Culture could be merely be defined as a way of life. It is the general customs, concepts, beliefs, ideas and social behavior of a specific individual or society.
“Culture is the way we give logic to the world begins at birth with the gestures, words, the tone of voice, noises, colors, smells, and body contact we experience… Our culture is what is familiar, recognizable, and habitual. It is what goes without saying.” (Ghoshal and Westney, 1993).
There are different cultures all around the world; each society’s culture represents its identity and the characteristics of its individuals. Throughout history, there has been a clash between different cultures, which involved different types of contact, and interactions between individuals from different backgrounds. Those interactions have been peaceful at times and violent at others. These interactions are known as cultural encounters, and they are often a result of war, colonialism, tourism or mass migration. Cultural encounters can be either positive or negative depending on the impact they make and the result of that impact.
Cultural encounters have a great impact on societies and its individuals, often bringing up issues just like the connection between the individual and the specific new society that they become a part of. They affect a person’s language, behavior, and attitude. Different cultures clashing can have multiple negative consequences on the individual such as lack of trust, the polarization of viewpoints and general understanding of the environment surrounding them. However, individuals learn to adapt to the specific characteristics of the new culture, and they reduce the influence of their cultural background on their behavior.
This leads to an increased awareness of individuals’ cultural differences. Societies also adapt to the new groups by including them in the community and making them a part of it; some organizations could even go as far as making law exemptions for specific groups to preserve their cultural identity. Cultural encounters could be witnessed in various things in life, most prominently, in past historical events, arts, and literature. This essay will discuss cultural meetings in short stories, specifically in “Bella makes life” by Lorna Goodison, and “In Cuba, I was a German Shepherd” by Ana Menendez.
First, in the short story “Bella makes life,” the two main cultures are the Jamaican culture and the American culture. We experience the impact of cross culture on a Jamaican woman who moves to New York in America. Bella starts to lose her identity and Jamaican culture background the longer she stays in America, the change in her affects multiple characters in the story like her husband Joseph and her kids.
The change in her personality becomes clear from the beginning of the story. Bella had traveled to America to make money for her and her family; she starts to adapt to the culture in America day by day and with each visit back to her family, the change becomes more prominent, whether it was in the way she dressed, talked, acted or behaved. Joseph is deeply displeased with the change that happened to Bella, and he lost every hope of getting the old Bella back with each visit. He stopped viewing her as his wife and considered her a stranger. The cultural encounter in this story is a negative one. Meanwhile, In the short story “In Cuba, I was a German Shepherd” the two cultures represented are the Cuban culture and the American culture.
The main character in the story is a Cuban professor who travels to Miami, America after the Cuban revolution in 1961. The story was published in 1990 and takes place in the modern times when Bill Clinton was still president. The main Character, Maximo, is an old man who sits with his friends in a park to play dominoes every day. He was known for his jokes, which were mostly political and referred to his exile from Cuba.
The cultural encounter in this story is simply uncomfortable and debased due to the old men becoming some sort of an attraction sight to the tourists in Miami. The story goes back and forth between the past and the present as Maximo remembers Havana. He recalls his wife and kids and living in the same street with his friend Raul, whom he remained friends with when they went to Miami. This short story highlights the companionship and memories between the two friends Maximo and Raul, who chose such a simple thing as dominoes to stay, connected to what they left behind. They both made each other less lonely and gave each other a sense of familiarity in a place so different from where they came from.
Second, the background of the author Lorna Goodison plays the leading role in her awareness of cultural encounter in her short story “Bella makes a life.” She was born and raised in Jamaica and then she studied in the school of art in New York. Her grandfather was an English man settled in Jamaica in the ninety century. She has been exposed to many different cultures, therefore, her awareness shows in her work. In this particular story, she criticized the cultural encounter and preferred the Jamaican culture.
Two characters represented the two cultures in the story. Bella describes the American culture. Her use of words, her actions, her way of thinking and how she put the money before her family was all evidence of the author’s awareness of the cultural impact and how it affects the language and the way of thinking. On the other hand, Joseph represents the Jamaican culture. He prefers a more simple life; he is also aware of the value of the family and the importance of the mother’s role. This is why he allowed Bella to see her children even after she had left them to go to America for the second time. We can see the result that the author used in the short story to highlight the effects that she has been through when she was exposed to the culture encounter.
On the other hand, Ana Menendez’s cultural background is an essential factor that shapes her work. She was born in L.A. California and comes from the Cuban, Spanish and Lebanese origin. In Menendez’s action, we often see the theme of exile and how it affects her members in the Cuban community. She transferred her nostalgia and longing for home in her stories correctly.
In “Bella makes life,” the main character is well aware of the cultural encounter. Although Bella does not seem to be aware of the change that is happening to her because she is too busy fitting in her new culture and obsessing over money, she is however aware of the change she is starting to see in her husband. As Bella’s way of thinking starts to change, she stops viewing her husband as a caring man. Instead, she thinks of him as an old-fashioned, outdated man who is standing in the way of her dreams. She calls him a worthless man with no ambition.
The husband, on the other hand, was aware of the change that has happened to Bella. It was clear from the beginning that he was shocked after her seeing her for the first time since she traveled to the states, he was pleased with the change at first but after seeing the boldness in her attitude, the change in her look and her new way of thinking, Joseph was anything but pleased. Bella was oblivious to the fact that her character is shifting and it is mentally torturing her husband.
“Bella seemed to be oblivious to the fact that Joe Joe was under great strain” (Goodison, p172).
Joe Joe stops trying to get the old Bella back after her second visit, and she became a stranger to him. He loses his temper when Bella tries to implant her newfound culture in her kids by curling their hair.
That was the last straw for him, and he was no longer able to tie his tongue. Joe Joe speaks out his mind, but unfortunately with no use.
“Joe Joe nearly went mad. ‘So you want Devon fi tun pimp or what?’” (Goodison, p172).
All the different incidents in this story and the way the characters reacted to them highlight the contrast in the two cultures which have different traditions and values. In Jamaican culture, the society is mostly dominated by men, unlike the gender equality that’s in America. The woman’s role in Jamaica is limited to taking care of her house and children while the men have the central part of working and making decisions in the family. Unlike Jamaica, the American culture prioritizes working and making money before family. This story becomes the prime example of cultural encounters.
In the short story “In Cuba, I was a German Shepherd”; we see a different kind of cultural encounters. The main theme of this story is exile and how it affected the main character. Maximo is well aware of the cultural change around him. The title of the story itself is the first evidence that shows how aware Maximo is of the change that happened to him.
“Here in America, I may be a short, insignificant mutt, but in Cuba, I was a German shepherd” (Menendez, p26).
Maximo refers to his past in Havana by using the German shepherd as a metaphor, which is known to be one of the dogs’ finest breeds. Meanwhile, he refers to himself in America after the exile as a Mutt, which is a dog of unknown ancestry. The story constantly moves back and forth between the past and the present showing the contrast in Maximo’s life when he lived in Havana and after he went to America. It was obvious that he was much happier before exile as he recalls his memories with his wife and children, but now he’s miserable and sad, because as f exile wasn’t bad enough, his was a public exile as he and his friends were seen as an attractive sight to the tourist, becoming Miami’s Little Havana. This leads him to burst out with anger at the tourists.
“In Cuba, the stories always began, life was good and pure. But something always happened to them in the end, something withering, malignant. Maximo never understood it. The stories that opened in the sun, always narrowed into a dark place.” (Menendez, P21-22).
Maximo’s memories of his home turn into those with a sense of loss, failure, and shame towards the end of the story. He realizes the turns of events, from happy to sad, light to dark. This highlights an important aspect of how cultural encounters caused by war or exile can profoundly affect a person’s entire life.
In conclusion, these two short stories were an example of cultural encounters and their effects on individuals. In “Bella makes life,” each character resolves the battle differently. Joseph decides to bring someone from America who wants to live a simple life while Bella chooses money over her family, she returns to America leaving everything behind her. As for Maximo, he accepts the darkness in his world, he uses his jokes as a way to tell the world his story, and he continues to live in a world of memories; memories of happiness in Havana.