We believe that american culture is not monolithic but pluralistic.
That was the starting point for this whole idea.
Back in 2018, IRCNOCO was approached by Professor Michael Kimball of the UNC Anthropology Department. Professor Kimball had heard of a grant opportunity that would help facilitate a cultural exchange between newcomers living in the United States and others around the world. We thought this was too exciting an opportunity to miss, so we applied for the grant as a collaborative effort. In our application, we talked about the incredible diversity existing in Greeley and about how these newcomer groups are contributing to the vibrancy of our growing city.
Luckily, we were one of six organizations across the country chosen to participate!
In this selection process, the granting organization “paired” us with a research institution in India, Bhasha Research, whom we were to be partnered with for the cultural exchange.
What are we trying to accomplish?
Our goal is heritage reclamation. That might sound like jargon, but the process is incredibly important to the mission of our organization. We cannot “advocate for successful social integration” if we only celebrate one history, one identity, one culture. Integration differs from assimilation insofar as the former celebrates reciprocity instead of dominance — it brings about spaces where peoples’ unique histories and multiple identities shine through in new spaces.
In reclaiming heritage—or at least in seeking to empower our students to seek that reclamation themselves—we are bringing about a more integrated community here in Northern Colorado. So too, through this project, we are hopefully creating a framework within which others might replicate these methods elsewhere toward the same ends.
How does this project achieve that?
The path toward achieving heritage reclamation has multiple stages, each with differing objectives that lay a necessary foundation to build upon later. Below is a timeline of how this grant unfolds.
It begins with an In-person exchange to Greeley, CO
This exchange program begins by welcoming our Chhara guests here to Greeley, Colorado. Doing so allows the participants on both sides to come better acquainted, get familiar with the program expectations, as well as train for the synchronous and asynchronous exchanges happening in Part 2. Below is a PDF version of the whole agenda for the in-person exchange that took place in February 2019.
Some of the main events we enjoyed during the In-Person Exchange included:
Super Bowl party on February 3rd at the UNC Fults House.
A bus tour of the City of Greeley
Touring the Global Village Museum in Fort Collins
Introducing our guests to students at the Immigrant and Refugee Center.
Meeting with State Representative Rochelle Galindo at the State Capitol in Denver.
Watching a performance of Vera Stark at UNC.
Seeing the performance of Chhara history at the Atlas Theater on February 15th.
See pictures from the In-person Exchange to Colorado
Part 2: Virtual Exchanges
After enjoying an in-person exchange in February, the group set about interrogating the question of “what is our cultural heritage” through 360–degree, immersive VR photographs using Google Cardboard Camera. The goal was to have our six in-person exchange participants (Pu Meh, Joanie Finch, Larissa Hills-Daniel, Abhishek Indrekar, Kalpana, and Chetana) photograph elements of their respective cultures and to write “narratives” about each image captured.
Once these images were captured, they are exchanged with the other group in the other country via Google Photos and then viewed by audiences on each side through immersive Google DayDream VR Goggles.
When viewed, the audience will then interrogate the narratives and images to learn about each of the cultures represented, and in so doing raise his or her own appreciation for others’ heritage as well as their own.
Researching the Virtual Exchanges
During the virtual exchanges, students from UNC’s Applied Anthropology Class, led by Professor Michael Kimball, are conducting research on the viewing participants. They are seeking to understand the extent to which participating in a cultural exchange of this sort facilitates a greater appreciation for others’ and one’s own cultural heritage.
To this end, pre-test surveys were administered to an evening class of IRCNOCO’s students (pictured above) to see what level of appreciation this group had for their own cultural heritage. Similarly, the same pre-test survey was administered to members of the Chhara community in Ahmedabad. Next, these surveys were compared qualitatively to see if differences or similarities were discovered. Those results will be forthcoming.
Part 3: In-Person Exchange Trip to Gujarat, India.
Colorado participants will travel to Ahmedabad, India between May 12th – May 29th.