Students in the Block 2 class Musical Tapestries of the American Southwest were treated to a trip to New Mexico where leading faculty and professor, Liliana Carrizo, grew up. Building upon her existing relationships with Indigenous, Nuevomexicano/a, Jewish, and Arab immigrants who shared their homes, food, stories, art, and experiences with the students, Carrizo facilitated opportunities for the students to cultivate their own meaningful relationships. It was impressed upon them that, in today’s ethnographic and anthropological academic environment, it’s more important than ever to ensure the exchange of cultural knowledge is attuned to issues of power and privilege and based in reciprocity and trust. This testament is the overarching focus for Carrizo’s sabbatical project next semester, which is to complete her book Encounters with Invisible Songs: Sounding Testimony and Intermusical Remembrance in Iraqi Biographical Songs.
Having grown up in an Iraqi Jewish household, Carrizo discovered that her family, along with others, had been safeguarding songs tied to the hardships Iraqi Jews experienced during the migration and cultural relocation to Israel in the mid-twentieth century. These biographical songs of music history were only sung in secrecy by elders, away from social and political criticism. In time, the songs fell victim to the eventual renationalization of Iraqi Jews into Israeli society when later generations no longer improvised these songs in the same meaningful way. The apparent mystery surrounding these songs pulled at Carrizo’s curiosity. She hopes that her book will tell the story of how these songs have allowed “for the articulation and maintenance of alternative life histories in defiance of ethno-nationalist polarization.”
Carrizo’s unique position on this sensitive subject is advantageous as she is directly tied to the culture. But how might other ethnographers outside of a culture approach their studies respectfully? How did the students in her New Mexico class eventually create a mutual exchange with the guest artists who worked with them? Their final project was to create an artistic expression of how their short journey to New Mexico personally impacted their lives. Students gifted artwork, songs, and other forms of expression with the families and artists they met that were truly beautiful and profound. Carrizo explains that “through song, individuals adopt multiple perspectives in narrating major life events.” Her influence on the students at CC, and the wider ethnomusicology community, will continue to make a lasting impression for years to come. We wish her well in her continued research and will be watching out for her completed book in the future!