Assimilation and the Gendered Color Line: Hmong Case Studies of Hip-Hop and Import Racing

By Pao Lee Vue | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
Going to Class and the Hmong
Hip-Hop “Tool Kit”

If you recall from Chapter Two, I attended a hip-hop and spoken word poetry class taught by Tou Saiko (a 27-year-old Hmong hip-hop artist) that took place at a low-income housing project in a large Upper Midwestern city.51 This chapter describes the class, and it discusses how students’ “tool kits” became enriched by attending the class. In this chapter, I make several references to what Ann Swidler (1986:273) referred to as the cultural “tool kit,” which consists “of symbols, stories, rituals, and world-views, which people may use in varying configurations to solve different kinds of problems.” Although this basic definition of the cultural “tool kit” may suggest a rational choice approach, Swidler explains that a means-end rationale does not explain all lines of action and that people have cultured capacities. Specifically, we – as agents of culture – have been trained to feel and act in certain ways, so we have limited cultural competencies. Our competencies provide us with “strategies of action” to guide our everyday behavior (see also Swidler 2001). “Culture in this sense is more like a style or a set of skills and habits than a set of preferences or wants” (Swidler 1986:275). What I hope to achieve in this chapter is to shed light on how certain tools are acquired or – metaphorically speaking – sharpened through hip-hop.

51 The two case studies of hip-hop and import racing draw from the same large metropolitan city in the Upper Midwest. As I mentioned in Chapter Two, I initially met Pong in Tou Saiko’s class, and he is included in the case study of import racers.

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