Unit 8 - Cultural Considerations

8.1 Objectives
8.2 Discussion
8.3 Sample Paper
8.4 Summary
8.5 Lab
8.6 Exercises


8.1 Objectives

To prevail in the third millenium by learning about different cultures.
To investigate stereotypes and racism.

8.2 Discussion

Why is this student wearing a dress?

A key component of prevailing in the future is to understand and appreciate different cultures. This is so because of the polyglot world in which we live, and technology is making it ever smaller, throwing us closer together. In California, whites are the new minority, and we have a very large immigrant and foreign population. One of the strengths of De Anza College is that over 1/3 of our students are Asian. In Hawaii, differing cultures have coexisted for a long time with at least the veneer of tranquility. Though what about Haoles vs. Locals?

Since we are about prevailing rather than enduring, it is appropriate that we examine different cultures as a part of all of our courses, and there is no better place than to start with ourselves, the members of the multicultural learning community in the classroom. In EWRT 1A/English 100 we often start with the formal (or informal depending on the culture) Cultural Reports found in Exercise 8.5.1, below.

In other courses we will examine the literature of different cultures. What similarities are there between Shakespeare's HAMLET and Mishima's "Patriotism," the story of two ultranationalist lovers in Japan? What can Asian (and other) students learn from Wallace Steven's great "Peter Quince at the Clavier," set in a Shakespearean play, but using Christian Biblical images from the OLD TESTAMENT? What lessons about haves and have nots do we learn from the most important recent novel published, THE KITE RUNNER?

Acting "Peter Quince."

Now we understand why the above student--who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons is wearing a dress, "thinking of your blue shadowed silk is music."

What does Li Po's (pronounced Li Bao) 7th century poem "The River Merchant's Wife," say to Hispanic or Eritrean or Ethiopian students?

Or Honkies?--a word that originally was a derogatory word for Hungarian immigrants to the US. After we have a sufficient trust established, we will be fairly direct (in your face) about these discussions, but we must remember the cardinal rule not to offend. Why do we laugh at ethnic humor such as that found at the start of BLAZING SADDLES? What fears are associated with stereotypes? Is it true most Asians are slow drivers? How about Deadheads? What kinds of "in groups" and "out groups" are you a part of and how do you excel in a multicultural, potentially confusing environment? What are the roles of language in that environment, and what language(s) should we speak?

In many classes we examine multicultural essays or literature. In English 1A we sometimes read Louise Erdrich's novel LOVE MEDICINE about the Catholic Church's administering, on behalf of the US government, a Native American reservation, to the point of supplanting the Indian gods with their Christian god? What happens to one's identity when that happens? We often read Robert Olen Butler's great (Pulitzer Prize, l993) short story "Mr. Green," about a Viet Namese woman who has the soul of her Grandfather in her parrot (see Exercise 10.4.2); what happens to your identity when there are competing religions within the family, and the family keeps getting refugeed, fleeing from Hanoi in 54, Saigon in 75? We also often read Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's great memoir, FAREWELL TO MANZANAR (coauthored with her late husband James Houston) about what it was like to grow up in the Internment camps during WWII, when, for fear of the Japanese, our government imprisoned most Japanese-Americans.

Jeanne Houston's essays "Beyond Manzanar; An examination of Asian-American Womanhood," and "A Tapestry of Hope," an original piece first delivered as the graduation address to the De Anza Graduating Class of 1994, speak to us of positive coexistence in very insightful ways, no matter what our ethnic persuasion or beliefs.

EWRT 1B, Summer l995
Students from US, Viet Nam, China, Eritrea
12 of these students transferred to UC Davis!


8.3 Sample Paper


The Asian Experience by Inoh H.

When I first read the play THE SOUND OF A VOICE, I felt a strong sense of connection with the two characters in the play. In a way, it made me more aware of my own cultural background as an Asian American. Therefore I felt that it is more meaningful for me to research this play. I have come across several different articles which helped me to appreciate the play a little bit better. The first article was a biography of David Henry Hwang. In the biography Hwang mentioned that ìwhen he was younger he regarded his Chinese ancestry as a minor detail, sort of like having red hair" (Hwang). Being an Asian American, I can identify with what he is saying. I grew up in the mid-west, and I can honestly say that people in that part of world are not very kind to foreigners. The ignorance of some people in this country really frustrates me. And the second article was a review of the movie THE JOY LUCK CLUB by Roger Ebert. The review mentioned that "Women were not valued very highly" (Ebert). Those with independent minds and spirits were valued even less than the docile, obedient ones;this reflected how Hwang portrayed the Woman in THE SOUND OF A VOICE. Ebert's view is also an important trait of the Asian culture. So I have decided on my theme. The writer, David Henry Hwang, has contributed a great deal to the Asian American community with his play THE SOUND OF A VOICE I say this because he is allowing the younger generations of Asian Americans to be more aware of the significance of their own heritage and to distinguish the differences between the Eastern and the Western cultures. Most Asian Americans who grew up in America as a child often resent their ethnicity because of racism and criticism they have encountered regarding their race.

The play THE SOUND OF A VOICE is socially significant because it allows the audience a glimpse of the Asian culture through human interactions. The proper etiquette of the Eastern culture is some what different from the Western culture, the way we respond to certain things in America would be considered inappropriate and sometimes even rude in the East. In the JOY LUCK CLUB movie we hear: "Waverly: But the worst is when Rich criticizes my mother's cooking, and he didn't even know what he had done. As is the chinese cook's custom, my mother always insults her own cooking, but only with the dishes she served with special pride. Lindo: This dish not salty enough, no flavor, it's too bad to eat. Please. Waverly: That was our cue to eat some and proclaim it the best she ever made. At this point Rich takes a bite and says 'All it needs is some soy sauce. And he proceeds to drown it with soy sauce.'" (Tan 46:30) This might be one struggle that Asian Americans might encounter in their everyday lives. In schools and out in society they are taught one set of rules for interacting with one another, and at home they are taught another set of rules. Some of them might arrive at the conclusion that what they learn in society and everyday life is the right way and what the parents are trying to force upon them is the wrong way. No one has told them that there are different rules to the game of life and that they should learn to distinguish between the two of them. This might be the reason why there is a lot of culture clash between different groups. Through the play THE SOUND OF A VOICE we will be able to distinguish the significance of the traits within the Eastern culture from that of the Western culture.

In scene one of THE SOUND OF A VOICE we get a sense of how Asian women behave. First we see that when the Woman was serving some tea to the Man she had a hard time accepting any compliment, "M: The tea- you pour it well, W: no, M: the sound it makes-in the cup-very soothing. W: that's the teaís skill, not mine"(Hwang 1199). She makes it seem like it is a crime to accept any praises for her services, but actually it's an act of being humble. If this situation were to take place in America, the Woman would have just say "Thank you," and move on. Next, we see that there are two significant traits being displayed. The first trait we see is when the Woman was offering the Man some food the Man kept refusing: "W: May I get you something else? Rice, perhaps? M: No, W: And some vegetables? M: No, thank you. W: Fish? It is at least two days walk to the nearest village. I saw no horse. You must be very hungry. You would do great honor to dine with me. Guests are rare. M: Thank you" (Hwang 1199). From this scene we see that when the Man was offered food, he kept refusing until the Woman insisted for the third time. It seems that it is impolite to accept anything on the first try. And the other trait, which was displayed, was the fact that the Woman kept offering her guest something to eat even after her guest had refused the offer. The way these two characters interact with each other seems like a ritual. This particular trait displayed by the Woman is something you don't see westerners do at all. This is an Eastern trait because in America the host will offer something once, and if the guest refuses, they will allow the guest to help themselves whenever they like. The movie THE JOY LUCK CLUB also portrays this type of behavior. There was one scene in the movie where the hostess brought out some food from the kitchen and proceeded to pack the guest's plate full of food. "June: Oh, oh, thank you, OK, OK, OK, enough. Aunty Lindo: Whatís the matter guest of honor, you should eat more. You are getting too skinny" (Tan 52:23) We can see that the guest did not want any more food, but Aunty Lindo kept insisting that she take more.

And also in the play THE SOUND OF A VOICE the author David Henry Hwang, portrays a man who appears to be an old Samurai and a woman who was supposed to be a witch. The significance of the male character in the play is pretty important because when we hear the word "Samurai," what comes to my mind are honor, loyalty, discipline, bravery, and justice. They are the best swordsmen in the land, and whoever can control them pretty much controls the land. I believe David Henry Hwang was using the traits of the Samurai to represent the Asian culture and what we stand for. He wanted Asian Americans to know that we do have something to be proud of.

The primary trait of the Samurai is honor. Throughout our lives as students we usually associate the word "honor" with "class" (honor class) or "roll" (honor roll). And the older generation might associate the word "honor" with Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie GOLDFINGER. We try to please our parents any way possible without giving any thought as to what it really means. Rule number one by Miyamoto Musashi is "Think of what is right and true," (16) tells us that to be honorable we should do the right thing. The Man in the play did what is right and true by not lying to her: "M: If I gave you a name it would only be made up; why should I deceive you. You are too kind for that" (Hwang 1201). And he also showed that he was true to his word, when he was practicing his skills, by resting his chin on the tip of the sword: "M: Come any closer and Iíll drop my head"(Hwang 1211) The book mentioned that after she went closer and grabbed the sword, the man reached up to his chin and felt a drop of blood. This also proves that he was true to his word because when she went closer he actually applied pressure toward the sword and therefore cut himself.

The other honorable thing the Man did was when the Man tried to leave in the middle of the night. From the play we know that the man's intention from the beginning was to kill the woman because she was a witch, "W: Yes I have heard of them. From other visitors-young-hotblooded-or old- who came here because they were told great glory was to be had by killing the witch in the woods. M: I was told that no one could spend time in this house without falling in love" (Hwang1209) He has so much pride that he has to sneak out at night without telling her. What he tried to do might not fit the traditional meaning of being honorable, but he did it because to harm someone he had befriended was considered to be dishonorable.

Another thing we can learn from the play is to look at the two characters and see what they represent. We can picture the Man as a symbol of all the Asian immigrants who are in this country, and the Woman as representing the United States of America as a metaphor. She symbolizes the land of opportunity. She cares for the flowers, and they represent the beauty and prosperity of this country. In Chinese, the words that are used to name America translate into "beautiful country." But when the Asian immigrants arrive in this country, they see that it is not as people say. Things are tougher than people say they are. They face many difficulties from society. It is also next to impossible to leave when they wanted to because they have sacrificed almost everything to be here, and now they have nothing to go back to, almost too ashamed to crawl back to friends and families to ask for help. At the end we see the Man pick up the flute and play it. The flute symbolizes the hard work it takes to make it in this country because during the play the Woman played the flute for the flowers to keep them staying fresh and beautiful. So in order to continue the beauty, he starts playing the Shakuhachi.

I believe that through his efforts, David Henry Hwang, has contributed a great deal to the Asian American community with his play THE SOUND OF A VOICE. He is preserving our heritage for the younger generations of Asian Americans to be more aware of the significance of their own heritage and to distinguish the differences between the Eastern and the Western cultures.

Works Cited

"Biography of David Henry Hwang," http://occ.awlonline.com/bookbind/pubbooks/kennedycompact_awl/chapter2 6/deluxe.html (21 Jun. 2000)

David Henry Hwang. ìThe Sound of A Voiceî . Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 2nd Compact ed. New York: Longman, 2000. 1199-1213.

Ebert, Roger. Movie review of the movie "The Joy Luck Club." http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1993/09/878918.html (18 Jun .2000)

Musashi, Miyamoto. THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1997.


8.4 Summary


8.5 Lab


8.6 Exercises


This assignment is intended to be accomplished in groups of 2-4 students. With my prior approval a student may give a solo presentation if she/he is a member of a culture not represented by others, i.e. if Chidi Obi is not a member of a cultural group such as Deadheads or Hell's Angels or similar, she may report on her home culture in Nigeria.

YOU ARE THE TEACHERS. Your group must decide what you wish to teach the class about your cultural group. What defines your culture; what characterizes your society? If your group is one of persons who come from another part of the world, what should we know about your home country? Geography? Religions? Languages? Costumes? Food(pls do not bring any in)?

As part of your research for this presentation, put your group into Yahoo or some other search engine, i.e. "Hispanic Culture," "Phillipine Culture," African-American Culture." You will be amazed at the treasure of cultural information available.

What can you tell us about the history of your group's migrations to this country? Are there stereotypes (generalizations-see Unit 5) associated with your group that are correct? Incorrect?

We would like to hear from each memeber of your group; each presentor will be graded separately, although a strong team effort will undoubtedly help everyone. Please coordinate all handouts (Do not forget Power Point), videos, WEB presentations, and other audiovisual requirements in advance.

Presentations will be scheduled one week in advance. Each presentation will last between ten and twenty minutes, and we will have no more than three per day. Your group MUST get together outside of class for your REHEARSAL.

Last Updated: 9/2/09