A Tug-of-War Between Two Cultures

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Questions, Intuitions, Revisions: Storytelling as Inquiry

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A Tug-of-War Between Two Cultures

Jenny Chen

What does it feel like to encounter two different cultures and to be forced to accept both of them? A game of tug-of-war, perhaps ---you are the rope, and the two cultures on either end forcing you to be on their side. On the left side is the Old Culture team, and on the right side is the New Culture team. At first, the Old Culture seems to have more strength and pulls you towards the left side. But the New Culture does not give up and pulls you harder towards to right side. In the Doomsday Book, Kivrin is challenged with many obstacles as she travels from the culture of 2054 to the culture of 1348. She had been raised in 2054, a culture with advanced technology. Her knowledge of technology and medicine in the 2054's provides no help to her and the people in 1348 when it comes to surviving the plague. Kivrin realizes that she must let go of some of the prior knowledge and culture she is accustomed to and that her survival depends on the adaptation of the new culture. Although she is finally willing to adapt to the culture of 1348, she is relieved to have the chance to return to the culture of 2054. In Kivrin's game of tug-of-war, the Old Culture team wins. This is only one outcome out of many. Actually, most real-life cases can be described as the never-ending games of tug-of-war without a winning team.

When an individual accustomed to one culture is faced with a completely different culture, it is normal for the individual to stick to the more familiar culture instead of embracing the new culture. After all, cultures share something in common: the need to preserve all practices that set the culture apart from other cultures. However, the complete preservation of an old culture in a different culture is merely impossible. Even the most rigid limitations cannot keep a culture from changing.

Take the life of a Taiwanese American ---a young Taiwanese immigrant. Born in Taiwan, my identity was deeply rooted in the Taiwanese culture, but I encountered an identity crisis after the exposure to the American culture. At home, my parents expected me to be a good Asian daughter. (Translation: To be a good Asian daughter is to remain faithful to Taiwanese culture and to obey everything that came out of my parents' mouths.) I also found it more comfortable to practice the old traditions in the new culture. Who would ever want to change when it is easier to keep doing things the same way? Over time, I learned that I could not shut out this new culture--American culture--and that I must adapt to it to "survive."

Taiwan culture is built upon academic success and the ability to use every talent possible. Children are expected to perform at the highest levels at school while using talents to accomplish a great number of extracurricular activities. Only one student can be the best, so the students become extremely competitive and measure success against that of each other. All the students want to become leaders, which causes problems in communication between one another. Those who do poorly in school are regarded as disobedient to their parents and bring shame to their families. These children are often punished until they reach the high standards. Taiwan culture nurtures hard-working, book-smart children with their own strong opinions. Everyone takes the same, strict path of becoming successful.

On the other hand, American culture believes in taking life step by step with the goal of reaching success at the end. Children are expected to work hard and to seize every opportunity that comes their way. In such a culture, children do not have to compare themselves with one another. They can pursue their passions instead of what their parents expected of them. Students are able to communicate more with one another without the competitive tensions. It is perfectly fine to have one leader while others as followers. In the American dream, everyone becomes successful through many different paths.

First generation Taiwanese immigrants share the fear of being too Americanized. They do not understand that accepting parts of the American culture does not require letting go all of the Taiwanese culture. Taiwanese parents are afraid that American culture teaches children to be wild and too loose. They do not understand the concept of give and take and are disappointed with their children if they fail their classes. (Translation: To fail a class means to earn a grade, most likely an A, that is not the best compared to other students.) American culture reminds people that it is fine to make mistakes as long as the person learns from them. Taiwanese parents also cannot grasp the idea that being a good leader entails being a good follower. American culture stresses the importance of communication. The combination of Taiwanese culture with American culture creates the Taiwanese American culture by intertwining the strengths integrated in the two cultures.

Unlike Kivrin who returned to her old culture, I do not find it relieving to return to the Taiwanese culture and would rather remain in the Taiwanese American culture. In fact, after being in contact with the American culture, it is impossible for me to return to the original Taiwanese culture. Encountering more than one culture allowed me to realize that every culture with enabling aspects is flawed with disabilities. I believe that the way to improve a culture is to take out the disabilities and replace them with the enabling aspects of another culture. In certain situation, I find the Old Culture team tugging harder than the New Culture team, and vice versa. Neither of them wins the game. The teams can only hope to achieve equilibrium, a tie to the game.

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