Adj Marshall

Posts Tagged ‘community’

Reconsider Columbus Day

In Education, History on October 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm

“Commemorations sanitize further the messy history lived by the actors. They contribute to the contentious myth-making process that give history its more definite shapes: they help to create modify, or sanction the public meaning attached to a historical events deemed worthy of mass celebration. As rituals that package history for public consumption, commemorations play the numbers game to create a past that seems both more real and more elementary. “

~Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Last year I was inspired by this beautiful video asking people to reconsider Columbus Day by engaging in a critical view of the contentious holiday.  While the video urges us to visit ReconsiderColumbusday.org, a website that is no longer in operation, I will further challenge you to conduct your own research to learn more about this complex narrative.

Today many celebrate Columbus Day with little thought of  its origins. While there is much media attention given to why we should reconsider our celebration little attention is given to the historical construction of the holiday.

So how and when did Columbus Day come to have so much sway in the United States? The answer is an unlikely source.

The Tammany Society incorporated in New York 1789 consisted of gentlemen who’s taste for public attention via parades and lavish banquets inspired their celebration of any date that fit their calendar. Columbus’s landfall as they referred it was listed on their calendar as early as 1790. By what seems a historical accident the Tammany’s most lavish celebration occurred on October 12, 1792; 300 years after the initial first landing. Despite the societies promised to continue the celebration for years to come, the holiday all but disappeared again for nearly another 60 years, where it found a new cult following by the recently immigrated populations whom needed an icon to legitimize their importance within the American narrative of stodgy WASPS.

Both the Spanish, who has sponsored Columbus’s travels and the Italians, which Columbus was by birth latched on to the Columbus Day celebration sponsored by Sharpshooters Association of New York and spread it across the nation.  While 1866 marked the rebirth of the holiday and launched similar celebrations from Philadelphia and Boston to New Orleans and San Francisco the cult following was still minuscule with only 3,679 individuals claiming Italian heritage in 1850.

Silencing the Past

An unlikely population also took up the cause, the Irish American, which numbered 962,000 by 1850. Many Irish became parts of the Knights of Columbus by way of their Catholic association.  The Catholic religion which crossed national boundaries allowed these groups to find common ground outside their immigrant status in this Catholic male fraternal order. The Knights of Columbus which promoted the concept of citizen culture was just the right group to help these marginalized individuals find a home within the WASP nation.

The Catholics felt vindicated by their hero’s national recognition at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1892. By the 1890’s the US’s appropriation of Columbus had became a national phenomenon. In 1892 one of the 400 year Anniversary celebrations held in New Haven Connecticut attracted 40,000 people including 6,000 Knights of Columbus and was deemed a celebration of holiness and patriotism. As Columbus became a national icon he also became more white, this new white status  lent itself to those who claimed his history as their own including the marginalized  Italians, Spanish, and Irish Catholics.

This story holds particular importance for Rhode Island as it is the most Catholic state in the nation and the ethnic identity claimed by more people than any other is Italian.  This little bit of history I have provided was lent to me through Michael- Rolph Trouillot’s book Silencing the Past which documents the holes in the Haitian story of Revolution and Independence. The cliche “history is written by the winners” should serve as a continual reminder that history needs to persistently be reevaluated to determine the complex nature that makes up our current conceptualization of the past.

In 2009 Brown University chose to rename Columbus Day to Fall Weekend a protest to the nature of Christopher Columbus’ conquests and treatment of Native Americans. This was decayed by national icons such as Rush Limbaugh and the then Providence Mayor David Cicillini who stated ” it diminished the accomplishments of explorer Christopher Columbus, an important historical figure for Italian-Americans and As an Italian-American, I take particular offense to this decision”.

As Columbus day is reevaluated and actions taken to reconcile the new knowledge offenses are sure to be voiced.  We must remember what is true for you may not be true for me. The Columbus day we all learn about in school is one devoid of the negative repercussions that resulted from Columbus’ interactions with the Taino natives who were all but wiped out by the arrival of Columbus and his men on Hispaniola. As Columbus has become a national icon his image has been sanitized and his myth like status is all that remains.

I challenge you to complicate your own understanding of the days history take the plunge and learn more.

Interesting Articles

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HONK A History of Musicianship and Community

In Art, History, Music on March 15, 2011 at 9:06 pm
HONK TX !

No Noise is Illegal !

~Bread and Puppet Theater

In only one city in Texas would you expect to find 20 alternative, radical, activist, community, brass, marching bands. This year marked the first annual HONK TX festival held the weekend before SXSW March 11-13th in public spaces across Austin.

A Combined Effort !

While this year marked the first Annual HONK TX festival, the concept of gathering activist marching bands to celebrate the community-centered union of art, activism and music finds its roots here on the east coast.

The very first HONK! made its debut on Columbus Day weekend of 2006 in Somerville MA, a community just outside the city limits of Boston. The concept of HONK was envisioned by local activist band, The Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band (SLAPS), who “saw the need for a gathering of like-minded souls interested in applying the joy of music to the work of promoting peace, social justice, and civic engagement.” That year a dozen socially conscious street bands from across the US and Canada descended upon Somerville and Cambridge to perform in Davis and Harvard Square.

The ERB in TX!

HONK Fest 2006 signaled the beginning of a tradition that would spread far and wide across the states. By HONK Fest 2009,  more than 29 bands were overflowing the streets of Somerville spreading the message of music, community, and access to public space. Between 2006 and 2010, HONKS! arose here in Providence (PRONK!), Brooklyn (BONK!), Seattle (HONK! Fest West), and now Austin (HONK! TX).

While each HONK! Festival and further each HONK Band’s structure mission and goals can vary widely, they all share a commitment to core values including the:

  • Creation of inclusive communities valuing diversity of all forms: not just the conventions of age, gender, class and orientation – but background, upbringing, and for many, level of musical experience.
  • Transformation of everyday locations into organic stages where the line between audience and performers is dissolved.
  •  Demonstration of the potential for the creative use of our public spaces without the need for amplification or artificial stages.
  • Celebration, serving as the soundtrack for community gardens, public school yards, puppet shows, pride parades, worker rallies, peace marches and neighborhood fundraisers.

Celebrating sleep with my Canadian friends

The shared values of the growing activist marching band moment are central in creating the environment that is HONK! Regardless of the city each HONK serves as a space where we as individuals learn and grow from each other musically, personally, politically, socially, and culturally.

This years ERB appearance at HONK TX represents the bands 6th HONK event. With 2 HONK, 2 PRONK, and 1 HONK Fest West under our belt we headed south of the Mason Dixon Line to make our appearance as part of HONK! TX. As the closing band of the entire weekend we were given the monumental task of bringing together the many elements that represent HONK! Staying true to the inclusive communal nature that is the HONK! experience we invited all 20 bands in attendance to join us on stage for our closing song Deep in the Heart of Texas. Carrying the message of hope, unity, and social change in our hearts and music we closed the weekend together on stage as One Band with One Sound conveying to our audience and ourselves the transformational nature that is HONK!

Sites of Interest:

Art Builds Community

In Art, Education, Photography, Uncategorized on February 25, 2011 at 2:24 am
Photo Making

“Community wisdom begins with being encountered”

-Kathleen Hirsch

Part of my LEAP this year has focused on seeking out educational opportunities that align with my interest in the intersection of art and social justice. While speaking with a friend this winter, I was informed about the class Community Lens, a joint venture between a number of departments and communities. The class is co-taught by faculty of the Public and Community Service Department and the Art Department at Providence College. The class’ students are partnering with the student artists of City Arts, a local after school arts program on the South Side. With so many moving parts this class can feel unwieldy sometimes but more often than not it creates a feeling of nervous potential, a sense of opportunity.

“Community Lens  is defined in its syllabus as an interdisciplinary course that focuses on the concept and practice of community using photography as a tool for understanding the lived reality of community among youth in Providence. Specifically students will read theories of community, learn photography skills, and teach youth in Providence to use photography to tell their own stories of community. ”

Photo Review at City Arts

The class has 3 objectives:

Creating a Learning Community– In which you can develop an understanding of the connections between art and social change with specific focus on the question “What dose community mean?”

Serving the Youth of Providence-Through a reciprocal partnership focused on teaching youth to use photography to define and understand the meaning of community.

Producing a Final Exhibition– using photographs and stories of local youth.

In a discussion about her own community of Jamaica Plain Kathleen Hirsch states. “Community wisdom begins with being encountered. Its teachers and lessons come in unexpected mostly humble forms and part of growing into a place is learning how to graft its native root system onto our hereto shiftless pattern of growth.”

Personally I love the image this quote evokes for me, that of an extensive root system, tangled and cluttered in some ways  yet beautiful and simple in others. This for me is the icon of community. A few weeks back while at a friends opening, the 2011 Newport Art Museum’s Annual Members’ Juried Exhibition, I encountered the work of an artist who’s name I do not know. Their piece was simple, a small plant with a tangled bush-like root system resembling a cloud shape, similar to the one pictured here. The plants delicate root system had been painted gold and mounted upside down so that that the plants root cloud sat atop the bush’s two main stalks. While viewing the piece I was intrigued by the new found ways in which our world can be interpreted when looked at from a different angle or through a different lens.

While I have been auditing classes this year from CCRI to Brown and everything in between few engage the community in a way that bridges the gap between the local college transplant and the local community member. As Kathleen suggestes in her piece A Home in the Heart of a City a we have to encounter our community to value its many assets. The Community Lens class is allowing its college students to graft the native root system of the community to their own learning experience finding teachers and lesson in unexpected and often times unintended situations. The Community Lens’ Class Blog chronicles these encounters, particularly the humbling lessons they gain from interacting with the City Arts student artists.

The Community Lens Blog