Culture in America is likely to be spelled these days with a hyphen. Watch it on TV. There’s Cuban-American singing star Gloria Esteban in a music video on MTV Latino. See it at the cinema. The film version of The Joy Luck Club, based on the popular novel by Chinese-American author Amy Tan, could be playing nearby. Theater? There’s the modern-dance show Griot New York, directed by Jamaican-American choreographer Garth Fagin. Poetry? Buy a book of verse by St. Lucian-born, Nobel-prizewinning poet Derek Walcott, who teaches at Boston University. Painting? New York’s Asia Society is holding a show that tours the country next year featuring Asian-American visual artists who emigrated from Vietnam, Thailand and elsewhere in Asia.
And that’s just the beginning. “All American art is a function of the hybrid culture that resulted from centuries of immigration to this nation,” says David Ross, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. “We’re just more dramatically aware of it today.” American culture used to be depicted as a Eurocentric melting pot into which other cultures were stirred and absorbed. The recent waves of newcomers have changed that. Today it seems more like a street fair, with various booths, foods and peoples, all mixing on common sidewalks. The new cultural carnival is most apparent in music. The New York-based, Irish-American group Black 47, which mixes rap, reggae and traditional Irish melodies, has appeared on both the Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. The Los Angeles rap trio Cypress Hill, which includes an Italian American, a Cuban American and a member who is of Cuban and Mexican descent, released a hit album this year that started out at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s album chart.
Latin music has become such a significant force in pop music that MTV recently launched MTV Latino as a separate Spanish-language edition. Cuban-born Estefan, with her dance-floor blend of R. and B. and Cuban polyrhythms, has established herself as the queen of the new Latin sound. Arriving in Miami from Havana when she was two years old, she grew up in a household immersed in traditional Cuban ballads. By the first grade, she was also listening to British-invasion bands.
“It was natural to blend both elements,” says Estefan. “When immigrants come to America they bring their culture, and that culture becomes part of a new country. It makes everyone stronger.” Her success helped launch other Latin acts. Cuban-born singer Jon Secada, who co-wrote several of Estefan’s best-selling songs, has since recorded his own hits, which combine elements of Cuban music, Top 40 and gospel. Says Secada: “Artists who want to experiment find a way of incorporating the things that are worthy from all types of music, like reggae, salsa and African sounds. And it finds a way onto the charts.” The fashion industry has also felt the impact of newcomers.
Immigrants from Asia have brought a clean, elegant new look to clothing design. Among them is Han Feng, who left Hangzhou, China, only eight years ago. Now head of her own design company, she sells easy-to-wear, simply shaped clothes to Bloomingdale’s and Saks. “Designers have been looking for a style for the ’90s,” says Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s. “The simplified Oriental-inspired look might be a major look.” African clothing, filtered through rap culture, influences fashion as well. The L.A.-based firm Threads for Life (also known as Cross Colours) sells hip- hop fashion inspired by urban youth and African designers, such as overalls with colorful kente-cloth patches. “It becomes not just a pair of jeans, but something that means something,” says firm co-owner Carl Jones. Company sales rose from million in 1991 to million in 1992.
The Joy Luck Club, born as a best-selling book, leads a recent surge in popular new movies written or directed by Asians. They include M. Butterfly, written by David Henry Hwang, the U.S.-born son of Chinese immigrants; the comedy Combination Platter, directed by Chinese-American filmmaker Tony Chan; and The Wedding Banquet, a comedy directed by Ang Lee, who moved to the U.S. from Taiwan. Asian-style kickboxing movies have found an eager audience in the U.S. Recently one of Hong Kong’s best filmmakers, John Woo, relocated to Los Angeles to direct the action movie Hard Target (which stars Belgian-born martial-arts hero Jean-Claude Van Damme).
Diversity recruitment should be strategic, targeted and measured for results. Often, a company doesn’t follow basic business principals in recruitment that they would in other business areas. If a campaign were being launched for a new product marketing research, analysis, and development would be required.
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