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Published: 21-10-2019

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Is Multiculturalism the Same As Polyculturalism?

Culture, as opposed to biology, need to enable us to seek liberation from cruel and uncomfortable practices. But as an alternative culture wraps us in a suffocating embrace. … re cultures discrete or bounded? …Who defines the boundaries of culture or makes it possible for for adjust? Do cultures leak into every single other? Can a person from one particular culture critique yet another culture? (Prashad xi)

Vijay Prashad, addressing the racial tension among Asian-Americans and African-Americans in Los Angeles, argues for a new sort of considering about the merging and clashing of cultures in America and the rest of the world. Multiculturalism, broadly put, attempts to preserve and respect the differing originating (or diverging) cultures within a unified society, such as the United States. Polyculturalism asserts that it is “grounded in anti-racism rather than diversity” (xi), and “assumes that folks live coherent lives that are produced up of a host of lineages” (xii). The distinction is one of perception and of practice. While respecting differing cultures, polyculturalism does not necessarily embrace the negatives connected with every culture (homophobia, sexism, classism, workforce cruelty, racism, and so on.). Rather, it discovers and seeks to comprehend the typical threads of culture running through all heritages. It also asserts that racial or cultural purity of any type is illusory, and in the end divisive.

Meena Alexander’s memoir of her personal life, Fault Lines, exemplifies how 1 individual can have several various influences and cultures within a single lifetime. The reality that the author struggles with identity and tries to “map out a provisional self” (Alexander 196), overcome by the feelings of memory and loss in her personal life, makes a powerful case for accepting a polycultural rather than multicultural viewpoint. Her ultimate decision, even so, is unclear. As a result, this essay will instead focus on the procedure of her creation and definition of self in the course of a life spent on 4 various continents.

A short sketch of Dr. Alexander’s life would read as follows. She was born in Allahabad, in the north of India. Her maternal grandparents lived in Kerala state, in a residence in Tiruvella, to which she returned for component of each and every year and felt at home. In Meena’s early childhood, her father accepted a position in Khartoum, in the newly-independent North African country of Sudan. She lived there with her parents and ultimately her younger sisters for most of the year, spending time every year in Tiruvella. In her teens, Meena graduated from Khartoum University and decided to pursue a Ph.D. from Nottingham University, England. Following her graduation, she returned to India to her parents’ new house in Pune and took a job in Delhi. There she met an American Jewish man named David Lelyveld–an Indian historian–and inside three weeks they decided to marry.

The couple went to Paris for the duration of her pregnancy with their 1st kid, Meena had a hard bout of malaria. They came to New York, exactly where Meena met her husband’s loved ones, and the couple and their son tried to reside together in Minnesota, exactly where David was employed. Meena identified Minnesota to be stifling. She moved back to New York and David commuted. Meena and David’s second youngster was born in New York.

Nowadays, Meena is a professor of English at Hunter College in New York City. She speaks Malayalam (the language spoken in the Indian state of Kerala), Hindi, Arabic, French, and English.

The information alone are fascinating. Substantial portions of this woman’s life have been lived on four different continents, in vastly different cultures–and significantly of it throughout the volatile 1960s and 1970s. In addition, her Indian household of educated men and women and landowners raised her in a culture of privilege and conservatism. The distinction among Meena’s Tiruvella 1950s childhood, her teens in the rapidly altering culture of 1960s Khartoum, her student and first-job days in 1970s England and Delhi, and her 1990s New York life could not be considerably much more different. For example, in Tiruvella there have been servants, a five-acre garden, and “old religious center, seminary, graveyards, and churches of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church” (Alexander 7). The Syrian Christian church was a supply of great pride and inspiration to her grandparents and parents, and Meena grew up inside an totally Christian Indian standard culture.



Her Khartoum days have been also bounded within privilege and religious education, but also unsettled and redefined by cultural modify. Civil unrest, political movements, and reconceptions of feminism all punctuated Meena’s days. In reality, just before she graduated from the University at age eighteen, she participated in student protests.

In England, Meena lived a typical student’s life. But she encountered a various sort of socialization than she was utilized to–romance. Some guys wanted to date her others, to marry her. The powerful passion and individualistic nature of romantic liaisons differed markedly from her former culture, with its arranged marriages and sheltered girls. Maybe unsurprisingly, she knowledgeable in England such culture shock that she had a “nervous breakdown” (141).



Meanwhile, the secular, urban globe of New York life is as removed from her Tiruvella roots as a lot as can be imagined. There, Meena is a minority, rather than a member of a privileged class. In addition, her ethnicity and femininity make her feel that “In Manhattan, I am a fissured factor, a physique crossed by fault lines” (182). Her fragmentation is not only “of a broken geography”(two) of her itinerant life so far, but is in her soul.

She does not really feel at house in New York, but neither does she feel at house fully in India, exactly where her aged parents go to reside in her mother’s loved ones house in Tiruvella at the memoir’s close. She writes, “In modern India, where ancient cultures, hierarchical and exclusive, exist in a tension with a quickly changing society, the place prescribed for females becomes a fault line, a web site of possible rupture” (Truth Tales 11). Similarly, she asks of her adopted country, “What does it mean to be UnWhite in America?”, exactly where she can be insulted with a racial and sexual epithet even though walking down a Minneapolis street with her infant son (Alexander 169). Where is she at property if each worlds are closed to her, and both make her really feel alienated?

The truth that Meena lived in “exile” most of her life might contribute to her feelings of alienation. Despite the fact that she spent a lot of her time in Tiruvella, exactly where her beloved grandfather lived, she did not reside there permanently at any time. As a result, whenever she left, she carried the feeling of exile with her. In a sense, Meena’s family was a tiny colony of Tiruvella living in Allahabad, Khartoum, and then in Pune, often away from their Kerala roots and usually remembering and returning to it. Colonial cultures are typically conservative and nostalgic hence, this mini-familial colonialism might have contributed to Meena’s feelings of fragmentation and “fissures”.

Several instances by means of the memoir, moments of Meena’s profound alienation are exposed. The two most important had been her “nervous breakdown” in England, and her serious bout of malaria in Paris for the duration of her first pregnancy. At Nottingham University, she felt that she “unraveled” (141), and for months she was unable to operate or even to concentrate adequate to study. The physical separation from each the India of her childhood, and the North Africa of her increasing up, manifested itself with her brain shutting down for a period, perhaps so that she could readjust to her new English surroundings. Later, although pregnant with her son Adam, she came down with a extreme case of malaria. The physical, geographical, and cultural adjustments she was experiencing had been being played out by the illnesses of her body, which “speak[s] out [her] discrepant otherness”. There appears to be no house for her, no spot that she can be Indian, be female, or even be American. In the words of A. Robert Lee, the memoir as a result “carries the virtually best multicultural insignia. She could not be a lot more explicit about her will to have her own divides meet, to join her past with her present” (Lee 60).

But is multiculturalism–the acknowledgement of many cultures’ influence on her own life–what tore her apart? Would a various viewpoint, that of polyculturalism and the acceptance of cultures as not separate but merely variations, have provided her a lot more peace?

There are some inklings in the memoir that point to that approach maybe occurring. Meena connects the places of her childhood and young adulthood by means of geographically divergent metaphors. She sees the colors of a Sudanese dove in the sunlit roof tiles on a New York morning (165), and she compares the beggars in the subway to the poor in her native India. A synthesis starts to take place as Meena gradually adjusts to living in America, but it is not the type of assimilation that Americans normally assume. As she writes,

“Ethnicity for such as I am comes into being as a pressure, a violence from inside that resists such fracturing. It is and is not fictive. It rests on the unknown that seizes you from behind, in darkness. In spot of the hierarchy and authority and decorum that I learnt as an Indian woman, in place of purity and pollution, appropriate hand for this, left hand for that, we have an ethnicity that breeds in the perpetual present, and will never ever be wholly spelt out. (202)

As a result, Meena finds that her Indianness, her roots in the soil of Kerala, with its fissures in the laterite, will certainly sustain her. She no longer wants to be torn apart by the multiplicity of America or by the frenetic pace and ethnic merging of New York.

Hence, the house in Tiruvella becomes her anchor, and “…because it was, I am complete and entire. I do not want to think in order to be. I was a kid there, and right here I am, and even though I can't findthe river that brought me right here, yet I am because that was. And this stubborn, shining factor persisted for me. It has accomplished so for so numerous years.” (197)

Does this imply that she has a polycultural rather than multicultural bent? Or is this a radical kind of multiculturalism, which asserts that the Indianness in her, her “dark female physique,” must be preserved and asserted above any Americanness she possesses–even even though her young children will develop up in America?

Meena’s book is as well complex for such a one-sided assertion. There are components of American life that she embraces, specifically her potential to publish via The Feminist Press and publicly examine problems of each ethnic and sexual oppression. As a result, she has found certain elements of America to be helpful, in spite of the troubles of living her “fragmented” life and finding out how to be an Indian lady in contemporary America.

One of the precepts of polyculturalism is the rejection of the (perceived) adverse aspects of classic cultures. Meena embraces that, writing feminist criticism and condemning ethnic and racial oppression in the areas she has lived in India, Africa, and the United States (“The struggle for social justice, for human dignity, is in each and every of us,” she writes [203]). This rejection of old stereotypes seems to have offered the author some of the answers she demands to live in this society. She sees it as larger than individual encounter, one particular that “transcends individualism” (203), and it becomes a bigger project by which the injustices of society can be addressed and redressed.

Merely simply because a human becoming travels far and extensively does not mean that the center of that person’s becoming have to be fragmented. In our society, a multi-lingual and nicely-traveled person is regarded nicely-rounded and, probably, much more well-informed about the planet than an individual who has only traveled minimally. “Travel broadens the mind” goes the axiom. But is living in a culture other than your personal, which utilised to be referred to as “exile”, the same as travel? Fault Lines shows us some of the dangers of a as well-itinerant life. Even though Meena could have in depth understanding of other cultures and locations, especially through her acquisition of languages other than her native Malayalam, what cost for this information and expertise has she paid? Has the difficulty of alter been worth the understanding and the understanding of the wider world? Would not a more centered person, with a much less direct understanding of the far-flung reaches of the globe, be a greater result than the anguish and actual physical breakdowns of the exiled Indian woman in Europe and America?

As Meena asserts, the objective is greater than the person. The cultural understanding her operate and writing has brought to American academia and readers of her works, for example, may have been worth the issues of her own experience. In addition, it appears, at the end of her memoir, that the center of her identity has been reclaimed. She has learned to accept becoming diverse in New York. The process is ongoing, and not yet complete, but it seems that there is hope. “Can I turn out to be just what I want? So is this the land of chance, the America of dreams?”, she writes. The answer is ambiguous, but the reader feels she is not sarcastic or facetious in this question.

This modify is foreshadowed in the beginning of the memoir as she recalls the house in Tiruvella. It is as if she can now hold on to the memories and identity of her previous without having a continuous feeling of loss. “The constancies of my life, the hands I held onto, the rooms or gardens I played in, ripple in memory, and at times it is as if the forgotten earth returns,” she writes (53). The reader feels that Tiruvella can reside inside the author, and sustain her in the alien culture in which she lives nowadays, with out requiring her to completely surrender to either.
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