Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ethnocentric America: Its Ignorance is Showing

Ethnocentrism is a way of examining the world in terms of our own culture. Often an ethnocentric view will lead one to ignore what is important in other cultures while focusing on what is important in theirs. This tendency to be ethnocentric can result in viewing one’s own culture as superior to another and can cause lack of ability to see other cultures without judging them on the basis of one’s culture. These effects may be why in American schools there is little world history that is taught, in my day there was none.
Lahiri invents a family which is common in America, a family with a diverse background. As one reads When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine, they are struck by the lack of concern given to Pakistan’s war by the American media, and the grade school teacher who thinks if it is not relevant to the student’s report, it is not important.
American schools are known for only teaching American history. But Lilia’s father insists she is not getting a good enough education. The Das family and Mr. Pirzada are very concerned about the situation in Pakistan. Lilia’s father wants to know if she knows about the situation in Pakistan, Lilia’s father, when realizing she does not know of the situation, states "What exactly do they teach you at school? . . . But what does she learn about the world?" (26-27). This is a valid concern because American culture often centers on only their own history, ignoring the history of the world. Later Lilia talks about what she is learning in school "We learned American history, of course, and American geography. That year and every year, it seemed, we began by studying the revolutionary war. We were taken . . . to visit Plymouth Rock . . . to walk the Freedom Trail . . . to the top of Bunker Hill Monument" (27). Lilia’s school shows a large bias toward American history, while ignoring the rest of the world’s history.
Mr. Pirzada and the Das Family are very concerned about what is happening in Pakistan, but as the war continues there is less news coverage about what is happening. This shows a lack of social concern on the part of Americans who steadily lose interest in the Pakistan war.
A kind of bonding occurs between the Das family and Mr. Pirzada. This is not a lasting relationship, since once he leaves they do not keep in contact. But this relationship is built around commonalities and shared expressions of concern. While few Americans knew about, or cared about the situation in Pakistan, those people whom it effects directly-as Mr. Pirzada for being worried about his family- and indirectly-as did the Das. Family because of their Indian heritage, were very interested.
America is very ethnocentric, concentrating on only those virtues which we deem important, teaching only the history we are a part of and even then leaving out many people who were important in the history of America. Too often in America world history is ignored and often only learned if one chooses to do so in college. The writer makes an important point of how American students are often undereducated in the field of world history, and current events. I find, when reflecting at my own education that the basis I have for history is very biased toward American history. My education of history contained only knowledge of America.
Especially in times of political unrest, people who are being educated should be done so in a whole world approach. In America we would do better to teach a multi-national history and include in American history all the peoples who came here and struggled to survive.


Deborah Arroyo said...

I wonder how Lilia must have felt going to school, but not hearing anyone discuss or talk about the war on the other side of the world in Pakistan. Because not only did the media lose interest in the war, but I think there was really no interest to begin with. Lilia says, "No one at school talked about the war followed so faithfully in my living room." If I were Lilia I think I would be frustrated with people's ignorance of other important current events worldwide.
But, not only is Lilia encouraged at school to focus on American history and events, but even at home. Lilia's own mother says that she has enough to learn at school (meaning American history) and that she lives here and was born here. Her mother doesn't even seem to think it is an important thing for Lilia to concern herself with. Why do you think her mother doesn't press her to know about India and Pakistan? Is it because she wants Lilia to embrace her new identity in the US or because she thinks Lilia is too young to know about war and tragedy?

Nichole said...

I think Lilia's mother does not press Lilia to know about India and Pakistan more because of the first reason you stated rather than the second. In a way I feel as though her mother wants Lilia's life to be less complicated, she does not want her to have to worry about more issues than really necessary. Her mother is probably proud to have had her daughter be born and raised in the United States and just wants her to enjoy life at the place she is currently at. I don't think that Lilia's mother doesn't want Lilia to know about her history or about important current events; it may really be just as simple as the reason she stated, she feels that Lilia already has enough to learn.
Maybe her mother feels that growing up in a new place already has enough challenges and she doesn't necessarily want to push more information on her daughter or add any more stress to her life. Perhaps her mother feels as though as Lilia grows up she will eventually learn about her history and there is no reason to push it all on her at once, she has plenty of time to learn.

Mari said...

I think that your interpretation in Lilia's mother not pushing her to learn about her own culture makes sense. There are so many first generation people in America who struggle to find their own identities that there are many parents who shield their children from events and knowledge of their home countries, as well as many parents who attempt to ensure that their children learn about their backgrounds. I think it depends on the parent's experience in that country.

What I wanted to take note of, on the topic of Ethnocentric America is the fact that Lahiri uses many characters throughout the book to illustrate her ideas of ethnocentrisms. In exploring Lilia's situation, it is easy to assume that the ethnocentric ideas are stemmed from concentrating on Anglo Saxon history in America. I agree and think that most of our experiences in school were similar to Lilia's. But, in contrast to Lilia, Lahiri also uses the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Das in "The Interpreter of Maladies." These characters, with their lack of knowledge of their own backgrounds, represent the lack of interest that many people in America have in learning about their own backgrounds. So perhaps, although America tends to be Ethnocentric, Americans, despite their heritages, allow America to be this way.

Anonymous said...

top [url=]online casinos[/url] hinder the latest [url=]free casino games[/url] free no store perk at the foremost [url=]