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Mid-Americana: Stories from a Changing Midwest
55 minutes | May 28, 2021
Home Is Not a Safe Place: Irene Maun
Irene Maun is originally from the Marshall Islands, descended from a Micronesian royal family. Like many Marshallese, she and her family have struggled with chronic illness due to the lasting impacts of U.S. nuclear testing and colonialism in their tiny island home. In the wake of war and weapons testing, US troops and corporations flooded the islands with processed foods. The most popular and iconic of these is Hormel Foods’ SPAM, which has been linked to obesity and other chronic diseases across the region. Irene eventually moved to Dubuque, Iowa, temporarily leaving her small children and accompanying her diabetic husband to secure medical treatment for him in the U.S. She now helps other Pacific Islanders navigate healthcare as a leader at the Pacific Islander Health Project, including many who work at a Hormel meat packing plant in Dubuque. Learn more about the project and support it’s parent organization, Crescent Community Health Center. COVID hit the Marshallese community especially hard, including Irene and her family. The pandemic spread rapidly among packing plant workers and their families due to existing medical conditions, crowded living arrangements, and unsafe work environments. The pandemic could have been even more devastating without the resources of Crescent and its staff. For years, Irene has also for more federal support, advocating to restore Medicaid coverage for Marshallese in the U.S., a promise made to compensate for nuclear impacts. This lobbying was finally successful in December 2020, as part of COVID-relief legislation. Read more about the Marshallese community in Dubuque (in English or Marshallese) through some of the story collections online. The Facing Project published a 2017 collection of local stories, including Irene’s: Facing Diversity: Marshallese Stories. In 2020, The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque gathered stories of diversity in Dubuque, promoting understanding and solidarity in the midst of the pandemic: #AllofUsDubuque. This episode features a clip from the video performance, “Anointed,” by Marshallese poet, climate activist, and educator Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner. The project was supported through a collaboration with filmmaker Dan Lin, Pacific Resources for Learning (PREL), and the Okeanos Foundation. Visit www.kathyjetnilkijiner.com to read more of her poetry and watch more of her videos.
50 minutes | Jan 13, 2021
Journey into the New: Dominique Serrand
Dominique Serrand is Co-Artistic Director for The Moving Company, a traveling theatre company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Born and raised in Paris, Dominique came of age during the protests of 1968, when young people took to the streets to protest capitalism and patriarchy and brought the French government to a standstill. He saw both sides of that struggle, first on assignment with the French Navy in Somalia, and later as a student at the famous Jacques Lecoq School for international theatre. While studying at Jacques Lecoq, Dominique forged a special bond with classmates from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Together they founded Theatre de la Jeune Lune, or Theatre of the Young Moon. The young drama company moved its base of operations to Minneapolis in 1981 and built a reputation for innovation and excellence over the next three decades, winning a Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre in 2005. During this period, Dominique won many other awards, such as Best Production for The Miser, fellowships with the USA Artist Ford Foundation and the Bush Foundation, and knighthood by the French government with the Order of Arts and Letters. Theatre de la Jeune Lune closed in 2008. Later that year, Dominique and a few of his partners from Jeune Lune formed The Moving Company, which continues to produce new work in the Twin Cities. See excerpts of Refugia and Speechless. Listen here to a 1992 interview with Dominique Serrand for Minnesota Portraits, a series produced by Twin Cities PBS. Watch a 2008 interview for Minnesota Playlist with Dominique Serrand and a 2012 interview for PBS with Dominique and Steven Epp about their vision for The Moving Company. Archives for Theatre de la Jeune Lune are held by the University of Minnesota Libraries.
54 minutes | Dec 16, 2020
Conversations with America: Abdirizak Abdi
At age six, Abdirizak Abdi fled civil war in his native Somalia. He lived in a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, then in the capital city of Nairobi, and as a teenager moved to the United States. Today, he is the principal of Humboldt High School in St. Paul Minnesota, one of the first Somali-American school leaders in the country. Along the way, Abdi has learned to navigate all sorts of adversity, including Midwest attitudes about difference. In the past few decades, communities large and small across Minnesota and the Midwest have welcomed growing numbers of immigrants and refugees. This has brought economic and cultural vitality, and it has often also triggered a backlash. In this episode, Abdi shares his story of learning to make sense of these dynamics and learning to be a leader in this polarized context. He reflects on his time in St. Cloud, Minnesota, a place that exemplifies the conflicts over race, religion, and refugee resettlement in the Midwest. He developed deep friendships with native Midwesterners there, challenging their stereotypes of one another. Through this journey, Abdi has come to see America as a place full of possibility, a place not divided by its differences but united in appreciation of its remarkable diversity of cultures. It hasn’t always been easy for him to find his voice and share that vision publicly, but in this episode he reads from a powerful and poetic “Conversation with America” that came to him in the summer of 2019, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo moon landing.
46 minutes | Dec 1, 2020
I Reached for Books: Hem Rizal
Hem Rizal is an M.A. candidate in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He was born in Bhutan and migrated to Nepal with his family when he was just a year old. He grew up in the Gold Hap Refugee Camp in Nepal and later settled with his family in Seattle. Hem is a graduate of the University of Washington, where he studied Mathematics, Political Science, and Human Rights. He taught briefly in the Des Moines Public Schools with AmeriCorps and spent four years teaching math on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation with the Teach for America program. He has also been actively involved in the Black Lives Matter community in Des Moines.
61 minutes | Nov 17, 2020
Always in the Gray Areas: John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas
John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas is an educator, social worker, and justice advocate currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Leadership at the University of Iowa. He has a distinguished career as a champion of immigrant’s rights in Iowa, and especially creating opportunities for young people. Ye created the state’s first bilingual Spanish-English immersion program in West Liberty, led the Governor’s Commission on Latino Affairs and the state’s Department of Latino Affairs, then served as the Director of Iowa’s 4H Youth Development Program. Drawing from his own life experience, John-Paul helped support other young immigrants and helped build bridges with white Midwesterners in communities struggling with the rapidly changing demographics of the region. As the leader of 4H, John-Paul pushed the organization to grow more diverse and inclusive. He developed programs for young people from Latino and African backgrounds, serving not just farm kids, but also the children of meatpackers, migrant workers, and urban youth. His leadership of 4H became controversial as he championed LGBTQ rights, and especially protections for transgender youth. For more context on this struggle, read this investigative report from the Des Moines Register, which explores his firing from 4H in the context of broader political and cultural polarization in Iowa and the United States. UPDATE: In the podcast interview, John-Paul was unable to speak freely about his conflict with 4H, due to the ongoing lawsuit he filed in 2018, alleging harassment and discrimination in his termination. Just before the release of this episode, the state of Iowa agreed to a settlement.
45 minutes | Nov 10, 2020
America Looks Like Scotland!: Zoe Bouras
Zoe Bouras is a Communications and Development AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) with the Immigration Project in Bloomington, Illinois. She also serves as an adjunct instructor of Political Science at Illinois Wesleyan University. Zoe emigrated with her mother from northern England to rural Illinois when she was eight years old, and has called Arthur, Illinois, home since then. She has visited more than thirty-one countries, studying in Arequipa, Peru, as an exchange student, and interning for a summer at the Institute of East and West Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Fifteen years after her own immigration to the United States, Zoe began her path to American citizenship. She hopes to be naturalized in 2021.
50 minutes | Oct 20, 2020
Stick to Your Roots: Pavel Polanco-Safadit
As a kid in the Dominican Republic, Pavel Polanco-Safadit fell in love with piano and spent hours each day perfecting his technique. This passion and skill eventually earned him a college scholarship to study music in the U.S., and he went on to earn a masters and doctorate in music. For years, Pavel taught music at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, where he continues to be a leader in the community as Executive Director of the Richmond’s Amigos Latino Center. In this episode, Pavel talks about his experience immigrating to the Midwest, his passion for Latin jazz, and the power of music as a bridge across cultures. He also shares more about Richmond, a small town with a surprisingly large role in the history of recorded jazz. To hear more of Pavel’s music, visit the Facebook page for his band, Pavel and Direct Contact, which has videos of recent performances and information about upcoming shows. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the band has live-streamed several virtual performances together with Dominican jazz musicians. He maintains a strong relationship with his native country, returning each year to lead the Music Ed Fest, providing musical opportunities to a new generation of young Dominicans. To learn more about Gennett Records, visit the Starr Gennett Foundation, dedicated to preserving the history of recorded jazz in Richmond, Indiana. For even more detail, check out Rick Kennedy’s book, Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy: Gennett Studios and the Birth of Recorded Jazz or listen to this episode of the Everything Sounds Podcast. Middle Tennessee State University professor Charlie Dahan maintains a soundcloud playlist of Gennett recordings and a Gennett Records website with a bibliography and discography. Listen to him talk more about Indiana jazz history in this episode of the MTSU On the record podcast.
52 minutes | Oct 6, 2020
America Has Its Own Ghosts: Kao Kalia Yang
Kao Kalia Yang is an author, public speaker, and teacher. She was born in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand and settled with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota, when she was six years old. After graduating from Carleton College, she moved to New York to complete an M.F.A. at Columbia University. She moved back to the Twin Cities to launch her writing career and has been based there ever since. Kalia has taught in K-12 schools in a variety of communities, as well as at many colleges and universities. She is the author of two memoirs, The Latehomecomer and The Song Poet, and editor of two anthologies, What God Is Honored Here? (coedited with Shannon Gibney) and Somewhere in the Unknown World. Kalia is also the author of three children's books, A Map into the World, The Shared Room, and The Most Beautiful Thing. For more information about her writing, teaching, and availability for public speaking engagements, visit her homepage: https://kaokaliayang.com/.
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