“The Search for General Tso,” asks: If Chinese Americans comprise only 1 percent of the U.S. population, why are there Chinese restaurants in almost every city across America?”
Newcomers to this country arrive with a suitcase and a set of expectations derived, in part, from American popular culture. In turn, the very same newcomers make their own mark on America’s popular culture. This vital give and take is at the heart of America’s always-evolving culture.
On Wednesday, May 1, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., all are welcome, free of charge, to attend the last of six Community Conversations in the Becoming American series, “Immigration and Popular Culture.” The evening begins with a showing of the entertaining, inquisitive documentary, “The Search for General Tso,” and dovetails with The Gables’ newly opened exhibition that explores The Gables’ influence on popular culture — ‘POP: Goes the Gables.” Following the film, scholar Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, Ph.D., will use the film’s inspiration to guide a discussion among the evening’s guests.
“Popular culture has continuously confronted and explored the question of immigration in every form, from comic books to professional sports, from children’s toys to advertising.,” writes Rachel Lee Rubin, professor of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “Popular culture operates as what can be called a ‘collective processing site’ where both producers and consumers use these cultural expressions to understand what is happening and to respond to it.”
In other words, America’s popular culture influences as it absorbs. Whether native born or newly arrived, much of what we believe is shaped by America’s vast and ubiquitous media. And media’s enthusiasm for what immigrants bring to America cannot be understated. Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, hip hop, jazz and blues, literature, movies — are rich with immigrant talent and influence.
“At the very heart of the give-and-take between new immigrant cultures and mainstream American popular culture is the story of food,” writes Professor Rubin. She says that the documentary, “The Search for General Tso,” uses the Americanized dish as a lens onto a larger story of immigration, adaptation and innovation. “By the film’s end, we come to understand how food created a bridge that eventually surpassed many immigrants’ fondest dreams of success and assimilation, and changed Americas’ eating habits forever.”
The Gables is one of 32 sites around the country to present this six-part series that was conceived and organized by City Lore in collaboration with the Immigration and Ethnic History Society and the International Coalition of the Sites of Conscience. The series is funded by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Both Salem State University and the North Shore Community Development Coalition have partnered with The Gables to help make this series possible.
“The idea behind the series is to provide opportunities for a wide range of people to come together to understand the dynamic and complicated histories of people,” says Dr. Duclos-Orsello. “We want to have structured, civic and civil dialogues using the documentary films as a springboard.”
Duclos-Orsello is a scholar of American and New England Studies with an expertise in immigration and ethnic history, social history, community K-12 outreach and museum education. She is professor and chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies and she is coordinator of American Studies at Salem State University. She has facilitated scores of conversations where sensitivity and civility determine the baseline for safe and productive dialogues.
About The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association and its dual mission
The mission of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association is to preserve The Gables’ National Historic Landmark and leverage its power as an icon of American culture to engage diverse audiences and provide education opportunities for the local immigrant community. For more information visit www.7gables.org.
In 2019, The House of the Seven Gables presents POP! GOES THE GABLES. From novels to comics to movies to music, The House of the Seven Gables has been an influence on American pop culture. Join us for a unique exhibit (opening April 2019) and a number of programming series including films, lectures, and the Becoming American Community Conversations.