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Similarity in Cultural Encounter in both Texts

Explore how cultural encounters are manifested in literary works, specifically short stories from An Anthology of Short Stories from Five Continents, with particular reference to The Distant Past by William Trevor and In Cuba I was a German Shepherd by Ana Menendez. Both these stories talk of “refugees”, physically and/or emotionally, Cuban “exiles” in the US and Anglicans who once “belonged” in Ireland.

Cultural encounters are a part of experiences individuals undergo in the wake of interactions with people of different cultures either living in foreign land or visiting such individuals during tours. Migration for permanent or temporary settlement in other countries raises the most of such cases where the migrants or immigrants try to cope with the lifestyle, culture, food and beverage preferences of the new nations. As such, critical issues of cultural concern arise thus leading to the cultural encounters in different perspectives. Cultural encounters are manifest themselves in literary works and go a long way in providing experiences, conflict, and disruption to settlers. The paper focuses on the cultural encounters from the short stories; The Distant Past and In Cuba I was a German Shepherd.

The issue of cultural experience appears both in the stories though in different setups but relating experiences. In the Distant Past, the story speaks of the conflict between British and the Irish as well as the Catholics and Protestants (Schirmer 2014). The protagonists in the case, the Middleton are Irish Protestants living in a predominantly Catholic country and of different political ideology (Gale 2016). The Middleton’s face rebellion and hostility due to their present political and religious affiliation in the wake of the conflict that renewed the old wounds long forgotten in the area. As a result, the theme of loneliness and alienation arise making their lives unbearable as they cannot interact with the friends thus fear of dying emanates (Gale 2016). The union Jack formerly displayed in their car becomes an element of danger as t could threaten their life in the times of the conflict.  

In Cuba I was a German Shepherd also elicits similar experiences to the latter. The book narrates of the attempts of immigrants from Cuba to make a new life in America. The author speaks of the loneliness and despair that the migration caused the affected parties no longer enjoy the company of their friends, family, elegant homes and a lost dream of becoming writers, singers, and baseball players. The stories always began with …in Cuba life was always pure and good…thus telling of the present difference experienced. Further, Maximo explains of the significant person he was in the native land despite the present amusement he commands from people due to his height.

Author’s Awareness of the Cultural Encounter

Therefore, the issue of culture is similar in the two cases where each party try to hold on to their parent land culture while at the same trying to cope with that of the parent land which at times becomes difficult and raising conflicts. The case of the protestant family in a catholic dominant country and the short Cuban Maximo who seemed different and a laughing stock illustrates the frustrations of cultural experience in the two cases. At the same time, the state of loneliness caused by the indifference with the present culture applies in the two cases thus justifying the issue of cultural experience. 

Cultural encounter loosely translates to interactions between two or more persons working or operating under different social norms. The theme of cultural encounter remains present in the cases as highlighted by the respective authors. Menendez and Trevor draw back their memories in comparison of the former occurrences to the present ones and give a different narration of the difference in culture thus drawing recognition for cultural encounters in their respective readings. In their interactions with the natives, the Cubans work together with the natives and understand their differences but try to comply with the working cultures of the natives (Aparicio 2014).

On the other hand, Trevor is aware of the cultural encounters as demonstrated in the way the Middleton’s left their home in the evening to go to the towns and interact with the locals. The narrations in both cases indicate their awareness of the encounters as they clearly tell of the frustrations and happiness that ensued in such meetings for the immigrants. Thus, the awareness is manifested in the acknowledgement and highlight of the interaction of both parties and the subsequent comparisons they make to their former culture in relation with the present occurrences.  

The main characters in the stories are aware of the cultural encounter surrounding their life. The Middleton’s are aware that things have changed as opposed to the times when they interacted with the locals freely occasioned by the conflict and action of the British on the locals (Schirmer 2014). As a result, in realization of the difference cultures and belief, the Middleton’s recognize the Union Jack as an element of danger and as a threat to their life and thus do not display it as done previously (Gale 2016). At the same time, they stay clear of causing further influence on the rest based on their religious affiliation in full understanding of the dominant Catholic followers. 

Main Character’s Awareness of Cultural Encounter

Meximo on his part recognizes the fact that people are laughing about his height in the present nation he is as an immigrant. However, he takes consolation in the fact that back in their nation he was recognized and treasured despite his physical formation that differs from that of the locals (Aparicio 2014). The realization justifies his awareness of the cultural encounter experienced at the place. Despite the challenge, the character goes on to conform and find means to adapt to the ridicule and other issues as an immigrant while constantly making reference to the ‘heaven’ he enjoyed back in Cuba (Garcia 2016). Both cases illustrate acknowledgement of the case and thus justify that the main characters in the play understand fully the subject matter to their feel of isolation and loneliness.  

The theme of cultural encounter is highlighted through the visit to town on Friday where the Middleton’s enjoyed their journey and tried to trace and hold on to their tradition in full realization of the contrary among the locals (Gale 2016). As such, they went to the town and sold eggs while drinking and interacting with the locals in trying to adapt to their culture. In the process, the cultural encounter took place where they learned a lot on the dominant culture and tried to live and act like them but holding to their initial cultural values and beliefs.

In the White busses event, Meximo and the friends interacted while playing Domino with the rest of the team. While the game was played in silence, those of other culture shouted to the girls and made gestures that appeared weird to Meximo. However, he got used to them on the realization of the cultural encounter and the differences in what he liked doing as opposed to the locals (Aparicio 2014). Despite the bad things observed, he always went back to the spot and did the same things over and over again.

The use of contrast assists in telling the story and understanding the cultural encounters in the case. First, Meximo in most statements would begin with the phrase Back in Cuba, things were good…thus justifying the use of past and the present in trying to compare cultural issues (Garcia 2016). The comparison of character and how people treasured him in his profession as opposed to the present draws elements of comparison which depict the reality of cultural encounters Frank 2014). On the other hand, the Middleton’s in their visit to the town try to compare and find peace in holding to their allegiance and religion. On Sundays they always visited St. Patrick’s Protestant Church, a place that matched their moods and reminded them of the past. Through the same, they identified with the past and used the Fridays in associating with the locals in identifying with the present culture, which they found unusual at times.

Conclusion

The two texts remain similar in the portrayal of cultural encounters in different contexts. It is observed that the authors experienced the case which despite different location of the play has resembling features in the struggle of the immigrants with the native culture. Despite the challenges, everything had to be done to ensure they survive even in the face of ridicule. The two books remain a good read for literature skills.

Reference List

Aparicio, J.A., 2014. That is So Funny It Breaks My Heart": Melancholy and Mourning in Ana Menéndez's" In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd. CEA Critic, 76(3), pp.305-311.

Frank, H., 2014. Cultural Encounters in Translated Children's Literature. Routledge.

Gale, C.L., 2016. A Study Guide for William Trevor's" The Distant Past". Gale, Cengage Learning.

Garcia, D.E., 2016. Fragmentation and Multiplicity in Cuban-American Identity: In Cuba I was a German Shepherd by Ana Menéndez and Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas.

Schirmer, G.A., 2014. William Trevor (Routledge Revivals): A Study of His Fiction. Routledge.

Shaffer, B.W., 2018. New Edition on Irish Fiction & Drama. English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, 61(2), pp.285-288.

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