Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Walla Walla Diversity Coalition promotes identity beyond race with library exhibit

On Saturday, Oct. 9, as Walla Walla residents trickled into the public library dodging the autumn chill, they were met by a welcoming crew from the Walla Walla Diversity Coalition. The coalition members were completing the final phase of requesting members of the public to have their photos taken for an identity-based exhibit in the Walla Walla Public Library entitled “Who Am I?” . Participants were asked to write a short statement about themselves and how they perceive their own identity; Annie Capestany, treasurer of the Diversity Coalition, advised the people involved in the exhibit to write “what you would like people to think of when they think of you.”

The wall of photos and statements has been collected for the past few weeks at the farmer’s market and various diversity coalition events. October is the diversity coalition’s sixteenth annual Freedom From Discrimination Month, and the coalition has proclaimed this year’s theme as “Who Are We? – The Question of Race.” The “Who Am I?”Identity Project exhibit allows any citizen over the age of 18 to publicly declare an identity which transcends race, gender, socioeconomic status or stereotypes.

Participants ranged from college-age individuals–including several smiling Whitman students–to blue collar workers to moms taking a break from shuttling their children between the bookshelves. Some participants detailed a paragraph of their daily obligations while others put in  an inspiring word or two. Some wrote in foreign languages and others doodled.

This identity project was part of Capestrany’s thirteenth year working on the Freedom from Discrimination Month, and she felt that this year’s events provide a unique forum for people to “see and express their own identity, their own humanity.”

Capestrany hopes that this project will encourage a community based on personal individuality rather than on race or physical appearance.

“My family is Cuban,” she said, “and it always drove me crazy when people told me, ‘You don’t look Cuban!’ Why are people trying to tell me what I am supposed to look like? There are too many divisions between people; we need to focus on what brings us together and makes us human.”

Heather Rodriguez, another member of the diversity coalition and a representative from Children’s Homes Society of Washington, helped to create the wall of photos and identify statements with her young daughter.

“Because whites are less and less the majority, people need to learn to live with each other and step outside of this ‘myth of race’ even if it makes them uncomfortable,” she said.

Both Rodriguez and Capestrany agreed that the issue of race and its role in modern society need to be addressed, both on a national scale and within the Walla Walla community.

“Especially in light of the recent hate crimes in the park downtown, it is important to show the community that we think we’re more different than we really are,” Rodriguez said, referring to a swastika and other anti-Semitic graffiti at Heritage Park last month. “Seeing these pictures on the wall of the library will help set a tone for celebrating uniqueness. Walla Walla is a great place to start a project like this because we are small enough that seeing these photos will have significance to the community, but we are also big enough to deal with the diversity problems of a city.”

Rodriguez’s daughter, who had been listening in on her conversation, wanted to know the purpose of putting the identity pictures on the library wall.

“Some of us have brown hair,” answered Rodriguez, pointing to her own hair, “and some of us have blonde,” then pointing to her daughter’s hair.

“And both are normal,” chimed in her daughter.

In addition to the Identity Project, the diversity coalition is holding a final event for Freedom From Discrimination Month on Wednesday Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. “The Human Family Tree: A Migratory History of the Human Race,” a 96-minute National Geographic film, will be showing at the Fine Arts Auditorium of Walla Walla University followed by a community discussion.

The Identity Project will be on display in the Walla Walla Public Library until Oct. 31; the coalition now has over 50 identity statements for the public to see.

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