On October 25, I went to go see the one-act play Day of the Dead by my freshman mentor Robert Con Davis-Undiano. When R.C. told me OU would be producing his work, I knew I had to go.
The play was meant to explain the cultural history behind the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. It also aimed to portray the significance of the holiday to modern-day Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.
To accomplish these goals, the play focused on three women, all played by Norma Lilia Ruiz Cruz. The first, Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of life and death, connected Day of the Dead to its Aztec roots. The second, Catrina, a traditional Day of the Dead figure, brought us to Mexico in the not-so-distant past. Finally, Elena, a Chicana doctor on the U.S.-Mexico border, confronted present-day immigration and border patrol issues while arranging her Day of the Dead altar.
I liked the focus on women and thought the choice to use one actress was brilliant. The play was definitely direct about its intent to teach but enjoyable none the less. Check out a full review by The Norman Transcript here.
For GEOG 1103: Human Geography, I had to attend an outside event related to the class and write a paper about that event. The following is the summary section of my paper.
I attended InFocus Africa’s forum “How Corruption Undermines Sustainable Development in Africa” on October 25, 2018 at 5:30 p.m. in the Main Dining Hall of Headington College on campus. The event began with an African-inspired dinner. Afterward, three speakers presented on the topic. The talks were followed by a question-and-answer segment facilitated by an InFocus Africa member. Unfortunately, I had to leave at 7:30 when the Q-and-A started.
The first speaker was Dr. Greg A. Graham, an assistant professor in African and African-American Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Graham outlined a genealogy of corruption. In the 1990s, a negative view of corruption in Africa was prominent. Development and democracy were seen as positive goals for African states, and corruption impeded those goals. These perceptions of Africa corruption became a justification for government usurpations, as during this time period multiple African military regimes were overthrown by democratic systems. As Dr. Graham pointed out, these ideas and movements came from outside of Africa.
Dr. Graham then went on to explain African corruption from an internal perspective. Outsiders see Africa as rife with corruption, as if corruption were embedded in African cultures. Dr. Graham argued that African practices are not corrupt, but rather some can facilitate corruption. He then provided several examples including negotiations and gift giving. He also acknowledged the possible downfalls of ethnic solidarity networks and beliefs in redistributive accumulation, mainly nepotism or similar situations.
Finally, Dr. Graham connected his lecture to sustainable development. He proposed that such movements must be organic; they must stem from the people themselves. This brand of solution would sidestep corrupt government systems, benefiting the majority rather than the few.
The second speaker was Dr. Andreana C. Prichard, an associate professor of African history in the Honors College at OU. Dr. Prichard focused on the corruption of good intentions into unintended outcomes. She analyzed three case studies involving Western-rooted charities in Africa. The first case involved the American charity More Than Me in Liberia. A scandal broke out upon the realization that a charity executive had been raping girls in his care. The organization did not handle the situation well. Officials dodged questions during interviews and refused to admit any wrongdoing beyond hiring the culprit. They would not acknowledge any problematic institutional systems that might have allowed this abuse of power.
The second case looked at mission orphanages in Kenya. Dr. Prichard began this part of her presentation by defining orphan as a fluid category. When abolitionist missionaries came to Kenya, they predominantly worked with children, taking in those they defined as orphans. In 1898, famine struck Kenya, and many parents practiced pawnship to survive. This meant they exchanged their children for needed resources. The Kenyans expected the return of their children when they repaid their debt. However, the missionaries perceived this exchange as abandonment and refused to return these “orphaned” children. They had been teaching these children Western culture and feared them backsliding into their Kenyan culture. Therefore, as Dr. Prichard explained, the use of orphan became a mechanism for social control during colonialism. Post-colonialism, a redefining of orphan by aid organizations has created a manufactured orphan crisis, which attracts activism and tourism to Africa.
Dr. Prichard’s third case evaluated an American Christian charity, Upendo Kids, in Kenya. Similar to the first case, a staff member was found guilty of assaulting children in his care. Dr. Prichard wrapped up her talk by connecting these cases. These organizations began with good intentions—to help vulnerable people in Africa. They failed to do so because they did not understand cultural context or pay ample attention to harm caused.
The third speaker was John Michael Koffi, the author of Refuge-e: The Journey Much Desired. A refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo himself, Mr. Koffi’s presentation asked the question, “Whose perspective?” When one considers corruption, whose perspective is one seeing it from? The refugee, the official, or the outsider? He drew attention to corruption’s morality struggles. For example, refugees often pay to be smuggled across borders. This contributes to corruption, but it is necessary for the refugees’ survival and quality of life. Mr. Koffi complicated this example further by highlighting corruption as a reason for refugees’ situations. He became a refugee because a dictator drained his country of resources for personal gain. Paying smugglers seems a small act in comparison, but it still feeds into the corrupt system.
Mr. Koffi viewed youth as the ones who promote democracy. Young people’s participation could lead to change, according to Mr. Koffi, but corruption pushes them away from government activity. Mr. Koffi promoted more investment in youth in countries with refugee and corruption problems as a solution.
This year, I attended the Neustadt Festival for the third time. (I missed the one in 2017 because I was in South Africa.) This year’s prize recipient was Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American writer. I was lucky enough to be able to attend Haitian literary and cultural events all three days of the festival, October 9-11.
First, on the evening of October 9, I went to the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art for the opening-night celebration. I mingled and ate snacks until Danticat made her remarks before the preview of “Women Like Us,” a Haitian dance.
The next day I attended the roundtable discussion “Edwidge Danticat’s Literary Message” made up by Catherine John Camara (an OU English professor whose class I have taken), Marcia Chatelain, and Florine Démosthène. I thought this panel would provide me with a good overview of Danticat’s work, but it also did an excellent job of framing her writing in a Haitian-American context. They discussed Haitian-American immigration and American perceptions of Haitians and Haitian culture. They analyzed African influences on Haiti and compared diaspora writers to Haitian writers.
The final morning I saw the full performance of “Women Like Us” as well as “ReBIRTH.” I found both dances powerful, especially the latter. I enjoy the performing arts and appreciated the exposure to another culture in that form. Danticat followed these performances with her keynote, ending the festival.
On September 24, I attended a high table dinner at Headington College honoring Macarena Hernádez, a journalist and professor. As the audience enjoyed the free food, Hernádez gave a talk, “How Narratives Shape Us.”
She focused on border narratives, three borders in particular: United States/Mexico, Mexico/Guatemala, and Haiti/Dominican Republic. She interspersed her lecture with video examples of her journalistic work pertaining to those borders. You can also see some of this work on her website.
I enjoyed the dinner for two reasons (beyond the free food). First, Hernádez’s emphasis on the power of story aligned with my own beliefs. Second, she opened my eyes to issues I had never considered. While Americans tend to pay attention to our own border with Latin America, we rarely consider the borders within Latin America, which can be just as contentious, if not more so.
Today, I was privileged to attend a talk by Illya Kaminsky, a world famous poet who immigrated to the US in 1993 from the former Soviet Union where he was born. He spoke at an event at Kaufman Hall cohosted by the Department of Modern Languages, Literature, and Linguistics and World Literature Today.
Illya Kaminsky has written Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press) and Dancing In Odessa (Tupelo Press). He has co-edited and co-translated a plethora of books, many of which are poetry. He has won multiple awards for his writing, and his poetry regularly appears in famous anthologies. His poems have been translated into over twenty languages, and his books have been published in many countries, including Turkey, Holland, Russia, France, Mexico, Macedonia, Romania, Spain and China.
Today, Kaminsky spoke about poetry across languages and the beauty of translation.
Kaminsky began by explaining that the written word is a glimpse into the mind of the writer, that translation occurs not between two lexicons but between two minds. Translation is one of the driving forces behind language change, for how can change occur without an encounter with something new?
Translations force the creation of newness in language, for in trying to communicate mind-to-mind, language is bent into new shapes and set to new tunes, and novel ways of speaking are created so that we may grow ever closer to the author’s intent.
Translators then must be incredibly attentive to the meaning the poet is trying to convey, and in straining towards truthfulness, they sometimes are unfaithful to the direct translation. As Octavio Paz once said, “Poetry is what is found in translation.”
In the act of translating from one language to another, we are taught new sensibilities and new music of language. We learn, we master, and then we teach — this is how languages change. This is how we learn to see through the eyes of people far removed from us either by distance or by time.
Kaminsky supplemented these ideas with several examples of poetry from other languages translated into English, and the English translations differ wildly in an attempt to capture the author’s original intent. The picture below is of a haiku with five English translations below it, each striving to capture the sentiment of the poem, without the incomprehensibility demonstrated by the word for word translation provided just below the original poem.
Kaminsky also spoke at length at how poetry across languages allow us to gain new perspectives that our own culture may not expose us to. When we read these stories, we learn to see the world in a way we originally did not have access to. What do these writings tell us about the people who wrote, read, and lived these stories? How else are we able to so clearly see the connection between ourselves and very different people
Kaminsky is a man very aware of the world we live in. He is quick to establish the connection between all people, and he sees this so vividly in the poetry he reads and the poetry he writes. I walked away seeing how poetry can be the window to the soul of an entire people, and how translators are people who seek to stitch the broken seams of our world back together.
Tonight I went to Max Amini’s comedy show at the Reynolds Performing Arts Center called “Authentically Absurd.” I’ve been to comedy shows before and watched the recorded events, but all of the comedians I’ve seen before are either white men and women or they completely identified as American. This was a different experience because Max Amini is Iranian-American and he fully embraces his heritage. Parts of his show were in Farsi, and Max Amini translated for the audience members that don’t speak it. It was really cool, and it kind of forced me into a perspective that, as a white English speaker in America, I’ve never experienced before. It was kind of odd to be in a lingual minority, and I think it gave me a greater appreciation of what immigrants and exchange students go through on a regular basis. It also kind of reinforced the only “regret” I have from college. (I put regret in parenthesis because I don’t believe in regrets.)
I chose to study abroad in England and Italy. In Italy, I was at the OU campus in Arezzo, surrounded by other Americans and Italians who spoke English. In England, language was obviously not an issue. I didn’t have a lot of choice in where and when I could study abroad, due to my chemical engineering major, but I wish I had been able (and been brave enough) to go somewhere that would have made me stretch my language skills. I don’t feel very comfortable speaking other languages, and it’s likely because I don’t every practice (it’s a very cyclical problem).
But, as I said, the show was really funny! I got to learn a bit about Iranian culture, and hear some funny stories about immigration and minorities in American. There was also a great story about Max Amini performing at a charity event in Canada and the adventures that he had to go on to get there, which you can apparently find on his Instagram (I wouldn’t know – I don’t have one )
The Asian American Student Association annually posts an Asian Food Fair to raise money for their fundraiser Holiday Head Start. Fortunately for me, my big from my sorority was the chair for Holiday Head Start and allowed me the great opportunity to try foods from countries outside of China, my homeland. This year the types of food given out were from countries that most people do not first think about when they need to go. For instance, AASA obtained food from Nepal and India. I often choose to eat food from China, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea. Going to this event opened my eyes to other types of Asian foods that I was missing out on.
In the future, I hope to expand my diet and eat foods from other countries in Asia and other countries in general! I had no idea what I was missing out on until I went!
On November 30, I had the privilege of attending Persian Poetry night. It is put on the Persian department at the end of every semester to demonstrate the progress the Persian students have made throughout the year. As the introductory speaker said in her opening remarks, learning poetry not only helps students learn the phonetics and structure of a language, but it also helps students understand the culture and the rhythm of the speakers’ lives.
The beginning students performed their poems first, with the Heritage students going in the first round and the rest of the students in the second round. Likewise, the intermediate students were split into the Heritage and other intermediate students.
The students would give their poems in Persian, then in English, and then they would speak a little on the significance the poem holds for them. Mevlevî was a popular poet; his poems were quoted many times. Most people today would know him as Rumi. Ferdowsi was another poet who was also frequently quoted.
While listening to the poems themselves was wonderful, I found that my favorite part of each performance was listening to the explanations the students gave as to the meaning they personally found behind their poems. One student explained how her grandmother would read verses to her as answers to her problems; another said that he saw the love talked about in his poem reflected in his own love for our country, which he is preparing to defend as a student in the ROTC program.
The poems ranged from friendship to love to the passing of time to the divine, and in each one, the students were able to display the humanity and the meaning they found passed down through centuries from the writings of these great Persian artists.
And now Persian has been added to the list of languages I would love to one day learn.