Monday, April 17, 2017

Chimamanda Adichie on "dual selves" in the developing world

Here is a video from Chimamanda Adichie that purports to be about US misconceptions of Africa.  It does touch on that, but more interesting to me was the author's reflection on reading literature from Europe and the US as a child, while growing up in Nigeria in a reality very different from what she was reading.  She posits that many well-read young people in her situation, living in tropical and/or postcolonial and/or developing countries, which often don't have much indigenous children's literature, adopt a sort of dual self.  The referents they read about speak of winter, and temperate-zone fruits and foods, while their reality is one of permanently hot weather with dry and wet seasons, tropical fruit, in short a reality totally different from that of Hans Brinker or Pip or Huck Finn.  So they learn how to inhabit both worlds.  Jamaica Kincaid, in a similar essay, spoke of reading Jane Eyre and fixating on the idea of the gloaming, a weather/astronomic phenomenon of evening light that doesn't exist in the tropics.

Anyway, I have noticed this as I raise two North American boys in tropical Latin America.  At school they celebrate winter and summer, even though neither really exists where we live.  They learn P for Pear, which don't grow here, instead of Passionfruit, which does.  People here even seem more concerned at times about domestic politics in the US than about what's going on in their own country.  It's a similar situation to what Adichie describes, wherein people relate to a physically alien but mediatically familiar reality, in addition to the very different reality that surrounds them.

My wife lived perhaps a more healthy duality, in that she grew up in small-town Colombia in the late 20th century.  So she was exposed to very alien things like Michael Jackson and Wonder Woman that became part of her cultural panorama, but was fully aware that these were alien.  So much so that even US shows and movies that purported to be realistic seemed like fantasies to her, totally irrelevant to her reality.  Would that I had realized as a child, like my wife did, that my life wasn't supposed to match the blueprint of The Breakfast Club or ET or any other US media that really didn't correspond at all to my reality.  Perhaps her balanced outlook was in part because Colombia has such a healthy indigenous literature, both for adults and children, and it combines nicely with clearly foreign elements, so children can grow up appreciating the similarities between their surroundings and those representations that reach them from abroad, while not expecting them to match precisely.

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