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Chinatown Summer Festival

August 8, 2010

It seems only appropriate that since I kick started my blog with a post from Chinatown that I re-invigorate it with another post from Chinatown.  It has been almost eight months since I have been able to write (mommy hood is hard work) and I will probably not be able to write as much now as I did before the advent of my daughter, but I am very excited to get back out there and continue exploring all that Chicago has to offer on the international scene.  And no other Chicago community that I have yet experienced does it as vibrantly and as uniquely as Chinatown.

While it was obvious that Moon Festival (from my first post) was meant just for the Chinese community it was just as obvious that Summer Fest is meant for everyone else.  And that means shopping!  Lots and lots of shopping!  Not just the normal Chicago festival arts, crafts, and knick knacks, but a whole host of other odds and ends as well.  You want arts?  Will this delightfully tacky optical illusion of two guitar players that can also be faces work for you?  You want crafts?  This woman will teach you how to fold a paper flower.  You want knick knacks?  The bobble… chested… anime figures should work out just fine.  By the way did you need a spare hard drive?  Or would you like to buy a roll of tape with that necklace?  It’s only a dollar.

And while we did spend most of our time shopping, that wasn’t all that was offered up for our entertainment.  At the far end of the street there was a play area for the kids that included blow up slides, a climbing wall, a Home Depot sponsored build-a-toolbox booth, and a petting zoo.  Of course the petting zoo was my favorite because who doesn’t like goats?  And they even had a llama (or maybe an Alpaca?).

For those that came for the culture – ahem, yes you, turn away from the goats and get down to business – there was a main stage with performances all day.  Summer Fest, it turns out, is not just for Chinese culture and there were several performances from other Asian countries.  From the Philippines there was a children’s orchestra playing music that my husband remembered from when he was kid.  The Indian Dance School did a mish mash of different Bollywood songs (one from a new favorite of mine, Aladdin with the great Amitabh Bachchan) and there was even some Shanghai Hip Hop in the evening.  There was off continent entertainment as well, with some Brazilian Samba dancers.

My favorite discovery, though, came as we were headed out and my sister pulled us onto a side street to watch a young woman singing with a backup band.  She turned out to be performing right in front of St. Therese Cathedral, which was open to the public for the festival.  Having been to Chinatown many times and not realizing this little gem was there I was excited to get the opportunity to wander around.  It is not a big place, but both the cathedral and the meditation garden to the side are very beautiful.  I love the combination of Western Catholic imagery with the Asian flair.  More pictures are available on the link to Flickr.

And just to round out my new beginning with a first, I have put together a short little video of some of the things that we saw while at the festival.  It  is by no means professional, but I will keep working to add more content to the posts I put together.  Until next time!

What the new year will bring

December 21, 2009

Between work, the holidays, preparing for a new baby, and the exhaustion that comes with the last stages of pregnancy, I have not been even mildly prolific in my writing.  I do have a couple of things in the pipeline, but as of yet they have not been adequately committed to the digital word.

I will certainly return to writing regularly when my brain is once again capable of such things.  But in the meantime I will try to keep the event calendar updated.

I did find myself down on Magnificent Mile yesterday and decided to take the opportunity to visit the City Gallery in the Watertower.  On display for the moment is a series of photographs by Tim Long.  All photographs of buildings in the Philippines designed by Daniel Burnham (the mastermind behind “The Plan of Chicago”).  There was not a lot of information on his time in Manila, but I hope to do more research.  It is an interesting link.

The gallery is very small and may not warrant a visit just on its own, but don’t forget that the Loyola University Museum of Art is right behind it so a trip down to see both is certainly not wasted.  In addition to their regular displays they currently have Art and Faith of the Creche, which explores nativity scenes from around the world.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season and I will return with more thoughtful entries as soon as possible!

What foods does your family celebrate Thanksgiving with?

November 27, 2009

Lumpia! Doesn't that make your mouth water!

I spent part of yesterday craving turkey, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole – all the traditional American foods for Thanksgiving. And I certainly got plenty of turkey and ham, but right next to it was the Pancit and the rice and the new dish I hadn’t seen before that included crab meat and quail eggs – yum! I have also found that the holidays are just not the holidays anymore unless there is Lumpia!!

A friend was telling me how as kid there was always Dolmathes at their family gatherings and even if they might not have fit the Norman Rockwell vision of Thanksgiving I know that my friend LOVES her father’s Dolmathes.

Next year my daughter will be almost a year old (that’s old enough for solid foods even if she won’t be chomping on a turkey leg just yet) and we get to start our own traditions. As I look forward I certainly have the Rockwell vision stuck in my head (that’s what I was raised with), but as a family our American experience is more rich than that. Of course I am going to have to brush up on my Lumpia skills because right now I just can’t compete with the family recipe.

Don't forget the Lumpia and the Dolmathes - and I am betting there is Dinuguan in that silver tureen.

So what foods are traditional to you? Whether your family has been here for several generations or you just immigrated recently – what are the foods that you put on the table to celebrate the day when we give thanks?

Vanavevhu and Zimbabwe

November 10, 2009

It was a very nice surprise to walk into Heartland International’s 1st Tuesday discussion and find that the speaker for the day was a friend of mine from Loyola. I always enjoyed talking with Elizabeth Mhangami before our African history class; she has strong convictions on women’s rights and African issues and I learned a lot about her childhood in Zimbabwe. In the time since I saw her last she has followed up on those convictions by pursuing her Master’s in Women’s Studies at DePaul University and founding a non-profit, Vanavevhu – Children of the Soil, that is dedicated to assisting the head of household children left by the AIDS epidemic in Zimbabwe. She is very passionate and engaging and therefore a fantastic person to give more perspective on her native country.

Zimbabwe today, she said, is not the same country that she remembers. When she was growing up in the years after independence from the United Kingdom (granted on April 18, 1980) the country was one of the richest in Africa. The system for universal education had been established and both men and women alike had access to quality education. But in the last 10 years the economy has begun to crumble and any gains that were made by women during the previous decades have been overshadowed by an authoritarian government and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic.

Today, orphaned by AIDS, many young girls have to forgo any hope of an education to take care of their younger siblings. Their situation is compounded by a less than functioning economic system which makes growth practically impossible. As the government in Harare (Zimbabwe’s capital) grows more disconnected from its populace the people “strive to thrive” despite their actions.

One organization mentioned by Elizabeth, which confronts the issues and their impact on women directly is Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). As part of their struggle to improve the conditions of everyday life, WOZA stands against the corruption of the Zimbabwean government. Elizabeth quoted a passage from their website which I now share with you:

WOZA was formed to be a litmus test proving that the power of love can conquer the love of power. ‘Tough Love’ is our secret weapon of mass mobilization. ‘Tough Love’ is the disciplining love of a parent; women practice it to press for and to bring dignity back to Zimbabweans. Tough Love is a ‘people power’ tool that any community can use to press for better governance and social justice, especially for Zimbabweans. Political leaders in Zimbabwe need some discipline; who better to dish it out than mothers!

Zimbabwe is a very young country; only 30 years old as of next year. And as with many post-colonial countries there are deep wounds that seem to be difficult to overcome. I was curious about the possibility of using micro-finance operations as a potential source of help for women at the grassroots level, but she was unsure that such a system would be of any real benefit until there was more economic infrastructure. And it seems that until the current corrupt system of government is changed there will not be room for the people to build that infrastructure.

I will keep an eye on Zimbabwe and Elizabeth’s work there. Understanding the different regions of Africa and how they are working through their post-colonial issues is likely to become more and more important in the coming decades. Right now most Americans do not see the continent as having much of an impact on them or the world, but just as ten years ago where China and India were largely dismissed, there is great potential there that will start to make itself known.

Inside the Kingdom by Robert Lacey

October 23, 2009

Inside the KingdomAs an on-again, off-again member of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs I have attended many of their programs over the past six years and always thoroughly enjoyed them. So I was very happy to finally get a chance to attend my first program of the season. The speaker for the evening was Robert Lacey, an author and historian who has lived in Saudi Arabia and written about the country since the late 70s. His current book, which is what brought him to this forum, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia, has not yet been banned by the Saudi government (as was his first book on the subject, The Kingdom). Bahrain, however, has apparently banned it without even cracking the spine. Mr. Lacey shared with us that the banning of his first book had left him saddened until he had been told by a friend to “cheer up old chap, if it wasn’t banned we wouldn’t read it.” So, for Mr. Lacey’s sake, here’s hoping that the Ministry of Culture and Information gives Inside the Kingdom two thumbs down.

For his talking points, Mr. Lacey covered some of the basic information, including geography and family structure, contained in his book as well as, a plethora of historical events and changes over the years. Mr. Lacey is a wealth of knowledge, but he did jump around quite a bit in time and topic, making him somewhat difficult to follow. By the end of the evening’s presentation I felt as if I had been splatter blasted by the history of the House of Saud.

There are a couple of points which he discussed that I would like to touch on; first, the importance of the House of Saud. As the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, and thus where the country gets its name, they have maintained complete power over the area since 1932. This is especially important because both Mecca and Medina, the holiest cities in Islam, are located there. For those who might not know, every Muslim is required to make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. By simple virtue of this fact alone, Saudi Arabia keeps the attention of the entire Muslim world.

Second, Mr. Lacey pointed out that one of the greatest strengths of the House of Saud is how it has been able to keep the different Islamic factions together in Saudi Arabia. But despite their strength internally, there is open distrust of Iran and its Shia leadership. Mr. Lacey said that there are two questions that the Saudi king will not answer in public: ‘What do you think of Iraq?’ and ‘What about Iran?’ When he asked a government official why this was he was told that the king speaks his mind, and what he would say is that you can never trust a Shia and that he doesn’t understand why the US would conquer Iraq just to hand it over to the Iranians (by giving the vote to the Iraqis a Shia majority has emerged, which gives Iran influence in the country).

There was also an article made available at the event that was written by one of the Council’s own, Rachel Bronson, Vice President Programs and Studies, titled “The United States and Saudi Arabia: Challenges Ahead” and published by the Middle East Institute. Her article expanded on the issue of the Saudi view of Iran and explored the Obama administrations approach to the region and how it differs from previous administrations and the views of the House of Saud. If you would like to read the article it can be found here on page 82 of the pdf.

Overall the program was not as informative as others that I have attended, but I am looking forward to reading the book. It appears to be an excellent place to start for someone like myself, who possesses a cursory knowledge of the region, but would like to expand on that.

Happy Diwali!

October 16, 2009

With everything going on at the moment Diwali really snuck up on me. Literally, I woke up this morning and (Ah!) there it was! Unfortunately, I won’t be able to join in on any of the public festivities this year, but seeing as Diwali is such an important Indian holiday, I had to at least post something in celebration.

Like many things South Asian, there is no concrete definition of Diwali. The India Tribune ran an article this year listing 12 different reasons for the celebration and I doubt that is the full extent. In his book, India: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond, Sharshi Tharoor described the culture in general in this way: “Everything exists in countless variants. There is no single standard, no fixed stereotype, no ‘one way’,” and that principle certainly applies in this case. The answer to why depends on who you talk to and what their particular background is (check out Obama’s Diwali message on YouTube to get a couple of different variations). This is also a five day festival which is not determined by the Gregorian calendar so the date(s) are malleable.

What does seem to be pretty constant is the lights and the food. In India, in additional to puja, lamps are lit everywhere. But here most celebrations center around puja, the buffet table, and fireworks. For myself, I think I will see if I can scrounge up some Dahi Bhatata Puri at my favorite go-to spot, Uru-swati, and light a few candles.

I wish everyone a Happy Diwali! May this day bring you happiness, health, and wealth!

La Llorona

October 14, 2009
By Delilah Montoya

Photograph by Delilah Montoya

It seems appropriate to hold a panel on La Llorona, a tragic and frightening apparition in Mexican lore, in October. One of the three significant feminine representations in the culture (the others are La Malinche and the La Virgen de Guadalupe), La Llorona was traditionally only heard wailing – not seen; a ghost whose eerie call would freeze the hearts of men.

The panel, assembled by the Columbia Humanities Department, consisted of three experts who each expanded on one aspect of La Llorona. The first, RoseAnna Mueller, gave the historical background on her legend. The first representation found in history is the ‘snake woman’ who appeared before the fall of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Her appearance was a portent of doom for the city and it is here that she is often intertwined with the legend of La Malinche (see the background information for the movie The Cry). She wails because she is mourning/searching for her dead children. Various legends hold that she either murdered her children or was indirectly responsible for their death. Her story is used as a warning or threat to silence children (if you do not behave she will kidnap or drown you), and to keep young women from being sexually active (or they might meet La Llorona’s fate).

Traditionally La Llorona’s legend was passed down orally, but more recently she has made her way into the visual arts. Jesus Macarena-Avila, an expert in Chicano visual art, presented several artists who have explored La Llorona in their work. He postulated that with legend there comes a certain responsibility and each artist attended to that legend from different angles. Some stuck with the cultural monster representation, yet others presented their view of her as protector rather than monster. There were some, who being culturally mixed themselves, combined La Llorona with representations from the other side of their heritage. If you would like to explore this topic more, here is a list of all the artists whom Jesus discussed:

Celia Herrera Rodriquez
Delilah Montoya
D. Denenge Akpem
Esperanza Gama
Marina Gutierrez
Diane Kahlo

The last panelist, Nancy Van Kanegan, brought recordings of various performing arts pieces, which unfortunately cannot be accurately represented in written form. However, I can share that the theme of each was really about connecting legend with contemporary concerns; fear of war, loss of ones own children. One piece she showed was done by the LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department) as art therapy for the homeless and dispossessed. Many of the women who performed in the piece had themselves lost their children; some by direct fault of their own. The play served as a way to explore their guilt and/or mourn their loss.

The panel finished the presentation with a video, which I will now share with you, that will likely cause you to giggle while raising an eyebrow at the same time. This is the milk industries marketing attempt to reach the Hispanic population. As Mueller pointed out, it shows a lack of understanding of the culture and uses legend for a strange purpose, but is amusing in its own right.

This presentation was part of a series called Intersections presented by the Cultural Studies Program at Columbia College Chicago and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. If you would like to know more about the upcoming programs please visit their website.

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