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Students will write a 500-word MLA essay defining cultures and values and analyzing how familial cultures and values shape and influence individuals’ identities. Thesis statements will be supported with examples from students’ own lives, as well as the assigned readings.

Essay assignments should conform to

MLA format

and cite the associated reading/resource.

Use a 12-point font.

Use double spacing, so there is room for me to write comments.

Include your last name in the filename (example: Unit-1 AS1 Smith.)

It should be a Word (.doc or .docx) format file

Essay check list

Defines “cultures”

Defines “values”

Discusses how familial cultures and values influence one’s identity

Supports thesis with examples from own life

Supports thesis with examples from assigned readings

Lecture notes

Family and Friends

Welcome to the first unit of your Cultures and Values class: Family and Friends. In this unit, we will develop clearer understandings of the terms “cultures” and “values” and examine the impact of friends and familial cultures, or cultures of origin, from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Let us start by taking a look at the definition of “culture.” Analyzing various definitions throughout the past 80 years we see a change. In 1945, for example, a definition read, “By culture we mean all those historically created designs for living, explicit, irrational and nonrational, which exist at any given time as potential guides for the behavior of men.” (qtd. in Linton, p. 78). Jumping to 1989, the definition becomes more complex and takes into account not so much the material goods that comprise any group of individuals but how those individuals use the goods to navigate and behave in their world. In their book,

Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives

, James A. Banks, one of multicultural education’s founders, and Cherry McGee Banks, a faculty member at the University of Washington, state: Most social scientists today view culture as consisting primarily of the symbolic, ideational, and intangible aspects of human societies. We can assume then that the essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools, or other tangible cultural elements but how the members of that cultural group interpret, use, and perceive them. Culture, we can say, consists of the values, symbols, interpretations, and perspectives that distinguish one person from another in modernized societies; it is not material objects and other tangible aspects of human societies. Those within a culture usually interpret the meaning of symbols, artifacts, and behaviors in the same or in similar ways. How then might we define “values”? According to the Oxford Dictionary, values can be defined as “The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.” One culture, for example, may value privacy, individual freedom, and success more than it values the family and community while another culture may value family and community more than it values privacy, individual freedom, and success.With an understanding of cultures and values, let us now examine the impact that culture can have on families and how individuals’ familial cultures and values can influence their identities. What do you think of when you see or hear the word “family”? To some, a family can be a multigenerational support system, which provides security, nurturing, and the core of identity. For many, it can be a powerful starting point for growth, knowledge, and eventually, change. Memories of family life can be everlasting—traditions, holidays, daily life rituals, and those inevitable conflicting points seem to resonate forever and impact individuals as they construct their own identities.When families and culture intertwine, what happens? Events, as mentioned above, may take on special importance as seen in some of the selected readings. We see this, for example, in Jo Bageant’s “Valley of the Gun,” and Meeta Kaur’s “Journey by Inner Light.” In “Journey by Inner Light,” a weekly ritual, “the hair bath,” leads to Kaur’s realization of the cultural significance of her long hair—her kesh—while in “Valley of the Gun,” Joe Bageant recalls a pivotal childhood event—his family’s multigenerational deer hunt. He remembers “the smell of gun oil and the stove’s searing raw heat on the face, the gun grips, the warm laughter of the men.”These memories, along with the values he learns from them, stay with Bageant for decades. He learns, for example, that with maturity comes responsibility, a key-value permeating the deer hunts. Caring for the guns passed from generation to generation teaches Bageant the rules of safety and respect. “Never point a gun at anyone,” he writes. “Never kill anything you are not going to eat unless it is a varmint. Never shoot in the known direction of a house, no matter how distant.” These values remain and the life-death cycle becomes a meditation for Bageant as he ages.Bageant writes about his familial culture as someone who was born, raised, and built a life in the United States. Many of the other writers that we read in this unit, however, write about immigrant experiences. In so doing, they help us understand how familial culture can connect individuals to greater cultures of origin.In her essay, “Sandals in the Snow,” Dr. Rose Ihedigbo, who emigrated from Nigeria and is raising her children in the United States, discusses the importance of keeping her family connected to their Nigerian roots. According to Ihedigbo’s son, gathering with other Nigerian families “provided” him “with something that” he “didn’t get from the culture on the Amherst front—a sense of acceptance and connectedness.”This attempt to connect to one’s culture of origin does not always come without resistance and rebellion. In “Journey by Inner Light,” Meeta Kaur describes the importance of hair—kesh—in Sikh culture. Her mother’s hair, for example, is an example of “a light that provides a sense of place and home between any borders, on any soil, whether she is in India, America, or any other country.” Throughout her life, Kaur travels between India and America and her bicultural experiences frame her identity and roles in the culture. As she travels, she struggles to forge an American cultural identity while holding on to her familial values. As she reads Sikh history comics, for example, she concludes, “I am familiar with the way they look because they remind me of my family, but I also see that they are different. We are different.” Kaur’s attempt to reconcile differences and embrace, outwardly at least, American culture, comes in her freshman year at college when she cuts her hair, her kesh. Despite the Western hairstyle, she cannot break with centuries of family tradition and women’s wisdom. As she wavers between two cultures, two identities, she eventually finds her own identity and sense of comfort. Towards the end of the essay, Kaur states “My hair has grown back out to its former length, and I no longer question preserving it until I die. I am on the path to becoming the woman my mother and grandmother prayed I would be.”Gary Shteyngart’s short story “Sixty-Nine Cents,” explores a similar tension between natal and surrounding culture. While eating at a McDonald’s Shteyngart wants to reject his familial culture—his family eating a traditional Russian meal of soft-boiled eggs, Russian beet salad, and cold chicken on the bulk—and assimilate into an American one. However, despite sitting far away from his family and their traditional Russian meal, he cannot use the money in his pocket to buy a burger and Coke instead.Culture is not static; like families, it evolves with generation. Although familial traditions and customs may remain outwardly intact, each generation brings ideas and ways of augmenting a ritual. Some turn away from traditions, as observed in Kaur and Shteyngart’s articles while others learn how to traverse a familial culture that is itself learning how to deal with a new tradition. The family, its culture, and values become the base from which individuals develop identities and embark on life experiences.Stepping outside the familial unit, Neal Gabler examines the tension between our desires to connect and the reality that we may, in fact, be “bowling alone.” According to him, as a result of women entering the workforce and urban sprawl, people are becoming more and more isolated from friends, neighbors, and community. To fill this void they turn to television shows—like F

riends, Seinfeld, Sex and the City, How I Met Your Mother

, and

The Big Bang Theory

—that highlight community.Throughout this unit, we see how groups—friends, family, and community—connect, change, and evolve.

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