On the last day of class before I graduated in Geography and History from the University of Madrid, our professor told us: “During all these years you have studied hard and deserve congratulations. However, don’t think that you know anything. Attending university has prepared you to open your mind and learn. Now go into the world and learn.” And so, we did. While my focus had been on researching Spanish and Italian old master paintings, following my professor’s advice I have always tried to learn beyond the European confines of artistic creativity and culture. Perhaps aware of that curiosity, I remember the day a friend gifted me a book by Lao Tzu titled Tao Te Ching some 30 years ago. He did not tell me much about the content or its author but said the book would be a good companion for life. I thanked him, opened the book randomly on the spot, and read the following:
“Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.”
This poem has stayed with me all these years, and I have kept the book on my bedside table. More importantly, my friend opened the door not only to Chinese culture for me, but also to many different countries in Asia. My interest grew over the years and when I arrived at the DIA in 2008, I was granted a unique opportunity. Four weeks into my job, I was asked to take one of the DIA’s Amedeo Modigliani paintings as a temporary loan to an exhibition in Tokyo. It was my first time visiting the continent of Asia. While my visit to Japan was a dream, an experience from which I immensely benefited, I have also realized during the time I have lived in Detroit that there is so much to learn from the Japanese, Korean, Indian, Taiwanese, Chinese, Filipino and many other communities that we are honored to serve in our region.
The DIA has been a catalyst for that learning, serving as a gathering place for everyone. In 2018, we opened the Robert and Katherine Jacobs Asian Wing, which was a co-created project with our region’s Asian communities. We celebrated the arts of India during our annual Gala a couple of years ago, and each year we bring the culture and arts of Japan to our Great Hall and Rivera Court to commemorate Japanese Girls’ Day -- just to name some of the amazing moments our visitors have experienced at the DIA, as we all benefit from the diverse Asian arts and cultures in our community.
In May we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and we are offering a very strong virtual program for everyone throughout the month. We wish we could experience the different cultural traditions in person, but from home you will be able to travel the world thanks to an extraordinary array of opportunities which include art talks, films, music, dance, and more from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, the Philipines, Mongolia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
As my professor would remind us, there is so much to learn. So let us do it together with our minds open and being like Lao Tzu recommends, “disciples of life,” which brought us all together in this country to be “soft and yielding” with each other, as we declare love for and unity with our Asian communities to which we are deeply thankful.