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Straddling cultures

Video Type: In Practice

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Meena is a 24-year-old woman who was adopted at birth by parents of East Indian origin after they arrived in North America as immigrants. Meena’s father died when Meena was in her late teens. She has been experiencing stresses at work, as well as ongoing tensions with her mother. Meena says her mother regularly urges Meena not to let go of Indian traditions, and dispenses often unsolicited advice. She also has a tendency to “dismiss” Meena at times, which leads to Meena feeling hurt and underestimated. Meena feels conflicted—while she cherishes her East Indian roots, and prefers an intimate relationship with her mother, the tensions between them often get in the way. Recently Meena had a dinner with her mother and her boyfriend Jeremy that went better than usual. (*Note that more than one graduate student plays Meena in these roleplays.) Inhabiting multiple cultural contexts can be rich for the diversity of experience it brings, but it can also come with tensions. In this exchange, Meena describes how she straddles two sets of values/lifestyles—one more aligned with mainstream North America, and one closer to Indian traditions. How does this tension play out in her life? What effects does it have? What indications do you see here that she doesn't want to simply replace one set and reject the other? The identification with the cultural subgroup involves more than merely a feeling of “belonging”. Cultures can be characterized by the dominant beliefs, stories, discourses, and so on that predominate within them. Besides providing shared values to rally around, these also come with a certain degree of pressures to conform with cultural prescriptions. Here, Meena can be seen being pulled in both directions. There are values she admires and strives for in both traditional Indian and contemporary North American culture. As well, there are ways of being which come “recommended” with each cultural group that don't fit for her, although she feels somewhat pressured to conform to them. In this respect, much of the work that David does with Meena is to help her “locate” herself among her various cultural identities.

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