The Field Museum Cultural Connections Program

In Kimono and Sari visiting at the Indo-American Center

In 1990, the Indo-American Center was envisioned in an apartment above a storefront on Devon Avenue in Chicago by two gentlemen who saw a need for immigration services and literacy classes among their fellow Asian Indians. The center that resulted was the location for the presentation of 'Mirror, Mirror on the Wall' How Am I Perceived by All?' a program developed in partnership with the Chicago Japanese-American Historical Society. It was the sixth in a series of eight events sponsored by Field Museum's Center for Cultural Change and Understanding related to this year's theme, The Language Of Looks.

Japanese momentos

The Cultural Connections program of the Field Museum is a unique program that encourages understanding and appreciation of Chicago's rich cultural diversity through the application of an anthropological framework, 'common concerns, different responses'. Beginning in 1998 with 8 partners, its membership has grown to 23 ethnic organizations and museums. This is a creative approach to involving Chicago communities outside the 'museum's walls".

Each Cultural Connections event is a collaboration between two or three partners. Professional Development Courses for teachers that works parallel to the events, offered in the fall and spring require teachers to participate in three Cultural Connection events and three discussion sessions at the Field Museum. Ultimately, the goal is to get teachers to become agents of social change, especially in the classrooms. In addition there is a Chicago Public School parent's initiative in which groups of parents visit two partner sites followed by a workshop exploring the connections and differences between the communities they visited and their own.

Joyce Kubose demonstrating dressy Kimono with white collar





An exploration of how dynamics of generations, immigration, history, economics and politics impact attire and appearance in the Asian Indian American and Japanese American communities took place. It helped to clarify why one sees an Indo-American woman dressed in a Sari fairly often, but one generally doesn't see a Japanese-American woman dressed in a Kimono.

The wedding Sari and bride covered from head to toe in jewelry

Because histories were personalized and alternated with a kind of fashion show, the presentations were compelling. A Sari requires five to six yards of fabric that can range from inexpensive to very expensive. Excepting the short fitted choli, (blouse) the Sari contains no seams or fastening unless the occasional safety pin is used to keep things in place. The pleating and use of the top for a shawl or head covering demonstrated the range of individual style and creativity and ease that the Sari provides as was seen when a participant was attired in a demonstration Sari. Saris, we were told, are more visible than Kimonos because Indo-Americans are more recent arrivals, because there is frequent interaction with India and because the women love their Saris.

The Kimono, originally from China, can be seen in casual or dressy versions. Those worn for official functions, i.e. weddings, martial arts and Kabuki performances are very expensive, considered heirlooms and are passed from generation to generation. An Obi is added for formal occasions, which requires a class in order to learn to put it on, or having someone else put it on for you. At age 20 women receive Kimonos with sleeves that reach nearly to the floor and these are shortened when she is married.

The Kimono quilt front and back

A unique and special Kimono quilt was on display. The history of Japanese-Americans including their internment camps, the road out, Chicago scenes and special faces was depicted. With the leadership of expert quilters, it was made by members of the Japanese-American community who had no quilting experience. It was completed in just two months and has been displayed in many parts of the country.

Highlights of Mary Doi's story: Japanese went from Hawaii to the U.S West Coast between the late 1880's and 1912 during the Meiji era. In 1942 120,000 Japanese-Americans were placed in interment camps. On their release the job market in Chicago was attractive. There are currently 23,000 Japanese in the Chicago area of which 7,000 are in the city, 17,000 in Cook County and others scattered.

Men's wedding attire and two possible head coverings

Highlights of Lakshmi Menon's story: Major immigration from India began after 1965 when professionally trained individuals familiar with U.S. language and culture came seeking experience and found attractive opportunities. Many doctors, engineers and scientists were recruited from India to fill positions during the 'space race' More arrived in the 1980's when less skilled, less educated individuals came to take jobs as shop- keepers and taxi drivers. In the 1990's many came to work in information technology. The current population is 125,000 scattered throughout the area. These immigrants were not fleeing political oppression or extreme poverty.

The modern Sari and the Sari demonstration

Rosa Cabrera of the Field Museum believes this program nourishes its partners and in this regard, several factors come to light. Sharing their special heritage is the reason that Dorothie Shah and Joyce Kubose gave for their volunteer participation in the program. In return, they learn much about others. This spirit has lead to the growth of this program so that a Cultural Diversity Alliance is in development. Information on upcoming programs can be found at:

A great adaptation of the Sari to U.S. culture

The traditional dress of the Kimono and the Sari have been adapted for modern street dress. The Sari has taken several forms, a two- piece dress, a short Sari and a tunic to wear with jeans and a scarf while older Kimono's have been cut up and recycled and used to decorate dresses, jackets and other items. For further information regarding clothing at:,,,,

Dorothie and Surendra Shah dressed for a special occasion

Asian Indians of Chicago, a pictorial history book by Lakshmi Menon, Padma Rangaswamy, and Dorothie Shah is available at the Indo-American Center.

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