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Janet Mock Honored in Harvard's Annual Cultural Rhythms Show

Janet Mock
Journalist and activist Janet Mock received the Harvard Foundation's 2019 Artist of the Year award from Cultural Rhythms director Hakeem O. I. Angulu '20.

The Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations held its annual Cultural Rhythms Show honoring Janet Mock, an acclaimed writer, producer, director, and transgender rights advocate, in Sanders Theater Saturday.

Cultural Rhythms showcases and celebrates Harvard’s cultural and ethnic diversity, according to the foundation’s website. This year’s show also featured 12 performances by students and cultural groups.

“The vision was ‘Reclamation,’” Hakeem O. I. Angulu ’20, the show’s 2019 director, said in an interview. “Cultural Rhythms has long-been described as like a festival, but I wanted to turn that on its head this year and refocus on our efforts on making sure that the performers and that students in general feel that this space is for them.”

The day’s programming began in the Kirkland House Junior Common Room with a Q&A with Mock, the foundation’s 2019 Artist of the Year.

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Mock made history last year as the first transgender woman of color to write, direct and produce a television series. The show, an FX drama entitled POSE, assembled the largest cast of transgender actors in regular roles for a scripted series ever.

“Her life and career is all about taking up space in rooms and places that were not built for her, or sitting beside people who would prefer to not work with her,” Angulu, who selected Mock, said. “But she still goes there in those spaces and reclaims those spaces, and that’s amazing work.”

During the Q&A, Mock spoke frequently about intersectionality, specifically the “complicatedness” of her identity as a black, native indigenous Hawaiian, transgender woman and how she reflects that in her art.

“I grew up like so many of us engaging with media, watching television, watching films, engaging with music, and not necessarily seeing myself in my totality reflected,” she said. “And so, so much of my work has been about telling my own truth, largely out of an act of not being seen or reflected.”

Harvard Deepam
Harvard College Deepam, a classical Indian dance group, performed in the annual Cultural Rhythms show in Sanders Theatre Saturday evening.

Following the Q&A, FUSIAN, an “East Asian-interest” a capella group, performed at a luncheon in Kirkland Dining Hall, singing a mash-up of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and "Liu Xing" — the Mandarin version of “Yellow.”

At 4 p.m., an audience gathered in Sanders Theater to watch the student performances. Following each performance, representatives from the performing groups had the chance to speak about the personal significance of their art.

Emmy Semprun ’22 opened the show with a flamenco dance from Spain.

“Cultural Rhythms for me is not only about presenting your culture but how you identify with it,” Semprun said in an interview after the show. “There are plenty of other Hispanic people who could also dance flamenco but could interpret it in a really different way, so I think it’s really beautiful that I got to share my specific interpretation.”

The other performers included groups who had been in previous Cultural Rhythms shows as well as groups new to the stage, including Abyssinia, an East African dance group.

“The Ethiopian-Eritrean community had some trouble centralizing, and I think this was an event that really brought all of us together,” said Aaron Abai ’22, a Cultural Rhythms Dialogue co-director who also performed with Abyssinia.

Cultural Rhythms concluded Sunday afternoon with an event for all performers and crew in Kirkland Junior Common Room, where they enjoyed food and heard short speeches of gratitude from Foundation interns.

The afternoon gathering marked the first year that such an event took place. In past years, cultural groups served food for rest of the student body in a buffet-style food festival, according to Angulu.

“I didn’t think that aligned very well with our mission,” Angulu said. “We decided this year to serve the cultural groups instead.”

Abai said he appreciated the opportunity Cultural Rhythms gives students to share and celebrate their culture onstage.

“It gives space and gives a huge visible space to a lot of groups who otherwise would not have the chance to show off their identity and their culture,” he said.

— Staff writer Elizabeth X. Guo can be reached at elizabeth.guo@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabethxguo.

— Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at amanda.su@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amandaysu.

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