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Embracing the Contact Zone

aclark1's picture

While reading Mary Louise Pratt’s Art of a Contact Zone, she explored different types of contact zone for the reader’s entertainment. She immediately places the reader into a contact zone to grab the attention of the reader into something that can be very difficult to understand. I found the approach very interesting because it actually worked. It was a very simple setting of her son and his best-friend, Willie, talking about baseball, baseball cards and trading. After her short detailed story, she goes right into explaining that in fact her own son, aged seven, has already been exposed to a contact zone. 

A contact zone, according to Mary Louise Pratt, explains that “the space where transculturation takes place. The different cultures often meet in hopes to try to inform the opposing side in a asymmetrical approach.” While reading, she shares the advantages and disadvantages that they entail. Although she explored the boundaries a contact zone establishes, she often writes in a very firm tone as though she’s concluded with what exactly a contact zone is within every situation. Therefore, whenever a contact zone is officially established, that is the only time when people of different cultures are able to break the cultural boundary. What is most intriguing about what Pratt describes is that cultural boundary isn’t the only boundary that can be broken. The other boundaries can include race or even colonialism. 

The Art of establishing a Contact Zone is astounding, because in some way or another, everyone is within a contact zone more than once per day. Yes, very powerful idea, but this is also hard to consume. So, let’s brainstorm some well known contact zones. One could be the historic clash between Nazi-Germany and people who are jewish. Although people who didn’t specify as jew were also targeted too by the Nazi party. However, since they were in the contact zone, they were caught between the asymmetrical relations of power. Another example could be having opposing gangs clashing. This can vary from Irving Shulman’s, West Side Story, to notorious gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips. Therefore, a contact zone can be established even over issues that are viewed on the smaller scale like families clashing. Although people can easily pick out the negatives of being within a certain contact zone, every contact zone comes to a final agreement. People who are viewing from the outside in may not be able to understand, but the opposing parties will understand because they are the ones who established the zone initially. They came to find a resolution to their problems in hope of finding or creating a common ground. 

As I reflect on things that happened to me, I realized that I had so many encounters with contact zones throughout my 18 years that I’m a completely different person that I once was as a child. If I would’ve stayed in Philadelphia my entire life, without traveling and moving, I would’ve been a completely different Alisha. A me who hasn’t be exposed to the conservative south. Due to my exposure of extremely different environments, most of my experiences haven’t been the most positive encounters a little girl should experience. But, being a cisgendered girl who’s skin is filled with pigment, many people may say that I should've expected more. 

"Be grateful”, my mother would tell me after she is down sharing her most traumatizing stories. She would tell me I have it easy because she has raised me in the Suburbs of Philadelphia instead of some of the more sketchy streets. But, even within suburbs, I had to fight for myself within contact zones. Some happened within classroom walls and others within the cul-de-sac. Most of the time I would be able to defend myself against others that are my age. However when it came to school, I had no chance of winning any battles. Often I lost a part of who I was instead of them embracing who I wanted to be. As a result of diversity, there are often clashes which creates contact zones, but having these zones in place ultimately help us all grow as people. These zones help to acknowledge ethnic, religious and cultural groups. Sometimes people lose something that was once their own upon entering the zones, but the knowledge provided when leaving is even greater.