Elise Anderson, What the IAUNRC Has Meant to Me
What the IAUNRC Has Meant to Me
Elise Anderson, April 2014
On February 1, 2014, I attended a day-long conference on the “culture of the family” (A’ilä mädäniyiti) at a private library in Urumchi (Urumqi), Xinjiang, China, where I have been living and conducting dissertation research on the Uyghur arts since December 2012. The conference was conducted entirely in the Uyghur language, and I was the only non-native speaker—and, if I’m not mistaken, the only non-Uyghur—in attendance. By midday, word spread that a Uyghur-speaking American researcher was in attendance. During the closing ceremonies that evening, I was invited onstage to share my thoughts on the conference and talk about my research—all while speaking the Uyghur language.
Just one week after the conference, on February 9, I published a long-form Uyghur-language article titled “Bir amérikan näziridiki uyghurlar” (Uyghurs in the eyes of one American) in an online forum, at the encouragement of the director of the aforementioned library. In this piece, I share what stands out to me, forever a cultural outsider, as the most salient positive and negative aspects of contemporary Xinjiang Uyghur society. To date my piece has been viewed more than 31,000 times and reposted on numerous forums and websites; it also remains a featured piece on the front page of the site where I originally posted it.
These two events formed the beginning of my increased visibility in Uyghur society. Since the conference, I have been in multiple discussions about appearing on Uyghur-language television and radio. I have been invited to give a presentation on American family culture at an upcoming A’ilä mädäniyiti conference, in May 2014, and to edit and submit my online piece to one of the most widely read Uyghur-language magazines in Xinjiang. I was invited to sing and play dutar (a two-stringed lute I have been learning to play since February 2013) at an autism awareness event in Urumchi at the end of March. I have danced and made music and talked—about research and about life—with countless people.
In other words, I have become an incidental ambassador—one small bridge, perhaps, between Uyghurs and Americans—in a way that I undoubtedly could not were I unable to interact with Uyghurs in their native language. And I write with confidence that none of this would be possible without the unfailing and generous support of the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center at Indiana University.
The IAUNRC has impacted me tremendously through the FLAS awards it administers: they awarded me a summer FLAS to begin learning Uyghur in 2006, followed by academic year FLAS awards for the language in 2007-8 and 2008-9 (the latter of which gave me the unparalleled opportunity to self-design an advanced language course geared at helping me increase fluency for research purposes). Academic-year FLAS funding allowed me time to add Chinese classes to my schedule—crucial, as my research falls within the borders of the People’s Republic of China.
They also supported my “crazy” idea to study Tajik in summers 2008 and 2009—which gave me a solid grounding in Persian vocabulary and grammar and an understanding of Eurasian language dynamics, which laid the foundation for me to later study Chaghatay so that I could confidently add historical, text- and manuscript-based dimensions to my dissertation project. The IAUNRC has also given me chances to share my knowledge about Eurasia with local students in Bloomington, and they were a fervent and immensely helpful supporter of Navruz, the Central Asian/Persian New Year celebration I was in charge of planning in 2012.
The IAUNRC has helped me gain language and area knowledge that play a central role in my life. They laid the ground for me to travel to, do informal study, and conduct preliminary research in Xinjiang in summers 2007 and 2010. I’ve gone on to win a pre-dissertation research grant from IU (2011), a Fulbright-IIE grant to China (2012-13), and a Fulbright-Hays for research in China and Sweden (2013-14).
These days I regularly translate epic poetry and academic writing from Uyghur into English. I read manuscripts and contemporary books. I study classical singing techniques of the Uyghur on ikki muqami (Uyghur twelve muqams) tradition; I am learning to play dutar and tämbur (a five-stringed lute); I am even trying my hand at Uyghur stage dance. I interview musicians and artists and cultural bureaucrats, spending as much time as I can talking to and interacting with living human beings, learning what illuminates their lives and work. And I wouldn’t be able to do half of it without the foundation that the IAUNRC helped me to build.