Nov22009

English Students to Help Plan Smithsonian Folklife Festival

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By Art Taylor

The Chinatown arch in Washington, D.C.

The Chinatown Friendship Arch in Washington, D.C.

Professor Yoonmee Chang’s spring 2010 Honors seminar, ENGL 414 American Chinatowns, will offer students an opportunity not only to study ethnography, but also to practice it.

As part of their course work, students will help plan and prepare the 2010 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The 2010 festival, to be held on the National Mall June 24–28 and July 1–5, 2010, will focus on the lives and cultures of Asian Pacific Americans in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

“Students in this class will have the unique opportunity to roll up their sleeves and understand deeply how it is that we engage with ethnic cultures,” says Chang.

“Ethnography is literally the writing of culture, and our partnership with the Folklife Festival, a stunning event that draws visitors from across the nation, promises remarkable opportunities to examine the complex processes, often taken for granted, that we rely on to understand ethnicity.”

The accompanying classroom study will focus on the iconic American place we call “Chinatown.”

In conjunction with their fieldwork, students in this interdisciplinary course will read a wide range of fiction and nonfiction about American Chinatowns, exploring such questions as, What do we know about these places? What do we prefer not to know? How do we understand Chinatowns, ethnic enclaves and Asian American culture more generally?

Texts for the class will include Fae Myenne Ng’s “Bone,” Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior,” Frank Chin’s “The Chinaman Pacific and Frisco R.R. Co.” and Frances Chung’s “Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple.”

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the English Department newsletter Not Just Letters.

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