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Asian American Center holds first fellowship visit with Theodore S. Gonzalves

190620 Smithsonian head shot copy.jpg

Theodore S. Gonzalves spoke at the Asian American Center on Oct. 28.

The Asian American Center hosted its first AAC Fellows visit on Thursday – a lecture and conversation with Theodore S. Gonzalves, the curator of Asian Pacific American History at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute and the interim director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. 

UNC does not currently have an Asian American studies department. The Fellows visits and the fellowship program is part of a larger goal at the AAC to connect students with resources that the University does not otherwise provide, said Krupal Amin, the associate director of the AAC.

“We’re trying to invite different cohorts of scholars, community organizers and artists to have their research conversations with each other, so that we can provide access to students," Amin told The Daily Tar Heel. "To be able to listen to those conversations, to be able to gain access to that knowledge, to be able to see talks like this where they can’t take a class, but they can come listen to a talk.”   

"Asian American studies is an academic field that grew out of the Asian American movement, which allowed people to identify with each other in radical new ways," Gonzalves said. 

“So they saw themselves as part of a global majority, not only as persons of color but as part of revolutionary movements that were spanning the globe," Gonzalves said. "That puts you into a different light, and also it gives you another way to think about the march of history and your place in the world.”

The main topic of Gonzalves' talk was Pilipino Cultural Night, an annual performance event originating from Filipino students at various West Coast universities in the '70s and '80s, and the subject of Gonzalves’ second book, "The Day the Dancers Stayed: Performing in the Filipino/American Diaspora." 

Gonzalves explained how the dances performed at PCN connect to specific moments in Filipino-American history over the last century. Some of the connections he made included the Philippines' transition to an independent nation in the '40s and the response that Filipino dance group Bayanihan received from American media when it debuted in the U.S. theatre scene. 

Pilipino Cultural Night directly addresses and engages with some of the identity struggles that Filipino-American youth face, Gonzalves said.

Finally, he commented on some of the Filipino items currently owned by the Smithsonian. Specifically, he reflected on the way Filipino human remains were originally recorded in 1905, lacking comprehensive descriptions and names. 

Gonzalves ended the talk with a few questions for the audience to consider.

“How should we pay our respects to our ancestors?" Gonzalves posed. "What rituals do we need to enact to call their memories to our present? How are we to remember their names and honor their final resting places? Are they at rest, and can we ever be?”

Ashlee Monton, a second-year graduate student in the American studies department who attended the event, said they really enjoyed the talk because of how rare these events are. 

“I thought that Dr. Gonzalves' talk was amazing, just because of how little the Asian-American presence, or at least the Asian-American academic presence is on campus, at UNC," Monton said. "I think it’s just really nice to be able to see somebody who actually looks like me, who actually knows the community and is able to talk about it in a thoughtful way because he’s a part of the community itself."

Amin said that any interested students should take advantage of the AAC and its offerings. 

"We also try to make sure that students have access to having lunch with the speakers, or at least coffee or some kind of meet and greet, so be on the lookout for that," Amin said.

The next events in this series will feature Professor Sean Metzger from the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and TV, and Professor Samah Choudhury from the Ithaca College department of philosophy and religion.

@_aishabee_ |

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Aisha Baiocchi

Aisha Baiocchi is the 2023-24 enterprise managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer on the university desk. Aisha is a junior majoring in journalism at UNC and international comparative studies at Duke University, as well as a minor in history.