A few years ago, I was able to catch a temporary OMSI exhibit on identity and ethnicity. Although my experience was a mixed bag of negatives and positives, I did come away with some thought-provoking enlightenments.

First the negatives. When I arrived at around 1 o’clock on a Friday in February, the exhibit was swarming with grade school children. A few had nametags, some had adults attempting to keep track of the squealing, laughing tykes who were in, out and around the individual audience participation desks and kiosks. They were having a free-for-all good time. The public address system kept calling out children’s names with instructions on how to meet in the entry lobby immediately.

Since many of the parts of the exhibit were only geared to verbal instructions for activation, the din made it difficult and sometimes impossible to hear them. Plus some of the exhibits were broken or simply too disabled to operate properly — yet were not labeled “out of order.” However, by 2:30 p.m., most of the school children had finally left and adults with strollers were able to circulate somewhat more comfortably.

On the plus side, two of the exhibits were fascinating and worth the wait in line to try it yourself. Both involved a photo of your face. One morphed your face (already determined by age) portraying what your face would look like if you smoked, if you had enjoyed too much sun, if you had a poor diet (junk food) or if you lived near pollution or none of the above. To begin it required your gender and age and each option took at least three minutes to process and produce your image as you aged. Yikes! It was certainly enough to set you back on your heels and for you to update your New Year’s resolutions and pledge to the “straight and narrow” and sunscreen SP30-plus. This exhibit would certainly be a wake-up call for any age.

The second machine that I loved also used photography. After your photo appeared on the screen, you could see what you would look like as the opposite gender, male or female. I tried both. Hmmm.

Next you had a choice of eight ethnic transformations. I tried several, both as a female and as a male: Black, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern. There were several more, but, since this process took a lot of time for each change, the people waiting behind me were getting restless, and several of the parents had babies in tow. I had already spent about 10 minutes studying who I could have been but for the accident of birth. The aim was to find out how you would feel if you were one of these ethnicities, especially if you were another gender. Better or worse or pretty much the same, as you are now in your own skin? I found I stubbornly wanted to keep my same personality and that was being challenged. It was most interesting, thought provoking and enlightening — I bet this was exactly why this exhibition was designed. It certainly challenged me.

Sylvia Malagamba is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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