Prize Winning Pumpkin: Celebrating American Culture Abroad

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Moving competition-size pumpkins calls for a forklift.Today, I stumbled upon a Japanese Culture Festival at the     Jardín Japonés.  Organized by the Fundación Cultural Argentino Japonesa, the agenda included a food tasting and a judo exhibition, both of which I missed.  Luckily, I arrived just in time for a performance by Medetaiko, a Japanese drum ensemble.

Taiko, according to Google, refers to both a kind of drum and a style of ensemble drumming which combines traditional Japanese percussion with karate movements.  Performed in customary dress, taiko is a high-energy mix of music, dance, and martial arts, and it’s fabulous. Taiko drums have been in use for some 2000 years, but Taiko as it is performed today dates back only to the 1950s.  In the 1980s, the Japanese government began sponsoring taiko groups as a way to preserve and promote Japanese culture both at home and abroad.  There are now approximately 5,000 taiko groups in Japan.

As I sat there watching Japanese drumming in Argentina, I thought about how wonderful it is that Japanese immigrants have been able to maintain their cultural identity and share their traditions with both their children and their host country.  And I began to wonder what an American Cultural Festival would like:

12pm: Beauty Pageant
1pm: How to Build the World’s Largest Ball of Yarn
2pm: Thomas Kinkade Cross Stitch Workshop
3pm: Pie Eating Contest

Large immigrant groups tend to inspire the foundation of organizations dedicated to improving cross-cultural relations, and to the preservation, teaching, and diffusion of the language, customs, and rites of the migrant community.  I guess that because Americans tend not to emigrate, you don’t see a lot of American Cultural Societies in foreign countries.

Come to think of it, even though we don’t send people abroad, American language, culture, and commerce is so pervasive worldwide that I’m not sure that such an association would be necessary.  Want to teach your expat children about American society?  Turn on the T.V.  Want them to learn to speak English?  Send them to any local school.  Want to introduce them to American goods and products?  Look for the nearest Walmart. Still, for those of us who do live, work, or raise families abroad, it would be nice to have a building shaped like a skyscraper where we could play baseball, listen to hip-hop music, and eat a decent sandwich.

Of course, it’s wonderful that America does not produce many refugees or political exiles, and that people born in the United States tend to feel comfortable and welcome right where they are.  But the downside to this is that we are not actively promoting awareness or understanding of our culture abroad, nor are we mingling with or learning from other peoples.  If you ask me, a few more American cross-cultural associations in other countries might not be a bad thing.

Quite honestly, I’m saddened by the idea that everything people know about American culture, they learned from Friends.  And I’m even sadder to admit that if I were open an American Cultural Society abroad, I’m not sure what services and activities it would offer, what events it would organize, or what traditions it would celebrate.

Any ideas?

1 Response to “Prize Winning Pumpkin: Celebrating American Culture Abroad”

  1. 1 Farolera December 16, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    Oh wow. I had never really thought about it that way… I guess it would be a good idea to *organize* USA’s cultural influence and exchange abroad, instead of just leaving it to the occasional, random gappers or to the entertainment industry’s pollination.

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