From Brighton Beach with Love

So it’s finally warming up in NYC, which means the city is a ball of fire.

What NYC feels like right now

What NYC feels like right now

So I decided to see what the East Coast offers in beaches. Disclaimer: I am from the West Coast, Southern California to get a little more specific; therefore, I am picky about my beaches, sun, and fun soooo I chose Brighton Beach. Here’s why: I wanted to reunite with my favorite group of ethnic whites. In my undergraduate career I learned about Russia and Russians by learning their history, culture, and language intensively at Duke. I took a break the last few semesters from Russian language courses so I decided to visit Brighton, the closest I was going to get to Saint Petersburg.

It was a pretty appropriate week to participate in culture exchange. This week we tackled culture production, cultural approriation, and assimilation. We read the timeless bell hooks and a Fader Magazine article both about the exploitation of the “other”, the alternative culture (usually African American or black culture) in the United States being used for cultural production by usually the more powerful group (more often than not whites). Ultimately cultural production from borrowing from a disadvantaged group by a group in a position of power or majority. This erases the meaning, culture, and history of what was taken, see box braids on Kylie Jenner or Bo Derek back in the day in cornrows.

Bo Derek in cornrows in the 1970's....noooot okay then and not okay now

Bo Derek in cornrows in the 1970’s….noooot okay then and not okay now

But back to the Russians in Brighton Beach. Russians are historically considered “ethnic” whites, a group that includes Italian Americans and Jewish Americans (at one point in history this included Irish Americans); therefore, historically they have been a disadvantaged group in immigration to the United States, employment, language, etc. But I am a mixed raced young immigrant woman, how could i take from a white culture at all considering I am the “other”? I didn’t want to take anything that wasn’t mine or appreciate culture on a surface level but I wanted to enjoy the beach.

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The first step in cultural exchanges is denaturalizing misconceptions about the culture you’re exchanging with. The second step in recognizing you are a visitor to another culture, not a voyeur or a tourist. The third and last step is paying respect the culture, ie not imposing your cultural norms onto theirs.

Well I knew I could not go in  ooo-ing and aww-ing at the Cyrillic storefronts or take the clothing they wore (even the speedos) as unusual or think that the water they were drinking was vodka. Tanning on the beach amongst the Russian and Ukrainian speakers, I was going to bask in their culture as well as the sun. As I ate the Russian dumplings at a restaurant where no one spoke English I indulged in boiled cabbage and thanked my waitress in Russian. I interacted with other beach goers: shout out to the old Russian man who complimented my tattoos in broken English. I spoke Russian when I could manage and broke back to English when I couldn’t.

What people probably thought Brighton Beach was like

What people probably thought Brighton Beach was like

Overall I got a nice tan, ate boiled food, and practiced my Russian. Culture exchange? CHECK

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