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The Cultural Puzzle

What does it take to understand culture? What aspects should we consider when talking about culture? Culture is a loose term, a term that I once thought only pertained to each specific race. However, culture can be thought of as in any given location. It could be a country, a city, a neighborhood, or even a building. And what determines the culture in an area is a complex combination of history, politics, power, and social interactions.

The history of the area can tell us a lot about what and why we see a certain culture in a given area. For example, Marcy-Holmes, a neighborhood in Minnesota, had a history of Native Americans until an explorer talked of how the area was beautiful. It soon became a sought after oasis, and colonization of white European-Americans in the 1800s ensued (Marcy-Holmes). That small glimpse into history gives us an understanding of how the area changed, drastically I might add.

The exampled history is just a piece of the puzzle though when it comes to history. The history of the area can influence other things like how the area is perceived, either by its own community or the outsides communities. Staying with the Minnesota examples, West Minneapolis is known by the outside community to be a place filled with crime. However, most of West Minneapolis’s community doesn’t see it that way. They view it as perfectly safe, a growing cultural paradise with a few rotten seeds.

But just to extrapolate further on history. History governs every area from a small neighborhood to an individual country to a continent to the world. The culture of each area can be studied through its own history, on whatever scale, and that alone will give a piece of the puzzle for the understanding of the culture in an area.

Another piece of the puzzle to understanding culture in an area is power. Power is an idea that determines how much voice, how much sway an individual or group may have on the population. Power could be determined by a number of things like money, education, race, political placement, etc. Anything that can possibly give a person power over others is power for that individual. But how does power play into the cultural identity of an area?

Judith Martin and Thomas Nakayama, writers of Intercultural Communication in Contexts, wrote:

“Power is the central dynamic in the writing of history. It influences the content of the history we know and the way it is delivered. Power dictates what is taught and what is silenced, what is available and what is erased.”

As you can see, power is closely linked to history in that the people that are in power determine the history of now and what will be told of from the past.

A significant time in history, in this country, is the ruling of Plessy versus Ferguson. The Supreme Court, in 1896, a bunch of judges with power, ruled that state sponsored segregation of public facilities was constitutional. The idea was “separate but equal.” This one instance in U.S. history started a cultural fire. It separated people based on race, which of course would have its own cultural implications.

Later on in 1954, the famous case of Brown versus the Board of Education ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” And of course, this again started a cultural fire. I won’t go into the details because most of you reading this know these cases from history classes, but for those of you that don’t, I would suggest reading up on it. Anyway, this demonstrates how power can influence an area and in this case the power of the Supreme Court Justices influenced the entire United States.

Let’s talk about power on a smaller scale. During the late 1800s, Marcy-Holmes started to develop businesses along the Mississippi River in which the running the water was used to power the industry. The most famous business was the Pillsbury A-Mill. It turned the city of Minneapolis into the “flour capitol of the world” for over forty years. In this case, power was dictated by money, an economic status. Pillsbury had sway in the community because it was a source of mass revenue in the area. It has changed since the mill has closed down, but it is another example of how power can change over time in an area.

Another piece of this cultural puzzle is how social interactions and the differences between interactions of differing groups of people in a given area. Let us think about the differences in gratitude across cultures.  Park and Lee write:

“Although the use of a gratitude statement is universal, cultures can vary with regard to the types of behaviors and situational characteristics that elicit a gratitude statement and also the functions that the gratitude statement fulfills.” 

Saying “Thank You,” that simple statement, has just become complicated when you may be in a multidimensional community. When I would say thank you, and when a person of a different culture would say thank you can be similar in some situations, but largely different in others. But it is those differences, those idiosyncrasies that can change an area’s culture. In my opinion, it is those small differences, but also the large differences, that make traveling to different cultures all that more interesting. 

I have given hints throughout that culture is a puzzle. A puzzle with pieces that fit together in a specific and meaningful way. I have called it “The Cultural Puzzle.” I am sorry to tell you, I have lead you astray. Culture is more of an interlocking web of history, power, social interactions, and other aspects that can’t really be fully pulled apart from each other but never seem to be able to give the full picture. Understanding the culture of an area is complicated, but with more knowledge of the area, the more you will get out of the culture of that area. Peter S. Alder once wrote: 

“Increasing interaction across interpersonal, social, ethnic, national, and cultural barriers necessitates new understandings of the dynamics, the problems, and the implications of cross-cultural experiences.”

 

Works Cited:

Adler, P. S. “The Transitional Experience: An Alternative View of Culture Shock.” The Journal of humanistic psychology 15.4 (1975): 13. Web.

“Cultural Differences in “Thank You”.” Journal of language and social psychology 31.2 (2012): 138. Web.

Marcy-Holmes. http://marcy-holmes.org/neighborhood/history/

Martin, Judith N., and Nakayama, Thomas K. Intercultural Communication In Contexts. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.: New York, 2010. (p. 128).

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Power: An Economical Struggle Or A Cultural Determinate

Marcy-Holmes has gained and lost power over the years. But you could say that would be expected since it is considered the “city’s first neighborhood” (Daily Planet).

The area used to be highly commercialized. It was first involved in the lumber business since Minnesota was still full of trees and the Mississippi River was an access way to free energy for the transportation of logs downstream. However, the lumber slowly slipped away in Minnesota and continued to move west.

The Mississippi River on the other hand could not move west. It was stuck. And it was still supplying free energy, except this time it needed to be harnessed in a different way. In comes Charles Pillsbury who puts Minneapolis, Minnesota on the world wide map.

In 1881, the Pillsbury A-Mill was completed, the largest flour mill in the world at the time. Minneapolis was nicknamed the flour capitol of the world. It brought power to the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood because the mill was within its boundaries and the mill commanded a million dollar industry. Money in this case brought power to the neighborhood since it more brought in more commercial businesses and workers from around the twin cities.

In 2003, the mill officially closed. It is now a ghost, a specter, a monument of what it once was. Many of the other commercial businesses left as well, but at a much earlier date. The neighborhood lost power in this instance; however, I will contend to argue that the neighborhood grew in power. Just in a different way.

Dinkytown started to grow in size and popularity in the 1940’s. Dinkytown is a neighborhood inside the much larger Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. And as some of you may know, Dinkytown is connected to the University of Minnesota, in an unofficial way. A lot of the students live in this area, and of course the normal stereotypical things one would expect to happen in a college setting can and do happen: parties, late nights, cheaper eating establishments, and the frequent police car.

 But, there is generally a different side to the story. The students have started to branch out into other parts of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. More specifically, they have moved closer to the area where the commercial businesses were along the river.

The student body has influenced the culture a lot. Many take part in annual events, like the Earth Day River Clean Up, setting an example for other is the neighborhood to eco-friendly and to take responsibility for the environment (Blanchette, Aimee). They have become leaders to other students and role-models to younger children.

Artists whether they are students or not, have also entered the area fairly recently. In turn, the neighborhood has become a large art scene. The Soap Factory is a place where local artists can display their artwork. Anyway, artists have influenced the culture by making it fuller and more rounded.

So, maybe power is only accomplished through money and position on a political position that grants power. But I argue it can be gained through hard work and determination. The students are most likely poor. Trust me on that, I am a student. And the artists are trying to create something completely original, something that inspires others to do great things.

Marcy-Holmes used to be on top in the Twin City neighborhoods when it was in regard to power. Power that is that comes from wealth. But now, Marcy-Holmes has its power because it is rich. Rich with young minds and active people that are willing to do something that is not completely for themselves. Rich with students active in the community and artists trying to change peoples ideas through artistic expression. However, I can still hear some people saying the almighty dollar is what gives someone, a community power. Then I say what about all the smaller businesses that will rush in and turn the used to be commercial area into a hotspot? Would that not push the economy and the almighty dollar forward?

I guess it is your decision to make.

Blanchette, Aimee. “GREEN NEIGHBORHOOD SPOTLIGHT; MARCY-HOLMES; Recognition for a neighborhood in bloom.” Star Tribune. February 10, 2007.

Twin Cities Daily Planet. http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/neighborhood/minneapolis/marcy+holmes. Online.

 

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Voices from Marcy-Holmes

The conversations were taking on May 25th, 2012. The goal of these conversations was to find something out about the neighborhood, whether it was historical, cultural, and/or any noticeable changes to the neighborhood. Any changes to the neighborhood could have included new buildings, parks, or people. All conversations described are as close to the individuals own words and not changed by the author.

The first conversation that day was with a Dunn Bros Coffee employee nicknamed Roaster Paul.

Q: How long have you been working at this establishment?

A: I have been working at Dunn Bros for about 5 years now.

Q: Have you noticed any changes to the community over that time period?

A: I primarily notice the new students that come in here. That includes either a customer or a new employee.

Q: Have you noticed changes in those people that come into the coffee shop?

A: Well, there used to be a lot of crazies [homeless/drunks] that came in here. The shop has definitely changed. The atmosphere of the place used to be more chatty until we were rated by some newspaper or magazine as the best study place outside the university system. Now it is pretty quite. It turned more into a coffee shop rather than a pub. Also, the art on the walls have changed dramatically since the influx of students who create artwork and, if we think it is appropriate, will put it on the wall.   

Q: Is there anything that you would like to add? Something that we may have missed?

A: One of the big things I remember is when the 35W Bridge went down. The coffee shop was in a constant commotion and I noticed a lot of people had changed transportation habits.

 

The next conversation happened on 2nd Ave. right, one block west of The Soap Factory. His name was Brian, and he was on his way to work.

Q: Have you noticed any changes to the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood?

A: The area has become more affluent. It has become a hipster scene over the past 5-6 years, and it has really shown in the pricing of housing. It is culturally diverse. I am part of a church group that helps with outreach programs, and through that I noticed the other day that the area seems to be really family-centered. Participation in the community happens frequently, and usually happens across cultures.

 

The first couple we interviewed was Bob and Joanne, Jo for short, and we meet them on Main St.

Q: How long have you been in the area?

A: We have lived in the area for the past 25 years. We ended up moving in when there was nothing really here. We used to live in the building attached to the Riverplace development, which at the time had restaurants, shops, and bookstores. But it closed because there were so few people here during that time. At that time, and where we lived was considered a very unusual way of living.

Q: Can you tell us what some of the people were like here during the time you were first here?

A: Well, there were not a lot of buildings where people could live. It was mainly commercial. However, most of the people were Caucasian. You wouldn’t go out at night though because many of the people down by the river were homeless people or drunks, and it just wasn’t as safe.

Q: Can you tell us any differences in the people then compared to now?

A: There are much fewer drunks and homeless people. Since the area has become more developed, a lot more younger people are here, but we wouldn’t say that has been a large increase in diversification.

 

The next person we meet was Joseph. He was sitting on a park bench reading a newspaper in the more developed, modern area of Marcy-Holmes.

Q: How long have you been part of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood?

A: I have been here for about 12 years.

Q: What is the biggest change you have noticed in the neighborhood?

A: The area used to be poorer, but now it more trendy . . . upscale. Most of the people are Caucasian, and would call them hipsters. They are younger, college educated . . . starting a family.

 

The last interview was with a couple whose names were Art and Donna. We found them sitting outside a coffee shop.

Q: What has caused the biggest change in the community since you have been here?

A: The new condo buildings. They have brought more college students into Marcy-Holmes making it younger.

Q: Would you say the culture, the people, is stable or dynamic?

A: We think it is fairly stable. Don’t get us wrong, there are students constantly moving in and out, mainly coinciding with the school schedule. But, the culture has changed a whole lot.

 

I would like to thank all the people that were willing to give an interview and appreciate the feedback that was given. It has given me a sense of what the neighborhood has underwent in the recent past.

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Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

The Marcy-Holmes neighborhood has an identity that is dynamic. It has been changing for a long time with new housing projects, new businesses, and of course the constant change of people in the neighborhood.

The changing demographic is mostly caused by the University of Minnesota, with the changing student body. As seniors graduate, they move out of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, more specifically Dinkytown, and the incoming freshmen take the opening spots. This causes a flux of new faces to the neighborhood, with each new face contributing to the identity of Marcy-Holmes in a different way.

Recently, many students have volunteered during the Earth Day event in Marcy-Holmes. Aimee Blanchette, writer for the Star Tribune writes:

“Neighborhood volunteers and landscape architecture students have installed several rain barrels, rain gardens and green roofs … And each year, neighbors participate in the annual Earth Day River Clean Up.”

This part of the Marcy-Holmes identity could be considered eco-friendly, volunteerism, and awareness of its surroundings. In as recently as 2007:

 “The Marcy-Holmes neighborhood … was nominated one of the top 10 eco-neighborhoods in America” (Bruce, Charley).

This is most likely influenced by the students who live in the area and Marcy-Holmes participation groups.

The neighborhood’s history has significantly come into play in developing the dynamic identity of the community. The historic landmark, Pillsbury A-Mill, has recently become the large construction project. The plan is to renovate the inside and turn it into affordable apartments geared towards artists in the area (Buchta, Jim).

Not only will there be a more cultural vibe to the identity of the neighborhood, the artists will also be able to put their works on display at The Soap Factory, a transformed factory which now presents artwork from local artists.

However, the neighborhood’s history has not always been so grand. I was able to interview an elderly couple, walking down Main St. in Marcy-Holmes, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had lived in the area for 25 years. Their names are Bob and Joanne and they said:

“The area used to have nothing. There was nothing really here during the first couple of years. We do remember that you wouldn’t go out at night because there were homeless and drunkards along the river.”

I had a similar understanding of how the neighborhood had changed by Roaster Paul, the roaster at the Dunn Brothers Coffee Shop. He said there used to be a lot of homelessness, or in his wording “crazies” walking the streets.

But, what the elderly couple and Paul agreed upon was that the neighborhood has grown younger, both with the new blood roaming the streets, and by this I mean students, and how these new people have influenced a change. A cultural change which has transformed the identity of Marcy Holmes.

The Marcy Holmes neighborhood has changed from a commercial identity to a cultural hotspot identity. Brian, a resident of the area, says, “The area has become more culturally diverse and more family centered.”

So, when you stroll down 2nd Ave. and parts of Main St., you may think the area is somewhat rundown with crumbling old buildings, vacant lots, and with unoccupied leased malls. But I encourage you to peel back the paint and investigate. Either walk further on or look at the old buildings, and you will find a rich history. An identity that is forever changing, with its constant waves of new faces and with the new people’s cultural background.

 

 

Blanchette, Aimee. “GREEN NEIGHBORHOOD SPOTLIGHT; MARCY-HOLMES; Recognition for a neighborhood in bloom.” Star Tribune. February 10, 2007.

Bruce, Charley. “Marcy-Holmes dubbed eco-friendly neighborhood.” Minnesota Daily. February 7, 2007. http://www.mndaily.com/2007/02/07/marcy-holmes-dubbed-eco-friendly-neighborhood

Buchta, Jim. “FLOUR POWER: THE TRANSFORMATION OF A HISTORIC MINNEAPOLIS MILL INTO LOW-INCOME HOUSING FOR ARTISTS IS THE CITY’S BIGGEST RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION PROJECT.” Star Tribune. March 24, 2012.

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Race Conversations . . . Taboo?

I recently read Beverly Tatum’s, Ph. D., book titled “Why Are the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race, and found it both illuminating and hard to digest. The book covers a variety of issues pertaining to race; however, I found that the most interesting section was talking about race.

I remember when I was little, around the age of 4, and first started noticing that everybody was not alike. We are different colors. I even pondered why this was and came to the conclusion that it had to be dietary. I thought it had to do with how much coffee or tea someone drank, and that in turn determined what skin tone any given person would have. For a 4 year old, it’s not a bad hypothesis; however, I distinctly remember never voicing my opinion on the matter. Why?

A 4 year old should be curious about their surroundings and ask questions, and in my case I usually did. It could have been that I thought I was right and it was a done deal, I may have started a question about noticing these differences and got shushed by my parent(s), or considering my family, race is never talked about, so I in turn did the same. Tatum touches on this and she says what most likely happens is the child will be shushed or they won’t ask the question because children do notice patterns of not talking about certain things; racial differences being one of those things.

Now, I understand not wanting to talk to a young child about race because it can feel overwhelming. Afraid of confusing the child or saying the wrong the thing can be valid if the child all of a sudden asks a race orientated question catching the person off guard. An instinctive reaction can be to shush the child. Tatum says, after this incident:

“Children who have been silenced often enough learn not to talk about race publicly. Their questions don’t go away, they just go unasked.”

But, let us say that we are no longer talking about children and instead talking about high school students, college students, or even adults. There is still a tendency not to talk about race. Once again, why? The topic of race causes tension. Race is difficult to talk about because no one wants to say something wrong and/or have their own words be misconstrued as racism. There is this constant elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.

So the last question is: should we talk about this elephant in the room? I think we should. Don’t get me wrong, it will be a challenge. First an atmosphere needs to be created in which nobody feels threatened both physical and verbally, and secondly we need to get over this hump of being afraid to talk about race. Have some sort of conversation starter whether it is a historical event, a poem, or Beverly Tatum’s book. As long as it involves discussing race, it can get the ball rolling. And if you are having trouble with talking about race, just remember that simply talking about race does not in any way make someone racist.

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Marcy Holmes Now

How is Marcy Holmes perceived now? It is generally seen as a growing neighborhood in Minnesota, highly active community, and has remained a somewhat suburb of the University of Minnesota. To some in this neighborhood, the university is its own city, and in reality it is.

Jim Butcha, a writer for the Star Tribune, said, “Renters, who make up nearly 90 percent of its residents, include primarily students, faculty members and others attracted to the location, near the University of Minnesota, and the area’s charm and diversity.” So in a sense, the Marcy Holmes neighborhood, at least in some parts, is a weigh station for people associated with the University of Minnesota. This has posed both a positive and negative attribute to the neighborhood.

Since the area is primarily students, the area does have parties going on during the weekends or holidays which can cause crime to increase while school is in session. During these times, Marcy Holmes has approximately half of all calls made to the police reporting loud parties (Star Tribune). Also, students occasionally become victims of robbery in this area because it has become a prime target for stealing electronic devices like computers and televisions.

However, the neighborhood community is trying to set up a student involvement committee in which students would be engaged in volunteerism (Minnesota Daily). Except, “It’s always difficult to get students involved because there are so many time pressures,” said Justin Eibenholzl, SECIA’s environmental coordinator (Minnesota Daily). I would say the neighborhood, with all its students, is a neighborhood devoted to promoting a green atmosphere.

Many students still volunteer their time and recently participated alongside non-student/faculty residents in the Earth Day River Clean Up (GREEN NEIGHBORHOOD). But, besides having an active community, it is a growing scene for up and coming artists. A writer for the Star Tribune, Aimee Blanchette wrote,

            “Marcy-Holmes also has a flourishing arts community that includes Dinkytown Mural Project, an effort last summer to beautify the area with six new murals aimed at helping to prevent graffiti. There’s also an open-air pedestrian gallery along 6th Avenue SE. that’s lined with 23 miniature bronze sculptures of neighborhood landmarks. And the neighborhood is home to the Soap Factory, which provides 40,000 square feet of gallery space for emerging artists in reclaimed warehouse space along the Mississippi River.”

The last item of concern to some of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood is the addition of condos. In the coming years, there will be an addition of approximately 1200 condominiums (Home in the Sky). This does not even include the renovation project of the Pillsbury A Mill, which is geared to produce living space for artists.

 The Marcy-Holmes neighborhood is highly active in the community, whether it be students, artists, or just residents, and growing into a more living space than its once commercial based infrastructure.

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Influencing History

“History is written by the victors.” – Winston Churchill

Or maybe a better known proverb, “To the victor, go the spoils.” I have often been taught these ideas in history classes and explored them on my own opportunity, but have recently had a chance to think about these terms in a new light. How does history influence cultural and the understanding of one’s own identity?

I still believe that the winner of any conflict gets the advantages associated with winning and the loser the disadvantages, but how these can have larger ramifications either immediately or later on. For example, in Kinzer’s novel Overthrow, there is an intriguing example of how a group of people overthrow a person. To be more specific, the United States (a country seen as having a noble and just history) with all its power stages a coup in order to overthrow a man named Mossadegh, at the time, in the 1950’s, was in charge of Iran.

Why would the U.S. do this? Was he a Communist? An enslaver of people? No. He was more or less a democrat and was focused on transforming Iran into an economic powerhouse. However, Britain did not want that to happen and asked for help from the U.S. because they could not do it alone. It also could have been something to do with Britain losing power over its empire during this time period.

Nothing about this has ever been brought to my attention in my schooling career. Why? “History is written by the victors.” And due to this event, it explains a lot why many people in the Middle East are not trusting of the United States because we have a history of overthrowing governments in that region for economic gains, a.k.a. oil.

But let us move to something different than hostile action, and instead actually consider what history is written. A current, progressing problem in the U.S. is the Texas Textbook Controversy. It entails what is actually written down inside textbooks for K-12 students.

In Texas, the current board of education has changed much of the curriculum that needs to be taught to students. Most historians say that “Many of the changes are historically inaccurate and that they would affect textbooks and classrooms far beyond the state’s borders” (Washington Post). For example, a change that would be quite inaccurate would be the change to say all the founding fathers had Christian faith. However, Thomas Jefferson has been known not to be all that religious and after historians looked at his personal Bible, many passages are crossed out. Especially the passages containing supernatural events.

Why would Texas do this and why would it expand beyond its borders? It would expand because Texas is such a large state that publishers generally make many more than Texas needs and other states will buy these books since they are lower in price because they do not need to spend the money for a new book to be printed. Texas is doing this because the board of education is a group of elected officials who have the power every 10 years to change the curriculum.

I do not know why these officials would want to create falsehoods for the students, but I do know that they are creating a censorship, at least, in the history classroom. It is a demonstration of power that can and has been abused in order to change the cultural significance of an event and how we as Americans view ourselves in the context of our own history.

So, what should we do? Voice our opinion. Make the others sit and listen to our side of the argument. Because it take as much courage to listen as it does to speak. Or more plainly as Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

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