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Sonenshine on diaspora & cultural exchanges

How diaspora and cultural exchanges affect modern public diplomacy: foreign exchange programs, sports, food, arts. Fmr. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs of the US Dept. of State, Tara Sonenshine in conversation with Charlie Firestone of The Aspen Institute.

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Video transcript

I'm Charlie Firestone with the Aspen Institute here with Tara Sun and shine former Undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs of the u.s. Department of State so I want to go in two directions on yours good the first is diasporas of other countries coming here and the role of diasporas in public diplomacy and then the second is going to be getting to these cultural and educational exchanges and how people understand America beyond just the media but personally experiencing it so let's start with a diaspora and I'll start with a question which is that throughout our history we've been a country of immigrants in a country of people coming from all over the world and they have actually form large communities of their people in the United States and in fact still relate to their old country how does that impact American diplomacy and how does do american diplomats use the fact of diasporas being in the united states to its advantage or to its aim diaspora constitute part of the American story so when we see those Ellis Island pictures and we see the Statue of Liberty and we hear the stories of Greek communities of Jewish communities of Irish communities of Asian American communities we are reminded of this melting pot America so I think that is part of the fabric and tapestry of our national story we go back for a moment to Smith Mont the problem i always had with Smith Mont was of course you could be broadcasting to Poland but you have polish communities in Chicago that are hearing it somehow unless you want them to put their hands over their ears and say only in Poland can I here envoy on Radio Free Europe so that internal inconsistency and schizophrenia we've had about diaspora has pervaded the public diplomacy sphere in that we have foreigners who might be hyphenated Americans and this melting pot world that we're now in has of course made this public diplomacy so complex another part of the Diaspora that we've grown to appreciate are the influx of foreign students into America one of the tools in that public diplomacy toolbox are these exchange programs and international education because we believe that knowledge of the other is one way you persuade that I can best persuade you about my way of thinking if you live in my house that I have the least possible opportunity of persuading educating informing you if I never seen you I've never seen your country and you've never seen mine that is a fundamental tenet of public diplomacy that without that interaction we are estranged and we will end up coming to blows or end up undermining one another's stories by lack of familiarity so we began and this goes to William Fulbright and others we began to bring students here and we began to send Americans overseas and that is a critical room in the public diplomacy house because it's where people break down these barriers good and when we move into culture we send some of our greatest artists and other cultural icons around the world and that is a State Department activity crib jazz and public diplomacy I often use as the metaphor for what we're talking about jazz is an improvisational medium it's music in a language everyone can understand the United States experiment with jazz was that you could bring distant distinct communities the African American community and the white community together around this medium of jazz later we were able to export if you will the culture of jazz and that led to an understanding of the power of music to break down barriers and to convey your sense of story and your narratives so today we have many forms of musical hip hop programs with Brazil and ballets with China and we've learned so have other countries that if you share your culture including your food we now have food diplomacy and cuisine culinary diplomacy because we've learned that food for example is a powerful way to put people around the same table so you can take chefs from different countries and they may be able to talk food while we're talking nuclear weapons or trade and this sense that if we can find these ways to make the other not seem so strange foreign policy becomes less firing and that in a sense is a victory for public diplomacy because I might just whoa you to my side of thinking if i can get you at my table sports is a very very important part of diplomacy the olympics the notion of the russian sochi games so we also have to look not only at film and art and media but sports diplomacy such as the us-china ping-pong diplomacy where you actually break down a relationship over a net is another interesting international medium in which the public peace sets the table for that wider opening in us-china relations and I think for those taking courses that that becomes a very powerful symbol when they see that Olympic Flag of an overarching universal belief in the power of individuals to compete that's where you get the global story line and those who participate might be nations that don't talk to each other off the field