Elevate Difference

Creating Ourselves: African Americans and Hispanic Americans in Popular Culture and Religious Expression

The topic of cross-cultural communication has fascinated me for a number of years, partly because of my own experiences in Latin America, and partly from observing the interaction between the Latino/a and African American communities. Watching these two groups interact has taught me a great deal about differences in the ways of communication, how what may be "appropriate" in one culture may not be in the other, and the need for discussion to avoid potential misunderstandings.

Therefore, it was with great interest that I read Creating Ourselves, a study on cross-cultural communication and collaboration between religious scholars of the two largest minority groups in the United States. The timing of the publication of this book is of great importance, as both groups have, to a certain extent, been viewed as "foreign elements" that might threaten the national identity of Americans, especially in the current economic climate. Scholars from both communities engage in a dialogue, an exchange of opinions, perspectives, and hopes, as their history and identity is linked through the cultural production via representations in popular culture.

I found the structure of the work innovative and very much needed in scholarly circles. The book consists of seven sections with two essays in each of them, one from each group. Every article is followed by a response written by a corresponding essayist from the opposite group, each contributor using their own personal experiences to further engage readers.

Teresa Delgado analyses the novel América’s Dream by Esmeralda Santiago, which delves into the life of América González, a single mother who takes a job as a maid in a hotel in New York after suffering abuse by her daughter's father in Puerto Rico. Although América finds freedom in New York, she remains isolated and silent, as she has not broken the dependency of oppression. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, in response, reflects on the "womanist theory" that calls for revolution in the ways of seeing, living, and being. The term "womanist," coined by Alice Walker, refers to women who are in charge, who champion freedom and who transform the oppressive forms affected by race, gender, and class domination. Kirk-Duggan uses hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill as an example of just one of these extraordinary women.

In "Television and Religion," Jonathan Walton analyses the dramatised faith in megachurch movements; the colossal buildings that house sanctuaries, gyms, daycare, bookstores, and more are especially attractive to African American communities, with their charismatic pastors who even hold worship through an electronic church. Another form of melodrama is found in the Latin telenovelas (soap operas) that have become extremely popular for millions around the world; Kassandra, a Venezuelan soap opera attracts people as far away as Serbia, while The Rich Also Cry is popular even in Moscow.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Creating Ourselves as the subject of creativity in all different forms, styles, colours, and shadows is part of our daily life.

Written by: Anna Hamling, April 30th 2010