This oral history interview is an intimate conversation between two people, both of whom have generously agreed to share this recording with Oral History Summer School, and with you. Please listen in the spirit with which this was shared.
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Interview Summary: Karen Lew Biney-Amissah was born and raised in New York City. She is interested in issues of identity and reflects on her own identity as an American and a New Yorker and how it has changed throughout her life. She tells the story of how her family immigrated to America in spite of the presence of the Chinese Exclusion Act. She talks about the impact and ongoing legacy of this Act and Chinese immigration quotas on her family name and social relations. She speaks about her Childhood centered upon five blocks in Lower Manhattan. She discusses the transformative experience of moving from her Childhood neighborhood and small parochial elementary school to a diverse 5000-student school in Brooklyn. She reflects on how New York City has changed through the rise of wealth and types of shops in Fort Greene where here school was based. She also discusses the ongoing debate about her school’s entrance exam and how demographics have changed since students have learned to “game the test.” She takes herself to college at the University of Arizona and discusses how this shaped her political awareness. She talks about her Zuni classmates and how they helped her realize her own implicit biases. A foreign Exchange student in early 1990s Beijing, she describes her experiences of witnessing the opening up of China and what it was like to live somewhere where, based on her looks, she looked like she belonged. She talks about her experience with AmeriCorps in Denver, Colorado and how it was a transformative experience that introduced her to non-profit work and service. She discusses how this experience has lead her to a career in working with alternative education for youth. Choosing to attend Bank Street School of Education’s Museum Education program, she talks about the importance of linking education to place and education as part of community development. She closes with a reflection on her mom, who she considers a trail blazer for women of her time.
Polly Dewhirst has spent the past 20+ years working at the intersections of transitional justice, trauma and human rights. A program specialist, researcher, and social worker, she is passionate about working with families of disappeared persons, former political prisoners, and other survivors of human rights violations. Born and raised in Connecticut, she has spent most of her adult life overseas. She spent 14 years in South Africa working around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her new hometown is Rangoon where she hopes to work with local activists to build a museum and collect the hidden histories of Burma. Polly conducted this interview while a student at OHSS.
This interview is hereby made available for research purposes only. For additional uses (radio and other media, music, internet), please click here to inquire about permissions.
Oral history is an iterative process. In keeping with oral history values of anti-fixity, interviewees will have an opportunity to add, annotate and reflect upon their lives and interviews in perpetuity. Talking back to the archive is a form of “shared authority.”