Monday, May 9, 2011

Culture Clash

By Michael Han

Immigrant Parents: Don't Blame Your Children For Not Retaining Your Culture!

In this video Yasir Qadhi prompts immigrant parents to not hold their children to blame for not retaining pieces of their culture. He states “you decided to change your land and civilization—and that comes at a cost… we as a people born and raised here, we cannot act the way you did your age.” He chastises parents for their decision and that they should “cut us some slack.” He also states how there are lessons they need preserve (particularly religion) but interestingly enough, language is one of the things that will ultimately go out the window.

I will say that after watching this video, two things came to mind:
1) Ms. Siber, my high school health teacher would have had a field day chastising Qadhi for his use of ‘you’ messages.
2) Qadhi, although at some points seems a bit… harsh in his judgment, he does bring up some valid points. This semester we have spent a good deal of time examining the implications of bilingual vs. English only education—what does it mean for the students who are actually forced to go through with it? What does it mean for their cultures, their young, impressionable minds, and most importantly, their futures? This is an excerpt from Qadhi’s book, called Culture Clash which refers to how children of immigrant parents often come into conflict with their heritage while being raised in American society.

            Many supporters of bilingual education emphasize the loss of individuality and culture that comes in hand with an English only education. Well I try my hardest to remain as politically neutral as possible, I think I will voice some of my opinions for the sake of this blog post (going out with a bang, I guess). I think while culture is important to maintain, Qadhi makes a good point. If a family decides to move to America to pursue the American dream—for their children to be successful, for them to learn English and assimilate into American ideals and what not, it is inevitable that bits and pieces of culture and life will be lost in the process. Nothing comes easily, and some things simply require sacrifice. Otto Santa Ana’s Brown Tide Rising makes reference to the uses of water-based metaphors when describing language. I am proposing another—language, like water, ebbs at culture and individuality. It causes it to erode, it smooths surfaces over, and in some ways—evens out surface imperfections, attesting to the cleansing properties of water. I understand how radical this sounds—by no means am I implying that non-English speakers must be cleansed or purified. But what this does imply is that the Standard English ideology is at play here. Language smooths non-English speakers out, turning them into ideal English speakers. It is creative destruction. ESL students trade in their native languages to have a chance of being inducted into the English speaking world. In society, what do we regard as beautiful? What is the paradigm of perfection? Objects that are round, smooth and shiny—a nice pebble you find at the beach, for example. Water—language, does this to people. It turns them from coarse rocks into smooth pebbles.
            Richard Rodriguez’s Aria presents an interesting perspective into this discussion. In a way, these words are Rodriguez’s own aria—it his solo, an opportunity for him to voice the feelings he for so long could not voice. He describes his gradual Americanization. He goes from being a shy and timid school boy who refused to “learn the language of public society” (34) to fully embracing the English language itself. This gradual change is accompanied by changes within the structure of his family as well as “special feeling of closeness at home was diminished… we remained a loving family but one greatly changed. No longer so close; no longer bound tight by the pleasing and troubling knowledge of our public separateness” (36). As they were slowly inducted into the public language sphere of English, what once bonded the family together—the private environment of being Spanish speak out casts slowly. Here, language acts again like water—washing away the glue that bound a family closer together. Throughout the piece, Rodriguez describes how he and his siblings would no longer return to their home right away—a place that once represented a safe haven was no longer required, seeing as how they felt more comfortable in the outside world, having adopted the English language. Rodriguez also describes the noticeable changes in his parents, who also work towards adopting the English language. His mother grew more publicly confident—making an effort to learn the names of their neighbors and installing a house phone (36). His father, on the other hand, is also emasculated—he grows silent, does not speak. He loses his voice, and allows their mother to speak for them in private (37). Although this comes hand in hand with not being familiar with a language, Rodriguez’s father’s attitudes towards adopting the English language are clear. Both parents make sacrifices in adopting English—they speak less of it at home, and Rodriguez’s father speaks less in general. What do they get in return though? His mother grows more confident with her place in society, and their children all prosper and can successfully be a part of the American dream. Yet at the same time, Rodriguez experiences a culture clash of sorts—he slowly learns to embrace his English speaking skills, yet every time he hears the Spanish language being spoken, he cannot help but feel remorse for the culture that he feels like he has disassociated from.
Richard Rodriguez
            In my research, I came across an interview with Rodriguez himself.
He is perhaps the paradigm for the Standard English ideology (yes I know there are exceptions to every rule). The interview’s short bio for Rodriguez how he started school with a limited vocabulary of approximately 50 words and how he eventually went on to receive not one, but two degrees from Stanford and Columbia (English and Philosophy, respectively) as well as a PhD in English Renaissance literature from UC Berkeley. He also spent a year in London on a Fulbright scholarship. Each person is different though—but Rodriguez is indicative that learning English in America has its benefits (He turned down a teaching position at Yale University to pursue a career in writing).
            I found this interview to be particularly interesting. Rodriguez comes off of as an antihero. He does not submit himself to the confines of sexuality and chooses to live his life as post-racially as possible (he cites the reason why he turned down the job at Yale and a career in academia was because his professors often suggested he could “act as a “role model” to Hispanics).  He is a native Spanish speaker who is against bilingual education and affirmative action, leading to some Mexican Americans referring to him as several things: a pocho, or traitor, accusing him of betraying both himself and his people as well as a coconut, for being “brown on the outside and white on the inside” (London). Rodriguez himself refers to himself as a “comic victim of two cultures” (London).
            Rodriguez views America as a melting pot, but his perspective of it is different than the commonly held on. He describes it as a “new cross-fertilizing culture, a culture of half-breeds, blurred boundaries and bizarre extremes” (London), that people living in America will inevitably become mixed in with surrounding cultures. They will without a doubt lose bits and pieces of their own culture in the process (reaffirming the views of Qadhi). I personally think, however, that one can be still salvage one’s culture if you truly want to. When I was younger, I was sent to Chinese school every Sunday. I hated it. I resented it with a burning passion—simply because I did not want to be there. After our classes were over, each student was also enrolled in a different “cultural activity.” These activities ranged from learning the Chinese Yo-Yo, to practicing calligraphy to playing different types of Chinese board games. Suffice it to say, I thought these were dumb and spent most of time hiding in the bathroom and doing my actual homework (Michael Han, American bad-ass, I know). Looking back though, I realized that in sending me to that hellish place, my parents wanted me to retain some of Chinese roots. Of course, like every parent, they wanted me to be successful and go to college, but they were not willing to let me give up my Chinese language skills. Today, I actually miss speaking in Mandarin as frequently as I once did at home. I think, given the opportunity, I might actually embrace the cultural opportunities that were presented to me back then.
            With this being said, I think it is entirely possible to find a happy medium between standard American ideals and one’s cultural and linguistic roots. To end this post, I leave you all with a good laugh:

How does Russel Peters utilize his cultural roots in the context of American society? How does he make light of his own personal clash of culture? For one, a majority of his jokes are in fact based within the concept of ethnic cultures thriving in American society—particularly how cultural ideals clash with American ones (as indicated by the joke with his White friend). The fact that Peters is a comedian (many Asian parents want their children to be businesspeople, doctors and lawyers—professions in the arts are not seen as being prosperous or secure) who jokes about his heritage is a physical embodiment of this cultural clash

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