Yesterday our whole family went up to the International Folk Art Market. It was truly an adventure, starting with carpooling to the South Capital transit station, then getting onto the air-conditioned buses which were herded through multiple traffic-vest-wearing volunteer checkpoints into Museum Hill. The event has gotten so big that the operation requires hundreds of volunteers not just working during the market itself, but also throughout the year to handle artist applications, visas, shipping and handling, hosting, and of course transportation. As a transportation planner myself, just the aspect of moving thousands of people to the event is a case-study in itself. I heard on the radio this morning that "more than $700,000 in art was sold in less than four hours during the first night, a 12 percent increase over 2014." It's amazing what this market has come to realize for artists from around the world.
Bringing my daughter this year was a treat. I dressed her up in an outfit from India (Kutch District as I learned from artists at the Market), much to the chagrin of my husband. "Why are you torturing this baby??" He asked, referring to how hot she must have been wearing a heavily embroidered gown. In my defense, she was wearing a bathing suit underneath for the inevitable point in the afternoon when it would become sweltering hot. I said this was the perfect event to wear such an elaborate outfit because people would be dressed up in their traditional garb from their own countries. It's fun to dress up every once in a while. The only dilemma I had with the outfit is that it's not OUR traditional outfit.
This dilemma comes back to me time and again. As an American, I've always felt so "blah" because I don't have one traditional culture. I suppose you could go back four or five generations in my family and pick out some vaguely Prussian ritual, but I have no personal connection to that lineage. If anything, I consider myself to have grown up in a West African tradition, but even that is loose and incomplete. I experimented with trying on different traditions, from religious sects to African rituals, but I've always felt like a fake. I envy the artists who come to the International Folk Art Market adorned with beautiful headdresses, either beaded (African) or silken (Asian) that match a distinct gown from their country. How nice it would be to belong to something.
For our daughter, I have a whimsical idea of connecting her to the Cameroonian traditions of her paternal lineage so that she can have that sense of belonging. I think I can save her from the listless wandering of so many American youths. However even this may be a farce because my husband has never even learned the tribal languages, nor has he participated in any traditional ceremonies. He speaks Pidgin English, a patois spoken in cities, and refuses to wear African/Dutch wax-print fabric. Can I, as the American, instill a cultural identity in our child which is not my own? Probably not. Before I get too depressed about this fact, I can remind myself that as an American living in Santa Fe, I have a unique opportunity to build a global vision for my child. She may not have the connection to Cameroonian tradition that I would like, but she will be exposed to an amazing sampling of marvelous art and people from around the world. We are truly lucky to live in a place that values these cultural expressions and supports people who are maintaining their connection to traditions.