What exactly do a duck and a rabbit have to do with culture? The author Cathy Bao Bean answered that question among others during her lecture at the Black Cultural Center. Author of "The Chopsticks-Fork Principle: A Memoir and Manual" and co-author of "The Chopsticks-Fork Principle X 2: A Bilingual Reader," Bean visited campus Wednesday afternoon on behalf of the Office of Multicultural Student Life.
Bean conveyed her message about the importance of living an intercultural life through humor and examples from her own life. She detailed a timeline of major events in her life that were impacted by her dual culture. The memories included when she moved to the U.S. from China at a young age, when she married a Caucasian man whose culture contrasted that of her parents and when she raised her son with both Chinese and American traditions. These memories stood out in her mind as defining experiences.
"I think it's very interesting to learn about how she raised her son with two cultures," Alex Brown, a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in college student personnel, said.
Brown helped to coordinate the event. One of Bean's points focused on the fact that everyone is part of more than just one culture, and each culture encourages different behavior.
"If you're not a hermit, and you're not because you're here, you are at least bicultural," Bean said to the small audience. "Everybody lives in different cultures, it could be school versus home; it could be in the city versus country. ... Everybody has these different places in their behavior ... people think if you're an American that means you're one thing; no, you're lots of things."
One difference between Eastern and Western cultures that Bean highlighted was the importance of individualism.
"There's a pressure, especially in western cultures, (to) only be oneself; no, I say you have many selves. No one should tell you you're a hypocrite because you do it one way here and another way there," she said. "Unless you're living in a cave and you're the only person talking to yourself, you're at least bicultural."
Bean used a simple drawing to further explain her dual-cultural theme. Depending on the perspective of its viewer, the picture shows either a duck or a rabbit; she suggested that people could not see both the duck and the rabbit at the same time. The analogy supported her original claim: people can have more than one culture, but that they cannot be part of more than one at the same time.
"The human brain can look at the same drawing and see many different things. I can be Chinese; I can be American; I can be modern; I can be traditional; you just can't do it all at once. What you do when you're at least bicultural is (that) you learn how to switch very fast," Bean said. "So, short of Multiple Personality Disorder, you can be all at once, and you're not a hypocrite."
Although only a handful of people attended the event, Bean had them laughing at every punch line. Brown was pleased with the event.
"I really enjoyed all of her personal anecdotes, and I enjoyed how she encouraged people to look at things from multiple perspectives," he said.