“Raj! Lauren was taught a song at school,” Lauren peeked behind her grandmother’s legs and sheepishly looked at me. “Her friend’s mother came into class and taught them an Indian song. Lauren, would you like to sing it to Raj?”
Five year old Lauren nodded slightly and came from around her grandmother’s legs. She couldn’t look at me. She had to look at her grandmother while singing to me the Hindi song.
“Wow! She taught you that?” I was impressed.
Lauren’s grandmother piped up for the shy blondish girl, “Yes, apparently it’s children’s ‘Indian song’.”
Just the other day, I received an email from a colleague that her daughter, who is African American, is giving a presentation on languages spoken in India and had to bring in an Indian dessert. She needed advice on where to get an Indian dessert. She wrote that her daughter tried to convince her that blueberry muffins came from India. No, definitely not! I then sent her links to Indian grocery stores in the area.
It must be that time of the year again! May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!
Various units at the Smithsonian Institution, along with the Asian Pacific American Program, is celebrating throughout the month with performances, talks, tours and family programs at the National Museum of American History and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. And it’s all free!
For the Family Festival celebrating APA Heritage Month, local book artist Sushmita Mazumdar was invited to show children and their families how to make a “family storybook”. Sushmita leads workshops teaching the young and old on storytelling and book arts in the D.C. area.
It started when her 4-year-old son came back from a day at preschool and wanted a turkey sandwich with orange cheese. It made her realize that her son will have an entirely different childhood in the United States versus that of her childhood in India. She wanted to connect with her son on how she was raised and teach him about India. She decided to do this by using stories from her childhood.
Sushmita remarked, “Parents have a block telling their stories. People forget where they came from. And their children are growing up differently.”
As a graphic designer, she decided to incorporate bookmaking to aid in making the story more personal. It was a way to start a dialogue about cultural differences and similarities between growing up in India and growing up in the United States. Her son, who is now 9 years old, corrects her pronunciation and asks her why she drinks so much chai instead of coffee. She takes it in stride and wrote a poem called At Cha o’ Clock. Her son did the artwork for the poem.
The making of these storybooks provides an opportunity for parents and their children to share perspectives. Sushmita sends her books to her mother in India, which then triggers memories and responses that normally begin with her mother saying, “I cannot believe you remembered that!”
The program focused on “Kitchen Stories” using handmade paper made out of mango leaves and cinnamon sticks for binding. You don’t have to be an artist or storyteller; Sushmita always helps you through the process of writing and designing your own book.
The Family Festival was held on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Rajshree Solanki is the Registration Specialist for Loans at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.