The Nature of Adoption:
Cultural Appropriation or Interweaving
Adoption is a something both a parent and a nation can do. Just as an adult can apply to adopt a child from a foreign country, so too can a nation adopt another nation, it’s usually a much bloodier affair. In both cases the same issue can occur, will the “child” be appropriated into the “parent’s” culture, or will the two cultures interweave. In either case, the child can end up feeling lost and without a homeland, this is what Rushdie addresses in many of his work, particularly in East, West. This novel very much treats the West as the parent of the adopted East, but instead of just looking how the East conforms to the West, East, West looks at each of the cultures individually and then looks how they are absorbed by the other.
The East section is not just some lovely reminiscing over a lost homeland, it is a serious critique of, and look into, India. “The Free Radio” in particular is a critique on government meddling in certain social affairs, in particular the regulation of birth rates. This is what makes this novel/anthology effective, Rushdie is not taking only certain shards of his shattered mirror and taking a rose colored outlook of his lost homeland, he is taking all the shards and adding in a modern look at his former homeland. This is similar to how Sons for the Return Home deals with former homelands, though more academically critical and less risqué, as the main character does not see the fantastical homeland that his parents tell stories of, he sees it in his mind as it more accurately is once he is older. Even though East, West is critical of the East, it is also one of the more personable sections, specifically compared to the East. In “The Free Radio”, he actually uses first person to narrate the section, showing that he does feel some personal investment in the East and is not entirely separated from it. The “West” section on the other hand is very impersonal, but none the less well crafted.
The West is critiqued through the cultural icons of Shakespeare, The Wizard of Oz, and Columbus. “Yorick” is the story primarily of the younger days of Hamlet before the play, Hamlet, begins, though it does continue till after the play ends. It follows Yorick and Rushdie uses the Bard’s own style to make commentaries on the West, particularly at the end of the section. In the penultimate paragraph, the narrator talks about Yorick’s surviving son who goes about the world making mix race babies, including the author. This is a seeming commentary on how the West goes about inseminating the world with its ideas, forcefully in many cases, and then not sticking around to take care of the results. Though sometimes it does breed successes, as it breeds the author of this book, but that which is left unsaid is more striking, that many times this indiscriminant breeding leads to more chaos than harmony. “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers” comments quite simply on the idolatry rampant in Western society in terms of actors and famous people in general. This commentary is very simple, but what makes it more interesting is that it is set after the story of “The Prophet’s Hair” and shares many base similarities, thus this story is both a commentary on the West while also commenting on the similarities of the East and West. Finally there is a story about Columbus which mainly comments on how Westerners treat foreigners and how foreigners in general are treated when away from their homeland. After introducing Columbus we get narration that seems to be the court’s reaction to him, which ends up being them denouncing him for being a foreigner and not understanding their ways while admitting that foreigners are still helpful for the “dirty jobs”. This is obviously a modern view of foreigners in the West and around the world for the most part, just look at how the Chinese are looked at in Singapore, the Mexicans are looked at in the US, or the Pakistani in England. Finally with these individual commentaries we then see the commentary on when and how these cultures mix.
The “East, West” section is a commentary on this mix, a commentary that I believe suggest that cultures can mutually give and take, but it is by no means a simple. In “Chekov and Zulu” there is a surface level connection to the West with the Star Trek references, but this connection actually goes much deeper. The way these two men speak to each other is in many ways their own language combining Sikh traditions, English, and Star Trek references. Not even Mrs. Zulu can fully comprehend their communication, it truly is a culture of their own. “The Courter” also shows the power of language, but in a very different way that the former story tackles it. Because Certainly Mary has a language barrier because of growing up in Lahore and Mixed Up has issues because he had a stroke, but they found a way of connecting through chess, which is a game that came from that area of the world and brought back to the West with only minor adjustments. I believe that this symbolizes the struggles both sides have with fully understanding another culture, but by creating a common language that lacks the preconceptions inherent in either side, they can both meet on common grounds.
I do agree with Rushdie that cultures can find a common language, but I believe that there is an inherent parent-child power complex that is still left over from colonialism. Even though there is this Post-Colonial resurgence of cultural exchange that is becoming vastly easier with the spread of technology, more often than not culture is appropriated by the parental West and not interwoven into society in a symbiotic manner. This is a two way issue however, as the West takes what it wants from other cultures, but other cultures sometimes accept this dynamic and seek to simply profit off of it instead of taking back their dignity. The West takes pieces of other societies for their own enjoyment without a real appreciation for where it came from, food being one major piece. While taking a Victorian course I was looking into how women contributed to imperialism and some suggested that they would make foreign food “British” and then reintegrating the English-inized product back into the culture which it came from. Most famously this happened with curry as when the English invaded and conquered England, they started making their own curry mixes that were nothing like that of the culture, then they used their influence to make it the number one selling curry mix in India. On the other hand I look at the Hallyu, the Korean Wave, sweeping across much of the world in the form of Korean pop music and Korean drama shows. These companies are basically slave drivers and manipulators using a completely false image of Korea, to the point that many Koreans don’t listen to or watch much of these programs, that entices foreigners to obsess over and idolatrize this image of Korea as if it were real. Even though we can still learn about the true Korea, it is made harder because you have to rake through the fake muck created by these entertainment companies. In the end however, I believe we are slowly moving towards true understanding and acceptance of other cultures, even if it is slow progress moving away from the parent-child, or master-slave, dynamic.