Ethnography Le Petit Cafe in Brighton Beach dissertation

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Le Petit Cafe in Brighton Beach is a Russian-owned pastry shop managed by my father Oleg Reyngach. With a clientele that consists almost entirely of Russian immigrants living in the local community, Le Petit Cafe offers a wonderful opportunity for an ethnographic study. What the patrons lack in terms of ethnic and linguistic diversity, they make up for in terms of socio-economic class and gender diversity. Blue collar and working class individuals commingle with white-collar young executives. The ratio of females to males is about equal, and age is also varied. What makes Le Petit Cafe a rich ethnographic field study is the way the organization lends insight into the way globalization has affected the immigrant experience. Themes related to multiculturalism and hegemony also become clear, as the Russian community thrives by sticking together while at the same time enjoying the fruits of enculturation and assimilation. As a participant-observer at Le Petit Cafe, I was able to penetrate past the initial layers of the subculture. Because I am a Russian speaker, I was also able to gather information about the stratifications of power and other cultural dynamics that might not be apparent to the casual observer. From my ethnographic studies I concluded that stratifications of power within Le Petit Cafe in Brighton Beach reflect gender, kinship, and especially the patterns of population migration.

One of the first things I noticed upon visiting Le Petit Cafe early one morning is that many of the low-wage laborers performing the menial duties related to local Brighton Beach businesses were not Russian but Latino. Brighton Beach is a predominantly Russian neighborhood and has been for many years. "Immigrants from the former Soviet Union comprised the largest refugee group arriving in the United States in the 1990s, including many Jews escaping anti-Semitism, ethnic violence and economic convulsions after the collapse of communism," (Chapter 13, p. 17). The Russian refugee community currently consists of mainly educated professionals who opted for a better life, even if it meant a slight downturn in their socio-economic class status. As the text points out, "Most immigrants to the United States, and most immigrants around the world, are not poor, uneducated, unemployed or undocumented," (Chapter 13, p. 13). This is largely contrary to popular belief, which assumes that most immigrants in the United States were and still are poor. Instead, "immigration is a journey more frequently taken by those with education, job skills, and financial resources -- and the motivation -- that sets them apart from the majority of their fellow citizens," (Chapter 13 p. 13). Furthermore, the text highlights the different types of immigrant experiences including entrepreneurial and professional immigrants. My father and many of his friends and colleagues are entrepreneurial immigrants who are earning a livelihood by starting small businesses and contributing to their cultural enclaves.

The creation of cultural enclaves in urban centers like New York is nothing new in America. In fact, the vibrancy of the New York cultural landscape is preserved because of the existence of ethnic enclaves starting with Chinatown and Little Italy, and now extending into the outer boroughs. The demographics and patterns of migration might have changed somewhat, but generally the immigrant experience reflects certain anthropological themes that I observed during the ethnography at Le Petit Cafe. For example, I became aware of the reasons why Brighton Beach is a Russian community. As the text points out, patterns of population migration do not occur accidentally. People are drawn to communities with strong ethnic and cultural ties because of the existence of organizations that help immigrants to assimilate. For example, the Russian Jewish community depended strongly on local organizations. A "strong network of sponsors and support agencies established by earlier waves of Jewish immigrants," as well as "Jewish refugee resettlement agencies played a significant role in immigrants' choice of country, city and even neighborhood," (Chapter 13, p. 17). Supportive organizations and groups make it easier for immigrants to make the leap to a new culture. Having a ready-made community comprised of friends, family members, and people who speak the same language facilitates upward social mobility. Supportive organizations and groups also help to break down the barriers that hamper the immigrant experience. One of the reasons why Le Petit Cafe has been successful is because it acts as a social hub for the local Russian community.

Le Petit Cafe changes its character from early morning to late at night. The morning crowd is mainly inside for coffee and a quick breakfast before work. Not much socialization takes place. That all changes in the evening and at night, when patrons come in for longer periods of time. On nights when Russian sporting events are taking place, Le Petit Cafe truly comes alive as a community hub. It is during my observations of Le Petit Cafe at nighttime that I fully realized the importance of social networking and organization in helping the immigrant community remain cohesive. I also observed the ways Le Petit Cafe served as a place in which it was possible to reinforce cultural norms related to gender.

In the "Sexuality" chapter, we read, "From the time we are born we are enculturated -- given messages -- about what it means to be a man or a woman, masculine and feminine, how to express ourselves to fit into the culture." Gender norms become immediately apparent watching the patrons of Le Petit Cafe watching sports. The men are absorbed and engaged, and debate one another about the perceived merits of their favorite teams. Sports become a mode of interaction, even among people who do not otherwise know each other. The female patrons of Le Petit Cafe appear more neutral with regards to sports. When asked, they might support a team. They do not need sports to have conversations, because the gender norms related to sports in this case applies to men only. It is as if the males perceive being passionate about sports as a normative male activity but not a normative female activity.

Gender norms proscribe behavior: "How are we supposed to behave? What is a feminine or masculine way to walk, talk, laugh or run? Where should males and females fit into the larger systems of culture and power, from economics and politics to religion, family and even sports?" (Sex and Gender p. 3). My observations also related to gender stereotypes and gender ideology. Gender ideology is "a way of thinking about men and women's essential character, capabilities and value that promotes and justifies stratification." Thus, if a woman starts to talk to a table of men about sports they are likely to dismiss her comments due to gender stratification. Although I did not witness any obvious instances in which the male hegemony asserted itself directly, the arrangement of tables in the room during sporting events does suggest that males enjoy a position of power and privilege in the community. All the best seats are taken up by men, who are the loudest members of the room too. Their taking up more space and dominating the atmosphere suggests male power. Therefore, gender stratification was evident in Le Petit Cafe.

The observation of nighttime sporting events also reveals another anthropological theme: that of kinship in an age of globalization. In "Anthropology in a Global Age," Guest notes that it is "impossible to study a local community without placing it in global perspective and considering the global forces affecting it," (p. 22). Globalization has made it possible for the movement of people and finances, making it possible for the Russian immigrants to make it to America and establish new communities there. Sports become a symbol by which the Russian immigrants can bond. This discourse, is, however, dominated by males because males are the ones gathered closely around the television watching the events. If sports substitutes for political debates, then it becomes clear how men systematically exclude women from cultural discourse. Before my observations of Le Petit Cafe, it seemed that Russians did not get passionate about sports. It is my belief that the passion for sports has become a diversion for what used to be heated political debates. Largely, those debates were controlled and dominated by men, just like the debates over sports are now. Part of this phenomenon is related to cultural norms: "societies have clear norms, based on ideas of age, kinship, gender, race, religion and class, about what is normal and what is not," ("Culture and Power" p. 7). It is normative for men to dominate most forms of social discourse in both Russian and American culture. For this reason, the Russian immigrant community does not have appreciably different gender norms of gendered stratification from the dominant American culture.

If cultures bond through the symbolic medium of sport, then that bonding is also made possible because of new technologies related to globalization. "As time and space compress, as the world gets smaller, migration, economic activity, flows of money, ideas, media images, popular culture, music, movies and television have created a new diversity…[continue]

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