Thursday, October 27, 2016

Holding Up Half the Sky at the Illinois Holocaust Museum

The exhibit “Half the Sky” now at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois is definitely worth a visit.  I went to see it and it didn’t disappoint. The Holocaust Museum and the Evanston YWCA collaborated on it to increase public awareness of the many critical and sometimes life threatening problems that women face in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Skokie, a suburb just north of Chicago, is home to the largest concentration of Holocaust Survivors in the United States. In the 1970’s, out of about 70,000 residents, 7,000 were Holocaust Survivors and their families. Prior to the attempted march by Neo-Nazis through Skokie in 1976, many of those survivors had never spoken of their experiences. After that event, many realized that they had to speak out before it was too late to prevent another Holocaust from ever happening again and thus, the idea of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center was born. A small archive had been open since the 1970’s, but the current museum building opened to the public in 2009.

 This exhibit is a great example of the Holocaust Museum’s collaborating with other organizations to bring awareness about current issues of racism. “Half the Sky” will be there until January 22, 2017.

“Women hold up half the sky” is a Chinese saying and the idea for the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sherry DuWunn. They give heart rending examples of problems that women face in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and some creative solutions that innovative, dedicated people have found and implemented to improve women’s lives in various locales. One of the most well known of these is extending micro-loans to women so that they can start their own small home-based businesses. These loans have enabled many women to become self-sufficient and support their families. In some instances, it has enabled women to thrive and in turn help other women.

While I had read Half the Sky several years ago, I still found it worthwhile seeing the exhibit at the Holocaust Museum. Not only does it discuss various solutions, it also displays many pictures of these women and videos of the women talking about how they’ve participated in the program and how it has impacted their lives. Many of the women shown had to risk their safety to participate. Others have dedicated their lives to some life-saving programs. It is inspiring to hear them.

 The Holocaust Museum forbids picture taking in any of their exhibits so I have none to share with you.. You’ll have to go there and see for yourselves.     

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Indigenous Peoples' Day At the Mitchell Museum

I can’t think of any place better to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day than at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston. I decided to pay a visit there. The Mitchell Museum is small but they change their exhibits often so you can always see something new when you go there. Right now they have an exhibit of pictures of prominent women who are among the First Americans. They ask, “Did you know that these women are Native Americans?” For the most part, I didn’t know so thanks Mitchell Museum for trying to upend another stereotype.

the first Native American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court

Evanston, Illinois joined the growing list of American cities and universities that have voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Most of the Evanston’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day events took place at The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. In addition to the exhibits, they had a panel of three Native Americans participating in a discussion about identity, connection to roots, and racial stereotyping. Later, a concert by Native American musicians was presented at Northwestern University. The concert featured the group Scattering the Bones, a family of self-educated musicians. They played their music with heart were a pleasure to watch.

at the concert, Scattering the Bones group

You’re probably asking yourself why we should replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. There are several reasons:

Since 1977 proposals to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day have been offered. Many people - especially the First Americans - have had issues about Columbus Day. For one, how can someone say he discovered a place that is already inhabited? There are various figures from studies for what the population of the Americas was just prior to 1492. The average number I saw was 54 million for North America and 37 million for South America.

Leif Erikson, a Norwegian explorer, “found” Canada in about 1003. One can argue that the indigenous peoples themselves discovered the Americas some 10,000 years ago [archaeological evidence is in dispute about the exact date] when they crossed the Land Bridge from Siberia into Alaska.

There are many myths about Columbus in American culture. Yes, he was the first European to settle down in what is now the United States of America. Was he a benefactor to the people he found there? According to historians, he was not and in fact committed genocide against the Native Americans living in Puerto Rico. Surely we can find a more appropriate person to create myths about.

I hope that next year Indigenous Peoples’ Day festivities in Evanston are better attended. All of us Americans should know more about Native American cultures and peoples. Over five million still live here. After all, they were here first.