Saturday, April 25, 2015

Cannon River Conference, Zumbrota, 11 April

On April 11, 2015, I attended the Cannon River Conference held at Lands Lutheran Church in Zumbrota, a town in southeastern Minnesota. The Cannon River Conference is an annual event organized by churches of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The meeting started at 9am and included reports, songs and a narrative of the history of the church in this area. I learned about Project Neighbor, a program of the Cannon River Conference of the ELCA which assists people in need of such essentials as food, shelter, and clothing, regardless of creed, sex or race, who cannot find such assistance elsewhere.

I learned about a non-profit called ABAN that works with girls and young mothers in Ghana, empowering them by helping them with skills training that lead to employment. They produce handmade products from recycled materials, which ABAN sells here in the USA. Some of the products were available, for conference participants to see and buy.

After these and other reports, I was introduced. In my talk, I highlighted the fact that as the world changes becoming a global village, every community will, sooner or later, find itself having to deal with people of different cultures.

This can be challenging, as exemplified by the experiences of the Minnesota cities of Faribault and Brooklyn Park, which have become in recent years increasingly diverse. Instead of trying to cling to our old, familiar ways and habits, the new world requires us to learn about our cultural differences and learn to accept the fact that no matter how different our cultures are, we share a common humanity.

Mindful that this was a gathering of Christians, I said that all this is a test of how true we are to our Christian faith. I invoked Jesus and his story of the Good Samaritan, which he told to an audience which saw the Samaritans as bad people. I said that if Jesus were here today, talking to Americans, he would look around and see the negative media images of Muslims, for example, and would not talk about the Good Samaritan, but most certainly the Good Muslim.

That was the orientation of my talk, but I also said that cultural differences represent and offer opportunities as well. In our colleges, for example, we try to help our students develop a global perspective through such programs as study abroad. Since foreigners are increasingly coming into the USA, students who want to study foreign cultures can gain much of that understanding through interacting with the immigrants.

Even business owners and entrepreneurs interested in expanding their operations abroad can benefit by connecting with immigrants in order to learn about foreign countries and cultures before taking their enterprises abroad. Some of these immigrants are well connected in the countries they come from, which could benefit the Americans.

I had more to say, but I did not want to spend more time than was allocated to me. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed, as I always do, having an audience. Since the issues require much more than a single talk, we had copies of my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, available for people who needed them with a view to gaining a fuller view of my perspective and hopefully continuing the conversation.

This was a memorable and useful event. I learned much and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to share my ideas and perspectives on the dilemma of cultural differences in our increasingly interconnected world.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Memories of the World Festival, Rochester, Minnesota

On April 11, I attended the World Festival in Rochester, Minnesota, an annual event organized by the Rochester International Association.

I am drawn to such events because I value and enjoy participating in efforts to build bridges and foster understanding among the world's diverse cultures.

Over the years, I have helped organize and participated in such events, mostly in the Twin Cities area. This was the first time I was attending the World Festival in Rochester, representing Africonexion: Cultural Consultants and the Afrifest Foundation.

One of the major attractions of such events for me is encountering the unexpected. At the World Festival, for example, I stumbled upon members of the Rochester Diversity Council.

I believe I first heard about the Council when I was serving on the board of the Faribault Diversity Coalition. But I had never actually met any of its members. I was therefore delighted to meet Al Lun, who told me he was a member of the Rochester Diversity Council and promptly led me to their booth where he got us to pose for the photo featured here.

Although we did not have much time to talk, since I had to continue taking photos of the exhibitions and performances, before returning to my table, I shared a copy of my book, Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences, with a view to continuing the conversation.

I wanted very much to share this photo on my blog, since it captures our joy and excitement upon meeting. I also like the way it mirrors the diversity of the world's people, so congruent with the theme and spirit of the World Festival.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

At the World Festival, Rochester, Minnesota

The World Festival took place today in Rochester. This is an annual event, organized by the Rochester International Association.

Since in the morning I was participating in the Cannon River Conference in Zumbrota, where I gave a talk on "The Dilemma of Cultural Differences: Challenges and Opportunities," my daughter Zawadi went early to Rochester and set up our table. I joined her later, after the Zumbrota conference.

The Festival took place at the John Marshall High School, and my daughter and I represented Africonexion--my consulting company--and the Afrifest Foundation of which I am the Board chairman. Both organizations were appearing at the Festival for the first time.

We displayed my books and other publications, as well as information about the Afrifest Foundation.

Before I arrived, a little after 2pm, Zawadi had spoken with many people about the work of Africonexion and the Afrifest Foundation.

We continued doing so after I joined her. She enjoys doing this and has participated in such events from the time she was quite young.









There were many people from different countries and cultures around the world. There were performances and displays in the school auditorium, and there were vendors outside the auditorium. We had our table outside.























I was delighted to meet many people I had not met before, to hear their stories, and to exchange views and experiences. I was particularly happy to meet members of the Rochester Diversity Council.

I had, for years, wanted to connect with the Council, considering that we share common interests in bringing people of different cultures together and promoting mutual understanding and positive relations among them.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Encounters With The Paul Bunyan Legend, Minnesota

On April 2, 2015, several colleagues and I traveled together from Minneapolis to a conference at Leech Lake Tribal College. Deborah Jane, who was driving, and who knew the area we were going to, suggested that we stop at Akeley, to see the statue of Paul Bunyan.

We did, and what an opportunity it was, to see that massive statue of Paul Bunyan with his axe. We took photos, such as the one on the left, which shows us dwarfed by the statue.

I had heard that there was a Paul Bunyan statue, but I heard it was in Bemidji. I do not recall having heard about Akeley or about a Paul Bunyan statue there.

We continued on our way, towards Bemidji. As we entered the city, before we stopped anywhere else, Deborah took us right to another Paul Bunyan statue, featuring Paul Bunyan with his blue ox.

The story I had heard concerning a Paul Bunyan statue in Bemidji mentioned the blue ox. This was it, another massive statue, as you can see in the photo on the left.

I saw the influence of the Paul Bunyan legend everywhere in this part of Minnesota: Paul Bunyan businesses, and even a Paul Bunyan street. At the entrance of the restaurant attached to the Hampton Inn, where we stayed, there was a Paul Bunyan mural, which you see in the photo on the left, with me standing next to it.

As a folklorist, I greatly appreciate these encounters with a famous American legend, about which I knew even before I came to the USA. In my folklore courses I include American folklore, and now I will be able to talk about these personal experiences with the Paul Bunyan legend.

In both Akeley and Bemidji, there is a museum next to the Paul Bunyan statue. I am dreaming of someday going to do research in those museums.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The "Narratives of Identity" Conference, Leech Lake Tribal College, April 3

On April 3, 2015, I participated in a conference at Leech Lake Tribal College, Minnesota. The theme of the conference was "Narratives of Identity: Challenges and Issues" and was a collaboration between Leech Lake Tribal College and the African Studies Initiative at the University of Minnesota.

From the very beginning, the idea of a conference embracing two different worlds--the African and the Indigenous American--intrigued me. I have a good grounding in African studies, particularly literature, folklore, and political economy. I am fluent in Matengo and Swahili.

Regarding Indigenous American studies, my understanding is rather limited, not extending far beyond trickster tales. I knew, however, that there were striking similarities between the traditional beliefs of the Native Americans and those of the Africans.

I was therefore keen to participate in the "Narratives of Identity" conference, confident that I would learn much. I was particularly excited about the opportunity to visit an Indigenous American institution. All the years I have been in the USA, I have never had the chance to visit such an institution or community.

The conference started with an Indigenous American invocation, which was translated, reminding us of our not being alone in the world, but in the company of all of creation. That theme was emphasized during the conference, offering us an appreciation of the Indigenous American view of the world, our place in it, and our obligations to sustain it as it sustains us.

We heard about colonial European suppression of African and Indigenous American traditions, values, concepts of justice, and identity. Accordingly, we explored the issue of decolonization in its various dimensions--such as the educational, the cultural, and the psychological--including the decolonization of pedagogical methods and practices to ensure the engagement of learners in their education.

We discussed the issue of engagement alongside the issue of the right of people to speak for and about themselves, as opposed to being objects or victims of other peoples' narratives and viewpoints. The project of decolonization goes hand in hand with narratives of self-affirmation and empowerment of marginalized and oppressed people.

As I have noted, this was an unforgettable day for me, and I said as much to the audience. As an expression of my gratitude, I presented a copy of my Africans and Americans: Embracing Cultural Differences and of Matengo Folktales to the library of the Leech Lake Tribal College.

I wish to pay tribute to Deborah Jane of the African Studies Institute and Elaine Fleming and her colleagues at Leech Lake Tribal College for organizing the conference, a memorable event in itself and a secure foundation for future collaboration.

(The top photo is by Leech Lake Tribal College)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Narratives of Identity: Leech Lake Tribal College, April 3

On April 3, I will be at Leech Lake Tribal College, Minnesota, participating in a conference on "Narratives of Identity. Challenges and Issues." This is a collaboration between Leech Lake Tribal College and a Department of Education Title VI African Studies Initiative at the University of Minnesota.

This is a new venture, and I am excited to be part of it, especially since I have never visited an Anishinabeg (i.e. Native American) institution before, although I regularly teach Native American trickster tales.

Click on the brochure on the left to enlarge it.

 

Friday, March 27, 2015

We Have Finished Reading "Americanah"

Today, in my Post-colonial Literature class, we finished discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah. I have always told my students that though we say we have finished reading a work of literature, we are deceiving ourselves. If we read such a work again, we discover how much we missed the first time around. We discover new ways of seeing aspects of the text. The process is virtually endless.

It has taken us many days to go through this novel, but that is what I wanted. I believe we have to accord literature the honour it deserves as an expression of the human condition.

As a result of taking our time on it, we have gained a good understanding of the lives of the characters in Americanah, such as Ifemelu, Obinze, Aunty Uju, Blaine, and Dike. We have gained an understanding of their experiences at home and abroad, and their relationships.

Adichie's exploration of themes such as the lives of Africans in the USA, race and racism, cultural differences, and the contemporary Nigerian middle class, sparkles with insight and sensitivity. She portrays human beings, not stereotypes.

Adichie is a gifted storyteller; she enchants the reader with her mind-boggling narrative skill and truthful dialogue. Rarely have I read a long novel such as Americanah with such joy and eagerness, from the beginning to the very end.