“The global rise of the far-right,” Nikolaos Paramythiotis, Campus Event Commentary

Cass Mude’s lecture on the 6th of February provided a very interesting insight into the rise of the far-right in Europe and in a global level. The Dutch political scientist pointed out that the rhetoric of the far-right today is characterized by populism, that generates hatred among the society and distrust for the political and economic elites. The main characteristics of the far-right today is its heterogeneity and normalization. As for the latter, far-right movements tend to adjust their ideologies in accordance to a society’s prevalent views and social norms, in order to make it more attractive. At the same time, the yearly exposure of many societies around the globe to far-right ideologies has led to viewing it merely as something unpleasant rather than unsound or illogical.

Finally, Mude makes a distinction between the extreme right and the far right. He supports that the views of the extreme right are so distant from social norms that their fallacy is widely understood. On the other hand, it is the radical right that poses a real threat, because by distorting and radicalizing values already in the core of society, its views do not seem so extreme and the attraction of an increasing portion of the population towards it is more likely.

The Cake Commentary – Lydia Catterall

The Cake was truly an emotional journey. For long stretches it was highly comedic, but sporadic sobering interludes made me sympathize with every character on stage. This surprised me, since I thought I wouldn’t feel any sympathy for Della, the middle-aged southern baker who doesn’t want to make the cake for her young friend’s lesbian wedding. However, Della’s character was more full of inner conflict than she was full of hate, torn between a motherly love for this girl and her heteronormative idea of romantic love. Additionally, Della’s acceptance progressed throughout the play, to the point where she couldn’t bring herself to attend the wedding but put thought and effort into making their wedding cake. I was impressed by the choice of the playwright, the director, and the actor portraying Della, all of whom humanized the character as opposed to villainizing her. Painting Della as a human trying to change shows that opinions are not divided in the polar opposite way we so often imagine. 

Unlikely (2019 film) Commentary – Lydia Catterall

Every Davidson College student should watch Unlikely, a film about the challenges low-income students face in college. Prior to this screening, I thought I knew about the adversities facing low income students, since the majority of students in my high school faced these struggles. My school had a graduation rate of about 60% each year – my freshman class had around 1200 students, and I graduated with a senior class of around 750 students. I naively assumed that if a student made it to college, they would be fine. Unlikely showed me that the struggles of low-income students have a firm grip in the college experience. It especially hit home because one of the students telling his story in the film graduated from a high school in my public school system. I realized many of the students from my high school who I’d assumed had a straight road to success were struggling far more than I’d realized. I’ve caught glimpses of these struggles at Davidson – every now and then, a student voices their difficulty with maintaining a job or multiple jobs, meeting scholarship requirements, and keeping their grades up all at the same time. However, I think the extent of economic privilege at Davidson creates an environment in which those who are struggling with these issues feel afraid to speak about them, which is why every Davidson student should watch this film. All students need to be aware of the struggles of low-income students on campus so we can create an environment that is more responsive to their needs.

“The Soviet Union through Jewish Eyes,” public event commentary, Nikolaos Paramyhtiotis

The lecture ‘The Soviet Union through Jewish Eyes” conducted on the 20th of February 2020 provided me a truly interesting insight into the Jewish prosecutions within the Soviet Union and the power that photography possesses to distort reality. A major focus of the lecture was the unknown, relatively to the Holocaust, genocide that took place within the borders of the Soviet Union, whose victims were the Soviet Jews. This was interestingly connected to an analysis of the power of photography to form public opinion.

The lecturer brought as an example the posting of images portraying dead Soviet soldiers and grieving women in the newspapers in order to shift public opinion away from the atrocities happening against their Jewish neighbors, calling the Soviet people to focus their hatred on the Nazis that were killing their compatriots. Another example had to do with the publicly distributed images of the Soviet victory in the Battle of Berlin, that brought World War II to an end. In this instance, the most suitable image taken had to be processed, as it also included a Soviet soldier visibly wearing two watches in his hand. This proved that he had engaged in looting activities and at least one of the watches was in his possession as a result of that, something that did not fit the narrative of the Soviet government about the integrity and honesty of all its soldiers. Overall, it was an amazing lecture that helped me develop a fuller understanding of the factors often hiding behind photography, because of its power to shape public opinion.    

“Yamato: the drummers of Japan” Campus Event Commentary, Nikolaos Paramythiotis

A truly unique performance that I was fortunate enough to attend this semester was by Yamato: the drummers of Japan, on the 22nd of February 2020. The excellent technical ability and unbelievable sense of rhythm of the Japanese drummers became apparent from the moment they stepped on stage and truly left the audience stunned in its entirety. What was even more entertaining was their effort to mingle this traditional art form that they were performing with well-worked elements of farcical comedy, that indeed caused great laughter among the audience. Their ability to flawlessly combine the sound of the drum each of them was playing at the moment into creating a sense of perfect harmony, despite the great noise characterizing the whole performance was really amazing. It was a truly magical performance that let the viewer loose to travel with the sound of their drums and provoked his or her imagination. What is truly amazing, is how this performance essentially managed to draw elements from their country’s ancient tradition and transformed it into something universally appealing that allows them to share their cultural heritage with the entirety of the globe.   

Bryan Stevenson Lecture Commentary – Lydia Catterall

I found it impactful that Stevenson did not sugarcoat the issues around which his speech centered, such as explicitly telling the crowd that people of color will have a harder life than white people. I think one of the persistent problems in this country is white people thinking that issues surrounding racism have been solved. Stevenson seemed to target this perception in his speech. All his stories clearly demonstrated the remaining racism in the United States, and the wide range of situations he spoke of show how far the reach of racism extends. At one point Stevenson told the crowd that the Civil Rights Movement is over-celebrated, which was a call to recognize the reality we live in and how it still needs to change. Following the hard truth of his stories, Stevenson urged the crowd to have hope. I felt very much called to action by the end of the speech, with Stevenson’s message that so much needs to improve, but there is hope that this change can happen. 

Food Sovereignty Lecture – Andrew Denny

This lecture took place in the Hurt Hub on Feb 3, 2020. This lecture contained a panel of three members of the Cherokee tribe and a lawyer and professor from the University of Arkansas affiliated with the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. They spoke about how the Native American’s food sovereignty has been threatened by actions from the federal government. The three Cherokee woman remarked at how difficult it has become to harvest native foods such as ramps. They claimed that the federal government has enacted strict regulations on how and when they are able to grow and harvest these crops. These regulations have made it nearly impossible for the remaining Cherokee people to grow ramps, leading them to almost disappear from North Carolina. The lawyer explained that he along with the rest of the Food and Agriculture Initiative has worked with the Cherokee people in North Carolina and other tribes across the country to help them settle disputes with the government. The federal governments have placed laws that have also affected how different tribes have been able to harvest traditional food such as salmon, bison, and wild rice. He went on to demonstrate that in nearly 60% of counties Native People are the most food insecure.

The Cherokee woman went on to describe recipes from the restaurant they own down near Asheville, NC. The bean bread they described sounded especially good. However, they remarked on how these recipes are becoming increasingly rare because they aren’t being passed on down to future generations.

This panel taught me a lot about what food sovereignty is and how it is an important issue on tribal lands. I think in the age of supermarkets we take for granted how easy our access to food is. Many tribes across this country are suffocated by governmental policies that make it difficult to grow traditional foods they have been growing or hunting for centuries.

Bryan Stevenson Lecture 1/28

By: Caison Gray

I attended the Bryan Stevenson lecture. I was very excited to witness Mr. Stevenson speak after our trip to Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson did not disappoint and gave a lecture that I believe truly mattered. I believe Mr. Stevenson’s goal of the lecture was to provide students with ideas and information that could not only help them confront and understand racial injustice, but to move forward and counteract racism’s harmful effects.

In order to make his lecture truly make an impact, Mr. Stevenson broke it up into four points. The first point highlighted the importance of becoming proximate. Mr. Stevenson elaborated by stating how you cannot work against ideas and institutions if you do not confront them personally. It is impossible to help people that you do not understand or interact with. The second point highlighted the general narrative surrounding race that currently exists in America, and how it needs to be changed. The idea that there is a difference between white people and nonwhite people started as a justification for slavery and has existed in America ever since. We must work to change the narrative in order to begin moving forward. The third point highlighted the importance of hope in dark, difficult times. Becoming negative and giving up is the easy route, but having hope is the way to create a positive change. The final point highlighted the fact that in most situations, you must be prepared to be in uncomfortable situations in order to move. Creating change requires saying and doing thinks that feel uncomfortable and difficult.

Mr. Stevenson emphasized the fact that we are facing an epidemic of incarceration. Bryan Stevenson said “I represent the broken. I come from a broken system.” Determination and persistence is required, especially from the young people, if we want to make a change to the narrative.

“Sebastian Meyer” Commentary: by Alec Stimac

Questions from Interview with Sebastian Meyer:

  1. Background on the one photo.
  2. Why did you choose to make it the cover of your book?
  3. Where is the line when placing oneself into another’s journey? Do you ever feel like a hinderance to the experiences of others?
  4. What does it mean to you to be a storyteller? What narrative are you trying to create?
  5. How should we respond to photographs of suffering?
  6. There is no war without photography. What does it mean to be a moral witness?
  7. How do you humanize these issues and ensure dehumanization does not occur when showing dead bodies? Human dignity? 
  8. Institutional identity vs. individual identity of subjects you photograph
  9. Who’s deaths and stories are still not being told? What is the community doing about that?
  10. How are you filling in the gaps of history? How are you adding to the narrative written by people of privilege? 
  11. Have you ever lost faith in your work? When did you know it was going to create change? What does it mean to you to see humanity at its worst?
  12. We do not suffer enough when we see those images….what would you say to that?
  13. Must everything be turned into a spectacle to be real? Is there hope within images of pain?

Answers:

“I had to figure out how was I going to visually tell this story.” 

“An inanimate object has a very poignant and moving story behind it. More visual, less writing. I took 100 photographs that day but choose this one because it is graphic, not bloody, but visually appealing. Glass catching light in a certain way. Looks like a painting more than anything else, appealing/pulled in by its attractiveness then it becomes less appealing.”

“The repercussions of publishing photographs of people in anyway, depends on the response you want to create.”

He was able to go find the family of the dead man he took a photo of, which is rare for photographers to be able to do. 

Not intent on change because that is not really his job as a journalist.  

“Audiences differ widely. All the parts of who you are inform your relation to that photograph. It is impossible for me to know the infinite numbers of audience members and how they will react.” 

“I have the story I am trying to tell. Your reaction is your responsibility.” 

“I am telling a story. Nonfiction story. Its subjective, what I include and exclude from the story.” 

“History is such a long arc; journalism is short history. I don’t think in terms of history, I think of the story. ” 

“Human beings love stories where you have the good guy and the bad guy. The reality is, a lot of times the bad guy was the good guy to somebody else or at a different time. And a lot of times the good guy is the bad guy in somebody else’s life. “

“We struggle with this [dilemma] as American citizens, how do we go to war somewhere else? Are we the good guys? Are we the bad guys? Are we somewhere in the middle? “

“Life is not as simple as that. Our greatest heroes were not great people. “

After covering war stories, he realized there is a performative nature to it. People want to perform for the camera. People model themselves off of images of war they have seen before to look like the hero. 

“Photos make you stop and linger over a moment. The photograph is a total fabrication. Every one of these pictures is taken at the very, very slowest at a 30th of a second. You do not see the world like that. You also don’t see the world 2 dimensionally. You are hearing, smelling, seeing at the same time. But this is what it looked like if you stopped. It needs to be seen as such. It allows you to stay on the visual while your brain does other things. “

You stop for the moment. 

 “We look more closely as a photographer. “

Janki Kaneria: Navigating Criminal Justice Reform during COVID-19 – Bryan Tran

This campus commentary was held by Davidson’s Pan-Asian Student Association on Youtube Live during our current COVID-19 outbreak. Janki Kaneria is currently an assistant public defender at the Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office.

Something that I did not realize to be so drastically different was the difference in changes by state. Kaeria went to UCLA for law school and talks about a very shocking difference she found in North Carolina compared to California. It was shocking to me that soliciting alms was a crime in NC, which means you are arrested for begging for money. “criminalizing homelessness”

Something that spoke to me during her Q&A was being not only a person of color but a women of color in Criminal Justice. Dealing with all of the microaggressions and doubt, I feel as with the adversity Kaeria had to push through was moving. I also find it quite ironic that we seek to find justice and equality but lack that on an even on a macro level.

Sebastian Meyer- Campus Commentary by Luna Jerjees

I attended a talk and dinner with Sebastian Meyer, an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, who lived and worked in Iraq documenting the Kurdish community struggle through war in hopes of regaining autonomy and peace. Kurds are an ethnic group native to a mountainous region known as Kurdistan, which spans southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. The Kurds residing in Iraq faced war (2008 – 2014) in an effort to gain back land in the region and receive political rights in the wake of the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003. Meyer was employed by a British film company to take portraits of the survivors of the Anfal genocide in Iraq, an anti-Kurdish genocidal campaign in 1988, and found himself staying in Kurdistan for several years afterwards. In his time in Iraq, he documented, through photographs, the Kurdish resilience against all odds. He quotes, “Iraq’s Kurds have paid a heavy price in their fight for self-determination, oppressed by British colonialists, Iraqi monarchists and Saddam’s Ba’athists alike. Every decade has been marred by genocide or displacement, often both.” Meyer published a photography book titled Under Every Yard of Sky which is a collection of some of his photographs of the Kurdish community and tells a story of a great nation fighting for equality.

All photos used are credited to Sebastian Meyer’s website. https://www.redhookeditions.com/portfolio/under-every-yard-of-sky-sebastian-meyer
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“Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen” Commentary: by Alec Stimac

How is it that some of us go away and some of us stay? Some sink into the ocean and some ride a dead man’s suitcase to safety. Some of us are beautiful Chinese girls who don’t age, or dishwashers who die with hands soft as a baby’s.

Some of us arrive in the promised land. Some of us land in Riss River, Oregon. Glittering sand, putrid rain, it’s all the same to us.

Moonie and Mei Ling Wong desire to become somebodies, constantly transforming themselves to impress their love interests, their grandmother, and confront societal pressures. No day is perfect in the the Double Happiness Chinese Restaurant or at home. Their lives are not perfect, but they make it through. They start off as food delivery girls who are finding their sensibility, sexuality, and identity. They grow up. They both become successful women. But what does it take? What makes them Moonie and Mei Ling? How do others see them and how do they seem themselves? What defines them? Is it their Chinese heritage and culture? It is their religion? Their sexual desires? What matters most? Or doe every part of them make them human, faults and all?

These strong female characters engage in intergenerational conflict and revolutionize what it means to assimilate into a dominant culture. Marilyn Chin’s novel is a “public declaration” to end oppression and find the ability to transcend the trails of life towards a path of happiness. It reminds us that we are all human: hardworking, determined, seeking affection and affirmation, all of which is self-realized through both Moonie and Mei Ling in their journey. Everyone wants to find happiness. Whether that be from the neon light of a Chinese Restaurant, going to college and pursuing a degree, or traveling the world, we are all on a quest. Enlightenment only occurs when we look up at the sky and laugh about all the we are going through. We should be helping each other recognize our weaknesses and strengths, bolstering up our identities and being proud of who we are.

The children of immigrants often have high expectations to fill. They live in a dual world: yin and yang. Moonie and Mei Ling become symbols of the immigrant nation. It is not walk in the park, but a roller coaster of emotions.

In the end, these divergent journeys are important and become cyclical. Chin’s tales are informed by Buddhist and Taoist parables, combating stereotypes of Chinese and Asian American identity. We all craft our own journey, that is revolutionary. We have choices and we have parts of us we get to accent. It is up to us to decide who we are more than anyone else, because at the end of it all we are the ones left with our bodies and identities. The twins make forge their own path without rejecting their history and family heritage. They are living in “double happiness,” living the same lives every day but making something new out of it for themselves, their parents, their grandmother, and the world.

Cold Open -The voices of many

By Lilliana Sandoval

One of my first zoom experiences that was not class related, a place to share creativity ways of relaxation and feelings towards the current situation worldwide, including isolation. The guest speaker, and founder of Free Word at Davidson, began by validating everyone’s situation as difficult and a time of grief, regardless of what home situation you have. Another related musical notations to being “the soulful self feeling a drift and somewhat shock”. It was amazing to hear several different perspectives during this time and see what art people have made as a form of relaxation and expression.

One of my favorite parts about this event was the sense of community there was at such a difficult time. The fact that so many beautiful things came out of such a time of tension. It reminds me of Tupac Shakur’s poem “The Rose that Grew from Concrete” and the famous saying the lotus which blooms through adversity. Despite the challenges we all face at this time, or the difficult times we have or will face in life, it’s not the end. There is always a silver lining, we just need to take another look and shift our perspective. It’s a chaotic time but I’ve seen more humanity in the past few weeks than I have in most of my lifetime. I’m happy to see that a byproduct of this situation is bringing together communities.

Commentary on the performance: Drummers of Yamamoto – by Sarah Zhang

When I heard the first beat of the drum, I was fascinated by how resonating the sound is in the hall. I could feel the chairs shaking every time the performers hit the drum. This gives me a sense of connection, it’s almost as if I am feeling the energy and the passion (which is also the title of the performance) and I feel myself closer to the culture. The drums fill the whole performance, without any verbal conversation between the performers, however there are a lot of interesting interactions between the performers and the audience. The motion of body performance, the sound of drums and its rhythms really transcends language. It reminds me of what Dr. Bory talked in her unit about how the body is used to convey messages, to perform an identity.

Most of the performance seemed very indigenous, with a lot of reference to religion and tradition, but also the engagements with the audience serve as a bridge between different parts of the performance. I wonder whether the performance will keep the engagement if the show is performed in Japan. Although I enjoyed the engagement, there was a sense of disconnection, as if the performance got pulled out of the cultural context that it relies on. Through the engagement part, the performers made sure that the foreign audience can, to a certain degree, understand the language of the drummers. The fact that the performance became understandable for people unfamiliar with the culture means that it is already loosing its integrity. If one has to rely on the planned engagement to understand the piece, then he is only grasping onto what he is familiar with, the culture at home, instead of the culture of the drummers. These thoughts reminds me of the incommensurability of language in Dr. Robb’s unit and the idea of tokens of representation in president Quillen’s unit. How should cultures communicate with each other without losing their integrity in the process?

Commentary on the seminar with Dr. Diego by Sarah Zhang

In the seminar, Dr. Diego mainly talked about the trans-Pacific realm of diasporic narrative brought to America. Spain colonizers in Philipines brought cheap labor into Mexico. On this almost impossible trip across the world, there are connection between cultures, but also conflicts between races. These labors were “devalued,” having much less value than the merchandises and very much muted from the history, the one told by the powerful. We can only put up the perspective from these Asians from a large archive of inquiries, many of which were only confessed and documented with the threat from torture and death. The problems during the trip, the extremely poor accommodations——many slaves had to live on the deck——-lack of food, water and other resources, severe weather further exacterbated the racialization. After arriving in Mexico, they continued to be treated in a dehumanizing way. They are categrorized as “Chinos” altogether. This is another example of orientalist erasure where Asian people and culture are deemed as inferior. 

This cross-cultural interaction across the Pacific Ocean significantly broaden the horizon. It involves Asian, American and European, comparing to the current Humanities course narrative where a majority is based on only US and European coutries. Also, we are often required to choose which side of the world we want to know more about, we learn East Asian history, American history, European history, but barely do we have any chance to see, in a broader picture, how these histories are interacting with each other, how different sides of the same story are told to different people around the globe, how identity is constructed and destructed during the connections and conflicts. Moreover, this trip across the Manila Galleon is restoring the whole space of the cross-Pacific migration, not just focusing on the onset (起点)and the destination. It brings us directly to the sight of inequality, this history’s own space of racialization. It documents not just the opposition between “the One” and “the Other.” What deeply troubled me is how similar the situation is comparing to the trauma of African slaves, but how come this history became absolutely muted in western narrative, and the racialization against Asian has been around for hundreds of years while it is still muted today?