ISU Prof Helps Students Capture the Tastes of Culture

ISU senior Larissa Summers explored her Cherokee roots through her poster presentation on Cherokee Bean Bread.

ISU senior Larissa Summers explored her Cherokee roots through her poster presentation on Cherokee Bean Bread.

Archana Shekara lives where art, culture, and social justice intersect. This semester, she helped Illinois State University students nourish an appetite for cultural identity and a hunger for social justice and inclusion.   


Shekara’s spring course, Art 315: Special Topics in Graphic Design, explored multicultural perspectives and social issues through visual artwork. The associate professor, a native of India, assigned her 17 students a trio of daunting projects: Bringing vision and creativity to issues of cultural stereotyping and marginalization; developing soon-to-be-released new posters and related graphic materials for Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal (NIOTBN) Not In Our School anti-bullying/anti-bigotry programs; and Food For Thought, an examination of individual cultures and their histories through their cuisine.

Food and culture are inextricably intertwined – the staples and delicacies of global societies reflect their geographies and climates, their agriculture and economic lifeblood, their beliefs and folkways. As part of the ISU Food For Thought exhibit, which ends Monday at ISU’s Milner library, created information design posters about one dish from their ancestral country and traced its history, ingredients, and relevance.

“When you break bread together with people who don’t look like you, all of a sudden, something fascinating happens,” said Shekara, a NIOTBN Steering Committee member.

ISU's Evan Morris presents a series of proposed new designs for NIOTBN's Not In Our School programs, developed as part of Archana Shekara's Special Topics In Graphic Design course.

ISU's Evan Morris presents a series of proposed new designs for NIOTBN's Not In Our School programs, developed as part of Archana Shekara's Special Topics In Graphic Design course.

Students conducted research about national identity, pride, language and art. Subjects included German pfannkuchen (pancakes) and landjaeger (sausage), Greek saganaki (flaming cheese), Lebanese hummus, Italian cannoli (a sweet confection stuffed with ricotta cheese), Irish colcannon (a hearty potato/cabbage/onion/bacon dish), and Polish pierogi (dumplings).

Senior Larissa Summers highlighted Cherokee Bean Bread, an indigenous staple that embodies the indigenous American struggle against cultural appropriation and dilution.

“My Cherokee heritage is very close to me,” the native Oklahoman relates. “I did bean bread because I didn’t know about it, I hadn’t tried it before, and I wanted to get more in touch with something I was not familiar with. I have two different versions of the bread in my piece – the original version of the bread, which is just mashed-up corn and beans; and the kind of recipe you find now. It’s kind of like cornbread with beans in it. It’s very ‘westernized.’ The Cherokee used to have simplistic meals, simplistic lives, and then (non-native settlers) came over, and everything started getting more complex.They started getting moved around; their food started being influenced. There’s flour in it now, milk, honey. I wanted to show the journey not only of the food, but of Native Americans, as well.”

Rock Island’s Evan Morris meanwhile explored his Scottish ancestry through haggis, which blends ground sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs with oats, cooked inside a sheep’s stomach. While according to Morris the unique dish was once considered “a poor man’s food,” he noted haggis today is celebrated as a culinary symbol of Scottish nationalism and pride – his poster incorporated the verse of Scots poet Robert Burns, whose piece “The Address to Haggis.”

“I found out my ancestors came over probably about 200 years ago – that’s when there was a huge emigration from Scotland because of the Highland Clearances (a mass eviction of tenants across the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th Century),” reported the senior, who applied his research as well in Shekara’s stereotyping/marginalization project. “I still have to do some more digging on it. I’m going to try to go on and trace everything back.”

Food For Thought is but one graphic exhibit running through the weekend at ISU's Milner Library.  TELL relates through visuals and narrative the experience of young, local English language learners from a variety of cultures

Food For Thought is but one graphic exhibit running through the weekend at ISU's Milner Library.  TELL relates through visuals and narrative the experience of young, local English language learners from a variety of cultures

Asian Heritage Week Offers Rich Palette of Culture

Illinois State University's Asia Connect in April will offer "series of events where you can experience a variety of Asian cultures," in observance of Asian Heritage Week.

Monday, April 2, 5:30 p.m.
Chinese Calligraphy Demonstration and workshop
ISU Center for Visual Arts, Room 311
Enjoy warm Chinese tea, and learn the history of calligraphy and participate in the workshop.
Miranda Lin, Associate Professor, College of Education, ISU
Shihwei Chiang, Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, ISU


Tuesday, April 3, 6:15 p.m.
Kannathil Muthamittal {a peck on the cheek} Indian {tamil} film
Caterpillar Auditorium, State Farm Hall of Business, Room 139
Question and Answers after the film.
Archana Shekara, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, ISU
Li Zeng, Associate Professor, College of Fine Arts, ISU

Wednesday, April 4, 5:30pm
Bangla parbon: Celebrating Bengali poetry
Blangladesh Student  Association, ISU
DeGarmo Hall, Room 551
Refreshments, Question and Answers after poetry recital.

Thursday, April 5, 5pm
Indonesian Cuisine Demonstration and Workshop
Food Lab Kitchen, Turner Hall, Room 131
Learn authentic Indonesian cuisine and taste right after!
Rini Stoltz


Friday, April 6, 6:15pm
Cape Number 7, Taiwanese film
Caterpillar Auditorium, State Farm Hall of Business, Rm. 139
Panel discussion after the film.
Wei-Zan Wang, Director, Overseas Community Affairs Council
Cultural Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Chicago
Hsiu-Ling Robertson, Assistant Professor,
Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, Northwestern University
Shihwei Chiang, Lecturer, College of Arts and Sciences, ISU


BCAI Event Highlights Latin, Indian, Hip-Hop Cultures

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MixFuzeEvolveFamily, a BCAI School of Arts fundraiser, will offer a "culturally infused" celebration of Latin, Indian, and hip-hop influences as well as a variety of culinary treats.

The April 14 event, 3-6 p.m. at the Hansen Student Center, 300 East Beecher Street, Bloomington, will feature live music and stage entertainment, raffles, and 12 Indian and Latin dishes on a sampling basis.

Admission includes $10 entry (Ages 6 and up); $6 for a small meal ticket (up to 5 food samples);
$10 large meal ticket (up to 10 samples); and $25 VIP admission (includes entry, a sample of every dish, front row seat reservation for stage events, and one free raffle ticket).

Children under 6 years old enter for FREE, but they must have either a large meal or small meal ticket.

The event is sponsored by State Farm, Not in our Town: Bloomington-Normal, and Willie Brown.

For more info, visit the event website at

At the Museum: Karaoke, Kawaii, Kami, and Culture

Through Sept. 11, experience Tokyo’s vibrant culture in a new interactive traveling exhibit at Normal's Children's Discovery Museum.

In "Hello from Japan!," families are transported to two distinct areas of Tokyo that exist side by side: One serene and exquisite, the in the words of the museum, "too cute for words."

The beautiful, natural Shinto shrine park invites children to build a bridge, crawl through a forest, encounter Kami spirit, and make a wish at a wishing tree.

Kawaii Central is a streetscape inspired by Tokyo’s bustling Harajuku district, bursting with color, trendy shops, and Kawaii styles. Kids sing karaoke, smile for the photo booth camera, serve up a seasonal Japanese meal, and design adorable mascots for their families.

Kawaii is defined as the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture. It has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms.

The word kawaii originally derives from the phrase kao hayushi, which literally means "(one's) face (is) aglow," commonly used to refer to flushing or blushing of the face.

Together, the exhibit highlights how old and new traditions coexist in Japan, giving visitors a family-friendly window into Japanese culture.

This exhibit was created by the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and is part of the Asian Culture Exhibit Series, funded by the Freeman Foundation and administered by ACM.

Meanwhile, the Children's Discovery Museum will coordinate and host the 2016 Bloomington-Normal Worldwide Day of Play (WWDOP) and Uptown Block Party from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 on Beaufort Street in Uptown Normal.  

For information, visit

April 1 Taste of the West Rustles Up Great Local Grub

The great chefs and eateries of Bloomington's west side will show off their multicultural wares during Taste of the West, Friday, April 1 at 5:30 PM - 7:30 PM at First Christian Church of Bloomington, 401 W. Jefferson Street.

The free competitive tasting event -- sponsored by the West Bloomington Revitalization Project (WRBP) -- will feature dishes by Romelia Aza, Annie Foster, Selina Gunn, Reve Jackson III (Jackson's Soul), Chef Jose (Rosy's Grill), and Kelly Mathy (Kelly's Bakery & Cafe).

"This is an opportunity to taste the rich diversity in food and cultures in Bloomington -- Not Your Average Chain Restaurant here," Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal Steering Committee member and Bloomington City Councilwoman Karen Schmidt noted. "West Bloomington is where our city started, and it embraces the wonderful diversity of cultures that many Bloomingtonians don't even know exist."

The WRBP Annual Meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the church.

Uma: Youth a Focus For India Association in 2015

When you speak of McLean County’s Indian “community,” you’re covering a wide swath – from Indian-American residents of long standing in the Twin Cities to university and college students to visa’ed workers and specialists in the U.S. seeking a community with which to temporarily share the cultures and traditions of their homeland. Bloomington-Normal is home to Indians representing a number of the subcontinent’s states and culturally diverse regions.

And Uma Kallakuri sees it as her mission to reach out and unite them all. Kallakuri is 2015 president of the McLean County India Association (MCIA), a group formed in the late ‘70s to support what she deemed a “handful” of Indian families across the cities. Now, McLean County is home to a reported 600-some families of Indian heritage, a new Hindu temple opened its doors last year at 1815 Tullamore Ave. in Bloomington, and a new priest was installed in December.

Members of McLean County's Indian community celebrate during "PARAMPARA - The Heritage," an Indian classical dance performance last February in Bloomington, featuring artists from Nrityamala Dance Academy.

Members of McLean County's Indian community celebrate during "PARAMPARA - The Heritage," an Indian classical dance performance last February in Bloomington, featuring artists from Nrityamala Dance Academy.

Kallakuri pledges to continue MCIA’s central goals of “bringing together the community and inspiring them to keep up their traditions and their roots, while at the same time helping them integrate into the community and give back to the community.” Kallakuri, a local classical Indian dance instructor and adjunct professor with Illinois Wesleyan University and, understands the need to keep fresh blood flowing through the community, and MCIA currently is focusing especially on younger members of the community.

That includes working to engage Illinois State and Wesleyan and, increasingly, Heartland Community College students in events and celebrations for the overall Indian community. Kallakuri hopes to foster a broader mentoring program offering youth the opportunity to develop professional and life skills and insights from established members of the community.

 “Youth are our future, and we want to create a platform for them so that we can keep working on understanding better and then work more on diversity,” she maintains. “We are trying to bring them all together.”

With State Farm, two hospitals, and two universities to a growing retail/restaurant sector, McLean County suffers no dearth of Indian mentors. Through her local Nrityamala Dance Academy (NDA), launched in 1984, Kallakuri has helped keep classical Indian dance vividly alive and provided cultural insights for the broad community through local performances that often have helped support causes such as the Community Cancer Center, Children's Hospital, Red Cross, Salvation Army, American Heart Association, and Hindu temples. The academy has contributed as well to Hurricane Katrina and Asian tsunami relief.

MCIA is co-sponsoring a marrow donor registration drive this Sunday, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Normal Community Building, 1110 Douglas Street, while NDA students will perform at 2 p.m. March 21 at the Hindu Temple of Bloomington-Normal.  

MCIA attempts to reach out to new members of the local Indian community, including temporary workers and employees, “to let them know there is a place they can call upon and come forward and connect with other Indians,” Kallakuri relates. MCIA also helps coordinate orientation/training sessions on the community for area businesses and agencies, and offers cultural education for area schools. Kallakuri points out that while many Twin Citians may be aware of the fall festival of Diwali, they may be unaware of Indian New Year, celebrated in March or April. The annual Festival of India, held on the ISU quad each September, offers a glimpse of Indian regional cultures, art, food, and folkways. While there are often significant differences in observances and customs across the various Indian states, MCIA sponsors generalized seminars, celebrations, and other events designed to bridge all subcultures.

“We do come together, especially at the Festival of India,” Kallakuri said. “Everyone enjoys coming together and watching one another. Each state and each region has its own way of cooking, its own way of dressing, its own way of doing things. But basically, there’s the same idea behind it all.”

Kallakuri finds Bloomington-Normal “generally, a good place to live.” She has taught not only at Wesleyan and ISU but also at other regional universities and in surrounding towns, and has found her fellow Illinoisans generally “encouraging.”

“I’ve had good experiences here – I love this place,” she said.

For more information on the Indian Community and MCIA, visit


Angelique: Arts and the Humanity

Angelique Racki

Breaking Chains & Advancing Increase/School of Arts

Bloomington-based BCAI School of Arts is positioning itself to be able to provide maximum cultural experience through the arts. We are undertaking an Indian Arts branch, Hispanic/Latino Arts branch, and expanding our Asian Arts and Urban Arts branches.

In this way, not only can each culture have an outlet, a platform, and a voice, but if we can cross-culturally train each individual, how much MORE understanding and how much LESS false judgment would there be?

Here at BCAI, our prime focus is not to teach art. It is to use the training itself and the atmosphere provided to increase wisdom, teamwork, accountability, responsibility, and most importantly, self-value. We are open to all races, ages, social statuses, and cultures. We do cater to those who may not otherwise be able to afford such a necessary outlet. 

One of our teens perhaps summarizes the personal value of the BCAI experience best: "BCAI's afterschool program helped me feel more 'me' and understand the people who get bullied."

BCAI is located at 510 East Washington Street. For information, call (309) 532-4272, or visit