Kinh T. Vu is originally from Saigon, Vietnam. He is a doctoral student in music education at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Vu earned a bachelor of music degree in music education from Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, and a master of music degree in wind conducting from Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania. As a 2011-12 Imagining America Publicly Active Graduate Education Fellow, his current research centers on Hmong hip-hop and youth arts culture in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and focuses on how youth arts culture, particularly hip-hop artists, are encouraged to share their voices with one another in their city to confront issues associated with social justice. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Times March 24, 2010.
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What sustains life in my community?
Kinh T. Vu
August 28, 2011
I come from multiple communities. They breathe in both disparate and unified ways that edify the person I am today and who I will be tomorrow. My utopian community is one in which all my pasts – places and people – are intricately intertwined, woven into a seamless spread of rich golden hues, deep purple pageants, and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate morsels. But this vision, this utopia has become my own dystopia, one in which I realize from the outside that things are not as they appear. Yet the tears and rips are always beautiful. My “multiple-communitied” past is threaded together with cantankerous soars, thorny vines, and realities manifested into all sorts of memories.
Throughout my adult life, I have come to love imperfection, even if seemingly orderly people, places, events, and items have to be arranged into some artistic-looking, asymmetrical vignette. Embracing imperfection was once a breathless proposition for me, literally taking my breath away to a point of hyperventilation. Today, that breathless proposition is exhilarating. My communities – my multiple, imperfect communities – sewn together in raggle-taggle patchwork tapestries, well, are absolutely perfect.
Perfect is a good word to describe the Walker’s Living Classroom and Open Field on August 18. There was a clear and present sense of community derived from the number and spirit of the participants. Amidst the contemporary art museum’s towers, the sculpture garden, and nearby park, an awareness of community boiled to the surface, drowning out 16 lanes of traffic that bisect the downtown sector and the parade. I had never considered this part of town particularly friendly to those people who wish to commune with one another in the Loring, Uptown, and Lowry Hill neighborhoods simply due to the innumerable autos trolling the roadways. My assumption, a less-than-complimentary tangle of metaphorical streets, is incorrect. There is a vibrant, invigorating, and rich community surrounding the Walker Art Center.
Regardless of my preconceptions, I recently chose a new community: I chose to move to the Loring neighborhood. Hunkering down on the fringe of steel and glass canyons, Loring feels to me like my former Boston cityscape. With hip eateries, shops, and a sprawling, 32-acre green space, my new neighborhood is becoming a community. Whether seeing the same passersby on the street below from day to day or eating pho at Lotus Vietnamese restaurant, the newness is becoming familiar and maybe even sounding a bit like white noise, but a community is emerging nonetheless.
But what sustains life in my new community? I mentioned earlier that my communities are multiple. In fact, they dot the eastern seaboard and even Eastern Europe. How do I proceed to identify sustenance of any sort when I refuse to “hang” in any neighborhood for more than a few years? The answer is easy: I build meaningful relationships with people that transcend time, and particularly place. My affable personality enables me to construct support networks with a multitude of people wherever I live. There are probably a number of intervening variables that contribute to my personal sense of community (local or otherwise), but the most salient variable is the ways in which I connect to people.
Through my research connections, I have the honor of working with MCs, spoken word poets, and other youth artists in Saint Paul’s Hmong community. The kind of community to which I am contributing through academic endeavors is one where I must be intentional about loving, learning, engaging, and expanding arts opportunities that incite and “insight” public awareness about critical issues touching people in their homes, schools, places of worship, and community centers. Living Classroom performers like Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Tish Jones give me hope that there is an interconnectedness that bridges our personal experiences to our collective, justice-seeking ones.
One of my professors notes, “All research is me-search.” She is absolutely correct. Research projects often stem from a burning desire to know something more about one’s own interests. But “me-search” can only be part of the experience. I cannot merely learn about me; it is my bounden duty to discover how I contribute to humanity, how I actually make a clear and present impact with and on others. What does that impact look like? How does it sustain life in the researched community? I know from past experiences that I will receive more sustenance from my participants than they will receive from me. Sustaining life means giving back or “paying it forward.” It means living and researching symbiotically with others; everyone must benefit.
Open Field brings to life a “world in the city” perspective. From an arts focus on the Northside Renga Community Poem and Voices on Sustainability to Puerto Rican Bomba, artists shared a microcosmic world that seemed to represent our globe; cultures seemed to sustain one another, a symbiosis. They were so close, so tangible, so full of life, so rich on that perfect August day. Our Minneapolis community is rich; however, I sense its interconnectedness is tenuous. Race, ethnicity, religion, and politics, to name only some, are complex characters dancing a multifaceted, un-choreographed dance with no rules save one: Coexist peaceably. Even that rule is broken from time to time, and that, friends, is beautiful.
Thanks to the Walker Art Center’s Living Classroom and Open Field for drawing together the Minneapolis community for a day of loving, learning, exploration, and creation. You’ve broadened my Minneapolis horizon and given me an opportunity to reflect on my past and project a future full of breathless, not lifeless, adventures.
I am breathless.
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The Education & Community Programs department is asked a handful of talented writers and artistic interpreters from distinct perspectives to serve as Citizen Journalists and correspondents for the Living Classroom, with a focus on generating community-centric documentation of the event. We sought individuals from distinct perspectives — people interested and grounded in communities facing the issues at hand. Sonja Kuftinec, Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Minnesota, and an organizer for the Imagining America conference happening in Minneapolis September 22-24, provided recommendations, with final selection by Associate Director of Public & Interpretive Programs Susy Bielak and Open Field Coordinator Scott Artley.