Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Eat the Yak Butter?

Martha Stewart is interviewing Susan Orlean on this morning’s show. Admittedly, a guilty pleasure.

However, I’m also troubled by what I see as glimmers of exoticism in their conversation. A typical question: “Did you eat any unusual foods?” Orleans and Stewart commence discussing the yak butter and other uncivilized things “they” might have slipped into the tea. Sure, yak butter is unusual or, worse, exotic, to us–but what about to the people we’re visiting? To those who do not view yaks as exotic but as familiar and as necessary as cows or pigs are to American diets.

Yet another cringe-worthy moment during the show: “I’ve been to the most uncivilized places.”

I find it troubling how often we view our own milieu as the primary one, or worse, the “right” or “civilized” world; meanwhile, other cultures are exoticized as something less than. More articulate theorists (Edward Said on Orientalism, for example) than me have mulled over this dilemma. It’s interesting to witness how we, as Americans, easily prioritize our own values and culture over others.

I was recently interviewed and asked, “What’s the importance of learning about other cultures?” The answer seemed self-evident: expanding one’s mind, gaining empathy and solidarity (often with people less fortunate than us), sharing a larger worldview with friends and family at home.

Below, a short clip about Edward Said and his ground-breaking contributions to post-colonial theory. As Prof Jhally reminds us in this clip, Said’s theory of Orientalism asks: “How can we come to understand other people who look different than us?”

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BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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