Thursday, January 27, 2011

Culture Shock

Last night, for the first time in my entire life, I watched West Side Story.  Whoever told me that it was Romeo and Juliet did me a great disservice.  The current opinion about Romeo and Juliet as this romantic love story just makes me cringe.  How did we get Shakespeare so wrong?!  But West Side Story was poignant and the music and choreography were brilliant.  And it was just real enough to make me grimace and marvel at the way America presented itself with all of its promised glory and tainted conflicts.  For all the progress I like to think we are making as a country in integrating others' into our culture, I realize this musical still hits too close to home for me to think we have 'arrived'.

Have you heard the new controversy arising from an article and a book published touting the value of raising children "the Chinese way"?  Apparently the appearance in the Wall Street Journal of the article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"  has attracted over 1 million views and almost 8000 comments, as well as other published responses.  Although Amy Chua herself was born and raised in America, she insists that Western-style parenting yields children who waste time and do not live up to their full potential.  And so, she stalwartly defends the opinion that raising children to get straight A's, to play the violin and the piano, etc. by strong persuasion (to put it mildly) is the way to go.  I think though that what makes her article so dicey is not she insists that it works  - because frankly, her children are doing just fine - but that she seems to attack and make other women feel less for raising their children differently.

As an adult  I cannot believe how non-adult I feel.  As I told my sister the other day, "Life is funny and I feel like we're just pretending we're adults."  She responded, "That's all anyone is doing; just pretending."  In light of this, in a society where families are already over-scheduled and over-committed where the mothers in these families feel that they are doing the very best they can to hold their families together and raise their children, I wonder if such comments hit right into this deep often unexpressed thought, "I have no idea what I'm doing."  Having someone tell us, "I know what I'm doing and what you're doing is not enough" would be enough to reduce some of us simply to tears but others to roar back in self-defense.    

I wonder though too, if this goes back to one of the underlying themes touched on briefly in West Side Story. Although the Jets are American by birth, their parents are immigrants.  And so the Sharks are fighting the very same battles that the Jets' parents fought when they were their age.  I wonder, if one of the reasons 'Americans' fear new cultures, new peoples and new opinions is that we sometimes worry that the new way is actually the better way, that the new people will rise up and take our place in society and we will be left out in the streets.  And in a global society where America is watching its political and economic power give way to the new up and coming powerhouse, China, it can be easy to see how those fears give way to the reaction garnered by Amy Chua.  Keeping up with the Joneses has just gone global.  And it seems like a race that we don't really know how to win.  

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