A discussion of culture and the appropriate celebration of it.


Some years ago, part of my teaching assignment included an introduction to humanities course. The curriculum set by the department chair, and one of the major assignments for the students required them to make a presentation in front of the class to share a significant part of their culture. I happened to be teaching in Hawaii at the time, and the students in my class came from a variety of countries.  Students from Japan, Malaysia, Ecuador and many other countries had no trouble coming up with some unique feature of their culture.  Their presentations included woven tapestries made from llama wool, folk dances handed down from generation to generation and other interesting arts and crafts reflective of their homeland.

Included in this class were students from various states.  California, Nevada and other states from the west and Midwest were represented.  These American students had an advantage in most of our class work because English was their primary language, and sadly, in most cases, their only language.  They never volunteered to make their “cultural” presentation when we first began the presentations.  Invariably, the American students complained that they had no culture.

I found this really disturbing and knew that I had some thinking to do.  I interrupted the scheduled presentations to have a lecture about culture.  I realized that in America, we had come to the point of being so concerned about political correctness that we had all but nullified the rich culture that contributes to the melting pot that we call America.  Most of my ancestry, at least on my mother’s side, is American Indian, but it was unseemly to speak of such a background when I was growing up.  Sadly, I know little about the true culture of my ancestors, but I have great admiration for the American Indian culture.

In our country we are blessed to have strong representations of Dutch, German, Italian, French, Vietnamese, Chinese and so many other cultures. We also have a wealth of cultural backgrounds that are tied to religious beliefs.  The Amish and Mennonites certainly have strong cultural mores that carry over into their work ethic.  Many other religions are prominent in our country.  One of my dearest friends in high school was Russian and regularly attended the Russian Orthodox Church.

In my lecture to the class in which Americans felt they had no culture, I tried to explain to them that cooking, art, theatre, music and literature all make up the culture of our country.  Sports, too, play a significant part in the culture of our country.  Baseball has long been a national pastime, and football plays a significant role in the makeup of so many communities. The list goes on and on.  Indeed, our culture is as rich and diversified as any.  Malaysians would show pictures of people piercing their skin with long needles.  Japanese students often referred to Sumo wrestling and the subculture it represents in their country.  Eastern European countries have wonderful folk dances that relay the legends of their past.

I think it’s really important to remember that we do have strong heritage, and we are not just a carbon copy of “Honey Boo-boos” and other reality stars who relate only a small part of the makeup of our country.  We need to do all we can to preserve the culture that heightens the dignity of our lives.  There’s nothing wrong with differences in people.  To celebrate the distinctive features of our culture need not in any way detract from anyone else’s culture.