Monday, December 28, 2009

Global Citizenship

Welcome to the winter term!

It is central to our institution's mission, values and goals to encourage students, faculty and associates to be responsible and constructive members of the global community. One of the first steps in becoming global citizens is learning the various ways in which we are interconnected and interdependent. Part of this learning process is examining the intersection of culture, economics, politics, technology, geography, history and the environment.

This term I will be teaching SOC 415 Global Social Change online. The students and I will explore the nature, extent, causes and potential solutions to selected social problems at the international level, including poverty, consumerism, population problems, human rights, violence and terrorism and threats to the environment.

Virtual Field Study

For this course, students will join me in a "virtual field study" project. Each student will create a multimedia presentation about one developing country (its unique history, geography, culture, language, etc.), one global social problem in that country and how it intersects with other problems, and how that problem is being solved (through a non-profit organization or social enterprise). At the end of the term, each student will guide classmates and professor on a "virtual field study" of their chosen country.

I wish everyone a very Happy New Year! Find videos on's Good Global Citizen

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Exploring Identities

"All paths lead to the same goal. To convey to others what we are." --Pablo Neruda

This is our last week of the fall quarter and my students in SOC 320 Online, Gender, Race & Class, have been presenting their final Identity Power Point Projects on the Week 11 discussion board. This is the culmination of our exploration of our cultural, religious, gender, class and other group identities. Students asked themselves "Who am I? What do I value? How did I learn my values, beliefs, etc.? What are the components that make up my identity, including the varied roles I play.

Berkeley College students are highly diverse and this multicultural mosaic is reflected in the student projects. Here are some observations:

* One student is from Sweden and identifies with two cultures -- Italian culture from his father and Swedish culture from his mother and from growing up in Swedish society.

* A student who came to the U.S. from Haiti in 1997 shared aspects of her Haitian identity including how to say some common English words and phrases in Creole.

* Another of my online students came to this country from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. A mother of two daughters and living in Georgia, she shared her childrens' experiences with prejudice.

* A young man in our class explained that his ancestors were from a region known as Circassia before the Russian conquest of Caucasus. He educated all of us about the history of Circassia and included a map in his power point. He also shared photos and descriptions of traditional Circassian foods and values from this culture with which his family identifies.

Empirical studies have demonstrated the many benefits of a diverse student population. I agree with one researcher in diversity education who has written "instructors need to give a voice to every student, to point out differences, similarities, universal and not-so-universal ideas, all of which enrich everyone's store of knowledge" (Buckelew 1991).

Works cited: Buckelew, Mary (1991) "Group Discussion Strategies for a Diverse Student Population" Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (42nd, Boston, MA, March 21-23, 1991)

Identity Map Image from Brainstorm Communication (

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Does A College Education Increase Life Expectancy?

A college education can help increase one's income, but can it also increase one's life span?

While life expectancy in the U.S. has increased over the past several decades, not all demographic groups have benefited. According to a 2008 study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Harvard University, individuals with more than 12 years of education tend to live longer than those with only a high school education or less (Science Daily).

"comparing the 1980s to the 1990s, better educated individuals experienced nearly a year and a half of increased life expectancy, while the less educated experienced only half a year. For 1990-2000, life expectancy rose an additional 1.6 years for better educated, while remaining fixed for the less educated.
In addition, when the data was broken down by gender, the researchers found that women fared worse than men. Less educated women, regardless of race, experienced a slight decline in life expectancy at age 25.
Overall in the groups studied, as of 2000, better educated at age 25 could expect to live to age 82; for less educated, 75" (Science Daily).
Another study examined specific diseases linked to the disparity between life expectancy among both racial and educational groups. According to researchers at University of California-Los Angeles, "the top six contributors of mortality differences between education levels are all smoking-related diseases" (Science Blog).

"Deaths from diseases strongly linked to smoking -- lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder -- accounted for one-fifth of the life-expectancy gap between the groups with different levels of education. That fits with other research that shows people with less education are less likely to quit smoking" (White Coat Notes).

The UCLA study also shows that four diseases -- hypertension, HIV, homicide and diabetes -- are the greatest contributors to the life-expectancy gap between blacks and whites in the U.S.

Science Blog (
Science Daily 12 March 2008 (
White Coat Notes 11 March 2008 (

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where Do You Come From?

A few years ago, I found the perfect birthday gift for my husband -- a DNA test kit from the National Geographic Genographic Project. Following simple instructions, he did a simple cheek swab (just like the T.V. show, CSI) to provide a DNA sample, put the swabs into the enclosed transport tubes, and mailed the tubes to the lab in the supplied envelope. Several weeks later, he received a report based on the analysis of his DNA and a map showing the migration of his ancestors -- from Africa through the Middle East and finally to Eastern Europe, the most recent location and birthplace of his grandparents.

According to the Genographic Project , the results "reveal your deep ancestry along a single line of direct descent (paternal or maternal) and show the migration paths they followed thousands of years ago. Your results will also place you on a particular branch of the human family tree. Some anthropological stories are more detailed than others, depending upon the lineage you belong to. For example, if you are of African descent, your results will show the initial movements of your ancestors on the African continent, but will not reflect most of the migrations that have occurred within the past 10,000 years. Your individual results may confirm your expectations of what you believe your deep ancestry to be, or you may be surprised to learn a new story about your genetic background. This is not a genealogy study. You will not learn about your great-grandparents or other recent relatives, and your DNA trail will not necessarily lead to your present-day location. Rather, your results will reveal the anthropological story of your direct maternal or paternal ancestors—where they lived and how they migrated around the world many thousands of years ago.

In this video, Dr. Spencer Wells of the Genographic Project explains the project in more detail. He takes you to Grand Central Station in New York City to meet with four strangers with different backgrounds who discover they are more similar and more connected than you might think.

For more information or to participate in the project, go to:

Monday, November 23, 2009

More On Social Connections & Our Lives

In a recent post, I summarized the Pew Research Center's findings about the larger, more diverse social networks of people who use social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

As my students and I continue to discuss social groups and how they impact our lives, more scientific findings have emerged that confirm the powerful effect of "human connections" on the individual.

In their book
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, scientists, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, present "compelling evidence for our profound influence on one another's tastes, health, wealth, happiness, beliefs, even weight, as they explain how social networks form and how they operate" (Connected: The Book).

Students of introductory sociology might be reminded of Emile Durkheim (1858-1917). See photo upper left. Durkheim was concerned with how societies function, more specifically, social solidarity, or what binds individuals together. A highly cohesive group can be described as one that feels united by shared beliefs, values and/or other social connections (Henslin, 2002:90).

One might wonder what Durkheim would say about these findings.
Here is a video where scientists, Christakis and Fowler, talk about their book, Connections:

To read or hear an excerpt from the book and explore some interesting interactives, go to

Works Cited:
Connected: The Book
Henslin, James N. (2002) Essentials of Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach
Allyn & Bacon.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Unnatural Causes: Arriving Healthy

During the past week, students in my online course, SOC 320 Gender, Race & Class, discussed the impact of inequality on physical and psychological health. To supplement the readings in the text, we viewed video clips from an excellent PBS documentary, Unnatural Causes.

One segment called "Becoming American", pointed out that "New immigrants arriving in the United States tend to be healthier than the average American, but as they remain in the country, their health declines." (Unnatural Causes).
Another interesting finding is the "Latino Paradox", "the fact that new Latino immigrants, despite having on average lower incomes and highly stressful lives, suffer lower rates of chronic and mental illness than the average native-born American." (Unnatural Causes) NOTE: See my posting on Nov. 23rd on the book Connections. Could it be that the "social connectedness" of Latino immigrant families gives them some "immunity" from mental illness?
According to Alameda County, California Public Health Director, Tony Iton, MD, "Immigrants bring to this country aspects of culture, of tradition, of tight family social networks and community social networks that essentially form a shield around them and allow them to withstand the deleterious, negative impacts of American culture" (Unnatural Causes).

Video at:

To view the entire episode "Becoming American" (29 minutes), click HERE.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Social Networkers Have Larger, More Diverse Personal Networks

A new study, the Pew Networks and Community Survey, conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, shows that the use of internet technology and mobile phones does not necessarily predict social isolation. In fact, people who use social networking websites, such as Facebook, tend to have larger and more diverse social networks.

Can Social Networking Make Us More Tolerant?

According to the study's author, Keith N. Hampton, Ph.D.,
"Those with more diverse personal networks have access to more and better information, they tend to be more trusting and more tolerant, and they tend to be physically and mentally healthier." (See Dr. Hampton's blog at

Below is a list of the study's findings, which are outlined in the executive summary of the report:

"Americans are not as isolated as has been previously reported. We find that the extent of social isolation has hardly changed since 1985, contrary to concerns that the prevalence of severe isolation has tripled since then.

.....ownership of a mobile phone and participation in a variety of internet activities are associated with larger and more diverse core discussion networks. (Discussion networks are a key measure of people’s most important social ties.)

Social media activities are associated with several beneficial social activities, including having discussion networks that are more likely to contain people from different backgrounds. For instance, frequent internet users, and those who maintain a blog are much more likely to confide in someone who is of another race. Those who share photos online are more likely to report that they discuss important matters with someone who is a member of another political party.

When we examine people’s full personal network – their strong ties and weak ties – internet use in general and use of social networking services such as Facebook in particular are associated with having a more diverse social network. Again, this flies against the notion that technology pulls people away from social engagement.

..internet users are as likely as anyone else to visit with their neighbors in person. Cell phone users, those who use the internet frequently at work, and bloggers are more likely to belong to a local voluntary association, such as a youth group or a charitable organization. However, we find some evidence that use of social networking services (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) substitutes for some neighborhood involvement.

Internet use does not pull people away from public places. Rather, it is associated with engagement in places such as parks, cafes, and restaurants, the kinds of locales where research shows that people are likely to encounter a wider array of people and diverse points of view.

People’s mobile phone use outpaces their use of landline phones as a primary method of staying in touch with their closest family and friends, but face-to-face contact still trumps all other methods.

Challenging the assumption that internet use encourages social contact across vast distances, we find that many internet technologies are used as much for local contact as they are for distant communication. (Pew Internet Personal Networks and Community Survey)

Source: Social Isolation and New Technology Keith Hampton, Lauren Sessions, Eun Ja Her, Lee Raine 4 November 2009 (

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Diversity Consciousness: Do You Have It?

You probably know your IQ. And, you may be familiar with EQ (emotional intelligence), but have you heard of CQ "cultural intelligence"? According to David Livermore, author of Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success (AMACOM; September 2009):

"Cultural intelligence is defined as the capability to function effectively across national, ethnic, and organizational cultures. And research demonstrates a leader’s CQ may easily be the single greatest difference between thriving in the 21st century world and becoming obsolete.”

Dr. Livermore explains Cultural Intelligence in the following video, located at:

Would you like to know your CQ?

Your CQ can be tested using Dr. Livermore's first academically validated assessment of cultural intelligence, an instrument which has been used in more than 30 countries. Just go to the following link:

Another term for CQ is diversity consciousness. Sociologist, Richard D. Bucher, explains:

"Diversity consciousness is characterized by understanding, openness, and sensitivity toward people who are "different." (Bucher & Bucher). Bucher identifies nine (9) megaskills that we need to develop in order to achieve "diversity consciousness":

1) Understanding my cultural identity - looking inward and understanding our own thoughts, biases, behaviors and cultural identity.

2) Checking cultural lenses - recognizing the ways in which cultural backgrounds differ and how they influence thinking, behavior and assumptions.

3) Global consciousness - moving across boundaries and seeing the world from multiple perspectives.

4) Shifting perspectives - putting ourselves in someone else's shoes and someone else's culture.

5) Intercultural communication - exchanging ideas and feelings and creating meanings with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

6) Managing cross-cultural conflict – the ability to deal with conflict among people from differing cultural backgrounds in an effective and constructive manner.

7) Multicultural teaming – working with others from diverse cultural backgrounds to accomplish certain tasks

8) Dealing with bias – recognizing bias in ourselves and others and dealing with it effectively

9) Understanding the dynamics of power – grasping how power and culture interrelate and the effect of power on how we see the world and relate to others.

Source: Building Cultural Intelligence: Nine Megaskills (CQ) by Richard D. Bucher and Patricia L. Bucher

Try to assess your diversity consciousness with the following sample test,

click here: Where Am I Now?


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gender & The Media

Last week, students in my online course, Gender, Race & Class, discussed gender stereotypes and how the media construct the "ideal" man and woman. While we may be born "male" or "female", we learn to be a "man" or a "woman". Social institutions such as the family, the school and religion, shape our gender identity, roles and behavior. However, the mass media also play a significant role in constructing gender.
The Media Education Foundation examines the relationship between pop-cultural imagery and the social construction of feminine and masculine identities in the U.S. (Media Education Foundation).
Many studies have shown the powerful effect of the media on the body image and gender identity of girls and boys. The National Insitute on Media & The Family has summarized some of this research:
"The popular media (television, movies, magazines, etc.) have, since World War II, increasingly held up a thinner and thinner body (and now ever more physically fit) image as the ideal for women. The ideal man is also presented as trim, but muscular.

  • Research studies have found that the schematic association of attractiveness and thinness with goodness was present in over 100 female characters appearing in 23 Walt Disney animated films produced over a 60-year period.

  • Studies show that thin female characters in television situation comedies were more likely than heavier female characters to be praised by male characters, and less likely to be insulted by male characters in ways deliberately tied to evocation of “canned” and supportive audience laughter.

  • One study found that the majority of nearly 550 working class adolescent girls were dissatisfied with their weight and shape. Almost 70% of the sample stated that pictures in magazines influence their conception of the “perfect” body shape, and over 45% indicated that those images motivated them to lose weight. Further, adolescent girls who were more frequent readers of women’s magazines were more likely to report being influenced to think about the perfect body, to be dissatisfied with their own body, to want to lose weight, and to diet.

  • Teen-age girls who viewed commercials depicting women who modeled the unrealistically thin-ideal type of beauty caused adolescent girls to feel less confident, more angry and more dissatisfied with their weight and appearance.

  • In a study on fifth graders, 10 year old girls and boys told researchers they were dissatisfied with their own bodies after watching a music video by Britney Spears or a clip from the TV show "Friends".

Click HERE to view the sources of the above studies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

OUCH! Why We Love Shoes That Hurt Us

In "Why We Love Shoes That Hurt Us", fashion historians, professors of economics and gender studies and podiatrists debate why women wear high heels and other extreme shoes.

"Are high heels all about sexual advantage, since they elongate and exaggerate the female form?", they ask. "Or is there another explanation? What liberates women and what shackles them, when it comes to shoes?" (Room for Debate - Blog, The New York Times)

According to Nancy Rexford, author of Women's Shoes In America: 1795-1930, it's all about expressing power and control, "control over one’s own body, and the power to use one’s body to draw the gaze of others."

Most of us are familiar with the saying "You can't be too rich or too thin." And, social scientists agree that language reflects a society's values. Rexford echoes this idea when she argues that "thin is a mark of status, and high heels emphasize the advantage by lengthening the leg. Add platform soles, and you rise superior to a wasteland of waddling sweatshirts and dumpy athletic shoes."

Robert H. Frank, professor of economics at Cornell University and author of “The Economic Naturalist’s Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times" adds that you also cannot be "too tall". He explains "Height isn’t always advantageous, of course, but it usually helps. Taller people earn more, for example, and command greater attention in social settings. And hence the attraction of high heels."

In the context of the fashion business, he adds "heels have grown taller as fashion markets have become more competitive. On Paris runways this week, models had to wear five-inch heels atop two-inch platform soles to get an edge."

Marlene Reid, podiatrist and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medicine Association, offers a medical perspective. "When it comes to shoes, women should not have to choose between fashion and foot health. However, most women do need to make healthier shoe choices. According to a recent survey from the American Podiatric Medical Association, far more women (87%) than men (68%) have suffered foot pain due to footwear. Most foot conditions stem from the type of foot we inherit, yet the footwear we select can negatively contribute to the condition’s development. For example, flat feet are the main cause of bunions, but footwear, such as pointed shoes, can contribute to their progression and pain."

One important theoretical perspective that was not discussed in this debate is a biosocial explanation.

Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is in the camp of those who think that sky-high heels are just too sexy for most workplaces. “High heels thrust out the buttocks and arch the back into a natural mammalian courting — actually, copulatory — pose called ‘lordosis,’ ” Fisher said. “Rats do it, sheep do it ... lions do it, dogs do it. ... It is a naturally sexy posture that men immediately see as sexual readiness. [Heels] are a ‘come hither’ signal. ... “When women wear high heels at work, they send sexual signals that should be avoided if they want to be taken seriously.” (Do high heels empower or oppress women?)

Do high heels empower or oppress women? 23 September 2009
Why we love shoes that hurt us. 8 October 2009 Room for Debate - The New York Times www.roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Women's Conference

There is a live webcast today, Tuesday, October 27th from 8 am until 7 pm PDT, of the Women's Conference. Click here to view the webcast and see the website.

What is The Women’s Conference?

The Women’s Conference is the largest and most dynamic gathering of women in the nation. The annual Conference unites more than 80 internationally-acclaimed leaders, visionaries and authors with 14,000 women in one arena, plus thousands more online, to share enriching stories of transformation and success, self-empowerment and life lessons (The Women's Conference).

One section of the website is the XX Effect: Generation to Generation, WHAT DO WOMEN WANT? Women from diverse backgrounds and generations answer this question. You can actually join this conversation and share your opinion about what women want. Here is the link to the webpage.

According to WE Education: My

: A young woman who graduates from college will earn about 76% more over her lifetime than a woman with only a high school diploma. This education provides her with a head start in her effort to become financially independent today—and in the future.

This week, my online students will be discussing these and other issues related to gender. More later.....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do Your Choices Reveal Your Class?

Balsamic vinegar, tofu, white bread or 9-nine grain bread, tartufo bianco vinegar? Does your consumption reveal your social class? What do you surround yourself with? Satirist, Joe Queenan, talks about baby-boomer consumption patterns.

Watch the video:

Marketing and the social sciences are intertwined. According to the PBS "People Like Us" website "Marketers know that birds of a feather flock together."

Yes, you are where you live!

Go to this website: PRIZM
"Type in your zip code and get a printout of the kind of people who live there, as well as the kinds of cars they drive, the food they eat, and the magazines they read. Maybe you're more like your neighbors than you think!" (People Like Us)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thinking About Social Class

Last week we explored human diversity and the social construction of race. This week my online students are discussing social class, addressing the following questions:
What is the meaning of class?

Is it about:

social or economic position?
power and control?
one's culture?
taste and lifestyle, regardless of income?
one's ethnicity, religion or race?
one's job?
one's self-image or attitude about the world?

The PBS documentary People Like Us: Social Class in America reveals the many ways Americans think about and define social class. The following is an introduction to the film.

How do you define social class? With which class do you most identify?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Human Diversity: Skin Color Adaptation

One of my students correctly pointed out that many physical traits, for example, skin color, represent human adaptations to different environments. A biological adaptation is a trait that has evolved over time because it increases the likelihood that a person will survive long enough to reproduce, thus allowing the survival of a population. A cline is a gradual change in a trait over a geographic area. The above map shows a cline for skin color.

Our skin must:

1. Absorb enough ultraviolet radiation from the sun to manufacture Vitamin D, which our bodies need to keep our bones strong and healthy.

2. Protect us from the damages of too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Too much UV radiation destroys folate, a B vitamin. Folate deficiency is linked to neural tube birth defects during pregnancy.

is the pigment in our skin that determines how much UV radiation will be absorbed by our bodies. Melanin also gives skin its color. The darker the skin, the more melanin it contains. Note the regions where skin tone is the darkest. These areas are closer to the equator where ultraviolet radiation from the sun is most intense. Melanin acts as a filter to protect the body from absorbing excessive amounts of UV radiation. If your skin tone is darker, your ancestors most likely lived closer to the equator. In regions with low UV radiation, such as Scandinavian countries, the skin contains low levels of melanin, making skin lighter. Light skin allows the absorption of enough UV radiation to make Vitamin D.

If a person with dark skin moves to Sweden, he/she should take Vitamin D supplements to prevent conditions such as rickets. This is why milk is usually fortified with Vitamine D. If a light-skinned Scandinavian woman were to move to a country in central Africa, she would likely need to take higher doses of the B vitamin, folic acid, particularly during pregnancy.

Hence, visible traits are biological adaptations to environmental conditions and not determinants of a person's identity.

In the following video clip, Nina Jablonski, author of Skin: A Natural History, discusses human adaptation to different climates and levels of ultraviolet radiation.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Race & Human Variation: Student Observations

During this past week, students in SOC 320 Gender, Race & Class engaged in a lively discussion forum after reading about race in our textbook, completing the sorting exercise and viewing the video clips at the PBS website. Here are just a few student comments from our discussion.

"Wow!!! First off let me say, I really enjoy topics like this. I found the video quite interesting when it explain how truly close we are, genetically alike, versus any other species in the world. It amazes me how much people react to race and the misconception that comes with race. Is race real? Race is real only to the minds of confused people. Society has created this separation amongst the many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Over the years, it has been embedded within us that we are a specific race, when ultimately we are just one race, the Human Race. Race is not real. Being a racist or having racism is real." Student in Soc 320 Online

Thank you for your comments! Yes, while there is genetic variation (scientists call this genotype) among human beings, classifying people into discrete biological or "racial" groups by their visible traits (scientists call this phenotype) is not possible. The sorting exercise demonstrated this. Dr. Kulik

"This section is absolutely interesting and I am soaking up every last bit of it. I've never really paid a whole lot of attention to the meaning of race and its origin. Unfortunately I only guessed 7 out of the 20 for the sorting exercise. I was very confident and actually took upwards of 20 minutes trying to get my answers correct because I was adamant I could figure out a person's race just by looking at their physical features. Race is not real and here it is 2009 with all the integration that we do as a country, well as a world, that we still attempt to put people in a "race" box just by their appearance. It was very interesting to see that we are more genetically linked then we think we are. The video was very enlightening and I will let my children watch it so they can learn this as I am. "You can't judge a book by its cover" truer words were never spoken!" Student in Soc 320 Online

Good points. Thank you! While human populations show some genetic variation, it is correct that we are far more alike than different. Dr. Kulik

"I did not do too well on the sorting exercise. I think I got seven out of the twenty right and the rest I guessed. It was not easy, I will tell you that though, I learned you cannot categorize people based on the way they look, their physical features. The reason why I did not do too well on the sorting exercise, for example, is that a person who is considered black in one society might be nonblack in another. Race should not be based on the physical features of people. I think race should be considered more a social and/or a mental construct rather than an objective biological fact." Student in Soc 320 Online
There are historical and cross-cultural data to support your argument that racial groups have been socially constructed. Historically, Brazil has classified people in as many as 30 or more categories. Also, in U.S. history, the Irish and Italians were once classified as "non-white". If race were purely biological, why would these categories shift over time and across cultures?
Good observation! Thank you! Dr. Kulik
"There is only one race, and that is the human race. I could go on for half an hour and talk about evolution, but anyone should be familiar with the works of Charles Darwin! I took a class in evolutionary psychology and we studied Darwin, I learned so much! Read about evolution! Scientists have concluded that we are one human race; Homo Sapiens! The external differences we see and wrongly perceive as races are just biologically developed traits that make us more suitable for the natural environment we initially grew up in. Natural selection has shaped our skin colors, noses etc. differently in order to better deal with the natural environment we live in." Student in Soc 320 Online
I'm glad you raised the concept of adaptation. I have posted some information on biological adaptation and skin color. Thank you! Dr. Kulik
Thanks to all students for your excellent work this week!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Is Race Real?

What is race? What makes a person "Latino" or "black" or "Native American"? Skin color, hair texture, facial features? Can you be "white" and "Hispanic" at the same time? Is someone from Spain of the same "race" as a person from Brazil? Is "race" defined by physical characteristics or are customs and beliefs better determinants of the category or categories to which we belong? If our culture and sociohistorical background more accurately describe who we are, perhaps, ethnicity (ethnic background) is a more meaningful category.

Answers to these questions vary, even among scholars, however, social anthropologists tend to prefer "ethnicity" over "race". The website from the PBS series Race: The Power of Illusion has an interesting interactive feature that allows you to try sorting people into races based on their physical characteristics. If you'd like to give it a try, click HERE. Go on, try it! It is fun and instructive.

View Part I of this PBS series "The Difference Between Us" at

Marriage of John Rolfe & Pocahontas in Early America

The Wedding of Pocahantas with John Rolf, 1867. Lithograph by Joseph Hoover. Library of Congress.


"When the English first arrive in America, neither the colonists nor Indians think of themselves or each other in racial terms. On the contrary, Protestant England's hated rival is Catholic Spain, while Native Americans see themselves as many nations divided by language, custom and power. When the Powhatan princess Pocahontas marries colonist John Rolfe, the union causes a scandal in the British court, not because Rolfe has married an Indian, but because Pocahontas, a princess, has married a commoner. In 17th-century England, social station is more important than physical differences." (Race: The Power of An Illusion)

Race: The Power of An Illusion, 10 October 2009 (

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When Italian-Americans were "Enemy Aliens"

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, at least 600,000 Italian-Americans were labeled "enemy aliens" Many were forced to carry identification cards, report job changes, follow a strict 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and could not travel more than five miles from home. Some who did not comply with one or more of these restrictions were arrested and imprisoned

Some Americans of Italian ancestry were forced to leave their homes and jobs and relocate to other areas or internment camps.

Even the fisherman father of baseball great Joe DiMaggio who had a 56-game hitting streak in 1941, was told he could not fish San Francisco Bay or visit the city.
In Pittsburgh, California, 2,000 Italians were told to leave. Many were fishermen, and their boats were confiscated.
"Some of them lost their homes. They had no way of making a living, and so a lot of the things they had, they lost," says Pat Firpo of the Pittsburgh Historical Society (Dornin)
Government-issued propaganda posters (see above) encouraged the suppression of the Italian language and culture. Many Italian-American parents stopped teaching Italian to their children.
"A bill in Congress, Wartime Violations of Italian American Civil Liberties Act (HR 2442) which has passed the House of Representatives, would require the U.S. Department of Justice to compile a report detailing injustices suffered by Italian Americans and would request a formal acknowledgement of these injustices by the President (
Dornin, Rusty "'Secret' of WWII: Italian Americans Forced To Move" 21 September 1997 CNN (
"When Speaking Italian Was A Crime: Don't Speak The Enemy's Language!" (

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October Is Italian American Heritage Month

Every year the president of the United States signs an executive order designating the month of October as National Italian American Heritage Month, in recognition of the achievements and contributions made to American culture by Italian-Americans.

On June 23, 2009 the New Jersey Senate approved a measure to permanently designate October as Italian-American Heritage month. The legislative response was driven by a grassroots effort by UNICO National through its Anti-Bias Committee. UNICO is the largest Italian-American service organization, founded in 1922 in Waterbury, Connecticut. Unico is the Italian word for unique, one of a kind. Over the years, UNICO became an acronym that stood for Unity, Neighborliness, Integrity, Charity, and Opportunity (UNICO National). UNICO's national headquarters is right around the corner on Rt. 46 in Fairfield, NJ.

To learn more about the history of Italian-Americans, explore the exhibit Milestones of the Italian American Experience, created by the National Italian American Foundation.

Ellis Island & Italian Immigration

Between 1880 and 1920, nearly four million Italians immigrated to the United States. Between 1890 and 1910, approximately 85% were from southern Italy (Nelli 1973). Among those Italian immigrants were my great-grandfather Leonardo Romano, his wife Maria Romano and their two sons, Pasquale (age 3) and Matteo Luciano Romano (11 months), my grandfather. The passenger record and ship manifest (pasted below) show that my family arrived at Ellis Island, NYC on April 29, 1901 on a ship called Patria that originated from Naples, Italy. Their last place of residence was Roseto (Foggia), Italy. See the photo above.

Passenger Record

First Name: Leonardo
Last Name: Romano
Ethnicity: Italian
Last Place of residence: Roseto
Date of Arrival: April 29, 1901
Age at arrival: 31 y Gender: M Marital Status: M
Ship of travel: Patria (1882)
Port of departure: Naples
Manifest line number: 0027

0027. Romano, Leonardo M 31y M Italian Roseto
0028. Romano, Maria F 22y M Italian Roseto
0029. Romano, Pasquale M 3y S Italian Roseto
0030. Romano, Mattea M 11m S Italian Roseto

If your immigrant ancestors (Italian or otherwise) arrived at Ellis Island, you can search the records of Ellis Island for free at this link.
Humbert S. Nelli, “Italians,” in The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Stephen Thernstrom, ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 545.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock!

I must confess. Since returning from Mexico this past weekend, I have been experiencing a moderate case of reverse culture shock, or as my son Maxwell calls it, "counter-culture shock".
Culture shock is the psychological disorientation one experiences when living or working in another culture. Reverse culture shock happens when you come home.

"Reverse culture shock results from being re-exposed to a familiar environment after being away from it for a period of time. For some, the experience is more intense than initial culture shock. Frequently, many experience feelings of frustration at re-adapting to the home environment (Peace Corps Worldwide)."

Max had a particularly stubborn case of reverse culture shock when he returned from a summer study program in Spain several years ago. He was irritable, moody and quite critical of American culture. He told me, "Spanish restaurants charge for bread, but give you a free bottle of wine with dinner! American restaurants should do the same!" (Not a bad idea, I thought--at least for us, but maybe not for the restaurant owner.)

I know. Wasn't I prepared for reverse culture shock? After all, I am an anthropologist. Yes, intellectually, I understand culture shock and reverse culture shock. And, I recall experiencing both when I spent a college summer study program in Ecuador. No one is immune and few are really prepared for what I call "re-entry shock".

According to the Center for Global Education, the stages of reverse culture shock are:

1. Disengagement - This happens before you even leave the foreign country, maybe a week or two before departure. You begin to realize that you must separate and say good-bye to the friends you've made abroad and to the place you briefly called home. It is not uncommon for people to feel intense feelings of sadness. This happened to me a week or two before I left Mexico. As my friend and I were watching a beautiful sunset from a rooftop terrace, my eyes suddenly and quite unexpectedly filled with tears. He understood what was happening to me, but the waiter was confused. Another close friend told me she sobbed for an hour and a half, the entire time it takes to ride from San Miguel to the Leon airport. The van driver was trying to comfort her.

2. Initial Euphoria - This is a feeling of elation and excitement at the idea of going home. I experienced this as a feeling of homesickness for my sons and colleagues and great anticipation for the return to the U.S. The length of this stage varies, but it was brief for me.

3. Irritability and Hostility - This is a difficult phase of reverse culture shock and I started feeling it when people were pushing each other to get off of the plane and talking on their cell phones. How rude, how impersonal they are. Hey, slow down, I'm on Mexican time, I thought. Then, while waiting for a connecting flight in Houston, which was delayed, I became annoyed at the Homeland Security announcement about the terrorist threat level of orange. I recall thinking, Do they really have to announce it every three minutes?! Why not every hour? This stage can also include the feeling of being a stranger at home and longing to return abroad. Yes, I've had both of those symptoms!

4. Re-adjustment and Adaptation-Gradually, one readjusts to being home. Getting back to a familiar routine and spending time with supportive family, friends and colleagues helps tremendously. I haven't fully entered this phase yet, but I am working on it!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Feet in Two Cultures

"Tolerance, intercultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where peoples are becoming more and more closely interconnected."
-- Kofi Annan, Former Secretary General of the United Nations

Saying adios to Mexico, to mis amigos was bittersweet. Reuniting with my colleagues, with my Berkeley "family" today was joyous. However, adjusting to life in New Jersey will take some time. I still feel as if I have one foot in each culture. My body and mind are still on "Mexican time" and the silence here keeps me awake at night. I miss the church bells and the mariachis.

I agree with Kofi Annan that respect for diversity is essential for our survival and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is a model for tolerance and intercultural dialogue. Of a population of around 80,000 people, at least 10,000 are Americans. It is not an easy task, but Mexicans and gringos (Americans) have had to work together side by side to preserve the city for future generations.
We can learn a great dea1 from the diverse community of San Miguel de Allende and apply it to our own communities right here in the U.S.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said that "Men hate each other because they fear each other, and they fear each other because they don't know each other, and they don't know each other because they are often separated from each other."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Atahualpa Caldera Sosa - Biologist & Watershed Expert

Atahualpa Caldera Sosa .

Atahualpa Caldera Sosa, biologist and watershed management expert, delivered a fascinating lecture to the Rotary Mid-day Club of San Miguel de Allende yesterday. I must admit that Ata has really inspired me to learn more about living sustainably. His family lives around 15 minutes outside of San Miguel de Allende on a property that is a model of sustainable living -- adobe house, solar panels, dry (compost) toilets, a windmill, solar oven, and a water collection system with filtration and a 90,000-liter cistern. Through his non-profit organization,
Grupo de Acción Ambiental Interdisciplinaria A.C., Ata offers tours and workshops on how to construct and maintain some of these alternative energy systems.

Ata received his degree in Biology from the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Morelos (UAEM) and recently completed his Masters Degree in Watershed Management at the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro (UAQ). Ata has participated in various workshops and seminars in Mexico and abroad in Germany and Canada. He was Coordinator of Projects concerning Natural Protected Areas, Ecotourism and Compost for Organizacion Accion y Desarrollo Ecologico A.C. He also worked for the Ecology Department in Cuernavaca and the Environmental Management Program at the University of Morelos. In San Miguel he was Coordinator of Environmental Education for Save the Laja.

Ata is also a co-producer of an award-winning documentary directed by Francesco Taboada Tabone called
13 Pueblos: en defensa del agua, el aire y la tierra (defending water, air and land), Winner of Premio Rigoberta Menchu at the Montreal 2008 People's Festival.

"In the future, wars will be fought over water, but in Mexico the war has already begun. This documentary contemplates Mexico’s destiny, telling the story of the struggle of its indigenous people to preserve their natural resources and their cultural identity (Cine Las Americas)."

Click to go to a blog for the film.

13 Pueblos - defending water, air and land

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mexican Cinema Series

As part of the Mexican Independence celebration, Teatro Santa Ana at the Biblioteca Publica presents three great films this week, two movies representative of the Golden Age and one of the New Age.

"The outburst of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema took place in 1943. The 70 movies filmed that year proved cinema had become a true industry in Mexico. Europe and the US were busy in the war, which had freed Mexican cinema from the European influence and greatly diminished the American one. Mexican directors made their greatest effort that year; (Atencion San Miguel)".

Mexican Film Series

María Candelaria (1943) - Directed by
Emilio “Indio” Fernández
Starring Dolores del Río (of Hollywood fame) and Pedro Armendáriz
"The story of a young flower seller of Xochimilco, who is harassed by the villagers of her community for being the daughter of a prostitute. The film examines both racism against Indians in Mexico and social ostracism in the forties (Atencion San Miguel)."

Thu, Sep 17, 2pm
Fri, Sep 18, 7pm
Spanish with English subtitles

Nosotros los Pobres
(We, the Poor)
Directed in 1947 by Ismael Rodríguez
"It depicts the sorrows and difficulties of humble carpenter Pepe el Toro (Infante) and a vision of the people in the poor neighborhoods of Mexico City during the forties. Two glories of the Mexican stage and screen, Carmen Montejo and Katy Jurado (Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress in 1954 for The Broken Lance) accompany Infante in this unforgettable film, seen by generations of Mexicans (Atencion San Miguel)."

Fri, Sep 18, 4pm
Spanish with English subtitles

Voces Inocentes - Directed in 2004 by Luis Mandoki
(Innocent Voices)

Jesus Ibarra of Atencion San Miguel describes this film as a "touching story of Chava, an 11-year-old boy who lives in a small village in the middle of the civil war in El Salvador. During the eighties, the government army in El Salvador recruited 12-year-old boys, taking them out of schools. Chava has only one year left of innocence, one year before he is also enrolled by the army to fight against rebels. The issue of child recruitment is a central subject in the movie. Director Mandoki said, “Nowadays, more than 300,000 kids are recruited by armies all around the world. This is one of the reasons I had for telling this story (Atencion San Miguel).”

Thu, Sep 17, 7pm
Fri, Sep 18, 1pm

Spanish with English subtitles