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May 31st, 2009


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11:45 pm - Live and Active Cultures
On Saturday, I attended my cousin's middle school's annual multicultural fair. Kids from various countries of the world (and Hawaii) set up tables with information about their homeland and, of course, samples of their local cuisine. I had gone a year or two ago when each country got its own classroom and you navigated through the school, but my cousin said that people had complained since China and India were the only ones who could fill up a room (presumably because of the food), so this year, all the tables were in one room.

They also had various musical and dance performances. Before the tables opened up, an elementary school orchestra played a few multicultural songs. And then a bunch of Hispanic kids from a San Jose middle school played all sorts of things with traditional Irish tin whistles. Irish folk songs, Mexican folk songs, Native American folk songs, a bit from "Ode to Joy." Objectively, they were this side of terrible, of course, but subjectively, they were totally frickin' awesome.

During the afternoon, a few white girls and a white boy did a bhangra-esque dance in traditional Indian garb.

I took a tour around the world and learned all sorts of things. Germans import more beer from Belgium than Belgium imports from them. Madagascar is 40% larger than California, and their official languages are French and Malagasy (which I had never heard of). Rubik of Rubik's Cube fame was Hungarian. Vegemite tastes like soy sauce.

I talked to a Korean woman in a pink hanbok about the difference between North Korea and South Korea because I wasn't quite sure whether they were different countries since no one ever said they were "North Korean" or "South Korean," just "Korean." She said that if someone said they were from Korea, they meant South Korea; it was difficult to declare yourself to be from North Korea because of the whole Communism thing. I also wanted to know whether the cultures and food were different since north India and south India were rather different.

Manning the India table, I watched girls of all colors try on bangles and put on bindhis and have henna applied to their hands. I served them chaa and samosas and biryani. We had put on Devdas as an example of a Bollywood movie.

As I watched the kids going around from table to table, I thought, is this cultural appropriation? Is this a wholly superficial representation of our cultures? Does eating pasta teach you about the Italian culture? Hispanic children playing Irish folk songs, white kids doing Indian dances, Chinese girls wearing bindhis, this is MADNESS!

But is anyone going to honestly say that it's bad for kids—and, hell, adults too—to get exposure to different cultures in this way? I thought it was awesome, and I was really glad the school was doing it, raising a generation of kids who are more culturally aware of the world around them. Hell, I was reminded that I'm kind of lucky to have a culture. Note to self: BE MORE INDIAN.

On that note, that very night, we watched a Bollywood flick that really highlighted how watching foreign films can give you an idea of another country's culture and values. The movie was Ek Vivaah...Aisa Bhi (which the subtitles translated as A Marriage...So Unique), and it was perhaps the most frustrating love story I've ever seen because I'm a Westerner. Now, there are only, like, three of you who watch Bollywood movies, and I don't think you'd have any interest in this one anyway, but I'll cut since I'm going to describe the entire plot of the movie.

So Prem and Chandni (who is really pretty and one reason I sat through the damn thing) meet during some national singing competition or something, and they fall in love, and they're about to get married, and then, I shit you not, the DAY AFTER THE ENGAGEMENT, her dad dies.

The facts are these: her mom died when she was fifteen. She has a little brother and a little sister. Her dad put so much love and money into their house that he considers it their "temple."

Now, when Prem marries Chandni, he is to take her to live with him. That is how it works. The man takes the woman away. That's fine; she has an aunt and uncle who can take care of her brother and sister...BUT OMG THEY ARE WICKED AND DO NOT CARE ABOUT THEM. So she won't let her siblings be in their care. That's fine; Prem can just live with her after they get married.

WRONG. THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS. HIS MOTHER WILL NEVER STAND FOR SUCH SHENANIGANS.

Cue twelve years of love songs.

I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING. TWELVE YEARS, YOU GUYS. AND NEITHER ONE OF THEM SO MUCH AS LOOKS AT ANOTHER PERSON.

(Meanwhile, one of Prem's bandmates gets married, and Prem and Chandni are both at the wedding, and it's, like, awkward.)

Chandni's brother, Anuj, is now ready to be married! And he can marry this Natasha chick, and they will live in the house, so Chandni will be free to go off with Prem. BUT OMG NATASHA IS A SPOILED BITCH WHO CANNOT LIVE IN A HOUSE WHERE THE ELECTRICITY GOES OUT EVERY NOW AND THEN AND SHE HAS TO, LIKE, FOLLOW TRADITION AND RESPECT HER HUSBAND'S SISTER. So she leaves. That's fine; she sucks and Anuj should just divorce her anyway. But no! Chandni tells him to go live with her! And now she is stuck and trapped in the goddamn house again.

Her little sister, Sandhya, is also ready to be married! And, luckily, Chandni started this music school after her father died, and her very first student, Rajiv, is ALSO grown up. He's in America, and Sandhya is going to visit America! So she's all, okay, my sister can stay with him and if they hit it off, they can be married next month. Yes, next month. That is how we roll.

Oh yeah, I forgot the part where Chandni keeps telling Prem to go off and marry someone else and stop waiting for her, but he doesn't, and she's still happy that he doesn't. It's now been, like, thirteen years or something in total. And Prem's mom is all, "You know, I didn't get you two crazy kids at first and I still don't, but I'm going to die at some point, so I'd rather my son be happy or something."

And then Sandhya and Rajiv have their wedding, which means that Rajiv will be taking Sandhya to his house...BUT WAIT HERE COMES PREM FOR LO IT IS FINALLY FUCKING TIME FOR CHANDNI AND PREM TO GET MARRIED. Oh yeah, I also forgot the part where Natasha wouldn't even let Anuj go to his own goddamn sister's wedding until her dad bitched her out for being a crappy wife, and she realized she sucked. So now Prem can take Chandni away to his house and, presumably, Anuj and Natasha can live in the dad's house and keep it alive, as long as Natasha stops sucking. And Prem and Chandni live happily ever after. FINALLY. FOR FUCK'S SAKE.

Family and tradition and duty and sexism. That is how we do it, Indian-style.
Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: Filter - Cancer

(38 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:sophia_helix
Date:June 1st, 2009 07:17 am (UTC)
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Though I watched a lot of Showbiz India on Saturday mornings when I got that channel, I have only ever seen one Bollywood film all the way through -- but I think Lagaan counts as like, seven, because it's four hours long and about cricket and the best thing ever. You will never know as much about cricket as you will ten minutes after watching that movie. (Eleven minutes later, though, you'll know exactly as much as you do at any given time.)

[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 07:20 am (UTC)
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I love Lagaan!
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From:sophia_helix
Date:June 1st, 2009 07:24 am (UTC)
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I own it now! Except we bought it off Amazon and sadly it's a not-very-well-subtitled dub. But still good.

(I can't remember, have you seen The Dresden Files? a) you should and b) Harry Dresden, who's a total sweetheart, is played by the evil English dude!)
[User Picture]
From:mycenae
Date:June 1st, 2009 08:03 am (UTC)
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I can safely say that Lagaan is the best four hour musical about cricket that I have ever seen.

It was randomly on the STARz channel all the goddamn time a couple years ago when I was home from college for the summer and had nothing to do and I think I watched it about three whole times. Now I kinda want to see it again.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
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I love it because it's like three movies in one! You get a romance, a historical drama, and a sports movie. Plus songs.
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From:mycenae
Date:June 1st, 2009 08:15 am (UTC)
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I love the post title!

My middle school did multicultural fairs, too. I mostly loved them because they were a source of free lumpia, one of the most delicious foodstuffs known to humankind. I don't know if I actually learned about other cultures, except as a source of delicious foods, but I guess that's something?
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
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I love the post title!
Thanks! I'm always glad when people actually notice my post titles. They are very important to me.
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From:the_narration
Date:June 1st, 2009 10:53 am (UTC)
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::chuckles at the sheer silliness of that melodramatic movie plot::

Lucky thing she didn't age at all in those 12 years, eh?


Dude, I totally went to try and rent Leverage today based on your recommendation and apparently there is no DVD of it in existence. Lame.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
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Lucky thing she didn't age at all in those 12 years, eh?
Seriously!

Dude, I totally went to try and rent Leverage today based on your recommendation and apparently there is no DVD of it in existence. Lame.
I know! It doesn't come out till next month! And I totally dreamed of Leverage last night! Oh, Parker.
[User Picture]
From:the_narration
Date:June 1st, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
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Why would they wait until the day before the new season starts to release the DVD so people can catch up? WHY? ::sigh::
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)
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I don't know! What a stupid idea.
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From:ashfae
Date:June 1st, 2009 12:39 pm (UTC)
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I loved the multicultural fair, when I did that in middle school. Except I went all subversive and did a project on deaf culture, since my dad's partly deaf. BWHAHAA.
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From:punzerel
Date:June 1st, 2009 01:37 pm (UTC)
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Well, school fairs like that are basically the "food, festivals, and fashion" thing, right? But they are awesome anyway, because a middle schooler is probably not going to interrogate a culture in any deeper way anyway..I think they're a good part of the integration/respect puzzle, just obviously not the whole thing. (Insert here: long-winded babble about critics of Canadian multiculturalism and how they can suck it.)

That movie sounds awesome/ridiculous.

Hell, I was reminded that I'm kind of lucky to have a culture.

I totally know what you mean. YAY culture!

Note to self: BE MORE INDIAN.

Hee.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 03:25 pm (UTC)
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Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It's one of the most famous and popular Bollywood movies; I still haven't seen it.

If you want to see more, I recommend Lagaan, Awara Paagal Deewana (which is the Indian ripoff of The Whole Nine Yards and really funny), and Aankhen (which is a neat thriller about a disgruntled bank dude [Amitabh Bachchan!] who hires three blind guys to rob his bank). Those are some of my favorites, off the top of my head. Chocolate is The Usual Suspects, and it's decent, but not great. Qayamat: City Under Threat is The Rock, if I recall, and I think it was pretty silly and has a random Mission: Impossible ripoff flashback in the middle. Oh, oh, Darna Mana Hai is pretty good; it's a Tales from the Crypt-esque movie that's basically a bunch of short horror stories (and no songs). There's also a sequel, Darna Zaroori Hai. I enjoyed them. And there are other movies I'm forgetting, I'm sure.
(Deleted comment)
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From:ryca
Date:June 2nd, 2009 12:49 am (UTC)
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I grew up feeling like I didn't have a "culture", because I was "generically white/a white mutt" (I'm English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Norwegian and German - of those, I know for sure that I'm 25% Norwegian, and none of the rest are a full 25%).
I went to Norway when I was in college, and suddenly - POW! I looked like everybody there! (Well, if I was 2 inches taller and 20 pounds lighter, but still). I thought, somehow, that they'd all be blond (Swedish Bikini Team), etc, but no! Brunettes abounded! And THEY ALL HAD MY FACE! Or at least resembled me. It was the most amazing experience! And everybody we met was SO NICE. It was almost spooky. I feel like I still haven't done enough to explore that part of my heritage/identity, but I want to learn more. Total awesomesauce.
(Deleted comment)
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From:zimshan
Date:June 1st, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
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AW! I REMEMBER FAIRS LIKE THAT! We had at least four in elementary school, and they were AWESOME as a kid. I actually grew up thinking every little kid experienced these kinds of things and the first time I found out not all schools did them, I was shocked.

Yea, it's kinda superficial, but looking back now, I think for me and my friends at least, it taught us at a young age that we didn't need to be ashamed of our cultures and traditions. That we could be proud of them and share them with others. It was kinda invaluable.

SO, GET ON THE STICK, AMERICA! NATIONALLY INSTITUTED MC FAIRS, STAT!
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
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Ooh, great idea! Get on that shit, Mr. Obama.
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From:arie
Date:June 1st, 2009 04:46 pm (UTC)
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I think this was the best movie summary ever.
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From:funky_donut
Date:June 1st, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
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First of all, great movie summary!

Second of all, my elementary school did multicultural fairs like that, and I remember always signing my mother up to make some difficult dish that she didn't know how to make - and forgetting to tell her about it until, like, the day before. Fun times!

One of my clearest memories of my childhood life involves my parents actually teaching me about other cultures and such, usually through food. I already knew, in third grade, that tortillas were pronounced tor-tee-yas. I didn't know any spanish, but my parents had taught me that the double-l made the ya sound, basically. We went out for Mexican a lot, and I was a good reader, and I kind of vaguely remember wanting to know why it was pronounced that way. ANYway, my third grade teacher totally sucked and was mean, and we were discussing Mexican food culture (because, well, Mexico was the only hispanic country ever talked about for some reason) and she was pronouncing the word tor-till-a! And I corrected her on it, because I was pedantic even back then! And she got mad at me for correcting her, told me I was wrong, wouldn't let me explain the double-l rule, and probably gave me like an Unsatisfactory grade for the day!

I was so upset that my teacher was WRONG and I was RIGHT and it was so unfair! Basically, I think that was the day I Learned The World Is Not A Fair Place!
From:dotificus
Date:June 1st, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
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Again with the thinky-making posts!

I don't think it's cultural appropriation when it's in an educational setting. These fairs are about sharing, teaching and learning, as opposed to using on a self-centered whim.

I was reminded that I'm kind of lucky to have a culture.

Yes, I think it's very cool when someone has that foundation to draw on. I wish I had one, but as a generic American-- or USian as author Justine Larbalestier calls us-- I wouldn't know how to Be more American. Otoh, it sounds like you sometimes find your culture too confining?
[User Picture]
From:rachelmanija
Date:June 1st, 2009 06:41 pm (UTC)
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Note to self: BE MORE JEWISH.

I personally think that if you haven't already been exposed to a culture, your first glimpse of it inherently will be shallow rather than in-depth and profound. You have to learn the alphabet before you can read the novels. And I-- again, this is just me-- don't see anything wrong with the "alphabet" being the consumption of delicious food.

The point where I disapprove and mock is when people do/wear/imitate/etc stuff of religious significance with no idea of what the actual meaning is. Example: guy sitting next to me RIGHT NOW at the net cafe, going on about the Kabbalah in a totally ignorant manner. Sadly, I cannot correct him as I don't know anything about it either other than that it is not, as he seems to think, a sort of spellbook of positive thinking.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
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Note to self: BE MORE JEWISH.
Heh. I do enjoy how similar our cultural crises are.

You have to learn the alphabet before you can read the novels.
Ooh, that's a good way of putting it.

The point where I disapprove and mock is when people do/wear/imitate/etc stuff of religious significance with no idea of what the actual meaning is.
Yeah, I think that's where it tends to break down for most people. One time I saw a girl with a bag that had Ganesha on it, and I resisted the urge to ask her if she had any idea who it was or whether she just thought it looked cool because OMG HE LOOKED LIKE AN ELEPHANT. But for all I knew, maybe she did know who he was and thought he was cool on his own terms and that's why she bought the bag.
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From:punzerel
Date:June 1st, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
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That's where things start to bug me too. Like the kabbalah and red string stuff that people have taken from Jewish culture, or white college kids wearing kaffiyehs or dreads or whatever. It really, really bothers me. Someone else's culture is NOT your fashion statement or half-assed political statement or whatever.

(Sorry for jumping in, I'm just realllllly interested in how people think about all this. Or at least, more interested in this than in working on my sections of an annual report for work.)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 2nd, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
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A SHEEP'S HEAD?

A SHEEP'S HEAD?

YOU BARBARIANS!!!
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 2nd, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
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What, you didn't find the recipe for chilled monkey brains?
(Deleted comment)
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From:rachelmanija
Date:June 2nd, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
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Wow, that would be surreal. Not being a member of the Official Jewish Council of Cookies, I can't give you official permission, but I'd eat them. Just tell people what they are and what holiday they're supposed to go with.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 2nd, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)
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Not being a member of the Official Jewish Council of Cookies
Why not?? I'll nominate you.
(Deleted comment)
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From:smrou
Date:June 1st, 2009 08:33 pm (UTC)
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Vegemite tastes like soy sauce.
Does not.

She said that if someone said they were from Korea, they meant South Korea; it was difficult to declare yourself to be from North Korea because of the whole Communism thing.
You know, I have always assumed that when people say they are Korean that they are from South Korea, but at the same time I don't know if I'd expect someone from North Korea to say that they are "North Korean" rather than just "Korean".

I also wanted to know whether the cultures and food were different since north India and south India were rather different.
And? Did you ask? Did you find out?

I thought it was awesome, and I was really glad the school was doing it, raising a generation of kids who are more culturally aware of the world around them.
I also think these sorts of events are great because they give people a wonderful opportunity to be curious and ask about different cultures in a way that won't seem offensive or nosy because the whole point is for people to learn. I mean, when you meet a Korean woman in your everyday life it might be a little weird to be all, "Hey, so what's the deal with Korea anyway? What's the difference between the North and South? Do you all eat the same food?" I mean, it would just be genuine curiosity, but it could come across as thinking that the person is some sort of Official Korean Representative just because they happen to be Korean, or even if it doesn't seem at all offensive it would probably just make you seem like a weird.
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 1st, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
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Does not.
Does too!

And? Did you ask? Did you find out?
I did ask, but I think her answer was not very illuminating. The old "same but different," I think?

I mean, when you meet a Korean woman in your everyday life it might be a little weird to be all, "Hey, so what's the deal with Korea anyway? What's the difference between the North and South? Do you all eat the same food?" I mean, it would just be genuine curiosity, but it could come across as thinking that the person is some sort of Official Korean Representative just because they happen to be Korean, or even if it doesn't seem at all offensive it would probably just make you seem like a weird.
That's a really good point! It does make it Okay to ask weird questions because they are specifically there to answer them.
[User Picture]
From:drenkrelar
Date:June 1st, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
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I did ask, but I think her answer was not very illuminating. The old "same but different," I think?
The same thing happened to me when I asked one of my friends what Indian food was like. He started talking about how it's more about textures than flavors and stuff like that, when all I wanted was a simple "it uses a lot of this meat, that spice, and sometimes a little bit of this sauce" kind of answer.

I come from a German background myself, and it's something that isn't always easy to be proud of for obvious reasons.I can tell you this much, Germans do make the best alcohol(both beer and schnapps), the best chocolate(although Belgian chocolate is a close second), and the best cars(there's a reason why "Autobahn tested" is such a good thing). As for food, there's a reason two of America's favorite barbecue foods are named after German cities.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:spectralbovine
Date:June 4th, 2009 11:07 pm (UTC)
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I've wanted to see both those movies because they're so famous and popular, but it doesn't surprise me that they're totally sexist.

Thanks for commenting! It's fun to discover posts through a ridonkulous series of links and flists.

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