ELIZABETH ZELVIN

VOYAGE OF STRANGERS
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Discussion Questions for Voyage of Strangers

1. Because the point of view in Voyage of Strangers is Diego's, the story is told from an outsider perspective. What makes a person or a group of people outsiders? Are there outsiders in our society today? In your community? What is your own experience, if any, of being an outsider?

2. It was long believed that the Taino became extinct within a short time after the Spanish conquest. Yet today, people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and throughout the United States identify themselves as Taino and are determined "to protect, defend, and preserve the Taino cultural heritage and spiritual tradition." (You can learn more at the website of the United Confederation of Taino People.) What do you think defines racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious identity? How important is genetic makeup? Cultural and religious practices? Language?

3. "History is written by the victors." This popular saying, often attributed to Winston Churchill, can be applied to the discovery of America, which is usually celebrated today as a joyous commemorative occasion with special reference to Italian Americans. To what extent does it matter what people believe about events in the past? What are the possible consequences over time of only one version being remembered? How important is it for the losing side's story to be told?

4. People's beliefs are colored, and their actions largely determined, by their time and culture. For example, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella believed that their Christian faith was an absolute good. Some Jewish scholars today believe that Columbus himself was a secret Jew and that his hidden agenda was to find a homeland for the Jews. How does cultural relativism affect our perception of right and wrong, good and evil? How do our beliefs affect what we perceive as facts?

5. One of the most interesting aspects of Taino culture was their use of the game of batey, a ballgame resembling soccer (outside the U.S., football), to resolve disputes as well as for sport. What effect would it have on our society if we replaced war or even elections with athletic competitions?


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