Dreams of the Diaspora

Jyoti Omi Chowdhury and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
Washington, DC, United States


“Dreams of the Diaspora” is a multimedia conversation of photographs, prose poetry, spoken word, and soundscape, in which two voices—an Asian American child of immigrants and an Asian immigrant—explore their very different experiences of both America and the diaspora. The child of immigrants knows how difficult it is to grow up as a minority in America and longs for the certainty of home and culture that the immigrant carries but takes for granted, while the immigrant knows how tenuous his stay in America is and envies the certainty of home and place that the American-born has but does not appreciate. Both voices ache with alienation as they wander the globe, yearning for both the future and the past, independence and belonging. Together, they discover connection and identity and courage in each other.

The events following 9/11, including racial profiling at airports (and potlucks) and the uncertainty surrounding the H-1B visa form the turning point of the piece, when the two voices stop arguing about their differences and begin walking together instead.

This multimedia artwork consists of a series of eight monochromatic and dichromatic photographs traversing South Asia and America, with prose poetry text written across the photographs in white cursive lettering. The audio features two voices speaking the prose poetry, one male Bengali-accented voice and one female American-accented voice, set against a soundscape of bustling city market—evoking the people and cultures and memories carried by the diaspora through the generations and the rich texture of the diaspora wherever it is—while the driving heartbeat of the tabla keeps the individual moving forward.


JYOTI OMI CHOWDHURY was born in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. He moved to the United States and then to Canada for his university education. During graduate school at Harvard and his ensuing fieldwork, he began to research and write on genocide, gender equity, war theory, and liberalism. It was during this time that he found an outlet in photography. His photography exhibits the equipoise between space and human identity. Most of his photographs were taken at various warzones and dictatorships, from Somalia to Burma. He has had three solo shows in Ann Arbor, Boston, and Berlin. His work has been featured in galleries in Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Prague, Munich, and Abu Dhabi. He has photographed London Fashion Week, Copenhagen Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week. His work has been published in Agave, BBC, Blur, En-Vie, Vogue Italia, Cha, and Kartika Review. More at www.omigraphy.com.

FRANCES KAI-HWA WANG is a second-generation Chinese American from California who has lived in Nepal, China, and Taiwan, and now divides her time between Michigan and Hawai'i. She is a contributor for NBC News Asian America, AAPI Voices, New America Media, Chicago is the World, JACL’s Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent.com, and HuffPostLive. She also team-teaches Asian Pacific American civil rights history and the law at the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan Dearborn. She was the arts and culture editor of IMDiversity.com Asian American Village and wrote a nationally syndicated column called “Adventures in Multicultural Living.” She served as Executive Director of American Citizens for Justice and the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce. She has published three chapbooks of prose poetry, including “Imaginary Affairs—Postcards from an Imagined Life,” and she has been included in several anthologies and art exhibitions. More at www.franceskaihwawang.com.


  • Title: Dreams of the Diaspora
  • Creator: Jyoti Omi Chowdhury and Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
  • Medium: Multimedia (photographs, prose poetry, spoken word, soundscape)

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