What’s your philosophy? Cultural influences shape identity

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How important is it to cultivate a personal philosophy anymore? In this day and age, millions of external stimuli bombard the average student with perspectives on life ranging from the trite to the shocking. Think Nike’s “Just Do It,” AMC’s hit series American Horror Story, or even the “The Hunger Games” franchise. Everyone’s got a message to send. Many cultural messages have stuck with St. Paul Academy and Summit School students, shaping their outlooks on life today.

Books:

“Fresh Off the Boat,” celebrity chef Eddie Huang’s comedic, heartrending memoir and more recently, ABC tv series, about growing up in Orlando with Taiwanese immigrant parents has inspired senior Em Prozinski’s conception of food as a medium for both cultural preservation and evolution.

“[‘Fresh Off the Boat”] was pretty monumental for me. It helped shape my thoughts, a) on being Asian American, and b) on how food is involved in social structure, economics, and power plays. It was interesting how [Huang] was experiencing race through food. Asian food is still watered down or, as when Huang was growing up, totally ignored,” she said.

Huang’s memoire presented Prozinski with one triumphant, albeit trying, example of a high-profile Asian American’s struggle between his self and country, city, reference group, family, race, and diet.

Though Prozinski is third generation Korean and Huang second generation Taiwanese, Prosinski still sympathized with Huang’s struggle to “be himself” in a culture that held fundamentally different values, practices, and diets from those of his parents.

[“Fresh Off the Boat” ] made me more mindful of how people are making food in ways that are respectful of their culture– how people are defining food that’s not too elevated or distanced from their culture.”

— Em Prozinski

Huang sees the foods he did and didn’t grow up eating as a constant, embodied symbol of his internal struggle. What happens when the limits of traditional Asian cuisine are blurred and chefs begin fusing disparate elements of culinary traditions together? Huang’s memoire gives no clear answers. But it did illuminate the nexus between food and identity which continues to inform Prozinski’s personal philosophy as well as her more literal daily food choices.

“[“Fresh Off the Boat” ] made me more mindful of how people are making food in ways that are respectful of their culture– how people are defining food that’s not too elevated or distanced from their culture. And all of this is also very related to the local food movement and the push for food that’s more affordable and more sustainable,” Prozinski said.

Is one truly what one eats? Huang’s memoire showed Prozinski just how deeply this question resonates for Asian Americans like them.

Movies:

Movies and TV engage multiple senses, touching individuals  on many  levels. Sometimes it’s the lighting in a specific scene, a salient line, or even a score which conjure up the feelings one had about the world at a certain age and force one to acknowledge the passage of time’s impact on the self.

Senior Sandhya Ramachandran grew up watching Star Trek, a film and tv franchise about intergalactic peacekeeping adventurers on distinctly altruistic missions. Star Trek taught Ramachandran to ask herself what humanity might develop into, if only it would learn from the lessons of the past, most specifically by ending violence. At an early age, it instilled in her a sense of hope as well as a belief in the potential for science to advance society.

“A lot of my personal philosophy has come from Star Trek. Gosh, I’ve been watching if for so long. A lot of it really instilled a sense of optimism about humanity, above anything else. And there are also a bunch of smaller philosophies built into every episode,” Ramachandran said.

From gymnastics to capoeira to stem cell research, Ramachandran has explored the world outside of SPA in multiple capacities. Her Star Trek-inspired outlook has lead her to be as as open to and curious about the world as possible. “There’s this belief [in Star Trek] that we’re all explorers, that we can grow to become more. A lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation is about the idea that humankind can grow beyond the original basis which was war and conflict. That we can grow and work together and explore and find out new things. And I remember thinking a lot about that as child,” she said.

Since they’re [the Starfleet] this more advanced, space travelling civilization, they’re not going to interfere with any planets or civilizations that they find. That idea of “don’t interfere” really struck a chord with me because I have the instinct to go and try to fix things.”

— Sandhya Ramachandran

In a more strictly ethical sense, Star Trek’s famous Prime Directive, the guiding principle that Starfleet personnel must refrain from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations, has shaped Ramachandran’s views on what it means to be a moral agent in the contemporary world. Ramachandran jibes with the postmodern notion that ethics and the line between good and bad are, at their core, culturally relative. Star Trek was an early precursor to this popular contemporary stance.

“Since they’re [the Starfleet] this more advanced, space travelling civilization, they’re not going to interfere with any planets or civilizations that they find. That idea of “don’t interfere” really struck a chord with me because I have the instinct to go and try to fix things. I understand where that urge comes from but I guess I’ve really come to feel that the Prime Directive is the way to go,” Ramachandran said.

Overall, Star Trek has encouraged Ramachandran to face the immensity of the physical and moral worlds head-on, without necessarily trying to control them.

“Once I realized how big everything was in space and then on the quantum level, how big we are by comparison-once I figured out all the orders of magnitude-I was able to put things in perspective,” she said.

“Everything is important but at the same time, it’s all relative.”

TV-Shows:

Senior Mattie Daub can trace aspects of her life philosophy back to the animated television series Scooby Doo.

Scooby Doo has totally shaped me. All the characters have personality traits you can look to. Shaggy is super chill and Scooby is super happy and positive and Fred is super goofy and funny and Daphne’s can be smart and physically strong, “ Daub said.

Yet as with most affecting childhood shows, Daub’s appreciation for  Scooby Doo’s characters has changed over the years

“I look up to Velma a lot now. When I was little I looked up to Daphne, but as I grew up, I wondered why. I realized that Daphne’s considered the pretty one, but that Velma’s way cooler. Velma’s smart and not someone you want to mess with. She’s brave. She’s not really scared of anything and she’s not going to let anyone put her down,” Daub said.

Daub’s philosophy of courage, humor, and self-respect has helped guide her through the ins and out of life. Scooby Doo has certainly helped her too.