Tag Archives: programming

Yumans Without Borders for AAM

Our Mexico-based partners for the American Association of Museum’s Museums and Communities without Borders grant pulled out at the last minute citing a conflict with their mission. I put a considerable amount of time into building this program at the request of the Community and I really took the project and its goals to heart.


It is very difficult to accept that our brilliant $105,000 project, which was accepted into the second round and had a really good shot at winning, was crushed at the last minute by environmental politics. I understand the other institution’s position in theory, but this project is about living people. I’ve never encountered someone willing to trade plants for people. In fact, I don’t believe the board member who lead the opposition knew what the project was about. I believe they objected on principle. I don’t mind the objection, but I wish they would have let us submit the project so we would have had the opportunity to find a new partner. In fact, this weekend at the Anza-Borrego Archeology Weekend we connected with a great contact from the El Museo Comunitario de Tecate who would have been a much better match for this grant.


I wrote a letter, a long email, to Radio Lab, hoping to at least accomplish one goal of the project, even if it can’t be funded this year. The point of Yumans Without Borders was to engage communities in meaningful dialogue of border issues beyond the well-recognized issues of drug trafficking and immigration. Even if nothing comes of the email, I feel like I’ve made an effort to accomplish that goal. At the very least (though it is little consolation) we can honestly say we did our best to fulfill the Community’s request and it didn’t fail on our end.


Yumans Without Borders

Executive Summary

The project Yumans Without Borders: Stabilizing indigenous culture along a de-stable US-Mexico border stimulates dialogue between border communities besieged by escalating violence and depreciating cultural identity. Indigenous youth, aged 14-18, will spend an intensive six-month period studying Yuman culture and language with the intention they will pass on that information and eventually become tribal leaders with a deep understanding of tribal culture.


The Yuman people of the southwest US and Baja California, Mexico, are a single Native American community divided by an artificial border. The traditional Yuman cultures that stride the border between California and Mexico are deteriorating under the violence associated with the drug trade, issues associated with illegal immigration, destruction of cultural lands for renewable energy, and the strengthening of border enforcement. Connections across the US-Mexican border were fluid until the last generation when the living situation for Mexican Yumans became dangerously caught up in local drug politics. The US State Department issued a travel warning on April 22, 2011 that included the text, “Much of the country’s narcotics-related violence has occurred in the border region.” Under these circumstances, developing a strong cultural identity with Yumans across the border provides a source of strength; a reminder that they are part of a larger community with shared similarities.


This project centers upon two cultural exchange points: the physical exchange of living traditions across the US-Mexican border and the long-distance cultural exchange of youth interacting over digital media and social networks. Youth on both sides of the border will receive iPads to interact in a cultural exchange surrounding the theme Living Kumeyaay. There is a perception that Native American culture only exists in the past. Youth will address this perception by discussing their views and experiences. Do they partake in cultural traditions? Are they proud of their heritage? Do they promote it to others? Over weekly Skype conferences and shared videos, pictures, stories, and artwork, the youth will comment on each other’s posts. Developing lifelong relationships with their counterparts across the border will build common ground and stimulate their interest in a shared language. Meanwhile, project instructors will alternate travel to the youths’ locations. Instructors may include elders, artisans, or one of the 36 remaining native speakers of Kumeyaay, the Yuman language. Youth will beinstructed in traditional craft production and taught the language associated with the processes. Through this situational fluency method, the youths’ oral language skills will develop as they physically interact with the Yuman vocabulary. The public will be invited to share in this exchange through social media, public receptions, and public hands-on craft sessions.


The escalation of tension along the US-Mexican border has restricted cultural diffusion. Yumans Without Borders will engage indigenous border communities in meaningful dialogue through youth-based cultural exchanges aimed at creating cultural fluency. The project will bring celebration, stabilization, and preservation to local communities besieged by complex border issues, strengthening the understanding and appreciation of traditional cultural crafts and language, and will result in the strengthening of shared cultural values and shared identity.

Archives Event – Spring 2 Collections

On the heels of all the wonderful Spring 2 Collection events at the museum came the Archives Event.

This was a great moment for me. Finally, I would get to show people what I was here to do! I’m always introduced as the Visiting Archivist at the Museum, but I’m sure that people don’t know what that means. Or how significant it is in the Turks and Caicos.

I have the same speech for everyone: The holdings of the museum are the only secured and publicly accessible archives in the country. And we’ve just applied for a grant from the British Library for Endangered Archives to collect pre-1900 records. (that always gets an eyebrow raise). When pressed, I’ll add a bit about archives as living memory.

So at the event that night I was able to show people exactly what I’ve been talking about. I showed them a “before” (unorganized piles) and “after” (pristine boxes with labels). We talked about the importance of acid-free containers, the ink/paper reaction of 1800’s records, the benefits of saving the originals vs. placing materials in a database.

I think this last point hit home when we looked up one of the participant’s family names in the 1888 hurricane relief report. The report listed the occupation of the head of household (carpenter), the number of family members (6), and the damage (kitchen totally destroyed). Of all the documents I’ve come across in the collections, this report is the most powerful. It tells a story all on it’s own and demonstrates how archives can tell a story long after living memory has forgotten. Which is what I told my listeners and watched with satisfaction as they nodded in agreement (success!!).

All in all, I think the Archives Event was a great way to end the Spring 2 Collections Series at the museum. I was happy at the response we got, and we had a rather large crowd and some new faces. We finished the night at the Bohio (Italian night) with some new friends and some old. For my first lecture I think it went very well.

After School Program Mid-way Update

Some of my regular students wanted their pictures taken. I told them I already had one and that they were sure to be on my blog. (They’d had way too much sugar that day and I meant it in the sort of way that they’d be the villains in the story, not the heroes.)

Despite the sugar rush of the other day, I can also say quite a few nice things about these ladies. Keisha (front left) paid mild attention while I showed her some art pieces in the Met Museum database while she was searching for information on African Art. We are reaching a new level at the After School Program. I’m trying to show them resources they can use in the future that have additional educational value – like the descriptions in the catalogs. At the very least Kiesha learned that the Queen Mother Pendant has little Portuguese men woven into her hair (and didn’t blindly pull pictures labeled “African Art” off Google Images).

Veknia (back right) insists that she’s not copying off Wikipedia. When I tell her that I know she’s lying she tells me, “I’m not lying. I’m tricking you, Miss.” Suuure you are. It’s an improvement though – at least now they know that plagiarism is wrong. She’s also stopped beating up the boys. Good girl!

Wilange (back left) asked me for help with her math homework. She distinctly said “Math”, not “Mats” as they call it here. How long ago did we have the math/mats conversation? 3 months at least. She’s a quick one. She says she wants to be a doctor and I believe she can do it.

Successes and Failures

I had a new student today. As I normally do, I was lenient since this was his first visit to my program. Many of the students have used the museum offices to do work before and they aren’t aware there is a new sheriff in town. I’m a mean teacher, as my little sister can attest, but fair. I ease them in with a fair warning:

  • Rule #1: Nothing gets printed without proper citations.
  • Unofficial Rule #1A: If I’ve seen you more than twice, you write your own homework – none of this copying/pasting off Wikipedia stuff. I’ve seen the assignment – it says “write one paragraph” not “copy one paragraph”.
  • Rule #2: Sign up for computers in advance or wait your turn. We only have 3 available computers. If you come crying the day before an assignment is due, you maybe out of luck. Plan ahead.
  • Rule #3: Whatever Miss Jessica says goes. This is not verbalized unless someone crosses the line. I try not to use my “most serious voice” except on necessary occasions.
  • Unofficial Rule #4: No Loitering. If you aren’t doing work, you are volunteering for the museum.

The kids that have been using the program for months were chiming in as I rattled off the familiar speeches. “Oh good,” I thought, “I’m getting through.”

The poor new kid, however, looked horrified at the thought that he might have to extend the effort to rub two brain cells together.

“But the teacher doesn’t care, just gives the same grade.”

I used my secret weapon:

“Well, do you want to be the same as everybody else, or better than everybody else?”

“Better!” chimed my peanut gallery.

“The same.” chimed the new kid.

Shoot. That backfired, didn’t it? Maybe I should form a different approach for the children who look at me with big scared eyes. Or maybe it’s better that they go to the library where (as I understand it) they charge 10 cents per page but don’t bother you about what work you are doing. My program is geared toward one-on-one education so I’m willing to help anyone who will put in the effort to think about assignments ahead of time. If my new friend comes back after hearing my stipulations he’ll be greeted as the prodigal son. I’m pretty sure I lost him forever after the bit about “no copying”.

* * *

This week was the first week without our front staff, Judette. She’s gone on maternity leave. That leaves me and the maintenance guy to run the show, with Lina working when her class schedule allows. It’s interesting to work the shop without a second staff member (technically Joseph doesn’t count. Tours are not his job.) When one bus driver looks at me horrified that I can’t do his tour right now because I have ten minutes left with the first group, I can do nothing except remind him we’re all on the same team. You guys doubled the tours, we asked for 30 minutes in between groups. Keep to the schedule man!Since I had to be in the shop all week, I declared it renovation week. Amazing how useful my time at H&M has become. Not only can I create a strategic plan and manage projects, but with a few flicks of the wrist, I can whip up a mean display!

As with the H&M Modern Classic ladies line, which works to portray a chic, yet stylish, image, I went with the clean look in the shop: all books together, all mugs together, all Where is Simon, Sandy? items together, etc. While cleaning out the storage shelves I came across and area that looked surprisingly like the Visual’s Room.

Stealing a leftover stand-alone shelf, I finally conquered the never ending shelf-against-the-back-wall by breaking up the space and making our shop look fuller and creating a nice little showcase area.
The next area of attack is the signage. I’m using that oh-so-impressive signage we created for the Spring 2 Collections events and highlighting some local artists. Turns out almost everything in the shop is made by local masters in all kinds of media – handmade necklaces, baskets, pottery, local coffee roasters, photographers, writers, watercolorists…. I feel guilty that I have to be selective, but for the sake of the tourists, I’ll keep it simple.There are a few leftover projects – creating proper display cases for one – that will not fit into my one week plan. But it’s going to look significantly more polished. Maybe my display can work as a micro-metaphor for the country: We’ll see how long it lasts.

* * *
I’ve been learning more about the political situation here. It’s truly frustrating to hear about. Especially when I see the proof of the stories reflected in my small and various projects. That’s how apparent it is: even with limited interaction outside the office, I have a grasp of the major issues. My inner engineer is having a difficult time just sitting by while the political turmoil unfolds. I’m genetically programed to try and fix the problem, analyze the weaknesses, hypothesis solutions, and put the best one into practice. This is such a beautiful little place with so much potential, why can’t they see it all like I do?But the reality is I have no influence over anything except the few kids that straggle through my door. Even to them I’m just an outsider – no better than the British in local eyes. I wonder if the solution seems so far away because I’m an outsider. Am I just stuck in the American/European thought process? The one that says complete sentences are important? If everyone has the the same poor writing style across the board, does that really impact daily business? Maybe it’s just a foreign language that I don’t understand but they get perfectly…?

I guess that doesn’t matter much. The real problem, of course, is that the core issue is a learned skill. People expect to get something for nothing – like when they expect to study in UK universities while handing in sub-par work to the TCI Community College. How long will it take these folks to realize that they can’t rely on government for food/shelter/water/education if no one is working for it. Where will the tax money come from to pay for all those benefits if the citizens don’t put in a little elbow grease? Canada is setting up the hospital because no one here is qualified.

The cruise center, then? A big corporation like Carnival must have oodles of money. Why not just sell the entire TCI to Carnival and have done. Carnival: the first business to officially own and operate a country better than the current residents.

It’s possible that’s in their long term plans – maybe I should buy shares.