Anne Ishii on her role as the new host of “Movers & Makers”

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In this new season, we go to Arden, Delaware, an artists’ colony. It’s a wonderful place full of green spaces, very creative people. And they interestingly rent their land on which they build their houses. It is a very intentional community.

EXCERPT FROM THE SHOW, UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are three distinct communities: Arden, which was founded in 1900. Ardentown, which was founded in 1922, and Ardencroft, which was founded in 1950. We’ve heard it all. We heard that Arden is made up of hippies, communists, nudists. There may be precedent for a lot of this stuff, but we’re not as crazy as it seems.

It was a snippet from the new season of “Movers and Makers.” And what did you find so interesting in Arden, Delaware?

I think how architecture has really integrated with nature, how it really creates a whole new creative environment and a new culture today. Because of the pandemic, we are spending so much time outdoors and we can enjoy it. But, you know, 100 years ago, when it was being developed, to really have this deliberate relationship with the foliage, the kind of neighborhood that is created was really interesting to see.

At some point this season, we revisit Frank Rizzo’s takedown of the mural in the Italian Market section of town. This dismantling took place right after the uprising in Philadelphia following the murder of George Floyd. This monument to Frank Rizzo, former mayor, former police commissioner of Philadelphia – he died in the early 90’s, known for his strong enforcement of the law, especially in black communities. He was called a racist. His family says he is not racist. What do we take away from this segment? It’s not just about the wall paint falling off.

There are so many cultural heroes in this region. We have no shortage of opportunities to celebrate truly extraordinary people. There’s a statue of Harriet Tubman in City Hall right now, for example. And so, you know, the intent is really that the community wants heroes, right? So when we find out that we’ve potentially honored someone with a checkered history, I want to know about those new heroes, those overlooked heroes. And I think that’s something that we did a really good job of in this episode.

Anne Ishii, Executive Director of the Asian Arts Initiative, holds a poster designed by Philadelphia poet and musician Moor Mother for the Unity at the Initiative exhibit. (Emma Lee/WHY)

Anne, you are an editor, a writer, a promoter of books. You have written about gender and sexuality, about specialized Japanese comics. You grew up outside of LA in the 80s, a time of very intense cultural, racial and economic circumstances. Your father is Japanese, your mother Korean. Tell us about writer Anne Ishii.

I think everything you just named contributed to my identity as a writer. The English language has always seemed a bit unfamiliar to me. Growing up, I learned it along with Japanese. I think for anyone who identifies as part of an immigrant diaspora, writing becomes a really powerful empowerment tool to prove that you matter and belong in a community. I write to include myself in a bigger story.

You recently wrote about anti-Asian hatredand I wonder how, as a leader of the arts community in Philadelphia, how you’ve handled the actions against Asian Americans, against Asians, that have picked up during the pandemic.

As an artistic leader, writer and artist, my priorities are always around craftsmanship and creating space for more visibility and culture. But during social crises, my responsibilities are exclusively to my community. I think the most important thing I’ve been able to do over the past two years has been to remind everyone in the Asian diaspora and the Asian community that you have the right to be whoever you want. These social crises are not what dictate the kind of identity we must establish as victims, as survivors, as leaders, as recluses. I mean, if you decide to back out of the conversation, that’s OK too.

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