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Native Americans Explore the Life and Art of Their Ancestors


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Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English.

I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week…

We play music by opera singer Anna Moffo…

Answer a question about the melting pot…

And…Report about a new exhibit of American Indian art.

Listening To Our Ancestors

The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. is offering a new exhibit for its visitors. It shows the art and culture of the people who live on the Northwest coast of the United States and Canada. Barbara Klein tells us about it.

The exhibit is called "Listening To Our Ancestors: The Art of Native Life along the North Pacific Coast."  It includes more than four hundred objects from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Native people used the objects in the American states of Washington and Alaska and British Columbia in Canada. They used the objects in everyday life and for special ceremonies.

Representatives from eleven Native groups worked with museum officials to create the exhibit.  The Native groups include the Coast Salish, Makah, Haida and Tlingit.

The representatives helped decide which objects would be displayed and how they would be presented.  Part of the Coast Salish display from Washington State includes a carved wooden boat called a dugout.  The Haida group lives in British Columbia and Alaska.  Its display includes jewelry made from whale bone.  The Heiltsuk group also lives in British Columbia.  Its display includes beautifully painted masks that cover the face.

The group representatives also provided important information about the objects and how they are used.  One example is the Makah tribe of Neah Bay, Washington State. The tribe has hunted whales for thousands of years.  Boats, spears and other whale-hunting tools are included in its display.

One special area in the exhibit is the Family Activity Room.  It is a place where children and their families can explore the cultures and traditions of the Native groups they are learning about. The students can learn more about the drawings and designs used by the different groups.  They can also learn how the Native groups weave cloth. Preslie Handey and Taylor Bost are teenagers from South Carolina who recently visited the exhibit.  They agreed that the Activity Room was the best part of the exhibit. It gave them a chance to learn more about the way Native Americans live.

Melting Pot

Our VOA listener question this week comes from Vietnam.  Dang Van Khuong asks about the meaning of the term "melting pot" and why it is linked to many ethnic groups.

"Melting pot" means a place where people from many different ethnic groups or cultures form a united society.  The idea comes from heating metals in a container.  When they melt, the metals unite and become something new and stronger. The term has been used to describe the United States as a nation created from people who came here from many different countries.

A Frenchman who was living in America expressed the idea more than two hundred years ago.  J. Hector de Crevecoeur published a book called "Letters From an American Farmer" in seventeen eighty-two.  He wrote that America had people from many different countries.  He said that they would become a new people whose work would one day change the world.

For many years, Americans generally accepted the idea of their country as a melting pot.  They welcomed immigrants from many nations. Yet some of those immigrants criticized the melting pot idea. They felt they were forced to lose their culture and language in order to be accepted in America.  Other people also criticized the idea. They said the aim of the melting pot is to make different cultures disappear into the one representing the largest group.

New groups of immigrants from Asia and Latin America are changing the United States today.  Some are resisting learning American culture and language. Reports say some Americans fear that the nation is separating into many groups that have no shared purpose.  Others say the melting pot is no longer changing the nation's immigrants, but the immigrants are changing America.

Some experts who study immigration say they now compare American society not with a melting pot, but with a salad bowl.  A salad is made of many different foods.  They each keep their own taste while being part of a successful product.  In this way, cultural groups keep their customs and language and are still part of American society.

Anna Moffo

Opera singer Anna Moffo died last month in New York City.  She was seventy-three.  Moffo was a star of the opera stage and also worked in television and in film. Faith Lapidus has our report on the singer and her music.

Anna Moffo was born in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Her beautiful soprano voice was discovered at a school music event when she was just seven years old.

Moffo was a very beautiful young woman.  She was offered work in Hollywood movies right after she graduated from high school.  But she wanted to sing. Moffo went to Philadelphia to study at the Curtis Institute of Music. Later she won a Fulbright Award to study in Italy.  She performed in her first professional opera there in nineteen fifty-five.

Two years later, Anna Moffo sang professionally for the first time in the United States. She sang the role of Mimi in Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme."  Here is a recording of Moffo in another Puccini opera, "Madame Butterfly."

Anna Moffo performed often at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.  She became famous singing the part of Violetta in "La Traviata" by Guiseppe Verdi.

Anna Moffo's star in the opera world burned brightly but also briefly.  She said she worked too hard and traveled too much early in her career.  It was mostly over by the nineteen seventies.

We leave you now with Anna Moffo singing in the opera "Manon" by Jules Massenet.

I'm Doug Johnson.  I hope you enjoyed our program today.

Our show was written by Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver, who also was our producer.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.


"American Mosaic" in VOA Special English
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