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Tamejavi is a linguistic potpourri comprised of the Hmong, Spanish, and Mixtec words for "market." The combination of the Hmong "taj laj tshav puam," the Spanish "mercado," and the Mixtec "nunjavi" is representative of the Valley itself: different languages and cultures coming together to form something new and specific to the region.
The festival, sponsored by the non-profit Pan Valley Institute through grants from the James Irvine Foundation and others, hopes to create a dialogue among Fresno's large immigrant and refugee population. Through dance, theatre, music, poetry, workshops and food, the organizers hope to use "such outlets to strengthen cultural learning and reflection among immigrant and refugee communities." The first Tamejavi Festival took place in 2002.
While there are many local celebrations of diverse culture, none is as ambitious as Tamejavi. You may be able to see Oaxacan folk dance, Cambodian opera, and Pakistani singing elsewhere in the Valley, but Tamejavi is the only event that attempts to bring it all together.
But open dialogue among diverse populations can get cantankerous.
The crowning jewel in the Tamejavi crown was to be the mural, painted by local artists Ramiro Martinez and Tim Hernandez. In a workshop and brainstorming session, members of the Valley's diverse communities shared their thoughts and experiences with the artists to create a cohesive image representative of all involved.
"We invited everyone in the community to give their input," explained Tim Hernandez, one of the artists commissioned to create the mural. "We took this information and made a sketch."
The sketch depicted three worlds, representing the past, present, and future. As Hernandez explained, the one commonality among the diverse parties involved was the soil. The immigrants and refugees all spoke of their connection with the land; the mural shows the people who support and work the earth. After the workshop, Hernandez and Martinez presented their sketch to the group and were asked to make one revision.
But after the eight-foot by twelve-foot mural had been completed, the artists were informed there was a problem. In the mural, the artists had depicted a man playing the traditional Hmong funeral instrument, the "qeej." The problem, from the point of view of some elder Hmong community members, was that the man was naked. In Hmong culture, individuals passing to the next world are always clothed, and the "qeej" player wears special attire at funeral ceremonies. The younger generations involved in the mural workshop did not raise objection.
Denied a dialogue with those who objected to the image, Hernandez and Martinez reluctantly changed the mural. There will however, be a workshop and DVD on the creative process behind the mural and there will be discussion of how and why the finished mural came to be.
"That's what Tamejavi is about," said Hernandez. "It's about changing social and cultural dynamics."
Even within a festival celebrating cultural exchange and cross-pollination, there are things people are reluctant to discuss. The completed mural will be unveiled at the opening ceremony and on display throughout the festival. Brian Medina, who attended the first Tamejavi Festival and is one of the performers this year, says, "Tamejavi is a very cultural thing - you get to see people be people and do what they enjoy."A favorite from 2002 brought back for an encore performance is the comedy of Tou Ger Xiong. This Hmong comic from Minnesota was a hit in 2002. Sporting a "Got rice?" T-shirt, Xiong poked fun at the challenges of being Hmong in America the way African-American and Latino comics have before him. The "star" of the festival, he performs at the Tower Theatre on Saturday, October 2nd at noon. All Tamejavi events are free of charge. Another favorite revived for Tamejavi is the Ahh Yeah Poetry Jam. This "revisited" version of poet Devoya Mayo's popular spoken word show will be hosted by Modesto's Sam Pierstoff of Slam on Rye. The Jam is accompanied by the music of the B-Side Players, a Southern California seven-piece that bounces from funk to rock to soul to Latin to help you get your groove on. They'll be backing up the poets and then doing their own set after the Jam. Ahh Yeah rocks the Tower Theatre at 2:30pm on Saturday, October 2nd, and the B-Side Players take over at 3:30pm. Not to be missed. As part of Tamejavi, Arte Americas is hosting world-renowned photographer David Bacon's photo project, "Beyond Borders." This photo-documentary explores the transnational community established by migrants who journey between the US, Mexico, and Guatemala. This exhibit will be on display throughout Tamejavi at Arte Americas, 1630 Van Ness.
For anyone who enjoys film, the Oscar-nominated documentary "Balseros" is not to be missed. The story of Cuban refugees who risked their lives in homemade rafts to reach the United States, the film follows those who are forced to turn back, are picked up by the Coast Guard and taken to Guantanamo, and those who make it to the United States. The filmmakers follow up with the immigrants after seven years to see how their lives have changed in the US. "Balseros" is playing the Starline Saturday, October 2nd, at 4:30pm. Here's your chance to see an Oscar-nominated film on the big screen for free. Take advantage. On Saturday, October 2nd, Tamejavi will present locally-produced documentaries in its video series, featuring works on the P'urhepecha, a people indigenous to Michoacan, Mexico; youth empowerment; and being young, urban, and Hmong. The video series takes place at the Starline on Saturday at 11am.In addition to these and other performances, there will be food, crafts and entertainment all day in the Tower Theatre parking lot. Consult the Tamejavi website for more information.
The Tamejavi Festival takes place Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 1 through 3. Visit www.tamejavi.org for more information.