Empowering youth to tell their community’s story
In 1947, at the end of World War II, Field Museum anthropologist and U.S. Marine Alexander Spoehr found himself on Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands after the American campaign to take the islands from Japan. While on the island, Spoehr purchased items for the Field’s robust collection of Pacific Islander cultural items, and also photographed the people he met—including a little girl whose name he did not write down.
In 2019, that girl’s son—Terry Mote—recognized her face in that photo while visiting the Field Museum’s collections. Now, we know her name: Mojina Jinuna Mote.
Terry was in Chicago taking part in the development of a collaborative exhibit about Marshallese culture. As lead exhibition developer on that project, it was my responsibility to facilitate input from Terry and the small group Marshallese youth who came with him to Chicago. Terry and the kids all live in Enid, Oklahoma, home to one of the largest Marshallese populations in the United States. How does a culture so intrinsically shaped by the sea survive in a landlocked place? We handed the gallery over to the kids to answer that question.
The exhibition was developed for display in the Field Museum’s permanent Regenstein Halls of the Pacific exhibition, which features a gallery for rotating exhibits co-curated by Pacific Islander communities whose heritage is on display.
-Community outreach, travel arrangements, logistical support
-Event planning, public speaking, and presentation
-Focus groups, interviews, and creative facilitation to gather community input and foster participation
-Synthesizing feedback, consensus building, internal team communication
-Writing, editing, and revising exhibition text, media scripts, and other content
-Collaboration with designers, producers, production, and other team members to bring exhibition to life
“The jaki is a hand-woven floor mat that can be found in nearly every Marshallese household. It is a place of rest, a symbol of identity, and a tool that connects us. As climate change devours our islands, many of us in the United States are losing a sense of our home and culture. Despite this, our families try hard to help us remember who we are. The jaki helps us do just that.”
-Marshallese Student Group
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Sample exhibition content: