Ruminations on Global Citizenship-Professor Ahmed Samatar

As part of the Live It! Grant application, every individual was asked to give their definition of global citizenship.  This task was both easy and difficult.  It was easy to identify certain aspects of our project that identified with the idea of “global” and the idea of “citizenship”.   It was difficult to put into words how our activity was connected to us personally through identity, experiences, and our daily rhetoric.  Essentially, how well could we define our actions both locally, yet still transnationally?

The talk with Professor Samatar facilitated the ability to discuss our project on a narrower, but less limiting, discourse of global citizenship.  How does Project B.R.E.A.K.I.N transcend the contradictions of global and citizen; how, as a form of global citizenship, can it navigate nationalism and internationalism to become cosmopolitanism?

A guide to these struggles of contradictions can be found in zones of dialectical tension.   These four zones include war and peace, the intersection of humans and nature, the struggle between equality and quality, and the relationship between diversity/multiculturalism with commonalities/universalism.  If our project can confront one of these areas, we can become closer to defining it in terms of global citizenship and closer to understanding global living.

Project B.R.E.A.K.I.N. confronts the most multiculturalism and universalism.   Our project is heavily involved with the mixing of cultures.  Tiny Toones is a center that promotes the integration of a youth culture that is predominantly and originally American with the lifestyle of children in Cambodia.  In addition, the center advances the learning of both English and Khmer.

Without a doubt, the work of this center and the program we plan to institute there will benefit the children in Phnom Penh by providing them an avenue to education previously denied to them.  That, however, isn’t the question.  What is really being challenged and asked of us to consider is if Tiny Toones and Project B.R.E.A.K.I.N. really are forms of global citizenship or forms of globalization bordering on cultural imperialism.

From an outsider’s perspective Tiny Toones and Project B.R.E.A.K.I.N. can appear to be the dominance of one society’s culture over another’s.  Hip Hop and break dancing can appear to suppress the traditions of Cambodian culture.  It may be said children are not learning to be citizens of Phnom Penh, but cultural semi citizens of American hip hop—the consumers and the replicators, but not the producers.

Much of what is being culturally shared is the mode of expression.  The students at Tiny Toones have very much made Hip Hop and Rap a product of their own.  Although the style of music is being borrowed, and drastically different from Cambodian rhythm and sounds, the lyrical expression is entirely reflective of Cambodian life and culture.  It respects difference without suppressing identity.  English and Khmer being taught together reflect mutual value.  It’s multicultural without placing one at a greater importance.

Approaching our project from the perspective of conflict and this zone of contradictions wholly enables us to holistically look at how our project reflects global citizenship.  It exposes the dominant narrative for what it is and lets us explore our project on a discursive level.

by Mary Pheng

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