BOTH/AND not EITHER/OR

Immigrant Participatory Arts in Silicon Valley

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 15, No 3 (Fall 2004)

Pia Moriarty

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As part of its mandate to activate neighborhood and community-level cultural activities, Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley (CISV) commissioned cultural anthropologist Pia Moriarty, Ph.D., to observe, document, and assess the participatory performing arts in the immigrant communities that constitute the majority of that region's population. In a preface to Moriarty's report, CISV Executive Director John Kreidler reported results from an earlier survey indicating that 51 percent of all adult residents of Silicon Valley considered themselves to be artists in some way. Moriarty's work was designed as the next step in CISV's quest to understand the complex domain of participatory arts. This article, adapted from her full report, suggests that immigrant arts practices offer a new theoretical framework for understanding community-building, one that draws on two key dimensions of social capital: "bonding" and "bridging."

In Santa Clara County, foreign-born immigrants and their children equal 61 percent of the population. In the State of California, no racial/ethnic group has held a statistical majority since 1999. What does civic engagement look like when the civic body, in the majority, is composed of new-comers? How do participatory arts help communities to reach across traditional ethnic and language boundaries?

Published earlier this year, Immigrant Participatory Arts: An Insight into Community-building in Silicon Valley is the result of a six-month reconnaissance of the ways in which Silicon Valley immigrants are building community through participatory arts practices. The half-year of observation was followed by an analysis of the data collected and a review of the working draft by some of the featured immigrant leaders. Research focused on publicly-accessible community celebrations and festivals: over 100 performances, rehearsals, conversations and planning meetings, amateur museum exhibits, street festivals, ethnic-based arts/language schools, and arts-mediated religious events.

The study finds that immigrant participatory arts offer a vibrant source of social energy and a ready means of proceeding toward the larger task of community-building amidst diversity. Further, during the final analysis and writing, a new framework emerged suggesting that immigrant arts practices offer a structure for understanding the value of participatory arts to community-building.