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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: https://thetcneighborhoodproject.wordpress.com/2012/06/05/insight-from-a-young-west-sider-2/

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

 

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Power and The West Side Reality

      After looking into the historical background and contemporary context of West Side St.Paul, I have been able to gain a wealth of knowledge about the neighborhood. In addition to that information, the interviews my group was able to conduct with local West Sider’s allowed us to get a better idea of the role identity plays in their neighborhood culture and more importantly, how it affects the power dynamic in West Side.

      There are a number of power relationships which affect the neighborhood. Specifically, I think that race and ethnic background are the most influential. As we discussed previously, West Side has a prominent Mexican community, which is represented in District del Sol through the bright landscape and buildings, along with the murals and Spanish-speaking stores. Due to the physical representation of their culture, outsiders many times assume that the neighborhood only consists of Mexicans.

      Unfortunately this could not be farther from the truth. In actuality, the Mexican community accounted for only 33% of the population in the 2000 census.  This misconception has lead to the Mexican community having more power in relation to the other ethnic groups in the area.       

      While there are small power differences within the neighborhood, there is a huge difference when you take the Twin Cities into consideration. Like I discusses in my contemporary context report, West Side has gotten a really bad reputation in the media and has consequently been placed near the bottom of the power distribution.

      One example of this difference in power can be seen in our interview of Rosa, the young West Side local, who talked about how she used to be proud of her neighborhood, “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.”

       It is clear that her feelings are similar to many of the other residents of West Side. The presence of negative stories regarding West Side in the media is overwhelming and has caused many residents of the Twin Cities to disregard the neighborhood as just a “ghetto” and not really a place worthy of attention or consideration. Even those who have chosen to pay attention to the area usually observe the diversity and the large amount of immigrants living there, leading them form an impression that the area is like a temporary living space for the poor and therefore not worth paying attention to. The media assigns such little power to West Side, making it appear like a ghetto, which is unfortunate because it has the potential to sprout into a growing and prosperous area.

       This point also touches on the discussion of how culture is tied to power and the context in which the neighborhood is put into. Specifically for West Side, these three concepts are very connected. The neighborhoods’ context within the Twin Cities is the reason it has so little power. That lack of power has lead to the creation and solidification of a powerless culture, which spreads the type of shame and disheartening feelings that Rosa spoke about.

        While this relationship is negative when looked at in comparison to the Twin Cities, I think the relationship between power and culture has been positive within the community. Institutions like the Wellstone Center have helped the residents to become more confident and assimilate into the neighborhood. Within each cultural and ethnic group in West Side, there is a strong sense of identity which corresponds to their personal power. The first interview my group had with Kelly, a worker at the Wellstone Center offered a lot of insight into this, sharing that the residents of this area were very open to sharing their cultures and learning about those around them. She talked about how in their English classes:

“they’re all intermingled and they try to get them to know each other’s cultures well. So they’ll have cooking classes during English class and one week they’ll make Somali food, the next week they’ll make Hmong food, the next week they’ll make Karen food, the next week they’ll make… whatever! And so they each get a taste of each other’s culture.”

 The sharing she described is a great example of how the ethnic groups in West Side take pride in who they are and where they are from.

      This neighborhood celebrates their individuality, allows them to share that uniqueness and empowering each group to celebrate their ethnicities. This sense of acceptance and empowerment among the residents stems back many years to the old West Side. This neighborhood has always been extremely diverse and welcoming to the new immigrants and particularly those who didn’t have much of their own.

       It has been a place of growth, expansion and empowerment. Even though the media can’t see it that way, the locals will always be able to see the power that they have. I believe this is one of the main reasons that so many people still choose to settle here. Although it isn’t the most glamorous or well known areas in the Twin Cities, it is accepting and offers everyone who lives here the chance to feel that individual power and embrace the opportunities available in this West Side neighborhood.

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Insight from a Young West Sider

     Walking the streets of West Side St.Paul, the diversity is apparent among the residents. Our mission for this interview was to find someone who lives and grew up in West Side and can accurately discuss the neighborhood’s cultural diversity. We succeeded when we met Rosa, a young West Side local who was very open to talking about her neighborhood.

Q. How long have you lived in West Side?

A. My whole life. My parents were immigrants and they moved here right before I was born.

Q. Have you seen much change in the neighborhood since you were young? If so, how has it changed?

A. I definitely have. When I was a kid, I only hung out with the other Mexican kids so that was all I ever noticed. As I got older, I noticed the other ethnic groups and the diversity here. I think that West Side has always had a lot of diversity though, much more in a small area than the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Q. Has anything stayed the same?

A. The buildings are still the same. A lot of the stores and restaurants haven’t changed much.

Q. This area is known for its diversity. Why do you think it is so attractive to new immigrants?

A. I think that reputation is why it is so attractive to new immigrants. The fact that there are already other immigrants settled here makes them more comfortable here. Also, there are a lot of amenities available for them. I know the Wellstone center is really popular for new people moving here. I think the transition is just easier in this neighborhood.

Q. Have you ever seen the differences in cultures become a problem?

A. In high school there were the typical cliques but over all there aren’t many problems. People mostly stay within their own groups.

Q. Why do you think that is?

A. Comfort. I think it has to do with who you feel most comfortable around. I grew up with families and neighbors who were all like me, so that’s who I tend to see now that I am older. That’s common in any community though.

Q. Then would you say that there isn’t a lot of interaction between the different cultures in the neighborhood?

A. No, there definitely is. There is definitely interaction between the different groups. The Wellstone has classes and offers services to everyone and people are always nice and polite. But I think that overall, the trend is to stay within your own cultural group.

Q. Ok. How do you see West Side in relation to the Twin Cities?

A. Well, I guess it’s just a small part of St.Paul. I think that a lot of times people just write us off as being a bad part of town. Since we are sort of out of the way, most people don’t come here unless they live here. It’s definitely not somewhere that tourists would try to visit.

Q. Why do you think that is?

A. Probably because of the stories that people hear about West Side. The news only talks about the negative stories, the violence and the poverty. No one hears about the Cinco de Mayo celebration or the welcoming residents that live here.

Q. Does that negativity ever bother you? Or make you wish you didn’t live here?

A. 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.

Q. Wow that must be hard. Is there anything you want others to know about West Side?

A. I think that the one thing I would say is that they should just visit the area. The image that you see in the news and on TV isn’t very accurate, and there is a vibrant and diverse culture here. We have great markets and stores here that a lot of people don’t even know exist. I wish more people would just come here, then they could see why we all like it so much.

Q. Wonderful! I think that’s it. Thank you so much! We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us!

     We would really like to thank those who took the time to talk with us and discuss the neighborhood which they live and work. Their knowledge and opinions have helped us to see a clearer picture of West Side St.Paul.

-Shannon, Angella and Luke 

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The Identity Crises of West Side St. Paul

     After looking into the historical background and contemporary context of West Side St. Paul, I have begun to get a better understanding of the neighborhood’s cultural make-up and identity. Through our visits to West Side and our conversations with local residents, my group has been able to assess the community and the context in which it was created. This has led us to gain insight to the diverse neighborhood and the many identities which reside there.

     In West Side, there is a healthy relationship between culture, identity, and context. As I discovered while researching the historical background of the area, there has been a consistent flow of immigrants coming in and out since the late 19th century (RCHS). This has lead to the culmination of many cultures and ethnic backgrounds to coexist in the small neighborhood. With each cultural group having a distinct set of characteristics creating their identity, this has lead to an interesting context, being the neighborhood, to compare and contrast these identities.   

Image     For example the Mexican community has been very prevalent in West Side for the past 100 years, having an obvious effect of the neighborhoods’ District Del Sol and institutional services. This has led to the creation of a very strong cultural identity for the Mexican community, due to the amount of cultural support in the form of the neighborhoods appearance and amenities, varying from the Spanish language market and clinic at the center of West Side to the large murals and art work spread around the area.

     This overt Mexican pride is interesting because according to the 2000 census the Latino community only accounts for 1/3 of West Sides’ population, while the majority is made up of Whites and smaller populations of Asians, Blacks and Native Americans.

     The sense of Mexican pride that exudes from most of the neighborhood has to have a negative effect on the other cultural and ethnic groups which make up a large part of the West Side population. Much like the examples of white privilege we see in our society, I wonder if there are cases of Latino privilege within the West Side community.

Image

     The image above is one of the Charlie Brown statues, which are located all around the Twin Cities. This particular one is place in the heart of District Del Sol and depicts the stereotypical Mexican Identity that the neighborhood is known for.

     While visiting the neighborhood, the businesses primarily looked as though they catered to the Hispanic community. Mixed into the middle of the commercial district was a lonely Somali market. Its’ presence reminds us that it isn’t purely a Mexican community, but the scarcity of other ethnically-specific stores leads me to believe that their cultural identity is not as strong in the neighborhood. West Side serves as a contextual lens to see how each ethnic group shapes their identity and how they interact within the neighborhood. In this specific neighborhood, I believe that each cultural identity is strongly influenced by their surroundings and the neighborhood itself.

     One of the reasons for this influence is the historical context in which the neighborhood was formed and continues to be created. The vast amount of new immigrants settling into the area has lead to a wide variety of identities to coexist. When West Side was first created, the German, Irish, and Jewish communities built it up and created strong residential and commercial areas. But in the 1960’s, an urban renewal project led to the destruction of many classic buildings and the creation of new construction which catered to the prominent population at the time, the Mexican community (Historic St.Paul).

     Since then there has not been much reconstruction or renewal project to revitalize the neighborhood. For this reason, a majority of the neighborhood still looks as though it belongs to the Mexicans, including the buildings, businesses and murals. Like I spoke about before, this aspect of the neighborhood is extremely important when thinking about identity creation in West Side. It creates the illusion of a Mexican-based cultural dynamic, which is far from the truth.

     The social context in which West Side is viewed also plays a large role in the construction of identity. As I discussed in my contemporary context report, West Side is viewed in the media many times as a site for violence or intercultural disturbances. While this is not completely true, the effects of these assumptions can be daunting for the neighborhoods residents.

     In one of our interviews, a resident discussed the reactions she gets from others when she tells them she grew up in West Side St. Paul, saying “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.” Having these types of characteristics assumed about your home can be very hurtful and leads to identity crises among residents who feel they can’t be proud of their neighborhood.

      When comparing West Side to the rest of the Twin Cities, it is clear to see that the identities present are strong and clear. The historical context of the neighborhood has allowed specific cultures and identities to flourish and as new ethnic groups assimilate into the community, there is an overwhelming sense of openness to others. This is engrained into West Side and is one of the many reasons why so many new immigrants choose to settle nearby. Though it may appear like a primarily Hispanic community, this is only a façade. Our research and experiences in West Side has led us to discover that is has much more to offer than what meets the eye.

Sources:

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

“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 .

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

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The Taboo Topic of Race

Sitting in a silent classroom full of students, everyone staring towards the ground, trying to think of how to properly answer the question their teacher just asked. What is the topic which can render a college classroom into complete silence? Race.

The situation described above is very similar to our class at the beginning of our conversation of race this week. When prompted to begin a discussion of the topic, no one knew what to say or how to begin. So instead of talking our way through it, we just sat in silence. Much like how many American’s react when confronted by race in their daily lives, we stayed silent as if we were pretending it doesn’t exist or affect us.

The subject of race has always been controversial. It seems that since our country was formed, race and the color of an individual’s skin has always been a topic of conversation. This became even more evident during the civil rights movement in the 60’s, with the infamous segregation and racism that was present during that time.

Years later, our society still cannot have an honest conversation about race without the fear of offending someone or being accused of being racist. Why is it that as a society we have so much anxiety related to race and the discussion surrounding it? I believe the answer to this question lies in our history and the context in which race has historically been talked about.

In the past, the only times race was talked about was in regards to slavery and segregation.  The contemporary conversation of race will always be influenced by the historical context in which it was founded. Beverly Daniel Tatum speaks to this topic in her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, stating that “the nature of Black-White race relations in the United States have been forever shaped by slavery and its social, psychological and economic legacies” (Tatum 39). Tatum offers valuable insight into the issues of race and identity throughout her book and this excerpt is just one of many which help to identify why, as a society, we have such difficulty talking about the subject.

This week we also watched the documentary, Through Their Eyes, created by Northern Kentucky University students examining racial identities, stereotypes and the topic of race on college campuses. I thought this documentary was really interesting because it was such an honest conversation about race, and that is something you just do not see in our society. I think they achieved this type of openness among participants because they were separated by their racial groups in the interviews. Having those racial similar to yourself around you, while talking about race, takes the uncertainty and worry out of the conversation because you will most likely not offend anyone and can therefore speak openly about your perceptions of race. 

Simply put, we need to talk about race.

Typically, we only pursue the topic when we are forced to, usually due to a social event, issue or news story. Even then, everyone has an opinion about whether racism is involved but no one can offer a solution to our problem. We need to talk about it, any time and any place. We have to normalize the conversation so we can actually make progress towards a solution. We need to start a national dialogue about what race really means to us and how we can finally come to terms with it.

For a country that claims to be the ethnic melting pot, we certainly aren’t willing to talk about our ingredients. America, we need to stir the pot. We need to talk about race and remove it from the list of taboo topics we seem to cling to. 

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West Side: The Good and The Bad in the News

Diverse neighborhoods, such as West Side St.Paul, can be very interesting when examining the contemporary social and political contexts. This complexity comes from the wide variety of diversity and the fluctuating cultural make up of the neighborhood.

When looking through local newspapers and media outlets, West Side St. Paul is represented in two ways. It is primarily represented in the form of new reports about crime rates and incidents in the area. It is also shown in various articles in the past highlighting the cultural diversity and the neighborhood rejuvenation occurring.

The majority of news coverage regarding this neighborhood is related to crime. West Side has always been known as one of the most culturally diverse areas in the Twin Cities and because of that, it has received a lot of attention regarding its crime levels.

For example, Brady from the Pioneer Press reported about the high levels of crime in West Side last year, noting that:

“West Siders will see more cops on their streets next week as St. Paul police launch a 30-day intensive effort to turn back a recent rise in neighborhood crime. Officers will step up car, foot, bike, motorcycle and horse patrols beginning Monday in the wake of an uptick in burglaries, robberies, assaults and quality-of-life crimes…There had been 17 aggravated assaults, 86 burglaries and 10 robberies in the mostly residential area of the West Side, where the saturation effort will be focused, police said” (Brady).

This excerpt illustrates the image that many residents of the Twin Cities have about West Side. The need for heightened police presence and the knowledge of the cultural diversity in the area causes many people to see this neighborhood as a “ghetto”, where gangs hang out, get into fights and need police always around to control the mayhem.

Other articles have over time painted similar pictures of the crime heavy area. In 2007, Pioneer Press reported about a shooting in the neighborhood, stating that “Shell casings littered at least four corners of the West Side, and at least one other man was shot in the arm” (Pioneer Press). These types of statements are typical of news stories regarding this area, many times leading readers toward the impression of a crime heavy neighborhood where there are bullets all over the street and endless amounts of people being shot.  Tad Vezner strengthens this impression by reporting on the same shooting I previously talked about, stating that “Rival gang members rolled through the residential streets of St. Paul’s West Side on Wednesday evening, firing shots that echoed between tightly packed houses, left one man dead and at least two others injured, authorities said.”

These examples show how West Side is primarily represented in the media, as a crime ridden, poverty level neighborhood. But there are good representations present in the news, which depict a neighborhood that embraces their diversity, lives peacefully most of the time and works together to make their neighborhood a better place.

Jean Hopfensperger, of the Star Tribune, quotes a resident of the neighborhood saying: “We’ve got a little bit of everything over here,” says Fred Frias. “We’ve got blue-collar workers, professional workers, small-store owners, all sorts of races and colors. We have what America is really all about-a melting pot” (Hopfensperger). This is a very accurate portrayal of the community which consists of “Latin Americans, African Americans, American Indians and new immigrants from Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Central America” (Hopfensperger). Frias positive attitude towards the diversity present in his neighborhood leads me to believe that there is a positive relationship between the cultures.

These more positive stories about the neighborhood can be frequently found in their neighborhood paper, The St.Paul Voice, which covers four neighborhoods including West Side. This is also distributed in Spanish, as La Voz Latina. This serves the large Hispanic community located in West Side and is the only home delivered Spanish-language newspaper in the Twin Cities. These newspapers where created to serve the neighborhoods residents and inform “local residents of the community news and events, and to celebrate the accomplishments of individuals and organizations within the community” (St.Paul Voice). Their monthly issues highlight local events, such as neighborhood concerts and special celebrations, newly opened shops and even stories about local individuals’ achievements. It also highlights nearby neighborhoods and suggested activities in those areas.

It is clear when looking through these publications that West Side has an established community feel already among their residents. The connection to the rest of the city, by advertising for events and suggesting summer activities, shows that as a culture the West Side neighborhood sees itself as a small segment of the city, but still very much attached to the surrounding areas.

Although the West Side is predominantly depicted in the news through crime reports and negative portrayals of their residents, it is clear that that image is not representative of the neighborhood. This is important to note because as we continue to investigate the culturally diverse neighborhood, we must be aware of the biases presented in the news and make sure the true West Side is being shown.

Sources:

La Voz Latina: http://www.stpaulpublishing.com/lavozlatina.html

The St.Paul Voice: http://www.stpaulpublishing.com/stpaulvoice.html

Hopfensperger, Jean; Staff Writer. Star Tribune. 11 Dec 1988. http://search.proquest.com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/newsstand/docview/417960949/1370A0BEC2B446FABB3/1?accountid=14586

Vezner, Tad. McClatchy – Tribune Business News [Washington] 08 Mar 2007. St. Paul West Side / 1 dead, 2 hurt in gang gunfire: Police: Clash began with two cars, moved through local streets. http://search.proquest.com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/newsstand/docview/462616637/1370A1E9D9276D39073/17?accountid=14586

Tad Vezner and Mara H. Gottfried. McClatchy – Tribune Business News [Washington] 08 Mar 2007. Drugs behind fatal shooting in St. Paul’s West Side, police say. http://search.proquest.com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/newsstand/docview/462625269/1370A1E9D9276D39073/18?accountid=14586

Brady. Saint Paul Pioneer Press [Saint Paul, Minn] 22 Sep 2011. In response to increase in crime on West Side, St. Paul police to saturate part of neighborhood. http://search.proquest.com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/newsstand/docview/893871553/1370A1E9D9276D39073/9?accountid=14586

 

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Power: The Changing Force on Written Histories

Over the course of our history, each culture has experienced a different version of history and has unique stories to tell. Americans typically tell one history, usually a unified version that depicts a grand narrative highlighting and glorifying certain events, while hiding and ignoring others. This style of storytelling is dangerous for our society because it causes many stories to never be told and many cultural histories to be hidden.

The big question is what determines whose histories and stories get told and how can we, as a society, become more aware of the histories we aren’t being shown by the media and our textbooks.

The most central idea regarding what histories are told is power. In our society, power is everything and those who have power can influence the way we perceive each other and our backgrounds. Our textbook “Intercultural Communications in Context” describes power as “dictating what is taught and what is silenced, what is available and what is erased” (Martin and Nakayama 128). This idea is key to understanding how influential those in power can be to our educational system and exposure to cultural histories. Not only can power cause you to learn specific facts or hear glorified stories of our supposed history, but it can also eliminate any contradictory stories experienced by other cultures.

The textbook controversy in Texas is a wonderful example of how power can manipulate the truth to fit into the idealized model of our history. Recently, the Texas school board has proposed many revisions to the history curriculum for their state. Many of the revisions would require textbooks to print inaccurate historical information and Texas history teachers to teach their students the flawed history. Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post spoke about the effects of these changes saying “Because the Texas textbook market is so large, books assigned to the state’s 4.7 million students often rocket to the top of the market, decreasing costs for other school districts and leading them to buy the same materials” (Birnbaum). This issue is very important because the widespread effect of these changes has the potential to change the way our history is being perceived and how it will be taught to future generations.

The power dynamic present in the Texas School Board is significant to understanding the changes being made and why the issue is so important. The PBS documentary “Texas Textbook Controversy” discusses the political distribution on the board, which is made up of two thirds republican elected board members. The republican board members have been the primary contributors of revisions, such as suggesting that words be changed to create a more positive tone regarding certain wars or battles, or proposing that communism in American government was to blame for poor politics in the 1950’s.

The changes to basic American history being proposed by the Texas school board is a prime example of how individuals with power can use it to influence what stories are being heard and what context it is being received.

To summarize, the most important concept to understand is that everything we hear, whether it’s in the media or on the news is being influenced by something, usually power. Knowing that we must find a way to reach beyond what we are being shown and find the truth, the untold stories. I think that if we can become more aware of what is influencing the information we receive, we can all become more informed about other cultures and be better intercultural communicators. 

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