Tag Archives: culture


It’s interesting how where you grow up and the education you receive shapes your world view.  I grew up here in Pittsburgh, but married someone from Latin America.  We do everything we can to keep our children connected with Latin American culture, as I’ve written about before.  In one of the Latin American events we were at, someone mentioned “the five continents of the world.”  Five continents?  Don’t they mean seven?  After some investigation I learned the difference.  First, they don’t consider Antarctica a continent.  Second, America is one continent, which kind of makes sense since it is one continuous landmass. I like it too, as it brings us all closer together.  We do share one vast and diverse continent.  Here is a small sampling of materials that are from/about life in the diverse places on our continent.

blackinlatinamBlack in Latin America – Henry Louis Gates Jr.  This title is available in book and on dvd. I’d advise reading the book first and then watching the documentary, which is essential viewing.  Henry Louis Gates travels to several nations that share our great continent and examines the Afro descendant experience.  He interviews scholars and locals, reviews history, visits museums and brings to light their plight in well-researched yet very accessible terms.  The countries he visits are Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Peru and Mexico.  Although these are about very serious issues of inequality and ethnic relations, Gates also manages to capture the beauty of these countries and cultures and even some great cultural expressions, such as merengue dancing in the Dominican Republic.

Even the Rain  Easily one of my favorite movies of all time.  A Spanish film crew shows up to make a movie about Christopher Columbus in Bolivia, while at the same time the political situation in the country turns sour after the government privatizes the water supply.  While the story is fiction, the historical backdrop is not.  This story has elements that are present in every country on our great continent:  inequality, exploitation and the lack of recognition of the indigenous peoples.  The movie also has many powerful story lines like the value of friendship, the ability to change someone’s heart, standing up for what’s right, courage and love.

elnorteEl Norte–  Two war orphans in Guatemala make the daunting journey through Mexico to enter the United States illegally.  What awaits them in the USA is less than the American dream.   

Brazil, Bahia –   Bahia Brazil is the Brazilian state with the most Afro descendants, and African heritage is present in many aspects of the culture, such as religion, dancing and music.  This collection of music gives you a great feel for the rich cultural heritage of Bahia and Brazil.

bookofunknownamThe Book of Unknown Americans –  Stories of immigrant life in the United States.  A powerful human and family story.  Great characters that demonstrate the diversity of Latin American immigrants in the United States.

Made in America:  An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson – Brison gives us the biography of the English language and how it evolved in our country.  An in depth study of the various forces that shaped the way we speak.  The book even mentions the Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania region several times for our contributions to our nation’s shared tongue.  Bryson also brings his characteristic wit and charm to this work, I laughed out loud several times while enjoying this book.

-Scott M.

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Citizen Rankine

As much as I love losing myself in a good story, I have to admit that my favorite books are the ones that send me out of the text and back into the world for further exploration. I read a lot of non-fiction, so I’ve developed the habit of keeping a notebook handy for scribbling down names to Google, URLs to explore, topics to research, and–perhaps inevitably–titles of additional books for the TBR list.

This hardly ever happens with a volume of poetry. Not because poetry doesn’t teach me things, but because the things poetry has to teach are usually personal and private. As I’ve recently learned, however, poetry can also be an interdisciplinary textbook; the class I’m currently taking could be called Civics 101, and the teacher is Claudia Rankine.

Image taken from The Hairsplitter - click through to read Jeremy Allen Hawkins's review of Citizen.

Image taken from The Hairsplitter – click through to read Jeremy Allen Hawkins’s review of Citizen.

Rankine is a poet, playwright, and scholar whose body of work demands not only private introspection, but also your full attention to and engagement with the world around you. Her epic prose poem Citizen, a 2014 National Book Award finalist,  is rooted firmly in current events, comparing them to and contrasting them with her own lived experience to create a ruthlessly honest exploration of black American citizenship in the 21st century. And if that were all it did, it would still be an amazing piece of work.

However, the reader is challenged, at just about every turn, to go the extra mile, to look up that unfamiliar YouTube series, to track down the Situation videos (created by Rankine and her husband, photographer John Lucas) mentioned throughout the text. Whose quotation is that? What is this un-captioned photo all about? Who created the artwork featured here? You cannot, in good conscience, not look these things up as you read, and the resource list Rankine provides is only the beginning of inquiry. At least, for me: my own citizenship seemed to be at risk, considering how ignorant I was of some of Rankine’s references.

Image created by Letra Chueca Press for Reed College - click through for source page.

Image created by Letra Chueca Press for Reed College – click through for source page.

Educational as they are, however, the seven sections that make up Citizen are hardly didactic in the traditional sense. Straightforward narrations of events are broken up with passages of pure longing, in which the speaker reveals portions of her inner landscape, the one the external world hasn’t been able to touch:

Words work as release–well-oiled doors opening and closing between intention, gesture. A pulse in the neck, the shiftiness of the hands, an unconscious blink, the conversations you have with your eyes translate everything and nothing. What will be needed, what goes unfelt, unsaid–what has been duplicated, redacted here, redacted there, altered to hide or disguise–words encoding the bodies they cover. And despite everything, the body remains (69).

The language of poetry, Rankine seems to say here, is what makes it possible to be human, to achieve, despite obstacles, full citizenship.

If you’re the kind of reader who would like to try poetry, but is often put off by obtuse language and a lack of connection to reality, Citizen will serve as a breath of exhilarating air. If current events have made you twitchy lately, and you need a literary remedy that is both consolation and call to action, this, too, is your book. And if you’re honor-bound to read all award-nominated books, you should definitely move this poem up on your TBR list. There’s a waiting list at the moment, but if you hurry, you won’t have to wait too long for your choice of print or ebook.

Leigh Anne

anxiously awaiting the arrival of Rankine’s next book, Racial Imaginary (with Beth Loffreda).


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Every Month Could Be Black History Month…

LAV has declared that 2010 is “The Year of the Database.”  This is the first in a series of posts about the extensive suite of electronic resources available to Carnegie Library cardholders.  We hope the resources explored in this series will enrich and enhance your library experience.

Did you know that your library card grants you an all-access, year-round pass to information about black history and culture?  Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh users can read, print, or e-mail materials from The African American Experience, one of the many subscription databases we offer for your recreational and research needs.

Why a subscription database, you ask?  Good question.  The free web does have many credible resources, and it’s getting better all the time.  However, subscription databases contain information a Google search won’t turn up, written and published by companies with high standards for accuracy.  And when you’re trying to learn–especially when you’re pressed for time–do you really want to sacrifice quality for quantity?

Not that The African American Experience skimps on either aspect:  you could spend days browsing the subject headings, which include:

  • Arts and Media
  • Civil Rights
  • Children and Families
  • Literature
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Slavery
  • War and Military Service
  • Women

The database also bundles information into monthly featured topics like “Jazz Music” and “The Great Migration.”  These spotlight bundles include slideshows, timelines, key works, and links to other resources, so that you can explore a new topic every month with ease.

Other treasures in The African American Experience include:

  • Audio samples of historical African American music
  • Interviews with key historical figures
  • More than 5,000 primary sources, including full-text speeches
  • 4,000+ WPA interviews with former slaves
  • Over 2,500 photographs, illustrations and maps
  • Lesson plans and classroom guides
  • A writing/research skills center for students

The very best part of The African American Experience is, however, the fact that you can use it from any computer that has internet access, provided you have your Carnegie Library card handy.  Whenever possible, we provide 24/7/365 access to our digital resources, so that even when the physical library is closed, you still have access to the very best information.

Think outside the month.  Take a look at The African American Experience and consider making 2010 your own personal Black History Year.

–Leigh Anne

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An international experience without breaking the bank!

Currently everyone is feeling the stress of the economy.  The need for a gratifying distraction is paramount during these times, and although something exotic like an international getaway isn’t always feasible, a simulated experience is at your fingertips with the assistance of your local library.  Here are some options that give all the joys of learning about a culture without the hassles of waiting in long queues at the airport or locating lost luggage.

To truly experience a culture we need to look at several aspects:  language, entertainment, religion and food. Let’s use Thailand as our example:

  •   Language:   To  quench your curiosity, head to the Film and Audio Department and take a gander at the language learning CDs.  For Thailand I would use the  Berlitz Thai Travel Pack.  The CD contains the basic travel phrases while the book presents the unique  beauty of Thai script.
  •  Entertainment:  Make use of the ever-growing  foreign films and CD selections.  Born to Fight is an interesting Thai movie dealing with mystery and murder in a local village, and Radio Thailand: Transmissions from the Tropical Kingdom, gives an excellent feel for traditional Thai music.  
  • Religion and daily life: Take a look at Pure and Simple:  Teachings of a Thai Laywoman (then consider, perhaps, visiting the local Buddhist Center).  See also the beautiful photo book A Day in the Life of Thailand which has scenic pictures that help simulate the feeling of actually being there.
  • Food:   Nothing speaks more about a culture than what they use for daily nourishment.  For the brave I suggest that you lend your hand at cooking traditional foods yourself.  My favorite Thai cookbook is Quick and Easy Thai.  The majority of the ingredients are easily found in the Strip District and the instructions are easy to  follow. Feel like  going out?  I would steer you towards Thai Gourment in Bloomfield:  the atmosphere is traditional and the food is phenomenal!

 We live in an incredibly diverse city that provides a window to other cultures so take advantage of it!  Simply pick a country, look at what CLP  has to offer, add in what is available here in the city and take a holiday!  Go ahead, you’ve earned it!






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Oh, the technology!

If you’ve been reading along with the Eleventh Stack team for any length of time, you’re probably pretty comfortable — or at least a little less nervous — about getting some of your news and information from blogs. Lately, though, it seems like there’s a new social technology coming down the pike every few nanoseconds, and that can sometimes seem like a scary pace.  First Facebook was all the rage, but now Twitter is the new black. What kind of whizbang sorceries will these computer-folk dream up next?

Your guess is as good as mine, but as internet news breaks, the library will fix it! For a panoramic view of the techno-zeitgeist, check out some of these books on emerging technologies and the faster-than-light changes in society and culture they engender.

book jacketBorn Digital, John G. Palfrey. Itching to peek inside the thought processes of a generation that’s never known life without a computer? Palfrey’s book describes what it means to be a digital native, how this differs from being what he calls a “digital settler,” and how people at all technological levels can work together to sort out issues like privacy, safety, and identity.

The Wikipedia Revolution

The Wikipedia Revolution, Andrew Lih. Love it or hate it, the Wikipedia project has changed the way people search for and create information online. Lih’s history of the internet’s most famous DIY encyclopedia stands out as one of the most comprehensive texts written on the subject so far, though curious readers may also want to check out How Wikipedia Works and Wikinomics, too.

book jacketViral Spiral, David Bollier. Some argue that developments in internet technology represent democracy at its finest, with developments like open source software and Creative Commons licensing. Bollier’s book looks at these and other phenomena in that light, emphasizing the positive aspects of web culture. For a cautionary note, see Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet. For some serious dissension, check out Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur.

book jacketThe Rise of the Blogosphere, Aaron Barlow. How did blog culture come about? Barlow compares blogging to the early American popular press and describes how traditional journalism outlets themselves paved the way for blogging’s popularity.

If you’re still feeling a little apprehensive about the brave new world we live in, we’d love to show you how the Carnegie Library is using all kinds of technologies, from the familiar to the fantastic, to continue its mission of providing information for the people of Pittsburgh. Stop by the library on Saturday, April 25th and check out our Technology Playground.  We’ll have demonstrations and hands-on fun for you to sample, and you can enter a drawing to win one of three gift cards from Best Buy.

In case of a power outage or zombie apocalypse, there will always be print materials as a backup. But aren’t you just a little curious about what’s new, now and next? Pick the format you’re most comfortable with, then contact us in the way that works best for you, and we’ll hook you up with everything you need to know about emerging technologies. 

See you in the future!

–Leigh Anne


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