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Preserving Refugee Cultural Heritage: Taking Community and Culture into Account
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

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Preserving Refugee Cultural Heritage: Taking Community and Culture into Account

  1. 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. 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 conduct…research, 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. 4. Agency
  5. 5. Objects of exile (abandonment and loss)A clue to her mother’s 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 mother’s concealedmemories. (Brown, 2011)
  6. 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. 7. Preservation
  8. 8. PRESERVATION What must be preserved can’t 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. Vang’s mother and how would she want it to bepreserved.”
  9. 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. 10. Refugees
  11. 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. 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 – women’s roles
  13. 13. Special needs – 2nd Generation Impending cultural loss from aging firstgeneration Need to feel success, to not deny theirculture Cultural integration
  14. 14. Working with RefugeesBuild trust, be involved in activitiesHelpful activities: soccer team,cultural activities, craft groupWork with cultural or religiousorganizations and service agenciesto connect with communitiesImage:
  15. 15. The UNESCO Definition(Intangible) Cultural Heritage
  16. 16. Traditional, contemporary, andliving at the same timeRepresents not only inherited traditionsbut contemporary rural and urbanpractices
  17. 17. Hmong Story ClothTouger Vang’s personal collection
  18. 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. 19. InclusiveExpressions are passed from one generation toanother and evolve in response to theirenvironments.They link the past, present, and future.
  20. 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. 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 didn’t wantto be reminded of herself.”(Brown, 2011)Image:
  23. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. folklife, traditional life Memory Projects: preservation, promotion, andcelebration of culture and history cultural heritage preservation
  28. 28. THANK YOU! APRCH website. Bailey, R. (2005). New Immigrant Communities in the North Carolina PiedmontTriad: Integration Issues and Challenges. In E. M. Gozdziak & S. F. Martin (Eds.),Beyond the Gateway: Immigrants in a Changing America (57-86). Lanham,Maryland: Lexington Books. Brown, P.L. (2011) “A Hmong Generation Finds Its Voice in Writing,” New YorkTimes. December 31, 2011. Retrieved from Chu, Clara M. (2005). ‘Web-based communities scholarship: from silence todialogue’, Int. J. Web Based Communities, Vol. 1, No. 4, pp. 423–435. Chu, Clara M. Multiculturalism and Globalization: Implications for Asian DigitalLibraries (ppt). NDAP International Conference (National Digital ArchivesProgram, Taiwan), 18-20th March 2008; Taipei. Retrieved The Hmong Foundation, Inc. Hmong Flower Cloth (Story Cloth). Retrieved from UNESCO (2012). What is Intangible Cultural Heritage? Retrieved from & AREFERENCES