By Ed Diokno
President Barack Obama has awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom to 21 individuals who have exemplified the best of America.
The majority of the medals, the highest award bestowed to non-military citizens, went to celebrities in sports and the arts, including artist Maya Lin.
Maya rose to fame when she was chosen as the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., now known as The Wall.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is composed of two walls spanning 246 feet in length that stand as a testament to human sacrifice. Etched upon it are the names of the more than 58,000 men and women who died or remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. It is one of the most poignant memorials in America.
At the time, the Vietnam War was the nation’s longest war and one of the most divisive. America was in search of healing and reconciliation. In 1980, a national design competition was launched. The winner was an unknown Maya Lin, a 21-year-old undergraduate student from Yale University. The design would be “a long, polished, black stone wall, emerging from and receding into the earth.”
After Maya Lin’s design was chosen, outrage ensued. Many were offended by its nontraditional design. Its color, black, was detested for its “sad” and “negative” connotation. It was referred to as a “black gash of shame” and a “degrading ditch.” Many also felt that an Asian American should not be the designer.
Jim Knotts, CEO of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund released a statement on the President’s recognition of Lin:
“The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund will be forever grateful for Maya’s artistry. Her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was controversial when it was first introduced to the public, but 35 years later, her design has proven to be a remarkable piece of art that has changed the way a nation mourns. We continue to see Vietnam veterans start or continue their healing process when they stand in front of The Wall. And younger generations continue to be awed by the scope of the sacrifice as the walk the long walls and realize every name is a life cut short. They begin to learn what it means to serve our country. The Wall, through it’s simple but brilliant design, helped to heal a generation and our nation. The Wall began a body of work in both art and architecture that will continue to impact our country for generations to come. It is wholly appropriate that we recognize Maya Lin for her contributions with our nation’s highest civilian honor.”
The White House said, “A committed environmentalist, Lin is currently working on a multi-sited artwork/memorial, What is Missing?, bringing awareness to the planet’s loss of habitat and biodiversity.”
“I am so saddened by the stated goals of the incoming administration to dismantle the environmental protections that have made our water and our air and our communities safer and cleaner, and that (President-Elect Donald Trump) threatens to renege on the Paris Climate accord—which would be … a disaster for us both ecologically and economically,” she told NBC News.
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