Posts Tagged ‘genocide’

Photo: Charukesi Ramadurai.
A juggler welcomes visitors as they start arriving for the evening show at Phare Circus. Like other performers, he is a student of the Phare Ponleu Selpak school in Battambang, Cambodia.

I don’t belong to the religion, but I’ve always liked Christian Science Monitor articles, and now I know why. The other day, one of the editors wrote that finding positive angles on painful realities is intentional.

The story today acknowledges the horror of the Khmer Rouge genocide and its impoverished aftermath but focuses on one of the ways people are healing.

Charukesi Ramadurai writes, “A short drive away from the famed Angkor Wat temple ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia, another spectacle has been quietly attracting visitors for years. Every evening, under the big top at the Phare Circus, audiences watch mesmerized as acrobats and artists jump and somersault, dance and paint, execute midair flips and twist into pretzels. …

“Watching them smile under the spotlight, it is difficult to imagine that these confident young men and women come from impoverished or troubled families. Celebrating its 10th anniversary on Feb. 8, Phare Circus simultaneously provides young Cambodians with a livelihood and showcases the talents of students at Phare Ponleu Selpak, a not-for-profit arts school located in Battambang, Cambodia.

“Phare Ponleu Selpak – meaning ‘The Brightness of the Arts’ – was set up in 1994 by French art teacher Véronique Decrop, who practiced art therapy at refugee camps, and a small group of refugees who returned home from Thailand after the brutal Khmer Rouge regime ended in 1979. Apart from giving children a safe space away from crowded homes and dangerous streets, the school aims to revive arts that were decimated during the Cambodian genocide. …

“ ‘The Khmer Rouge left us with zero – 1,000 years of history of the Cambodian empire reduced to ash. More than 90% of the masters were killed or just disappeared,’ says musician and genocide survivor Arn Chorn-Pond, who founded Cambodian Living Arts, an organization that provides arts education scholarships.

“Preserving the arts ‘gives young Cambodians something to hold on to from their past,’ he says. ‘It also gives them an identity; it gives them confidence; it gives them the voice to tell their own stories to the world.’

“Tor Vutha, one of the co-founders, says the school was their way of paying it forward, or as he puts it, ‘transfer the knowledge from our heart to the community.’ He says that the organization started small and evolved along with the needs of locals. 

“ ‘Many children were suffering from war trauma and needed help,’ he recalls. ‘We had received art in the refugee camp and embodied its benefits, so we wanted to share the same with the children and youth to help them overcome their traumas and help the community rebuild.’ …

“Today, the school offers training in graphic design, animation, music, and other arts, and students are free to explore their interests. It takes in more than 1,000 children annually, many of whom have gone on to perform at Phare Circus.  …

“[Craig Dodge, director of sales and marketing at Phare Circus], who has been with Phare Circus from the beginning, remembers it starting back in 2013 with an ‘outdoor stage, plastic chairs, rain.’ It has since come a long way.

“In addition to the main circus tent, the Phare campus in Siem Reap hosts local musicians, food stalls, and a small crafts shop. Families are welcomed at the main gate by jugglers and acrobats, who give them a taste of what awaits inside. Phare Circus has produced 23 different shows over the past decade, with more than 5,000 performances in front of over a million spectators, including foreign tours in countries such as the United States, Australia, Japan, France, Italy, and Singapore.

“All shows are strongly rooted in Cambodian culture, from dances depicting rural life, to a juggling act that pokes fun at tourists, to acrobatic routines inspired by Cambodian mythology and folklore. …

“Wendell Johnson, an American retiree in Siem Reap, has been a regular visitor to Phare Circus since its first year of production. He says what keeps him coming back are ‘the smiles, the incredible athletic abilities, and the storylines’ that vividly connect Cambodia’s past to the present. He also praises the artists’ grit and determination, noting that he’s seen performers immediately redo failed stunts and succeed. 

“The Phare Circus performers train for several years at the school, building both their skills and self-esteem, before they’re eligible to work at the circus. Almost all come from large families with limited resources, and being at school keeps them away from hunger, drugs, abuse, and trafficking. The circus is also an opportunity to travel the world, and pays well. 

“The steady work has been particularly transformative for the handful of female performers, whom young girls back in Battambang look up to as inspirations. 

“Srey Chanrachana started training at Phare Ponleu Selpak in 2007 at the age of 11. Back then, her family of five depended on the irregular income of her taxi driver father.

“ ‘We used to live in a very small house where we would all sleep together, and our roof would always leak whenever there was rain,’ she recalls. Now they live in a larger, more comfortable home. 

“With her earnings, she has also enrolled in English and computer classes to further her education, and she says working at the circus has made her more confident.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers
Many indigenous people refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving. Others use it as a chance to raise consciousness about American mythologies or just to be with extended family and give thanks.

The other day, I was asking my British neighbors if they celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, the traditional story of the First Thanksgiving is about being grateful for freedom from Britain. Why would they? They said they love the holiday and always invite a lot of expat Brits living in the area to eat turkey with them.

Just as language evolves and individuals use words in their own ways, so do customs. At Smithsonian magazine I recently learned that among indigenous Americans there are as many attitudes toward Thanksgiving as there are unique individuals.

Read Dennis Zotigh’s great piece “Do American Indians celebrate Thanksgiving?”

“In thinking about my earliest memories of elementary school, I remember being asked to bring a brown paper sack to class so that it could be decorated and worn as part of the Indian costume used to celebrate Thanksgiving. I was also instructed to make a less-than-authentic headband with Indian designs and feathers to complete this outfit. Looking back, I now know this was wrong.

“The Thanksgiving Indian costume that all the other children and I made in my elementary classroom trivialized and degraded the descendants of the proud Wampanoags, whose ancestors attended the first Thanksgiving popularized in American culture. The costumes we wore bore no resemblance to Wampanoag clothing of that time period. Among the Wampanoag, and other American Indians, the wearing of feathers has significance. The feathers we wore were simply mockery, an educator’s interpretation of what an American Indian is supposed to look like. …

“When children are young, they are often exposed to antiquated images of American Indians through cartoons, books, and movies. But Thanksgiving re-enactments may be their most active personal encounter with Indian America, however poorly imagined, and many American children associate Thanksgiving actions and images with Indian culture for the rest of their lives. … While I agree that elementary-school children who celebrate the first Thanksgiving in their classrooms are too young to hear the truth, educators need to share Thanksgiving facts in all American schools sometime before high school graduation.”

Here, for adult readers, Zotigh goes into the tragedy, which I hope you’ll make time to read. Next, he quotes an array of opinions of actual Native Americans, noting, for example, that “the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole’s Hill for a Day of Mourning. …

“I turn to the Internet to find out what Native people think of Thanksgiving. A few of the responses I have received over the years, beginning with the most recent: …

“Exeter, California: ‘Being the only Native American classroom teacher at a public school, raised mostly in an urban setting steeped heavy in traditional American holidays, and around many other native people on weekends while traveling to dance, this has always been a challenging question for me that I cannot claim to know the answer for. I see many other teachers I work with who are not native struggle with knowing how to address the issue comfortably. I have to say, I have fear that if we avoid the issue altogether, Native people will be forgotten about.

” ‘I have seen some teachers decide to stop teaching about Native Americans for fear of offending. I personally get sad when I see that happen. I know Thanksgiving is a controversial subject, and there are so many viewpoints. I share the modern theme of Thanksgiving, which I think has good intentions — family and community. I have also chosen to teach about Native American culture, even more heavily in November because of Thanksgiving, even though it is no longer a part of the curriculum. I have found ways to integrate it while teaching something that I think is important. I do an assembly for the students in which we dance, and I emphasize how it is not possible to teach everything there is to know about Native Americans in just one assembly. I emphasize the diversity among native people.’

“Sevierville, Tennessee: ‘Regardless of all the political views of Thanksgiving, we can all find something to be thankful for!’

“San Antonio, Texas: ‘Except for the last four years, the twenty years before that I spent 95 percent of my Thanksgivings at the table of my brother-in-law. Our gatherings were about giving thanks for what we had. As for Native American history being left out of teaching, it is an outrage. Educate our fellow educators on how to teach it. …

“Edmonton, Alberta: ‘We have family members with addiction issues. The kids get to eat, which my mom loves. And we are thankful not only to survive colonization, but also grateful to feed family.

Norman, Oklahoma: ‘We celebrate and give thanks for our loved ones’ being able to be together again. But when my daughter was young and the realization hit, as it does all young American Indians, she said to me , “Do you think we should have helped them?” There will be extra prayers for Standing Rock at our table.

“Hydro, Oklahoma: ‘Could we just start over and go forward? We can’t change the past, but we can work for peace and unity in the future. History needs to be taught correctly in our schools—that is what needs to happen. My daughter had to write a paper about Big Tree, Satank, and Satanta. She interviewed Satanta’s great-grandson, who was in his 90s, and told the story as he told it to her, including their transport from Fort Sill and how the feather was turned into a knife as they passed the giant tree, causing the soldiers to shoot and kill Satank. She got an AAA+ from her teacher.’ …

“Santa Fe, New Mexico: ‘My family and I celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much in the way that the “Pilgrims” may have done with the Indians. We give pause, and acknowledge all of the blessings that we received in the past year. We think of family and friends; of the homeless; of those away from family in hospitals, elders in nursing homes, those incarcerated, the soldier men and women overseas, around the world, standing watch and guarding our freedom. We think of those in mourning, whose family have gone ahead of them. We also think of those in school, no matter what age. And, finally, we pray for traveling mercies said for folks traveling home. We are thankful each day for Creator’s gifts but on Thanksgiving, it seems we focus and are concentrated in our thoughts about these blessings.’ …

“For more on Thanksgiving, see the 2017 post Everyone’s history matters. The Wampanoag Indian Thanksgiving story deserves to be known.”

Read more of the fascinating comments at Smithsonian, here. It’s a real lesson in not painting any community with one brush. When we say, “Native Americans think [fill in the blank],” we need to remind ourselves that any group of people is full of unique individuals with individual thoughts.

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