The Smithsonian Folklife Festival was founded in the 1960’s at a time when, according to former director of Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Richard Kurin, “many Americans were questioning the nature of their own identity, and the identity of the United States as a people.”
The festival allows visitors to explore the identities of different cultures, providing opportunities to learn about food, art, family, work and daily life. This year, the festival features the cultures of China and Kenya. In the course of about two hours, we witnessed a tai chi demonstration and a Kenyan cultural dance, sampled mahamari (a doughnut-type pastry made with coconut milk and cardamom), saw visitors attempting Chinese-style brush painting and paper cutting, watched girls being henna painted, and looked at art made from recycled products.
We also learned about a new program at the Smithsonian — Young Historians, Living Histories, an initiative by the Asian Pacific American Center. According to the website:
YHLH is a national outreach and education initiative that engaged underserved and under-resourced youth and educators to deepen their understanding of Asian Pacific American history and culture. After a weeklong workshop on Asian Pacific American history and culture as well as lessons about oral history, research and filmmaking, participants were asked to make a film about Asian Pacific American heritage. The result? An moving array of films depicting themes of migration, identity and belonging captured in one program.
I love the idea of any program that encourages and assists young people who are interested in knowing more about their family histories. It’s a great, valuable opportunity.
For anyone in the DC area, the festival, which is on the National Mall, resumes July 2 and closes July 6. Programs vary each day.