When Cultures Collide

I've been getting real sick of that last post date on this blog. Each day of silence adding to the dread of not having anything to say. I still don't, but consider this therapy to avoid the blanket coverage of the looming Inauguration and the hordes of people who are now really, really, really proud of their country. All that pride makes me really nervous.

Anyways, I've seen three articles recently on cultures colliding here in the US -- what will probably be a new theme for the year here at VivosVoco -- and thought I'd share them with you.

The first: The Phillipine News reports on some peeved nuns in Manhattan (any particular ethnicity?) that are suing a Filipino couple for their culinary practices.
The Missionary Sisters of Sacred Heart in Manhattan has filed a complaint against Filipino American couple, Michael and Gloria Lim, over a Filipino delicacy called ‘tuyo’ (dried fish), and its funky cousin, the ‘tinapa’ (smoked fish). The case is now with the Manhattan Supreme Court.

Reports say Gloria was smoking fish outside her apartment window when the smell – noxious stench to the nuns, divine aroma to the Lims – of the salted fish wafted throughout the Gramercy apartment building. The “foul smell” was too strong the nuns suspected it was coming from a decomposing body and called in the Fire Department.

According to reports, the firemen searched every unit of the building and were able to trace the source of the smell to the Lims’ unit. They knocked, and when no one came to the door, the NYFD came barreling in. Gloria, a nurse, found her door knocked down and was obviously peeved. It appears the MSSH leases the unit to the Lims and may have authorized the assault.

“I cook dried fish,” Gloria defiantly declared to the NY Post.

The average American may find it puzzling how one can derive pleasure of the palate from dried fish. Foodie Andrew Zimmern, who has been to the Philippines and braved the ‘balut’ (fertilized duck egg in an embryo) and Soup No. 5 (bull’s rectum and testicles soup, believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac) might be able to share the gustatory experience.

Gloria was referring to the ‘tuyo,’ a Philippine staple usually eaten with steaming hot rice and fresh tomatoes. Some eat theirs dipped in vinegar and crushed garlic paired with fried rice and sunny side up egg.

Dried fish is not a Philippine exclusive. It is an essential in the traditional Chinese and Malaysian fried rice along with chopped spring onions, garlic and chili. Sometimes, it is pulled and sprinkled on chocolate porridge or ‘champorado.’

Food with a strong salty taste like ‘tuyo’ or ‘tinapa’ might be too intense for the morning stomach, but many Filipinos would never leave for work in the morning without having it for breakfast.
Maybe someone can explain the legal nuances, but can ethnic bias towards food odors really qualify as cause for legal action? I assume the nuns are too old to learn to like tuyo, although that bull rectum has got my tummy growling (pretty much anything with offal does the trick), but can't they install some form of ventilation system and never again rent to Filipinos? I rule against the nuns on this one. Unless it was clearly mentioned in the lease, the nuns are going to have to learn to live with it. h/t to L.S.Mogado.

The second: The BBC has an article under the awesome title, US father sells daughter for beer. The father in question is a Trique immigrant from Mexico who was giving his daughter's hand in marriage in exchange for a dowry that included beer. Are dowries illegal? In any event, the problem appears to be not the dowry, but that the daughter is fourteen years old.
A man has been arrested in California after allegedly arranging for his 14-year-old daughter to marry a neighbour in exchange for beer, meat and $16,000.

Police said they learnt of the deal when Marcelino de Jesus Martinez came to them asking for help after his neighbour failed to pay up.

He faces charges of human trafficking, statutory rape and child cruelty.

Police also arrested the intended groom, 18-year-old Margarito de Jesus Galindo, for alleged statutory rape.

Police believe the girl went willingly with Mr Galindo, but under California law she is under the legal age of consent and cannot marry. . .

Greenfield police chief Joe Grebmeier said the case highlighted an issue the region, which has a high number of migrant workers, had been struggling with.

"This is not a traditional trafficking case because there is no force or coercion in this," Mr Grebmeier said.

"We're aware of the cultural issues here, but state law trumps cultural sensitivity."
My only question is, if he gives the beer back, can they drop the charges? Seems a little harsh, under the circumstances. I don't have the energy to mount a spirited defense of the Trique at the moment, but maybe if one of you goads me into it.

Finally, there is this criticism from AlterNet of a recent NYT article on the use of misoprostol to induce abortion in Latino immigrant communities.
Several prominent women's health advocates are dismayed by a recent New York Times article about do-it-yourself abortions using the drug misoprostol. The Times piece, published January 4, mischaracterized a study about the drug, and researchers say the piece is sensationalist, implying that lots of New York City Latinas are seriously endangering their health and breaking the law. Some activists now worry that the Times article could muffle a more nuanced discussion about access to reproductive health care for immigrant women that transcends the phenomenon of DIY misprostol abortions.

In the US, misoprostol -- also known by its brand name Cytotec -- is a prescription drug approved by the FDA as one of two medications employed in tandem to induce non-surgical, "RU-486"-style abortions. The FDA has never approved misoprostol for solo use for abortions. But in many countries where abortion is banned, the drug is sold without prescription, and millions of women have taken it to end their pregnancies. Simultaneously, many women from these countries have immigrated to the US. During the past decade, speculation has spread about whether they are commonly using misoprostol here to self-induce abortions. Anecdotes abound, including many in New York City, but public health data has been non-existent.
Putting aside the (in)accuracies of the article, what interests me is this, did the NYT focus on the practice due to ethnic bias, and will it lead to legal efforts to curtail the health practices of Latina immigrants:
The Times article also states -- wrongly -- that self-induced abortions in New York are "illicit," and women do them "illegally." In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 38 states outlaw self-abortion, in laws which often track repressive statutes left over from pre-Roe v. Wade days. But New York isn't one of them -- women there can legally self abort early pregnancies if they want to.

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, director of policy and advocacy at New York-based National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also was interviewed for the Times story, and she is disturbed by the resulting article. "We dispute the Times' implication that accessing clinics is very easy," she said. "There's the idea among undocumented women that they'll be deported if they go to a clinic, and the Times is wrong about the price of an abortion being cheap for many women."

After the Times piece came out, the national media followed with articles saying that misoprostol use among US Latinas is common, increasing, risky and illegal. As a result, Gonzalez-Rojas said, "there could be legislative action" to further outlaw or crack down on self-induced abortions, "including to criminalize women's use of misoprostol" in the name of protecting them. "We do have concerns."

Dr. Anne Davis, an OBGYN and medical director of New York City-based Physicians for Reproductive Health and Choice, has more fundamental objections. An OBGYN with a practice in Upper Manhattan that includes many low-income, Latina patients, Davis said she felt the Times article "was trying to do a bit of an ‘us versus them' thing," implying that poor, immigrant women have completely different attitudes than Times readers do. "There are plenty of people in Upper Manhattan who are having abortions by accessing the system; they are the overwhelming majority of the community," she said. "Misoprostol is a complex subject. I have seen many women who've used it. And I have seen serious complications. But misoprostol is absolutely appropriate for abortion if there's no other option. The problem is, there is a medical discussion and a sociological discussion about what's right for women." When either conversation intrudes on the other without careful research, thought, and language, David says, needless controversy results. The message from any discussion of misoprostol, she says, is that "We need to do better for women and make sure all of them get good reproductive medical care as soon as they need it. That's the most important thing."
Anyone who brings up FGM in the discussion gets extra credit.

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