2023 Opening Ceremony Acknowledgement: We Gather During a Time of Atrocity in Gaza and Israel

Annual Meeting News

The following statement by the AFS Executive Board was read at the Opening Ceremony by AFS President Marilyn White.

We are gathered here during a time of violence and atrocities in Israel and Gaza. We recognize these events are traumatic and divisive. Many people we know and care about have been impacted by these events, whether that is through lived experiences, personal connections, or through bearing witness to our sisters’ and brothers’ suffering. We acknowledge that members of our community may have lost a sense of security from the dehumanization, the fear, the anger that overwhelms us here and globally.

It is not by happenstance that our conference theme mirrors the global moment.  To quote our call for proposals, this year’s theme of “Roots, Rootlessness, and Uprooting” points to “historic, natural, and social processes of connection, creation, and removal. Our work, like all living things, naturally grows out of various personal and professional ecosystems, taking root in specific institutions, communities, and traditions that are themselves subject to organic processes like atrophy and entropy, erosion and abrasion. These processes of natural deterioration, as well as more intentional and violent removal, can uproot not only our work and practices but the communities we rely upon and serve. How do folklorists and culture workers respond to various change-agents, be they individuals or structures, embodied or ephemeral, natural or artificial, dramatic or subtle? Furthermore, how does one grapple with the extractive and othering histories of the field of folklore, as well as those embedded in practices of ethnography and collaboration today?”

“The theme also advocates that certain colonial structures, institutional hierarchies, and social inequities–including those within our field–must be dismantled in order for cultures and culture work to be sustainable, for reparations and reconciliations to begin. How can folklore offer spaces for confrontation where such ideas, histories, and values get challenged? If we are to engineer a better future, what must we identify, release, articulate, and transform in order to both topple and rebuild? In the midst of turmoil and upheaval how might folkloric expression and cultural creativity address current crises and help build the world anew?”

Here, in the American Folklore Society, our work seeks to honor the communities that we serve. We folklorists are scattered across the globe, and we welcome all of you to our in-person annual meeting.  We gather in friendship and common purpose, as we recognize each other and our work, whether, among others, we are doing literary, historical, or ethnographic research, community work, public sector work with and for an incredible variety of peoples, their cultures, and their cultural practices.  We are teaching the next generation of like-minded individuals or we are that next generation.  In these many complexities, this is who we are, who we aim to be—and, as my predecessor, Norma Cantú, quotes, “doing the work that matters.”

We care, we heal, we respect, we listen, and we humanize. As we move forward this week to bear witness to our individual and collective work, let us center our ethics of care and support one another in our full humanity.

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