Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cultural connections

Right from birth, I believe I have been fascinated with different cultures; perhaps because my mother is a war bride from Glasgow, Scotland and my father is French-Acadian from Rogersville, New Brunswick. Can you imagine coming from a huge European city to a small village in Canada in January and not speaking the language? These two cultures influenced me, but in the city where I grew up the culture was either French or English without any variety. I never met a person of a different race until I was 14! That fact did not stop me from having a crush on Michael Jackson and Donny Osmond at the same time! In college, I was the secretary for the International Students Club, and often was the only white person present at an event. I have roomed in a flat with a Jamaican, a German and a Chinese student, all at the same time. The kitchen smells were out of this world. It’s no wonder that I enjoyed the following books:

Big Little Man: in search of my Asian Self by Alex Tizon. Have you realized I don’t know enough about a subject to ask questions. Well, that is the way I felt about this book and had a few “really! That’s interesting!” moments while reading this memoir. I have wondered about what countries celebrate “Chinese New Year” or which ones to include in an Asian Heritage Month display. But, I have never thought about the issue of calling someone Asian vs. Oriental, or the difficulties experienced due to Asian stereotypes. I admit that while I am very conscious of separating each African country, I have been less aware of doing so with Asian nationalities. Tizon is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist whose family came from the Philippines to the U.S. in 1964. Besides being a memoir this book presents historical and cultural lessons. From the title, you can guess that Tizon does spend some time reflecting on physical size, including that of the penis. Tizon experienced difficulties with dating. I am not sure if this is a fact or not, but it appears that Asian males are picked last in the dating world. He also presents the issue of people asking “what are you?’ At different times in his life he has “passed” as native, Mexican, and a variety of other Asian cultures. All in all, I found his memoir fascinating.

With Black History Month approaching, there are lots of displays and events planned to mark this occasion. I have read widely on black history and culture. The most recent book I read is Dear White People: a guide to inter-racial harmony in “post racial” America by Justin Simien. This satire is based upon the Sundance award winning film and Tumblr page of the same name. The film presents the experiences of four black students on a predominately white campus. But don’t worry; you don’t have to see the film to enjoy this book. This tongue in cheek guide helps white people navigate the post-Obama world with decision making flow charts, like when is it okay to wear blackface (hint: probably never), etc. Another related book you might consider reading is the New York Times bestseller How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston. This guide book offers advice on “How to be the black friend”, “How to speak for all black people” to “How to celebrate Black History month” amongst others.

I want to include the YA novel, Like No Other by Una LeMarche in this blog. I am neither a romance reader nor a YA reader, but this one caught my eye. This novel is highly praised with a “Publishers Weekly Best Book of Summer 2014” ; a “ 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection,” and an “Entertainment Weekly YA Novel to Watch For” , amongst others. This re-working of Romeo and Juliet features a young black nerd and “unfailingly obedient” Hasidic girl. The Hasidic community is a strict, almost closeted Jewish community that keeps to itself. Through a twist of fate (or Mother Nature), Devorah and Jaxon meet trapped in an elevator. LaMarche expertly writes about how high risk this relationship is by writing alternatively from each character’s point of view. I love the realistic ending of the novel. I wish more novels, YA or otherwise, would be the same. Don’t get me wrong. It is nice when there is a happy ending but I don’t like happy endings if they don’t make sense. I guess I have always wondered about the ending of the movie “The Graduate.” What does happen next? But that is good book club question for another day.

I hope that you, Dear Reader, keep your heart and mind open to reading and learning about others in our world. I believe the world would be better for it!

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