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Free Example of Auto-Ethnography Essay

Auto-ethnography refers to a method or form of social research that serves the purpose of exploring personal experiences of the researcher. It connects this autobiographical story to social, political, and cultural meanings and understandings. Louis Pratt’s story ‘Art of the Contact Zone’ handles two main fundamental issues; auto-ethnography and contact zone. Contact zone, according to Pratt, refers to social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other normally in the context of highly asymmetrical power relations like slavery and colonialism. Their impacts or aftermaths can be observed in various societies today (Bartholomew & Petroksky 584). Generally, the essay encourages teachers and tutors to develop a view that classrooms are not serene places where rationality reigns. On the contrary, they are the important spots where complex interplay and various types of communication occur among various cultures. Some of the types of interactions are allowed by the teacher’s authority and school, whole some are prohibited. The essay also invites tutors and teachers to take a new look and develop a new perception on the contact zone. They should not only see the challenges, but also the possibilities for new forms of knowledge and comprehension. This paper will analyze auto-ethnography and contact zones, using various evidences from the story.

The first paragraph of the essay serves as an introduction to a term repeated and coined by Pratt throughout the entire essay, contact zones. According to the description she gives, contact zone can be either negative or positive. A positive contact zone exists where people or students from different cultures sit in the same classroom and share their ideas concerning their backgrounds and academic knowledge. Positive contact zone gives people a way to talk as well as discuss certain crucial historical aspects. It gives an individual an opportunity to develop awareness and identify with some specific ideas, interests, and other people’s history. She goes ahead to state that communication and various interactions among people are beneficial factors for this understanding to appear. Positive contract zone is necessary to be developed by any person in all aspects of life. It is necessary for psychological development as it ensures that mental disturbances, such as posttraumatic stresses, are dealt with accordingly and are fully eliminated. It is also necessary for social life as it facilitates interaction of various people from diverse cultural backgrounds. This enables and facilitates understanding among these people thus, encouraging the sharing of development related ideas among individuals. It is also very important in the political aspect of the represented societies. Exchange of ideas concerning developments influences the political development as well. This is because in any society economy is an embodiment of its politics.

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Considering the issue of contact zones and auto-ethnography in the story, the experiences of certain international students in the United States create a greater concern. Description of such students in the US will be done in this paper based on the example of Venezuela and using the principles of the above mentioned two bases. Studying abroad implies that one moves from his or her original homeland to another country, where cultural values may be totally different from those of a home country. It is, therefore, important that the contact zones be established so that the learning environment is made suitable to all students from diverse backgrounds. In this case, contact zone is necessary to ensure that the students from both sides benefit from each other’s cultural beliefs and practices. However, based on research and analysis, Pratt’s story provides a good argumentative platform on what most of the students from Venezuela experience in the US universities.

To begin with, the students experience new culture, characterized by new linguistics. She describes her son Sam and his best friend Willie who were involved in a conversation about what they have learnt in class. The two have trouble in pronouncing ‘Carl Yastremski’. “Why don’t you trade me Many Trails for Carl Yats…Yes, it’s …Ya-strum-scrum (Bartholomew & Petroksky 584)”. Yastremski was the name of a baseball card. They practiced pronunciation using this name. This is the same situation experienced by Venezuela students in the United States. The contact zone has a greater influence on the cultural response and behaviors of an individual in a new environment. The author ends the paragraph in a sarcastic manner stating that it was her first time to see the two boys put what they had learnt into practice. This brings in another aspect of contact zone, negative contact zone, to the story. The two are not used to applying what they learn to the situations that arise. The two are able to use phonics in identifying their personal experiences and relate them to the cultural or social influences. For instance, their inability to do the pronunciation well shows their first experience with the word. In short, they had never come across such a word before in their culture.

Guaman allegorically gives out a lot of information concerning the concepts of both contact zone and auto-ethnography. In the first section of the writing ‘New Chronicles’ Pratt explains the originality or the cultural and religious background of the writing’s author Felipe Guaman. Guaman is an Andean of Christian origin. Andes, as described in the story, consisted of a bunch of illiterate individuals. Guaman, however, managed to compose a 1200 page writing in both Spanish and Quechua, though the Spanish part was not as clear and fluent as the Quechua part was. Pratt goes ahead to state that Guaman learnt the art of writing from his brother who had received religious education. This brings in two important aspects of contact zone and auto-ethnography. Learning from another person implies an adoption of the beliefs of that particular person. One of the beliefs that Guaman adopted from his brother was that of Christianity. As explained in the story, contact zones enable an individual to learn, compare, and adapt certain cultural practices of other people. Pratt insists on adaptation to a practice rather than copying it. “He does not simply imitate or reproduce it; he selects and adapts it along Andean lines to express…(Bartholomew & Petroksky 585)”. In comparison to Venezuela students in the United States, there is a constant learning of new cultural practices and beliefs. Religion is not an exception from the list. Learning new religions gives possibility to discover and gain new important ideas and knowledge that can be helpful in the future or at present. It is also noted that Guaman learnt how to read and write because of a suitable environment to progress with the learning. In addition, he never chose to blindly follow his brother’s Christian beliefs, he performed a special selection, chose what he wanted, and left out the rest.

Further, Guaman in the first part of the writing states that the Amerindians are examples of Noah’s offspring. He identifies five ages of Christian history and puts them in parallel with the Andean five ages of history. He shows equal trajectory diverging with Noah and not re-intersecting with Saint Bartholomew, not Columbus. This is because Bartholomew is claimed to have existed and preceded Columbus in the US. In other couple of hundred pages he comes up with a veritable encyclopedia of Pre-Inca and Inca history describing laws, social norms, dynasty leaders, and public offices. The depiction has numerous similarities and resembles European custom and manners. However, it also reproduces in thorough detail the knowledge that was stored in the Inca society. In this context, Guaman links Noah’s offspring to that of the Andeans using the five ages as the fundamental similarity between the two.

 Literary, what Guaman is bringing to the light of the reader is more than a mere overview of the comparison. He portrays and reveals the possibility that the two parties might have been in the same contact zone before the separation. The effects of the experiences from the contact zone are evident from the comparable similarities between the two. Contact zones, as stated earlier lead to clashes and grappling between cultures of different individuals. In relation to this context, the cultures of the two different groups were initially different or diverse in nature. However, due to the grappling at the contact zone, one group ended up leaving its culture or making it dormant with a view of adopting another one in order to learn more from the other. Naturally in the contact zone the group that surrenders its culture in order to learn and adapt to another one is not the dominant one; it is always the suppressed, ruled, an its members are subjects in a given society. In addition, they are the minority in that particular environment.

The case with Venezuela students in the US is also relevant here.  The student is from another country and he has come to the US to acquire education. However, there are some beliefs and practices present in the American society that he has to learn and accept in order to achieve his goal oaf acquiring education. Of course, he belongs to the minority group while the American students and teachers belong to the majority or dominant group, as claimed by Pratt in the story. He, therefore, has no other choice but to suppress his practices and beliefs in order to adapt to the beliefs of the new learning environment. In the process of adapting to the new environment, students encounter or display certain features associated with contact zones: auto-ethnography, parody, mediation, bilingualism, vernacular expression, imaginary dialogue, and collaboration. Some of these factors are common in any society where two cultures clash. For instance, bilingualism is a common and predictable feature of contact zone where people from two ethnic or language groups interact. The students also experience imaginary dialogue with their host students during the cultural clash. Imaginary dialogue creates a situation where the Venezuela students learn certain things or basics of the American cultural practices using their common senses. After a long time, the students experience a change as they manage to fit well in the US society. To summarize this, a quote from Anderson revealed in the story by Pratt appears to be the most relevant. He argues that bourgeoisies were distinguished by their ability to “achieve solidarity on an essentially imagined basis (Bartholomew & Petroksky 586)”. “Communities are distinguished not by their falsity or genuineness but by the style in which they are imagined (Bartholomew & Petroksky 586)”. The two excerpts serve as evidence that imagination or imaginary dialogue is an important feature or characteristic of contact zones. People imagine how others behave, believe, or do certain things, which may seem very weird to them.

Venezuela students also experience rejection in the diaspora. This is usually the case with negative contact zones. In the fourth page of the story Pratt talks of another encyclopedic work, which was written at the same time as Guaman’s ‘New Chronicles and good government and justice’. The article was entitled ‘Royal commentaries of the Incas’. The book was written in a good Spanish language and was easy to comprehend compared to Guama’s writing. Its author was Inca Carcilaso. This book was edited several times in Spain and New World. It acted as a mediator coding the Andeans present and past. It was unthreatening to colonial hierarchy, that is the book did not show any form of opposition or inquisitiveness to the practices of the colonials. This shows lack of concern or appreciation to other people’s contribution in a given situation. The reason behind the ignorance of Guaman’s work was nothing but a preformed negative mentality. Preformed mentalities normally interfere with imaginary dialogue in a contact zone. It does not allow an individual to choose from the available practices the one he or she thinks and believes is beneficial. It also interferes with collaboration in some cases.

From the above explanations it is evident that the American society still experiences many disparities with regard to the effects of auto-ethnography and contact zones. This mainly occurs in learning institutions due to constant increase of number of international students in the American institutions.

Despite the illiteracy stereotype among the Andeans, Guaman’s excellence in writing goes beyond words to picture shown on the next page(Bartholomew & Petroksky 585). He has summarized his letter to the seniors using pictures as illustrated on the fifth page of the letter. The last picture (figure 3) depicts his intention to communicate the message related to negative contact zones. The picture is a relevant source for the explanation of what happens to some Venezuela students in the United States. First, picture analysis varies depending on an individual’s perspective, which is always determined by one’s cultural background. The picture is a representation of power abuse by rulers in certain regions or societies. At the center of the picture is a person holding a stick. Several people surround him. He uses the stick for caning one of the people around him. The person tries to escape using a horse, though the bully does snot stop his act. This is a typical example of an extreme case of negative contact zone. There is no appreciation, comprehension, or imagining dialogue in this case. No one is willing to adapt the new culture or way of life of another group of persons. This is always dangerous, for instance in the case of Venezuela students. It becomes very difficult for a student who is unwilling to adapt to the new culture to adapt successfully in the new environment. Most of such students view it as a disturbance and interference to their own freedom.

 There are also two people at the bottom of the photo with their arms interlocked with a line between them. The line represents the differences in cultures of the two. The photo, however, is an opposite to the one above as it represents positive contact zone where the two parties understand one another and one of them has decided to adapt the other’s way of life. The bottom left hand-side corner of the photo is another picture of a person in an upside down position. His hands are tied. This is another case of negative contact zone. With respect to auto-ethnography and contact zones, it is arguably true that Venezuela students’ well-being or comfort in the American institutions depends solely on their reaction to the American society and its norms. 

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