People get tired of reading books. --Vera Rocha, member of the Gabrielino Indian Band
It's not Anthropology 101.
When students arrive for UCLA Extension's "Prologue to the 1990 Los Angeles Arts Festival," they won't be sitting in a lecture hall. Instead, the course--which begins Saturday as an adjunct to September's Los Angeles Festival--will meet at the First Unitarian Church on 8th Street, the first church to provide sanctuary for Salvadoran refugees.
And their first assignment is not a term paper, but to take part in the blessing ritual of California's Gabrielino Indians. The ceremony involves a group leader passing an abalone shell filled with burning white sage among the participants. The Gabrielinos believe that inhaling the smoke drives out evil and carries the prayers to heaven; the abalone shell, "the oldest living thing in the ocean," represents the oneness of all living things.
The blessing opens "The Culture of Relocation," the first in a three-part course designed to examine Los Angeles' emerging ethnic groups outside the dry realm of textbooks and academic research. Later classes will take students to a Korean Buddhist temple and to Maverick's Flat, an Afro-American nightclub in the Crenshaw District credited as "the birthplace of disco." The course, which was offered to 300 to 400 L.A. Unified School District teachers earlier through the Los Angeles Festival, is now being offered to the general public through UCLA Extension.
"You can't always (learn) things from a library, or from a third person," said Phyllis Chang, education coordinator for the Los Angeles Festival. "We've eliminated the third person . . . or the specialist who gets up there and says: 'I have studied Latino culture, and here are my findings.' It is not academic at all."
Said Patrick Scott, the festival's education consultant: "It's experiential thing, participatory as well as didactic. It doesn't require experience in any of these fields to learn from it, and kind of immerse yourself in it."
Vera Rocha, 61, an active member of the 2,500-member Gabrielino tribe, says she and husband Manuel Rocha--who will carry the abalone shell during the blessing--see the class as a platform to defend the Gabrielino culture, specifically to protect sacred Indian burial grounds along the California coast from developer's bulldozers.
And studying Gabrielino history in a library would be impossible, she added. "We don't have a written history, it was all passed down orally. . . . We can't go back 100 years, but our traditions can."
The first class focuses on Cambodian and Guatemalan immigrants as well as California's Indian tribes. "I find myself in the same position as cultures that have come as refugees from other countries," Rocha said. "If our people had someplace to go, we'd go. But this is our land."
The Saturday classes, which represent more than 20 different cultures, continue next week with the "Culture of Ritual," an introduction to Buddhist traditions to be held at the Kwan Um Sa Korean Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, a former synagogue. Scott said that the building, which from the outside appears to be a modest storefront, contains a magnificent series of fabulously decorated temple rooms. "It's an example of what Peter (festival director Peter Sellars) is constantly pointing out, 'the hidden Los Angeles,' " Scott said.
The course concludes with "The Culture of the Community," on Aug. 18, exploring the city's multicultural heritage through music, storytelling and poetry at Maverick's Flat. Chang, 31, who describes herself as "a Korean who was born in a French hospital in Chinatown, who drives a Japanese car," said that the last class is particularly important for educators. "I see multiracialism as an area that is not even being addressed by the schools," she said. "I think by the year 2000, most of the kids in our school system are going to be biracial, if they are not already."
Bobby Matos, a member of the Afro-Cuban jazz group Heritage Ensemble, will perform during the last session. Matos said that the band's music blends cultures in the same way they are being blended in Los Angeles. He hopes that exploring multiculturalism will become more than the trendy thing to do. "Right now, ethnic art is in. This is the year of the Pacific Rim," he said. "Where do you go when the festival is over, back to your day job? . . . Let's not pack it up after the festival."
Another festival seminar open only to educators will be offered Sept. 8: "Nixon in China," a three-hour course offered prior to a preview performance of the American opera by John Adams.
Los Angeles children will also have their chance to participate in the educational component of the festival. UCLA's World Arts and Culture Program will publish an informational "Booklet for Young Readers" representing 12 cultures to be distributed to students aged 10 and up through schools, public libraries and other organizations.
And 25 junior and senior high school students from the Los Angeles Unified School District will be selected to serve as ambassadors during the festival. They will compete through the Young Ambassadors Essay Contest. Contestants write an essay, either in English or in their native language, about their cultural identity. Winners and their teachers will be honored at a reception at the Page Museum on Aug. 25.
Students at Los Angeles' Rosemont Elementary School will experience the culture of Bali through the "Friends Across the Ocean" Children of Bali Education Project. Students at Rosemont are already preparing for the Sept. 1 visit of 27 Balinese children, aged 9 to 15, who will perform at the festival under the auspices of the Festival of Indonesia.
UCLA's Bonnie Goldstein and Lisa Ho, organizers of the visit, said Rosemont students have already received a "video letter" from Bali and are preparing one to send back. The Balinese children will experience Los Angeles' ethnic diversity firsthand at Rosemont, whose student body includes Hispanic, Filipino, Caucasian and African-American children.
"I think the important thing about our program is that (the Balinese) will meet kids that they can talk to, or at least relate to on a personal level--not just brush by," Ho said. "What they know of America is tourists, and that's not the greatest context in which to get to know people."
Balinese children were impressed with Los Angeles' "big streets" when they were shown videos of the city, Ho said. "They are (prepared) to see some big streets and some fast cars," she said.
UCLA Extension's "Prologue to the Los Angeles Festival" is $30 prepaid; single admissions are $15 at the door if space permits. Saturday's seminar, "The Culture of Relocation," meets at First Unitarian Church, 2936 West 8th St. All sessions are from 3-7 p.m. Information: (213) 689-8800.