We’ve launched the latest episode of Out of the Rehearsal Hall on May 10. On that day in 1869, the eastern and western halves of the country were joined by the Transcontinental Railroad, which could not have been completed without laborers recruited from China. And that is one of the reasons that May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. (Do you know the Rochester connection to this month? It was proposed in Congress by Frank Horton, who represented Rochester in the House of Representatives from 1963-1993. Here’s a full history of how the month came to be.)
This episode features the Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World exhibit at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, which inspired Geva’s Tenacious Women project. We start by talking with Kathryn Murano Santos about the innovative and inclusive process that led to this exhibit. And then, sisters Mimi W. Lee and Lily Lee share the incredible inspiration of their mother, the events that led them to create the Asian/Pacific Islander/American Association of Greater Rochester, and the role of education in combatting Anti-Asian hate. And in the final segment of the episode, we feature writer, editor and historian Joan Coles Howard and Youth History Ambassadors from Teen Empowerment, Tashiana Williams and Nino Irizarry in a discussion about the importance of sharing our history through generations.
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Kathryn Murano Santos
Kathryn Murano Santos is the Senior Director for Collections and Exhibits at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, and we actually met first when the Rochester Area Suffrage Centennial Association was meeting to plan the 2017 exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in New York State. (You can view the digital exhibit here.) During this first part of the episode, we talked about the inspiration for the exhibit, which included a desire to highlight incredible people from history that we don’t celebrate often enough – people like Martha Matilda Harper and Ga-hah-no Caroline Parker Mt. Pleasant. In order to create an inclusive exhibit, the museum changed their exhibit creation process, asking community curators to participate in the planning, and hiring EDI Consultants, at the urging of Rachel DeGuzman. You can see the full list of community curators here.
Mimi W. Lee and Lily Lee
Sisters Mimi W. Lee and Lily Lee moved their whole family to Rochester from New York City, shortly after they both graduated from college. And shortly after arriving, realized that they had an important role to play in sharing their Chinese heritage with their new community here. They founded the Rochester Chinese Community Association and then also the Asian/Pacific Islander/American Association. APAA has been very active over the last several years, documenting the oral histories of Asian Americans in Rochester. One particularly memorable project featured photos taken by the late Corky Lee, which were exhibited at City Hall. And we also discussed the current violence being enacted upon Asian Americans in the United States, and the importance of education – like the Changemakers exhibit – in putting a stop to it.
Joan Coles Howard, Tashiana Williams and Nino Irizarry
The third segment of the episode continued that conversation about the importance of passing on history to new generations. Joan Coles Howard is a social entrepreneur who has shared her love of African heritage and culture throughout her life. In the 1960s and 70s, Joan opened the Uhuru stores to make African heritage more accessible to Rochester’s Black community. From 1992-1996, she edited The Frederick Douglass Voice newspaper, which her father had founded in 1933. And she dedicates her time now to connecting city teens with the true history of Africa and African Americans. Tashiana Williams is currently a sophomore at School of the Arts, and has been working Teen Empowerment as a Youth History Ambassador for about 2 years. As a Youth History Ambassador she’s had the chance to make a change by participating in the creation of the documentary, Clarissa Uprooted, participating in radio shows, talk backs, and a curriculum with Shane Winegand. And she wants everyone to know that, “At just 16 years old, alongside others I have made a difference in this city and you can too.” And Nino Irizarry is a junior at Wilson Commencement High School, and has been working with Teen Empowerment as a Youth History Ambassador and Youth Organizer. All three women were community curators for the Changemakers exhibit, and Joan Coles Howard is one of the featured Changemakers.
It was a perfect way to end the episode, by talking about how understanding our past can influence the future. We discussed the importance of the documentary Clarissa Uprooted, and the impact that the film and the process of creating it had on the evenyone involved. (You can watch the film online, and see the impact for yourself!)
The Changemakers exhibit closes on May 16.