|Culture for Sale.
by Rhea Côté Robbins
What is the best process for
self-reclamation? After you have turned your back on your self-culture,
what is the best method for ìgetting back the landî? Is the answer
to who you are in a book? Or is it in community? Is it in relationships?
Are you aware of your culture-self an d, if you are, who are you and are
there any other like you out there in the great cultural divides?
What of the traditional culture needs to be given air to breath and what
needs to die?
Is it easy for someone else
to put on your culture? To rip it off? Or is it difficult?
Or painful? Is there a mark of joy in putting on someone else's culture?
I suppose it depends on the reason why another person would want to take
on someone else's culture. Or how.
Do you feel a dis-ownership
or uncomfortable-ness in your own culture? Why? Do you realize
that you even have a distinct culture? Or do you figure it is the
common stuffs of everyday living?
In taking on someone else's
culture, one assumes one does not have a culture of one's own. Or
in the likely event of domination of one culture over anotheróappropriation
of the conquered culture becomes the property of the conqueror. That
is painful. To lose one's culture to a dominant culture is a painful
experience. But if the dominant culture chooses to take on the conquered's
culture, it is assumed, erroneously, by the conqueror, that it is an all-around
pleasant experience for all.
Culture is power. Power.
Mysterious power like a secret underground stream flowing into a deep well
to be drawn off at will.
Culture power is for sale.
I have several catalogs at home full of cultural artifacts that originated
in a space that may or may not of been sacred, but they are represented
in the catalogs as being of cultural groupsóNatives, European, Russian,
and others. Some cultural artifacts that are for sale were purposely
invented to attract tourism in that particular culture. Some rituals
and their sacred artifacts have doubles, lesser, valued imagery manufactured
to lure the cultural tourists to an antechamber. Anyone who values
the worth of their culture can construct just such an antechamber until
they know the intentions of these tourists.
Outsiders to a cultural group
need to understand themselves and their own culture before they can attempt
to know or own another cultural group beside their own. If researchers,
anthropologists, folklorists and other academics are insensitive to the
nuances of a cultural group, they are retracing the paths or steps made
on cultural groups which the churchesóthe missionariesóput there in order
to save the cultural groups from themselves. It is not too far from
memory that some of the missionary workers buried the cultures along with
the group's members. Some rescue mission.
For me, culture is relationship.
Between people, rituals and artifacts. It begins with the selfóa
relationship with the self and it moves out, away from the individual,
toward others of the group. One must have knowledge of their own
cultural self before they can have a relationship with other members in
their cultural group. Major splintering occurs when one cultural
group is thoughtlessly, mindlessly subsumed into another cultural group.
First, among the individual self and then among the group members.
No one even recognizes himself or herself.
It serves no purpose to try
to glue the people back together artificially. One is responsible
for oneís own cultural comeback. Once a seed is planted, if one is
to build a relationship with their own culture, one must take stock where
one is in one's culture. Or how disenfranchised they are. How
distant are they from their cultural selves. How close. What
is personal and meaningful; what is foreign and distant. What needs
to die. What do they possess of the culture which was passed on down
through the generations. Where does the culture exist in a day-to-day
fashion for the self. Is there community support for the way-of-being
in a certain culture? Is the accent local, geographically situated
and unselfconscious? Are you just being you and hanging out in your
own natural skin or do you take on the spots of a leopard when you mosey
on down the street? Stripes of a tiger? Whiskers of a pussy
cat? Or do you play hide 'n seek with yourself on a daily basis.
Now you see you; now you don't? Square oneóthe self. Start
with the self.
And from that point on, the
cultural relationships radiate outward toward the other members of the
cultural group. Their rituals and their artifacts. Social,
sacred and otherwise. Community, familial, close ties are bound by
habits. Small, seemingly trivial, daily interchanges and occurrences
that barely register in the conscious mind represent the true backbone,
underpinnings of a group.
Family habits accumulated
over the centuries play themselves out subconsciously. Do you eat
blackened toasts and stand at the sideboard rather than sit down?
I do, and I found out that so didn't my aunt and my mémère
before me. What a shock. It's like you don't have any control
over who you are, almost.
Live in a community where
your cultural self is not the dominant group. Learn the pain of breathing.
Take your daily oxygen in such an environment and it becomes an exercise
in being flayed alive. Or you learn to wear spots that look ridiculous
on you and you learn to like the spots and hate the person on which they
sit. You learn to hate who you are. Without missing a beat,
you cram self-hate down your own throat and gorge yourself on blame; shame
is your pajamas. On your toast in the morning, you spread good intentions
to be less cultural, don't stick-out so much. For God's sake, don't
tell anyone where you live. For years. Don't take anyone home,
either. Make fat promises to kill the accented speech.
You go to the four-room, country
school and you pretend Boston is your hometown. You talk about Dorchester
like you know the back of your hand. Tremont St.? Hell, I've
rumbled there. For the sake of two bottles of beer. You are
in 5th grade. In 6th grade you study German because the cutest boy
in 8th grade is of German extraction. You teach French in the schoolyard
to the other kids. Yankee kids. Protestants. You become
lifelong friends with them and the nuns tell you to give them up because
of their religious affiliation. You tell the nun to go to hellóunder
your breath, when her back is turned. It feels good. So you
say it again. You brag about it on the way home. To the French
house. To the land where maman and dad speak in Franglais and you
respond in Englais. Accents return. You sip soup pour souper,
watch superman on t.v. with your brother on special t.v. trays. Your
nose runs from the constant cold. Tomorrow you start all over again.
Some go to school; some go to the mill and some stay home. Or work
in a clothing store for minimum wage because they are bilingual.
Bilingual? What's a bilingual? Me, I speak French, me.
Culture in the buff or rough.
Take your pick. And they tell me at a conference that the Catholic
religion and the Franco-American culture are inseparable. I tell
them the Catholic religion is a template overlaid on the culture.
The man is shaken in his faith and his life. The host and ployes
or crêpes are one and of the same. Really? I'm always
starving after church. What did they do to the supper? It's
my quirk. I want culture and I want it undiluted. As far as
I'm concerned, keep the church out of it. Nationalism in the church
is not a factor anymore and look where that has gotten the French culture?
Qui perde sa foi, perde sa lagne. Church was doing upkeep on the
language for so long, anyway. Trusting someone or something else
to take care of your culture for you while you're busy around back is a
no-no. I need to take care of my own culture. I, for one, don't
want any other folks in my cultural kitchen till I'm ready to give them
Looks like that is not going
to be the way. Multiculturalism, pluralism, you hear those buzz words
now and then. Often, in fact. Culture for sale. Culture
for sale. Unless you are careful. Both sides. The cultures
and the culturers. The owner should be in the store. The newest
missionaries coming down the tracks, seashores, sidewalks are armed to
the teeth with tape recorders, survey sheets, and other paraphernalia from
the religion of academe. Well, bless my soul. ìmés, més,
més,î as mémère used to say. Show them our antechambers.
Please. Quick. Vite!
But they get in anyway and
the people spill their guts, the words get moped up and swept into the
bin. Take it down to the factoid factory and spit out the latest
and newest ìresearch.î I sound anti-smarts, don't I. Not true.
Not true. I only have standards. There's a difference and value
in both institutional knowledge and home knowledge.
How do the ones who are interested
in taking a look-a-see into a cultural group's home knowledge go about
doing so without alienating the possessors of that particular culture?
Providing the possessors know or realize they have a right to feel alienated.
The culture has been sold once before. For plenary indulgences that
sound as it meansóìyes, you may be excused from being yourself.î
Cool. Hardly. The bottom of the market on plenaries fell out
and here I am left with all these useless indulgences and barely enough
culture. We can learn to value what we have and what we are.
We don't need to be indulged plenararily. Not yet, anyway.
We are not on our high cultural horses as far as I know.
To learn about the Franco-Americans
it is not a matter of reading books. We are not there. In a
few. But not what you could call a scientific survey's worth.
Listening. I believe if I want to learn about another's culture,
I listen. And listen. And listen. It is not my place
to read or randomly survey and then tell the cultural group who they are.
Yet, this is the way a culture is dissectedólike a frog. No pun intended.
I feel threatened when I hear
the cookbook approach in learning about a particular culture. It
is more than a matter of writing a technical manual and going from there.
It takes lifetimes to evolve to the people we have become. Ages.
Generations. It cannot be easily explained in a paragraph or two
or stereotypes laid out over the airwaves and there you are! Instant
Wow. I wish I could
have done that after I was flayed of my accent. My primary language.
My speech patterns. My hand gestures. My folklore that I was
never fortunate to have heard in the first place. My folk music that
my father listened to every Sunday at noon (it was all the radio station
would broadcast in a town full of Francos) and then he stopped because
we ridiculed him so bad. Self-hate will go a long way. Spread
it nice and thick as insulation against ever getting below the surface
of the self. I'd enjoy the memory of having some self-esteem because
I was a Franco-American young woman coming of age in a Franco-American
neighborhood rather than the confused picture I have of my self and my
self worth. I, and many others, feel robbed of our culture.
It is not an easy thing to get back. Culture is
a relationship. An experience with the self and others. Like
music, a lived experience. Culture, complete with the rituals and
artifacts of a lifetime, takes much longer than a good read. Culture
is something to be honored, revered and revised or questioned, too; used
on a daily basis and not shunned or shamed. Canned culture, it is
not. And it is not for sale.