Communicating with US Americans

P1280467Last year was a watershed for the field of intercultural communication, as it brought the publication of the Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence. Edited by Janet Bennett, the very heavy and extremely useful two-volume set includes about 350 entries by a broad international, multi-disciplinary cross-section of professionals. I am proud to be included among them.

While the first entry I was asked to write delighted my soul, the second and third ones were much more of a challenge. I suppose Janet asked me because there are few people foolish enough to take on a topic as huge, as broad, and as problematic as Communicating Across Cultures with People from the United States. I am USA-born, currently living in Mexico. I love and am extremely proud of my birth country. I am also perplexed and dismayed by it. Such is, perhaps, the nature of a culture that includes 320 million people and nearly 4 million square miles!

The USA is so very misunderstood. Any of us born there, who travel abroad, know how it feels to wear the “brand” on our foreheads, to be seen as a “representative” of that “crazy” and yet “incredible” nation. Most people internationally feel a complexity of emotions about the USA and its culture. Many hold stereotypical views, and I saw the encyclopedia as a chance to help explain US culture a bit.

In the Cultural Detective series we have the excellently written Cultural Detective USA, written by the incomparable George Simons and Eun Young Kim. The Cultural Detective USA is a tool for developing cross-cultural competence and teaming; an encyclopedia entry is information and knowledge. Thus, the two work together and complement each other very well.

I highly recommend you purchase the complete two-volume encyclopedia, published by Sage in 2015, or ask your librarian to add it to their collection. It is a hugely valuable reference, one I’ve consulted extensively since it arrived last May. Here’s what Sage says about the full volume:

In 1980, SAGE published Geert Hofstede’s Culture’s Consequences. It opens with a quote from Blaise Pascal: “There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees that are falsehoods on the other.” The book became a classic—one of the most cited sources in the Social Science Citation Index—and subsequently appeared in a second edition in 2001. This new SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence picks up on themes explored in that book.

Cultural competence refers to the set of attitudes, practices, and policies that enables a person or agency to work well with people from differing cultural groups. Other related terms include cultural sensitivity, transcultural skills, diversity competence, and multicultural expertise. What defines a culture? What barriers might block successful communication between individuals or agencies of differing cultures? How can those barriers be understood and navigated to enhance intercultural communication and understanding? These questions and more are explained within the pages of this new reference work.

Key Features:

  • 300 to 350 entries organized in A-to-Z fashion in two volumes
  • Signed entries that conclude with Cross-References and Suggestions for Further Readings
  • Thematic “Reader’s Guide” in the front matter grouping  related entries by broad topic areas
  • Chronology that provides a historical perspective of the development of cultural competence as a discrete field of study
  • Resources appendix and a comprehensive Index

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence is an authoritative and rigorous source on intercultural competence and related issues, making it a must-have reference for all academic libraries.

My entry had to be very brief, as the 2-volume set includes over 300 entries. The publishers have given me permission to share my three entries, so here is the link for you to read Communicating with US Americans. I’m sure you’ll find many points you would have worded differently or added in, as nearly everyone has a unique experience of a nation with such a powerful presence on the world stage. I look forward to hearing your comments and additions!

Communicating Across Cultures with People from Latin America

P1280469The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence is a huge contribution to our intercultural field, a long overdue volume to which dozens of professionals from multiple disciplines worldwide have contributed. I am honored to be counted among them.

My primary expertise over the three-and-a-half decades of my career has been multicultural, virtual team effectiveness, global managerial competence, and Japan. Thus, when the Encyclopedia’s editor, Janet Bennett, called to ask me to author Communicating Across Cultures with People from Latin America, I was incredibly intimidated.

Latin America (México), has been my home for the past eight years. I absolutely love it here. I frequently travel for work and pleasure to other nations in the region. But Latin America is a fairly new professional topic area for me. However, I agreed to author the entry because I wanted to be sure that this region—so hugely important on the world stage today—was not overlooked.

There are interesting social, environmental, and political movements in Latin America that I don’t see happening elsewhere; the region has a lot to teach the world, an important voice to contribute. Sadly, outsiders often lump the region together into one monolithic whole. Yet the reality is that there is huge diversity within Latin America—and within each country in the region. Heck, it’s hard just to get people to agree which nations are included in “Latin America” and which aren’t!

The Cultural Detective series includes several excellent packages on Latin America, including CD Argentina, CD Brazil, CD Chile, CD Colombia, CD Dominican Republic, CD Mexico, and CD Latino/Hispanic. These are tools to help develop our skills, our abilities to work with and live in harmony with people from these cultures. Thus, they are excellent complements to the academic-oriented, knowledge-based encyclopedia entry.

I highly recommend you purchase the complete two-volume encyclopedia, published by Sage in 2015, or ask your local librarian to add it to their collection. Here’s what Sage says about the full volume:

In 1980, SAGE published Geert Hofstede’s Culture’s Consequences. It opens with a quote from Blaise Pascal: “There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees that are falsehoods on the other.” The book became a classic—one of the most cited sources in the Social Science Citation Index—and subsequently appeared in a second edition in 2001. This new SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence picks up on themes explored in that book.

Cultural competence refers to the set of attitudes, practices, and policies that enables a person or agency to work well with people from differing cultural groups. Other related terms include cultural sensitivity, transcultural skills, diversity competence, and multicultural expertise. What defines a culture? What barriers might block successful communication between individuals or agencies of differing cultures? How can those barriers be understood and navigated to enhance intercultural communication and understanding? These questions and more are explained within the pages of this new reference work.

Key Features:

  • 300 to 350 entries organized in A-to-Z fashion in two volumes
  • Signed entries that conclude with Cross-References and Suggestions for Further Readings
  • Thematic “Reader’s Guide” in the front matter grouping  related entries by broad topic areas
  • Chronology that provides a historical perspective of the development of cultural competence as a discrete field of study
  • Resources appendix and a comprehensive Index

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence is an authoritative and rigorous source on intercultural competence and related issues, making it a must-have reference for all academic libraries.

The publishers have given me permission to share my three entries, so here is the link for you to read Communicating Across Cultures with People from Latin America. I would very much like to thank those colleagues who generously shared their expertise, differing viewpoints and experience with me as I worked on this entry: Patricia Coleman, Lucy Linhares, Adriana Medina, Fernando Parrado, and Shirley Saenz. Any errors are, of course, my own, but their input greatly enriched the finished product. Please let me know what you would add or reword!

By the way, if you are interested in Latin America, I invite you to join Fernando Parrado and me for “Latin America and Its Place in World Life” (Session I, Workshop 6) at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, on the Reed College Campus, Portland, Oregon, July 13-15, 2016.

Latin America and Its Place in World Life

3958-90321696-F367-EA4B-1108-B433EB1D3BCD.jpg_850This post, authored by Dianne and Fernando Parrado, was originally published on the ICI blog on April 6, 2016. Información en español.

Latin America is assuming its rightful place in the global arena, not only as a leading economy, but also as a model for innovative social movements.

This largest region in the world has long been admired for sharing its powerful music, dance, literature, visual art—and the only world heritage cuisine. Latin America has taken a key leadership role in exploring innovative solutions for restructuring societal inequity and promoting responsible development and the sustainable use of natural resources. Many of these efforts are based on popular, direct-democratic movements, including indigenous social movements.

However, the outstanding features of Latin America culture continue to be a sense of timelessness, an emphasis on the worth of personality, and an instinctive protest against the idea that success in business and the accumulation of wealth are superior to the acquisition of culture. Eleven Latin American nations include multiculturalism and multilingualism in their constitutions, and an additional four recognize indigenous rights.

The average Latin American thinks differently about such fundamental concepts as time, work, success, joy, truth, and beauty. In other words, it is life itself, not its possessions or achievements, that tend to be most worthwhile to Latin Americans. Being what you want to be is generally more important than getting what you want.

The Latin America worldview may hold the answers to many of the issues facing our world today, including climate change. Yet Latin America has often been culturally misunderstood. Important Latin American values such as communalism, expressiveness, celebration, and indigenous respect for the earth are frequently under-appreciated.

While often viewed as a single market with a shared language, religion, history, and culture, it is actually home to hundreds of languages and ethnicities, and diverse histories, geographies, economies, and political systems.

Latinos abroad bring perspectives and insights that can be used to generate innovative solutions and create vibrant, cohesive communities. As group orientation breaks down in various cultures worldwide, we must ask: Are we making the most of Latino talent? What do we need to do to be interculturally competent with members of the Latino diaspora?

We very much look forward to having you join us for this highly experiential workshop where we will explore the richness, complexity, irony, and promise of the hundreds of cultures that comprise Latin America. Taught by both of us, the workshop is called “Latin America and Its Place in World Life,” and it will take place July 13-15, 2016, during the 40th annual Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication.

During the workshop we will look backward: what Latin America looked like during the height of the Incan, Mayan and Aztec civilizations, what the conquista and the slave trade meant for the region, the gifts of resources and talent the region has provided, and how such history and heritage affects life in the region today. We will look at the present: how do people from different ethnicities, socio-economic levels and geographic areas communicate and collaborate, and how can we work and live with them more effectively? Finally, we will also look forward: what are some of the unique experiences and insights that Latin America has to share with the world, and what we can learn from Latin America to enrich our view of life?

Those of you who enroll in the workshop will receive a one-month subscription to the Cultural Detective Online, so you can use this resource during the workshop and have time afterwards to continue your learning at your convenience.

SIIC is one of the world’s premier venues for networking with and learning from professionals in the fields of intercultural communication and diversity. We trust you’ll join us for this annual learning opportunity! Click here to register for Session 1, Workshop 6, Latin America and Its Place in World Life.

A Personal Dilemma: Diversity vs. Diversity

Photo from the UK Telegraph

Photo from the UK Telegraph

This is a story of due diligence, mutual deception, and dialogue. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Pretty much my entire life has been dedicated to intercultural competence and diversity issues. It started when I was eleven: my family moved and I became the target of bullying for being “different.” I decided then that I needed to learn how to adapt (“fit in”) to new situations much more nimbly than I was then able to do. So, at twelve, I used my babysitting money to spend a summer abroad in Mexico. That was the first step on a lifelong path.

I am also quite Christian. Open to, respectful, and inclusive of other religions and spiritual practices, by all means—at least in my intentions and ongoing learning process—but in my own life I follow the beliefs rooted in my childhood. I am eternally grateful to my parents for instilling faith in me from a young age. So, I’m a Christian who’s committed to diversity, inclusion, and intercultural competence.

In 1999, when I moved to Kansas City, Kansas, USA, I interviewed various pastors and churches to find the right “fit” for me. I did not want to have any part of a parish culture that was exclusive or righteously judgmental. I was delighted when I found an Episcopal parish with a pastor who swore himself, and his parish, to embracing diversity.

I knew that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church had declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church” (1976-A069). I also knew that the Episcopal and Anglican Churches (the Episcopal Church is an offshoot of the Anglican Church and is part of the Anglican Communion) were having a heated internal debate about homosexuality, particularly about whether gays and lesbians should be able to be priests. I vehemently felt they should; this would be the inclusive practice. Thus, I interviewed my pastor about his feelings on this matter. When he told me he heartily agreed with the declaration, I could feel my worry ease.

The parish engaged in extensive domestic and international outreach, and not just the short-term, feel-good kind. We had long-term relationships with a medical center in Haiti and a Diocese in Ghana, with whom we partnered to alleviate hunger, improve health, and develop job skills. Ghana and Haiti were part of the Anglican Church, not the Episcopal Church, but that didn’t matter to me; we were all the same family. At least two Sundays a month our pastor’s sermon included talk about diversity, his desire to include more people of color and lower socio-economic strata in our parish that was located in an upscale, largely white neighborhood.

Things happened that I didn’t like. I remember attending a Bible study group in which the members ganged up on me. They all said that a Christian had to proclaim Jesus as THE ONE AND ONLY Lord and Savior. I said I proclaimed Jesus as MY Lord and Savior, but that I recognized many other paths to God, peace, or enlightenment, as well. I explained that I respected those paths as valid and appropriate for the people who followed them. Members of my study group fervently disagreed, showing me Bible passages to prove I was wrong. They told me I wasn’t a true Christian.

What?! I have been a Christian my entire life, in four countries on three continents, and no one has ever had the gall to tell me that before! How dare they define my spirituality for me!

I spoke to my pastor about it. He apologized. He explained to me that Kansas City was fairly “southern” in its outlook, and that our parish commitment to diversity included people who were more fundamental/literal as well as people who were more liberal in their outlook. He said we are all human, we are all on a developmental journey in this life, and that I should be compassionate.

Okay, I quit the Bible study group. For about three years I was delighted, becoming more and more involved and vested in parish life. I became an active Sunday school teacher, and co-led Vacation Bible School for the kids. I tithed 10% of my earnings, which I knew supported our outreach projects as well as parish upkeep. I attended women’s retreats and study sessions. We had a great time. I absolutely loved my community, and felt I was growing closer to God, becoming more the person He would like me to be on this earth.

Then comes 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop. I was so proud! We had married priests, women priests (I had grown up Catholic, so this was major), and now we could have priests who are variously sexually-oriented as well! I felt joy at such a major step forward for an organization that, like any other, is prone to human failings.

Thus, I was completely blindsided when, in church on Sunday, our pastor announced that we were leaving the Episcopal Church. Huh? Can he do that?! He told us that our parish would be joining the Anglican Church. The reason? He didn’t agree with having a gay bishop, and he said we shouldn’t, either. What???!!!

I obviously made an appointment to speak with the pastor right away on Monday. I was livid. How could he have pledged to me his commitment to diversity, told me he agreed with the Church’s 1976 declaration on LGBT matters, and then do this? How could he take the annual pledge I’d made and just move it without my permission to another Church?

He spoke calmly. He was obviously centered, had prayed on this, and was confident he was doing the right thing. He explained to me that pro-LGBT activities have a western bias. And not just a western bias, but a higher socio-economic class bias as well. He said that in most of Africa, most of Latin America, most of the rest of the world, the Anglican Communion does not want openly gay priests. He told me he still did support the Episcopal Church’s 1976 LGBT declaration. But, he went on to say that that declaration says gays are children of God. In his opinion, gay sex is a sin, so as long as our gay parishioners remain celibate, they remain in God’s good graces. What?! Nearly four years I’ve been learning from this man, and this is what he believes?! I was horrified. He explained to me that it was me, not him, that was failing to honor diversity and inclusion; I was being ethnocentric, with a western and upper-middle-class bias.

I, of course, disagreed. I told him that we, as a society, cannot pick and choose which differences are “acceptable” to us and which are not. I told him I’d be leaving the church. I demanded that my annual tithe be returned to me; my money would most definitely not be used by him to promote this kind of discrimination.

While this personal story is now dated, I decided to write it up after reading a recent article from Canada, “Indigenous bishops say they’ll resist imposition of ‘Western’ cultural values,” about the Anglican Church there. That article really caused me pause. I am devoted to indigenous causes. Back when I was 11 and being bullied, my only friends were Hopi and Diné. They welcomed me, and I will never forget that inclusiveness. So, indigenous people are saying LGBT inclusion is an imposition of western cultural values? That the Church is not heeding their voices? That’s not good. Everyone should be heard, listened to, respected.

Spirituality is a lifelong practice. Cultural competence is also. At this point in my development, I remain committed to the belief that we must be inclusive and respectful of all God’s creatures: human, plant, animal, and Mother Earth. Defending our lack of respect for another by attributing it to “culture” is just not acceptable. Change is difficult; my inability to adapt when my family moved is what got me into the intercultural field in the first place. Change takes time. We must engage in respectful processes, during which we honor and hear one another. Together, we can create a world in which all our unique gifts are honored and utilized.

I welcome your thoughts, insights, and experiences.

Prologue: We here at Cultural Detective are very much wanting to partner with authors on a Cultural Detective Christianity, as well as packages on other spiritual traditions, to accompany our CD Islam and CD Jewish Culture. I would also very much like to see Values Lenses on Fundamentalism/Literalism, and Liberalism/Interpretivism—as a non-expert in divinity studies, I obviously don’t have the correct vocabulary. If you share my passion and do have the vocabulary, please contact us: blog@culturaldetective.com.

Announcing Our New Website!

new website 2We are thrilled to be able to announce the launch of our new and improved website!

Thanks to your commitment to building intercultural competence in our world, Cultural Detective has been privileged to grow. We now have over 70 packages in the series, 140+ authors worldwide, and are available via online subscription or licensed PDF.

Our original website grew with our community. It was like an old, beloved house, onto which new rooms have been added as the family grows. After so much adding on, light switches become hard to find, as do links to the information you might desire on the website.

Our new website is fast, easy to navigate, and easy to use. I want to very much thank our IT team, Rajat and Mahasweta, who made all the magic happen! It is no overstatement to say we could not have done it without you. Over the years, you both have become invaluable members of the Cultural Detective team. I also want to thank staff members Greg Webb and Kathryn Stillings, who helped me enormously, by uploading data, editing text, and providing feedback on design and functionality. We are blessed with talented people on this team!

I am confident we will find bugs and errors in the upcoming weeks, and we appreciate your help letting us know if you find any so we can correct them. Thank you!

website 3 new website 1

We hope you put this speedier, more organized and engaging website to good use! Now let’s get out there and build some intercultural competence!

Join Us for Some Awesome Professional Development!


DSC_0223

SIIC interns of the “Banana Crew of ’82” including Cultural Detectives Dianne Hofner Saphiere front and center, and Kathryn Stillings, half-standing with the curly hair. Also in the photo are the founders of the Stanford Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC): Cliff Clarke (back row, second from left) and King Ming Young (behind Dianne’s head), along with Jack May (back row, far left), administrative assistant.

My initial involvement with SIIC—then the Stanford Institute for Intercultural Communication—was in 1982, as an intern for Michael Paige. It is where I first met Kathryn Stillings, also an intern, who remains a dear friend and plays a crucial role with Cultural Detective. Several years later, the Institute relocated from Stanford University to the Intercultural Communication Institute, Portland, Oregon, keeping its “SIIC” acronym and changing its name to the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication.

The Institute has been an annual professional touchstone for me in the 34 years since. In 2016 it celebrates its 40th anniversary! Teaching over the years beside such pillars of intercultural communication as Dean Barnlund, Jack Condon, LaRay Barna, and Stella Ting-Toomey, among so many other incredibly talented, passionate souls, and having the privilege to call many of them friends, has been one of my professional life’s most treasured blessings.

BarnlundRenwickDianne

Some SIIC faculty circa 1990: Dean Barnlund, Nessa Lowenthal, George Renwick, Sheila Ramsey, Dianne Hofner Saphiere

This year, I am privileged to repeat a course I first conducted last year with Daniel Cantor Yalowitz, which was a hoot to deliver and extremely well received, called Gaining Gaming Competence: The Meaning is in the Debriefing (Session II A, Workshop 12). It will be a five-day course held July 18-22.

I am also thrilled about a brand-new course that I will be facilitating with Fernando Parrado, entitled Latin America and Its Place in World Life (Session I, Workshop 6), scroll down on the page). Latin America has so very much to offer today’s world, and is so very misunderstood; I cannot wait to work with participants to help develop our understanding of the region and the ways we teach about it. The topic is both timely and crucial.

Dianne_SIIC_FlyerI very much hope you will join me for either or both of these workshops; click here for financial information and a link to the registration page, or download a brochure for printing or sharing: SIIC_Flyer_Dianne. Here is a link to the full SIIC schedule.

Cultural Detective is also working in conjunction with the Intercultural Communication Institute to provide a 2-day facilitator certification workshop. This workshop receives kudos from even the most experienced intercultural trainers and educators. It will be conducted by Tatyana Fertelmeyster, July 23-24, in between SIIC Sessions II and III. We look forward to having you or your group join us! Click here for registration.

Bridging Cultures Online Learning Event: Register Now!

Bridging Cultures2
How do you translate knowledge of cultural differences into practice? What should you actually do differently to communicate better, and how do you ensure that what you are doing is effective?

  • Identify “bridge builders” and “bridge blockers” to your success
  • Learn techniques for in-the-moment bridging of differences to ensure that conversations spiral upwards instead of downwards
  • Develop strategies to both prepare for and repair cross-cultural relationships
  • Develop high impact, creative resolutions that take into consideration interpersonal, intercultural, and situational factors

During the webinar we will use Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures. This package is a little different than many in our series: rather than focusing on a specific culture, this package includes exercises and processes to help you navigate the differences you face. It is all about translating cultural savvy into action.

Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures cover

As you probably know, the Cultural Detective Series develops three core intercultural capacities: Subjective Culture, Cultural Literacy, and Cultural Bridging. Every packet in our series develops all three of these capacities; culture-specific packages have a particular focus on Cultural Literacy, while CD Self Discovery and CD Bridging Cultures focus more in-depth on the other two target capacities.

The Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures package is for anyone wanting to move from awareness to action, and it makes a great complement to any Cultural Detective culture-specific package. Join the webinar and learn more about the package and how to use its unique activities and exercises to enhance your own skills and/or your training program.

WHO

Facilitator for this event will be Kate Berardo, co-author of Cultural Detective® Self Discovery and Cultural Detective® Bridging Cultures. She provides consulting, training, and coaching to help individuals be effective global leaders and organizations to navigate complex cultural challenges. Kate has developed and delivered learning events in more than eighteen countries, with individuals from over fifty nations, using both online and traditional facilitation tools. Her work has been featured in media worldwide, most recently on CNN’s Business Traveller and the Dubai daily Gulf News.

Kate holds a distinguished Master’s in Intercultural Communication from the University of Bedfordshire, UK, and is a summa cum laude graduate of Northwestern University in the USA. She is certified in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. With George Simons and Simma Lieberman, Kate authored Putting Diversity to Work, a training guide for managers to leverage diversity in the workplace. Raised in California, she has also lived in Japan, Spain, France, England, and Denmark. Her work and travel to over forty countries have given her a deep understanding of the intricacies of bridging boundaries and barriers.

WHEN
Monday, June 13, 2016 from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM (MDT)
Register now to secure your place! 

Announcing the Fifth Edition of Ecotonos: Build Cross-Cultural Teams!

IMG_1735

Ecotonos: A Simulation for Collaborating Across Cultures is a classic in the intercultural field. It simulates teaming across cultural differences, and thus helps learners practice and refine cross-cultural collaboration skills. It can be played multiple times for developmental learning, since there is no “trick” to the game. Play and debrief require a minimum of 100 minutes, but is so rich that quite a few professors refer back to and pull learning from the Ecotonos experience throughout the entire semester of a course.

First published in 1992, Ecotonos is now in its fifth edition!

I want to thank—immensely—Kathryn Stillings, who headed up the most recent reprinting: from finding sources for the plastic carrying case and the metal culture buttons, to proofreading and managing the printing, and hardest of all, assembling the finished product and getting it shipped off to our fulfillment center. And she claims to have had fun doing it!

The photos below prove that when you purchase Ecotonos you are getting hand-assembled, artisanal quality goods!😉 Click on any image to view it larger or see a slideshow. Of course, Kathryn took the pictures, so you sadly don’t see her in any of these.

If you don’t use Ecotonos in your classes or trainings, you are missing out on an invaluable tool for developing cross-cultural teaming competence. The game can be reused for years and years; order yours today!

Righting Culinary Injustice

Photo © Johnathan M. Lewis

Photo of Michael W. Twitty © Johnathan M. Lewis

“I challenge you to find anyone in the history of the world who was enslaved and who revolutionized the food, sex lives, religion, dance, music, and aesthetics of the people who enslaved them—like Africans in the Americas did. The man and woman who became enslaved enslaved the palates of those who enslaved them.”
—Michael W. Twitty, food historian

Michael Twitty is aspiring to be the first US Civil War-era Black chef in 150 years. To that end, since 2011 he has researched, written, and, amazingly, performed the day-to-day labor of an enslaved person. Why? “It’s my job, using imagination, body, archeology, ethnography, anything I can, to honor and restore dignity to my ancestors.”

It is important that we not only honor the ancestors but provide a lifeline to contemporary communities and people of color looking for a better life in the new economy, a way out of the health and chronic illness crisis, and a way to reduce the vast food deserts that plague many of our communities. To honor the food past and provide for the food future is “culinary justice.”
—from Michael’s website, Afroculinaria

All over the world, people have lost and are losing proprietorship of their ancestral traditions. As Michael explains, “Spam colonized Oceania, Korean traditions were usurped during the Japanese occupation, there was the pseudo-history of the Columbian Exchange, Native Americans probably exchanged recipes with immigrants as they shivered under small pox blankets and dodged musket balls.” Too many people have no claim over their own heritage, no access to a field of heirloom vegetables that their ancestors brought to a country or a continent.

Maybe you have heard about Michael Twitty. I had not until I read a post by colleague Missy Gluckmann from Melibee Global this morning. Learning from Michael has occupied my entire morning, and I can’t tell you how thrilled and how moved I am by his work and who he is! Bless you, Missy and Michael!

Readers of this blog know that we often write about food (1, 2, 3, 4, 5); it is central to the soul of a culture. We also frequently write about cultural appropriation (1, 2, 3), from fashion to symbols to traditions, how to avoid it, and how to extend power and privilege, credit and honor where they belong—to origins and originators—while also continuing to be generative. Heck, bridging and blending cultures is what Cultural Detective is all about! Building on others’ work while honoring it respectfully and justly is a difficult line to maintain, however, one that requires ongoing dialogue, learning, and adjustment. Living as a gringa in Mexico, I learn more about that “thin line” on a daily basis.

Here in Latin America, where colonization and the appropriation of historic lands remain modern-day concerns, and the switching from heritage to GMO crops breaks my heart and worries many for our future, Michael’s work provides a much-needed vocabulary and conceptual framework. According to Michael, “In a world where oppressed communities worldwide are struggling with food security and economic inequalities, advancing culinary justice is essential to a better and more sustainable future for the global community.”

How does he define some of his terms?

  • Culinary Injustice: “When the descendants of historically oppressed people have no sovereignty over their culinary traditions, and essentially go from a state of sustainable production and ownership to a state of dependency, mal- or under-nutrition and food injustice. It results in feelings of shame for being under history’s boot heel, and puts distance between our past, ourselves and our future. Culinary injustice places originators in a tertiary and passive rather than a primary and active role in the transformation of culinary traditions, and results in fortunes being made for others”—those who oppress, appropriate, or innovate unjustly.
  • Culinary Justice: “Respect for truth and honesty in telling the stories and traditions of the oppressed. Reconciliation not blame, hope not guilt, the power of working together not avoiding one another. Ensuring that children of color have access to the land, ecosystems, clean water and legal protections to grow the heirloom crops and heritage breed animals of their ancestors. This results in a greater connection to nature, spirit, and our ancestors. Culinary justice enables the oppressed to become entrepreneurs, producers and providers by using their unique cultural heritage, and lifts communities out of poverty.”

Bridging Cultures via Culinary Traditions

Michael himself is a Blended Culture person, both African-American and Jewish, among, no doubt, many other identities. How does he bridge cultures? Again, in his words, “Food is extremely culturally connected and inherently economic and political. It is a proving ground for racial reconciliation and healing and dialogue. The responsible exploration of the Southern food heritage demands that the cooks of colonial, federal era and antebellum kitchens and enslaved people’s cabins be honored for their unique role in giving the Southland her mother cuisine.”

Think about this a minute. Here’s a culinary historian who has dedicated his life to reclaiming the Black culinary heritage of the Americas, especially in the US South. How do you think he might feel about someone, like, say, Paula Deen, celebrity chef and doyenne of Southern comfort food, who, when you think about it, has made a fortune off adapting (or appropriating) African-American recipes and traditions? In fact, Michael named one of his projects “The Southern Discomfort Tour,” to help us redefine how we think about what is commonly referred to as “Southern comfort food.”

Again, in Michael’s words, “I invited Paula Deen to dinner, at a plantation, to engage her as a cousin, not a combatant. The Cooking Gene seeks to connect the whole of the Southern food family—with cousins near and far—by drawing all of us into the story of how we got here and where we are going. There is power in food traditions for bridging the pseudo-boundaries of race.”

Bravo!

Michael talks about “identity cooking,” which relates directly to the Blended Culture that we as Cultural Detectives talk about. He tells us, “Identity cooking isn’t about fusion; rather it’s how we construct complex identities and then express them through how we eat. Very few people in the modern West eat one cuisine or live within one culinary construct. Being Kosher/Soul is about melding the histories, tastes, flavors, and diasporic wisdom of being Black and being Jewish. Both cultures express many of their cultural and spiritual values through the plate, and Kosher/Soul is about that ongoing journey.”

He talks about the Americas as “a culinary cornucopia unknown anywhere else in the world, where foods from Africa, the Americas, Eurasia, the Middle East and Southeast Asia met. Cooks from modern-day Ghana, Angola and Nigeria perhaps exchanged recipes with each other in their new Afro-Creole pidgeon English,” and here, paraphrasing him, sharing with one another how they adapt their ingredient list to the plants and herbs available in the Americas, as well as the palates of their new owners. “What results is not like anything they have cooked before, but is the essential truth of all of the parts.”

Remember when I told you that modern science is proving that memory is biological, that it crosses generations? Michael Twitty, with his one-man mission to reclaim African-American culinary heritage, recently found out through DNA testing that he his paternal ancestors were the Akan of modern-day Ghana. The Akan language, called Twi, has a word and an Adinkra symbol called sankofa. Sankofa means that we must go back and reclaim our past in order to move forward! You tell me Michael isn’t doing what his ancestors, and his genes, tell him needs to be done! Inside each of us, indeed, is a piece of the puzzle, an answer to the challenges facing our world!

Akindra-sankofa

The Akindra symbol for sankofa

Sankofa_bird

Akindra bird symbol for sankofa

Personal Learning (or Reframing) Points

What are some of the key points I learned, or reframed, from Michael Twitty this morning? Most of the below is verbatim from Michael via his videos on the internet.

  1. African slaves were not unskilled labor. They were brought to the Americas for their skills, to help build nations. They knew how to grow rice and cotton from West Africa, and brought it to the USA. We brought over 20 different African crops and animals to the Americas on slave ships. They brought their ability to cook. Post-slavery, they were the first generation of caterers in America, culinary aristocracy, cooking for the White House, embassies, highest society. Yet our children don’t know that!
  2. “Yam yam” is a Wolof word, the word enslaved women used when caring for white children in the big house, encouraging them to eat her food. Look in the dictionary under “yummy”: “origin unknown”? Black people!
  3. As new generations were born in the USA, kids’ palates changed. They don’t like guts, which of course contained the spirit, the soul, the essence of the animal that was sacrificed to feed us. We began to lose the mystical, the mythological, the metaphysical, and the magical… Those chitlins (small intestine): they contain the soul, that’s why it’s called soul food!
  4. Enslaved cooks from Central West Africa used spirituals to time their cooking; there were no clocks. To roast the meat, bake the bread… they’d reference the number of times they could sing the song before the food would be done.
  5. Rice in South Carolina made 10 out of the first 12 millionaires, all of whom were involved in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It took only two seasons to make the rice planters of Charleston millionaires. Charleston Gold Rice sells for $14/bag today, yet not one black person owns a rice field in Charleston. That’s food injustice.
  6. It’s important to respect and revive the culinary knowledge of the oppressed. It takes guts to insist that the chef act as a keeper of tradition, an advocate of memory, of ecological integrity, of ethnographic and historical respect, with contemporary awareness and a sense of urgency to acknowledge debt. Culinary reconciliation will lead to healing and a better life.

I’m sure you’d love to see Michael in action. Below is a video of an 18-minute presentation he gave to MAD, a Danish non-profit.

If you have heard Michael speak or, better yet, eaten some of his food, please let me know about your experience. Bless you, Michael Twitty! Thank you for helping make our world more respectful, equitable and just!

 

 

War Zones and Cultural Disconnects

PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION COVER FACE 3Our book, “Perception and Deception: A Mind Opening Journey Across Cultures,” is getting incredible reviews and selling like hotcakes (or roti, sushi, tacos…)! Quite a few successful, internationally renowned professionals leading multicultural lives—a famous news anchor, an ambassador, journalists, professors—have written on Amazon to tell us how much they’ve learned from the book. Check out the reviews for yourself. As Joe tells us:

I wrote the book because I think that in this age of globalization, more and more cultures are coming together in ways for which we are not prepared. We don’t understand the real intent behind behaviors, behind images, gestures, and how we use our voices.

Perception and Deception‘s author, Joe Lurie, is born a storyteller. Most of his speaking engagements to promote the book have been sold out, including the one in the video below, taken at the Commonwealth Club of California.

Over the next couple of months, I’ll share excerpts of Joe’s talk there. This first clip, below, is four minutes long, and in it Joe discusses the cultural disconnects in modern war zones.

Perception and Deception is a great gift for anyone who would benefit from taking some time to reflect on what is really involved in communication across cultures, even or especially those who live and breathe it on a daily basis. Copies are available through Amazon.com or your local bookstore. Through more effective intercultural communication we can build justice, equity, respect, and collaboration in our world!

“Those who were dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
—F. Nietzche