21 Nov, 2016

reminders and a respite…

Sehbar Sarwar
21 Nov, 2016

After spending five days in Houston, Minal flies with me to Washington DC where I’m invited to attend a National Endowment for the Arts convening. With a free day before the conference, I ask Minal what she wants to do on her first trip to DC.

“Visit the White House,” she tells me.

Once we reach the white-pillared building, I notice that construction for the January inauguration has already begun. There are no protests on this warm, sunny afternoon.

Pushing back sadness, we turn toward the Mall, where we sight the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, which opened in September 2016. Though the museum is free, I’ve heard that the earliest tickets aren’t available until late spring 2017.

Taking a chance, I wander up the guard at the entrance and ask if there’s a chance for entry.

Without a change of expression, he says: “I have extra tickets today. How many?”

For a moment, both Minal and I think that the guard might be trying to scam us, but he reaches into his pocket and pulls out two tickets, which he then punches and drops into a bin. Gesturing for us to enter the steel framed four-story building, he steps aside.

Taking a deep breath, I hold Minal’s hand and we walk into the open space. We spend the four hours wandering through the different levels, starting from the lowest basement wings, as the docent recommends, to examine exhibits about slavery and the emancipation movement. When we emerge and take the elevator to the fourth floor to move through the arts and culture section, our minds are already soaked with images and ideas. The sun has dropped and is piercing through the steel. I know that I will return to spend more time in this space.

Sehbar Sarwar

The next morning, the energy at the NEA convening is low; no one knows what to expect, how arts funding will change with the start of a new US administration, and how the backlash will affect progressive forces.

Today, our Uber driver who takes us to DC’s National airport is from Afghanistan, though technically he is Pakistani, since he was born in a refugee camp in Abbottabad.

“The Pakistani government won’t give our people citizenship,” he tells me as we chat in Urdu. “They are sending my people back to Afghanistan, even though many of us were born on Pakistani soil.” He shakes his head. “And now my family is in the US…but we don’t know how we long we will be here once the new US President is inaugurated.”

Sehbar Sarwar

National Museum of African American History & Culture basement levels

20 Nov 2016 · 10:26:52 PM