Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Creating Connections

The idea of connections is something that plays an important role within Tattooing the World. As we know, tattooing within the Samoan cultures is not something done for pleasure but as a rite of passage as it connects the individual with their own customs and traditions. As one critic says in this book, “Our culture is based entirely on the connection we have with one another” (23); this is not just true for Samoan cultures and their tattooing practices, but it is true for all cultures around the world. When we travel, we are forced to meet new people, experience new things, and learn about cultures that are completely foreign to us. Making connections is something that I too do in my service learning classes. Because I assist in teaching a very low level class, part of the requirement is that I come every week so as to make sure the students get used to me and feel comfortable with me teaching them. Although this is particularly true when tutoring children, it is true for adults too, especially if those adults cannot speak the same language that you do. The class I teach is challenging because it is not mandatory for the participants, and so the process of making connections is difficult if the same people do not come week to week. Yet there is one man, Roman, who has continually showed up week to week, and is always eager to learn. Although he speaks Spanish with me most of the time, he understands the grammar and the reading exercises that we do in class. It is always refreshing to see him in class every week because he makes my experience more fulfilling, just by being there. Many other students left the class for reasons I am not aware of but each week I look forward to making a deeper connection with Roman.

Just as teachers create relationships with their students, the tattoo itself is a connection to the rest of the Pacific world. As we have seen in other works, tattoos do not die when you die, but instead live on in future generations, as we witnessed in They Who Do Not Grieve. The tattoo is a form of cultural travel as Dr. Ellis points out by saying, “Tattoo pigment reveals one of the earliest kinds of cultural narratives: culture is that which travels” (27). Although I am not traveling far, I do leave my room each Tuesday evening to travel into downtown Baltimore to meet these students. Moreover, it is not an example of just travel but it is truly cultural travel as I am working with people from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. These people could not be more different than me but we are brought together once a week to learn; they are in the process of learning another language and I too am able to learn from them. This is another correlation to tattooing as the tattoo itself tells a story which is, in a way, a form of education. “Tattoo encompasses history, genealogy…the distant past and the immediate present” (10); tattoos represent history, which is another way to teach or to inform. Also, Pacific tattoos do not just relate to one single perspective, as Dr. Ellis points out, but to an entire culture.
Many people who live outside of Pacific cultures are unable to appreciate the significance and beauty of the tattoo, but instead consider them inhuman and profane. The idea of perspective is relevant here as we read about people who are too narrow-minded to understand cultures different from their own.

When I go into the Esperanza Center each week, I have to remember that some of these students have not reached past a first grade reading level in their own languages, let alone in English. I am reminded of the differences among cultures and while I may have been lucky enough to receive an education, many of these men and women unfortunately have not. Just because something is strange or unfamiliar to us does not mean we have to look down upon it. Participating in this particular service learning has broadened my perspective about people who are different from me, just in the same way as traveling to Spain opened my eyes to a way of living other than my own.

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