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March 2, 2004 > Eureka! A Gem of a Museum

Eureka! A Gem of a Museum

by Praveena Raman

Last October, Risha Krishna was describing the new Ethnic Studies class she was teaching at Mission San Jose High School (MSJHS) to an acquaintance at a party. She was surprised to learn about a Native American museum at Irvington High School. Her class was scheduled to study Native American culture the next month, so she made arrangements for them to visit the museum. Not knowing what to expect, Risha and her class were thrilled to realize that they had uncovered a treasure in Fremont.

The museum is part of Fremont Unified School District's Native American Studies program. It was housed for many years at Linda Vista Elementary School and moved to Irvington High School in the mid 1990s. Information and artifacts of various tribes are displayed and exhibited by region. Laura Koshy, a student in the Ethnic Studies class says, "I thought that there would be general Native American artifacts in the museum. I did not expect them [the artifacts] to be grouped." Elaine Yoo adds, "Even though they are grouped according to regions, we learned that each tribe has its own special characteristics."

The museum displays are artifacts and crafts that are currently in use, made by living artists. Program specialist Vanessa Yava, who is part Navajo and part Hopi, says that the collection cannot truly be called a museum but is more of a gallery of Native American culture. At the center of the gallery, a model of a second mesa on a Hopi Reservation, made by the students at Ohlone College, is featured. It shows both modern and traditional structures.

Ethnic Studies students have found that people stereotype each other. T.J. Gonzales says, "When we started discussing (ethnicities) we noticed that we were being stereotyped." Eric Lee continues, "And when we went to the museum and saw the artifacts and read the information, we realized that we were stereotyping Native Americans. They are a misrepresented group who are actually very sophisticated." Another example of stereotyping is the inappropriate use of artifacts or names portraying Native American tribes as mascots. This practice is now being reconsidered and, in many cases, banned.

Student Irene Ho says, "This class has given us an opportunity to expand our knowledge about different cultures and learn how their lives differ from ours." Silvia Perezalonso adds, "This class is interesting and is very different from the other classes offered here at Mission San Jose High School." Vice Principal Sandy Prairie proudly states, "This is the only Ethnic Studies class in the Fremont Unified School District that is approved by the University of California. It expands the range of electives that we offer here and offers a nice balance to the science and math courses we have at Mission."

Vanessa Yava maintains and has expanded the gallery and a library of books, CD's and videos under a federal grant. Class sets of some of the books are available as well. Realizing that there is a high dropout rate for Native Americans, Yava started an after school tutorial program for Native American students. Risha has encouraged her students to help tutor Native American students and earn service learning credits. The Native American museum/gallery is not only a great educational experience for students, but also a wonderful resource for the community.

For more information about the Native American Museum and current hours of operation, call (510) 687-6493. It is usually open Monday through Friday from 2:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. at Irvington High School.

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