A Narrative Confrontation: Encountering Difference and Multiculturalism



Here is an excerpt from my dissertation ESTORYA SA (The Story Of) MID-AIR: From An Artist Of Diversity Towards A Teacher For Peace (2005) discussing the ideas of memory and its influence on understanding multiculturalism and notions of identity.

A Narrative Confrontation: Encountering Difference and Multiculturalism

In the past, the term multiculturalism was quite commonly used and demonstrated in classrooms through tokenistic practices and celebratory events such as “pot luck” lunches.  It has become a policy that can be implemented into and removed from the curriculum at will.  It is a very complicated term that is not fully understood because it is open to many interpretations.

One way of thinking about new approaches to issues of diversity in education is through theorized notions of personal experience.  As Giroux (1996) writes, “The central challenge for educators and other cultural workers…is to redefine the relationship between culture and politics in order to deepen and extend the basis for transformative and emancipatory practice.  Central to such a struggle is rethinking and rewriting difference in relation to wider questions of membership, community and social responsibility” (p.91-92).  As I begin to rethink multiculturalism, I unpack stories and voices of human agency.  In this light, I hope to transform multicultural practices as more than lessons to be taught.  I desire to see it become a lived practice experienced by all in Canadian classrooms.

By exploring all influences on my identity construction, I begin to isolate my lived experiences as transformative moments of knowledge.  I begin to puzzle through my self(ves).  What happens to my history, my stories and my lineage when I write?  How do I shape my Canadian self(ves) in a multicultural setting?  I will investigate the endogenous (ACTIVE) construction of identity as defined and shaped by my own lived experiences.

Through Lived Experience We Learn to Live

Every culture is and has always been ethnocentric, that is, it thinks its own solutions are superior and would be recognized as superior by any right-thinking, intelligent, logical human being.  (Andres & Andres, 1994, p.4)

In reading through my life texts, I come to terms with my own endogenous (ACTIVE) cultural identity construction.   I acknowledge my culture of heritage, my Canadian identity, my minority status and the many layers of multiculturalism as they have contributed to my experiences.  There are theories, but there is also the opportunity to explore, to define and to construct my own identity as I have lived it.  It becomes the validation of my life experiences and my personal practical knowledge (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988) in the construction of my own multifaceted cultural self-identity.

Finding My Personal Voice and Living My Identity

The root of my inquiry takes me to a memory tucked into a corner of my mind.  This memory is the impetus propelling my narrative explorations of identity.

As Kerby (1991) writes, “questions of identity and self-understanding arise primarily in crisis situations and at certain turning points in our routine behaviour.  Such events often call for self-appraisal” (p.7).  At the time of this memory I was six.  When I relived the memory for a graduate school course, I was twenty-six.

I retell and relive the story each and everyday so as to lessen its intensity.  But the passage of time will never diminish the initial effects of this event on my life.

From this point on in my life, I remember feeling physically different from others.  I was warned by my father that this would not be the last time.

The Roots of Awareness

When I was little, I remember going grocery shopping with my father and my mother.  We had walked to the local grocery store and had just finished paying for our food.

We were walking home and I was ahead of my parents holding one bag in my right hand.  I was six.  I was not really paying attention until I heard my father shout out.  I turned and saw that he had stopped and so had my mother.

They were staring back at a group of kids.  I ran to them and heard my father cursing both in English and in his own language.  The kids were shouting at my parents.  I remember them saying, “Go back to China, you ugly chinks!”  I remember my mother shouting back at them.  I remember this clearly because my mother is not very confrontational unless she is angry.  She spat on the ground in front of them and told them they were stupid and that they would never become anything.

I remember my mother grabbing me and telling me to keep walking.

I said nothing.  (Bautista, September 1998)

From this recounting, I recognize the implications and influences of memory upon my cultural self -identity.  In terms of Kerby’s (1991) crisis situation, this childhood memory of crisis, reoccurs in different forms throughout my life up to the present day.  In order to find a new voice, I must visit those times when my voice experienced silence.

EXTERNAL vs. INTERNAL: My Dialectic of Exogenous and Endogenous Constructions of Identity

Personal experiences involved in identity construction are as complex as are its historical, social and political parts.  Lived experiences offer other dimensions to my self-knowledge.  In this sense, identity construction is not exclusively an exogenous concept.  The negotiation of my identity includes the exploration of social, historical, political, and theoretical layers as well as my lived experiences.

When I began my journey to locate meaning in my cultural identity, I did not find texts written about a specific cultural group by researchers that were born of or had lineage to that particular group.  This external identity construction sees cultural identity through a “looking glass” where writers posit their ideas in a commentary-like fashion.  Basically, an outsider’s viewpoint presenting a culture.  This is not necessarily appropriation, but if this represents one way then what are the other ways of ethnocultural research writing?

Palumbo-Liu (1994) discusses notions of the Asian American as defined and reinforced by “white hegemonic identifications.”  He explores the “looking-glass” construction of identity as it compartmentalizes a diverse group into a single category.  Briefly, such researchers define Asian-Americans (Chinese, Japanese and Korean Americans) as a stoic, apt and conformable people.  This depiction of Asian culture is oversimplified and stereotypical.  The complexity of culture, presented by “looking glass” researchers, reconstructs what they perceive to be true.  In doing so, a perpetuation of cultural stereotype is propagated, reinforced and blanketed over all Asian-Americans.

With the majority of research texts written by exogenous researchers, constructions of identity occur outside of an individual’s making.  How can I construct and explore cultural identity issues within a professional landscape, if as a person from the culture I am not contributing to these identity constructions?  An answer, perhaps, lies in the question.

Choosing Endogenous or Internal Construction of Identity and Culture

Filipino anthropological researchers, Andres and Andres (1994) are members of the ethnic culture being studied.  They offer relevant concepts of Filipino culture that reflect part of my own culture of heritage.  They write about key points of cultural identification inherent in the Filipino belief system such as the importance of child education in a Filipino household, and the role of Filipino parents and child-rearing practices.  It was the first time I found a text on my culture of heritage written by Filipinos.[1]

After reading the text, many of my lived experiences connected to numerous ideas within their passages.  I began to weave moments of my past into a research study written by Filipinos.  My notion of an endogenous construction of identity allows me to place exogenous (the looking-glass research) definitions of cultural identity alongside my own personal experience.

A second ALEPH moment arises as I come to see one side of my dual ethnicity take shape in written research form.  By placing my lived experiences in the context of Filipino culture, I, therefore begin to see that parts of my Canadian self are deeply rooted in a land far away.  I further realize that my parents are stems branching out from those cultural roots.

When my parents left their home country, Filipino cultural codes were packed with their belongings.  As they lived in Canada, the customs were unpacked into the lives of their children.  My family constantly packs and unpacks items of tradition, heritage, code and conduct, one upon the other.

Some placed gently and sometimes, not so gently.  Some are received openly while others struggle to be accepted.

Again, I feel the power of self and other,  another horizon of encounter.

Andres, T. & Andres, P. (1994). Understanding the Filipino.  Quezon City:  New Day Publishers.
Connelly, F.M. & Clandinin, D. J. (1988). Studying teachers’ knowledge of classrooms: Collaborative research, ethics and the negotiation of narrative. The Journal of Educational Thought, 22(2A), 269-282.

Connelly, F.M. and Clandinin, D. J. (1992). Teacher as Curriculum Maker. New York: Macmillan Publishing.

Giroux, H. A. (1993). Living Dangerously: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Difference.  New York:  Peter Lang Publishing.

Kerby, A. P. (1991).  Narrative and the self.  Indianapolis: IndianaUniversity Press.

Palumbo-Liu, D. (1994).  Los Angeles, Asians, and Perverse Ventriloquisms: On the Function of Asian America in the Recent American Imaginary.   Public Culture 6(2), 365-81.

[1] I discovered the book in 1997 while I was living in Korea.