Engaging in Ethnography: Labor and Legality (Anthropology) The ethnography Labor and Legality focuses on how culture helps a group of men, referred to as the Lions, manage the complexity of their lives as foreign nationals in Chicago. In this essay, look at the cultural values these men share and how their culture helps them to navigate between different social settings. Keep track of the cultural values that the men aspire to as presented in the narratives on each of the Lions the author worked with.   This may be their ideal culture. Also consider how these values fit into their working and personal lives. Are there differences between their ideals and real behavior? Then consider these values in light of your own perspectives of the “ideal culture” of US values on the same issues. How do these compare? Your version of US values will be particular to you based on your own background and experiences. In writing this essay, you will be balancing your own ethnocentrism (how you view US values) with cultural relativism to understand the lives of the people you are writing about. If you feel aspects of your cultural life are shared with the people discussed in the ethnography, you should address this too. Your ability to write in a neutral way about people’s values and behaviors in the book will show your learning on this course and should be crafted carefully. As you read Labor and Legality and consider these issues, please bring into your consideration anthropological concepts of culture such as holism, enculturation vs. acculturation, etc.

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In Labor and Legality, the Lions present values related to their work and families. For example, Luis, along with several other of the Lions, mentions the value of hard work and family. He says, "If they give you a job as a dishwasher, you take it" (page 6). He feels that Mexicans work harder than people born in America and says, "Sometimes you feel like you're working harder than other people" (page 6). As a result, Luis feels that Mexicans are in some ways superior to American-born people and states, "An American is not worth as much as a Mexican" (page 6). He also feels that Mexican-born people are willing to take risks, unlike Americans. Luis also says that, "For me, the most important thing in my life is my family" (page 6). 

However, Luis's ideals and real behavior are discrepant. Though he wants to do well and value his family, his family life is far from ideal. After being abused by his father, he struggled with drug abuse and in turn feels that he did not treat his wife well by not sending her enough remittance money from the U.S. She is now living with another man. Luis is now trying to move beyond this life and live a better life in Chicago while working as a busboy. By using the process of holism, the reader can come to understand all the factors--economic, cultural, and psychological--that affect Luis and the other Lions.

Papa Juan and some of the other Lions also speak about how hard they work. Papa Juan, for example, worked in the bracero program that brought Mexican workers to the U.S. for temporary, migrant work. He clearly worked hard at agricultural work, and he says, "we will work all week" (23). Many of the other workers also speak about how hard they work to get ahead. For example, Rene speaks about how he wants respect at his job (page 7). He is one of the Lions whose ideals and real behavior are consistent. For example, he is described as a role model at the restaurant, and he owns his own house. In addition, Leonardo sends half of his money back home to Mexico and saves much of his income to purchase a house. In looking at his life, the reader can understand the processes of enculturation (by which people learn the values of the surrounding culture) and acculturation (by which people borrow cultural traits from other people).

In assessing the lives of the Lions from your perspective, consider your own biases and ethnocentrism. For example, many American-born people consider Americans hardworking and Mexicans not as hard working. Using a sense of cultural relativism, you can perceive that Mexicans see themselves as hardworking and American-born people as less diligent. You should assess the Lions' behaviors by understanding their backgrounds and motivations; for example, why did they come to the U.S., and what do they hope to gain from their work here? Use a holistic approach, considering cultural, economic, psychological, and other factors that contribute to their experiences in the U.S. You may also find some commonalities among your values and those of the Lions.

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