paper due 4.12.07 2
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paper due 4.12.07 2

Course Number: ANTHRO 101, Spring 2007

College/University: BU

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AN101 Prof. Hefner April 11, 2007 Becoming American and American Culture Outside Reading Report Societies and cultures around the world are shaped around individuocentric and sociocentric values. Individuocentrism, a concept that teaches people to see themselves as individuals, and sociocentrism, a concept that teaches people to identify with his or her culture (i.e. something that is larger than himself or...

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Prof. AN101 Hefner April 11, 2007 Becoming American and American Culture Outside Reading Report Societies and cultures around the world are shaped around individuocentric and sociocentric values. Individuocentrism, a concept that teaches people to see themselves as individuals, and sociocentrism, a concept that teaches people to identify with his or her culture (i.e. something that is larger than himself or herself) combine to define societies; however, no society is dominated completely by one or the other. For the Khmer youth, as described in Nancy Smith-Hefner's Khmer American, and Yemeni Americans, as described in Loukia K. Sarroub's All American Yemeni Girls, elements of individuocentrism and sociocentrism alike are represented in their lives. The Khmer youth strive to find a balance between encouraging the individual and honoring their family values, while the Yemeni girls attempt to unite the life they want to live at school with the life they have to live at home. The elements of individuocentrism and sociocentrism must be combined and balanced with the intent of immersing oneself in America's culture with the ultimate goal of truly becoming an American. The socialization practices employed by Khmer Americans in the early stages of childrearing are very individuocentric. In contrast to the typical overbearing manner in which Westerners raise their children, "parents thus focus on the infant not as an utterly new and natural being but as a preexisting social individual who brings from past lives inherent traits and abilities" (Smith-Hefner 64). Khmer parents carefully observe their children in order to support the child's own unique form of development without imposing their own rules and ideas. Their children, they believe, were born from past lives and already have a predetermined way of growing and developing that should not be upset. The way in which Khmer mothers decide to raise their children is also individuocentric. Instead of trying to fit the child into a predetermined schedule, like many Americans do, the Khmer mother will create a schedule based on the child's needs. The child is free to want anything without having any restrictions or time limits. Once children have reached a certain age, though, individuocentric tendencies become sociocentric. It is at this time that a child becomes aware of his or her surroundings and begins to understand that he or she is part of something larger than him or herself. Khmer parents now expect this child to abide by the rules of the community and to act appropriately so as not to dishonor the family. The Yemeni girls have an exceedingly sociocentric lifestyle. Like the Khmer Americans, the Yemeni deeply value devotion to one's family and they emphasize the importance of honest morality. While at school, the Yemeni girls must always act with moral propriety out of respect for their own families. They cannot walk alone on the streets, they cannot participate in activities that their families do not allow, and they must constantly remind one another to uphold these social obligations. Even though the Yemeni girls must act accordingly at school, their school is also an aspect of individuocentrism in their lives. The girls thought of their school as an oasis; it was a place where they did not have to adhere to the exact rigidity of the rules and regulations from home, and they were able to forge relationships with people, including teachers and Yemeni boys, relationships that were not acceptable at home. American culture and the Khmer and Yemeni cultures are opposites of each other in many aspects of social life, including childrearing, education, and innate sexuality. While it has been made clear that early child development differs between the Khmer Americans and Westerners, punishment used in childrearing differs greatly between the two cultures. According to Khmer tradition, it is not improper to beat a child when he or she acts inappropriately. Violence is not favored by Westerners; in fact, strong voices, variance in tone, and "time-outs" are popular ways in which to reprimand a child when he or she acts out. The Khmer believe that it is okay to beat a child because it protects the family name from being tarnished. Another great difference between the two cultures is the value of equality. Americans tend to treat and talk to one another as peers and with equal amounts of respect for one another. Khmer adults, however, "are horrified by the way in which American young people address their elders by their first names, as if they were equals. Khmer children are encouraged to address even their own siblings and cousins as either bng (older brother or sister) or aun (younger brother or sister), depending upon their relatives' ages or, in the case of cousins, on the relative ages of their respective parents" (Smith-Hefner 85). Education is another source of tension for these cultures. In America, parents do not get highly involved with their child's education, in the sense that they not are the ones who are doing the teaching. For the Khmer, however, parents teach their children moral values and lessons that are expected to be put to use both at home and at school. This makes it extremely difficult for immigrants or sojourners who are trying to assimilate to American culture and fit in with the American school system. While American parents are extremely interested in what their children are learning and if they are making progress, they never do the actual teaching. Where American culture and Khmer and Yemeni culture share the most tension, though, is on the topic of female sexuality. In the Khmer and Yemeni culture, the freedom granted to males and females is significantly different. Females, must, at all times, be covered up so as not to expose any skin. The Yemeni refer to these girls as hijabat ("the plural feminine noun used by these girls and community members to denote those who wear the scarf") (Sarroub 12). In the public eye, which usually only pertains to school, girls must remain hidden and unnoticed behind their scarves. The Yemeni believe that it is inappropriate for women to expose themselves to anyone other than their own husbands. By wearing the scarf outside of the house, the Yemeni girls are paying respect to their families and honoring the family name by hiding their faces. For many of these girls, marriage is the only goal in sight. In order to be a presentable and acceptable bride, they must hide their appearance so that no one will ever see their true features. American girls do not act in this way. In fact, American girls do quite the opposite. Young woman like to be noticed by men, and they will do everything but cover up. By exposing their legs, arms, stomachs, chest, and face, American girls are hoping to get noticed by a man. Showing off their features is a powerful weapon, whereas the Yemenis believe that hiding the features is powerful within itself. Marriage, also, is handled different among the cultures. Khmer and Yemeni girls are usually set up in an arranged marriage by their parents. American girls, however, fall in love independent of their parents; Americans choose marriage partners for themselves. For American, Khmer, and Yemeni women, marriage is a common goal. It is the way in which they go about pursuing it, though, that makes all of the difference. American culture is mostly individuocentric, but there is no part of American social life or cultural values that is without sociocentrism. Western parents constantly tell their children that they can grow up to become anything they want to become and do anything they want to do. Girls and boys alike grow up believing that if they set their minds to something, they can accomplish it. While this is mostly individuocentric, there is an aspect of wanting to grow up and be anything and accomplish everything that is partly sociocentric. While Americans believe that they can do anything, it must be recognized that there is a precedent for everything. Jobs that used to be available only for men are now being distributed among women too. Young girls grow up believing that they can have these jobs because a precedent has been set that teaches them that anything is possible. Other aspects of American culture, such as music styles, are very much individuocentric. There are so many different genres of music, and it is perfectly acceptable for people to choose what they would like to listen to. There are no restrictions on what people can and cannot listen to; the fact that two people can have enormously different tastes in music only furthers the argument that likes and dislikes in America are mostly individuocentric. Patriotism, though, is a part of American culture that has become increasingly sociocentric. The brave men and women who fight in the armed forces believe that they are a part of something larger than themselves and fighting for something larger than themselves. No one goes into a battle hoping to come out with awards and medals. Soldiers fight to defend their land, their people, and everything that their country stands for. American soldiers fight for freedom and justice and liberty, and they fight together as one. They fight because they believe that America is a cause worth fighting for, and that is a concept that is very sociocentric. It is never easy adjusting to a new culture and a new way of life. For Khmer Americans and Yemeni girls, crossing over from a sociocentric-dominated culture to an individuocentric-dominated culture is a difficult feat that is not easily or quickly mastered. It is important to remember, though, that no society can function properly with only one theme. In order for immigrants and sojourners to assimilate and truly become Americans, it is vital that they remember the sociocentric values from their own cultures and apply them to the individuocentric values that define the American way of life. Then, they will truly be able to call themselves individuals. Then, they will know what it is to be an American.

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