Monday, March 05, 2007

American Dreaming for Dummies

This blog is my completed conceptual map for Boston University's MET IS 360: Literature, Film & the American dream. Each entry covers a week in the course listed chronoligically from the bottom up. To go with my discussion of each week's concept is a video I picked out to accentuate the themes of the American dream we learned about in the class. There are also a couple fun links to the right as well as a link to a fellow student's blog under "blogroll."

In making my final entry into this blog right now, I felt I had to wrap it up with one more video. This video could have fit the first week of the course, when we read Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Changing Conceptions of the American Dream because it covers the idea of winning the dream on a game show. The TV show's premise seems to cover risk, getting rich quick, innovation, wealth, and adventure. But mostly, this show focuses on the wealth aspect of the dream.

As you will see in my conceptual map below, there are many more ideas that go into the American dream than just money.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Asian-American dreams

1. Preservation of cultural traditions vs. breaking traditions that no longer work like not valuing females.

One such tradition in regards to not valuing females is the obvious killing of female babies. You don't do that in America -- in fact, that is illegal here.

2. Family honor.

Above all else, you are to honor the family and that tradition holds up as Chinese families come to America. Only once you get to America, honoring the family comes down to fulfilling expectations as we say in Joy Luck Club. The daughers are expected to be the chess champion or to play the piano. The mothers in the film push their hopes and dreams onto their daughters because they lived harsh lives and China and couldn't come close to achieveing what their daughters could in America.

3. American-Feminine or American-pretty. No loud voices.

Maxine Hong Kingston in The Woman Warrior talks about how her mother would yell at home and in public. It's a very Chinese way of behaving that embarassed Kingston in America. She longed to speak in a soft, "American" voice. She also had similar dreams to Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. Where Pecola wanted to have the bluest eyes so everyone would love her, Kingston just wanted to acheive the American standard of femininity, although she doesn't entirely elude to what that would be.

4. Being a warrior.

Kingstong's book shows a world where the woman can be a warrior. She envisions a world where a woman can lead an army and avenge her family and/or community. In America, a woman could freely be a warrior and lead an army without having to dress as a man. Or could she? How many woman lead men in the U.S. army in Iraq or Afghanistan during the wars there?

But more than that, Kingston has a vision of a strong woman. She is brave, she is free, and she is not a servant. Her family needs her and admires her. She isn't looked down upon. All of this I got from reading the second chapter, White Tigers.

5. Coming to America meant sexual freedom and a lack of pre-arragned marriages.

In China, a woman who commits adultery is shunned by her family and society. Kingston's aunt is even beaten and her house is robbed because she committed adultery. In America, there is no such social shunning after one commits adultery. There is also no pre-arranged marriage as a part of American culture in the U.S. You are free to marry for love here.

6. I also noticed a lot of Chinese beliefs revolve around superstition. Perhaps the dream would be to come to America and have every decision be based on science rather than tradition or misplaced cultural belief.

I am thinking of Kingston's mother the physician in The Woman Warrior. She won't treat the dead our treat anybody on New Year's Day out of superstition. In the film Joy Luck Club, a daughter sacrifices herself in a soup to be fed to her dying mother. There is absolutely no science to back up either of these traditions. But if you come to America, you don't have to uphold these traditional practices anymore.

This is a Great Slam Poem by Alvin Lau Called "Asia-America, Where Have You Gone?"

I think this video is great for the class about the struggle for cultural identity in the American dream. The types of ideas presented remind me of other cultures we studied as well because getting "Americanized" takes a little piece of your culture. It sacrifices it to some extent as Lau speaks about frat boys getting tattoos of Asian characters and "MSG impostors."

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spanish-American dreams

Spanish-American dreams follow along the lines of acceptance, tolerance, and the duality of fitting into two cultures. Whether Hispanic or Latino, chances are you speak two languages and have to oscillate carefully between the traditions of two very different cultures. You switch back and forth between English and Spanish often speaking Spanglish. Like we saw in the movie Tortilla Soup, you may transition between traditional, family-oriented Spanish-American dreams and the overachieving American dream. Maybe that American dream doesn't make you as happy. We saw Carmen in Tortilla Soup go after her MBA but what she really wanted was to work for the family restaurant or to create her own cuisine.

Richard Rodriguez writes about a common theme of how we are drawn to monetary value over moral value again and again. He also talks about how we all together make up one color -- brown. Melt together all our pigmentation and we come out brown. We're a mixture of all pigments, a mixture of all cultures, all traditions, and all kinds of food. Maybe what Rodriguez is trying to say is that we all value the mix. We value it as a whole and we value its individual parts. In America, you can adopt one part of the mix into your life or the whole enchilada.

We make things our own in America; we take ownership of things that aren't our traditions. We blend cultures, as we see in Alfaro's and Pina's poems. They use language in a way that shows their duality. You can speak in Spanish and/or you can speak in English if you are Hispanic. You can walk inside of both cultures as you wish.

Spanish-American dreams are very much about identity, as we saw in Tortilla Soup. That would be identity in the sense of the identity shared in one's family just as much as the Spanish-American identity in our neighborhood, city, and state. Maribel wants to find herself; Carmen wants to cook more than she wants to be a business leader in Barcelona; Letty wants to find love and practice her chosen religion despite what her family thinks of it; and overall each member of the Naranjo family wants the freedom to do their own thing.

Who Is An American?

American-born contractor Raymond Herrera talks about why he can't have the American dream and why he doesn't believe in amnesty. This is the same reason why my father got out of the landscaping business ten years ago; he couldn't get a job to save his life. All the jobs were going to those who would work cheapest -- illegal aliens.

Monday, February 12, 2007

African American Dreams

The biggest theme we covered in our film and novel this week was identity as it relates to the American dream. We read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and watched Spike Lee's Bamboozled.

In regards to the American dream, we are all fighting for the freedom to define our own identity. We should have the power to define our own racial identity in terms of what it means to be who we are. What names can be used to define our different races and who gets to decide what they are?

Another theme was freedom and what it means. We read Langston Hughes' poem Let America Be America Again which reads, "Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true..." It is a brave dream indeed to let people be free. It means being able to give up control. Freedom is perverted by Cholly in The Bluest Eye; he thinks freedom is not being responsible to anyone or being responsible for his actions. He finds his freedom in abondoning morals and values that would have made him a better person.

Another element of the American dream we touched upon this week was love. We all want to be loved, but for the characters in Morrison's novel, things like beauty and being able to fit in stand in the way. Obtaining the dream becomes increasingly about obtaining the looks you need in order to get it. We seek approval and we seek to fit into the social web in America and beauty -- or lack of it -- is a big part of that.

I find it interesting that we finally have a strong, black candidate running for President of the United States of America in Barack Obama, yet everyone has to rip him apart because he's not "black enough." asks the question, "Is (Obama) African-American if his roots don't include slavery?"

The Doll Study

This video is of The Doll Study, which you may have seen before. It relates to Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and how the characters Pecola, Claudia, and Frieda are always idolizing caucasian standards of beauty. The girls may mock white girl Maureen Peel in the novel, but deep down inside it's because of envy.

Monday, February 05, 2007

European American Dreams II

The themes I spotted during the week's readings were:

Belief in self, self-reliance
Good fortune

Self-reliance and originality
were two themes that I thought came through very heavily in our two-week study of European American dreams.

We read Allen Ginsberg's poem America. Here's a bit of it:

We also read The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost:

Americans have always put pride into taking the road less traveled. It's part of what makes us self-reliant originals. America was built on trailblazing -- not on being a follower. It's one of the most enduring aspects of the American dream.

Another poem we read was Emily Dickinson's I'm Nobody. I found two versions of the poem on YouTube, but chose this one because it was done by a man. I liked his country music interpretation of it. I was also thinking about how when we covered Asian-American dreams the class ached for a male interpretation of those dreams. I did find a male interpretation of Joy Luck Club on YouTube, however, it was unfit for sharing. But when I found this man's interpretation of Dickinson's poem, I was delighted to share it.

Class interpretations of Henry David Thoreau's work included calling his work pretentious and my own offense at reading Civil Disobedience for the second time in my life. I enjoyed the essay the first time I read it back in high school, but this time around I didn't like it at all.

I find Thoreau kind of funny because technology like e-mail, the Internet, instant messaging, blogs etc., would have really disturbed the simplicity-seeking Thoreau. These were definitely not elements of his American dream. He would not have wanted an electronic leash like a Blackberry, much less a telephone. But people today see these as just the tools that free them up so they can better seek the American dream through work.

For myself, I work at home so the laptop and all its features are my lifeline. There are so many people who make freelance and/or telecommuting careers out of things Thoreau would have found detrimental. I don't think he would have seen this generation as really alive. He would have seen it more as pathetic and obsessive. I guess it goes back to the American dream meaning different things to different people.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

European American Dreams I

The Europeans came to America because they sought freedom in the form of freedom of religion and freedom from the monarchial tyranny of Europe. There is also a strong dose of working to reach your full potential in the dreams of European Americans -- that was one of the principles covered in Tocqueville's writings. The other in respect to self-advancement was never giving up. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about the subject of self-reliance while trusting one's inner voice.

This bullet pointed list of European American dream elements is still relevant with all Americans to this day:

*Never giving up

We read John Winthrop's A Modell of Christian Charity, and I found it ironic that Europeans were coming to America to find religious freedom, yet tried to convert the Native Americans to believing in their God. Winthrop valued basic ideals such as building community, frugality, and that all men treat each other equally via the same code of moral conduct.

As we read Crevecoeur and watched The New World, time and time again the same themes kept popping up of freedom. The early settlers wanted their freedom of choice. That meant freedom of religion blended into a new social system. The American dream back then was to own land -- and it still is today though more specifically it is now to own a house.

The Reason Americans Came Here in the First Place

Some ideas stand the test of time...

Friday, January 26, 2007

Why we play basketball, by Sherman Alexie

Imagine if things had gone much different in the colonial days...

Essential elements of Native American Dreams

As we examine the American dream in literature and film for MET IS 360, we began the course with a look at Native American dreams.

We read Joy Harjo’s poem Reconciliation – A Prayer, Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and viewed Pow Wow Highway as our film. The themes that run throughout include religion, valuing the tribe over the individual, hope, despair, alcoholism, carrying on tradition, racism, and blending of cultures.

The God of the Native Americans believes in respecting Mother Earth and religious practices aren’t as filled with as much hypocrisy as those of America’s European settlers. Important imagery in Pow Wow Highway to illustrate this was when Philbert bought his “pony” to begin his spiritual journey. He gets into the car and rips the Virgin Mary from the dashboard and throws her out the window. At that point, his true spiritual quest begins.

It was clear from the readings and the film that Native American dreams center around the tribe, which is given a higher regard than the individual. Whereas we are often caught up in the “it’s all about me” way of modern American society, the Native Americans think less about that and more about the good of the tribe.

Everyone has hope of a better tomorrow in all cultures. For the Native Americans in Alexie’s stories, that hope is that the next hot basketball player each year will make it and leave the reservation as a college basketball star or professional athlete. The hope is always that the next generation will break the cycle.

The despair comes from negative experiences on an economic and social level on the reservation. After encountering underemployment and watching their traditions suffer, a healthy dose of despair is warranted.

Drinking to forget is a theme in both Pow Wow Highway and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Pow Wow Highway reminded me a lot of Jack Kerouac's On The Road mostly because of the diverse characters finding themselves in different scenes in a spontaneous fashion. Even the publishing of On The Road was the realization of the American dream because it took Kerouac years to get it published. When it finally was, it met much success!

The mute child, James, in Powwow Highway is met with the stigma that Indian children are slow whenever Victor takes him to the doctor to find out why he hasn’t spoken yet. The police in Powwow Highway are racist and corrupt.

Blending of Cultures
The Native Americans in all the film and literature we covered were fighting to uphold their traditions while also carving out their place in life outside the reservation. At times the two cultures blended while other times they conflicted. Buddy Red Bow in Pow Wow Highway doesn’t think Indians should be moving away from the reservation. But at the same time, he’ll blend cultures when we see him wearing a traditional Cheyenne necklace with a U.S. military purple heart hanging off of it.

We saw the blending of culture once again during our study of Spanish-American dreams. I call it 'duality' because a person has to switch between cultures going back and forth between languages and between sets of traditions.