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Ritual and Remembrance: the Reading of Names

Cleve Jones, one of the founders of The AIDS Memorial Quilt, reads names at the 1987 Quilt display in Washington, D.C.

Cleve Jones, one of the founders of The AIDS Memorial Quilt, reads names at the 1987 Quilt display in Washington, D.C.

Each day during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, volunteers will unfold The AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall for display as part of the program Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt. While The Quilt is on display, an oral tradition will also honor the lives of individuals memorialized on The Quilt. Referred to as “the Reading of Names,” this ritual ensures that loved ones lost to AIDS will be commemorated through the voices of visitors, activists, and anyone who desires to read for AIDS remembrance and recognition.

In cultures around the world, an individual remains part of a community after death as long as they are remembered. When creating panels for The Quilt, family and friends submit stories, panel explanations, and other information and objects associated with the person being commemorated. Reciting their names symbolizes a vocal affirmation of an individual’s identity and legacy. This oral tribute keeps memories of those who died alive by ensuring that these individuals do not become simply another statistic of the AIDS pandemic.

All are welcome to take part in the Reading of Names with the program Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt. Those who would like to participate can sign up at the Reader Check-In tent on the western end of the Quilt display. Each reader is given one page of names—about thirty-two names arranged chronologically according to when their panels became part of The Quilt—which takes about 1.5 minutes to read. After reading that page, readers can say the name of their loved one who died of AIDS.

Katie Cardenas is an intern working on the Creativity and Crisis: Unfolding The AIDS Memorial Quilt program for the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. She is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University where she studied Anthropology, Global Health, and Spanish.

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