Category "Culture"

January 19, 2007

Lost Boys of Sudan

I encouraged my human development students to attend a screening of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" last night at the International Institute of Minnesota. It was a powerful experience. The beginning of the film tells the story of the war in the Sudan, in which many villages have been decimated and thousands of innocent people have been killed. Many children were left parent-less and found their way to resettlemt camps. Two young men, Peter Dut and Santino Chuor, were moved out of the camps and to the United States - initially to Houston, Texas. In the rest of the film, we follow them through their daily lives and overhear their reflections on their native land, on America, and on the contrast between the two. Let's just say that their transitions were not unproblematic. Some of the challenge came about because of the culture shock inherent in moving across the planet in time and space. They moved from a rural village in Sudan to an apartment in Houston - we watched as they were shown their new home and cautioned not to stick their fingers down the garbage disposal.

But the most poignant part of the documentary was in their longing for home and for the familiar, their own culture, language, and friends. It made me realize how unconscious we can be of our own culture, because it's what we "do" every day. Only when we are hit with a major contrast does what we have cease being taken for granted. I have a large number of international students in my classes this semester. This film gave me a framework for considering the many challenges (academic and non-academic) that they must face every day. I am inspired by their courage and by that of Peter and Santino.

Posted by hgroteva at 2:17 PM | Culture

Category "Culture"

January 21, 2007

American Hospitality

I couldn't help drawing connections between my last post (about "The Lost Boys of Sudan") and today's NYTimes story about American hospitality in Clarkston, Georgia. The mayor has decreed that there will be no more soccer in the town park - "There will be nothing but baseball and football down there as long as I am mayor ... Those fields weren't made for soccer." Well, the story behind the story is that the soccer players are refugees living in Clarkston who resettled there from countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia, and yes, Sudan. The kids formed a team called "The Fugees" (yes, for "refugees") and played the game they know and love, soccer. The article points out that "their presence brings out the best in some people and the worst in others." Sounds like the worst is winning so far.

Posted by hgroteva at 9:23 AM | Culture

Category "Culture"

Category "Identity"

Category "Society"

January 29, 2007

"Race" Exhibit at the Science Museum

I like to go to movies and plays that trouble me. Sure, at times I like to go just for pure entertainment, but I also like to be challenged by what I see and hear. That’s the experience I had Friday afternoon, when I went to see the new exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota entitled, “Race: Are We So Different??

The complexity with which race is portrayed made me think back to a wonderful course I had as a college sophomore in 1967, entitled “The Concept of Race.? It was in the anthropology department, but it was very interdisciplinary. The first third was taught by a physical anthropologist (Robert Malina) and explored biological and genetic concepts; the second third was taught by a cultural anthropologist (Henry Selby) and looked at the diversity of cultures and “races? across the world. The last third was taught by an expert on the peoples of the Middle East (Robert Fernea), who talked about how race is experienced in specific cultures. They were ahead of their time. But I digress...

The Science Museum exhibit had many displays – some were interactive, others used words or pictures to make their points. The most powerful to me were the personal stories. An interracial couple talked about their experience in Minnesota – the double-takes they would get in shopping malls, the stares they would get in restaurants or with their child. A young woman adopted from Korea talked about how her adoptive parents were told by their social worker not to talk about race with their child; and they didn’t. A social scientist commented on the U.S. by saying “This is a world of racial smog. We all breathe it.? An American Indian woman said, “My name is Cindy Bloom. I’m a Cherokee Indian but I am not a [football team] mascot.? A woman whose race was “indeterminate? [her word] said that people were uncomfortable when they first met her – almost as if they needed to figure out what racial group she belonged to before they knew how to relate to her. They’d ask “What are you?? as if her racial designation summed up her existence. A middle-aged African American woman said, “Politically and culturally, race is as real as it gets.?

Several exhibits talked about “white privilege,? a concept popularized by Peggy Macintosh in her paper "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" The interviews with Doug Hartmann (U of MN Associate Professor of Sociology) noted that one aspect of white privilege is that white people claim the privilege (or option) of saying they don’t have a race, or that they are part of the human race. For people of color, race is a part of daily experience. They don’t have the “privilege? of ignoring it.

One exhibit showed 134 Brazilian terms for skin tone. Rich Lee’s blog entry for January 27 talked about links between skin tone and salary in the U.S.

Several exhibits debated the use of race in the field of medicine. Recent studies showing race-specific risks for some diseases (e.g., higher risk for hypertension among African Americans) have suggested that new drugs be targeted toward different groups. However, the exhibit effectively argued that since there is no genetic or biological validity to the concept of race, treatments targeted toward different groups rest on flawed assumptions.

One fascinating display about DNA stated that “the pattern of DNA variation across populations shows a nested subset. African populations harbor some alleles (gene variations) that are absent in non-African populations; however, all of the alleles that are common in non-African populations are also common in African populations.? In other words, the gene variations in European and Asian populations are subsets of the variations observed in African populations. There are no gene variations found among Europeans or Asians that are not also found among people of African descent. It makes sense, considering where the world’s population originated – in Africa. But it presented a new way of thinking about this.

All in all, it was a great exhibit. It “troubled? me – in that it made me think deeply – and I think it will do that for many people who pass through it. I have asked my lifespan development students to see it; I’ll be very interested to hear what they have to say. One of the background documents for the exhibit contained this quote from Robin D.G. Kelley, historian: Race “is not about how you look, it is about how people assign meaning to how you look.? I like that, because it puts responsibility for dealing with race squarely where it belongs: in our own hands.

Posted by hgroteva at 6:16 AM | Culture | Identity | Society

Category "Culture"

Category "Minnesota"

September 2, 2007

Scenes from the Renaissance Faire

Last Saturday was brilliantly sunny, and 75 degrees with a slight breeze. A perfect day.
Except that I was still reeling from the news of Wayne's untimely death. Tromping around the Faire helped distract me from my grief a little, but not much. Here are some scenes that I hope you enjoy and can escape into as needed.



Faire36-belly dance4.jpg


Faire32-tall puppets.jpg

Faire35-king + queen in parade.jpg

Faire03-in stocks.jpg

Faire25-sleeping lady w dog.jpg

Posted by hgroteva at 5:42 AM | Culture | Minnesota