Tag Archives: culture

Brazilian visitors

My blog dashboard shows an unusual proportion of visitors from Brazil. I am really curious about this. I wonder which items they are interested in and why. Brazil is kind of a special place. I taught ESL to a group of high school students visiting here in the USA. They were fun kids. I hope to visit there some day. If you are a visitor, please post a greeting here; where you are from, and what search brought you to this blog.


American Born Chinese; review

American Born Chinese; by Gene Luen Yang

Review by Mark Anderson

Yang, Gene L. American Born Chinese. 01st ed. N.p.: New York and London, 2006. Print.

American Born Chinese is a uniquely written illustrated novel. It has three parallel stories: central is the story of Jin Wang the son of Chinese immigrants that has an identity crises and internal conflicts with peer pressure to conform. Second is an allegory of the Monkey King. And third is a story of Danny who has a very strange cousin from China who visits annually. These three stories converge in the final chapter to resolve as Jin matures. The Monkey King allegory teaches the principle upon which true self-acceptance is based and which Jin must learn. The story of Danny shows an alternative life in which Jin gets to be transformed into what he desires, but it cost him his soul, as foretold by the herbalist’s wife. The novel is well crafted and deserves careful thoughtful reading.

The central story of Jin and the peer pressure in school shows that he is stereotyped and oppressed by the Anglo culture. Then the story of cousin Chin Kee uses hyperbolic stereotype to the point that it is kind of repulsive. The issue of racial stereo typing is confronted, but confronted in a sort of backhanded method. At this point we wonder if the author is confronting or encouraging racist stereotyping. We may question if this book is valid for a young audience because they may not understand the sarcastic irony. The key to understanding the author’s intention is the way the Anglo oppressors are portrayed. Their indulgence in racism is portrayed as negative. The teacher who introduces Jin as a new student is portrayed as grossly ignorant. A student comments that his mother has told him that Chinese eat dogs. As Jin is being bullied at lunch the boys say “Let’s leave bucktooth alone so he can enjoy Lassie” (33). Since the author does cast a negative light on stereotyping then we confidently interpret him as being anti-racist, and encourage young readership.

This story can be classified as a didactic-allegory which is the traditional purpose of allegory. It is a classic approach because it teaches in way that we do not realize we’ve been taught until it’s upon us. To varying degrees the struggle for self-identity is universal. As I read this as an adult I still have my own challenges with being secure in my identity. If I had read this and understood it as a teen it may have really helped my growth. The values presented in this book are based upon self-acceptance that is granted to all people by an authority that is greater than the false authority imposed by peer pressure.

The author uses allusion to Biblical literature and symbolism which give it a profound depth. In the second section of the Monkey King story (pg 68 – 71) a wise old sage with a shepherd’s crook appears and asks the Monkey King why he is so angry. The Monkey King resents being called a monkey but the sage claims that he is actually his creator. This infuriates the Monkey King even more and a struggle begins. Several allusions to Psalm 139 of the Bible are made with a quotation that makes an important point, “It was I who formed your inmost being, I who knit you together in the womb of that rock. I made you with awe and wonder, for wonderful are all my works.” (80). Yang teaches us the Biblical principle of self-acceptance that is based upon being accepted by the ultimate authority – our Creator. Psalm 139, especially the first 18 verses, has comforted many people who feel out of place or like a social misfit, or people who are objects of discrimination and oppression from other humans. It has taught many people that there is deep serenity in finding our place as creatures before our Creator.

My best friend in high school was second generation American of Japanese heritage. At that time I didn’t understand the depth of his difficulties in being secure in his identity among the peer pressure of American culture. I wish this book was available for my friend during his teen years. This book can help us all understand the oppressive nature of racism and help those oppressed claim the dignity that is rightfully theirs as bestowed by their Creator.

Copyright; Mark Anderson 2014

Works Cited

Yang, Gene L. American Born Chinese. 01st ed. N.p.: New York and London, 2006. Print.


Individuality

In America where we prize our individuality like a medal of honor, we seem to actually under value it. We often even abuse it, going along with an endless chain of fads, conforming in many ways to the draining expectations of our peers. How many of our career choices, financial choices, other major life choices are made through ignorant submission to the values of others.

Social norms are part of every society as a gift for the preservation and safety of people. Whether you believe these social values came through social evolution or as a gift from our Creator, either way they can help protect society. So I am not really against the basic frameworks of society, it’s how we get along without destroying each other. However, the freedom of individuality is also an incredible gift, and I believe from God.

In many cultures the pressure for conformity is immense compared to our western culture. In Japan they have a proverb; “the nail that sticks up, must be hit down”. This is their sentiment about non-conformity. This is how society is kept in order, through social obligation.

But in our Western culture, wherever there is a Bible heritage, we shake hands with each other as equals and bow only to God. Our first allegiance is to God and second to society. We can allow God to direct our life above the demands of society. This is an incredible heritage and an incredibly under rated gift!


Sex, culture, morality

Often atheists will rant against the oppressive Christian morals inflicted upon our society. This reveals an ignorance of other cultures historically and currently. Many ancient cultures especially in Asia are very conservative morally and politically. Possibly the ancient cultures have learned through experience what America is playing around with like an adolescent. In Korea about 85% of all people, male and female are virgin when they marry. They learned that sex is a powerful force and is not to be toyed with.

Often humanists and atheists claim, “I don’t need a bible or god to help me be a good person” Well ok then please follow through on this! Please don’t use lack of religion as excuse to rebel against those values that really do preserve society. Looking over history we do in fact see that families really are the backbone of any society. Any evolutionist should see this plainly. And Christians often promote this polarizing effect when they claim to have sole ownership of family values. Many family values are aligned with Christianity but not exclusively. Looking again over history and other cultures we observe that most cultures embrace something similar to the Biblical 10 commandments. Most cultures teach things like; respect your parents, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t have sex with another person’s spouse. But the Bible does add uniqueness saying, “Don’t make idols or have other gods”. My point is that as a society we may have a long way to grow in our maturity towards sexual purity.

A friend asked once, “Why does the Bible forbid fornication, sex outside of marriage?” I answered that I didn’t know why but accepted God’s authority on the issue. Over the years having time to struggle personally with the issue and when I was reading some psychology books on boundaries I came to some personal conclusions. I realize now that boundaries are a basic issue of healthy relationships and of personal mental health. The first basic boundary is physical, don’t touch another’s body without permission, don’t hit or abuse. That same boundary principle applies to mental and social issues. In sex we move profoundly into another’s physical and mental space. But unless this is rape we do it by mutual consent, right? So is this a violation of boundaries. Yes, I believe so. If people are not aware of or choose to ignore the potential damage, the boundaries are still defiled.  They don’t make condoms for the heart!

Applying boundaries is just the negative aspect of purity. What in the positive sense do we have to look to for fulfillment? We have as an ideal the goal of a lifetime commitment, a covenant, with a friend and lover. Again the ancient cultures show us the beautiful picture of elderly couples caring for each other through their whole lives. We have the positive image of a relationship of safety, safe to expose ourselves to each other because we have created an atmosphere of safety by our commitment to each other.

And finally we have the opportunity to honor our Creator by showing respect for an aspect of life that is given to us as a special gift. Even in the movie “Avatar” by James Cameron there is recognition that mating is a sacred bond before their deity. This is returning to some very ancient roots of our society. Jeremiah the prophet of Israel declares, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls”.