Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Interning at Texas Folklife

A Venture in Geography, Place & Culture
By: Eliana Ramirez

I have always been addicted to culture.  As a child, this obsession started with acknowledging and embracing my own unique culture as a Latina growing up in the Rio Grande Valley.  As a college student, it has manifested itself in the form of Anthropology and Mexican-American Studies classes I have taken as part of my Cultural Studies strand in the Bridging Disciplines Program at UT.  Most recently, I have satiated this cultural longing through my internship at Texas Folklife this past semester.
I first volunteered with Texas Folklife when I was a freshman in college.  During this time, I mainly took pictures and wrote small blog pieces.  Now a senior at UT, I thought Texas Folklife would be the perfect fit for my concentration in Geography, Place & Culture.  Geography?  Check.  Place?  Check.  Culture?  Double check.  The name says it all.
Flaco Jimenez at Accordion Kings & Queens 2012
Photo by Eliana Ramirez
My primary job at Texas Folklife has been helping plan their accordion programs:  The Big Squeeze accordion competition in the spring, and the Accordion Kings & Queens festival and finals competition in the summer.  My involvement with this program has allowed me to dip my feet in many parts of the media pool, including:  conducting online research on the history of the accordion in Texas, watching and totaling videos of past Big Squeeze and Accordion Kings & Queens competitions on YouTube, creating an interactive Google Map of past finalist's and semifinalist's hometowns, and utilizing spreadsheets to calculate Big Squeeze statistics on the age, gender, location, and song genres of former contestants.
The best part about interning at Texas Folklife this semester has been concurrently learning to play the accordion and participating in UT's Conjunto Ensemble.   As I watched videos of past contestants and read through their musical selections for the Big Squeeze tryouts, I would catch myself thinking, "Hey! I remember that song!" or "Wow, I remember learning to play this!"  While I am years behind Texas Folklife's talented accordion players, I can now say that I fully admire and appreciate their awesome technical and performance skills.
Of the many things I learned at Texas Folklife, I think the most important has been realizing how the organization highlights the relationship between geography, place, and culture.  This folklife agency centers its agenda on the idea that geographic and physical space creates a long lasting and intangible cultural space.  I have spent the whole semester grasping at this idea with my accordion research, and now that it’s within the palm of my hand and my time at Texas Folklife finally comes to a close, I know that I’ll be able to hold onto this discovery as I embark on my future cultural experiences.

The Texas Folklife staff wishes Eliana lots of luck in her future endeavors. It was great having you as part of our team last semester, Ellie!