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A Battle of Cultures

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Cultural Interaction Essay

There are many complexities involved in the interaction between two cultures. The article, “A Battle of Cultures”, by K. Connie Kang, discusses the hostile relationship that formed between Korean-Americans and African-Americans due to their differing social customs. Another prominent text that covers the topic of cultural interaction is the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Achebe focuses the story on a protagonist named Okonkwo who lives in Umuofia, one of the nine Nigerian clans; Okonkwo resists the Christian religious practices that are rapidly replacing the original Nigerian traditions. Undesirably, cultural interaction can create hostility between peoples if one culture is deemed superior to the other. Still, cultural interaction can be positive in the sense that it promotes understanding and acceptance between the two cultures and encourages the development of constructive relationships between members of the two cultures. Thus, despite there being both benefits and detriments cultural interaction generally has a favorable effect. Opposition between peoples comes about when one culture is perceived to be better than the other. In Things Fall Apart by Achebe, he writes, “Three [Christian] converts had gone into the village and boasted openly that all the gods were dead and impotent…The [converts] were seized and beaten until they streamed with blood” (154). Previously, the Christians did not have much interaction with the Umuofians and as a result neither side attempted to impose their ideas on the other. Only when the Christian converts began to belittle the traditional Nigerian belief in multiple gods were they attacked. Additionally Achebe, from Okonkwo’s point of view, exclaims, “To abandon the gods of one’s father and go about with a lot of effeminate men [Christian converts] clucking like old hens was the very depth of abomination” (153). Okonkwo refuses to believe that the Christian culture could somehow be above that of his own and subsequently he relates femininity, a sign of weakness in Nigerian culture, with the Christian religion. Okonkwo, in fact, wishes to wipe out Christianity entirely because he believes his culture is superior to the Christian culture and thus anyone practicing Christianity must be eradicated as well. A notable historical example of cultural conflicts arising when one culture attempts to dominate the other is the colonization of Latin America by Spanish conquistadors. Starting in 1492 and for nearly the next 300 years, Spain conquered and colonized almost all of the Americas. Eventually Spain became hated for its cruel treatment and exploitation of the natives and by 1824 almost all of Spain’s colonies had achieved independence. However, if one culture is not attempting to dominate the other then cultural diffusion is often beneficial because it encourages learning and acceptance between members of the two cultures. In “A Battle of Cultures”, by K. Connie Kang, she explains that many African Americans find Korean Americans rude because they do not smile. Kang describes the idea that “a smile is reserved for people we know and for a proper occasion.” Because the members of these two cultures had remained separate for so long they were never able to learn about the other’s customs. Alternatively, if Korean Americans and African Americans had interacted, the African Americans would have known that the lack of smiling is not a rude gesture but rather a common cultural convention. Kang, in summation, writes, “We need to be more tolerant of other peoples’ cultures. We need to celebrate our similarities as well as our differences.” People always tend toward peace and cooperation over violence and hatred. With more interaction comes a better understanding of a culture’s different customs which will allow members of the different cultures to coexist civilly. Additionally, in “Things Fall Apart”, Achebe writes from the point of view of the native Umuofians speaking to the Christina missionaries stating, “You can stay with us if you like our ways. You can worship your own god. It is good that a man should worship the gods and spirits of his fathers.” When the Umuofians did not feel threatened by the Christian culture they expressed an understanding that people should be allowed to worship their own gods and hold their own beliefs. Another advantageous result of cultural interaction is that it often fosters the formation of symbiotic relationships as well as the incorporation of another culture’s practices into one’s own. Kang, in “A Battle of Cultures”, quotes a grocer named Jang who says, “We Koreans must learn to participate in this society…I’m going to reach out. I want to give part-time work to black youths.” The conflict between Korean-Americans and African-Americans simply manifested because the two cultures were too separated. Only with more interaction will members of one culture break through the barriers of the other culture and form necessary relationships that benefit members of both cultures. My personal experience interacting with members of a different culture only further substantiates that idea. The elementary school I attended in Silver Spring, named Highland View Elementary School, had practically no students of Asian ethnicity. The elementary school mainly consisted of white Americans, African Americans and Hispanics. Consequentially, when I moved to Rockville and began attending Robert Frost middle school, I had a hard time interacting with Asian students because they were so driven while I, on the other hand, was not. Nevertheless, contact was inevitable and now a significant number of my friends are of Asian ethnicity. Their ideals of hard work and success have become a part of my values as well. Even throughout history favorable cross-cultural relationships have formed as in the case of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. Early contact between the Pilgrim’s and Native American tribes was peaceful and beneficial to both peoples. Squanto is one particular figure noted in the initiation of this contact. He taught the Pilgrim’s how to harvest crops and in return the Pilgrim’s shared their harvest with the Native Americans. The benefits of interactions between cultures greatly outweighs any detriments. When individuals break out of their cultural confines they are able understand and form relationships with members of other cultures. Negative consequences only arise when one culture attempts to dominate the other. Due to societal pressures, the reality is that many individuals prefer to adhere to the practices of their own culture instead of learning about those of other cultures. Further integration of beliefs and practices will eventually diminish those societal expectations because cultures will not be so defined or distinct.

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