Category Archives: Museum News

Opening Reception

Between Two Worlds: Untold Stories of Lao Refugees

Sunday March 1, 2020 at the Richmond Museum of History & Culture

Photo by: Lisa Foote
Photo by: Lisa Foote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, March 1, 2020, the Richmond Museum of History & Culture collaborated with the Center for Lao Studies of the traveling exhibit,? ?Between Two Worlds: Untold Stories of Lao Refugees?, to host an opening reception unlike any we?ve had. Despite a couple ominous rain clouds that loomed over the museum and gusty winds, the day was bright with a subtle buzz of excitement that connected all staff and volunteers during our final moments of preparations. This was a reception that embraced history and tradition; inviting guests to reflect on the past as a means to see towards the future.?

It was not long before guests started to funnel in through our courtyard gates. All were greeted with a free reception bag and welcomed to enjoy refreshments, treats, and a plate (or two) of food from the numerous large platters of Lao cuisine generously donated by Champa Garden and the Center for Lao Studies.

 

Photo by: Lisa Foote

 

 

 

Led by our master of ceremonies, Tony Phouanenavong, we officially started our program with a Baci Blessing ceremony; a practice used to call back the 52 different souls that the Lao believe are housed in each of our bodies. The absence of any one of these souls leads to illness, depression and many other ailements. Golden in color, a small altar stood on a mat in our courtyard. The altar was carefully? prepared beforehand; dressed with greenery, dried marigolds and featured bundles of white yarn, fruit, and snacks. As ceremony leader, Mr. Jiangkhamhe approached the altar the audience suppressed their side conversations, bowing their heads in silence. A prayer hummed through all for a calm and still ten minutes. Now blessed and charged, pieces of white yarn from the altar were distributed among guests and tied around wrists. Three days, that?s how long the strings remained on our individual wrists; allowing ample time for all souls to return. The strings bound our newly returned souls to our bodies.?

Representing a brave ancestral warrior, Mr. Alan Keosaeng followed the Baci ceremony with a traditional Khmu* Sword Dance, used to clear spaces of negative energies. With a sword in each hand, Keosaeng gracefully balanced? them above and around him, dancing as he occasionally clashed the two. With the vibrations of each clash, he cleared negative energy through space. [*Lao ethnic group]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest speakers of the program included Melinda McCrary (Richmond Museum Executive Director), Dr. Phoumy Syavong (member of the Between Two Worlds curatorial team), Vinya Sysamouth (Center of Lao Studies Executive Director), and Richmond Khmu community member and Asian Pacific Environmental Network organizer (APEN), Torm Nompraseurt.?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Nompraseurt?s speech which recounts his observations as experiences as Richmond’s first Lao refugee. It did not take Nompraseurt long after arriving in California in 1978 before he began dedicating any free time he had to invest back into his community, both in Lao and in America. Nompraseurt journey made it possible for many more Lao refugees to find a new home in Richmond, California. With decades of community, he is also a long time APEN community organizer working towards equity and environmental justice.

Click here for video coverage of the sword dance and our guest speakers graciously provided by Richmond Pulse.?

?Between Two Worlds: Untold Stories of Lao Refugees? will up until May 29, 2020. Please check our website or Facebook for the latest?updates!?For more photos on this event, check out our Facebook.

The Between Two Words: Untold Stories of Refugees from Laos (B2W) is a project of the Center for Lao Studies. It is made possible with the generous support from The McConnell Foundation,?Turtle Bay Exploration Park,?California Humanities, and?Central Valley Community Foundation.

Honoring Sgt. John Cortez (1923-1944)

Remembering Sgt. John Cortez on Dia de Muertos & Veterans Day

The Museum is honoring former Richmond resident Sgt. John Cisneros Cortez this year for Dia de Muertos and Veterans Day. We chose to honor John because he is one of a handful of Mexican Americans from Richmond that served in World War II. Over the last several years we have used Dia de Muertos as an opportunity to raise awareness about the history of the local Mexican community by creating an ofrenda for a Latino historical figure. A cousin of John Cortez brought us his story earlier in the year and we knew immediately that we needed to share it.

John was born on October 26, 1923 in San Francisco to Jose and Maria Cortez. His father Jose left his home in Morelos, Mexico at 14 years old and entered the United States at El Paso, Texas. Jose made his way to San Francisco where he was worked as a laborer and a fisherman. During World War I, Jose served in the 41st Transportation Company and he was honorably discharged in June 1919. In 1922, Jose and Maria were married. John was born in 1923. They moved to Richmond shortly after and had another son in 1925. Jose applied to be a United States citizen in 1926.

Jose Cortez Petition for Naturalization

John graduated from Richmond Union High School about 1941 and after high school went to work with his Uncle Andrez at Filice & Perelli Canning Company.

John Cisneros Cortez (ca. 1941)

John signed up for selective service in 1942 boldly writing in ?Mexican? as race on his draft card. John enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in February 4, 1943.? John was assigned to the 551st Bomb Squadron, 385th Bomber Group, trained as a radio operator and stationed at RAF Great Ashfield in Suffolk England.?

John survived his first mission on February 3, 1944, targeting Brunswick an important port city in Germany where the deadly German U-boats were berthed. John would not be so fortunate on his second mission to France. On February 13, 1944, John was flying over Calais France in a B17 Bomber nicknamed “Dragon Lady” when his plane was shot by enemy fire. The engines failed one by one as they continued over the English Channel.

Boeing B17 Fortress Bomber with nose art “Dragon Lady”

Heroically, John continued to make distress calls as the plane went down with no regard for his own safety. John was still making distress calls when the air craft crashed into the open water and sunk in the English Channel. John assisted the wounded to escape only to sink with the plane and he was killed in action. John?s unselfish and gallant actions saved the lives of four crew members who were quickly rescued from the water.

551st Bomb Squadron, 385th Bomb Squadron, Heavy

John is memorialized in the Cambridge American Cemetery in Cambridge England. The extended Cortez family continue to live and work in Richmond, California.

 

No Controversy About This Once Missing Arnautoff Mural

No Controversy About This Once Missing Arnautoff Mural

While controversy continues about one famous artist?s mural at a San Francisco high school, an East Bay museum is determined to restore another valuable work by the same person.

The Richmond Museum of History unearthed the mural, ?Richmond an Industrial City? by artist Victor Arnautoff in 2014.? It had hung in the Richmond Post office from 1941 until 1976 when mural was taken down due to remodeling. ?Decades passed, the crate went missing, and mural was eventually declared lost.

Now the Museum has scheduled a gala for September 12 with a silent auction at 5:30 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. at the Rockefeller Lodge, 2650 Market Ave. in San Pablo. Proceeds from the fundraiser will be used to restore the mural.

?This is a compelling work that captures the diversity of Richmond, a blue collar community,? says Melinda McCrary, the Museum?s Executive Director. ?A wide range of occupations, ethnicities and scenery demonstrate what life was like in those days. Richmond was working class American community.?

When Arnautoff painted the mural, he was one of the most prominent and influential members of San Francisco?s ?arts community. Between 1932 and 1942, he completed 11public murals, the best known of which is City Life (1934) at Coit Tower in San Francisco. The Richmond Post Office mural was Arnautoff’s last mural of this size and the first time since Coit Tower that he chose to depict a mix of city people going about their daily tasks.. His mural presents life in Richmond as of 1941?when war was on the horizon.? An image of the mural is on the Museum?s website.

?We are looking at this event not only as a way to raise funds to restore the mural but also a celebration of a work of art that was created especially for Richmond.? It is an extraordinary honor and we hope the community will help,? says McCrary.

Tickets for the event can be purchased at https://richmondmuseum.org/event/2019dinner/

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