WHO AM I?
Update at end of post–
Five times a week, I spend the school day with 7th and 8th grade French and Art students. I actually enjoy this time. Today, in second year art, I became most attentive, curious, and finally challenged. The teacher, Mrs. Jones presented the kids with a new challenge.
She had been in contact with a mid-American artist for the past two years. This fellow has been inspired to develop a program which gives orphans the beginning of a cultural heritage. Our 2nd year art students were challenged to choose five items from their homes which would reflect their cultural heritage. They should be items which a viewer could use to begin an understanding of who and what this student is.
In the many countries which the artist has had his program, it has always been with orphanages. Children raised in such places literally have NO cultural heritage. They have few or no, personal belongings and histories.
My students are deciding if they want to join his project. If so, they will (all will actually) learn and make a personal drawing of their face. In the participant cases, they will have their facial drawings matched side by side with the facial drawing of an orphanage orphan in a far country.
In this way, the orphan will then have a specific link, a cultural heritage, which will be his or hers. No one can take it away, even if the pictures do not survive. The memories, the new cultural heritage, will last through a lifetime.
The students here will also have a new cultural heritage marker. It, too, should last a lifetime. I know such a marker in this way is extremely powerful. I had occasion to experience it. In the 1970s I traveled a great deal, both for business and secondarily for Christian community and the Charismatic Renewal. We were then part of The Word of God, an ecumenical Christian community in Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
As happens to travelers, when we are more than 100 miles from home we sometimes become the visiting “experts”. In this case, I was in Australia, and stayed with various Christian community hosts in different cities. Since I was a member of a “famous Christian community”, even though I was just checking out their communities for the Coordinators at The Word of God, they would invite me to speak to their prayer meetings. So, of course I did. I have no specific memories of what I said beyond probably general observations of living in Christian community.
A number of years later, long after I quit flying about the world, we hosted a visitor exploring Christian community from Sydney, Australia. As we got to know each other, the visitor suddenly said “I heard you speak several weeks ago.” Unknown to me, I had been recorded. So, years later in a far place, I was part of their cultural history, and now my own cultural history had changed. It was a very strange feeling to realize this long ago connection.
One upshot of this happening is the lasting sensitivity I have to cultural heritages and differences. I had college majors in psychology, sociology, and a minor in anthropology. Through them I was aware of cultural difference, etc. My travels expanded this awareness. The personal connection of being recognized by strangers in a strange place, gave me a completely different understanding of who I am. I would not trade it for anything.
Post Script – Artist Craig Cassady, Middleton, Wi developed The Memory Project. They handle a minimum of 10,000 photos and 10,000 drawings a year. At my 2nd year art class, all but two students have signed up, and the principal has approved, and will help with financial aid.