Monday, June 2, 2014

The Aguilar Family on Open Engagement 2014, Part II

Open Engagement is an annual conference exploring diverse perspectives in social practice. This year's theme was Life/Work, with keynote speeches by amazing artist-mothers Mierle Laderman Ukeles and J. Morgan Puett. The conference also featured Human Hotel, an evolving project by the Danish group Wooloo, providing free housing for conference attendees traveling with their families as well as on-site daycare. Needless to say we wanted to include a full report here. We got a great one thanks to the incredible Aguilar family, who between the six of them managed to participate in just about every aspect of the conference, from child care and housing to a group performance and conversation for the conference itself. We’re presenting their review in two parts. Here, part II:

registration materials, Open Engagement 2014

Paolo Aguilar, 11

When we first went to the Queens Museum we got our name tags to get in for the three days. The second day we went to the kid’s daycare. There we made a city out of blocks around the redwood trees that Martin gave us. Martin picked a great house and company and people for us to live with. Whenever we asked Joel and Avi for something they gave it to us, whenever we asked to help them they said no let us do it. They were super nice. They also had a cute dog named Daisy. Sometimes she was feisty and sometimes she was nice. She cared about Avi but not as much as she cared about Joel, her daddy. The third day we did our presentation. My dad sang a one-minute song. My sister talked about pictures of our family. My brother and sister sang together and then my mom sewed or something and I was barely in it. I just moved a remote control car during my sister’s talk and it was the end of our presentation. I did not really like it because I did not do anything. But everything else was great.

Madeleine Aguilar, 16

When the GPS read that there was only 1 minute until we reached our hosts’ house, we were all terrified. By that time, we had already walked around New York City and it was the most amazing place I had ever been. Everything felt so different -- like another country, but it wasn’t. That’s what made it so amazing; I didn’t know that a city like that could exist in America.

We were getting closer and closer to the house and it was night. The little destination flag
New York 3014, acrylic on brown paper
drawing by Madeleine Aguilar
was right in front of us, and we started driving really slow. We didn’t know how the house looked or how our hosts looked.  Every house we passed could be the one we were staying in. I would look at a house and tell myself “ok, that one wouldn’t be too bad,” or, “ I’d be fine if it was this one”. We’ve had many bad experiences staying in strangers’ homes - relating to shedding cats, dead bugs, and lots of dust- so I was just trying to make myself feel better. But when my dad pulled into the house, I didn’t need to try to be optimistic. Everything about it was welcoming and beautiful, and it was filled with light.

Joel was waiting outside to meet us with Daisy, their dog. We talked with him outside for a long time before he took us inside to meet his wife, Avi. They cleaned the whole house and swept the porches just for our arrival. They offered us Klondike bars and ice cream sandwiches, mangos and grapes. Joel was so happy when my dad taught him his special mango cutting technique. They set up mattresses in the basement for us to sleep on. They had a Ping-Pong table down there and we played it every night. Every morning we ate breakfast together. The light was so beautiful in their house in the morning because they had windows on their ceiling. One morning we ate bagels and smoked salmon outside on their porch. The salmon looked squishy and red so I didn’t think I’d like it, but I tasted it anyways and it was so good. On our last day together, my dad made mole and rice and beans. They loved it, especially the mole. That night my brother and I performed music for them. They were so happy, they asked for an encore. We all stayed up late that night talking because we knew that we had to say goodbye in the morning. It was really hard to say goodbye.

Even though most days we were busy with the conference and exploring New York, it was so nice to come back home to our friends in their nice, quiet neighborhood, far from the city, to hear their funny stories and to tell our stories as well. I loved spending time with Joel and Avi, and it’s weird to think that it was coincidental events that brought our families together so perfectly.

Alberto Aguilar (father)

Upon entering the Queens Museum to register for the conference the attendant asked for our names and was surprised to hear that we were all presenters and each had an assigned name tag. She then gave us each a canvas bag with a big OE on it that was filled with gifts and the conference program. This made my kids really excited.
eating Lunch at the Unisphere, Flushing Meadows
Corona Park outside of the Queens Museum

The Queens Museum is building is the site of the 1939 and later 1964 World’s Fair. 

From 1946-1950 this building also housed the General Assembly of the newly formed United Nations.

The crown jewel of the Queens Museum is a miniature scaled model of New York City that was built for the 1964 World’s Fair.

On the second day of the Open Engagement conference their was a 75th and 50th anniversary festival of the NYC World's Fair that took place in the park outside of the Queens Museum and brought a great crowd into the building while the conference was happening.

We ate at a Mexican Restaurant in Queens that makes fresh tortillas daily and provides them for many restaurants around New York City. After enjoying our food there I gave our server a pack of El Milagro tortillas from Chicago that I had in the van as a gift for our host family. In exchange he gave me a free pound of his fresh tortillas in gratitude, which we ate at a meal that I made for Joel and Avi on our last night in their home.
redwood trees and blocks in the daycare

As a teenager Avi went to Denmark as an exchange student where she formed a strong bond with her host family there that continues until this day. On Avi’s advice, her daughter Dana also went to Denmark her first year out of high school. There she interned for Martin Rosengaard, the founder of Wooloo, the group that runs Human Hotel, which arranged our housing with Joel and Avi Kopel in New Jersey. They treated us with great hospitality and made us feel at home during our time at the conference. Our children love them dearly.

As part of the daycare in the conference each of our children was given a redwood tree to plant and imagine in the year 3014. We brought two of these home to Chicago, gave one to Joel and Avi and the other to my friend Clintel Steed whom we visited in Brooklyn.

Read Part I

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