HomeSpun, Indian American

The Scripps Spelling Bee and Indian Americans

Sukanya Roy, winner of the 2011 Scripps Spelling Bee

Sukanya Roy, winner of the 2011 Scripps Spelling Bee.
Photos by Pawan Dhingra, Smithsonian APA Program.

Pawan Dhingra, HomeSpun curator, attended the 2011 Scripps Spelling Bee to collect important stories about the Indian American lifeHere, he reflects on his two-day experience and discusses the history of Indian American youths who have stood out at this competition.

Sukanya’s tall, thin frame trembled a bit for the first time all night, as she enunciated her final set of letters: c-y-m-o-t-r-i-c-h-o-u-s. Yet, her long hair continued to fall straight down, a fitting sign of control over the word she had just spelled, which means having wavy hair. With that final word correctly spelled, Sukanya Roy had just won the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Overwhelmed with excitement and exhaustion, she had an uncontrollable smile as she accepted her trophy, live on ESPN.

It had been a long night, around 11pm, that had started with thirteen finalists at 8:30pm. Each, along with the other 262 competitors at this years’ Bee, had already proven themselves formidable spellers as well as friendly competitors. As they asked one another to sign their Bee photobooks, ran through the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just outside of Washington DC, and went up to the podium to spell words I could not even pronounce, they seemed a focused yet joyous bunch. As one spelled a word correctly, he would be greeted by high-fives from his competitors as he sat back down. When a word was spelled incorrectly, it was not just the parents who showed signs of grief; other spellers did as well. The competition had brought them closer together.

The contestants were almost an equal number of boys and girls, came from all over the country and from other parts of the world, and ranged in ages from eight to fifteen. Of this wide range of impressive youth, one trend stood out to me: the over-representation of Indian American participants. For instance, of the final thirteen, seven were Indian American. Sukanya became the fourth Indian American in a row to win the championship, and the eighth in the past twelve competitions. The first Indian American to win was Balu Natarajan in 1985.

Answers abound to the question of why Indian Americans dominate spelling bees. Rather than focus on that question here, what is also noteworthy is the highly competitive dimension to the Spelling Bee. While often framed as simply studious or even as geeks, these contestants have much in common with athletes. They put in hours of preparation; they go through rounds of competitions; they compete on a national stage for money and fame; and they take winning seriously. It is not a coincidence that the Spelling Bee is broadcast live on ESPN. And like other major league champions, Sukanya and her family were awarded with a visit to the White House and a meeting with the President.

Spelling Bees clearly have become a significant part of Indian American youths’ extracurricular activities. For the Roy’s, however, it seems to be coming to a close. As a past winner, Sukanya cannot participate again. And as an only child, it may be another Indian American family hosting the trophy next year. In any case, the youth who take part will deserve applause and then some well-earned rest.

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HomeSpun, Indian American, Staff Update

HomeSpun Update: Introducing Curator Pawan Dhingra

Dr. Pawan Dhingra

Photo by Jenn Manna

Welcome to Dr. Pawan Dhingra, Curator for the HomeSpun: Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program is proud to bring on board Dr. Pawan Dhingra who will take the lead in presenting the story of Indian Americans to the Smithsonian and to Americans of all backgrounds and generations. He brings a wealth of scholarship with him to the APA Program’s HomeSpun Project. To download the official announcement, click here.

Message from Dr. Dhingra:

I am excited to join the Asian Pacific American Program at the Smithsonian Institution and to serve as curator for the HomeSpun Project. Hiring a curator has been a long–awaited task for the project, and this is one more step towards its fruition. I come to the Smithsonian from Oberlin College, in Oberlin, OH, where I have been an associate professor of sociology and comparative American studies. I have published and taught on the experiences of Asian Americans, with a focus on Indian Americans. This includes my book, Managing Multicultural Lives: Asian American Professionals and the Challenge of Multiple Identities (Stanford University Press, 2007), which won an award from the Association for Asian American Studies.

More than is possible within academic spaces, HomeSpun will help the public recognize the history, struggles, and creative contributions of Indian Americans. The current plan is to have the exhibition debut at the Smithsonian by late 2012 and then travel to cities across the country. In addition to the exhibition, there will be public programs, a website, and a middle school curriculum guide.

HomeSpun depends on the contributions and energy of community members. If you know of any objects or recordings you consider significant to the Indian American story, please let us know. We hope to collect an archive of materials that can be preserved and incorporated into the Smithsonian for decades to come. And, please consider making a tax-deductable donation to HomeSpun. This initiative depends greatly on resources from individuals!

The work of so many people has laid the foundation of the project. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities lying ahead. If you have suggestions for or questions about the project, please do not hesitate to contact me at DhingraP@si.edu.

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Chinese American, Event, Film, Indian American, Literary, South Asian

SALTAF 2010, South Asian Literary and Theatre Arts Festival Recap

South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival 2010

Co-Chairs: Kiran Meegada, Latha Reddy, Mridula Srinivasan
Contact: saltaf@netsap.org

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and NetSAP-DC presented the tenth annual South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF). The partnership between NetSAP and the Smithsonian has established SALTAF as a premier showcase for South Asian-themed literary and theater arts in North America.

This past festival’s schedule can be found if you click here.

SALTAF 2010 | Photo by Manish Alimchandani

This year’s festival featured panel discussions, readings, and film screenings by internationally acclaimed writers and artists, including:

  • Award-winning writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the bestselling author of Arranged Marriage, One Amazing Thing, and other novels which focus on the themes of women, immigration, and the South Asian experience. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
  • Born in Sri Lanka and educated at Oxford, the San Francisco-based poet Pireeni Sundaralingam is a PEN USA Rosenthal Fellow. She is also the editor of the first anthology of contemporary South Asian American poetry, Indivisible, as well as the author of the forthcoming Margin Lands.
  • Writer and artist Naeem Mohaiemen‘s photography and video projects have shown at venues such as Laboral Center for Art & Technology and Zurich Shedhalle, and will show next at Sharjah Biennial 2011. He is editor of the just published Between Ashes and Hope: Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism.
  • Washington, DC-based journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of the acclaimed Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is National Editor at The Washington Post. He has written extensively on the Middle East and has been widely praised for his reporting on that region.
  • The San-Francisco-based writer, performer, and activist Canyon Sam, author of the 2010 PEN-award winning lyrical memoir Sky Train, has performed across the United States and Canada. Her creative nonfiction has been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies.

The two films showcased were:

Shakti Rising (Shakti Pirakkudhu), created in association with writer and director Usha Rajeswari of Prakriti Jiva Media, is a special tribute to the undying spirit and power of women throughout the world. Based on the true-life stories of a group of women from Madurai, India and their association with Madura Micro Finance Ltd., this inspirational film offers a case study of success and triumph.

Udaan, created in association with director Vikramaditya Motwane and producers Sanjay Singh, Anurag Kashyap, and Ronnie Screwvala, is a story about 17-year-old Rohan who is expelled from boarding school and returns home to his stern and abusive father. Rohan has dreams of becoming a writer but is instead forced to work in his father’s metalworks factory and attend engineering classes at a local university. From the ashes of conflict Rohan has to decide whether or not his dream of becoming a writer is too strong to give up.

See photos by Manish Alimchandani from this year’s event by clicking here.
See the original event listing by clicking here.

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Event, Film, Indian American, Literary

SALTAF 2010, South Asian Literary and Theatre Arts Festival Program Schedule

South    Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival 2010

10:00 – 10:15 Registration
10:15 – 10:20 Opening remarks (Dr. Richard Kurin, Under Secretary of History, Art, and Culture & Acting Director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program)
10:20 – 10:25 Introductory Remarks and Program Announcements by 2010 SALTAF co-chairs
10:30 – 11:30 Panel 1: Global (Dis)Placements
Canyon Sam
Naeem Mohaiemen
Rajiv Chandrasekaran
 

11:35 – 12:35 Book Signings by the Museum Book Store : Naeem, Rajiv, Canyon 

11:30 – 11:40 ~Break~ 

11:40 –  1:30 Movie 1: Shakti Rising 

1:30 – 1:50 Panel discussion with Dr. Tara Thiagarajan, Director – Usha Rajeswari 

1:50 – 2:00 ~Break~ 

2:00 – 2:55 Panel 2: The Poetics of Placement
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Pireeni Sundaralingam
 

2:55 – 3:00 ~Break~ 

3:00 – 4:00 Book Signings by the Museum Book Store: Chitra and Pireeni 

3:00 – 5:15 Movie 2: Udaan (Flight) Introduced by Director, Vikramaditya 

5:15 – 5:20 Closing Remarks
5:30 ~End~
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Chinese American, Event, Film, Indian American, Literary, South Asian

SALTAF 2010, South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival

South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival 2010

Co-Chairs: Kiran Meegada, Latha Reddy, Mridula Srinivasan
Contact: saltaf@netsap.org

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and NetSAP-DC present the tenth annual South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF). The partnership between NetSAP and the Smithsonian has established SALTAF as a premier showcase for South Asian-themed literary and theater arts in North America.

To view the festival’s schedule, please click here.

Featured guests (left to right): Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Pireeni Sundaralingam, Naeem Mohaiemen, Rajiv Chandrasekaram, and Canyon Sam

Time:
Saturday, November 13, 2010
10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. 

Location:
Baird Auditorium
National Museum of Natural History
10th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW

Metro:
Smithsonian or Federal Triangle
(Orange or Blue line)

This event is free and open to the public

This year’s festival will feature panel discussions, readings, and film screenings by internationally acclaimed writers and artists, including:

  • Award-winning writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the bestselling author of Arranged Marriage, One Amazing Thing, and other novels which focus on the themes of women, immigration, and the South Asian experience. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Houston.
  • Born in Sri Lanka and educated at Oxford, the San Francisco-based poet Pireeni Sundaralingam is a PEN USA Rosenthal Fellow. She is also the editor of the first anthology of contemporary South Asian poetry, Indivisible as well as the author of the forthcoming Margin Lands.
  • Writer and artist Naeem Mohaiemen‘s photography and video projects have shown at venues such as Laboral Center for Art & Technology and
    Zurich Shedhalle, and will show next at Sharjah Biennial 2011. He is editor of the just published Between Ashes and Hope: Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Blind Spot of Bangladesh Nationalism.
  • Washington-DC-based journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of the acclaimed Imperial Life in the Emerald City, is National Editor at the Washington Post. He has written extensively on the Middle East and has been widely praised for his reporting on that region.
  • The San-Francisco-based writer, performer, and activist Canyon Sam, author of the 2010 PEN-award winning lyrical memoir The Sky Train, has performed across the United States and Canada. Her creative nonfiction has been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies.

A feature film Shakti Rising (Shakti Pirakkudhu), created in association with writer and director Usha Rajeswari of Prakriti Jiva Media, is a special tribute to the undying spirit and power of women throughout the world. Based on the true-life stories of a group of women from Madurai, India and their association with Madura Micro Finance Ltd., this inspirational film offers a case study of success and triumph.

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HomeSpun, Indian American

HomeSpun Update: September New York City Fundraiser

The NYC HomeSpun Fundraiser

Thanks to Vijay Bondada and Renuka Tyagi for their hospitality in hosting the New York City fundraiser for HomeSpun at their home on September 9, 2010. The cool summer evening on their outdoor patio featured an introduction of the Smithsonian Institution and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program by Dr. Richard Kurin, the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture. Dr. Kurin shared his experiences as a young man traveling in India and his experiences in the museum field, highlighting the importance of cultural education for future generations.

The fundraiser piqued the interest of the young Indian American professionals in attendance, and donations rolled in over the online donation forms soon after the event. More than that, interest in contributing to the project was also raised. For some like Renuka, with two little girls growing up in this era and another baby on the way, this is presents a chance to help foster an environment for education in Indian American heritage. Against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline, the peaceful night sowed the seeds for a hopeful future for the HomeSpun project.

Thanks also to HomeSpun Advisory Council member Gautam Chandra for helping Vijay and Renuka to organize and host the event.

For more information regarding the HomeSpun project and how you can help, visit the HomeSpun website.

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HomeSpun, Indian American, South Asian

Washington Leadership Program Scholars Visit APA Program

Washington Leadership Program Scholars Visit APA Program

Suchin Adhlakha, former HomeSpun Project Manager and Krista Aniel, Management Support Assistant welcomed Harin J. Contractor, Vice-Chair of the Washington Leadership Program (WLP) and eight young scholars to the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and promoted HomeSpun: The Smithsonian Indian American Heritage Project. WLP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building the next generation of leaders from the South Asian American community through innovative programs. The program places promising college students in a congressional office for an eight-week summer internship accompanied by a structured leadership curriculum.

WLP scholars learned that HomeSpun will create an exhibition chronicling the story of immigrants from India and their descendants in America. The exhibition will be accompanied by a curriculum guide for middle school students, a public program series to educate the general public, and a website with supporting social networking tools to engage audiences.

HomeSpun seeks to establish a permanent presence through collections, research, exhibitions, education, and public programming within the Smithsonian complex. Here, students and visitors to one of the nation’s busiest museums can not only view displays about Indian American history, but also learn about the role Indian Americans have played in shaping American society. To support HomeSpun, please visit http://homespun.si.edu

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Chinese American, Event, Filipino American, Folklife Festival, General APA, Hawaiian, History, Indian American, Japanese American

Folklife Festival Recap

As the sun began to set in the west over the Washington Monument and as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival came to a close, Dr. Catherine Yi-yu Cho Woo—calligrapher, painter, and feng shui master—tells the tale of Cao Cao’s defeat at the Yangtze River from Chinese epic work, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, how a fortunate east wind saved the southern armies of Sun Quan and Liu Bei from impending invasion.

Folklife Festival closing ceremonies

With such an allusion to the Chinese proverb, “all that is needed is an east wind,” Dr. Woo gifted to the Smithsonian a scroll commemorating the historic Asian Pacific Americans Folklife program. The scroll contains the character 巽, the trigram for “wind,” (from 易經, The Classic of Changes), symbolizing the wish for the East Wind 東風 of fortune to bless the Smithsonian in its future projects.

But the East Wind is only a beginning; without the strategic mind of Zhuge Liang to take advantage of the winds, Cao Cao’s forces may very well have defeated Sun Quan and Liu Bei. Likewise, the Festival programs were only breezes of a beginning for understanding local communities with global connections. The Festival’s APA Programs Curator Phil Nash emphasizes the need to build upon the connections made at the Festival, and to have the work carried onward by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program, the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and other units of the Smithsonian Institution.

Demonstrations of Sikh turban tying, the martial art of eskrima, and preparation of spam musubi

Through demonstrations of Sikh turban tying, the martial art of eskrima, foodways preparation of spam musubi, and much more, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival provided an opportunity for connections with the diverse communities of Indian Americans, Filipino Americans, Pacific Islander Americans, and myriad more cultures that together make up an American people.

So, where to go from here?

The connections do not stop with the end of the Festival. The East Wind continues to blow, and local and national communities continue to face and overcome challenges and encounter opportunities for growth. The hard work began by Festival staff members, interns, and volunteers lays the groundwork for community participation and connections. So, if you are in the DC area, come visit events such as Freer-Sackler’s Asia After Dark; if you are in Waterloo, Iowa, connect with the Vietnamese American community there while visiting our traveling exhibition Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon. And wherever you are, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program will always be here, online, along with other resources such as the Folklife Festival website and a community that digitally lives on Facebook, Twitter, and beyond.

Thanks all for attending the Festival. And if you didn’t get a chance to sign Foon Sham’s Guestbook sculpture, leave your mark in the skies instead.

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HomeSpun, Indian American, Job Opportunities

HomeSpun Update: July 2010

As you may recall from last month’s update, the APA Program is in the process of searching for the new HomeSpun curator. The curator will be in charge of providing shape and direction for the exhibition, public program series, and middle-school curriculum on Indian American history and culture. We were fortunate to start with a large and highly qualified pool of applicants. We are now well into the selection process and hope to have someone join our team soon. Keep your eyes open for the arrival of our new VIP!

Fundraising has recently experienced a highly anticipated uptick. Just this past month, we learned of two promising HomeSpun fundraising opportunities—one event in New York City and the second in Silicon Valley. We are in the preliminary planning stages for the NYC event. This event will mark the first time HomeSpun visits the Big Apple! In California, a team of hardworking volunteers has plans underway for an evening event on October 24, 2010. The trip to California is poised to be a large success (over 150 save-the-dates have been distributed!).

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Academic, Art, Chinese American, Crafts, Event, Family, Filipino American, Folklife Festival, General APA, Hawaiian, History, Indian American, Japanese American, Korean American, Lecture, Performance, Social, South Asian, Vietnamese American

Smithsonian Folklife Festival to begin, wood sculpture welcomes visitors

The stage is waiting for you

As the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival quickly approaches, the National Mall in Washington, DC resonates with the sounds of hammers on wood as workers prepare the stages, tents, and other physical structures that will house the myriad participants teaching mall visitors about everything from the culture and history of Mexico to the foodways and community experiences of Asian Pacific Americans today to how exhibitions at the Smithsonian are put together.

Wooden sculpture by Foon Sham

Standing under the over 90-degree (maybe even 100-degree) heat, quietly waiting for the festival to start, a structure of wooden panels seem particularly welcoming in a grassy area under the trees. Upon closer inspection, names and words of greeting in at least four or five different languages are beginning to fill this signature wall.

Designed by Foon Sham, professor of fine arts at the University of Maryland, College Park, this wooden sculpture resembles a giant guest book. Visitors and passers-by of the National Mall over the course of the Folklife Festival are asked to sign it with their names and contribute one-word descriptions of themselves or their professions.

Wooden sculpture by Foon Sham

The presence of the wooden sculptures symbolizes a welcoming to visitors of all backgrounds. This is significant because such a welcome was not always the case for Asian Pacific Americans—both native-born Americans and more recent immigrants—as can be seen in the various exclusion acts in U.S. history. Signing the sculpture along its vertical panels reminds us that, in context of a globalizing world, languages are not always written horizontally from left to right. Specifically, it reminds us of the several Asian languages written vertically. While the signatures on the wood will fade over time (as purposefully designed), the memories created at the Festival will not disappear but will affect us and our global relations for years to come.

Foon Sham is also the artist of The Glory of the Chinese Descendents, a wall sculpture at the Chinatown-Gallery Place metro station leading into Chinatown in Washington, DC.

Be sure to come visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which runs June 24-28 and July 1-5, 2010, everyday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the Mall with evening events throughout the greater DC area after 5:30 p.m.

Check the Folklife Festival website for the full schedule and more details.

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