Bringing Sri Lanka to the world
By Sunali Fernando & Uwin Lugoda
It isn't easy curetting a museum, you need to know what you're representing as well as a heightened thirst for knowledge. These are exactly the qualities Julia Wijesinghehas. Opening the first ever Sri Lankan museum in New York, Julia has brought our culture to the world. We had the pleasure of meeting Julia.
Q. Tell me a little bit about yourself?
A. I'm 18 years old right now, and besides from the museum I major in computer science and I'm actually just about to start collage. I'm also a dancer, I do a lot of natya kathak and bharatanatyam, earlier I used to also do ballet and now I do Kandian.
Q. Why did you start a Museum?
A.I wanted to safeguard Sri Lankan tradition and not let it fade. So when I was 15 I told my dad I wanted to open a Sri Lankan museum, and he helped me learn a lot more about the culture so I could achieve this dream of mine.
My dad bought me so many books from Sri Lanka about coconuts, rubber and then I went to meet the veddas, and tried to learn their language.
Q. What got you so interested about the culture of Sri Lanka?
A.This is all thanks to my mother and fathers influence. If they didn't teach me Sinhalese or teach me about our culture or bring me down here every year I wouldn't have been able to start this museum. In New York City there are so many diverse cultures, and that kind of hit me because I was also from a unique culture. When people came and asked me I used say I'm Sri Lankan, and I used to explain about my country.
Our culture is unique in a lot of aspects, whether it is the food we eat or the way our families are. So that got me more into learning about our culture.
The first historical place I went to in Sri Lanka was the Kelanyia Temple, it's very special to me because my parents got married from there, then I started to travel to places like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and a lot of places like that. When I went to these places I wanted to learn more so I'd question everything. My dad used to do a lot for Sri Lankan culture as well in New York, and here in Ratnapura he has set up a foundation to help young school kids. So altogether those influenced me a lot.
Q. When did you start the Museum?
A.We opened on March 27th and I had all the Sri Lankan religious leaders in New York City come down. My museum is based in Staten Island where there are so many Sri Lankans it's called little Sri Lanka, so it was the best place to start the museum.
The museum combined with my dad's restaurant gives people the full Sri Lankan experience. The museum is only open on Saturdays and Sundays when the restaurant has the buffets, so they get to eat Sri Lankan food and learn about Sri Lanka at the same time.
Q. What's there in your museum?
A.In a small library section, we have books about Vaddas and books about rituals in Sri Lanka. We also have a full section on music, with all the different instruments in Sri Lanka. There are also paintings done with kithul and a collection of ayurvedic medicial masks.
There's a clay section, with clay pots for cooking and all that. Then there are things made from braze. We have the gems, the wattiya and we also brought over a rubber tree trunk which was used so I could show people how it's done. There's also a tea exhibit and a coconut exhibit.
Q. What are your future plans?
A.One day I want to major in Sri Lankan culture too. And maybe when I've learned a lot more I could start a Sri Lankan history class since there's next to no Sri Lankan history in New York. I want to show other young people that you don't have to open up a museum you could do anything to show who you are.
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