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  • Folklife Friday: Cambodian Fried Chicken, Vietnamese Literature, and More

    Folklife Friday is a weekly digest of arts and culture articles, podcasts, and videos from across the web. Read on for a selection of the week’s best cultural heritage pieces, and don’t forget to check back next Friday for a new set of weekly picks.

    How Cambodians Became the Kings of Beloved South L.A. Fried Chicken Chain
    When Michael Eng moved to Los Angeles in 1992, it was to flee the civil war and attempted genocide in his home country of Cambodia. Here Eng reflects on those early years—long hours spent working at the restaurant chain Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken—and the community he found there. “The restaurant…is a cultural mixtape that only Southern California could have produced,” writes Frank Shyong of the Los Angeles Times. “Fried chicken, served by Cambodian refugees to black and Latino customers, from a chain founded by a white man from Michigan.”

    The Great Vietnam War Novel Was Not Written by an American
    In Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, author Viet Thanh Nguyen delves into the complexities of cultural life in a war-torn community. In this op-ed, he considers the role of literature and a diversity of viewpoints in fostering mutual understanding. “I was determined to tell some of those stories,” Nguyen writes, “for I knew that Americans as a whole knew very little about them.” 

    Tiny Desk Concert: Antonio Lizana
    In this live performance, Spanish saxophonist and vocalist Antonio Lizana weaves jazz and flamenco music into a Tiny Desk Concert that is, by turns, improvised and studied—contrasts firmly rooted in tradition. “As a vocalist he has mastered the Moorish, note-bending improvisations that make flamenco singing so beguiling,” Felix Contreras writes, “while the fluidity of ideas he expresses as a saxophonist place him in the time-honored tradition of composing while playing.”

    For more richly layered flamenco music, Smithsonian Folkways offers Early Cante Flamenco and Cante Jondo: Flamenco Music.

    The Life-Saving Weaving of Bolivia’s Indigenous Women
    In La Paz, Bolivia, indigenous women are using their traditional weaving skills to fashion intricate, latticed devices that treat heart abnormalities. In this video, Franz Freudenthal, a pediatric cardiologist, speaks to the skill of these women and the urgency of their craft. “The women that work here are Aymara and carry the ability to weave in their blood,” Freudenthal explains. “It is beautiful to me that this ancestral weaving, together with this technology, is saving kids.”

    Learn about a more whimsical interpretation of Aymara weaving techniques from Folklife Festival participant Aymar Ccopacatty, “the plastic bag weaver.”

    The Struggles of Writing About Chinese Food as a Chinese Person
    For Chinese American reporter Clarissa Wei, the coverage of Chinese cuisine by food critics reveals a bias that even the popularity of Chinese food cannot belie. “In a weird turn of events, people were making money and becoming famous for eating the things I had grown up with and had been bullied for,” she writes. She traces how “the food of her people” evolved from “horrific” to “cool” and the limited perspectives that persist in the field. “I write this because history has a way of erasing our role in our own food.”

    Special thanks to editor Elisa Hough and Michael Mason for their contributions to this week’s digest.

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