Summer Centered: Athena Intanate '23 Studies Diasporic Communities Through Food
The English, international studies, and Spanish triple major is researching the foods of diasporic communities across the United States to better understand them.
This summer, Athena Intanate ‘23 is focused on food, but not, as you might think, on eating it or on judging its culinary merits. Rather, the English, international studies, and Spanish triple major, who is also minoring in visual studies, is examining its cultural significance as she dives into her international studies senior thesis. Her self-designed research project, “The Gastropoetics of Diasporic South-East and East-Asian American Immigrants,” is funded by a Summer Research Fellowship from the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities.
Intanate is spending this summer traveling across the U.S. to collect photographs of and stories about food in diasporic Asian American communities. In particular, her goal is to explore how and to what extent these communities have retained their linguistic and cultural roots.
“The next few months I'm traveling to Louisiana, New York, and California to interview and photograph people there, seeing where they get ingredients from, the role of food in their communities and homes, what sort of languages are used in conjunction with the food, and whether or not the food has been hybridized,” Intanate said.
In addition to studying texts about the history of diasporic communities and their food, much of her research is being conducted through the lived experience of community members. She is asking owners and chefs if they are willing to be interviewed and photographed. Lastly, she is learning about the experiences of friends, and their families, who are members of diasporic communities.
Thanks to the funding provided by the Hurford Center, Intanate has been able to document her entire journey on film. This has greatly increased her personal connection with the project. After she first used a film camera four years ago while living in her hometown of Bangkok, Thailand, she has never gone back to a digital camera.
“I fell in love with the colours produced in each film stock, the way you could hear the satisfying click of each frame, the firm sensation of the film advancing. It made my photographs feel more tangible, more connected, and using film made me appreciate taking photographs so much more,” she said. In addition, the memories of her father’s and mother’s families, and their first move to America, are preserved on film, creating a special link between Intanate and the medium. She was thankful for the funding necessary to pay homage to the history of her family.
As she lays the groundwork for one of her three upcoming thesis projects, Intanate is especially excited about deepening her knowledge of the respective communities’ cultures and culinary traditions.
“It's one thing to read about something academically, and an entirely different thing to be able to speak to the people involved,” she said. “I'm also looking forward to learning how to conduct more ethnographic, hands-on research, something that I've been learning a lot through my supervisors as well as Haverford alum who have done/are doing similar work.”
So far, Intanate has learned that food and community go hand in hand. She has connected with chefs in Louisiana, including Annie Hoang of B&T Seafood and Sophina Uong, located in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, respectively. Both agreed that community is crucial to their work, not only in representing the different cultures through their cuisines, but also in feeding and serving their own communities.
Intanate hopes that this summer’s experience will help prepare her to pursue a career grounded in studying the cultures and traditions of diverse diasporic communities.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-supported summer work.