Let’s talk about what it really means to help one another in this crazy world of ours. Specifically, let’s talk about all the generalizations we make about the world around us – those parts that are foreign to us and yet we think we know them all too well.
It is easy, as the two reblogged articles from Compassion below relate, for us to generalize countries and people groups. It’s how our brains make sense and process the deluge of information that comes at us on a daily basis.
While that’s how our brains work, in the simplest of terms, it doesn’t mean that it’s right. Sometimes, honestly most times, the aspects we key in on for countries and people groups are faulty. They are limited, small microscopic minutiae, and yet we build entire constructs to help us understand.
So, instead of me rambling and blabbing, I decided to share two articles that, while not all encompassing, give us a great place to start toward building better understanding – especially toward people who deserve all the understanding we can give (and we’d hope they’d give to us, too).
A Short Guide to Talking About Latin America
It’s human nature to use generalizations. We compartmentalize information about the world as we view it through our own tinted lenses of experiences and interactions. And if we’re not careful, that compartmentalization can shape what we think about a group of people into a singular story.
As Amber shared in A Short Guide to Talking About Africa,
“It’s easy to latch on to one particular thing about a community or country and define its essence accordingly.”
Much like the singular stories about the United States and Africa that Amber talks about, the cultural generalizations made about Latin America are crafted from our limited connections, assumptions and the media.
We are a country of immigrants. Mexico borders four of our states, we have a complex relationship with Cuba, Puerto Rico is U.S. territory, and we have more Spanish speakers in our country than any other demographic. In many ways, we feel culturally and geographically close to Latin America because of those few neighboring countries and the presence of Latinos in the U.S.
We’re so close, that it’s easy to assume we “get” Latin America and Latin Americans. We’ve all been guilty of this, including me. And I am realizing there is damage that can be done when we think we understand a diverse region with many races and cultures.
I am fairly new to Compassion (coming up on my year anniversary, to be exact), but working here supporting communications for our Latin American and Caribbean Region has greatly expanded my own understanding and perspective of Latin America. Having done graduate work in Latin American studies, I’ve had a passion for the people and cultures of Central and South America for a while, but I’m still learning that there is greater depth to each country than I could have imagined.
So, let’s dig a little deeper and change the way we talk about Latin America together.
A Short Guide to Talking About Africa
As a U.S. citizen, I’ve heard many reactions to my nationality as I travel to other places. A few gems: “We love Americans!” “We hate Americans!” “You can print your own money at an ATM.” “You’re all fat.”
People have ample opportunities to see the United States in news and entertainment, so they have ample opportunities to form opinions of us — for better or for worse. It’s easy to latch on to one particular thing about a community or country and define its essence accordingly. I remember when I was in high school, someone heard where I went to school and asked me, “Are you all gang members there?” No, we weren’t. There were a couple of kids who liked to act like they were tough, but the vast majority of us were just ordinary kids.
It’s often lamented how the same thing has happened to an entire continent: Africa. We have heard the newsreel version of Africa and stereotyped one billion people in 53 diverse countries (including the surrounding islands) as sick or sad or violent. Non-profits are to blame, in part, because we focus so intently on the hurts that our organizations seek to help.
Who am I to presume to speak up for Africa, as if she needs my defense? I’ve traveled to only two countries within Africa. I am no expert, and I have no right. But as a writer for a non-profit who often writes stories about people living in East and West Africa, I feel it’s partly my responsibility to bring any balance that I can to our perceptions.
But in trying to show the amazing beauty, diversity and cultural richness of the continent, we can also stereotype in the other direction — creating a caricature of everyone on this continent as jolly and not recognizing that there are thousands of cultures on this vast land mass, some exuberant and some reserved. Or we can paint a picture of only the physical beauty of one section of Africa — giraffe on the savannah with acacia trees — while ignoring the high-rises of Lagos and the boulevards of Kinshasa.
So instead of praising Africa in generalities, which might sound pretentious and condescending anyway, I’ve come up with a handy guide to talking about Africa.
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