Tuesday, July 31, 2012

cross cultural encounters

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Creating a Universal Culture

There is a universal culture which unites all human beings in shared emotions, feelings, and instincts. However, worldwide, there exist diverse ethnic, racial, regional, and national sub-cultures which share characteristics with other sub-cultures, but are defined by their own distinct behaviors. As people develop an understanding of sub-cultures to which they don’t belong, the more positive and constructive they become. This should be the main objective of humanity- to develop a greater awareness, tolerance, and appreciation of all the sub-cultures worldwide. “Of Plymouth Plantation” by William Bradford, “La Relacion” by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, and “My Sojourn in the Lands of My Ancestors” by Maya Angelou provide brief explanations on how one can have a positive cross-cultural encounter. A positive cross-cultural encounter is created when people focus on creating a greater universal culture which reflects the commonalities and similarities shared between different sub-cultures, yet still retains the unique customs of those sub-cultures.

Upon arriving, the settlers in “Plymouth Plantation” presumed they were on hostile ground, so they constructed a fort for protection. “The next night they landed and made them a barricado as usually they did every night... partly to shelter them from the cold and partly to defend them from any sudden assaults of the savages. (pg 84) The settlers segregated themselves from the Indians and ignored any similarities that they may have shared. It seemed that the settlers and the Indians would never live in harmony; but because of a few amicable individuals, such as Squanto, the barrier between the two sub-cultures dissolved and they were able to co-exist. The settlers and Indians recognized and accepted their similarities and differences. Neither group tried to force its culture on the other; instead both groups learned that they could live in harmony and united under a universal culture that focused on the commonality shared by both sub-cultures.

“La Relacion” was similar to “Plymouth Plantation” in that the men from the ship confronted Indians upon their arrival. The Indians willingly provided food and shelter for the men in the middle of their most intense afflictions as a means to help alleviate their suffering. “They deprived themselves of food to give to us” (pg 76). Cabeza’s men later functioned as medicine men for the Indians. “The Islanders wanted to make physicians of us… they insisted we should do this” (pg 76). Rather than focusing on the discord that divided the two sub-cultures, both groups looked for ways in which they could compliment one another. They saw that they were all humans with the same basic needs for food, shelter, and wellness. They used these needs to form a unified community where both sub-cultures were maintained while a universal culture bonded the sub-cultures.


In “My Sojourn” Angelou truly tried to gain a heightened awareness of the African culture. She dressed in the traditional Ghana cloth and she learned the language so that she could enrich her cultural experience. In the town of Dunkwa, where Angelou stayed, she was eagerly accepted. A member of the town told Angelou, “We don’t want our Bambara relative to think herself a stranger anymore” (pg 115). “My Sojourn” deals with the regional sub-culture in Dunkwa. The people of Dunkwa grasped hold of the African roots that they shared with Angelou and accepted her as an African. This united them under a broader, more universal culture which allowed a positive cultural experience.

When considering the crossing of cultures, there are primarily two theories. One theory is the melting pot theory. This is when a new sub-culture is forged from combining several sub-cultures. The other theory is the salad bowl theory. This is when sub-cultures exist separately and maintain their practices, but don’t assimilate with each other. Both of these theories are inadequate methods for crossing sub-cultures because separation and selection of sub-cultures, will never allow a positive, harmonious encounter. Hopefully, the solution to crossing sub-cultures lies in the concept of an ethnic stew, where all the ingredients or sub-cultures retain their distinct characteristics, yet co-exist with each other in a universal culture or “broth”. For anyone desiring a positive cross-cultural encounter, all they have to do is focus on developing the ethnic stew theory. As they discover the similarities they share with other sub-cultures they create a “broth” or a universal culture which allows them to gain a stronger appreciation and awareness of other sub-cultures; this in turn unites them to other sub-cultures and provides for a positive cross�cultural encounter.

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