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Cultural and geographical borders within any society are believed to create boundaries that limit similarities between those on opposite sides. Contrary to the belief that the qualities of one side do not merge with those of the other, however, it can be seen that certain characteristics can become shared by different groups of people. Through cultural relations, certain qualities can come to represent two or more groups that no one would believe to have anything in common with each other. In the books The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman and The Unredeemed Captive by John Demos and John Sayles’ 1996 film Lone Star, certain qualities are combined among different groups, showing that even the most dissimilar people in the world can have certain things in common. In the works above, similarities are observed between Hmong parents and American doctors, Iroquois Indians and Protestants, and Americans and Mexicans, showing how the groups are really not so different from one another after all.
Defending and maintaining one’s cultural traditions is extremely grueling when living in a different country, as seen in Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. The Hmong people living in the United States were surrounded by others who did not understand their beliefs; they simply wanted to practice their own traditions and be their own group of people: “What the Hmong wanted here was to be left alone to be Hmong: clustered in all-Hmong enclaves, protected from government interference, self-sufficient, and agrarian” (Fadiman, 183). The proud Hmong just wanted to live their lives and practice their beliefs without interference from the surrounding American populace. Hmong parents Foua and Nao Kao Lee, however, had to accept changes in order to help their seizure-plagued daughter, Lia Lee. The parents had to learn English to communicate with doctors and understand how to provide American medicine to their daughter in order to help control her seizures. The American doctors, in turn, had to learn to deal with Hmong beliefs to help Lia. The doctors had to learn how to communicate with the Lees and discover how to approach each matter with them, all for the sake of Lia. The medicinal and community borders crossed established shared qualities between the Lees and the doctors, all for the health of Lia Lee in order to help her control her seizures.
Though many problems may arise, it is possible to adopt a new culture and reject old values, as seen in The Unredeemed Captive by John Demos. There were numerous Protestant citizens captured by the Iroquois Indians who adopted their culture and did not want return to their old religious traditions: “captive children had no choice in these [appearance] matters; just as they were forced to accept the native language of their captors, so, too, were they obliged to adopt a native appearance” (Demos, 147). This was the case with Eunice Williams, a Protestant girl who was captured by Iroquois Indians at the age of seven. After living with her Iroquois captors for several years, Eunice Williams did not want to return to her old Protestant life; she had adopted the Iroquois values as her own and had no intention of going back to her old way of life: “By 1707, Eunice was reported to be ‘unwilling to return.’ And the Indians — including, one presumes, her new family — ‘would as soon part with their hearts’ as with this successfully ‘planted’ child” (Demos, 146). Although she still knew of her Protestant values, Eunice now held Iroquois beliefs as her standard in life. This situation relates to the one seen in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: Eunice Williams, the Lees, and the American doctors were all forced to adopt the qualities of another group in order to help either themselves (Eunice) or another person (Lia Lee). In both cases, borders were crossed and shared qualities were established.
The groups of people surrounding a border that separates one country from another can also produce shared traditions, as seen in John Sayles’ 1996 film Lone Star. Newly formed customs among separated groups of people, however, can create both disorder and harmony between the two sides. Sheriff Buddy Deeds was thought of as a hero, but he did have a few undiscovered skeletons in his closet, which prompted his son, Sam Deeds, to investigate. Buddy tried to maintain order by promoting segregation in his town, as seen in a quote from a local Frontera bartender named Cody: “Place like this, twenty years ago, Buddy would have been on them [referring to an interracial couple]. He would have went over there and give them a warning. Not ’cause he had it in for the colored, but just as kind of safety tip.” Although he preached the segregation of Americans and Mexicans, Buddy Deeds did have an affair outside of his own race, going against the way he maintained order. He shared a relationship on both sides of the cultural divide: one with Sam’s biological mother and another with Pilar’s mother, Mercedes. He also fathered children on both sides of the divide (Sam and Pilar), This situation can be compared to what Eunice Williams experienced in The Unredeemed Captive. Both Buddy Deeds and Eunice Williams knew and lived on opposite sides of a cultural boundary throughout their lives: Eunice with Protestants and the Iroquois, and Buddy Deeds with Americans and Mexicans. Both people shared the values of opposing sides and held relationships with conflicting groups of people.
Through cultural interactions, different groups of people that most would believe to have nothing in common can develop similar characteristics. Although groups may be divided by a cultural or geographical border, cultural interactions can establish shared characteristics, as demonstrated in the works discussed. The Hmong parents and American doctors had to learn to deal with each other’s beliefs to help Lia Lee in Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. Eunice Williams held both Protestant and Iroquois values throughout her whole life in John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive. And Buddy Deeds preached segregation but had relationships with both American and Mexican women in John Sayles’ 1996 film Lone Star. These examples show that even the most different groups on opposite sides of a border — be it cultural or geographical — can share certain qualities, making them not so different after all.
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