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Community: Resistance, Reclamation, and Re-Creation

“Community: Resistance, Reclamation and Re-creation” is the theme for the 2017 meeting of the American Folklore Society in Minneapolis because, as folklorists, we are committed to exploring the absent, invisible, and counter narratives of communities in our midst. These narratives can be sites of re-creating community in the face of disruption, reclaiming traditional knowledge, and resisting the power structures that silence or marginalize these narratives.

The image frequently used to characterize Minnesota is that it is “Scandinavian Country”—settled by hard working but fairly homogeneous Scandinavians and other Northern European immigrants. While as a part of the Upper Midwest region, this image is important and true, it is only partially true. The story of immigration is a key theme in our state and region; this image captures a dominant narrative that invisibilizes (à la Dixon Gottschild) the fuller stories of Minnesota.

In reality, Minnesota has for centuries been a multicultural place, a place of multicultural settlement, dispersion, and resettlement. It has been and continues to be a nexus of multicultural intermingling, segregation, and transgression. It is urban, suburban, and rural, and this is expressed in crafted and embodied and material forms. Long before Mnisota was settled by Euro Americans, it was—and still is—an indigenous place—a Dakota place, later shared with the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe). Germans, Eastern Europeans and others have also settled here. More recently, Minnesota has been linked to a stream of transient Latino migrant workers who harvested sugar beets annually, and as a result, some later chose to settle in the state. Today, the state is a place of resettlement for international as well as domestic refugees (including African American migrants) fleeing violence and seeking economic opportunity. Minnesota leads the nation in Korean adoptions. Hmong, Karen, Somali, Oromo and Sudanese refugee settlements in Minnesota are among the largest in the country.

From community cultural institutions to social justice movements, Minnesota (and the Twin Cities area in particular) also hosts numerous examples of counter narrative traditions of resistance, reclamation and re-creation, as exemplified by the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War resulting in the mass hanging of the Dakota 38 and the expulsion of Dakota people from Minnesota; current Dakota and Anishinaabeg land and language recovery initiatives; the founding and operation of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in Minneapolis; Duluth’s reconciliation over the 1920s lynching of three innocent African American men; the oral history project of the Twin Cities Rondo neighborhood to reclaim stories of a community decimated by the construction of I-94; and refugee initiatives to shape culturally responsive educational strategies for students from those communities all across the state, to name a few. Most publicized recently, the Minneapolis chapter of the Black Lives Matter Movement is one of the most active in the nation.

Where are the narratives of such communities? Whose stories get to be told, sanctioned and studied and whose do not? What does it mean that the richness of the cultures of these communities is invisible in the stories told about Minnesota and the region? When an exclusionary dominant narrative is the worldview accepted as THE story, what costs do communities outside the dominant group pay in terms of sustaining their traditions? How can folklore theory and practice engage with social justice praxis to better illuminate more complex and multicultural narratives and histories of place? How do power, privilege, whiteness, and intersectionality shape tradition in situations of forced migration? Where are those narratives that reinforce or challenge systems of exclusion? If dominant stories confer power, how do counter narratives operate? What are the cultural costs and benefits of rebuilding communities and recreating homes in places occupied by others? What does a social justice lens reveal about recreating home in a new environment designated, shaped and controlled by others? How is culture conserved or changed when home is a contested place for indigenous people, migrants, immigrants or settlers? How do such experiences transform or generate the expressive cultures of these groups in the new environment?

The 2017 AFS annual meeting local planning committee believes folklore and folkloristics has the potential to draw together disparate narratives across the breadth of expressive genres—including stories of structural injustice and also resistance against those injustices—in order to envision a more complex, multicultural and inclusive reality. We invite participants to examine, interpret and explore the breadth of this topic in the form of papers (10 or 20-minute presentations), panels, forums, films, diamond and new types of presentations. Conference participants may reflect on the relevance to emergent theories, methodologies and ethics of the intersection of folklore and social justice in examining the rebuilding of communities and recreating home, the significance of absent, counter, or invisible narratives to our understandings of historical and contemporary places, and on multicultural local narratives. Relevant topics especially include cultural issues facing transnational communities, New Americans and communities of color as well as other communities (eg, disabilities or LGBTQ) whose identities and cultures have been invisible. The work of public folklorists and folklorists in the schools may have much to offer on this topic as well. Of course, in addition to this topic, we encourage participants to explore the full dimensions of their scholarship, regardless of topic.


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