“Spit me a poem about rebirth and redefining home. About the ways your forefathers died and the ways that you have grown. Though I do not sound like my ancestors, I still practice their traditions. These bones still remember their stories.”
During the last week of February, William Nu’utupu Giles, a fa’fafine second generation Samoan Immigrant, Poet, and Arts Educator born in Honolulu, Hawaii, visited Akron as a stop on his national poetry tour for his upcoming book Until Name Becomes Prayer. He stayed in one of the Airbnb rooms for three nights at the Exchange House, Better Block’s project in Akron that aims to support, empower, and culturally enrich the North Hill community. Giles was visiting Akron to perform in a multicultural, interdisciplinary arts celebration, facilitated poetry workshops with Akron youth, and shared his story as inspiration for writing creative stories.
On the second night of his stay, Giles joined an open mic event that we hosted in response to Until Name Becomes Prayer. Members from the North Hill community joined the evening of karaoke, poem sharing, and open games. Nepali artists took to the stage to sing and share original poetry, as well as were given a comfortable space for Will and the artists to connect about language and history. The house created an environment that allowed them all to explore their identities about “rebirth and redefining home” in a place like Akron, Ohio.
A week after Will left, two filmmakers, Yatin Parkhani and Binod Poudel, came to stay at the Exchange House for seven nights. Yatin is an Indian-American filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles and Binod is a Nepalese filmmaker who lives in Kathmandu. They visited Akron to simultaneously work on a documentary and an original script about the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese, or Lhotsampa. Neither had been to Akron before but they came with an understanding that there is a robust and thriving Lhotsampa community to explore.
Throughout the week, Yatin and Binod met with Nepali community leaders to talk with them about their personal stories and experiences. At times they traveled through the city, meeting with community organizations like Shanti Community Farms to see their urban farming work in North Hill. Other times, they set up on the first floor of the house and conducted small story circles and interactive workshops. They were able to utilize the Exchange House as a central, public space and our partnerships as a network to reach out to the community.
In both instances, we hosted artists to Akron but for very different reasons. For Will Giles, it was to share and perform his work, a testament to his Oceanic history and identity. He came to reach a large number of Akronites in addition to listening to the community that surrounds us. He empowered and equipped the youth of this neighborhood to be proud of their story and accomplishments in their new home.
For Yatin and Binod, it was to research the stories of our beloved community. They wanted to elevate it on a national scale so that the rest of the world begins to understand the painful past of our neighbors. Binod plans to return to Akron this summer for an extended stay to dig deeper into this community by building richer relationships and by listening for a longer period of time.
Both instances demonstrate the unique position we’re in as a public space in North Hill. We have the potential to bring people together from different places while also exploring the complex identities of other cultures.