You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for September, 2009.

Mom was Furious

By Jean Mavrelis - 09.17.2009

My 89-year-old Mom called me in tears.  She picked up a neighborhood newspaper and read that schools gave parents an option to have their children NOT hear “Our President Obama’s back-to-school message”.  Through her enraged tears she demanded, “What is happening – I don’t understand – why wouldn’t Americans want their children to hear our President?”

My Mom is from what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation” – the World War II generation.   For her, respecting the President of the United States trumps every other consideration – including race, ethnicity, or gender.   Mind you, my mother used to stand in the living room when they played “Hail to the Chief” and Republican President Eisenhower came to the podium.

Isn’t this basic respect what is behind the outrage about Joe Wilson yelling “you lie” as the President addressed congress? I beef as much as anybody about politicians, but yelling disrespectfully at the President as he formally addresses congress feels like desecrating the flag.

Serena, Foot Faults and Culture

By Thomas Kochman - 09.16.2009

Serena William’s reaction to the foot fault called by a line judge at a critical juncture in the semifinal match with Kim Clister’s at the 2009 U.S. Open has been covered extensively by the media. One issue under discussion is whether the call should have been made given the situation regardless of whether the foot fault actually occurred or not.  

 “One philosophy is that it is a rule, and you call it when you see it,” Cox said. “The second way of thinking is more in line with a good N.B.A. official: You don’t make a call that can decide a match unless it’s flagrant.”

John McEnroe had a similar view to the N.B.A. comparison when he was commenting on the CBS broadcast on Saturday night. “You can’t call that there,” he said.

These different views of the situation have one thing in common: they assume that the line judge had discretionary authority in the matter: that in the final analysis it was a matter of individual choice: the line judge could just have easily decided not to call the foot fault as to call it.

Let me offer a different take on what was going on. It has to do with culture and personality and that the line judge was an East Asian woman.

Individuals coming from cultures that are position and role driven –hierarchical cultures around the world: Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, etc. — are very careful not to behave in ways that their role or position has not authorized. As Confucius said, “If you know your position, you know your role. And if you know your role you know how to behave.”

Acting at one\’s own discretion without authorization or regard to role and position –yours or others– is a violation of the established social order in those cultures and simply not done. This applies to both men and women in those cultures, but women especially. Read more »

Requirements of Friendship

By Thomas Kochman - 09.05.2009

The recent article on suspicions surrounding Dominican baseball players of opposing teams, Miguel Tejada and Tony Batista, back in 2001, putting personal friendship above loyalty to their own team  is a recurring theme also implied in the way the news media reported Sammy Sosa’s then record breaking 66th home run. “Batting for the second time in the game against his fellow Dominican and good friend, Jose Lima [italics added] Sosa drove the second pitch an estimated 462 feet, into the fourth level of the left-field stands at the Astrodome.”  The general question behind these suspicions is the extent to which personal friendship and loyalty, or loyalty to ethnic group and country, for Dominicans, and maybe Hispanics and members of other ethnic groups also, take precedence over respect for and adherence to established “rules” and the meaning of personal loyalty and friendship as practiced and understood within mainstream U.S.

The established view in mainstream U.S. culture is that adhering to the “rules of the game” or giving  loyalty to the team or company that hired you takes precedence over ethnic group loyalty, personal friendship, or even self-interest (personal commitment and loyalty to self and family).

In baseball, “free agency” and “no trade clauses” put this last idea to rest. However, it still lingers on in mainstream U.S. corporations where the message sent loud and clear is that if you have any hope of making it to the top level, you need to put commitment and loyalty to the company –for career diplomats or military personnel –to foreign or military service, respectively– over everything else.

Personal loyalty and friendship as practiced within mainstream U.S. culture is especially demanding and viewed often as something that you owe others rather than reciprocally, something that others also owe you. The one sided aspect of this view explains why mainstream people often resist the idea of hiring members of their family or friends based not only upon the belief that they will take advantage of the relationship and expect or demand consideration not available to others but that you, as their friend, are obliged to support or condone that even if that undermines work productivity or otherwise puts you at risk. Read more »

Latino Parental Involvement – Si, por supuesto!

By Victor Chacón - 09.03.2009

For educators, the issue of parental involvement—especially of first generation Latino Hispanic parents—is both layered and thorny. Parents face an array of issues: the mission of the school district, expectations around student performance, assumptions about the role of parents, the importance of standardized testing, the types of curriculum taught, state requirements for high school graduation, and so on. 

So how can teachers help? For starters, teachers can work diligently to develop relationships one family at a time and helping Latino parents learn about the system requirements of their school. 

Relationship building begins with learning about Latino Hispanic history—particularly the ancestry of the family, both student and parent. Many teachers, for example, fail to realize that the protocols and practices of Mexican, Central or South American schools don’t always apply to U.S. schools. Here, parents are free to challenge teachers (respectfully, of course), while in Latin American countries, parents rarely question a teacher’s authority. In the U.S. a parent’s voice constitutes a vital part of a child’s education. While quite often Mexican and other Hispanic teachers (and to a greater degree Hispanic Catholic priests) command status and influence. 

The value of education in the U.S. and South of the Border is also different. Here, education is an access point, a portal to personal success in American life. To be U.S.-educated impacts one’s economic well-being in a positive way. By contrast, an education in Latin American terms provides the student with different rewards: status in community, an extensive network of relationships and professional contacts, and quite often, political prominence.  Read more »

An Afghani in Dubai

By Jean Mavrelis - 09.02.2009

\"TalibanA convoy of Land Cruisers took us for a desert “roller coaster” ride to see the sunset.  Our driver/guide was nick-named “Taliban” by the guides from other countries, because he wore traditional dress and was from Afghanistan.  Tom asked to take his photo, and I saw him boyishly arranging his look in the reflection of the land cruiser window.  He was in Dubai because he had to flee Afghanistan and was working to send money back to his family in Afghanistan.  He said his country is pretty much a bombed out landscape.  I thought “Taliban” seemed lonely and proud – and very much a young ex-pat trying to support his family.   This is the month of Ramadan. I wish for peace for all who are displaced by the current war in Afghanistan.