This time last year, Nepal continued to rumble with aftershocks from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit on April 25, killing nearly 9,000 people and leaving an estimated 900,000 homeless.
In the hours, weeks, months, and year since, we’ve heard eyewitness accounts from survivors, and about the bureaucratic obstacles and lack of infrastructure that make the rebuilding process a slow one.
What we haven’t heard, however, are the stories of Nepali and Tibetan women living in America who were deeply impacted by the traumatic event. On Wednesday, 11 women will tell their own stories at an event at the Rubin Museum called “A Letter Home.”
“They got calls asking for assistance from relatives [in Nepal],” said writer Meera Nair, who worked with the women storytellers. “Nobody has any idea of what life is like in America and that [these women] don’t make a lot of money … everyone thinks we’re living in paradise here.”
Nair recently partnered with Nepali social justice organization Adhikaar and Asian American arts programmer Kundiman to teach a four-week writing workshop. Several of the 11 women in the program work in nail salons or as domestic workers. The idea was to process the devastation of the earthquake through writing, and also tap into the strong history of South Asian storytelling—even if the women did not have a formal writing background.
There were a lot of tears during the first of four workshops.
“They talked about leaving home, memories of home, and what ‘home’ means,” Nair said. “It was a huge cathartic moment. One woman told us ‘no one asks us about our home’ and others shared painful stories about not seeing their children in more than 10 years.”
Throughout the four-week workshop, Nair prompted the women using oral history techniques and guided them through writing a letter.
Two of the women have shared their stories at a reading. The group of 11 will read their letters home for the first time at the Rubin event.
“These are voices you don’t hear in this country. These women are invisible people who come in and out of your house to clean,” Nair said. “These are people with real stories and they want to tell their stories so people will not see them in the same way ever again. They are so aware of what their role is.”
Tashi Chodron, the Rubin’s assistant manager of Himalayan cultural programs, will lead a tour through the museum before the reading, stopping at strong female Buddhist pieces.
The reading is part of a monthly series called the Himalayan Heritage Program that helps the Himalayan community share their living culture and tradition, and for the friends of the Himalayas to connect with the gallery’s art, Chodron said.
“A Letter Home” will take place from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on May 4 at the Rubin Museum of Art. Tickets are $13.50 for museum members and $15 for nonmembers. More information at http://rubinmuseum.org/events/event/a-letter-home-05-04-2016.
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