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April 23, 2009

What is Ideal?

Excellent example of paper 1 by Jillian Ensign - Spring 2009

Dashing into Macy's shopping center, I stroll pass the perfume counter and smell a hint of sweetness and bitterness all at the same time, while approaching the juniors section I spot the perfect pair of jeans and they are even on sale. After trying the perfect pair of jeans on, I have an epiphany that the junior department at Macy's will never have the correct length for my five foot tall stature because they don't make them in my length. As I have been reading the text "Sociology in Everyday Life" the authors discuss, many ideas about the significance of how society shapes our minds and what the "Ideal" may mean to our social structure. Looking onward, I would like to talk about how the "Ideal" within our social structure and institutions has resulted in us placing labels on almost everything in our society.

While having a grandmother and mother who both stand only 5 feet 2 inches, I was predisposed to being shorter than the "normal" woman in our society. This has affected my own body image as an adult because I've felt as though I wasn't a "normal" height. Going into the grocery store and trying to reach the breadcrumbs on the top aisle is not possible because it is simply too high for me to reach. On the contrary, I seemingly "fit in" very well at college because everyone seems to be under the age of twenty five and similar in height but, if I go to a church function where all of the women assume that I am much younger than I actually am because of my height, I don't feel accepted. This has led me to really appreciate what C.Wright Mills states within the text book "Sociology in Everyday Life".
In his book "The Sociological Imagination" (1959), Mills states that the task of sociology is to understand the relationship between individuals and the society in which they lived. He then speaks that if we are to understand an individual we should look at the history and the biography of that person. The idea of gaining the knowledge of social and historical context in which an individual lives was Mill's main argument. When we look into my family history we can see generations of women who are small in stature and then come to the realization that all the women in my family (with only a few exceptions) are shorter than most other women within their society. I have traced back documents in which my great grandmother supports her oppressed state for being a different height than other women in her culture. That would be the historical context in which the women in my family lived which, still affects me today. To find the social context in which I live we would look at the present day. This class has already made an impact on my personal feelings about how society pushes an "ideal" on individuals today. I struggle with fitting into my society because of my small stature. I went bowling just the other day and my friend was even implying that I looked like a "midget". This is very hurtful and wrong. I wouldn't know that being so short was even an issue if society hadn't made me feel different. I look in the mirror at my three inch high heel shoes and wonder if I look somewhat "normal". This is what Mill's suggested would be my social context. Somehow there are "ideals" placed in the society that we live in and it can have a really negative affect on people.
For some reason, we are to look and act a certain way based on what social institutions imply. From the text book, "Sociology in Everyday Life", Mill's states (20), that social institutions confront individuals at birth as given systems of behavior and that they transcend individual experience. What I may consider to be a normal height (which is five feet and two inches) is not what society considers being a "normal" height. That makes me feel different from others in my society and that I am not what everyone believes to be "ideal". In the text "Sociology in Everyday Life" (5), Mill's made a distinction between troubles and issues within society. He stated that troubles are privately felt problems and issues affect large numbers of people. I believe that we are often made to feel like the situation we are dealing with is much bigger than what we feel alone because of the influence society has on our lives. When reading the online article "Body Ritual among the Nacirema" I was baffled at how their tribe could live this type of barbaric way. I then came to the realization that we are the "Nacirema" and I felt so ashamed that I could place judgment like that on a group of people just because they to me were considerably different from my society. In all actuality our society has influenced my thoughts about the medicine man and my shrine because I visit them very often and would never refer to either of them in the manner the article referred them too. Is there an "ideal" placed on how we go about our daily lives? Yes, I believe that is true and this article support that concept. Our social institutions have conformed many of us to believe certain "ideals" are the right way to live by. We are not to question anything but, rather go along with what we are told is the "ideal" in our society. Can we change any of these views that our minds have been conformed to believe?
When we think back to what C. Wright Mills suggests, that an individual's history and biography play an important role in our society, then there may be room for change. Although everyone has a history or past we can only in our present lives (biography) create our own history within our social institutions (our family). Individually we could take out the "ideal" within our society by not allowing our families to conform to what all other social institutions think are "ideal". Would this be logical to impose? I am not sure it would work without our families being looked upon as outcasts in our society. We would be the rebels and stick out like a sore thumb because we wouldn't be acting in the same manner as everyone else. It may be possible. Implying the idea that not conforming to what society thinks is "Ideal or Normal" would give us a fresh start on a new history line. There are so many issues to consider as I think about how our social structure has placed so many labels on people within our society.
Having two young boys of my own, it is really important for me to teach them how to be individuals and protect them from being brainwashed by our society. I grew up thinking that my small stature wasn't "ideal" in my community and my boys are also small in stature and will be dealing with this very issue. I really want to impact their lives in a positive way to help them feel as though they are truly just the same as the tallest kid in class. This will be a very difficult task because just as Mill's suggests social institutions conform individuals at birth as given systems of behavior. This then reflects why social institutions are able to influence our views and our daily practices so much.
When looking at the "ideal" in our society, I believe that it is important to take a stand with our youth and teach them about how our social institutions try and conform our view of the world. They suggest that certain practices should be done a certain way and we are all to have a certain body image. If we do not follow these practices within our society we may feel anxieties or possibly depression because we are not what our society thinks of as normal. The next time I think about being shorter than the average women, I will remember that my small stature is just what the good Lord intended me to be and there is nothing wrong with that.

April 22, 2009

I'm Not Part of What They Call the Model Minority

Excellent example of paper 1 by Alyssa Phimmasone - Spring 2009

I've always grown up with people (by "people" I mean people of a non Asian ethnic background) assuming I was part of the "model minority. " In elementary I seemed to have somewhat of an advantage, I excelled academically; but who doesn't in elementary. The majority of students don't have a hard time getting through elementary. I grew up in Milwaukie, Oregon; we probably had a handful of Lao and Cambodian - American students in our neighborhood. There weren't many Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Filipinos; the few Asians that we did have were Lao and Cambodian.

I can honestly say we all did well in school at that time. We even participated in extra curricular activities together, we had no problems getting along with each other and we often shined because we were the minority, and because we were Asian Americans. We were the "smart Asian kids." Something changed along the way by the time high school hit. My family moved from Milwaukie to Happy Valley. By my senior year of high school, I had gone through a major identity crisis. When I moved to the Clackamas area, there were nothing but Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipino students. Clackamas high school was incredibly diverse -- Asian American students were labeled as the "smart kids." Although we were labeled that, my grades and attendance didn't match up with my title. The people I was hanging out with were primarily Lao & Cambodian Americans. There were very few of us, maybe around eight all together. I skipped school, rebelled and my parents had no idea. My parents believed everything I told them -- why I was missing school, why my grades were low -- I had an excuse for everything. The friends around me were doing the same thing. We took advantage of our parents' trust for our own selfish reasons.

My parents came from war torn Laos as teenagers during the late 70's. I was born and raised in America. They've worked very hard to be where they are right now and they are definitely living the American dream. They never really talked about it, so I never really took it seriously. Like my friends in high school, we seemed to have come together because our parents didn't understand us, nor did they discipline us for our actions -- it wasn't because they didn't love us -- it was because they didn't really know how to talk to us without upsetting us.

I bring this all up because as I read the first chapter of our text book, one of the "Unsettling Facts," hit a cord with me. I can't say I was exactly shocked, but I was definitely disappointed. At the same time, as I read it over and over again and the more I read it, the more I realized it was a good thing. The bittersweet fact reads, " Despite the idea that Asian Americans are seen as a "model minority,' poverty among Asian American families is higher than that among White American families and has increased in recent years; among certain Asian American groups, namely Lao(tians) and Cambodians, poverty strikes two thirds of all families" (pg. 9).

In a social sense, it automatically clicked in my mind when I read the fact. I know why so many Lao and Cambodian families struggle with education and poverty, I know why we're not as successful as the other Asian nationalities. I know all of this because I have lived it. We're looked down upon in Asian groups, but the society around us has always grouped us with other Asians, when in fact Southeast Asians are so completely different from the typical "Far East" persona. Although I refuse to make excuses for the people who share the same heritage as I, because I feel if I can do it, anyone can, I know that we need extra and focused support. In our communities, we're lacking it and although there is no direct evidence, there's definitely some sort of correlation between support at home affecting students' decisions to pursue higher education.

Sociologists "try to reveal the social factors that shape society and affect the chances of success for different groups," (pg. 9) and I feel by doing this they are exposing the facts. There's something happening right now among SE Asians in Portland, as more of us go to college and learn to think intellectually, we are also learning about how our people aren't doing so hot. But what makes sense is that we understand why it's happening because we've lived it. What's important is that we are finally doing something about it because as our "other Asian" peers succeed, we are often left in the shadows wondering why we don't share their success.

By illuminating the issue with the study of Sociology among groups like Lao and Cambodian Americans we can pin point certain issues. It's not that our culture is so different, its that mainstream America is starting to understand the diverse group of Asian Americans. We cannot continue to be grouped as one big chunk because we are so different from each other. Imagine an entire continent being grouped together as one, that's like saying Mexicans and Canadians are the same. As we become classified as a separate group, messages are easier to convey.

Studying diversity among different Asian ethnicities is so important because it gives light to an unknown variable. In our textbook, the term diversity is defined as, " a broad concept that includes studying group differences in society's opportunities, the shaping of social institutions by different social factors, the formation of group and individual identity , and the process of social change" (pg. 11).

Social change is finally starting to happen more and more in SE Asian societies. As a student at PCC, I have become so inspired to be positive for Lao Americans. I have read facts similar to the one in the book about Lao Americans being among the poorest in Asians in America. In Oregon, we do not have the type of support for Lao American students like we do for, say Chinese Americans. Because we don't have a significant identity, we are less likely to shine. Some of my peers and I have come together to organize a group called "LAAS," which stands for Lao American Alliance for Students. It is our hope, that by creating this group we are able to enrich the lives of American born Lao students who know nothing about their heritage and roots, but struggle in American culture as well. We are also hoping to educate more students about the importance of higher learning and why it is essential to the progression of our peoples in America and lastly, we hope to empower students to do something positive, to change the perspective on Lao Americans by exposing what we know about our beautiful culture to others. We hope to spark an interest, and by doing so we will gain more exposure and become better known. It is also my personal hope and passion to help Lao parents understand their children and to instill the encouragement, love and support needed at home; things that are essential to help a student excel. I really hope that my message will be heard and I don't know if I have conveyed my message properly but I know that sociology has a big part in what we are trying to do to help Lao Americans strive for better lives.

Works Cited

Andersen, Margaret and Howard Taylor. "Sociology in Everyday Life." Andersen, Margaret and Howard Taylor. Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning, 2008.