A Window Into Culture

Essay Assignment:  A Window Into Culture

This assignment demonstrates how Klindienst’s book can be used in the college classroom.

Essay Prompt: In reaction to having read Klindienst’s Prologue, imagine that the author has just knocked on your door to interview you. First, to earn your trust, she tells you her story. Now, you will tell her yours. You may choose to focus on either a family photo, a family recipe, or a personal sanctuary of your own (like Vanzetti’s Garden), or any combination of these topics. No matter which you choose, include both  NARRATION (storytelling) and DESCRIPTION (use of sensory detail) to create an essay that acts as a window into your family history and works to preserve cultural memory through language  (by Jolia Allan).

The Earth Knows My Name:  Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans by Patricia Klindienst.

Prologue:  Vanzetti’s Garden http://www.beacon.org/client/pdfs/8562_prol.pdf

Study Questions for Prologue:

  1. Describe the Klindienst family history.  Include their language history, occupational history, and immigration history.
  2. Describe your own family history, including the same elements, language, occupation, and immigration.  If necessary, ask questions of your family.
  3. How familiar was the author with her family history at the time of her father’s death?
  4. How familiar are you with your own family history?  Have you inherited your family language?  Is there a family anecdote, such as the story the author tells about her grandfather and his crust of bread, that you have heard over and over?  What is it?
  5. On page xiv, the author uses the adjective “difficult” to modify the “process of becoming Americans.”  Do you agree with her sentiment?  Why or why not?
  6. Klindienst uses words to help the reader picture the photograph: what specific details help you to “see” the photograph she describes?
  7. Who are Sacco and Vanzetti? Why are they famous?  (Do some research online!)  Why does Klindienst bring them into this chapter?  What do they symbolize for her and for us?
  8. The author writes, “For so long, all I knew of my Italian heritage was the memory of food.”  What specific food items does she mention?  What food items do you most associate with your own heritage?  Include details; be specific.
  9. What is symbolic about the gardens of ethnic Americans?  What metaphors does Vanzetti use in his description of his garden?
  10. Why might we find the answer to our environmental crisis in the practices of ethnic gardeners?
  11. What is the most important gift the gardeners interviewed in this book have to offer us?  (according to Klindienst)
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