We are thrilled to announce that this award-winning volume is newly updated with application questions for each chapter and fully integrates with your Cultural Detective Online subscription! Purchase it now for your classroom or for holiday gifting.
What do your experiences tell you when you’re in line behind a bald man: Is he a militant? A monk? A punk? A neo-Nazi?… Or perhaps a cancer patient?
With YouTube, tweets and fake news instantly crossing cultures without context in this time of globalization, it’s essential to understand the actual meanings and intentions behind words, images and actions that seem abnormal or provocative. In line, online and off-line, we’re meeting many more “strangers.” There’s new wisdom in the Lebanese proverb: “Every stranger is a blind man.” And so, we face an urgency to teach students and professionals far more about other cultures and give them the intercultural skills to navigate globalization’s turbulent waters. That’s why, in collaboration with Cultural Detective, I’ve greatly expanded the first award-winning edition of Perception And Deception, A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures.
Think globalization is bringing us closer together? Think again. With refugees crossing cultures without preparation on either side, the dangers of intercultural miscommunication are intensifying. Why do many refugees traumatized by violence find Western “talk therapy” alienating? As a Syrian refugee confided, “I can’t share my painful, humiliating stories with a stranger.” A Sudanese refugee was diagnosed “psychotic” because she seemed to be talking to herself; her Boston psychiatrist was unaware that in her world, conversing with ancestors is normal. Some French see a Muslim woman in a burkina—a full body suit—as oppressed or as a potential terrorist. Yet the woman considers her burkini liberating, because she can swim modestly. Recently, a UC Berkeley student with a Spanish last name was snidely asked when she’d return to Mexico. Her angered response, “I’m from Kansas and I don’t speak Spanish.”
To enable use of the well-received stories in the first edition as springboards for developing intercultural competence, I’ve added a broad array of interactive questions and activities at the end of each chapter in this expanded new edition, as well as a brand new chapter, “Globalization and its Disconnects—Convergence Without Context.” It focuses in large part on the spiraling misunderstandings across cultures, especially in the worlds of refugees, religion, and responses to technology.
To better cope with the disrupting forces of globalization, each chapters’ questions and activities are designed to develop and heighten cultural self-awareness and sensitivity to others, among students, individuals and groups of all backgrounds and professions. Some of the included interactive, personalized activities are available for those who take advantage of Cultural Detective‘s superb, research-based, internationally tested online platform providing access to nearly 70 packages of rich intercultural material: Cultural Detective Online; other questions are useful on their own, without a subscription.
Below is a two-minute video recorded at the Commonwealth Club of California, introducing the first edition:
May the new edition’s stories and interactive activities addressing the disrupting forces of globalization and migration offer positive paths for engaging with difference without fear and by seeing with new eyes!
“The Power of Storytelling in Intercultural Communication”
Many thanks to Joanna Sell, a certified Cultural Detective facilitator, for this terrific guest blog post. Be sure to check out her new intercultural storytelling blog at http://www.interculturalcompass.com/blog/.
It was early autumn when Martin, a German project leader, relocated to Mexico. At the beginning of his assignment he was very excited about the new challenge and curious about the host culture. His only concern was the fact that he was an introvert.
Every day before going to his company he threw a coin and “played heads or tails”. When he saw heads he would talk to the very first employee he encountered on his way. While seeing tails he would breath a sigh of relief that he did not have to “jump over his shadow” to practice small talk. Nobody knew about his habit and his team members were quite puzzled by his behavior, seeing that he did not talk to them as often as had their former leaders.
Pretty soon even those who had been very talkative at the beginning of Martin’s assignment limited their exchanges with him to the minimum. His assignment became challenging and Martin could not help feeling excluded, not only in the professional context but also in private life. Actually, he almost had no private life at all. Spending extra hours at work in the evening and during weekends resulted in isolation amidst a crowd of smiling faces in Mexico.
One late October morning, shortly after arriving at the office, Martin noticed a colorful skull made of sugar on top of his desk. He closed the door and slowly sat down. He remained frozen for half an hour or longer. He noticed that his colleagues barely spoke to him. Seeing the skull, he got terrified that they most probably wanted to get rid of him.
What happened next?
When Katrin Sihling—a dear colleague of mine from the Munich area who was raised by her Mexican mom and her German dad in South Germany—finished the story and asked that question, everyone in our group at Jena University smiled. Someone hurried with a possible explanation: “People in Mexico celebrate November 1st with parties to commemorate their ancestors and give one another sweet skulls to highlight the festive character of this feast”.
Listening to that explanation I sketched the following concluding scene in my head: Luckily, Elena, one of Martin’s team members, originally from Switzerland, entered his office and got concerned when she saw Martin’s pale face and absent gaze. When he indicated towards the skull without saying a word, she immediately noticed the cultural misunderstanding. It was she who had put the colorful sugar skull on his desk, as she did every year for all the people in their department. She explained the symbolic meaning of the sweet skull and asked Martin whether he wished to join the Mexican part of her family in celebrating El Dia de los Muertos.
That day both of them learned something new: not to take the world of obviousness (their world of obviousness) for granted, but to ask for new meanings instead.
The power of the storytelling approach in the intercultural context lies exactly in this attitude. Exchanging stories across cultures enhances curiosity and redirects attention from a focus on general, simplified assumptions and towards sense making and re-narrating the world of obviousness; that’s why the Cultural Detective Method is built around stories! Every critical incident in our series is a true story, sometimes a combination, involving real people in real situations.
“Culture is a set of stories that we enter” (Jerome Brunner) and exchanging facts and data about cultures without exchanging stories is a dead-end street.
“It is the stories we share with each other that help us to overcome cultural conflicts, cope with transition stress, and shape how we perceive the past and see the future. Thanks to an exchange of stories we become able to rethink our assumptions and change our behavior. Changing behaviors definitely requires mindfulness in order to recognize which behaviors are inappropriate and which are desirable in different cultural contexts.
To sum up why we need storytelling in the intercultural context, I would like to offer a short list (instead of a story) that includes the following issues:
Storytelling suppports zooming in and out effects and, therefore, enables perspective change.
Storytelling allows the discovery of cultural roots from multiple perspectives.
Storytelling offers insights into the complexity of multicultural identities.
Storytelling can be an eye-opener in new cultural surroundings.
Storytelling adds the emotional layer to the cognitive level.
Storytelling serves as a means of transmitting cultures.
Storytelling deals with new stories of belonging.
Storytelling initiates change processes.
Storytelling serves as sensemaking.
Storytelling moves hearts.
Sell, J. (2017): Storytelling for Intercultural Understanding and Intercultural Sensitivity Development in: Chlopczyk, J. (ed.) Beyond Storytelling. Springer Gabler, pp.234-235.
Made you curious? Please find more about the storytelling approach in the intercultural context with a focus on choice biographies and identities in flux, coping with the danger of a single story, new stories of belonging and a hands on compilation of storytelling methods that can be applied in intercultural programs in two of my chapters published in following books:
Sell, J. (2017): Storytelling for Intercultural Understanding and Intercultural Sensitivity Development in: Chlopczyk, J. (ed.) Beyond Storytelling. Springer Gabler.
Sell, J. (2017): Segel hoch und auf zu neuen Ufern – Eine Reise durch die Welt der Storytelling-Methoden im unterkulturellen Kontext in: Schach, A. (ed.) Storytelling. Geschichten in Text, Bild und Film, Springer Gabler.
We greet hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors each year on the west coast of México where I live. For years I have promoted cultural and religious tourism to the State Secretary of Tourism, trying to encourage travelers to get beyond the beer and beaches to experience a bit of the “real Mexico.”
Recently, a colleague in Milan, Maura di Mauro, told me about a special film track she coordinated in May at the SIETAR Europa Congress in Dublin entitled, Focus on Responsible Tourism. She cautioned me about how the culture of Mursi villagers in Ethiopia was changing due to tourism. Thanks to an influx of camera-toting tourists willing to pay for photos, the villagers increasingly exaggerate their traditional practices and even falsely embellish them, to make them more attractive to visitors. She also told me about Chinese tourists descending en masse on a small village in The Netherlands. Many of the Dutch residents welcome the added economic boost such international tourism provides, but there are also downsides to such tourism and, again, changes to the host culture.
Maura got me excited and I can not WAIT to view these two films!
The first documentary Maura told me about is called “Framing the Other” by Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers (25 min, English and Mursi with English subtitles, €445 for the film in an educational package with guide and readings on tourism’s impact).The Mursi tribe lives in the basin of the Omo River in the south of the east African state of Ethiopia. The women are known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings. Every year hundreds of Western tourists come to see the unusually adorned natives; posing for camera-toting visitors has become the main source of income for the Mursi. To make more money, they embellish their “costumes” and finery in such a manner that less of their original authentic culture remains. The film contrasts the views of Mursi women and those of Dutch tourists preparing for a meeting. This humorous and at the same time chilling film shows the destructive impact tourism has on traditional communities. The film screening was followed by a Q&A with producer Ilja Kok. A preview follows:
The second film is called “Ni Hao Holland: The Chinese are coming” by Willem Timmers(25 min, Mandarin and Dutch with English subtitles, €395 for the film in an educational package with slides and readings on understanding Chinese tourists).This is a documentary about Chinese tourists and their quest for the authentic Dutch experience. Cherry, the main character, has long dreamed of swapping her home city Beijing for the Dutch village Giethoorn. She has heard and read a lot about this mythical place. The day arrives that she and her friend hop on the plane in search of adventure. In the meantime, entrepreneurs from Giethoorn work hard behind the scenes to cater to this “Holland experience.” They want to make the most of the fast-growing flow of Chinese tourists to their village. How is this authenticity created by some and experienced by others? Below is a preview:
Maura also curated a third film for the festival at SIETAR Europa: “Holi-days” by Randi Malkin Steinberger (50 min). If you’re interested in tourism and its impact on culture, it looks very worthwhile.
Why do we visit pilgrim’s places, art capitols and tourist’s paradises en masse? Traveling from Jerusalem via Florence to Las Vegas, Steinberger takes the answers to these questions to an increasingly general plane. In Jerusalem (welcoming three million visitors a year) we see tourists visiting the holy places, buying souvenirs, and putting themselves through torments that Jesus Christ once endured. What they are looking for is elucidated in short statements by pilgrims, tour operators, church leaders, guides, scientists, and souvenir vendors. All these opinions put forward a few basic ideas: tourism and commerce overgrow religion, and sacred places and objects give people the feeling that they are part of some higher order. We could look at Florence in the same way, where annually six million tourists drink in the best of Renaissance Art. The street interviews allow the same conclusion as in Jerusalem: people feel dumbfounded and overwhelmed. The countless tourists and the massive trade in souvenirs “have turned the city into a congealed moment in time.” The climax of this film journey is reached in Las Vegas. In this city, 36 million people a year enjoy replicas of famous cities and monuments, cinematic reconstructions of historical moments, spectacular shows, and dazzling gambling palaces. Here, the reality, which people also look for in Jerusalem and Florence, is better and more typical (and even more soulless) than in reality.
On this Juneteenth Freedom Day, I am humbled and honored to share with you a significant update in theCultural Detective African American package. Since these materials were first published four years ago much has changed in the USA and in the African American community. When we initially asked its authors, Kelli McLoud-Schingen and Patricia M. Coleman to update the package, emotions were too raw, wounds too fresh, and the idea itself overwhelming.
“With each face, each name and each court case, members of the African American community see their fathers, their sons, their brothers, their nephews, their lovers, their mothers, their daughters, their nieces, and themselves. The fear in the African American community is palpable, present, and real—and it paralyzes, polarizes, and traumatizes the community.
A year later they sent us a brilliant piece that provides important and often missing or over-looked context to today’s realities of the African American experience. This short essay is especially useful for people who are new to the USA or who just don’t “get” what all the “fuss” is about. I am personally and professionally very grateful to these two talented professionals for their contributions to intercultural understanding.
“There are real values in conflict here. When someone is killed—whether by the police or another citizen, African Americans expect the justice system to work…
When this doesn’t happen, overwhelming grief gives way to unimaginable pain, which, in turn, often gives way to irrepressible rage. When the rage is released, the socially pathological stories of black violence are reinforced, perpetuating the stereotypes that serve to dehumanize an entire group of people.
What we have now is an opportunity to explore why African Americans have had the need, in every generation, to ask the timeless question, “Am I not a full and equal citizen?” It seems the answer should be an unequivocal and resounding “yes,” but the question is most often met with an appalling silence, or worse, a loud “no” backed by legal might.”
Cultural Detective, as you know, is a licensed product, available via subscription (CD Online) or printed PDF at very affordable prices. The topic of race relations in the USA is so crucial, however, that the three of us feel compelled to share the new addition with our entire community. You will find it below. Please put it to good use, whether in combination with your Cultural Detective Online subscription or PDF license.
Asha Deliverance, left, the mother of Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, leans in and embraces a woman who approached her at the vigil. Photo by Beth Nakamura/Staff, The Oregonian/OregonLivecaption.
I almost feel guilty as I write—80+ people were killed in Kabul today and I am focused on two men who were killed in Portland, Oregon, a few days ago. You may have heard about it: three men formed a wall between two young ladies (one wearing a hijab) and a man who was verbally accosting them on a public train. Two of the men ended up dead and a third was seriously wounded. A vigil was held the following evening at the place the attack happened. Here are some photos from it; click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
Photo by Beth Nakamura/Staff, The Oregonian/OregonLivecaption.
Photo by Beth Nakamura/Staff, The Oregonian/OregonLivecaption.
Sign from https://www.nwgsdpdx.org/signs-more The “In Our America” graphic is based on a design created by local Portland artist Jason Maxfield who wanted to create a patiotric message to affirm his belief that America is about welcoming people and providing opportunity for all.
Photo by Beth Nakamura/Staff, The Oregonian/OregonLivecaption.
I am convinced that heroic actions take place every day in our world, but we frequently don’t hear about them. This time we did. It happened not far from my house, across the street from where I grocery shop, and just around the corner from our weekend farmers’ market. I didn’t attend the vigil that was held for our local heroes. But the reports from those that did spoke of the kindness and love that was evident—and the gratitude for those who had stood up to hate.
Right now, from outside of the US, it may look as if our country has changed since our new president was inaugurated. And in many ways it has. Some people are more comfortable making and hearing racist statements than they were before the election. They feel they no longer have to be “politically correct” and can say and do whatever they feel. After all, they are just following the example of the president.
But many people are not accepting these “new norms” and are actively and quietly doing their jobs to make sure the laws of the country are upheld. A few examples follow.
When the “travel ban” was abruptly instituted, a group of state attorneys general worked diligently over the weekend to prepare the case to take to court on Monday morning. Many corporate attorneys whose companies were affected, university attorneys whose students were stuck overseas, and other interested legal organizations gave up their weekends with family to help prepare the necessary documents.
Amidst the noise of ongoing “Russia investigations” and leaks and counter-leaks, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his staff are quietly doing their jobs—investigating the accusations and finding out what actually took place and what didn’t. It may look from the outside as if nothing is happening because you will hear no tweets or leaks from that group—they are just doing their jobs.
I belong to a local neighborhood online group. Two weeks ago, there was a post with a lengthy list of furniture and clothing needs for a recently arrived Syrian family. Within a few hours, the items were donated and the family had a comfortable home to settle into. And it wasn’t the first time the neighborhood had pitched in; this was at least the third similar request in the last six months.
So what is my point? Individuals can and do make a difference. Everyday. In the most unexpected places and in unexpected ways. Kindness matters. Civility matters.
Cultural Detective provides a method to help us understand others who are different from ourselves. It provides a way to listen and understand another’s view, whether or not you agree. Get a clue and check out CD Online—and use your intercultural skills to share a little kindness in a culturally appropriate way.
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?
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.
“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.”
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!
The Akindra symbol for sankofa
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.
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!
“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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Kissing customs vary by culture; we all know that—when greeting, do you kiss, bow, shake hands, hug, fist bump, or use some other gesture? If you do kiss to say hello, do you do kiss once, twice or thrice? Do you kiss the lips, cheek or air?
But when it comes to kissing a lover, to passionate or sexual kissing, well, suddenly we think that is surely universal.
But is it? Are statements such as those below ethnocentric?
According to a recent study of 168 cultures worldwide, romantic-sexual kissing is actually far from universal. In fact, the study shows that only 41% of the world’s cultures engage in romantic kissing! Researchers on the project were anthropologists William Jakowiak and Shelly Volsche, of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and gender studies researcher Justin Garcia, from Indiana University Bloomington. The paper, entitled, “Is the Romantic-Sexual Kiss a Near Human Universal?”, was published in The American Anthropologist in July, 2015.
Volsche told news.com.au that, “There is a marked absence of kissing in equatorial and sub-Saharan hunter-gatherer societies such as the Hadza, the Turkana, the Maasai, and the Yanomamo.” The Mehinaku of Brazil told one ethnographer that they thought kissing was “gross,” asking why anyone would want to “share their dinner.” This research found that kissing evolves in complex, post-industrial societies in which there is time for and interest in erotic play. Erotic kissing is not common in agricultural, pastoral and hunter-gatherer societies.
Many societies that do not have romantic kissing use other physical expressions of endearment, often an exchange of breath or mutual sniffing of cheeks and necks. The Oceanic Kiss involves passing open mouths, with no contact. It is usually a greeting, and occasionally part of the sexual repertoire. Are you curious about other sexual customs and beliefs that may be culturally relative? If so, check out this article in Bustle.
Cultural Detective is a terrific tool for exploring the methods you use to build trust with and confidence in others, whether they be romantic partners, work colleagues, neighbors or clients. We invite you to join us in one of our complimentary webinars to learn how.
Preparing to waste some time watching an in-flight movie as I flew to Europe from Mexico, I perked up considerably as soon as Los Tigres del Norte’s America came on. This film, McFarland USA, was not going to be a standard high school sports movie after all!
Todos son Americanos, sin importar el color
De América, yo soy, de América, yo soy
We are all Americans, no matter our color
I’m from America, I’m from America
The plot line: Track coach Kevin Costner’s (Mr. White) temper has resulted in him and his family bouncing from one high school to another in a downward spiral of disenfranchisement from family and friends, as well as loss of self esteem and family cohesion. As the movie opens, Mr. White is forced to leave a (very white) school in Idaho for a very rural school in another part of the USA. His daughter’s first words as they pull into their new home? “Dad, are we in Mexico?” It turns out they’ve moved to the agricultural Central Valley of California. Living as a US expat in Mexico, their cultural confusion delighted my soul.
The initial culture shock:
Arriving tired and hungry, the White family heads to a restaurant in search of a burger. “We have tacos, tortas, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas…” recites the waitress. After several repetitions of the phrase, the family orders the only thing they apparently understand, tacos. They imagine their confusion has ended, but oh no… “Do you want asada, al pastor, chorizo, cabeza, lengua…?” While they are dumbfounded by the options, my family would be in heaven!
Low riders cruise the streets and Dad is scared he won’t be able to protect his family—bias incarnate. A rooster wakes them up at dawn, in stereotypical fashion, and a neighbor lady gives them one as a welcome gift. Dad finds a simpatico cultural informant in the local grocery store owner. They go from hating the Virgen de Guadalupe colorfully painted on their living room wall, to loving it.
Within a week of his arrival to their new home, Dad is fired from his position coaching football. His students’ reaction to the news? “Congratulations, Mr. White. They are treating you like a picker.”
A teacher now without a head coach position, Costner notices that many of the local kids run far distances as part of their daily lives—there isn’t any transportation other than one’s own two feet. He also realizes that the kids wake up early in the morning to help their parents pick crops, before they begin their second day later in the morning at school. The kids’ abilities impress the heck out of him; he is blown away that they have the stamina for both work and study, and disappointed when his students’ parents don’t support their kids’ after-school activities (they need the kids’ help in the fields).
Mr. White gets to know a couple of the local kids, and enlists their help to put together a cross-country running team. Part of his learning journey includes a day with the kids out picking in the fields where, as expected, Mr. White fails miserably.
The movie does an excellent job capturing Mexican values such as family, respect for elders, hard work, dealing with adversity, and joy in life. We watch with delight as Mr. White and his family learn invaluable life skills from their new neighbors and friends, and experience, for the first time in their lives, some of the joys of community and tradition.
The movie as a learning resource McFarland USA is a predictable movie, rather stereotypical, but refreshing and timely. I found it a very worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours on an international flight, and would recommend it to you for summer viewing. I can definitely see using clips from this film in coaching, educational or training environments. Please let me know what you think.