Sunday, November 25, 2012

Who Am I? Who Are You?

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about culture and what exactly it means. As a generic who-knows-how-many-generations American, my culture isn't quite as defined and obvious as that of many first or second generation Americans’. For example, what is it precisely that makes culture cultural?

Is it how others see you? As a southerner, I certainly hope not. We usually get a bad rap in the media.

What about traditional clothing. Is that what makes a culture? Maybe in some cases, but I don’t think that really applies to us. The only traditional clothing that’s easily recognizable as “southern” isn't something that we wear at celebrations or formal events as it is with Native American cultures or cultures from other countries.

We can’t really even say that our language is part of our culture since it’s spoken in so many other countries that have distinct cultures of their own.

So what is it that defines those of us that live here in the south? What is our culture? I've put together a little list. Even though we may not all do all of these every day. They are, I believe, what describe “the south.” What do you think?

A southerner has…
1.  A love of sweet tea, friend chicken, watermelon, goober shakes and biscuits and gravy
2. Colorful local colloquial expressions such as: fixin’ to, bless your heart, over yonder, be back directly, y'all (you all – plural, not singular), etc.
3. No fear of dirt or hard work
4. A true appreciation of pickup trucks and football
5. True hospitality and an understanding of when it’s appropriate to say “yes, sir, yes, ma’am, and sweetie”
6. A good time sittin’ on the front porch chattin' with friends (on a porch swing or in a rocking chair of course)
7. A good imagination when it comes to fixin’ things (gotta love that duct tape)
8. At one time eaten a moon pie with an R.C. cola
9. A love of country music
10. An understanding of firearms
11. A rule not to leave the house without “looking how you would want to look if you were to meet the man of your dreams”
12.  And last but not least a deep love of God and country

All of these make up our culture. It’s a part of who we are, and even though it may not be as noticeable as some other cultures, it’s enough for me. So, who are you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Top 10 Things for Southerners to be Thankful for

10.  Duct tape: It can fix anything!

9. Sturdy paper plates and cups: They hold lots of food, and with them you dont have to do as many dishes.

8.  Country Music: The voice of the heartland

7.  A deep fryer: The only way to cook a fried turkey

6.  Football: The heartbeat of the south

5.  Sweet Ice Tea: Yummy! (Need I say more?)

4.  School plays: A chance for everyone to get their 15 minutes

3.  Turkey: Again, Yummy!

2.  The men and women who give up their Thanksgivings to protect ours

1.  A loving God who gives us all things

Friday, November 9, 2012

Outsider Perspectives on American Indian Dances

As some of you know, I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) at the university. One great thing about this job is that I get to learn about the many different cultures of the international students in my classes. It’s really opened my eyes to the rest of the world and how they think. That can be both incredibly interesting and disturbing at the same time. :)

Another wonderful thing about this job is that I get to share our American culture with people from many different countries. Sometimes our cultural differences aren’t too different, but at other times, I can see the incredulity and wonder on their faces when we talk about some of the things that Americans think or do.

This year, I have the opportunity to teach the American Culture through Cinema class. (I had to fight Mrs. Blackburn for it.) Since I believe that in order to really understand people, you need to know about where they come from (culturally, mentally, emotionally, etc.), we began by looking back at, among other issues, the history of our country and the First Peoples. Days later, we ended this portion of the class by watching the movie Smoke Signals (great movie, by the way). Curious as to what my students thought, I wanted to get their perspective on Native American culture. One of the ways that I did this was to give them a homework assignment that required them to go to YouTube and watch Native dancing at a powwow. They then had to write a short paragraph about their impressions.

With their permission, I’ve copied a few of the paragraphs below. (One note: all of my students in this class are from China.)

At the beginning, I feel the music is so loud and strange. But I still can accept it. People who sing try to press their throat in order to make a variegate voice. The language they sing is so different, and it makes me think about a wild forest life. When they sing together, I can feel it’s powerful and strength, and a little mysterious.

Tonight I saw a video about “Powwow” on youtube. It is “Gathering of Nations Powwow.” I think the powwow in India (I’m sure this was a typo. They know we are talking about American Indians. J ) is just like hmong people celebrate themselve’s festival in China…They dress up and wearing jewelry, ear-rings and some prepared, particular feather. And they just walk in a circle, dance, play drum. In China when I traveled to Southwest where they have hmong people, they performan to me. I think it’s a little similar. But not same. Actually, I like the lifestyle they lived. They treat Powwows as a big day and well prepared to coming.

The music has strong sense of rhythm, but I can’t understand what they are talking about. I think they focus on the beats. The costume is different. I think they like to use feathers to adorn themselves. There are small bells fastened on their ankles. So when they are dancing, it sounds ring ring. I think it is interesting. In addition, I think they will have a sore throat if they sing a long time as that.

Yeah, what an amazed feeling! I never seen this before though the powwow is very like some natural minority dance in China. I think it is used to describe a meeting like military because they carry… weapons. Yet, I really like the colorfulness. What’s more, the drum beats make the greatest sense with the Indians dance with it. It really amuses me.

So, the next time that you go to a powwow and watch the dancers, listen for the “ring, ring” of the bells and revel in the feeling of power, strength, and mystery.