Communicating Across Cultures: My Final Reflection

My understanding of intercultural communications has grown over the past three weeks. Examining its function in a settled and diverse neighborhood allowed me to see the true effects of intercultural communications as well as the barriers that can prevent it. Looking at a neighborhood in the context of a cultural site, forced me to see neighborhoods as more than just locations but as identities.

To be honest, when I began this Intercultural communication class I thought that I would learn about how different cultures, i.e. races, communicated. But over the past three weeks, I have discovered that culture is determined by so much more than just your race, such as gender, skin color, sexual orientation, family history, among so many other things. Your culture is shaped by your personal context, by whom you are in relation to everyone around you.

That is why looking at neighborhoods during this class was so interesting to me. By seeing the history and context of the neighborhood, you can better understand the relationships everyone living there has and then how they communicate with each other and the rest of the city.

When we began looking at the West Side neighborhood, I only saw what was in the news or articles written about it. Personally I had grown up in Minneapolis, and I had never even known West Side existed. Initially I was worried because it seemed to have a really bad reputation based on the articles I found. I was worried it would be hard to visit or dangerous.

But then I read about their diversity and their ever fluctuating residency and I began to understand why the greater Twin Cities area was almost afraid to explore an area like West Side. It was because it was an unknown area, a widely diverse and different neighborhood where many different races lived and therefore many different cultures meshed together. In a sense, West Side looked like the island of misfit toys, a group of different cultures and races, coming together and unifying over their common characteristic. The residents of West Side were primarily new immigrants and upon arrival, they didn’t really fit in anywhere else.

When you think about a neighborhood, that’s really all it is: A group of different people, unified by one common characteristic. For the West Side, they were united by their differences, their unique cultural nuances which set them apart from the rest of the city. The neighborhood of West Side gave them a place to settle and grow and even share their cultures with one another.

Context can play a large role in the development of a neighborhood and the residents within it. The image that is projected in the media and among the rest of the city can greatly affect the personal image of individual residents within the neighborhood. This can be explicitly seen in Rosa, the young girl we interviewed in West Side, who spoke about her experiences with the bad reputation of her neighborhood.

 “When I was younger, I usually stayed in West Side and everyone I knew lived here so I never felt any shame. But now that I am working outside West Side and meeting new people, it is hard to be proud. Many times people refer to West Side as the ghetto, where there is a lot of violence and only poor people live. It sometimes makes me not want to tell people where I am from. I am afraid they will judge me as something I am not.”

This excerpt shows how detrimental a neighborhoods social and political context can be to its identity. As Rosa discussed, it is easy to be proud of your neighborhood when you are in it because everyone there is similar is someway and therefore isn’t judging each other. But as you venture into the city, people will judge you for being from a certain place or place unjustified stereotypes on you due to their perceptions of your home. This happens a lot, especially in a city with so much diversity and so many socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods. Simple things like which side of the highway or river you live on can make a difference in how people perceive you and ultimately how you perceive yourself.

Space and boundaries are incredible influential in the creation of identities and the power dynamic within and between neighborhoods. Specifically for West Side, the river serves as a physical representation of the divide between St.Paul and West Side. While West Side is part of St.Paul, you wouldn’t know it if you stood in either location. One bridge connects the two areas and there isn’t much to draw people out of downtown St.Paul and into the culturally diverse neighborhood of West Side. Even with in West Side there are physical barriers in the form of the bluffs that divide the neighborhood into two areas, usually representing the rich and the poor.

The latter example of physical barriers is greatly influenced by the historical significance of the bluffs when the area was first settled. The richer immigrants were the only people who could afford to build houses on higher land, avoiding the damaging flooding that flagged the area every spring ruining the low lying houses (Historic Saint Paul). The power dynamic created many years ago is still present in the area and effects many areas of this neighborhood.

In the past, those who lived near each other in West Side had a sense of unity, a common thread which united the different ethnic groups and allowed them to come together and successfully integrate. Even now, like our first interviewee discussed, the Neighborhood house facilitates these interactions by offering English classes and cooking nights, in which “they’re all intermingled and they try to get them to know each other’s culture well.” They are able to share their cultures with those around them, which helps individuals feel proud of their backgrounds and also allows each person to share a little bit of who they are.

The biggest concern when examining these concepts (culture, context, identity and power) is how they affect each other and shape the intercultural interactions we see every day.

While we can see that culture is shaped by these four concepts, it isn’t as clear as to how it changes the way we communicate with each other. We found through our historical background research that the history of a neighborhood and its residents greatly affects the relationships they have within the neighborhood and how they see individual ethnic groups. Looking at the contemporary context of our neighborhoods showed us the importance of media in the shaping of neighborhood images and identities. Analyzing the roles of identity and power in relation to our neighborhoods pushed us to connect the two ideas and see how they are in fact related.

Over all, I thought that culture is formed by both your avowed and ascribed identities but also your neighborhood itself. This personal perception changes the way in which you see the world and therefore the way you see others around you. I have found that intercultural communications doesn’t just include communicating with other ethnic groups, its communicating with those that are different from yourself. Those differences can be big or small, ranging from skin color and language differences to simply what side of the road you live on. Everyone is shaped by small parts of their lives, creating individual identities and changing how we can communicate with others.

The goal is to determine the best way for you to personally communicate with the world around you, and to remember that everyone is different and that is ok.

Sources:

“Census Facts.” Wilder Research Center. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.communitydataworks.org/StPaul/data/stpaul/nhood/dist3/profile.pdf 

“Historic Saint Paul.” Tour Saint Paul: West Side. 01 June 2006. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.historicsaintpaul.org/newsroom/publications/west_side

“RCHS.” Profile of Saint Paul’s Historic West Side Neighborhood. Ramsey County Historical Society. Web. 25 May 2012. http://www.rchs.com/neighborhoods/westside.htm .

Interview with Rosa: http://thetcneighborhoodproject.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/insight-from-a-young-west-sider-2/

Interview with Kelly: http://thetcneighborhoodproject.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/conversations-of-culture-and-comfort-st-pauls-west-side/

 

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