This Week, in Filipino American Heritage Month

The winner of the most-ethnicities-in-one-title-describing-one-man award– Joe Bataan, the Afro-Filipino king of Latin Soul! That’s really something, isn’t it? If you’re in the Washington DC area, talk a ride down the NMNH and find out just how something it is:



The official description:

Come learn about the power of music to move people—to get us on our feet and across borders of race, geography, class, language, and culture. The intersecting lines of heritage in Joe Bataan’s music and identity offer a unique entry point into the lives and community commitments of the civil rights movement and a deeper understanding of the American experience. Born and raised in Spanish Harlem to a Filipino father and an African American mother, Joe Bataan symbolizes the dynamic intersections between Afro-Asian-Latino histories and cultural forms.

Join us for a public discussion featuring Joe Bataan, activist and performer Nobuko Miyamoto, and African American Studies scholar Dr. Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar. With them we revisit the political and cultural ferment and collaboration of the late 1960s and 1970s in New York City when groups such as the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords Party, Asian Americans for Action, and El Comité contributed to dynamic social justice movements, catalyzed largely by young people, which inspired cultural pride, creativity, and activism. Miguel “Mickey” Melendez, author and former member of the Young Lords, will moderate the discussion.

Friday, October 19, 2012
Public Talk: 6:30 p.m. — 7:30 p.m
Performance: 8:00 p.m. — 9:00 p.m

National Museum of Natural History
Baird Auditorium
10th & Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C.  20530

Free and open to the public

Brothers, Fools

People who live in DC have probably heard this, but perhaps its news to you all outside the District. DC is home to many delicious food trucks, many of which converge on my office building during lunch times. Fojol Brothers may be one of those, but I cannot judge their deliciousness. I judged their truck and they cannot win me back.

Unreasonable? Perhaps. But what else can one do in the face of such hipster ignorance?

The Fojol Brothers food trucks makes up fun, mystical countries, like Benethiopia and Merlindia:

Then, they dress up in fun, made up costumes that always include mustaches. True story. Notable costumes include turbans and once, when there was a woman working there, a belly dancing outfit. I went to take a picture of this guy serving food and he said “Can you wait for me to put on my mustache? I don’t want to get in trouble by being photographed without it.”:

And then these imaginative, fun loving entrepreneurs serve… Indian and Ethiopian food.

To take real culinary traditions, no matter how delicious, and repackage it as part of a fanciful, imaginary world implies that those ethnic foods, from real ethnic people, are part of a fanciful, imaginary world. Fake country, fake customs, real food? Renaming a country and calling it your own doesn’t make you creative. It makes you guilty of cultural appropriation. If this were an academic paper, it would be called plagiarism. If it were a geographic location is would be called colonialism. If it were a patent, it would be called stealing.

A few people got angry with the truck (racists!). Then some people defended it (overly-sensitives!). The owners themselves kind of apologized (We’re sorry a small minority of people are upset. But you’re wrong. We’re not offensive, we’re whimsical! And magical!). As with many of the minor crimes in this world, the cover up is worse than the crime itself. The ethnic mash-up make believe is questionable. Telling people that they’re in the wrong for being upset, that’s frustrating.

The National Zoo

Someone told me that the National Zoological Park has the most sought after jobs of any of the Smithsonian branches. More than ancient sculpture, or goopy cutting edge installations, or cleaning Judy Garland’s red ruby slippers, people want to work with the animals. Or so it was told to me. Fair enough, the zoo has lions:


And tigers:

And bears, oh my!


The National Gallery of Art, East

Sometimes, when one is told that a museum is free, one might be tempted to think “Well, that’s cute.” One might expect a small farmhouse, dedicated to a local artist. Let me remind you, this is DC. This is where every museum has the words The National at the beginning of it name. And The National Gallery of Art, East, is no exception to the rule. Inside the scaffolding, past the “Open During Construction” sign, is some heavy duty art:


How famous, you ask? Picasso famous:

And by Picasso, of course, I mean multiple Picassos chilling in the same room, right next to each other, like it was no big thing:

And a wall full of Joan Miros. So many, you could have made wallpaper out of them:

Even the building has a pedigree, designed by I.M. Pei (transnational Chinese/American!). I don’t know much about architecture, but the day that I went there, all the pale stone was washed in sunlight. It was very pleasant, a kind of an inside courtroom kind of a thing, complete with fake vines:



The Renwick Gallery

On my quest to visit every Smithsonian museum in the District, I went to visit the Renwick Gallery, dedicated to American crafts. The purpose of the museum is to save the building itself, as much as it is to display the collection. It’s only a few blocks from the White House, so one makes a good side trip for the other:


Inside the museum, as you would expect are arts and crafts-y things. Most of the objects are too arts-y to be used, which is why they’re in a museum where no one can touch them, but also too crafts-y to be displayed in arts museums. Like this set of silver ware:

There’s also a painting gallery, seemingly unrelated to the crafts section of the gallery. I think that the paintings were lovely, but its hard to tell. A lot of them hang so high on the wall that most of what I could see was reflections off the oil paint:

Like I said earlier in the post, if you’re already headed to the White House, the Renwick Gallery makes a nice side trip.

More Floral Print

A few weeks ago, I made it over to the botanical garden on the far edge of the Mall. The blooms have since faded, both in the inside and outside garden, but since we had butterflies yesterday, how about some flowers today? It’s one of the few non-Smithsonian museums I’ve managed to visit here in DC. There are too many museums! Not too many museums. Too little time!

The first thing place I saw was the Rose Garden, which seems like a bit of a misnomer, since many of the plants are not roses. They’re peonies or shrubbery or wild flower-esque fox glove-like things:

The roses that were there, of course, were spectacular. These ones really are orange and yellow. It’s not a product of lighting:

Inside, some of the most exciting plants were not the flowering ones. Orchids are cool, but cacti are cooler:

The greenhouse is divided into climates. Cacti in the desert. Lots of green waxy leaves in the jungle, where misters sprayed every few minutes. And in the Hawaii section, what’s that? A pineapple! Ananas Comosus of the Bromidae family, to be exact:

Summary– at the National Botanical Garden, you’ll see familiar flowers like roses and daisies and hibiscus, but everything is bigger, brighter, and more badass:

The Butterfly Garden

Tucked into the second floor of the National Museum of Natural History is a live butterfly pavilion. It’s bright and humid, just the way live butterflies like it. And because I’m an intern, I get one ticket per week to visit (free, just the way unpaid interns like it):

Because the pavilion is a tight enclosed space, people are let in in groups. I got grouped in with a troupe of pre-teen Girl Scouts. Sadly, one of the Girl Scouts stepped on a butterfly and was gently chastised by a volunteer. No dead bug pictures here.


I found it odd that there were markers all over the place identifying the flowers, but not the butterflies, who, at least in name, should have been the belles of the ball:


The wings are beautiful, to be sure, but what ever made amateur enthusiasts want to kill them and pic them to pieces of cardboard? Was it ownership? A signal that the collector had, in fact, conquered the species instead of simply seeing it and marveling at it? Maybe I don’t understand because pictures don’t involve killing. Maybe I don’t understand because amateur collecting and science overlapped in ways that make me uncomfortable. There are parallels between collecting butterflies, taking African art, and taking indigenous bodies.

The scale of the acts is different, but the attitude is the same. As if the entire world were available for subjugation.