Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You Can't Have One Without the Other

This week’s reading, “Geo-ethnic storytelling,” particularly resonated with me, and put a lot of my childhood into perspective. Everyday when I was home with my mother, who is an immigrant from Guyana, I would be forced to listen to Guyanese news radio broadcasts. In particular, I have fond memories of my mother blasting “Caribbean Experience,” a Saturday evening radio show that plays Caribbean music and infuses news stories about the Caribbean in order to “bring the island home a little closer.” As my mother cooked Guyanese “pepper pot stew”, “ox-tail soup” and “sorell juice,” she would listen intently to the news stories from her home country and dance up a storm to the rhythms of her native Caribbean music. As a child, I never understood why that radio show was such an integral part of her life and often made her cry, laugh, smile and shout about issues in her home country. Now, it all makes sense.

My mother was simply feeling the effects of geo-ethnic story telling, which the authors describe as “a practice that aims to produce culturally relevant and locally vital information to immigrants in the host society.” The reading focuses on print material, however, geo-ethnic story telling can play out in any form of media. Caribbean Experience is broadcast from Howard University and focuses on reaching the Caribbean Diaspora in the Washington DC area. The article argues that geo-ethnicity has to be ethnically or culturally relevant AND geographically bound to effectively reach the immigrant community.

Both elements are absolutely necessary, and without them, the ethnic media will not have an impact on the desired community. I saw this play out when I would travel with my mother to visit my Granny in New York. Granny faithfully, and almost exclusively, listened to New York-focused Caribbean radio broadcasting. My mother would listen as well, however, she was never really persuaded by these broadcasts to participate in the New York Caribbean community. Of course, she was interested in the broadcasts because it informed her about her homeland, however she was not as engaged in New York Caribbean issues as she was in DC. She perceived the New York broadcasts to be irrelevant to her daily life in DC.

This sentiment also appears to play out within the Caribbean media itself. For example, during the Carnival festival season, neither the New York, nor the DC Caribbean media seem to make a concerted effort to promote Carnival celebrations in other areas of the U.S. Most focus on encouraging their constituency to attend the local version of Carnival, as there are approximately 19 Carnival festivals held throughout the U.S. over a four month period. Although Caribbean people in the U.S. usually travel to other regions to attend Carnival festivals, there does not seem to be any media campaigns to promote the festivals on a macro level. In turn, my mother would never make an effort to attend New York Carnival, even if she was in New York, during festival season. Although she was culturally tied to the Caribbean people in New York, she was not vested geographically and therefore had no desire to attend.

Ethnic media plays a great role in preserving cultural identity and keeping immigrants connected to the homeland. However, in order for this media to be relevant to its target audience, it must not only be culturally relevant, but it must have some significance to the local community. Without both of these crucial elements, ethnic media will not be meaningful to immigrant communities.

1 comment:

  1. I can completely relate to your experience. My dad is an immigrant from Spain. Everyday he reads 'El Pais' and a local Valencian newspaper online called 'El Levante'. It is fascinating how pivotal ethnic media can be for reaffirming his culture. Particularly, after reading the news from Spain, it is as if he is culturally refreshed. Geo-ethnic media provides its audiences with an 'imagined' place and sense of belonging to culture.