Sunday, April 29, 2007

Community folklore in changing communities

Today I performed (well briefly before injuring my foot and spending the rest of the afternoon sitting with my foot elevated and iced) at Belvedere Planation in Spotsylvania called "Take a Walk through out Past and into Our Future." The event was planned by Spotsylvania county and intended to showcase Spotsylvania's past. The reality is that it was a conglommeration of various reenactment groups representing the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the Virginia Renaissance Faire. There was also a group of Native reenactors, although I'm not sure if they were representing a particular tribe or time in history. Ironically the Renn Faire was there to represent Spotsylvania's future as the county hopes to turn it into a tourism draw, it doesn't really have much to do with the county's past.

What caught my attention though was that all the staff from the plantation that I saw were Latinos. Judging by the carneceria, Latin grocery store, and "Se Habla Espanol" signs I saw, Spotsylvania, like many locales, has a growing Latino population. Latinos were nonexistant as patrons, however, and there were certainly no groups representing Latinos as part of the county's past or future.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a man who ran a museum in Manasses; he said they were often criticized for not involving the local population in activities, but he was having a hard time gathering public interest in Civil War battlefields, because the demographics of the area had changed so much with the influx of immigrants. He didn't know how to interest the new community in a past that was not really thir own.

I'm wondering how this affects public sector folklorists--if you're struggling to maintain the cultural traditions of an area, what do you do when the population changes? How do you keep the community involved?

1 comment:

Erica said...

Wow...that is a really loaded question. And a good one!

Okay, I got it: in an ideal world, a museum or tourist bureau could employ the services of an ethnographer to study the community.

A public sector folklorist would have much to offer the museum (industry?). It is interesting that museums, which we trust with the protection of our past whenever we have room to think about it and feel like making a trip, can be so at risk of detachment.

Don't you think it's ironic that we go through the trouble to preserve the past (at least, these days) in such a feverish manner, and yet 1) we're often disconnected from it, and 2) what we really seem to want is a way to pause, and really look at what's happening in the present?

I think the museum staff may be tempted to think that there is no "history" in the local area to present to the new immigrant community. But that would be a mistake; they are there, they have a history, even if it is a young one. I think it should be mined.

Furthermore, the museum could very easily do some research into the role of Latinos in either the Civil War, or the general period in U.S. history.

That's all I can think of at the moment...