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This year the American Anthropological Association continued its collaboration with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to produce On the Move. Supported by material from the Association’s World on the Move, On the Move enables presenters and visitors to explore how decades of movement of people to and from the United States has shaped American culture, all on the grass of the National Mall. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival has brought multiple generations of immigrant communities to the Mall to experience art, music, food, and performance since 1967.

Dream Action Coalition shares their personal stories of migration. Leslie Walker

On the Move featured prominently in the Folklife Festival, facilitating conversations of intergenerational migrations with a special emphasis on youth perspectives, past and present. It hosted a number of story circle workshops that attracted audience members of all ages—they quietly observed live performances and engaged in lively conversations. The Dream Action Coalition’s interactive workshop, moderated by Georgetown anthropology graduate Citlalli Alvarez, was one of the many especially engaging workshops that the Association assisted in organizing. The Dream Action Coalition is an organization dedicated to advocating for just immigration policies. Its members shared their personal narratives of traveling to the United States as undocumented children and their experiences of evading deportation, benefiting from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), earning degrees, finding employment, and working to help other immigrants who are facing similar situations. The panelists’ conversations prompted audience members to share their own migration stories or those of their familes. This story circle brought to light a common experience—everyone moves, everyone has a migration story.

The Association also organized a session with Caroline Brennan of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) about the movement of refugees. Brennan stressed the lengths that refugees take to flee crises in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to reach Europe by crossing land borders or huddling in small boats to cross the Mediterranean and Aegan seas. In addition to emphasizing the horrific conditions experienced on these journeys, Brennan later led a discussion on how to empower communities to promote their own development and sustainable solutions by providing food and emergency living supplies, medical assistance, temporary housing, and legal resources. Brennan was keen to mention the stories of refugees that are not referred to in the news: Most Americans are neither aware of CRS nor other programs that are led by members of the refugee community that work to better refugees’ lives in the face of adversity. She closed the session by encouraging the audience to be vigilant of the media representation of refugees and get involved with refugee resettlement organizations to help those displaced by war and conflict.

Thousands of people on the National Mall bore witness to migration in its myriad forms.

This year the Folklife Festival’s main program was Circus Arts, which explored the growing revitalization of the circus in the United States. Visitors experienced the unique artistry of the circus through performances, demonstrations, and workshops under a big top tent and smaller open-air circus rings across the Mall. You might be wondering, what do aerialists and acrobats demonstrating gravity-defying feats have to do with migration? People from all over the world—including many circus performers—have come to the United States and brought with them a rich cultural heritage. Visitors not only witnessed incredible circus performances, but also learned from the experiences of generations of performers who have traveled the across the United States and other countries keeping the circus arts alive and engaging. After all, the circus is always On the Move.

The 2017 Folklife Festival’s Circus Arts and its collaboration with the Association for On the Move provided many opportunities for experiential exploration of the circus arts and story sessions on migration. Thousands of people on the National Mall bore witness to migration in its myriad forms. Migration is an essential part of so many personal stories and family histories, something shared with all humanity, such is the nature of many programs of World on the Move.

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Leslie Walker is the Project Manager of the Public Education Initiative at the AAA.

Cite as: Walker, Leslie. 2017. “World on the Move Center Stage on the National Mall.” Anthropology News website, September 8, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.617