OSWEGO — Jessica Hester, assistant professor of theatre at SUNY Oswego, wants to shed light where, too often, there is misunderstanding and mistrust: immigration.
A WRVO series to air in May will feature her interviews with expatriate poet Li-Young Lee, Frank London of the Jewish klezmer group the Klezmatics, others appearing for Artswego’s “Arts, Identity and Diaspora” cultural series and immigration researchers or other experts.
The New York Council for the Humanities recently lent a helping hand, awarding Hester nearly $7,900, said Fritz Messere, interim dean of the School of Communications, Media and the Arts. The school will contribute a like amount in faculty time and production costs for WRVO-FM, the campus-based National Public Radio affiliate.
“I’ve been looking for opportunities to partner with WRVO for things that would both highlight achievements on campus and things of broader interest to the Oswego community,” Messere says.
Hester says the topics of diaspora — migration of cultures for reasons beyond their control — and immigration fit well with the Artswego series and with her own chief scholarly interest, 19th and early 20th century American theatre.
“Academically, I’ve always done work connected with ideas of national and regional identity and the ideas of class and racial identity,” Hester says.
Hester will conduct about eight interviews in all, which will air in May in five- or six-minute segments during WRVO’s “Morning Edition,” according to program director Fred Vigeant.
Guests, besides Lee and London, will include Alex Escalante, choreographer of the multimedia dance piece “Clandestino,” the March 30 and 31 performances in the “Arts, Identity and Diaspora” series.
Hester’s DVD of Escalante’s piece evokes the lives of Mexican migrants and illegal immigrants on the minimalist palette of a wood-plank dance floor, with music ranging from lively mariachi to dirge-like trudge, all set against a backdrop of wall-projected video and still photography in stark black and white.
Hester aims for such thought-provoking fare for her show. “You get everyone together in a room, and there’s really not a consensus (about immigration),” she says. “There’s really not an answer to the question.”
That age-old question is “What is an American?” Working with consultants Mary McCune, a SUNY Oswego history professor who long has studied immigration, and Ranjit Dighe, an economist here, Hester says she hopes to provide a widely heard forum for thoughtful interviews that lend multicultural voices to the mix.
Other dates and artists for Artswego’s series on diaspora includes: Lee and the Klezmatics, both earlier this month, and Katja Esson, filmmaker and director of “Poetry of Resilience,” on March 24.
Hester works closely with Mary Avrakotos and John Shaffer of Artswego to line up all the artists for hourlong interviews on immigration. WRVO’s Web site (www.wrvo.fm) will carry podcasts of complete interviews.
Vigeant estimated 50,000-watt WRVO’s cumulative audience — unique listeners over a period of time, often a week — at 80,000. The immigration program also will be offered to National Public Radio regionally and to Public Radio Exchange, an independent distributor.