"The Way I See It"

on Thursday, January 29, 2009

"People need to see that, from being an obstacle, the world's diversity of languages, religions and traditions is a great treasure, affording us precious opportunities to recognize ourselves in others." -Youssou N'Dour, Musician

I found this quote on the side of my Starbucks coffee cup during the "The Way I See It" campaign which is promoting free speech and diversity. Being an anthropology major, I am so excited for these quotes that challenge and provoke thought to reach the public. We still seem to see each other in different lights, where we truly need to start working through certain barriers--not only language, but also trying to seek out similarities of thought, background, and what else makes us unique individuals.

I grew up in a booming suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana. This area would be deemed "successful" by the vast majority of Americans with its large houses, good education, and crime that is hardly ever dangerous. That may all be well and good, but what many do not do is take a closer look at the absolute lack of diversity that our area has brought to the table. So many days have gone by where I see absolutely no faces other than white when I am home. At my high school, we had less than 3% diversity and I would definitely argue that it was much closer to 1%.

In no way does that prepare anyone for the real world. While I was in school, I sought out activities that would contain other people than what I was used to. I can't help where I am from but I know that I have absolute control over what my attitude is and how I embrace opportunities to experience other things. I will go out of my way to meet new people, hear their stories and try and understand why such prejudice have existed in the past. When I speak with different people with different thoughts and views on the world, I am only challenged to think differently, not put off by our differences of lifestyles or opinions that don't seem to mesh quite perfectly.

Anthropology is the study of human similarites and differences across cultures and it looks at humans in a completely holistic way--which means taking in every aspect, every clue--to understand as to why certain people act the way that they do and how they have generated these certain traditions and social norms. Anthropology has four sub-fields of Biological, Linguistic, and Socio-cultural Anthropology, as well as Archaeology. Through each of these different areas, people have broken out of the standard way of living to reach out into different cultures to see how they operate.

Socio-cultural anthropologists dedicate their lives, normally to one single project/area, and live with another culture, studying everything from their language to economic system to social interactions and so many other factors that affect the way that they live their lives.

I spent several weeks in the country of Panama two summers ago and was blown away by the amount of knowledge not only that I gained about Panamanian life and why they act the way that they do and their customs, but also what traveling and living in a different country and living there, however short a time, helped me understand what the United States is doing both right and wrong.

Along with several souvenirs that I purchased, I brought home a different view of the world and opportunities that I had along with the thought of being just a small part in the giant puzzle that makes up a culture.

Breaking Down Barriers

on Monday, January 26, 2009

Venturing to Panama and other areas of the country have been the most beautiful and enriching times in my life. I was able to meet incredible people, see incredible sights and to make a difference in the lives and communities that I have traveled to.

One of the most rewarding experiences, I feel, is the breaking down of stereotypes that can happen while one unexpectedly helps another.

The mountainous jungles of Panama was where I spent 3 weeks of my summer of 2007. I was blessed with the opportunity to help 3 struggling villages of Panama begin to establish a reliable food source. Each of these villages are remote and must travel a hundred miles or so just to find a doctor or if they need certain supplies to get by.

A few selected members of the tribe in the remote area of San Felix, called the Gnobe tribe, would reach these much more developed cities and they would not know how to work certain types of technology or how to relate to this culture that they were not a part of. They are treated like very uncivilized people and are extremely rude and demeaning to this tribe. Its disturbing to see how terribly they are treated in certain situations just because one group thinks they are much better and more "civilized" than another group.

One of the men that I had the pleasure of meeting in La Torre in Panama, Menalco, was very standoffish and extremely wary of white people due to this unfair treatment within the larger cities that they had to visit. La Torre is a completely different world than the city of David or Panama City and I feel as if it is quite unfair to treat someone as if they are in a lower social class than you are. It is like we've stumbled back into the "Medieval nobles and peasants" stage of our ancestors.

Through the volunteer work that our 18-person group, helping these areas with their need for a stable source of food, we were able to break down the barriers that they have justifiably put up towards those that they find more educated and “privileged.” It was a beautiful experience to see them slowly put their guards down while they opened both their homes and their hearts to us.