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New Exhibit Will Take Unique Look At Neighborhood Corner Stores

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Asian Arts Initiative is preparing to open a new exhibit that takes a unique look at neighborhood corner stores-- a place where cultures come together via commerce.

There's one on just about every block in the inner city-- a corner store. Residents go there to get milk, bread, or possibly a takeout meal, but it's not just a place of convenience, it's a locus of culture-- where immigrant owners and American customers interact and sometimes clash. And many times, the only thing that separates the two sides is bullet proof glass.

"They have to interact through these windows and there are these pre-conceived ideas of what that person is like on the other side," says Ernel Martinez.

Martinez and artist Keir Johnson are two parts of Amber Art & Design. The duo came up with the idea of Corner Store: Take Out Stories, an exhibition that takes a deeper look at the people on both sides of the glass barrier through performance art, photographs, sculptures and much more.

"This project is meant to illuminate some of these differences, you know culturally, economically, but at the same time tell the story of hard work and dedication," says Martinez.

The collaborative effort with Asian Arts Initiative includes the results of corner store surveys, walking tours and interviews. Elements of these efforts will be included in a showcase at Asian Arts Initiative from June 1 through August 22.

"It's really a look at the attempt to advance the lifestyle of your family within a marginalized community," says Johnston, "you realize cultures can clash when they are in this really unnatural format and they are exposed to each other."

"This is a story from so many immigrants coming to America. They have this American dream idea," says Ellen Hwang, youth coordinator at Asian Arts Initiative. Hwang is working with many young people whose parents own corners stores in low income neighborhoods.

"They're not only in a place of poverty, but they are also in a place with races they've never encountered," she says, "the language barrier, the cultural barrier of growing up only around people within your ethnicity and only trusting your own ethnicity and then coming over here and realizing you don't trust the sound, you don't trust the people. It's scary."

Hwang grew up in the Fishtown corner store owned by her parents who are from Korea. She says the story of culture shock is very common.

"The unknown," she says, "you don't know what to expect so you put on a protective front that comes across as a sharp eye or a really frank way of speaking to one another."

The exhibit will also include a summer youth workshop that takes a look at these interactions between corner store owners and neighborhood consumers.

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