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Emma de Groot

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Another English Assignment .

Emma de Groot

English 122

Professor Green

March 7, 2008

 

Culture generally refers to patterns of human activity and can generally be defined as all the ways of life of a population that are passed down from generation to generation.  It includes dress, manners, language, religion, and acceptable codes of behavior.  The culture of a society can be seen in many ways including its music, literature, art and lifestyle.  Cultures provide people with ways of thinking and interpreting situations, the same words can mean different things to people of different cultures. These differences can result in people of different cultures disagreeing on appropriate behavior in certain situations and therefore can be the cause of much conflict.  As we all experience some degree of conflict on a regular basis, it is understandable that when these are combined with cultural differences, finding amicable solutions can be a very real challenge.

With high levels of immigration in today’s world multiculturalism is very common in many countries.  As a result many societies face the challenges associated with conflicting belief systems interacting peacefully within one nation.  In fact in many societies mixed marriages are resulting in many families dealing with these same challenges on a personal and daily basis.  Challenges also exist within migrant families who are dealing with traditional family values being questioned by their children, children who are now 2nd and 3rd generation and challenging traditional family values.

As stated earlier, most people would agree that conflict, regardless of how big or small it is,  plays a distinct role in society today despite ones race, religion or sexual preference.  It is simply something that is prevalent and constant and when referencing this statement to the texts studied it is clear to see conflict can also be layered and complex.

“What’s  Cooking”, co-written and directed by Gurinder Chadha is a film based around Thanksgiving and multiculturalism and revolving around the display, preparation and serving of delicious food.  It focuses on four Los Angeles families; a Mexican, African-American, Vietnamese and Jewish family.  The purpose is to show that for all the cultural differences that exist, each family is basically the same.  Each of the families are experiencing different conflicts which they are attempting to deal with whilst endeavoring to have a cultured and sane family holiday celebration. 

The Avila family originates from Mexico, and despite the best attempts to spend a joyous thanksgiving together, things are made a little more difficult when the son invites his father, whom is separated from his wife, to the family occasion.  He is unaware that is was this holiday where his mother was planning to introduce her new boyfriend to the family.  When both the parties arrive things become a little complicated and tensions begin to run high.  Chaos is avoided when the ex husband is asked to leave the function.

The Seeling family are facing a different, yet equally as complex conflict themselves.  Parents Herb and Ruth, and the family’s very stereotypical Jewish aunt, are having an extremely difficult time adjusting to their daughter Rachael’s homosexual lifestyle and when the two lesbian partners decide to join the family for thanksgiving, tension and awkwardness prevail. 

The Nguyen family finds their central conflict lying in the struggle to assimilate and the overbearing traditional nature of parents Trinh and Duc.  Trinh and Duc display the desire to maintain traditional Vietnamese customs and values, while their children find themselves caught in the pull between keeping with these values and assimilating in order to merge with the ever changing values and demands of youth today.  Matriarch Trinh is doing all she can to raise her children to respect her culture, and as with many second-generation Asian Americans, the children suffer an enormous generation gap.  When daughter Jenny is caught with a condom in her jacket, her parents are quick to judge, thinking she is sleeping around when really she received it from school.  The eldest son Jimmy does not even wish to spend thanksgiving with his family, and therefore spends it with his girlfriend.  The biggest evidence of the lack of understanding between the children and their parents comes when Gary is caught with a gun under his bed, his parents automatically assume the worst, thinking he is a violent child, when really Gary has aquired the gun merely as a self protection mechanism due to the tension and gangs that surround his area. 

The Williams family is finding their conflict with the wife Audrey’s struggle to have a civilized relationship with her ever critical mother-in-law.  The mother-in-law’s overbearing nature is driving Audrey crazy and her lack of support from over worked husband Ronald only adds another dimension to the drama. 

A lot of the conflicts in the movie “What’s Cooking” come from generational differences, and cultural differences in morals, values and beliefs.  Today’s society has values and beliefs are a lot less rigid than those belonging to the earlier generations.  One’s need to conform to traditional beliefs has diminished and in this movie the older generations seem to have struggled to grasp this concept.  Interestingly, most of the families have strong mothers who hold the family together despite everything going on.

Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” shows once again how conflicts with society today are not only layered but can also be attributed to society’s lack of acceptance to other cultures or lack of acceptance towards things that go against their traditional beliefs or values. 

Amy Tan’s story is predominantly about her mother’s difficulty articulating the English language and society’s lack of acceptance of this and therefore lack of respect for her mother.  It highlights the powerful role language plays in forming our identity and the development of our self-esteem. The story gives frequent examples of times her mother was discriminated against due to her “broken-English,” the most disgraceful of which being when her CAT scans were lost and no remorse was shown from the hospital until Tan herself, who speaks in proper English, got on the phone with the hospital and demanded immediate action.  This represents how society bases itself on similarities with one another, and when differences occur, it is almost seen as a sign of weakness and a lack of respect is shown to the individual. 

In “Everyday Use” Alice Walker illustrates the importance of understanding our life in relation to the traditions of our culture, by contrasting the views of a mother and her two daughters.  It is set in the late 60’s or early 70’s, the time when African-Americans were struggling to define their personal identities in cultural terms.  The two daughters contrast heavily with one another both emotionally and physically, and the mother struggles to know how to handle these differences.  The eldest daughter Dee, is very materialistic and only values things in her life that she considers to be trendy.  Her mother, on the other hand, lives a very simple life, is very proud of her abilities and accomplishments and places a great deal of value on her culture and heritage.  She cannot cope with Dee’s materialistic lifestyle and her lack of connection to her family heritage.   Dee however, is struggling to create an identity for herself, and is confused.  She grasps at African tradition and culture, yet fails to acknowledge her own African American culture.  This may be due to her leaving her hometown and becoming an educated young woman.  When Dee informs her mother and sister (Maggie) that she is changing her name she states, “I couldn’t stand it anymore, being named after the people that oppress me.”  She changes her name to Wangero, an African mane that is not directly related to her heritage. In contrast, the mother describes Maggie’s nature by saying “Maggie will be nervous until after her sister goes; she will stand hopelessly in corners homely and ashamed of the burn scars down her arms and legs”. The description of Maggie is reminiscent of the “yes sir, no ma’am” Negro heritage from before and during the Civil War.  Maggie however, is very aware of her heritage, which can be seen by her suggesting that her mother gives the quilts, made by their Grandpa and made of remnants of their grandma’s dresses to Dee because “I can remember Grandpa Dee without the quilts”.  The conflict between the two daughters over who should rightfully own the quilts and how they should be used is a very important theme of the story, and suggests that African-Americans must take ownership of their entire heritage, including the painful and unpleasant parts.  The mother represents the majority of black Americans who were confused as to how to reconcile their past history with the civil rights reforms of the 50’s and 60’s. Although the mother admires Dee’s determination she cannot cope with her selfish motives.  It is through Maggie, the daughter that she sees as deserving of respect and admiration, that she can see her proud heritage, and therefore it is Maggie who she decides should own the quilts.

 

Conflict in today’s society is all around us.  No matter the source of the conflict it is clear that cultures play a part.  Conflicts arise in human relationships and the texts discussed above highlight the fact that culture is multi-layered – what you see on the surface may mask differences below the surface.  In each of the above texts the author presents the issue of conflict in the context of conflicting cultural values.  It is clear from the texts that when differences surface in families, organizations, or communities, culture is always present, shaping perceptions, attitudes, behaviours and outcomes.

 

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