July 1, 2013
Hungarian dancing, hair braiding and banjo picking–yep, it’s Folklife Festival time. With the first weekend done, we know everyone is just resting up for part two, which begins July 3. In a given day during the festival you can expect to find interactive programs, workshops and catwalks that span the globe. Check out photos from the first weekend while you prep for the next.
May 3, 2013
When Christopher Columbus set off across the Atlantic in search of a Western route to Asia, the continent became a footnote in the discovery of America. But before the country was even founded, Asians and Asian Americans have played integral roles in the American story. Some chapters of that history are well known: the impact of Chinese railroad workers or the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. But countless others have been overlooked.
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a new traveling show developed by by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center seeks to provide a more complete story of Asian American history. Now on view at the American History Museum, the exhibition “I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story” begins with the pre-Columbian years and spans the centuries, to tell of the Asian experience with a series of posters featuring archival images and beautiful illustrations that eventually will travel the country. A condensed set of exhibition materials will also be distributed to 10,000 schools nationwide as teaching tools.
Though often marginalized with legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Asian Americans were central to American history, “from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement,” explains Konrad Ng, director of the Asian Pacific American Center.
The densely packed exhibit resonates with many of today’s conversations around immigration, identity and representation. Beneath the broad banner of Asian American identity dwells a deeper, more diverse set of experiences. The Puna Singh family, for example, represents a unique blending of cultures that occurred when Punjabi men–unable to immigrate with Indian brides–became employed in agriculture in the West, and met and started families with female Mexican fieldworkers. “The story of Asian Americans,” says Lawrence Davis, who worked on the exhibition, “is very much one that’s not in isolation.”
The Asian experience is one that includes a diversity of cultures and countries. As early as 1635, Chinese merchants were trading in Mexico City. By the 1760s, Filipinos had set up fishing villages in the bayous of New Orleans, and Vietnamese shrimpers and fishermen are a large part of the Coast’s current economy. Asian Americans fought on both sides of the Civil War, including two brothers, who were the sons of the famous conjoined twins Chang and Eng, brought to the U.S. by circus-owner P.T. Barnum. In 1898, Wong Kim Ark, a Chinese American, won a landmark Supreme Court case, which established the precedent of birthright citizenship. In the 1960s, Filipino workers marched alongside Cesar Chavez for farm workers’ rights.
The exhibit borrows its title from the 20th-century 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.
I want the wide American earth for my people.
I want my beautiful land.
I want it with my rippling strength and tenderness
Of love and light and truth
For all the free.
“When he arrived in the U.S., like most immigrant stories, it wasn’t easy,” says Ng of the poet. “And yet he still came to love this country.” Despite the hardship, discrimination and even vilifying, many Asian Americans came to love this country as well, and from that love, they improved it and became an integral part of it.
Though Ng had a hard time singling out any favorite chapter from the show, he says many present “new ways to think about the community,” including the politics of international adoption, the spread of Asian food cultures and much more.
“I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story” will be on display at the American History Museum through June 18, 2013 before traveling to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.
November 21, 2012
As part of the American History Museum’s new exhibit, “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000,” Julia Child’s cherished kitchen has also received some curatorial love. What better time to pay tribute to one of the most famous TV chefs and cookbook authors than the holiday season?
From her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home, the kitchen was donated to the museum in 2001 and has continued to be one of its most popular attractions. In addition to serving as her personal kitchen, it was also where Child filmed three of her shows in the 1990s. Nothing inside the room has been altered, of course, down to the cookbooks on the shelves and the steel pole attached to the ceiling for the television lights. But new items, including her Emmy and nomination letter as well as her French Legion of Honor medal, elevate the star’s presence in the museum.
Peruse her copper pot and pan collection and Emmy award paraphernalia before hearing from the legend herself. Visitors can watch clips from her cooking shows in the new “Beyond the French Chef” section, as well as interviews with famous chefs about the influence Child had on the country and on their careers.
You might even get some ideas for your holiday wish list, like a blowtorch for your kitchen–”Every woman needs a blowtorch,” according to Child.
For visitor tips for each museum, check here for more information.
And for visitors heading into town for the holidays, don’t forget to download our Visitors Guide and Tours app. We’ve packed it with specialty tours, must-see exhibitions, museum floor plans and custom postcards. Get it on Google Play and in the Apple Store for just 99 cents.
More from our Thanksgiving must-sees:
October 25, 2012
You can thank the U.S. ballistic missile program for CorningWare’s ubiquitous, simple white dishes with the dainty blue blooms painted on like pressed wildflowers. “That’s a complete Space Age material,” says Cory Bernat, one of the curators on the American History Museum’s upcoming exhibit “Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.” Touring the space where the exhibit will open next month, Bernat points to the place where the CorningWare baking dish will take its place of honor.
“It really changed people’s lives and I know this because the dish in the show belonged to my mother,” says Bernat. Humble, unassuming objects like a CorningWare dish, Bernat argues, actually represent major transformations in the way Americans cook and eat.
Bernat says the exhibit is full of these transformational stories, including the rise of frozen concentrated orange juice. As a product specially developed just after WWII and popularized by modern marketing, Bernat says, “To me, that’s a pretty quintessential story for this exhibit.” She also points to appliances like the George Foreman grill, which now seem minor, but at the time represented a significant shift; in this case, using a manly personality to market both health and cooking to a new audience.
These items are just a small part of the story. The show will also cover what it’s calling the Mexican food revolution, the Good Food movements, food on the go, advancements in the vineyard, the rise and fall of kitchen appliances and other such topics.
Starting with a trip past the home kitchen of Julia Child, the exhibit succeeds in showing the diversity of food cultures and the many forces that shape our current diets. Across from the display case of Good Food movements–complete with Alice Water’s paraphrenalia and photographs from the Black Panthers’ food distribution program–sits the food-on-the-go case. Bernat points out that the advent of fast food culture actually began in California alongside early iterations of Good Food movements. In-N-Out Burger, founded in 1948 in Baldwin Park, California, will be represented by two lap mats, which allowed people to dine in their cars.
That California’s car culture as well as its reputation for agricultural abundance made it home to in-car dining on the one hand and local food movements on the other speaks to the ways in which food can both unite and divide.
At the heart of the exhibit sits a large table with an array of nutritional guides and pyramids from over the years presented on rotating wheels. The charts include the standard guides we were all shown growing up as well as less conventional ones, including a vegetarian’s guide, charts from international diets and other variations. Billed as the “Open Table,” it is meant to encourage conversation about our changing relationship to food.
Set to open November 20th, just in time for Thanksgiving, the exhibit will show the complicated reality of a simple question: what’s for dinner?
May 14, 2012
Tuesday, May 15 Words, Earth and Aloha
Celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage Month with the American Indian Museum’s May Daily Films. Words, Earth and Aloha celebrates the Hawaiian composers who flourished between the 1870s and the 1920s, exploring the poetry and play of Hawaiian lyrics as well as the places and features of the natural world that inspired songs that remain beloved to this day. The documentary is directed by Eddie Kamae, the legendary Hawaiian musician who helped launch the Hawaiian cultural renaissance. Free. 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. American Indian Museum.
Wednesday, May 16 merengue and méringue
Discover and celebrate the common traditions of island neighbors Haiti and the Dominican Republic at the Haiti-Dominican Friendship Concert, sponsored by the African Art Museum and the Smithsonian Latino Center. Enriquillo Tejada y Los Clarinetes Mágicos open with a set of Dominican merengues, boleros, and Latin jazz. Tabou Combo closes the show with konpa and Haitian méringue music. Both merengue and méringue stem from a blend of African and European roots. Free. 6:30 p.m. Baird Auditorium, Natural History Museum.
Thursday, May 17 ZooFari
Expand your palate at ZooFari, which has been called “D.C.’s foodie event of the year.” More than 100 of the best eateries in the area are participating this year. Add the fine wines, fabulous entertainment, animal demonstrations, and a great silent auction, all in the wild setting of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, and you have the recipe for a delicious evening. All proceeds will benefit the Zoo’s research, conservation and education programs. $150 for members, $200 for nonmembers. 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. National Zoo.
For a complete listing of Smithsonian events and exhibitions visit the goSmithsonian Visitors Guide. Additional reporting by Michelle Strange.