August 6, 2013
In today’s food truck-obsessed age, Korean tacos have come to symbolize Asian and Latino American cultural exchange. Since July, the Smithsonian Asian-Latino Festival has built off of that flavorful groundwork to examine the interaction of these communities through three lenses: Food, Art and Thought. This innovative collaboration between the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC) and the Smithsonian Latino Center recently concluded its “Gourmet Intersections” program and, this week, takes its show on the road for “Art Intersections,” a public art show popping up in Silver Spring, Maryland, on August 6 and 7. Works by Asian and Latino American artists will be projected onto Veterans Plaza, along with a soundscape of Asian-Latino fusion music. Both programs will feature different artworks: August 6 will explore the theme of migration, while August 7 will have a West Coast focus.
To learn more about the program and its origins, we spoke with three of the festival’s APAC-based organizers: Konrad Ng, director of APAC; Adriel Luis, curator of digital and emerging media; and Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, APAC initiative coordinator.
How did the Asian-Latino project come about?
Konrad Ng: This was the outcome of a conversation between the director of the Smithsonian Latino Center, Eduardo Díaz, and myself. We share the same hallway and the same space, and we feel that we share the same mission, just working with different communities. But through the course of just living and working together, we realized that we shared a lot more than just the mission. When you try to understand the American experience and the American story, you have to understand how different communities interact and form the cultural fabric, the cultural history and art of this nation. There is a great deal of intersection—and collision—between Asian Americans and Latino communities in the U.S. We have done a few public programs over the last few years, just to feel that out. . . .
That all came down to the Asian-Latino Festival, and we picked different ways to try to breathe life into this intersection. One is through food, which is a wonderful vehicle for understanding home and identity. It’s a point of contact for lots of people where it immediately brings out a reaction, some emotional reaction that is usually founded in memory. Art. . . captures kinds of expressions that we felt our communities were using. . . . And we also wanted an element of scholarship because this is a project that we want to bring to scale. We want to increase it. We feel that what we’re doing is important. It [contributes] to the civic culture of the United States by allowing us to understand ourselves in a deeper and more complete way. So we’ve invited scholars and artists from across the country, and also curators and researchers at the Smithsonian, to think about what this so-called field means. What could it look like? How could we create something here at the Smithsonian that would position the Smithsonian at the center of this conversation, of having these incredibly diverse, dynamic communities who have been part of the United States for generations? How can we bring them into the national fold at the world’s largest museum and research center?
What do Asian Americans and Latinos have in common at this particular moment?
Ng: Right now I think the United States recognizes there’s a demographic shift in terms of what our population will look like over the next 50 years. Asian Americans and Latino communities find that they will become in many ways part of the majority in places across the country. Certainly, in smaller communities, Latinos and Asian Americans are [already] close to the majority. So I think [we share] that idea that there will be a greater contribution or recognition of us being around, but also knowing that our histories aren’t represented as we feel we’ve lived them. That’s where we find that the United States is us and always has been us. . . . This project is meant to celebrate and show that, and be a point of departure for conversations and ways to envision America, as it’s lived by people across the country.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis: We come back to this idea of siloed thinking. Culture, cuisine, is impossible to understand in a single silo; they’re always intersectional. [At Gourmet Intersections] Pati Jinich was speaking about the Chinese influence in Mexico and how you can’t think about what Mexican cuisine means without thinking about the early Manila galleon trade and Chinese immigration to Mexico and how that influences what kind of ingredients and cooking techniques are used. There’s not this pure, distinct culture that’s separate; they’re always woven together and always changing over time.
Adriel Luis: With the Asian-Latino project, a lot of times the questions that people ask us are along the lines of “What do Latino and Asian American cultures have in common?” Through the process of developing this project, I think the question that has really come to surface has been more along the lines of “What do we not have in common?” I think in the beginning I was very tempted to answer, well, in L.A. there’s Korean tacos, and in Mexico City there’s a Chinatown, and things that were built with an intention of being a hybrid between Asian American and Latino culture. But we’re finding that a lot of the crossings between Asians and Latinos are not necessarily things that were intentionally mounted as a means of camaraderie. More so they are things that exist by circumstance, some of which date back to where we come from.
When we talk about common herbs and ingredients—chili peppers, adobo sauces, things like that—that’s something that through trade became so deeply embedded in our history that we don’t really think of that as an intersection, because it just happened so long ago that now it’s become a staple to our own individual cultures. And then there are things that I think are common to our communities that happened by circumstance of being in America. For example, Asian Americans and Latino Americans both have the experience of sitting in race conversations that kind of stick within the black and white binary, and not knowing where to belong in that conversation. Or immigration issues and having the fingers pointed at us as a people and as a community. The idea of family existing beyond just your town borders or your state borders or your country borders. And then, when we talk about technology, how have those dynamics, such as having family in other countries, shaped the ways that we use the telephone, the ways that we use Skype and the internet and things like that?
It has been as much exploring history as it has been tickling out the things that have been developed more recent[ly], but that haven’t really been capsuled by any institution or organization. What stories are being told right now that haven’t really been wrapped up and packaged? We’re trying to find those and place them in these conversations about food and art and scholarship.
What are the “collisions” between these two cultures—points of conflict or points of contact?
Ng: All of it. I think that what Eduardo and myself wanted to avoid was arriving at a narrative which was entirely smooth. I think that what’s interesting is textures and ambiguity—and tension. And I think that doesn’t necessarily have to mean it’s all negative. So the use of “collision” is to see things that might become “mashed” or “mashable”—communities colliding, then something emerging from that—but also tensions, whether that’s between communities or even within communities. Trying to see what you felt was your community through the perspective of another always opens up space to rethink who you are, and I think that’s a good thing.
Adriel, what was your role in Art Intersections?
Adriel Luis: My approach with Art Intersections is demonstrating that not everything has to be cut and dry, where either this piece of art is just Asian-American or it’s an Asian-American creating something for an Asian-Latino exhibition. Sometimes things just exist based on the circumstances and the environments in which they’re sprouted.
For example, one of the artists, Monica Ramos, is from Manila, went to Parsons and now lives in Brooklyn. [Her] set is called “Fat Tats”—it’s different food items tattooed. Some of the pieces use terminology from Filipino cuisine, but the same terminology is also used in Mexican cuisine. As a Filipino, you might look at that work and interpret something, and then as a Latino American, you might look at that work and interpret something similar, but still a bit more nuanced because of where that perspective is coming from.
Some of the work is a hybrid of Asian-Latino stuff. For example, one of the pieces is a rickshaw converted into a low rider. But I think the more interesting aspects of presenting this type of artwork has been stuff that was developed years ago but not in the frame of being an Asian-Latino hybrid. For example, the other curators [Eric Nakamura and Shizu Saldamando] are from L.A. and a lot of their work is from L.A. artists. So you have Los Angeles, which is influenced heavily by immigrant communities. You have street art that was sprouted in Latino neighborhoods. You have Mexican American artists who are influenced by anime. And you have conversations that are not necessarily in that vacuum. So even as an Asian American, this L.A.-based artist may not necessarily think about these pieces speaking directly just to that community. But if, for example, it is speaking to the L.A. community, then that encompasses so much of what we’re talking about here.
Again, the focus of this project—and I would even say of this festival—is. . . definitely not trying to contrive any types of connections, but demonstrating that more than what we assume exists as a connection is actually out there. And more than anything, the things that we typically tie to one culture and another actually don’t exist in these separate vacuums.
Why Silver Spring?
Davis: We thought, let’s go into Silver Spring as opposed to something in the Smithsonian. Let’s go out into a community, particularly a community that is so rich in cultural diversity and [whose] cultural landscape is fundamentally shaped by waves of immigration over the last 50 years. This is a street art and urban culture program, so we want to do something that engages that idea and is literally on top of the street.
Luis: In general, when you ask [the public] what the Smithsonian is, a lot of times they’ll say a museum. When I walk around the mall, people ask, “Where’s the Smithsonian?” So to go from that to a pair of units, Latino Center and Asian Pacific American Center, which exist within the Smithsonian but we don’t have a building—we’re a long way away from the person who thinks that Smithsonian is one museum. Part of us having this exhibition and calling it an exhibition in Silver Spring is not just to reach out to immigrant communities there but also to start expanding the idea of where the Smithsonian can exist and where it can pop up. If we just remain in the Mall, then [there's] a very small amount of outreach that we can do as a non-physical center. But on the other end of the spectrum, if we can train the community to look at the Smithsonian as something that can exist on their campus or in Hawaii or in Washington state—or something that you can even download and pop up yourself—then for a space like APAC, that gives us a nimbleness that allows us to move much faster than some of the other brick-and-mortar institutions. I think because we are awhile away from having a building and also because museums in general are moving towards digital, we’re also, by just moving a few train stops away, [taking] our first step towards creating a national and global presence.
March 29, 2013
Thousands of years old, the ceramics of Central America tell us a great deal about the societies who made them. Religious beliefs, gender dynamics, societal hierarchies–all of this lies encoded in the sculptural and pictorial choices of the people who made the more than 160 objects that comprise the American Indian Museum’s new exhibition, “Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed,” opening March 29 in Washington, D.C.
Sponsored by both the museum and the Smithsonian’s Latino Center, the new bilingual exhibition is supported by more than two years of research and a thorough investigation of the American Indian Museum’s archaeological collections, some 12,000 pieces from the region, many of which have never been displayed in public. The show seeks to display the diversity of not only the objects, but also the cultures of Central America, and showcases 160 works crafted from gold, jade, copper, marble, shell and stone and dating from 1,000 B.C. to the present.
Kevin Gover, the museum’s director and Eduardo Díaz, the director of the Latino Center, write that the materials, “testify to the complexity of long-lived governments and social systems, and to the importance and sophistication of the art and science in the communities where they were made. They speak of the patience, sensitivity, and innovation of their makers.”
The exhibition will be open through February 1, 2015 at the American Indian Museum.
December 11, 2012
Last week’s holiday gift guide had a little something for everyone: science lover, wordsmiths, artsy types and history buffs. But this week, we’re bringing you the unabridged list of history picks, each of which were recommended by researchers, curators and staff at the Institution so they’ve got the smarty stamp of approval.
So stop sneezing over perfume samples and sorting through silk ties, this list of more than 30 titles, from hip-hop history for newcomers to the Civil War canon, is all you’ll need this holiday season.
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer delivers a dramatic account of one of the most famed but misunderstood women of all time. The New York Times called it “a cinematic portrait of a historical figure far more complex and compelling than any fictional creation, and a wide, panning, panoramic picture of her world.” (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian by Heather Ewing. Learn more about this British chemist and the Institution’s founder, who left his fortunes to a country he’d never even set foot in, all in the name of science and knowledge. (Recommended by Robyn Einhorn, project assistant for armed forces history at the American History Museum)
Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay. In addition to the celebrated figures of Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and John Keats, Hay’s book also weaves in mistresses, journalists and in-laws for a riveting tale of personal drama. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin. “Olmsted did so many different things in life, that it’s like reading a history of the country to read about him,” says the Institution’s Amy Karazsia. Not just the landscape architect behind everything from Central Park to Stanford University, Olmsted was also an outspoken abolitionist, whose social values informed his design. (Recommended by Amy Karazsia, director of giving at the American History Museum)
Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature by Philip Nel. Not as famous as their mentee Maurice Sendak, Johnson and Krauss lived just as colorful a life creating children’s classic, including Harold and the Purple Crayon, that endure even today. (Recommended by Peggy Kidwell, curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
Big Chief Elizabeth: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America by Giles Milton. A look at some of the first settlers, including a Native American who had been taken captive, traveled to England and then returned to America as Lord and Governor before disappearing. Milton unravels the mystery of what happened to those early settlers. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilization, 1600-1675 by Bernard Bailyn. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written profusely on early American history here turns his eye to the people already on North America’s shores when the British arrived and their interactions with the colonists. (Recommended by Rayna Green, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood. For those who think they have the complete picture of the founding fathers, allow Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon S. Wood to fill in the details and explain what made each unique. (Recommended by Lee Woodman, senior advisor for the office of the director at the American History Museum)
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood. And for those who like their Pulitzer Prize winners to take a broader look, Wood’s Empire of Liberty examines the larger context in which those greats from his Revolutionary Characters worked. (Recommended by Timothy Winkle, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Six Frigates: The epic history of the founding of the US Navy, by Ian W. Toll. Our Smithsonian recommender wrote that this book is a, “real page-turner about the politics surrounding the creation of a navy, the shipbuilding process, the Navy culture of the time, characteristics of each ship and the characters who served on them,” from the War of 1812, the Mediterranean naval actions and more. (Recommended by Brett Mcnish, supervisory horticulturalist at Smithsonian Gardens)
The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 by Anthony Pitch. The story of how Dolly Madison rescued George Washington’s portrait from the White House when it was engulfed in flames during the British attack is by now common classroom stuff. But Pitch breathes new life into the now quaint tale, delivering a gripping account of the actions as they unfolded. (Recommended by Cathy Keen, archives curator at the American History Museum)
What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War by Chandra Manning. We remember the Civil War through the words of famous men, but Manning returns the struggle’s voice to those who fought, including both black and white soldiers as she pulls from journals, letters and regimental newspapers. (Recommended by Barbara Clark Smith, curator of political history at the American History Museum)
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. Though we learn more about the man every year, Abraham Lincoln’s true relationship to the issue of slavery remains buried somewhere between pragmatism and indignation. This account from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Foner brings out the nuance of the full conversation, not shying away from the difficult and sometimes contradictory parts. (Recommended by Arthur Molella, director of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. The best-selling book just released in June details the attempted assassination of President Garfield in 1881. Full of intrigue, the book found fans in the Smithsonian partly because the apparatus Alexander Graham Bell used to find the bullet which wounded the President is actually in the collections. (Recommended by Roger Sherman, curator of medicine and science for the American History Museum)
Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis. Though enslaved African Americans built the White House, none had ever dined there until Booker T. Washington was invited to by President Roosevelt. The incredibly controversial dinner engulfed the country in outrage but Davis places it within a larger story, uniting the biographies of two very different men. (Recommended by Joann Stevens, program director of Jazz Appreciation Month at the American History Museum)
Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy by Bruce Watson. Racism consumed the entire nation, but the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chose Mississippi as one of the worst offenders. A modest army of hundreds of students and activists went to the state to man voter registration drives and fill the schools with teachers. Though the summer produced change, it also witnessed the murder of three young men whose deaths would not be solved until years later. (Recommended by Christopher Wilson, program director of African American culture at the American History Museum)
The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. This four-volume monolith by the Pulitzer Prize winning Robert Caro runs more than 3,000 pages and yet it captured the adoration of nearly every reviewer for its painstakingly thorough and engaging biography of a complicated man and era. (Recommended by Rayna Green, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson. As Alex Dencker says, this is, “not a typical Civil War book.” McPherson deftly handles the Civil War while also creating a portrait of what made America unique, from its infrastructure, to its agriculture to its populations, to set the stage in a new way. (Recommended by Alex Dencker, horticulturalist at Smithsonian Gardens)
City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist. July 1919 proved particularly eventful in Chicago, with a race riot, the Goodyear blimp disaster and a dramatic police hunt for a missing girl. Krist looks beyond the buzz of headlines to capture a city in transformation. (Recommended by Bonnie Campbell Lilienfeld, supervisor curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez. A revised and updated edition of a comprehensive work from columnist Juan Gonzalez provides a contemporary look at the long history of a diverse group whose national profile continues to rise. (Recommended by Magdalena Mieri, program director in Latino history and culture at the American History Museum)
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich. Valeska Hilbig, from the American History Museum, loved the way this book, “as compelling as any novel,” also provided “an accurate, intimate history of new women journalists invading the male journalistic world of the 1970s” to reveal how women’s struggle for recognition in the workplace may just be beginning. (Recommended by Valeska Hilbig, public affairs specialist at the American History Museum)
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. If you happen to, like Bill Bryson, live in a 19th century English rectory, you might assume your home is full of history. But Bryson shows us, in addition to touring his own home, that these private and often ignored spaces hold the story of human advancement. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics, and History by Mary Kilbourne Matossian. Could food poisoning have been at the heart of some of Europe’s strangest moments in history? That’s what Matossian argues in her look at how everything from food preparation to climate may have shaped a region’s history. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor. An easy read that looks at the often dark and very long history of biological warfare, using everything from Greek mythology to evidence from archeological dig sties. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States by Mark Fiege. In a sweeping history, Fiege persuasively argues that no moment in time can be separated from its environment, brining together natural and social history. (Recommended by Jeffrey Stine, supervisory curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick. Our insider, Brett McNish, described the text and its connection to the institution saying it was, “a brilliant read about the U.S. Exploring Expedition (a.k.a. Wilkes Expedition) and what would become the basis of the Smithsonian’s collection,” noting that, “Smithsonian Gardens has descendants of some of the plants Wilkes brought back in our Orchid Collection and garden areas.” (Recommended by Brett McNish, supervisory horticulturalist of grounds management)
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. 1854 London was both a thriving young metropolis and the perfect breeding ground for a deadly cholera outbreak. Johnson tells the story not just of the outbreak, but how the outbreak influenced that era’s fledgling cities and scientific worldview. (Recommended by Judy Chelnick, curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
The Arcanum The Extraordinary True Story By Janet Gleeson. The search for an elixir has long obsessed man, but in the early 18th century, Europeans were hard at work on another mystery: how exactly the East made its famed and envied porcelain. Gleeson tells the diverting tale of that fevered search with flourish. (Recommended by Robyn Einhorn, project assistant for armed forces history at the American History Museum)
The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead by Ann Fabian. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the story of skull collecting in a misguided effort to confirm racist stereotypes of the 1800s is a dark, even ghoulish tale. Fabian takes one noted naturalist, Samuel George Morton, who collected hundreds of skulls over his lifetime as she unpacks a society’s cranial obsession. (Recommended by Barbara Clark Smith, curator of political history at the American History Museum)
The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. For years, poisons had been the preferred weapon of the country’s underworld. All that changed, however, in 1918 when Charles Norris was named New York City’s chief medical examiner and made it his mission to apply science to his work. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ by Mark Katz. Told from the point of the view of the very people at the center of the genre’s creation, Katz’s history of hip-hop relies on the figure of the DJ to tell its story and reveal the true innovation of the craft that began in the Bronx. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Underground Dance Masters: Final History of a Forgotten Era by Thomas Guzmán Sánchez. According to the Institution’s Marvette Perez, the text “captures the essence of hip-hop culture in California, not only from a great student of hip hop and popular culture, but one who was part of the movement back in the day, a great account.” Looking at the break dance movement that predated hip-hop’s origins, Sánchez details what made California’s scene so unique. (Recommended by Marvette Perez, curator of culture and the arts at the American History Museum)
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here
December 3, 2012
Tuesday, December 4: Madcap May: The Many Lives and Loves of a Scandalous Showgirl
From owner of the Hope Diamond and darling of the stage to penniless ex-pat, May Yohe lived a diva’s life. Headlines followed her around the world, through multiple high-profile marriages and equally tantalizing performances, but only Richard Kurin’s new biography, Madcap May: Mistress of Myth, Men and Hope brings her many adventures into one story. The Smithsonian Institution’s under secretary for history, art and culture knew he had to write the book after he came across May while doing the research for another book on the Hope Diamond. Kurin told the Around the Mall blog, “When you start thinking about all the things that she did: that many lovers and husbands at that time, to go to the height of fame in the British theater at that time—this is the time of Gilbert and Sullivan and George Bernard Shaw, so to be so successful and then end up playing in ten-cent vaudeville theaters, really in poverty, and running a chicken, and running a tea plantation, and a rubber plantation! She did so much more than any one human being, it’s kind of hard to imagine.” Hear more of her story from Kurin, who will discussing and signing copies of his book for Smithsonian Associates. Tickets $18 members, $25 non-members. 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. Museum of African Art.
Much was made of the importance of America’s changing demographics in the recent election, particularly the role of Latino voters in deciding the presidential race. But the Smithsonian’s Latino Center has been hard at work researching the historic roots of the Latino community in the nation’s capital. Joined by regional experts, the Center presents a discussion of the region’s relationship to its Bolivian community, its immigrant entrepreneurs and its low-income populations from World War II to today. Catholic University’s Enrique Pumar, the Brookings Institution’s Audrey Singer, George Washington University’s Marie Price and Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s Jane Henrici will discuss their own work and the Latino Center’s research. Free. 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Thursday, December 6: Carbon for Water
As part of the Anacostia Community Museum’s “Reclaiming the Edge: Urban Waterways and Civic Engagement” exhibit, the museum presents a documentary about the vulnerability of people living in Kenya’s Western Province. Reliant on the rivers for drinking water, many of the people are exposed to water-borne illness. The documentary, by Evan Abramson and Carmen Elsa Lopez, will be discussed by Anacostia Riverkeeper Mike Bolinder. Free. 7 p.m. Anacostia Community Museum.