Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cultural Adaptability

Throughout this semester our readings have examined different cultures and how they react to impending change. Through the example of Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart, we learn that failure to adapt is essentially to die, as his rigidity in the face of his clearly evolving culture forces him to commit suicide. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls upon “White Moderates” to recognize the changing tide of social justice in their country and to support the Civil Rights Movement in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. Our readings this week examine the effects of cultural adaptation and answer questions about whether or not a culture is still the same culture after it has been forced to transform and adapt. This theme is relevant in all three pieces, but specifically in “Ngati Kangaru” by Patricia Grace and the introduction to “Nuanua” by Albert Wendt. In “Ngati Kangaru,” we see a satirical account of how exposure to European colonizers has changed the Maori, and not for the better.  In an effort to regain their land, they adopt sneaky plots and use misleading language, just as the Europeans originally did to them, in order to trick the Europeans out of their homes for their own benefit. The short story spotlights the darker side of adaptive culture; while Billy and his family are successful in reclaiming their homes, they also lose sight of their values and become materialistic, enjoying life in their luxury homes and dreaming of motorbikes and video cameras. Billy and his family still call themselves Maori, but we see the negative effects of adaptation as they sacrifice their true values in favor of greed that distracts them from the principles of their ancestors.
Conversely, Albert Wendt takes pride in the fact that Pacific cultures have adapted in ways such as learning English and does not view this as a loss of culture whatsoever. In fact, he views this as a tool by which Pacific natives “have indiginised and enriched the language of the colonisers and used it to declare [their] independence and uniqueness; to analyse colonialism itself and its effects upon [them]; to free [themselves] of the mythologies created about [them] in colonial literature” (Wendt 3). This is simply a means of growing and continuing, according to Wendt, as it is necessary for any culture to do in order to survive. Wendt’s introduction is a description of many cultures that faced dire obstacles and easily could have faded out of existence. However, Wendt demonstrates that it was their ability to adapt which enabled them to survive and exist in their current states today.

            My first three at my service-learning site at Tunbridge Public Charter School have been incredibly rewarding and the lessons that I have learned while there seem applicable to what we have learned in class this semester and vice versa. Drawing by lottery from a diverse city such as Baltimore, my class at Tunbridge was bound to be filled with diversity. However, it has been beautiful to watch kids of different backgrounds interact with each other. I walk into that room and immediately notice the differences between the students; the different ways that they talk and act, the different ways that they dress, the differences in skin color. Coming from the general homogeneity of my hometown, it is difficult for me to ignore these things. However, in a room full of differences the students seem to notice only similarities; they are concerned with who else has a pet dog, who else likes the Ravens, who else enjoys math. The interweaving of cultures, coupled with the standards and expectations set by the teacher, Mrs. Grimm, leads to the creation of a classroom character that embodies the backgrounds of all the students in the class. I think that their ability to look past each other’s differences is a true testament to the innocence of youth, and I think that there is definitely much for me to learn from these kids in the coming months.

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