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, from World Learning, 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 Communities Connecting Heritage 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, World Learning “paired” us with a research institution in India, Bhasha Research, whom we were to be partnered with for the cultural exchange.
Communities Connecting HeritageSM is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning.
Whose cultural heritage are we seeking to reclaim and why?
An ethnic minority group from Burma now living mostly in Thailand after a decades-long civil war. Karenni individuals who have resettled to the United States often feel many pressures to leave their old culture behind in order to find success in the United States, their new home.
An indigenous population now concentrated in the American southwest, the Hopi have long suffered at the hands of colonial powers in the Americas as their lands and resources have been taken from them. Indigenous integration in the United States has a long history of violence, family separation, forced assimilation through punishment, as well as cultural heritage being broken.
One of the denotified tribes living in Gujarat, India, concentrated in Charranagar, Ahmedabad. The Chhara have been pushed to the margins of Indian society and are labeled as “Born Criminals.” To fight this stigma and assert their dignity, Budhan Theatre uses acting to tell their story to mainstream society and rehabilitate their cultural heritage.
The cultural heritage of African-Americans is diverse and rich, albeit fraught and deeply tragic in the history of the United States. Slavery, Jim Crow segregation, as well as countless acts of state-sanctioned violence against African American communities has made the expression of distinct cultural heritages difficult.
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.
(Click images below to enlarge)
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.
Gujarat is home to the Gujarati people as well as to hundreds of distinct adivasi and denitrified tribal groups. It was also the home of Mahatma Gandhi, a worldwide figure for peaceful struggle against tyranny, and Vallabhbhai Patel, a founding father of the Republic of India.
For the in-person exchange, our group traveled around the state meeting with various groups and using Ahmedabad and Vadodara as our home bases.
(Click image below to enlarge)
Part 4. Museum Exhibition
Between July and September of 2019, the Greeley History Museum is hosting an exhibition showcasing the entire grant project in great detail.
Additionally, as the title question of the poster indicates, the exhibition seeks to ask the broader Greeley public our central question: how does one reclaim heritage that is being lost or has been lost?
This question is not as straightforward as it may seem. In fact, engaging with this question truly requires an examination of power structures, history, economics, and the politics of times past and of the current.
Reclaiming or asserting one’s heritage is not a neutral act but an act of self-determination within a social and political context that accepts or rejects that act.
In the American context, communities, like the ones of our project participants, are often told that their belonging to the United States is contingent upon their giving up of their cultural heritage. This exhibition seeks to challenge that hegemonic assumption. If the United States is pluralistic, as we assert it to be, then is there not space enough for diversity?
Join us at the exhibition between July 19th and September 22, 2019 and share your experience with this question.