“These Books Opened Our Eyes to Another Culture”

I moved to this great nation at the tender age of nine. Like many first generation immigrants, I feel as if I am somewhere between two very different cultures. At the same time, my experiences are different from my parents as I grew up here, while they moved here as adults. Learning the language and adapting to the pre-existing culture came easily for me because of my impressionable age, while they are issues still faced by my parents to this day. For some people, balancing the two worlds is a struggle. Some choose to leave one culture and assimilate to the other. While others try to hold on to their cultural backgrounds for future generations. To each their own – there is no right or wrong.

As a librarian and immigrant, I am often fascinated by people’s reactions when reading about another culture. My life is a mixture of various “worlds” because of the different cultures that affect me. The very idea of “culture shock” is foreign to me because of various cultures that are not only part of my background but my daily life. Thus when it comes to books/stories, I do not necessarily see another culture as an “other”. This can be viewed positively or negatively. On one hand, the feeling of being able to relate and/or empathize with others is based on a sense of global awareness. Psychologist, Dylan Evans writes about our reading: “When we read poems and novels written by authors from different cultures, we recognize the emotions they describe. If emotions were cultural interventions, changing as swiftly as language, these texts would seem alien and impenetrable” (Emotions 8). At the same time, the reader also has to recognize the possibility of being affected by his/her pre-existing notions of another culture. Professor Suzanne Keen Broadus writes in Empathy and the Novel, for readers with no direct connection to a foreign country, “the emotional demands made by the novel did not, however, lead to an effort to overcome difference. Their responses pointed back to their own situations and contexts” (115). I began thinking of how users are affected by books about another culture and how it shapes their view of that culture. In our post-colonial culture, pre-existing “knowledge” can so easily (and unfortunately) shape a person’s understanding of another culture.

Furthermore, when I read lists such as New York Public Library’s list, “These Books Opened Our Eyes to Another Culture,”* I cannot help wonder how the writer’s view affects the reader’s understanding of a foreign culture. A writer’s perspective shapes the way things, people, religions, and/or events are portrayed in a book, which in turn can shape the way we view that culture. So the question is whether a reader seeing a culture only as presented by the author or is s/he thinking beyond the author’s view? Are we even capable of seeing another culture without the lens of our pre-existing notions or through the author? The act of reading is so highly complex. It becomes even more complicated in our world of global awareness where information is readily available but the struggle is figuring out whether we are shaping our knowledge based on cultural awareness or our pre-existing notions.

*NYPL acticle: http://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/03/31/open-eyes-another-culture?utm_campaign=SocialFlow&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral

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