preserving refugee cultural heritage: taking community and culture into account

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DESCRIPTION Project APRCH (Agency in the Preservation of Refugee Cultural Heritage) asks refugees to speak in their own voice (agency) about how they wish to document (record for posterity), perpetuate (ongoing practice/survival) and disseminate (make accessible) their cultural heritage. By using a scholarship of dialogue approach, we seek to be culturally competent in this endeavor. Nora J. Bird, Assistant Professor, UNCG Department of Library and Information Studies Clara M. Chu, Professor, UNCG Department of Library and Information Studies Fatih Oguz, Assistant Professor, UNCG Department of Library and Information Studies


  • 1. PRESERVING REFUGEE CULTURALHERITAGE: TAKING COMMUNITYAND CULTURE INTO ACCOUNTNora J. Bird, Clara M. Chu and Fatih OguzDepartment of Library and Information StudiesThe University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • 2. Documentation and scholarship as aprocess of empowering the Other multicultural and globalized digital libraries wouldguarantee the right for all cultural voices to be included,would acquire the necessary funding to pursue multiculturalprojects, and would enable underrepresented voices to speakfor themselves, to determine what cultural heritage andcommunity (including individual) experiences are to bedigitized, and how the information will be accessed (limitedor full access, language, interface, etc.) (Chu, 2008) scholarship of dialogue is a framework for rethinking andreformulating who will conductresearch, how it will beconducted, what the focus of the research will be, how it willbe disseminated, who provides the leadership and whospeaks for the diverse constituencies. (Chu, 2005, p. 430) respect, critical thinking, praxis, and conscientisation
  • 4. Agency
  • 5. Objects of exile (abandonment and loss)A clue to her mothers circumspect nature arrivedinadvertently when Ms. Vang stumbled upon anunopened suitcase in her closet. It contained thetattered embroidered jacket she wore as a girl thenight she had to flee her Laotian village. Suchtangible remnants, which she [Vang] calls objectsof exile, triggered her mothers concealedmemories. (Brown, 2011)
  • 6. Agency through writing(Brown, 2011)Coming to terms with their parents experience, from Laosto Fresno, and preserving it in the printed word is themajor impetus for Soul Choj Vang and his colleagues:Now, here I am, adopted citizen,Not rooted in this land, unable to tasteThe spirit in its dust,To sense its moods in the pollen.How do I begin my song?Our parents will never write, Ms. Vang said. Sowe write for them.
  • 7. Preservation
  • 8. PRESERVATION What must be preserved cant be determined bywell-meaning information professionals focused onbuilding a system to organize and house. We must ask what and observe how intangiblecultural heritage objects are used.We must ask, What does the Laotian cloth coat meansto Ms. Vangs mother and how would she want it to bepreserved.
  • 9. Authentic Preservation Document (record for posterity) in a manner that fitsthe objects and the producing community Perpetuate (ongoing practice/survival) withincommunity (and outside, as appropriate) Disseminate (make accessible) to the producingcommunity and the wider community, includingmembers of the diaspora.
  • 10. Refugees
  • 11. Refugees as a Group Cannot assume commonissues for refugees as agroup but do they exist? Same country but differentethnicities, tribes, loyalties,religions, languages. Same culture but ofdifferent religions Some cultures are oral/pre-literateImage:
  • 12. Special needs 1st generation Not the same as voluntary immigrants Experiencing culture shock, post-trauma (war,displacement, refugee camps) Stress of poverty in U.S. Language issues Social isolation Education Health impacts Family power structure womens roles
  • 13. Special needs 2nd Generation Impending cultural loss from aging firstgeneration Need to feel success, to not deny theirculture Cultural integration
  • 14. Working with RefugeesBuild trust, be involved in activitiesHelpful activities: soccer team,cultural activities, craft groupWork with cultural or religiousorganizations and service agenciesto connect with communitiesImage:
  • 15. The UNESCO Definition(Intangible) Cultural Heritage
  • 16. Traditional, contemporary, andliving at the same timeRepresents not only inherited traditionsbut contemporary rural and urbanpractices
  • 17. Hmong Story ClothTouger Vangs personal collection
  • 18. New Traditions from Refugee CampScience Museum of Minnesota staff member Mr. Sue Thao writes:"Story cloths are a commercial product of therefugee camps in Thailand, depicting peopleslife stories. It is not traditional Hmong stitching.And it is not how our elders pass stories fromgeneration to generation. Our stories are passeddown orally generation to generation." (The HmongFoundation)
  • 19. InclusiveExpressions are passed from one generation toanother and evolve in response to theirenvironments.They link the past, present, and future.
  • 20. Younger Generation Agency is crucial for the new generation. They can be encouraged to meld the past andpresent to create their own sense of the future. Cultural heritage institutions can be the site andimpetus for this activity.
  • 21. Knowledge of TraditionsSeveral weeks ago, Ying Thao,29, discovered, while watching atravelogue on Hmong TV, that hismother was a master artisan inLaos, celebrated for making hempcloth from scratch. Here inFresno, she goes to HancockFabrics, JoAnn or Walmart, heobserved. I sensed she didnt wantto be reminded of herself.(Brown, 2011)Image:
  • 23. CDLC-funded project** Project is funded by a Coalition for Diverse Language CommunitiesFellowship The quote in previous slide is evidence of the invisibilityand silence around refugees passing down and sharingtheir culture, creating a disconnect between generationsand the community at large. research and activities addressing the needs of therefugee communities in the Piedmont Triad have tendedto focus on resettlement, employment, health, educationand social services. In a new homeland, refugees communities are not onlyfacing the adversity of being displaced and fleeingpersecution, but having to resettle with little else buttheir culture and memories.
  • 24. Why the Montagnards?Image: Of the many refugee communities in the Triad, theMontagnards were selected because as a traditional oralcommunity the preservation of their culture faces greaterchallenges. Settling in the Triad since the mid-1980s,Guilford County is home to the largest Montagnardcommunity living outside of Vietnam, whose culture consistsof at least 5 major language groups and various dialects.
  • 25. Design (APRCH) a young Montagnard (12) will interview an elderMontagnard (12) snowball sample intergenerational approach strives to enhance authenticity,cultural and linguistic respect, and learning within thecommunity Young Montagnards will learn about cultural heritage andits preservation through interviewing elder about whatand how they wish to document, perpetuate anddisseminate their culture Survey and focus group prior to training workshop andfocus group post interview Montagnard culture event
  • 26. APRCH: Impacts Intercultural dialogue between refugee groups. Diaspora connections for groups studied. Educational resources for the wider community. Model program of authentic preservation practices.Photo by Andria Lo:
  • 27. Cultural Heritage Preservation: Our workand selected resourcesProject APRCH A website for learning and sharing resources that usesa community-grounded approach to learn, understand and conductpreservation of refugee culturalheritage. http://aprch.word


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