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"Bridging religious and cultural divides"

The second in the UTS guest speaker series for the Spring 2017 semester took place on March 29. This time, our guests were the pioneer and a partner of “The Mongol House Project,” Naran Badushov, founder and president of the Tulip Foundation, and Peter van Geldern, professor of mass communications at the University of Bridgeport and founder of the UnFOLD Creative Agency.

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Photo: (center) Mr. Naran Badushov, founder and president of the Tulip Foundation, posing with attendees on March 29, 2017.

Naran is a Kalmyk Mongol whose passion to preserve the cultural heritage and identity of his people inspired him to propose the construction of a traditional Mongolian ger or yurt village in Howell, New Jersey. His hopes for the village are twofold: that it will serve as a space where Kalmyk youth and others can learn about the languages and religious traditions of different Mongolian tribes and a space where members of the wider community can come together to build relationships and bridge religious and cultural divides in a spirit of openness and tolerance.

Everybody’s American dream is different. Even though they say it’s the same, I think everybody’s American dream is different; and this [project] is part of that American dream.” Naran Badushov, Tulip Foundation/Mongol House Project

Naran chose Howell as the site of the project because that is where his parents and many other Kalmyk Mongols settled after facing intense discrimination and persecution by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and ultimately constructed the first Tibetan Buddhist temple in the United States. As a first-generation Mongol American and now a leader in the Howell Kalmyk community, Naran has experienced, over his lifetime, the slow erosion of the rich cultural roots set down by his parents’ generation, a trend he hopes to reverse through the Mongol House Project.

Brought together by a common interest in bridging intergenerational gaps, fostering community, and architectural innovation, Naran and Peter have begun to collaborate, with Peter contributing the media and technical support of his creative agency to achieve the goals of Naran’s project.

Admittedly, although I’ve never been to Howell, the idea of erecting a Mongolian yurt village anywhere in my home state was at first hard to imagine; when I attempted to envision such an addition to the New Jersey landscape in my mind, the sequence of football field, high school, playground, yurt felt somewhat awkward. But when Naran began to describe a recent experience of trying to draw a traditional Mongolian bow—how to draw the bow correctly, how hard it was to do, his appreciation for the patient and slow craftmanship required to construct a single bow—I could see for myself the pure, almost childlike joy he finds in his heritage and I began to warm to the idea of the yurt village, the beauty of the culture he so passionately wants to preserve now clear to me.

I think my initial hesitation arose from the fact that I assumed culture to be a zero-sum game: that the introduction of a Mongolian cultural space implied a proportional sacrifice or elimination of “American” or even “New Jerseyan” culture from that space. But what does it mean to be an American or a New Jerseyan? New Jersey has been Naran’s home even longer than it’s been mine. And fifty years from now, new generations will likely have grown up thinking that it’s totally natural, normal, even wonderful to have a yurt village as part of their community. And I could see the village becoming normal, natural, and wonderful to me even sooner. It was how Naran framed the project near the beginning of his comments that helped me come to this conclusion:

“Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the Mongol House Project, and who I am, and my community and how my community is the same as any other community here in America: that we’re small, in relation, and [pursuing] the American dream. Everybody’s American dream is different. Even though they say it’s the same, I think everybody’s American dream is different; and this [project] is part of that American dream.”
–Naran Badushov, Tulip Foundation/Mongol House Project

Learn more about the Mongol House Project and donate to the cause at www.thetulipfoundation.org.

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