How art and language education helps bring diverse SoCal populations together – Orange County Register

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Phung Huynh is full of hope for the future.

As an art teacher at Los Angeles Valley College, she is constantly inspired by the next generation. “I feel so lucky for this,” she said. “There is an exciting new group of artists coming up right now. “

As an educator with previous experience at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design and Scripps College in Claremont, Huynh continues to nurture budding talent. “I’m getting old,” she said. “I have to provide a platform for younger and emerging artists. I try to do it the best that I can and support others.

Phung Huynh poses for a portrait in front of his ancestral altar inside his home in South Pasadena on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Huynh, who is the Office of Immigrant Affairs’ first creative strategist, often wonders: How do you teach culture in Southern California?

One way is through language. The French Heritage in La Habra, the International School of Orange and The Language Academy at Aronoff Preschool in Irvine, not to mention the Irvine Chinese School and the Chinese Cultural Center, are just a few places in our area that offer language courses. immersive for the youngest. . Children spend their school days conversing entirely in French, Mandarin, Italian and Spanish. Circle time and songs are taught in foreign languages.

In Aronoff, children are also introduced to Jewish culture in a fun way. Shabbat Star students light candles for the Friday school assembly and prayers are sung like Hebrew rhymes.

Studies have shown that language immersion leads to long term gains in education. It also gives children insight into other cultures. The State of California agrees that multilingual academics are important. Recently, the California Department of Education created this goal: “By 2030, half of all K-12 students will participate in programs leading to proficiency in two or more languages, either through ‘a course, program or experience. By 2040, three in four students will master one or more languages, which will earn them a state seal of dual literacy.

Translation: California’s multilingual education programs will make our children better citizens of the world.

For older students looking for extra-curricular assistance, Language Door in Irvine offers in-person and online classes. Arabic, Armenian, Polish, Russian, German, Dutch, Hindi and Hungarian – over 40 languages ​​are available.

But speaking is only one aspect of culture. What about customs, traditions and tastes?

At Tustin’s Chinmaya Mission, students learn about Hindu culture taught by swamis. Loosely translated to mean “father” or “pastor,” the swamis lead a series of guided Nirvana Shatkam meditation classes and Vedanta classes, while an on-site early childhood learning center introduces young learners to the traditions. Hindu.

This year, other teachers have started offering cultural courses online. The pandemic has led instructors – including Kat McDowell, who teaches Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery – to pivot in the way they approach students.

The Kintsugi Academy revitalized an ancient Japanese art form after the tsunami that devastated the country in 2011. The idea is to honor our broken pieces by mending cracked cups and bowls. The idea that we celebrate our scars and rebuild, even when you feel broken, resonated with many during the lockdown. Isolated teens have also found solace in McDowell’s classes.

In the spring, she plans to hold intimate in-person workshops. But for now, her online sessions and performances – via the live streaming platform Twitch – are the means by which she reaches a younger audience. (More than a third of Twitch viewers are between the ages of 10 and 19.)

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The culture in Southern California is an amalgamation of different countries. We work here in a way that shapes the art and jargon of our region. It also perfumes the food we eat.

The Little Arabia district in West Anaheim offers flavors from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Turkey. In the 1990s, this region began to cultivate a thriving Arab-American community centered on neighboring religious centers – mosques, Coptic Orthodox and Arab Christian churches. Yet, it is the food that most of the locals are familiar with. Egyptian-style feasts at El Mahroosa Restaurant in Anaheim are delicious ways to introduce kids to another country.

Other cities like Irvine host pop-up experiences. The 43rd Annual Greek Saint Paul Festival, October 8-10, offers “a taste of the Greek Islands without leaving Southern California”. The festivities include dancing, music and Greek food. Each bite is a point of reference for understanding another culture.

In a similar vein, the 47th annual Valley Greek Fest will return to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge on Memorial Day weekend 2022.

For Huynh, the food also symbolizes his immigration experience – specifically, donuts, as 90% of all independent SoCal donut shops are run by Cambodian families.

“As a child, my parents took us to Ted Ngoy, the Donut King. My father is a survivor of the [Khmer Rouge] genocide in Cambodia. He traveled to Vietnam by bicycle to seek asylum. … So I have the impression that the drawings of the pink box that I do refer to food as a culture and as a way of talking about our experience of assimilation.

Huynh talks about his next work, titled “Donut Hole: Portraits on Pink Donut Boxes of the Second Generation”. It focuses on “The Donut Kids” from Southern California.

“These are kids who grew up in donut shops,” she says. “Their parents would take them to the donut store at 3 am, put them on the sacks of flour to sleep in while their parents made donuts, then get them up to go to school. These kids worked in the donut shops, did their homework in the donut shops, so I am very happy to honor them.

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Honoring our past is something Huynh examines in his public art commissions for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The idea is that through these images, passers-by discover the past of a neighborhood and immerse themselves in part of its cultural heritage.

“Especially for public art, it’s a service to the community,” says Huynh. “It’s important to research history. Not just written history as much of written history is favored by those who can afford to write it. But the story of workers who do not have time to write their history. For me, it’s important that public art reflects the community… So I research and interview the people who live there. I try to do it because it gives me the opportunity to learn.

At a metro station in El Monte, Huynh’s play “In the Meadow” features a lion’s head, a nod to the closed Gay’s Lion Farm theme park and the local high school mascot – a glimpse into the past. the city. Who knew El Monte once had a theme park dedicated to lions? Huynh wants us to remember our past so that we can build a better future.

“History is alive,” she insists.

Phung Huynh’s work refers to his Cambodian heritage. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

In Laurel Canyon / Valley Village, “Lucky California” features whimsical cherubs playing in blooming California poppies and plump oranges. For the Alhambra Bruscard poster, Huynh delved into the city’s history and painted his innovative iron pipe system, the first of its kind in California.

As an educator, Huynh encourages the next generation of artists to create their own path. Their cultural identity should not limit them. She credits her relationship with another retired LA-based artist / activist and teacher for her passionate connection to history.

“It’s from Charles Dailey, my mentor,” she said. “There are so many healing and connecting points in this relationship for me. When you are a refugee from the Vietnam war [like me], and you see all those horrible Hollywood movies where Asians don’t have speaking roles, women are objectified; and then for Mr. Dailey, my second daddy [and an African American Vietnam veteran], calls me her child and convinces my parents: “Let her be an artist” rather than a doctor or a lawyer. “She’s going to be okay. He believed in me. It is life changing and it is powerful.


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