Yo-Yo Ma performed a moving concert at the U.S./Mexico border to protest Trump's immigration policy.

Yo-Yo Ma chose to play one of his Bach Project concerts in the border town of Laredo, Texas for a reason.

The Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, which stretches over the Rio Grande to connect the sister cities of Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, provided the backdrop for Yo-Yo Ma as he played for a crowd of people in Laredo this weekend. The bridge served as the perfect symbol for the renowned cellist's message: "In culture, we build bridges, not walls."

For the past two years, 63-year-old Ma has been traveling the world with his "Bach Project"—an exploration of the connections between cultures. Performing Bach's six suites for cello in 36 locations around the world, Ma hopes to share the composer's "ability to speak to our common humanity at a time when our civic conversation is so often focused on division."


His concert at the border was followed by a concert on the other side of the bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Ma himself is a perfect representation of cross-cultural understanding.

The mayor of Laredo, Pete Saenz, said the cities of Laredo in the U.S. and Nuevo Laredo in Mexico enjoy close cooperation and see themselves as part of one border community.

"Although people may perceive us as being so different, we're not," he said, according to NPR. "Here the border is extremely unique in that it's one organism. I've always said we're interdependent, interconnected. We survived because the border side survives, especially here on the border area."

Yo-Yo Ma, who was born in Paris to Chinese parents but lived most of his life in the U.S., understands how cultures intertwine more deeply than most. "I've lived my life at the borders," Ma told the audience. "Between cultures. Between disciplines. Between musics. Between generations."

He has spent six decades performing music around the world and believes strongly in the power of music to bring people together.

Ma called up on the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty to drive his point home.

In his remarks during the concert, Ma read part of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Ma added, "We must live by those words."

He also pointed out that "A country is not a hotel, and it's not full"—an obvious reference to President Trump's recent tweet stating, "Our Country is FULL."

His message was clear: We should be focusing our energies on building bridges connecting people, not walls dividing them. And what better way to connect people than through music that has touched people of all walks of life for hundreds of years.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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