Review: “Retail Gentrification and Race”

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

In “Retail Gentrification and Race: the Case of Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon,” authors Sullivan and Shaw analyze the reactions of longtime residents of Portland’s Alberta Street to the gentrification of their neighborhood to understand the influence of race and social class over perception of the gentrification changes. According to Sullivan and Shaw’s findings, while some black longtime residents embraced the gentrification solely for reasons of improved shopping convenience and aesthetics, many other black residents resent the new white business that they perceive as excluding and displacing them, confirming that race is a factor in attitudes towards gentrification. The influence of race is further exemplified by the mainstream white residents, who show undifferentiated support for all new white businesses. They believe that all white businesses will bring cultural improvement, including bohemian ones, likely due to the perception that they are “whitening” the neighborhood. On the other hand, social class is the most important factor in the opinions of white bohemian residents. While they greatly support new businesses that reflect their own lifestyle, such as coffee shops, they disdain the more expensive ones that cater to mainstream white residents.

Because gentrification of neighborhoods often evokes feelings of displacement amongst the racial minority and offers services that are not desired, it is often viewed unfavorably by many longtime residents. Sullivan and Shaw use this information to argue against the “creative city” image used by cities such as Portland to attract the bohemian “creative class” to “increase diversity.” In truth, while “creative gentrification” appeals to both mainstream and bohemian whites, it thwarts the goal of increased diversity by excluding the neighborhoods’ longtime black residents.


Ethnography: The Role of Community in the Inclusion of Chinese-Americans

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Although my research clearly exemplifies that Chinese-Americans are largely excluded in racially and culturally homogenous communities, there is no clear indication as to whether they faced rejection on account of their ethnic difference or their cultural differences. Were they outcasts because their Chinese culture deviated from the community norm, or simply because they were minority faces in a white community? To answer this question, I conducted an informal interview with Blanca*, a Venezuelan immigrant who attended school and lived in the same neighborhood as Derek.

Despite being a Hispanic minority in a predominately white community, Blanca was able to achieve a fairly high degree of acceptance. “Sure, I was teased a bit when I was really little,” she recalls. “I mean, I was a Hispanic face in an elementary school that, believe me, didn’t have a whole lot of Hispanics. But it was all immature childish stuff. But I think I fit into the community for the most part. I was able to find a group of people I really liked and felt like I belonged to.”

Though she considered herself to be an included member of the community, she also readily agreed with Derek’s idea that, due to the homogeny, there existed a narrow set a standards, or what he called a “mold,” that the people were expected to adhere to. “Yes, I would say there was a sort of ‘mold’ everyone was supposed to fit into,” she acknowledges, “and I guess I kind of fit that ‘mold.’ I am Christian, which is pretty important in a Bible belt community. I’m also a political conservative in a community that was much more conservative than [the Chinese-Americans] would have liked it to be. And Hispanic culture in general is more similar to the local American culture than Chinese culture is. So I probably did fit in better.”

Blanca’s testimony supports the idea that the exclusion Chinese-Americans faced within the community was the result of cultural differences, not ethnic differences. She was readily accepted by the predominately white community regardless of her minority status. Blanca’s native Venezuelan culture was also accepted due to perceived similarities to the local culture, such as common Western origins and, most importantly, shared emphasis on Christian faith and principles.  On the other hand, Chinese culture, with its Eastern and non-Christian origins, were regarded as too exotic and divergent from the community norms to be embraced.  In order to gain acceptance into the community, the Chinese-American would have to embrace the local culture.

Derek’s family later left the community where he grew up with Blanca and relocated to an upper-middle class community in North Carolina. While the North Carolina community was still predominately white, Derek recalls there a much wider range of cultural diversity. “It wasn’t like where I used to live, where families had lived in the same town for generations. A lot of people I knew in [North Carolina] had parents who were European immigrants. Or they had recently moved in from other parts of the country.” His new community had a much greater influx of people of varying cultures, lifestyles, and beliefs, creating an environment that Derek blended into with much more ease.

*Name has been changed

Reading Review: “Buddha is Hiding”

June 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

In “Buddha is Hiding,” Ong analyzes the draw of Hmong Cambodian immigrants in Calfornia towards the Mormon Church. Many of these immigrants are eager to assimilate, and to them, the Mormon Church embodies American respectability and success, and thus they join the Church to gain acceptance and access to the “American Dream.” The Mormon Church has a larger appeal to Hmong women, who turn to the Church for both charity and emotional support to deal with the hardships they faced both at home and after uprooting to America. The Hmong Cambodians are also attracted by the Mormon idea of family reunification after death, which provides comfort for those who lost relatives in the war back home. But for many converted Cambodians, they still have a strong identity with their Cambodian culture, seeking parallels and bridges between Mormonism and Buddhism while still practicing many Buddhist rituals. Their conversion is only partly religious in nature; it also a conversion and reinvention of self in order to fit in with American society and live a better life.

However, the compassion and salvation is tempered with sentiments of patriarchy and cultural inferiority. Though the Mormon Church tolerates the incorporation of Buddhist elements, it is done with the assumption that they are inferior to Mormon practices. Few Cambodian men are allowed to attain priesthood, with all the higher positions being held exclusively by white men. Women are taught that they can only achieve salvation only through their husbands, who are elevated to God-like status. Many Cambodian women are drawn to the Church in hopes of elevating their status by marrying white Mormon men.

I found this chapter to be interesting because it explores the same theme of inclusion into American society that I am also researching for my ethnography. One young Chinese-American in interviewed has recently rejected his parents’ Buddhist faith in favor of Christianity, much like the young Hmong Cambodians in this chapter, and another Chinese-American Duke student I spoke to expressed the belief that his sister’s conversion to Christianity has allowed her to assimilate much better than the rest of her non-Christian family. This chapter encouraged me to look into the role religion plays in acceptance by American communities for my ethnography.

Ethnography: Inclusion of Chinese-Americans into American Communities

June 18, 2011 § 1 Comment

I recently conducted one final formal interview with Julia*, who immigrated to Guam from Beijing at the age of four. She describes Guam as a uniquely diverse community. There was no ethnic majority; the population was roughly equally split between Caucasians, Asians, and Natives. Julia believes that due to the diversity of the community, people of all race and cultural backgrounds were readily accepted by the community. As she describes it, “there are so many cultures all within Guam that if one person were different, no one would notice.” In fact, the prevalence of Asian-Americans in both her community and the whole island resulted in the incorporation of some Asian cultural aspects into the local culture. Julia recalls Asian food staples such as rice and teriyaki chicken being sold in Taco Bells and KFCs around Guam, as was shocked to learn that fast food restaurants in other parts of America did not do the same thing.

For Chinese-Americans who grew up in America, acceptance by the community seems to be a determining factor in their cultural identity. For those who did not feel included in their childhood communities, the rejection by their peers often created a sense of identity confusion or even bitterness towards one identity. When I interviewed Derek, a large part of our conversation revolved around his conflict of trying to compromise his Chinese and American identities. His whole life, he always felt the push and pulls of both sides; the rejection and racial discrimination he received from schoolmates would convince him that he did not belong in America and push him towards his Chinese identity, yet his family’s continued attempts at assimilation and the mere fact that he was born and raised in America would levitate him back towards an American identity.  Even now, as a young adult, Derek is still struggling to discover his own cultural identity, and this struggle is hindering his sense of belonging to American as a whole.

For Jack, however, the exclusion he faced from his community caused him to completely reject the American identity. The lack of acceptance from his community has convinced Jack that he is an American in name only. He identifies only with his Chinese heritage, and his bitterness towards his treatment from his community has made him quick to criticize American society while defending China’s. But in a community where Jack and his family are already ostracized for their Chinese heritage and culture, Jack’s rejection of American culture only exacerbates the problem.

As for the interviewees who reported being well accepted by their communities, none of them experienced any identity issues growing up. Nancy always considered herself to be plainly and simply and American. In her opinion, America is a large melting pot of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds; thus, there is no reason why her Chinese heritage should prevent her from being an American like everyone else in the country. Julia has always identified herself as just Chinese-American; she never felt like her Chinese and American cultural identities were in conflict with each other, and saw no reason why she should have to pick one or the other.

While Chinese-Americans who grew up in a accepting, nondiscriminatory community were always comfortable with their cultural identity, while those who were not accepted all struggled to some extent to discover theirs. It is thus apparent that acceptance and inclusion by community greatly affects issues of self-identity.

*Name changed

Review: “Everyday Neoliberalism in Cuba”

June 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

In “Everyday Neoliberalism in Cuba,” author Harrison discusses the effects of the US embargo on everyday lives of Cubans. The embargo was implemented to compel the Cuban government to adhere to U.S ideals of democracy and capitalism, and is thus seen by America as a necessarily evil, punishment intended to force Cuba to change for the better. But Harrison argues that the embargo is a tool to pressure Cuba into complying with the U.S hegemony that, partnered with existing sexist and racist sentiments already in existence, causes great hardships in the lives of ordinary citizens, in a country where the U.S ideals promoted are not necessarily even the most appropriate.

Due to preexisting racial and sexual inequality, Afro-Cubans and women have been most harmed by the embargo. The embargo has caused the Cuban economy to suffer greatly, forcing many Cubans to find work outside the country to support themselves and family back home. However, most members of the Cuban-American diaspora are white, which advantages only the white Cubans as they can depend on family overseas for resources. Cuban women are also handed the task of caring for the household and children, resulting in the perception that working women are not as able or committed as their male counterparts. Thus, women are often the first to be laid-off or denied self-employment licenses, forcing many women to turn to prostitution. Afro-Cuban women face racism even in the prostitution industry. Though they are often the object of male tourists’ sexual fetishes, Afro-Cuban women are barred from hotels, restaurants, and clubs where they may socialize with clients and are instead force to solicit on the streets.

The American government and its citizens have long believed that our ideals of democracy and economy are the best in the world, and it is in everyone’s best interest if we preach our principles to every country. Harrison shows us that by excessively intervening in other countries, America often does more harm than good for the average citizen. American efforts to “help” these people only leads to violations of their basic human right.

Ethnography: Inclusion of Chinese Americans into American Communities

June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

While my research last week focused on the second-generation Chinese-American experience, this week I spoke with two women who immigrated to American as adults: Mei-ting*, who arrived in America in 1987 with only two hundred dollars to her name and is now a suburban housewife in North Florida; and Yvonne*, who came to the U.S to study at Duke and is considering staying when she finishes education.

Mei-ting came to the United States with her husband so he could pursue a graduate degree at the State University of New York at Buffalo. While at Buffalo, Mei-ting took up a job at a Chinese restaurant, giving her a chance to interact with the Buffalo community outside the university. She describes the community as not being extremely diverse, with a white majority, a large black minority, but very little representation of the other races. “This was only a short while after China opened its doors for the first time since the Communists took control,” she told me in her native Shanghainese dialect, “so we were the first Chinese people the city had seem in a long time.” As such, she often felt excluded by the other people in the city. “They would never do anything that was blatantly racist; that’s only something children would do. With adults, it’s much more subtle. They would be polite to your face and bite their tongue. But when I was working at the restaurant, patrons I didn’t even know would give me these condescending looks when speaking to me. The entire vibe I would get from them would feel wrong. I think they were judging me for being Chinese or not speaking English well enough. It made it clear to me that I was different.”

Once her husband finished his degree, the couple relocated to Monmouth County, New Jersey. Their new home was much more racially diverse, and had a larger population of Chinese Americans. Gone were the disapproving glares and uncomfortable conversations. Of all the places where she lived in the U.S, this is where Mei-ting felt the most welcome.

After a few years in New Jersey, the family moved again to North Florida, where her husband became a professor. His new career allowed the family to settle into an upper-middle class community. However, this community was almost exclusively white and homogenous, and most families had lived in the area for generations. The whole family immediately felt like outsiders. Mei-ting was never able to make friends outside a few other Chinese families who lived nearby. “We came from different backgrounds,” she says about the other members of her community. “It made it hard for us to find common ground. They could feel the differences as much as I could, and so they never made an effort to include me. They would be polite to me, and I would be polite to them, but we would never really get to know each other.”

Yvonne is a newcomer to America, arriving at Duke from Beijing only a year ago. Duke University is a melting pot of students from various backgrounds parts of the country, allowing Yvonne the unique chance to simultaneously observe the disparity in how people from different communities behave towards new Chinese immigrants. She describes the treatment received from American students as ranging from respectful and tolerant to condescending and insulting. The most understanding and accepting students were usually other Chinese-Americans, who were themselves subject to discrimination and intolerance growing up, or those who were raised, in her own words, “in places in New York City or Los Angeles; larger, diverse cities where they were already exposed to Chinese culture.” These students were more likely to show an interest in and ask respectfully inquisitive questions about China, and were more open-minded towards dissimilarities between Chinese and American culture.  The students who were offensive and unwelcoming she describes as being from “these all-white rural places where they’ve never seen a Chinese person.” Yvonne has often been subject to condescending glares and vibes from such students, similar to those described by Mei-ting. The same students are more also more likely to ask offensively ignorant questions about Chinese culture, as well as react to her Chinese food and beverages with wrinkles noses and exclamations of disgust. She believes that since these students were not exposed to diversity growing up, they were more likely to be judgmental towards those unlike them.

Next week, I will start analyzing my data to form definite conclusions. I still have one more interview to conduct, and will also conduct any follow-up interviews with the other interviewees if needed.

*Names have been changed

Review: “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?”

June 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

In “Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture,” Sherry Ortner offers us an explanation to why women have been universally considered to be second-rate to men throughout history, by arguing that women’s subordinate status is a result of the human mindset that human culture is superior to nature, that culture is man’s way of subduing nature.  Ortner theorizes that women’s body and psychology are perceived as symbolically identifiable with nature, while men are more associated with culture, thus resulting in the women being considered inferior to men.

Ortner argues that women are largely identified with nature because they are the ones who give birth, and thus create new life. Women must devote a greater portion of their time and body than procreation than men, as they have more body parts and functions, such as breasts and menstruation, that solely exist for the purpose of having children. They are seen as being more connected to children. Therefore, society often confines women to a domestic familial role, freeing up the men to pursue more “cultural” endeavors like art or religion.  Children themselves are viewed as primitive humans, not yet civilized by the affects of culture. As women are the ones who raise children, transforming them into sophisticated adults, Ortner contends that women are thus seen as only an intermediary between nature and culture. Psychologically, women are more emotional and sentimental than men, making men more inclined to more abstract, “cultures” thought, while women’s thoughts tend to be more connected to other people.

However, Ortner herself acknowledges that some of her arguments can be easily contradicted. She points out examples, such as European courtly love, where women were exalted as the bearers of culture and yet were still subordinate to men. She also lends credit to another writer who claimed that women’s sentimental tendencies are actually a result, and not cause, of a male-dominated world. I personally believe that such a widespread and long-lasting mindset must have very intricate underlying reasons, and may be difficult to explain with a single theory.