spain. The Basques on the French side speak French and Basque, and on the Spanish side, same thing. We have the same issues. The Kumeyaays in Baja speak Spanish and some of them speak Kumeyaay. The ones in the U.S. speak English and some speak Kumeyaay.

Crossing the border has been difficult, especially after 9/11. Let’s say you’re Kumeyaay from Baja, and I’m Kumeyaay from this side of the border. You want me to go sing over there. Okay, I’ll grab my rattle and I’ll go sing. It’s a little bit easier for me to cross, but now the Mexican government wants Americans to get visas. So now I have to get a visa, I cross into Mexico, I sing, then I come back.

Now for you to come across the border into the United States, you need a “laser visa”—a visa that the Mexican government puts out that gives you the ability to cross the border for six days. The problem with that is it costs money, and most Kumeyaays in Baja live in isolated communities and lack the economic infrastructure to generate that kind of money.

Preston Arrow-weed, Stan Rodriguez, Hwaa Hawk, and Raymond Martinez collaborate on sharing Native California song traditions. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Preston Arrow-weed, Stan Rodriguez, Hwaa Hawk, and Raymond Martinez collaborate on sharing Native California song traditions. Photo by Francisco Guerra, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Do you see the culture diverging on either side of the border?

We are Kumeyaay, so that’s the unifying part. The divergent part is they speak Spanish, we speak English, and unless someone speaks both languages, it becomes difficult to communicate.

The survival skills such as pottery making, basket making, food gathering, and hunting with bows and arrows are much more intact in Baja because they are in isolated communities. On the United States side of the border, the religion is much more intact, even though the religion was declared illegal until 1978 when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed.

What makes the Kumeyaay a resilient community?

Even though many people have tried to erase our culture, it is still here. We see our culture as an askay, a pot. This pot holds everything that we are: our religion, our ceremonies, our language—all that we are as a people. When different groups have come encroaching on our communities, they grabbed that pot and they threw it on the ground, and it shattered into many different pieces.

Those pieces are what happened with the Reservation Era, when our tribe was cut in half. It made it difficult for our people. There was a time when we could not just leave the reservations. We had to get a permission slip in order to leave. Rather than be angry at all the things that have happened, we’re getting those pieces and putting them back together. We’re grinding those shards and mixing them with new clay. From there we’re going to make another pot, and that pot is stronger than it was before, because it has the past, it has the present, and it will go on into the future.

Stan Rodriguez introduces a group of young Festival visitors to a Kumeyaay game. Photo by Joe Furgal, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Stan Rodriguez introduces a group of young Festival visitors to a Kumeyaay game. Photo by Joe Furgal, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Why is it important to teach your culture at the Folklife Festival?

Many people tend to look at the differences we have, and that can be a splitting factor. However, when we come here and share our cultures, we celebrate that diversity. We celebrate the differences. Together we can learn and grow as a people. We can become strong as a people, and not be afraid of others.

I got to see many of the things the Basques are doing and hear about their history and preserving their cultural identity. By sharing that with other people, it makes them stronger, too. And I learned a lot from that. It reaffirmed the belief I have that we’re always students. We’re always learning.

Stan’s Introduction to Kumeyaay Language

Hawka = hello
Eyaay ahan = thank you
Po wim pai yo = that’s the way it is
Kunmuk = let it go
Ha mu yu uy mao ha = yeah, sure, why not?
Ha ho pu yu sa = so? (as a taunt)

Stan Rodriguez. Photo by Maureen Spagnolo, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives
Photo by Maureen Spagnolo, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Elisa Hough is the editor for the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

The 2016 Sounds of California Smithsonian Folklife Festival program was co-produced with the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Radio Bilingüe, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

In the Aftermath of Oakland’s Tragedy, How Museums Can Better Serve Local Arts and DIY Venues

Smithsonian Magazine

On December 2, 2016, a dance party at an Oakland, California, warehouse space known as Ghost Ship went up in flames, claiming at least 36 lives. It was the deadliest fire disaster in the city’s history.

To date, the cause of the fire is not known. Still, early reactions from the press came in a long list of “told you so” depictions. The layout of Ghost Ship has been described as a firetrap, death trap and cluttered “labyrinth.” The community has been called a compound, commune and given other labels that further assume that this disaster was certainly waiting to happen. That it was inevitable.

Museums, especially in the Bay Area, expressed their sympathy for the event, and SFMOMA opened its doors free of charge a few days later for those affected to “reflect, mourn, and heal.”

Others in the museum field have been working toward bridging the gap between institutions and grassroots spaces. In the days following the Ghost Ship incident, Kimberly Drew, social media manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, referred her colleagues to a crowd-sourced document, seeded by art activist Susan Surface, that was filled with suggestions for community venues on how to reduce risks. Lauren Zelaya, curator at the Brooklyn Museum, has pointed to the museum’s popular First Saturdays program as an intentional effort for local makers to test their projects under the safety and guidance of an institutional venue.

But while these are important gestures for any major tragedy, museums and art institutions have largely remained distant from this incident. This perpetuates the assumption that spaces like Ghost Ship are fringe—and even irrelevant—to the formal art world.

In fact, the reality is quite the opposite.

Warehouses and do-it-yourself (DIY) socials first arose in the 1960s, as American industrialization subsided, leaving large factories empty, unused and affordable. Neighborhoods that are now known as havens for museums, theaters and galleries— such as New York’s SoHo, Downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Mission District—all began as accessible gathering spaces for artists and their patrons. Far in contrast to the prestigious, stately and perhaps, even antiquated, environments of museums, DIY venues are responsible for once-shunned aesthetics like exposed brick and metal fixtures becoming popular signifiers of “creative space.”

Emergency crews stand in front of the site of a warehouse fire Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Oakland, California, that claimed as many as 36 lives. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Recently, museums have reimagined some of their programs to reach new demographics, and have aggressively drawn inspiration from the very spaces that were created as their alternatives. It’s not rare to find a museum program in the form of a pop-up show, art flea or block party.

Long Island City’s P.S.1 operated for 30 years with the recognition that institutions lacked the will and infrastructure to adequately support local and emerging artists, until it was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 2000 and renamed MoMA PS1. The Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center recently introduced the culture lab model, certainly a nod to how DIY and grassroots spaces uniquely serve creative communities.

Museums and DIY spaces have shared a long and complex history, and it’s vital for museums not to interpret the recent tragedy at Ghost Ship as an inevitable failing of amateur artists and curators, but rather a reflection of institutions’ reluctance to adequately share resources and information with their creative counterparts. Some museum programs today may look and feel similar to the DIY spaces that inspired them, but this should be seen as an opportunity.

Here are six ways that museums, galleries and cultural institutions can leverage their knowledge and resources toward benefitting DIY spaces:

Share safety and accessibility documents

Museums can help by lending safety expertise, sharing personnel and protocol, and offering to make public their safety and accessibility manuals and procedures to serve as templates. Some institutions might argue against making their documents accessible, because these documents are long and complicated, especially for outsiders. It’s true that the pile of safety codes, licenses, reviews and trainings can appear to take precedence over creativity. But minimal guidance through basic terminology, acronyms and key points can go a long way.

The hazardous environment of some DIY spaces is usually not due to an unwillingness to make spaces safe, but rather from lack of capacity or awareness. While art institutions benefit from having staffs that balance creative and administrative expertise, many DIY projects are vision-driven endeavors where the producers learn as they go. This trial-and-error methodology is often effective and harmless, but we’ve learned that the consequences can also be dire.

Educate DIY Operators on Best Practices 

Hold workshops and share methods for ensuring public safety even in the case of limited capacity and resources.

Even artists with formal art training may not be familiar with standard procedures regarding egress (emergency exit routes), burn rate (flammability of materials) and ADA regulations (accessibility). Museums can offer tutorials (much like the widely popular Wikipedia edit-a-thons and grant seminars) or post webinars or short videos with tips.

Collaborate with makers

Museums can better serve these communities by reaching out and collaborating with the artists. People who have taken it upon themselves to create projects, regardless of limited knowledge and resources, are the power of grassroots projects. They are accustomed to learning by piece-mealing information and observing others.

Providing encouragement in the form of volunteer positions, contracted work and even hiring opportunities can only strengthen both museums and the surrounding arts community in a mutually beneficial fashion. By developing bonds with these producers, museums benefit from the skillsets—adaptability, critical thinking and local outreach—that make successful DIY productions.

Attend events

Museum professionals can be powerful voices of engagement for grassroots programs, but it begins with personal experience. Many of the assumptions about the hazards of events like at Ghost Ship come from people who have never participated. While press coverage about the Ghost Ship tragedy might lead one to parallel a warehouse party to a minefield, the truth is that most productions make basic safety considerations, even if not through formal protocol.

Museum professionals might offer tips as they observe events, sharing expertise that can improve safety and accessibility in these locations.

Pay artists

There is much to be said about the social conditions that lead artists and makers to resort to unstable infrastructure and to dismiss safety protocols, but much of it can be traced to economic capacity. Like professionals in other fields, artists work to maximize their resources, however limited.

Most museums have some level of local outreach in their missions, but often local artists and collaborators are asked to offer their services for free, or for very low rates. Artists are asked to waive or discount their fees when collaborating with small non-profits, only to be asked to do the same when working with big-budget institutions—under the assumption that the artists will benefit from immaterial compensation, or “exposure.”

Paying artists fair wages not only allows for them to continue living and working in increasingly expensive cities, but also allows for them to scale up their projects creatively and logistically. Museums should reconsider their pay rates for artists, with the understanding that this not only contributes to basic needs like rent and food, but also for quality venues, exhibit material and safety resources.

A great guide for determining reasonable rates for artists based on any organization’s annual budget is the calculator provided by W.A.G.E. (Working Artists for a Greater Economy).

Be a bridge to contacts and resources

Even if a museum doesn’t have the financial resources to pay artists, they likely have relationships with local and national government organizations, corporate partners and institutions that are eager to work with artists. In some cases, local governments offer little-known grants, tax benefits or subsidized housing and workspaces as means of encouraging enterprise zones for artists. Because artists may be more likely to look to museums than their city halls for help, museums can leverage their relationships to help artists-in-need find existing, but underused, resources.

As the elements of DIY programs continue to inspire museum practice, it’s important that museums not engulf existing and emerging projects with a “we can handle it from here” attitude. Rather, an open line of communication and mutual exchange can ensure that grassroots operations are able to thrive in increasingly challenging urban arenas, while museums can access the local community of patrons that they were established to serve.

Names on the Move: The Stories of My Many Names

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Ying Diao is a <em>Sounds of California</em> intern, helping facilitate The Studio tent. Photo by Elisa Hough
Ying Diao is a Sounds of California intern, helping facilitate The Studio tent. Photo by Elisa Hough

What’s your name? How many names do you have? What do your names mean?

In May, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center presented a two-day event, CrossLines: A Culture Lab on Intersectionality, in the Arts and Industries Building. It featured over forty artists and scholars exploring the complexity of the American experience today.

I was especially impressed by Brandon Som’s workshop on mapping the intersections within our names and Antoinette Brock’s The Name Project, looking at how names inform self-cognition and drive social interactions. The workshop and project inspired me to rethink my own name changes through the years.

“What’s your name?”
“I have two names. Which one do you want to know?”

This is the typical conversation I have when I first meet someone in this country. Few people realize that I have actually used more than two names.

“Wo jiao DIAO Ying.” My name is DIAO Ying.

I was born and raised in an ordinary family in China’s southwestern Sichuan Province. My parents named me DIAO Weiying (刁维颖) according to the naming tradition of my paternal family. All of my cousins bearing the surname Diao also shared a Wei in our two-word forename. For example, I was called Wei-Ying and my cousin Wei-Jing.

As I grew older, I found it hard to spend so much time writing the Chinese characters of my given name—eleven strokes in “Wei” and thirteen in “Ying.” So I kept asking my parents to take out the word “Wei,” the symbol specific to my generation. My wish was granted when I turned eight years old: I officially shortened name to “DIAO Ying.” The first name given to me by my parents became a forgotten footnote, largely unknown to most of my acquaintances.

“Just call me Emma.”

I attended Tsinghua University in Beijing for college. During my third year, I studied at Lingnan University in Hong Kong as an exchange student. Every student there used an English name, so I followed suit for more convenient communication. I named myself Emma, as I always loved Jane Austin’s novels, and I was reading Emma at the time.

This name was entirely a product of my effort to “Do as the Hong Kongers do.” I did not realize that it would come in handy five years later when I came to the United States for my Ph.D. studies at the University of Maryland.

Living in a multiethnic country of immigrants, I would not have expected to have problems using my Chinese name. Nevertheless, most non-Chinese speakers usually had difficulty pronouncing my forename “Ying,” either in tone or vowel sound. Very often I had to arduously explain how to say it correctly. I also felt frustrated by people’s confused facial expressions upon hearing my Chinese name.

Shortly afterwards, I just asked everybody to call me Emma for the sake of convenience. In any event, I loved the name. My former colleagues in the ethnomusicology program at Maryland only knew me as “Emma.” This is rather ironic given that, as ethnographers, they were sensitive to the “emic” approach to culture that attempts to understand things from the perspectives of how local people think (in contrast to an “etic” approach that shifts focus to those of the researcher).

Nguaq Lisu’mi niaq Nimoxddu’nax.” My Lisu name is Nimoxddu’nax.

For my Ph.D. dissertation, I did extensive fieldwork in the northwest of China’s southwestern Yunnan Province on the China-Myanmar border. My research focused on the music making and religious practices of the Lisu people, a transnational ethnic group residing mainly in China, Myanmar, Thailand, and India. Soon after I learned more Lisu vocabulary, I gave myself a Lisu name, Nimoxddu’nax (literally, “daughter of brightness,”) and used it to introduce myself to the local people in token of goodwill, hoping to shorten the distance with them and facilitate conversation.

The responses from my Lisu friends varied: some found it unnecessary, some enjoyed and accepted it, and the others thought it acoustically unlike an authentic Lisu name and tried to give me a new one. I stuck with the name I had chosen because I was drawn to its beautiful sound and rich meanings. Nimoxddu means “brightness” or “light,” indicating hope and guidance—things I felt that I would need to endure the challenges of my fieldwork.

I could also relate the name to my personal life: the sound of the first syllable ni in Chinese is similar to that of my husband’s nickname; the second syllable mo was part of the name Moreland, which I had prepared for my future daughter; and the last nax, meaning the eldest daughter, conforms with my position as the only daughter in my family.

Image by Ying Diao
Image by Ying Diao

I did not give much thought to my many names until I saw the CrossLines exhibit. I started to jot down a few of my experiences, wrote some more, and then realized that my names had been nourished from different cultures and peoples in the process of my own migrations. Before I knew it, I had written most of this blog.

My name changes have not been the passive outcomes of external influences. Rather, they have been an active driving force in the construction of my identities and relationships with people in different communities with whom I have had close contact.

What is your experience of being “on the move”? Do any of your names reflect this?

Ying Diao recently graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, with a Ph.D. degree in ethnomusicology. She is currently interning for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and part of the team for the Sounds of California program at the 2016 Folklife Festival.

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