Sunday, May 9, 2010

Home is where you make it

With the ushering of spring and a new season upon us, the March salon brought us stories of globalization, discovery, and self-realization.  Writer and journalist Mitra Kalita began with excerpts from her upcoming economic memoir, inspired by her two years as a journalist in India.  With the 2008 global financial crisis providing a backdrop, Mitra’s writings juxtaposed personal experiences of living in Delhi with its explosion of hip cafes and shopping complexes to the India her parents had left, seeking economic opportunity.  Towards the end of her stay, she visited her cousin Manju in a small village in Assam, who conceded, there was no life in villages – no jobs or other opportunities.  Mitra concluded her talk by recognizing that the poignant moment was not traveling between New York and New Delhi, where it was easy to exist in similar ways, but rather between India’s villages and its urban centers.  Her memoir will be released later this year.

Next up was photographer Preston Merchant, who took us on an exciting journey via slide show through South Africa, Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia and other locales where the Indian Diaspora have planted their roots, including Jackson Heights, Queens.  The project kicked off after Preston met Guyanese Indian cricket players in New York who invited him into their Richmond Hills home.  The photos introduced us to everyday people and pilgrimage sites, including Gandhi’s ashram in Durban, Asif Kareem, an insurance salesman, 10 sailors (mostly related by marriage) from the same village in Gujarat, Indians practicing sacred rites in Malaysia at the limestone Batu Cave complex, Madurai Veeran, a Tamil Warrior Diety, a political rally in Kuala Lumpur, Manjula Sood, the first Lord Mayor of Asian woman descent, exciting Bollywood-inspired dancing halls in the UK open to all ages, Jhandi, a flag ceremony with origins in Bihar, now performed in Guyana, and back to Dosa Diner off 37th Avenue, where family meals over the crisp crepes turn into (shhh) exotic dancing by night.  The book has been in the works for 8 years.

To close the evening, performance artist and poet Kilusan Bautista mixed hip hop beats with broken Tagalog, telling us the stories of growing up in the Mission District in San Franciso in the 1980's amid drugs, gangs, dislocation, unemployment, and family struggle.  Shedding light beyond the model minority myth, Kilusan spoke about Asian Pacific Island fathers, aunties, and grandfathers, hit hard by addiction.  Through excerpts from his theatre production  Universal Filipino, we see the young Kilusan as a 5-year old boy seeing family members pass to developing a political consciousness in college and to his current work as a teaching artist to urban youth. Kilusan rhymed: Life was slow, they sent the soul into an artificial paradise laced with a government spice.  If you live in despair and poverty stares at your face, sometimes a 20-dollar taste can be an escape.  Kilusan concludes in his final piece, Walang Hanggang ‘There is no beginning, there is no end.’ A journey through the history of the Archipelago of the Philippines…..put me in jail, hip and culture are my bail.  Now is the time, as powerful and as beautiful as the 8 rays of the sunshine - Walang Hanggang.  The 8 rays of sun represent the 8 tribes that rose up at first to overthrow the Spanish (also represented on the Flag).

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