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Write  essay commenting on the role “work” plays in various cultures. They will support their points with examples from the text, their own experiences, and outside sources.

Articles need to be read from the text in the following link


and the attached article “The owner of the restaurant” plus the lecture summary.

Unit 4 Lecture
Work, Culture, and Identity
When we first meet someone, we often ask, “What do you do?” We want
to know others’ work. The work we do contribute to our identity, affects
our self-esteem, and determines, in part, how others perceive us. In
American culture, the type of work one engages in can serve as a status
symbol, according to its classification (white color collar, blue color
collar, technological, medical, service, etc.) and is still often tied to the
elusive “American Dream.” Work is highly valued in the competitive US
employment market. In other cultures, however, work is not valued as
highly—it becomes only a means of survival. Often, as the text editors
explain, tribal societies perceive work differently than industrialized societies
perceive it. In some cultures age and gender, rather than education,
determine the type of work a person engages in.
As illustrated in the assigned readings, work serves a variety of functions. In
India’s child labor market, for example, children work to survive. In Jose
Anotonio Burciaga’s family, his father’s employment in a synagogue opens
doors to a multicultural, spiritual world. For Huang Xiaoqiang, work and life
At its most basic level, people work to survive. As we see in Chitra
Divakaruni’s “Live Free or Starve,” in third world countries children labor in
deplorable conditions—”chained to their posts . . . in ill-ventilated rooms doing
work that damages their eyes and lungs”—to put bread in their mouths and
clothes on their backs. “If the children themselves,” Divakaruni writes, “were
asked whether they would rather work under such harsh conditions or enjoy a
leisure that comes without the benefit of food or clothing or shelter, I wonder
what their response would be?” As we see in “Live Free or Starve,” the work
one does to survive often reflects larger cultural attitudes, as well as social
and political histories.
A similar sentiment can be found in Julia Cooke’s “Amigos.” In this essay
Cooke, an American journalist documents the life of a Cuban prostitute
named Sandra. Sandra was trained in beauty school but found that she could
make three times as much money working as a prostitute as she could in the
field of cosmetology. In communist Cuba, Cooke explains, almost every
worker in every profession makes the same amount of money. Prostitution,
however, lies outside the government payroll, allowing those who enter it to
make more money than they might make in other professions. According to
Cooke’s article, not only does Cuba’s social and political structure facilitate
prostitution as a career, but its attitudes towards sex and gender do as well.
First daughter, Marie Castro Espin, for example, notes of Amsterdam’s redlight district, “What I admire is that they’ve been able to dignify and value the
work that they do—because yes, it is a job.” After the Cuban Revolution,
women entered the workforce in greater numbers, with more than half of
doctors and lawyers being female. In Cuba, unlike in America, when it comes
to prostitution, pimps and middlemen do not really exist, thus putting women
in greater control of their bodies.
Aside from accepting a certain degree of women’s right to work, Cooke’s
article also suggests that prostitution in Cuba might be safer than it is in other
parts of the world. As she notes, “A police state with tightly restricted access
to weapons and severe penalties for drugs creates an underworld more
seamy than overly violent.”
In a society where many women work, where they can make more as a
prostitute than in almost any other profession, and guns and drugs are tightly
regulated, the culture of prostitution in Cuba seems understandable.
We see this connection between work, values, and historical and
political forces in Peter Hessler’s “The Restaurant Owner,” as well. In this
essay Hessler, a writer and Peace Corps volunteer documents the life of
Sichuanese restaurant owner, Huang Xiaoqiang. Reading this essay we can
see the ways in which the protagonist Huang Xiaoqiang’s values, as well as
China’s social, political, and economic history, shape his work life.
In China, unlike in other communist countries, there is very little regulation on
capitalist activities. As a result Huang Xiaoqiang keeps his restaurant open
from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm, and he is able to do so with the help of his family.
Another story that illustrates the ways in which a society’s economic system
influences the type of work its citizens do is “Learning for Ladakh.”Until the
1970s and ’80s, very little money circulated in Lakandh. Lakandhis bartered
their goods and lived off the land. They only exported salt.
While the introduction of money initially seemed advantageous, it quickly
severed the Ladakhis’ self-reliance and interdependence. Instead of relying on
themselves, their neighbors, and their land, they now depend on foreign
markets, a relationship that disrupts their sense of security. “For two thousand
years in Ladakh,” Helena Norberg-Hodge writes, “a kilo of barley has been a
kilo of barley, but now you cannot be sure of its value.”
The introduction of money into Ladakh also disrupted their community. “For
centuries,” Helena Norberg-Hodge notes,” people worked as equals and
friends helping one another by turn. Now that there is paid labor during the
harvest, the person paying the money wants to pay as little as possible, while
the person receiving wants to have as much as possible.” As you read these
stories, think about the ways in which your society’s own economic system
influences the type of work you do.
Sometimes, work can bring other positive values, in addition to funds,
satisfaction, and the chance to join a functioning group. In his essay, “My
Ecumenical Father,” Jose Antonio Burciaga describes the spirituality and
respect for other cultures and religions that saturate his life, beginning as a
child when his father worked as a custodian and “shabbat goy” (slang term for
a person who performs tasks that Orthodox Jews cannot perform on the
Sabbath). Burciaga spent his childhood in a basement apartment in a Jewish
synagogue where he learned Jewish history, culture, and customs, and
holiday rituals. His parents taught him tolerance, respect, and compassion.
Burciaga writes appealingly of visitors from the clergy. “It was not uncommon
to come home from school at lunchtime and find an uncle priest, an aunt nun,
and a Baptist minister visiting at the same time that the Rabbi would knock on
our door. It was just as natural to find the president of B’nai Zion eating beans
and tortillas in our kitchen.”
He concludes with his father’s death and a funeral service that reflects his
father’s “ecumenical” view of life. Burciaga’s father’s work life reflects an
ecumenical American dream. Values and work-life/culture are represented in
the spiritualism of Jose Antonio Burciaga’s father as he works not only for
himself but for the well-being of others. Does this make his work more
valuable than other types of work?
The question, “What do you do?” reflects more than our career or job—
in some cultures, the answer mirrors the self. That reflection can prompt
change or an affirmation of a job that reflects one’s values. For some,
the most basic work can mean rudimentary survival, for both the self
and the family.
My Ecumenical Father: By Jose Antonio
There are three holidays that that author relates with his childhood, Christmas, Hanukkah and
“Navidad”, he starts with this to introduce the reader in his panorama, a situation that was
normal for him as a child, the pacific coexistence of three different cultures, Mexican, Anglo
and Jewish. Antonio Burciaga focused his story in his father, José Cruz Burciaga, the
custodian and Shabbat goy of the temple of the Congregation B’nai Zion in El Paso, Texas,
where his three brothers and three sisters and he were raised in the basement of the building.
jFeliz Navidad! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! As a child my season’s greetings were
tricultural—Mexicano, Anglo and Jewish. Our devoutly Catholic parents raised three sons and
three daughters in the basement of a Jewish synagogue, Congregation B’nai Zion in El Paso,
Texas. José Cruz Burciaga was the custodian and shabbat goy (Yiddish for a Gentile who, on
the Sabbath, performs certain tasks forbidden to Jews under orthodox law).
Every year around Christmas time, my father would take the menorah out and polish it. The
eight-branched candleholder symbolizes Hanukkah, the commemoration of the first recorded
war of liberation in that part of the world. In 164 B.C., the Jewish nation rebelled against
Antiochus IV Epiphanes; when the temple was reconquered by the Jews, there was only one
day’s supply of oil for the Eternal Light in the temple, by miracle, the oil lasted eight days. My
father was not only in charge of the menorah but for 10 years he also made sure the Eternal
Light remained lit.
As children we were made aware of the differences and joys of Hanukkah, Christmas and
Navidad. We were taught to respect each celebration, even if they conflicted. For example,
the Christmas carol taught in school. We also learned a German song about a boy named
Tom and a bomb—O Tannenbaum. We even learned a song in the obscure language of Latin,
called “Adeste Fideles”. Though 75% of our class was Mexican-American, we never sang a
Christmas song in Español. Spanish was forbidden.
While the rest of El Paso celebrated Christmas, Congregation B’nai Zion celebrated
Hanukkah. My brothers and I would help my father hang the Hanukkah decorations. At night,
after the services, the whole family would rush across the border to Juarez and celebrate the
posadas. To the posadas we took candles and candy left over from the Hanukkah
celebrations. The next day we’d be back at St. Patrick’s School singing, “I’m dreaming of a
white Christmas.”
On Christmas Eve, my father would dress like Santa Claus and deliver gifts to his children,
nephews, godchildren and the little kids in orphanages. The next day, minus his disguise, he
would take us to Juarez, where we delivered gifts to the poor in the streets. He taught us to
measure wealth not in money but in terms of love, spirit, charity and culture.
We were taught to respect the Jewish faith and culture and the respect was mutual.
Student: Maura Lizbeth Rincón Reyes ID: 1666750
This study
source was
by 100000843829897
from CourseHero.com on 07-26-2022 19:22:09 GMT -05:00
Through my father, leftover food from B’nai B’rith luncheons, Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs
found its way to Catholic or Baptist churches or orphanages. Surplus furniture, including old
temple pews, found their way to a missionary Baptist Church in El Segundo Barrio.
It was not uncommon to come home from school at lunch time and find an uncle priest, an
aunt nun and a Baptist minister visiting our home at the same time that the Rabbi would
knock on our door.
My father literally risked his life for the Jewish faith. Twice he was assaulted by burglars who
broke in at night. He never philosophized about his ecumenism, he just lived it.
Cruz, as most called him, was a man of great humor, a hot temper and a passion for dance.
He lived the Mexican Revolution and rode the rails during the Depression.
September 23, 1985, sixteen months after my mother passed away, my father followed. Like
his life, his death was also ecumenical. The funeral was held at Our Lady of Peace, where a
priest said the mass in English. My cousins played mandolin and sang in Spanish. The
president of B’nai Zion Congregation said a prayer in Hebrew. Fittingly, father was laid to rest
on the Sabbath. At the cemetery, in a very Mexican tradition, my brothers, sisters and I each
kissed a handful of dirt and threw it on the casket.
I once had the opportunity to describe father’s life to the late, great Jewish American writer
Bernard Malamud. His only comment was, “Only in America!”
Evaluating the Text
1. What functions did Burciaga’s father perform for the Jewish temple? In what way did he
and his family embody the idea staled in the title?
He was the custodian of the temple as he protected all the valuable objects for the Jews and
he was the shabbat goy, he performed certain tasks forbidden to Jews. He was in charge of
taking the menorah out and polishes it, also of maintaining the “Eternal Light” lit all the time.
2. Why is it significant that Burciaga was not permitted to sing in Spanish, although he
learned German and Latin songs in school?
Because it can be understood that the people denied their culture and tried to get used to the
customs and language of the Americans. In addition it is also implicit the racism, intolerance
and hate that people in the United States have against Hispanic people, in the way that it was
forbidden to speak Spanish.
3. How does Burciaga’s description of his father’s funeral consolidate important ideas in this
As it implies and remarks the idea of the ecumenism, there were people from different
religions gathered to show their respect to the father, there were no conflicts for the different
customs and actions that the participants had, they were all respectful.
Student: Maura Lizbeth Rincón Reyes ID: 1666750
This study
source was
by 100000843829897
from CourseHero.com on 07-26-2022 19:22:09 GMT -05:00
Exploring Different Perspectives
1. Compare Burciaga’s father’s work experiences with those described by Tomoyuki Iwashita
in “Why I Quit the Company.”
They are similar as the family lived in the building in where he worked and he was devoted to
the work, and many times, he risked his life for the temple; however, he had the freedom to
have his beliefs and go out of the temple without problems, he did not have limitations.
2. In what ways was Burciaga’s father’s experience closer to that of the Ladakhis (see
“Learning from Ladakh” by Helena Norberg-Hodge) before the onset of consumerism?
It was closed, as the father was a protector and a key for the different people of other cultures
to gather without problems and with respect for each other.
Extending Viewpoints through Writing and Research
1. What holiday or festival outside your own culture have you attended or witnessed?
Describe it in a short essay for an audience who has never seen it.
Once, when I was visiting with my uncles in Harlingen, Texas, we stayed near the Easter
holidays and I got to see how they celebrated Easter. My aunt got up early that day to hide
chocolate eggs all over the house and garden, when my cousins got up, quickly dressed and
ran out in search of prizes, while adults chatted and prepared lunch. When they finished, they
would meet and count everything they had found, and whoever had found more would earn a
small basket with more chocolate.
2. What do you think Bernard Malamud meant at the end of the essay when he said, “Only in
That in America, there is a big mixture of different cultures, religions and races that interact
closely and most of the time and as there are many ways of thinking and living, people is
more considered and tolerant to live and respect other cultures as it is normal to see them all
the time.
Student: Maura Lizbeth Rincón Reyes ID: 1666750
This study
source was
by 100000843829897
from CourseHero.com on 07-26-2022 19:22:09 GMT -05:00
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