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Exhibitions and Performances

4/12/19

Known for her parts on “Orange Is the New Black” and “Jane the Virgin,” actress Diane Guerrero took the stage at the Hoff Theater yesterday to discuss a different role in her life: immigration reform activist, and daughter and sister of deported immigrants.

Part of the university’s third annual Social Justice Day, sponsored by the College of Arts and Humanities, College of Education and A. James Clark School of Engineering, Guerrero delivered the day’s keynote address, focusing on her family’s story, in keeping with UMD’s yearlong theme of the Year of Immigration.

The day of programming also included an awards reception, mini TED-style talks and the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences-organized “Immigrant Stories” panel, moderated by UMD’s Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development Shibley Telhami. It featured UMD President Wallace D. Loh; New School Professor Nina Khrushcheva, great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev; and former U.S. Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero ’72 sharing their experiences.Diane Guerrero

Guerrero answered questions from members of UndocuTerps, the university’s group for undocumented students, about the experience of her parents and brother being deported to Colombia when she was 14 years old, an event she chronicled in her book, “In the Country We Love: My Family Divided.”

“Many times I wanted to give up and say, ‘No, this is not my life, I will not accept this as my life,’” she said. “The minute that I decided to own that truth, to say, ‘Yes, I was a child and product of separation of a family ... and there’s no shame in that,' that was the minute I started growing.”

Other topics Guerrero addressed:

On what she hopes to achieve: What does Guerrero hope to see when it comes to immigration policy? “I’d like to see a path to citizenship,” she said. “I’d like to see our visa system updated. I’d like to see immigration reform. I’d like to see more solutions, and I’d like to see the conversation continued … I am someone who has experienced the separation of family and what that does to the mind, body and soul, and it’s horrific.”

On community: Guerrero emphasized the importance of sharing one’s life experiences with others who have similar stories. “What happens when you share common experiences with people who are going through the same thing is that you go to sleep and you say, ‘Wow, I’m not alone.’”

On intersectionality: Recognizing the interconnectedness of people’s backgrounds and social issues is central to Guerrero. “I cannot care about one issue without caring about another,” she said. “I cannot care about immigrants and immigrants’ rights if I don’t care about women, and vice versa. I can’t care about women’s rights if I don’t care about racial equality.”

On seeing her parents in prison as a teen: “I didn’t know my parents as criminals,” she said. “Everything you’re taught as a kid is that when you go to prison, you’re a bad person …I got there and my understanding of my parents sort of shifted. ‘I don’t see my parents as bad people, but they’re here, so are they?’”

On working on shows with a social message: “Jane the Virgin” and “Orange Is the New Black” have dealt with a range of political and social issues, from the experiences of women in prison and criminal justice to immigration. “It’s a huge privilege,” said Guerrero. “At first I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to be on a show where I’m in prison, I already saw this—I’m not going to learn anything. This is real life for me.’ But it has been a privilege to tell these stories … there’s no coincidence as to why I landed on these shows that had such a heavy message, because I had a heavy message to tell.”

On the experience of working with a primarily Latinx cast: “Jane the Virgin” is one of the few television shows to feature primarily Latinx characters, an experience Guerrero has cherished. “We weren’t running away from our culture and who we were and who we are, and we were also not making fun of it,” she said. “We celebrated it on ‘Jane the Virgin’ and I found that helped me understand and love myself just a little bit more.”

By Sala Levin ’10

4/19/19

By Lorraine Graham | Photos by J. J. Nelson

Known for her novels, stories and memoirs exploring Haitian history and immigrant experiences, award-winning writer Edwidge Danticat visited the University of Maryland on April 17 to share her work and talk about the power of storytelling in connecting across generations.

Her visit was the last event in the 2018-19 Arts and Humanities Dean's Lecture Series. Danticat spent the afternoon speaking with a group of graduate students in the English department's masters of fine arts program in creative writing before joining Grenadian writer and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Merle Collins that evening for a public conversation in Dekelboum Concert Hall. Danticat and Collins spoke about how writing can be a form of witness and memorializing, especially in immigrant and diasporic communities.

The Arts and Humanities Dean's Lecture Series provides an opportunity for the campus community to engage with contemporary issues through the lens of arts and humanities scholarship.To complement UMD's yearlong theme of the Year of Immigration, the 2018-19 series focused on storytelling and immigration. The fall lecture featured Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and 2017 MacArthur Fellow Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose book “The Refugees” is Maryland’s 2018-19 First Year Book.

Danticat answered questions from both Collins and the audience, about how—in the space of six months—her uncle, with whom she lived for many years in Haiti before joining her parents in the U.S., died in U.S. immigration custody while seeking asylum, her daugher, Mira, was born and her father died of pulmonary fibrosis. These experiences prompted her to write a family memoir, "Brother, I'm Dying."

"This was not a book I wanted to have to write," Danticat said. "But I knew that my daughter would never meet my uncle, and I was afraid she would not meet my father—so this book was a way to reach across generations."

Other topics Danticat and Collins discussed:

On writing and history: In response to a question from the audience about incorporating history into writing, Danticat said, "I've always been very interested in history in general, and Haitian history in particular. Fiction gives you a kind of space in which to expand history. We can spend years learning about something and then you flesh it out."

On writing as a monument to people who might otherwise be forgotten: Collins asked about "Farming of Bones," Danticat's second novel set against the background of the 1937 massacre of Haitian emigrants by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, and the way that particular book is "a monument to the disappeared." Danticat discussed how historical novels can function as a kind of memorial, and she discussed the importance of rituals surrounding death in Haiti. "Part of the tragedy of dying was not only that they were butchered and massacred," Danticat said, "but that they had no final rituals."

On the immigrant artist, storytelling and survival: Danticat grew up hearing traditional stories and Haitian folklore. She discussed remembering one story about a girl unable to cope with the death of her father, and drawing on it for comfort when her own father died. "All this time I thought I was being entertained," she said. "But instead I realized I had been given a tool to survive and to understand critical moments in my life. This reinforced the power of storytelling, why certain mythologies exist and how these stories are part of our survival as diasporic people."

On connecting with younger generations through story: Danticat talked about how enslaved Africans carried stories with them across the water as a way of keeping their culture alive. Immigrants also bring their stories with them to new places and into new languages. "All I have to leave my children are my stories," she said. "Storytelling feels like another layer of survival, the thread that carries us all the way from the African continent and through the Caribbean."

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen speaks about his new book, "The Refugees," at the First Year Book event at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.

By Samantha Hawkins
For The Diamondback

A Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist urged University of Maryland students on Tuesday to seek out and share the stories of refugees and other groups who often feel unwanted in their home country and in the United States.

“We live in an age of narrative scarcity,” said Viet Thanh Nguyen, the best-selling author of The Sympathizer, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016.

People should have access to a variety of voices, Nguyen said, from refugees and minorities to women and the LGBT community. He calls this “narrative plentitude.”

Nguyen’s new book, The Refugees, was selected as this university’s 2018-19 First Year Book. The book is a collection of short stories from twenty years of documenting the hardships of relocation and explores what it means to belong somewhere.His visit is part of the “Year of Immigration,” an initiative by this university to increase dialogue about global migration and refugees.

A MacArthur Fellow and professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California, Nguyen has been called the “voice to the previously voiceless” by The New York Times, though he claims this is not praise.

“Have you met a Vietnamese person? We’re not voiceless. We talk all the time. We’re not heard,” Nguyen said. “Justice is not about elevating voices for the voiceless. It’s about creating a condition where all voices are heard.”

The lecture comes at a time when immigration has become a significant part of the national conversation. Two migrant caravans from Central America are currently making their way to the U.S., and President Trump has threatened to shutter the border in response.

Earlier this year, following the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement of a “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, several thousand migrant children were separated from their parents. The policy has caused significant national backlash.

Nguyen has experienced family separation first-hand. He and his family, who fled war-torn Vietnam in 1975 when he was 4 years old, were forced to separate so they could leave the refugee camp they were staying in. Nguyen was taken to live with a sponsor — a white family — while his parents and brother were sent somewhere else. Months later, they were reunited.

“I know the feeling of terror from being abandoned. That memory has never gone away,” Nguyen said. “That’s how I know that children at the border are going to be forever marked from being taken away from their parents.”

“Closing the borders is not a solution,” Nguyen said. Instead the United States should be setting an example for the world by taking in refugees and asylum-seekers. “Refugees and undocumented immigrants are going to keep on coming, and if we actually had a sensible policy, we wouldn’t be confronted with the crisis we have today.”

Nguyen describes himself growing up as being “born in Vietnam but made in America.” Never really sure of how to identify himself, Nguyen didn’t claim the term “Asian-American” as his own until he reached college.

Many students in the nearly full auditorium at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center could relate to Nguyen’s message. Kak Wong, a physics graduate student from Hong Kong, said that though Nguyen’s experience is different than his, he still connected to the speaker’s story.

“Now that I’m in America, I am transitioning into Asian-American,” Wong said. “I’m still at that junction of crisis where I don’t really know where I’m at.”

James Ozaki, a University of Illinois student living in Washington D.C. this semester for an internship at the Smithsonian, is Japanese-American, and his grandparents were incarcerated during World War II. That helped him connect with what Nguyen was saying.

“This impacts me in the sense that it makes it personal,” he said. "And that continuing narrative throughout history that he mentioned? It’s the same story.”

 

4/14/18

By Morgan Politzer | Stories Beneath the Shell

"National Public Radio political correspondent Mara Liasson led a discussion Wednesday night about dealing with hate, bias and the changing world of political reporting under Trump.

"Liasson has been a political correspondent for NPR for over 30 years. She discussed how the political landscape has changed since President Trump took office, as well as the impact his actions have had on both a national and international scale."

Read the complete article in Stories Beneath the Shell.

Photo by Morgan Politzer via Stories Beneath the Shell.

Contact: K. Lorraine Graham, Communications Manager, klgraham@umd.edu

COLLEGE PARK, Md. —Acclaimed political journalist Mara Liasson will conclude the 2017-18 Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series, hosted by the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) at the University of Maryland (UMD). The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. on April 11 at the Gildenhorn Recital Hall in The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

Liasson is National Public Radio’s (NPR) political correspondent and an award-winning journalist with over 30 years of experience reporting on the White House and Congress. Her lecture will focus on “The Political Landscape: Dealing with Hate and Bias in Washington.”

Prior to serving as NPR’s political correspondent, she was their White House correspondent during the Clinton Administration. Liasson covered six presidential elections, from Bill Clinton in 1992 to Barack Obama in 2012. She is also a contributor to Fox News.

The theme of the 2017-18 Dean’s Lecture Series is “Courageous Conversations: ARHU Resists Hate & Bias.” This year’s speakers consider what it means to engage in courageous conversations that speak to the difficult issues of hate and bias across personal, historical and political frames.

The first lecture featured poet and social justice activist Theo Wilson, and the second lecture featured Bobby Seale, founding co-chairman and national organizer of the Black Panther Party. Each lecture is an opportunity for the campus and the UMD community to join together for dialogue on these complex issues.

This lecture is co-sponsored with the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. For free tickets or more information, visit go.umd.edu/liasson or call (301) 405-ARTS.

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ABOUT THE SERIES

The Dean's Lecture Series provides an opportunity for the college faculty, students and staff to join together to discuss issues that cross ARHU disciplines. Lectures and performances may address enduring or emerging questions central to the arts and humanities, or questions arising from other disciplines that the arts and humanities may be affected by. Each lecturer interacts in smaller settings with faculty, graduate students and undergraduates.

2/2/18

By Jillian Atelsek | The Diamondback

"As he arrived at the podium to deafening applause and a standing ovation, Bobby Seale raised his hands, stepped back and chuckled.

"'Reminds me of the '60s,' he said.

"Seale, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, a political activist and a cultural icon, spoke at the University of Maryland on Thursday night about organized resistance and strength in the face of discrimination and oppression.

"'I don't believe in riots,' he said. 'I believe in organizing. I believe in putting my machine together.'"

Read the complete article in The Diamondback.

Photo: Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale addressed University of Maryland students and faculty on Thursday, Feb. 1. (Richard Moglen/The Diamondback)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Over 150 people filled the Gildenhorn Recital Hall at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Wednesday night to hear award-winning slam poet and social justice advocate Theo Wilson, who appeared as part of the University of Maryland College of Arts and Humanities Dean’s Lecture Series.

Wilson skyrocketed to social media fame after posting beliefs about hate and bias. During his lecture, he discussed his experiences as a black man in an increasingly digital and racially charged world.

Wilson went undercover in white supremacist online communities to “get a gist of the gathering storm” because “nothing is more dangerous for black people than white supremacy.”

While undercover, he learned how social media creates digital echo chambers that steer users toward content that affirms their ideological beliefs. He also learned about the dangers of groupthink, a psychological phenomenon in which a group of people make irrational decisions based on the desire for harmony. Noticing how alt-right online communities gained momentum through these realities propelled his career as an activist.

Throughout the lecture, he detailed events that changed the way he thought about his own race. From the racially motivated bombings at Florida A&M University, a historically black college, in 1999, to the election of George W. Bush in 2001, Wilson described how race permeated his everyday life.

Wilson began his public speaking career in the NAACP at the age of 15, and has always had a passion for social justice. He helped found the Denver Slam Nuba team, which won the National Poetry Slam in 2011. Wilson also performed at this year’s TEDxMileHigh event.

He concluded his lecture by reciting a slam poem called “Impossible,” which expressed the possibility of the impossible and the barriers African Americans have overcome. The poem captivated the audience as Wilson proclaimed “My breath is like humanity/ Limitless/ Unbounded/ And impossibly free.”

During a question and answer session moderated by Linda Aldoory, associate dean for research and programming, Wilson responded to questions about slam poetry, his personal utopia and a world without racism.

Wilson ended his performance by reminding the audience that “there’s this new generation that has this attitude that’s unbreakable,” and encouraged the continuation of self-expression.

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