A few days ago my daughter and I went to a concert at Bedlam Theater in Minneapolis. A friend of mine worked with the Women’s Foundation to put it on; all of the money raised goes to the MN Girls Are Not For Sale campaign, which is working to fight human trafficking in Minnesota. We loved the local bands and have been listening to the CD “Voice” in the car. Hip-hop, folk, gospel–each song is voice only and shot through with hope. The musicians donated their time and effort and all of the proceeds go to fighting trafficking of young men and women in our backyard. My daughter is the age of many of the adolescents who are trafficked.
The other evening my husband, our two daughters and I attended a senior Dance Show at the UM, where Magnolia Yang Sao Yia performed a dance she choreographed, “20 Years Strong.” With the use of audio, wearing a traditional skirt over jeans and t-shirt, and through precise movements of her hands, her hair, and the rest of her body, Yang expressed the history of the Hmong people fleeing from the Viet Cong, living in refugee camps, migrating to the United States, and navigating the obstacles to thriving in the U.S. Magnolia wrote that “20 Years Strong” is “dedicated to all of the strong, beautiful, and inspirational Hmong women in my life who have gifted me with love, resilience and courage. We will not be silenced.” In our Learning Abroad seminar, half of our 20 students are Hmong, and most are women.
The night before I flew out I ate pizza and watched Selma with my family, because my daughters really wanted us to watch it, and I see why. It is a potent movie at any time in history, but especially so as the ripple effect of Black Lives Matter continues to build in momentum and reveal our institutional racism throughout our country.
And in between these events, I walked through the meadows on our land to the Rum River, and into the woods, marveling at the wildflowers and the riot of green. As I stood on the banks of the river and watched the light glint off of the water, I pictured the mighty Mekong River that I will be fortunate to see again in a few days.
Human Trafficking, cultural resilience of Hill Tribe members and African Americans, and the ecological integrity of rivers and other natural places. To borrow a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. in one of his speeches in Selma, “All of these efforts are one effort.” And stories—through music, dance, and film–are used to not only express struggles, beauty, and hope, but to take part in creating our understanding of and engagement with these issues.
This learning abroad that my colleague Cathy Solheim and I created springs out of our mutual interest in the power of stories to reveal culture and family, and the intricate relationship between people and the land: the Mississippi, the Mekong, and all other natural places. Cathy had wanted to further explore the connection between families, communities and the natural environment from the family social science lens, and I am researching the role of the arts to both reveal and shape the ways communities are navigating the impacts of climate change and globalization. I want to better understand how communities nurture their cultural traditions and the integrity of their collective in the face of decreasing access to natural resources along with the impact of commerce conducted by large transnational corporations. Our students are asking similar questions, and understand that they will shoulder the responsibilities of dealing with the impact of globalization and complex natural resource issues as they move into their futures.
I know “these efforts are one effort,” but I need Cathy, with her cultural understanding of and experience in Thailand as well as her Family Social Science framework, and these 20 students we’re fortunate to be traveling with, and especially our Thai friends, villagers, and educators, to help me better understand the issues and to articulate how these efforts are one effort. Within the collective we will learn and share our visions and hopes for our communities, our students, and the communities we are engaging with in northern Thailand.