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A young woman and her mother sit together, smiling at the camera.
Raising Zoey. Photo courtesy of Transgender Law Center.

Highlighting the Diversity of Families in California

At California Humanities, we recognize that in our diverse state, families, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. The traditional “nuclear” family is only one form that a family can take; there are many roles and relationships that bring us together, help us care for one another, and create bonds that last a lifetime. With Sunday, May 12 bringing us Mother’s Day and May 15 International Day of Families, we are highlighting a few recent projects that focus on themes of families of all kinds, so we can celebrate the diversity and variety of what family means in California.

Picturing and hearing non-traditional families

A card sits in a bouquet of flowers. There is a photocollage on the card, and the words "Visual Voices from Unexpected Caregivers: Pictures from Everyday Life."
The exhibition of opening of Visual Voices from Unexpected Caregivers: Pictures from Everyday Life.

In a community-based project featured photographs and the voices of grandparents and caregivers in the Los Angeles-based exhibit Visual Voices from Unexpected Caregivers: Pictures from Everyday Life. The 2017 Humanities for All Quick Grant awardee, Grandparents as Parents, connected 22 families to the exhibit, which featured photos of their everyday lives, to give voice to these individuals and highlight their struggles to provide a nurturing and safe home for their grandchildren. Many themes arose, including the complex financial and legal challenges that come when assuming child rearing responsibilities. Project Director Scott Appelrouth stated that one of the most rewarding things about doing this project, “was giving these individuals the opportunity to tell their stories not only in words, but through images that they themselves captured and through which they were able to share both the joys and pains of raising their grandchildren. In a media landscape dominated by forever shifting international and domestic crises, the project team is proud to have offered a venue for voices that are left unheard.” This Quick Grant enabled the program team to collect and frame dozens of images which were publicly displayed at California State University, Northridge and at ArtShare, a gallery space located in downtown Los Angeles.

Connecting immigrant families to humanities experiences

A young girl holds a small piece of artworks he made. Behind her are more children and parents.
Courtesy the San Diego Children’s Museum.

Also in 2017, a Humanities for All Project Grant Mi Familia, Mi Historia at the New Children’s Museum in San Diego, supported an exhibit, People + Places, featuring oral history, community stories, exhibits at the museum and in the community. The project, which included contributions from students at UC San Diego, employed a series of humanities-based activities to provide new community engagement and learning opportunities for low-income Latino families living in San Ysidro near the US-Mexico border. This project led to an ongoing collaboration with Casa Familiar and UC San Diego’s Institute of Arts and Humanities, making museum and university culture more accessible for Latina/o families.

Film programs highlight parent-child relationships

Korean adoptee, Dr. Estelle Cooke-Sampson, with photos from Songmo Orphanage, Busan, South Korea. Photo: Allison Shelley

A California Documentary Project grant recipient—filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem—is highlighted this year with two screenings at the Center for Asian American Media’s film festival CAAMFest in San Francisco. On May 18 is a free public showing of her seminal film FIRST PERSON PLURAL at the San Francisco Public Library, which chronicles her own story of adoption from Korean into a white American family. Then comes the world premiere of GEOGRAPHIES OF KINSHIP as the festival’s closing night film. This feature-length documentary about the legacy of the Korean war through the story of adoptees in California and abroad, as they search for their birth families and stories that connect them to the Korean continent and to each other.

REAL BOY, a film supported by the California Documentary Project, depicts the changing relationship between a mother and her 19-year-old as he navigates an evolving gender identity.

Since its premiere at the Frameline Film Festival, national broadcast on PBS’ Independent Lens, and 2018 GLAAD Media Awards Outstanding Documentary nomination, REAL BOY by director Shaleece Haas has provided a window into the emotionally complex relationship between a mother and her transgender son. This California Documentary Project-supported film follows 19-year-old Bennett as he navigates late adolescence and the evolution of his gender identity. Along the way, his mother Suzy makes her own transformation from resistance to acceptance of her trans son. After hundreds of screenings throughout the United States and around the world, REAL BOY continues to inspire audiences and provide a catalyst for often-difficult conversations about family, gender and identity. You can watch REAL BOY on Kanopy with a library login, streaming, or sign up to bring it to your community.

In three free film screenings and community discussions throughout Southern California, audiences watched RAISING ZOEY, a 54-minute film documenting the life of a high school-aged, Latina, transgender teenager and her family’s acceptance of her identity and civil rights. The screenings were all followed by a bilingual question and answer session with film subject Zoey Luna, her mother, and the filmmaker. Partnerships with local community organizations brought different audiences to these Humanities for All Quick Grant events, to create more understanding and dialogue in these cities about family, identity and the ways parents can be good allies to their transgender children.

Events celebrating mothers this weekend

In Fresno on Sunday, May 12, 2019, from 11:30 am to 2 pm, join a Mother’s Day Mariachi Brunch at Arte Américas. Enjoy brunch at the Plaza Paz, and visit special exhibition CAMINOS: Latino History of the Central Valley, in the galleries. Supported by California Humanities through a Humanities for All Project Grant, the exhibit presents the history of the Central Valley’s Latino community, told as a journey. The exhibit is comprised of various forms based on interviews, photographs, posters, and maps—many from community participants.  The story is pieced together against a historical framework developed by a team of researchers, community scholars and student interns, led by historian Dr. Alex Saragoza, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, and a native of Madera, California. CAMINOS follows the paths that brought people to the valley, primarily from Mexico, and their diverse experiences over time and generations.

Tickets are available for purchase at the Tiendita, by phone (559.266.2623) or online. The CAMINOS exhibit will be open for those wishing to bring family and friends.

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