Mary Louise Pratt Essay, Research Paper
Tailgates as a Cultural Contact Zone
“Arts of the Contact Zone” by Mary Louise Pratt is an article that talks about how critical and history-making it is when different cultures meet for the first time. She describes this moment with her coined phrase, the “contact zone”. She gives the perfect example of when the Andeans, who were native Peruvians, were encountered by the Spanish. Even though my experiences in life can not compare with those of Andeans, this example prompted me to think back to my personal experiences which took place in such an environment. This “contact zone”, as Mary Louise Pratt puts it, is ” the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish relations, usually involving coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict”(527). In my own interpretation, the “contact zone” is a place or moment in time when two different cultures are forced to interact with each other for the first time. Throughout my life I have had experiences of this nature. My frequent moving around has enabled me to interact with many different cultures. Though my experiences may not have been to such an extreme, such as the example given by Pratt, I still consider them to be occasions in my life where I was put in the “contact zone.”
Before I talk about my personal experiences, I would first like to talk a little bit about my cultural identity. I am a male Latino, born of a Peruvian mother and Puerto Rican father. Many people may think that all Spanish speaking countries share the same culture, but this is untrue. There is a huge difference between, for example, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. They speak Spanish differently than each other. They eat different foods and have different music. There is nothing I hate more then when I am assumed to be from a certain country. Ask me and I will tell you my background. I have had to adopt culture from both sides of my family, along with American culture. I prefer eating rice and beans over pasta with sauce that has no taste. I prefer listening to rap or salsa over alternative music. I may speak a little differently than others. I don’t like to drink and make a fool of myself on the hill. I would rather watch New York Undercover than Melrose Place. My style of clothing may be a little different as well. All these personality traits are what I consider to be part of not only my individuality, but also my cultural identity.
Throughout my life, differences in cultural identities have put me in the “contact zone”, the most recent being here at Lehigh University. Before coming here to Lehigh University, I had never seen so many white people. The one moment that sticks out the most is walking through the crowd of tailgaters at Lehigh’s football games this year. I had never seen so many people of one race gathered together. “Damn”, I said to myself, “Look at all them white folks.” I got mad when I saw them all. I was not mad at them; I was mad at the fact that my race was not represented in those numbers.
On this day I was walking with a black friend of mine and from what I could see, we were the only minorities in the whole crowd. I really did not know what to expect from the experience. Even though I had a preconceived notion of how whites acted in a big group, I was not prepared for the event. To add to my amazement, most of the crowd of at least two thousand, had beers in their hands, but yet the event was peaceful. It is sad to say, but if this were a crowd of Hispanics and Blacks, I seriously doubt that there would be that much peace. Why, I really do not know.
I consider two minorities being in the middle of a crowd of white people a “contact zone” because I chose to interact with a race that I usually had not. I wanted to experience first hand what the white race enjoyed doing. Though I do not drink and do not like to run and slide across a wet slippery mat in only my boxers in the cold, I was still able to feel an interaction taking place, even though this interaction was nothing more than me just observing and maybe saying a few word here and there. I saw what they ate and what they drank, I listened to the music they liked, and I looked at what they wore, and what they wore arose the question in my mind, “Do white people get cold?”
There was no conflict involved and their was no evidence of inequality. It was a peaceful encounter that I chose to benefit from. I was not pushed away by the crowd, but at the same time I was not really made welcome.
After walking through the whole crowd, we saw that the U-house had a little set-up away from the big crowd. The Umoja House is a special interest house that has been established to encourage a sense of unity and pride among African-American and Hispanic/Latino students. It is a house where students can concentrate on improving their academic standing, vocalize ideas, and socialize in a common cultural setting. They chose to separate themselves from everybody else. When I walked over to them, I was welcomed. They offered me drink and food. Even though I did not know anybody, I did not feel uncomfortable.
Looking back at my behavior, I feel I could of made a better attempt at really interacting with all the people at tailgates. I should have tried to start conversations with people so that I could learn what the were like, not only in the outside, but on the inside as well. I made unfair judgements of them based strictly on what I saw. However, what I felt while walking through the crowd was a result of myself being different.
To the readers of this paper, please understand that I am not trying to say that white people here at Lehigh are drunks or that they are racist or that I am racist. I am trying to make a point that even though all Americans have their common values and traits and all people have different backgrounds, those of different races have undeniably different cultures than those who are not of the same race.