Sunday, June 15, 2008

Culture Project

I see culture as an element that embraces the individual, for instance it can be summed up into what makes someone, and his/her features, behaviors, habits and even choices. Features, sexuality, gender, language and religion are all parts that help build us into who we are and influence, reflect or go against our culture. As an example, a Muslim woman may have one view on people from her own culture and from the world around her, while a Buddhist monk may have another perception and behave completely differently. I know these are extremely examples, but they serve the purpose of illustrating the differences that are in the world and that often can be seen in classrooms. Certain nationalities and religions use silence as respect, acknowledgement and acquiescence, so that a child may simply listen to the teacher while glancing down and not answer back, as a sign of respect, not of ignorance, misunderstanding or negative attitude as would often be assumed by someone in the US for example. Teachers must be aware of the diversity among students, learn about their customs, their cultures in order to provide them with the assistance needed without confrontation or embarrassment.
The US is home to many cultures and beliefs while at the same time fostering its own. From the poles and readings, we learned that the majority of teachers are white females. To follow along this idea, I would venture to say that many of them are unfamiliar with other cultures, and may not know where to start or how to address different situations. As white females, they have views on sexuality, perhaps liberal, perhaps not, but some of which may not even be considered possibilities in other cultures. In the same token they may have their own assumptions about their students, their behaviors, their potential, their knowledge, as well as about the area in which they will be teaching; all of these are shaped by their own culture, by what they are familiar with, have experienced or seen. It is difficult to separate experience and belief from reality; just as it is difficult to set aside wrongful assumptions about someone, or a group of people from another area, another country, another religion, another culture.
I tend to tie or make a link between one’s culture and one’s nationality or heritage, because in my case since I am Brazilian, but with heritages from Portugal and Italy, my culture is shaped by all of these countries and their cultures and customs. In my collage I tried to make sense of who I was, where I came from, how I got there, my goals, my experiences and my future as a teacher. When I first read about the project, I didn’t know where to start or what I would include, as I started to look through photo albums however, I couldn’t decide on what to include and by the end there was so much I would like to have included that there would not have been enough space; so I left many things out from the collage but which I tried to include in the presentation and which I hope to include here as I reflect on my culture.
I started with the people who influenced me and who I am, by placing two very distinct pictures, which reflect my Italian and Portuguese heritages as much as it reflects the poor side of the family with the affluent one. The happy picture of the entire family on my mother’s side is at my grandparent’s house, a simple house made by my grandfather through much struggle but a home to the entire family and the friends seen on the right side as well. What they didn’t have in currency they made up and doubled in love, affection and support; we were all together, crammed into the tiny kitchen with a table filled with the best food, from their mini-farm. To the right of that is a picture of my parents in my paternal grandparents’ dining room, the fancy room, in a fancy house and a dysfunctional family. My parents are total opposites in everything, from their personalities to their physical traits: my father is tall, and my mom is short as you can see they are very happy, not. They were divorced when I was eight years old and only posed for this picture because I asked them to, about 15 years after the divorce, when we returned to Brazil for a visit. For those cultures where women play minor roles, usually victimized, oppressed and without their voices, I respect but feel badly for them at the same time. In our culture, women are equals and for me specifically my mom was my pillar, she is someone I aspire to be: strong, willful, hard-working, sincere, honest and someone who supported me and still does no matter the consequences. Their divorce is the reason I came to the US, hence the airplane where I made my long journey, and there is me a 10 year old on New Year’s Eve seeing snow for the first time; my milestones.
The picture in the center is me now, married to a wonderful husband (who unfortunately is not in the picture) and mother of two beautiful daughters, my life and joy. They are among the many reasons why I decided to become a teacher. I want to be able to take part in their education and help other children, perhaps children like me when I arrived here learning English and struggling to be a part of this culture. At the top right is a phrase I use often and truly believe in Tomorrow begins today. My culture, or I should say the Brazilian in me, says that we have to live today like there is no tomorrow; there is no point in just waiting for the future and not enjoying or living the present. There is always hope for the future, for a better education, for the end to prejudices of all types and the embrace of diversity, but it must be accomplished one step at a time, and it has to begin in the now. This is also something that is part of the motto or the hopes of the group Olodum, whose CD cover I have attached also. They are a Brazilian Samba-reggae band that plays several types of drums, there are about 40 of them, and they have many social projects, among them taking children off the streets, placing them in school and teaching them to play instruments; and one that is aimed at ending racism and prejudices of all types in Brazil and around the world.
On the right, I also attached a memoir I submitted for an English Writing class which focuses on my studies in the urban school when I came to the US, the teachers I encountered, good and bad and my struggle to learn a new language and culture, as well as the reception from students and professionals. I also attached a critical thinking paper I wrote, actually it is the first chapters of a novel on an American ambassador’s family who travels around the world, learns new languages, learns about new religions and cultures and then returns to the US to share their experiences while trying to fight against prejudices and negative assumptions. This is a project I would like to continue and which I think can be expanded with the classes I am currently taking, including our Urban Education class. Above this piece I included the words Meaning and Diversify, because I think that it is important to make meanings out of personal experience and above all it is important to diversify and embrace diversity. I also attached to it as representing this idea a map of the world filled with opposites, and representations; and a picture of colored pencils to show the differences that exist and the fact that put together they create a beautiful rainbow.
I was a good student in Brazil; I went to a Catholic school and was among the top students of my grade. When I came to the US, I entered a public school in an urban area and although I excelled in other disciplines, I was placed in an ESL class. I was in a Portuguese dominated community where the dominant view was that Brazilians were ignorant, lazy, and any other negative connotations you may imagine. My goal was to prove them wrong, to defend not only myself and my family, but my culture and country as well. Yes, I think that my culture played an important role in which I am, and how I got here, my struggles and my accomplishments. I left for a suburban town at the end of my freshmen year, but I had certainly proved to them that my culture also had intelligent and hard-working people; I was 4th among over 400 students. What I take from this into my hopes as a teacher is the idea that all students are capable of excelling, it doesn’t matter where they are from or where they are living. I see them all as equals, because that is how I wanted to be seen. It doesn’t matter what nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, what culture a person is from, they are to be respected, given incentives and praise.
I want to be an English teacher for middle school or high school and I would like to be able to include readings from foreign authors as well as American and British literature. I think that this would give everyone a sense of what is available, differences in style, writing, and even cultures. I would also like to include this collage activity to introduce students to one another, or to introduce the diversity and culture themes into my classroom. I think that it is an effective and fun tool, one that gives all students a chance to participate, to show their abilities, their talents and their struggles.

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