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Thread: Cultural Identity

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Cultural Identity

    Following some comments in another thread, I cannot help wondering what is the make up of our cultural identities.

    What determines our cultural identities? Our religion? Our nationality? Our ethnic background or where we live?

    Do we tend to stick with our ethnic identity throughout our lives or do we end up doing as the Romans do whenever we are in Rome?

    For those who have "straightforward" lives (born and bred in the same cultural atmosphere), I assume, this is an easier question to answer but for those of us who were born in one cultural environment and end up establishing lives in different (and sometimes incompatible) cultures, it is a rather confusing and, somehow, painful issue to deal with.

    So what is the make up of your cultural identity? How do you define yourserlves?
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    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Its all a matter of levels. Culturally, I think of myself at different times as Welsh, British, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-American, European, Lower-Middle-Class, Conservative, Catholic, Christian, Western, and Human.

    Generally, the level and area to which I define myself at any given time is usually dictated by the frame of reference which acts as an opposite to it.
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    So many cultures make up Americans. I am American, but I'm part Native American, which is different. And I'm Irish and I'm Scottish, and Hillfolk, and I'm a flatlander. So many of the traditions my family have are from different "cultures". No matter where one is from I think we are all just mutts.
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    Livin' in Slow Motion Hurricane's Avatar
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    I'm an American, a New Englander, Mass resident, and a whole host of other things. I can be proud of my Finnish, German, British, French, and French-Canadian heritage, and still define myself an American.
    There are quirks in my speech, mannerisms, and traditions that make me different from people from other regions, but I think these differences between Americans can make us stronger as a country rather than weaken us.
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    I'm Irish. My Heritage is Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Cornish... you could say i'm a celtic through and through! I was born Catholic because my parents were catholic, and catholicism is the dominant religion in my country.
    "Come away O human child!To the waters of the wild, With a faery hand in hand, For the worlds more full of weeping than you can understand."
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    I define myself culturally thru the norms and values I was raised with. This will come to practice when I have to act or react upon, perhaps, many things. Like, for example, when I had a Swedish boyfriend who hardly ever picked up a girl at her place for a date (because apparently that's how it is in Sweden). But that's not how it is in Indonesia, where it is very common for a guy to pick up his girlfriend at her house. This is due to the fact that children will stay with their parents until the time they got married. So, to pick up a girl and show yourself to the parents is considered as a part of the norm as Indonesians. There are also quite deep influence of religions (i.e. Islam) blended with norms and habbits that rooted from ages before any established religions came to Indonesia.
    Last edited by subterranean; 11-14-2009 at 03:48 PM. Reason: revising some words

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    I am descended from the British conquerors and speak English at home, and for most Quebecers this excludes me from the right to declare myself Québécois. On the other hand, Quebec is the only home I have ever known so it is difficult for me to identify with any other culture.

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    I had a huge cultural shock when we moved to Wales - I had always regarded myself as 'almost Welsh' because both my parents were Welsh and I was brought up with the values of Chapel-going Welsh valleys people (the importance of the Family, protestant work ethic, loyalty, perseverence, high regard for truth and justice, equality and value of the individual). I was born in England because that was where my father's work was at the time, educated in England and my parents, who had suffered in their time from a mild form of discrimination because of their Welsh accents - 'Taffies' - had ironed out my speech into a neutral BBC-standard English, though to the gentle amusement of close friends, I still had a Welsh lift in certain intonations. When we 'came home' to Wales to visit families, I was accepted as 'one of us' who just had the misfortune to have been born away from 'home' (entirely my mother's fault, of course, but what do you expect, she never would be told). But - when we came to live here, I was 'English' and as such, despised. I had not realised how much anti-English sentiment there was in Wales the further away from the borders one moved. It was a shock - I was hurt by this casual rejection before anybody took the trouble to get to know me or find out what I had to offer; I was surprised that I was supposed to carry the blame for the way the English had treated the Welsh (in Welsh eyes) for the past seven hundred years. It was a salutary lesson, one which I am only gradually getting over: I am in the process of selling my house and have lost count of the number of people, even friends, who have asked, 'Oh, are you going back to England?' Actually, no - this has been my home for the past twenty years, I like it here. (And I have learned that the Welsh are suspicious of someone who comes from the next town, let alone the next county or another country....so it's nothing personal.)

    Similarly, though on a different scale, the difference between British and American mores on my sole visit to the USA in the early '70s was an eye-opener, as was the attitude of certain sections of the South African people to the British on my trip there last year. We - and I include both sides - do not see the individual - we see our preconceived idea of some historical, abstract amalgamation of that person's nation of origin. Surely we ought to have learned from recent history the appalling dangers of that blinkered approach.

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    In many ways I'm a Finn through and through. As far as I know, all my ancestors were Finnish too. I look Finnish with my blue eyes and blonde hair, I recognise many Finnish stereotypes in myself and I love my country. One thing that sets me apart from most other Finns, however, is my religion. Even though most Finns belong to the Lutheran Church, most of them aren't really religious at all. I come from a Christian home, and it has affected the way I see this world, and my values often differ from those of other people of my age. So in a way I also feel like I fit in here very well, and in another I feel like I'm in a completely wrong place. Not that I'd like to move anywhere else, I like it here
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    When it comes to food and certain other habits I have an ethnic identity. When it comes to music, films and TV shows I am a total misfit unable to adapt myself to the ways of my people's ideologies and entertainment industry. I'm very much of an outsider in my own land, which I think could help me adapt easily to other cultures if I ever need to move to another country, something that I find very difficult in most of my people who have moved abroad (my folks are very nostalgic when they leave the homeland). I'm very much of what would be a ... Southern Viking If I had to move to someplace in Europe or US, I believe I can adapt. However, I'd still be nostalgic quite often, though not to the point of a breakdown.

    I think that what determines our cultural identity has to do with the choices we make according to whatever pleases or displeases our senses. At least it is how it works for me. I think that ultimately, we are our choices.

  11. #11
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maximilianus View Post
    I think that what determines our cultural identity has to do with the choices we make according to whatever pleases or displeases our senses. At least it is how it works for me. I think that ultimately, we are our choices.
    Don't you think what pleases or displeases are affected by our culture as well?

    Anna> Would you say you define your culture identity more through your religion?

    Kasie> I loved reading your post.

    I sometimes feel like I do not belong anywhere anymore. Not enough Anglicized to be considered English but not enough well-preserved to be considered still a "native" in my homeland either. Stuck in a constant state of limbo!
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    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  12. #12
    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kasie View Post
    I had a huge cultural shock when we moved to Wales - I had always regarded myself as 'almost Welsh' because both my parents were Welsh and I was brought up with the values of Chapel-going Welsh valleys people (the importance of the Family, protestant work ethic, loyalty, perseverence, high regard for truth and justice, equality and value of the individual). I was born in England because that was where my father's work was at the time, educated in England and my parents, who had suffered in their time from a mild form of discrimination because of their Welsh accents - 'Taffies' - had ironed out my speech into a neutral BBC-standard English, though to the gentle amusement of close friends, I still had a Welsh lift in certain intonations. When we 'came home' to Wales to visit families, I was accepted as 'one of us' who just had the misfortune to have been born away from 'home' (entirely my mother's fault, of course, but what do you expect, she never would be told). But - when we came to live here, I was 'English' and as such, despised. I had not realised how much anti-English sentiment there was in Wales the further away from the borders one moved. It was a shock - I was hurt by this casual rejection before anybody took the trouble to get to know me or find out what I had to offer; I was surprised that I was supposed to carry the blame for the way the English had treated the Welsh (in Welsh eyes) for the past seven hundred years. It was a salutary lesson, one which I am only gradually getting over: I am in the process of selling my house and have lost count of the number of people, even friends, who have asked, 'Oh, are you going back to England?' Actually, no - this has been my home for the past twenty years, I like it here. (And I have learned that the Welsh are suspicious of someone who comes from the next town, let alone the next county or another country....so it's nothing personal.)

    Similarly, though on a different scale, the difference between British and American mores on my sole visit to the USA in the early '70s was an eye-opener, as was the attitude of certain sections of the South African people to the British on my trip there last year. We - and I include both sides - do not see the individual - we see our preconceived idea of some historical, abstract amalgamation of that person's nation of origin. Surely we ought to have learned from recent history the appalling dangers of that blinkered approach.
    Yeah, the Welsh can be like that. I'm a Welshman, and proud of it, but I do come from English stock, so I know what its like to be on the recieving end of a cold shoulder. In defense of my compatriots, they can warm up to specific English people... eventually...
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

  13. #13
    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lokasenna View Post
    they can warm up to specific English people... eventually...
    Oh, please do tell!

    ~
    "It is not that I am mad; it is only that my head is different from yours.”
    ~


  14. #14
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scheherazade View Post
    Following some comments in another thread, I cannot help wondering what is the make up of our cultural identities.
    This is a subject close and dear to me. It is something i've given perhaps a lifetime of thought to. Let me say that when it comes to literature, the notion of identity is either directly addressed as a central theme or at least a tangential theme of every form with the possible exception of lyric poetry, and even there it may or may not be part of the work. The Illiad is a work that defines the cultural identity of a people. So is every narrative if you really think about it. A narrative is a story in a time and place where characters make decisions and form values. All of that defines an identity. james joyce understood this very well. Here is a passage from Portrait of An Artist, a work that shows the evolution of a character as his identity is formed:
    He opened the geography to study the lesson; but he could not learn the names of places in America. Still they were all different places that had different names. They were all in different countries and the countries were in continents and the continents were in the world and the world was in the universe.

    He turned to the flyleaf of the geography and read what he had written there: himself, his name and where he was.

    Stephen Dedalus
    Class of Elements
    Clongowes Wood College
    Sallins
    County Kildare
    Ireland
    Europe
    The World
    The Universe


    That was in his writing: and Fleming one night for a cod had written on the opposite page:

    Stephen Dedalus is my name,
    Ireland is my nation.
    Clongowes is my dwellingplace
    And heaven my expectation.
    That is cultural identity being formed and realized. Notice the other Joycian works, Dubliners, a collection of short stories about people in Dublin at the turn of the 20th century. Ullysess, a novel that through the consciousness of three characters forms the very identity of a time and place. Toward the end of Protrait, Joyce has Stephan write the following in his diary:
    So be it. Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
    To forge in his soul the "uncreated conscience of my race" really is another way to say he is going to discover his cultural identity.

    You can take almost every novel and locate the cultural identity theme. Henry James's Portrait of a Lady defines a particular cultural identity, a late 19th century American; Mark Twain also defines a late 19th century American cultural identity in Huck Finn. How different and yet they are both from the same time and roughly place. Just think about the great novels: Great Expectations, Madame Bovary, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, The Great Gatsby, etc. While they may not tackle head on the cultural identity theme like Joyce, they are certainly either integrated with an identity or try to stand in contra distinction to an identity.

    By the way, for me the absolute best novel I have ever read that took on the theme of cultural identity head on is D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers.


    What determines our cultural identities? Our religion? Our nationality? Our ethnic background or where we live?
    Every thing determines our cultural identity. Everything that makes up our persona, our conscious (and unconscious for those that may believe in one) minds, our selves. What else but our persona is what speaks, is what makes choices, decides on a course of action, selects friends and forms relationships. Our persona is who we are and who we are is our identity and our identity is linked to our culture in time and space.

    Do we tend to stick with our ethnic identity throughout our lives or do we end up doing as the Romans do whenever we are in Rome?
    I don't know about do as in Rome, but I do believe that identity is an evolving thing. Sure, I guess the older we get the more fixed we are, but no question that throughout my life I have felt my identity shift. I don't think I've ever lost past identities. I think it's more of adding new ones on.

    For those who have "straightforward" lives (born and bred in the same cultural atmosphere), I assume, this is an easier question to answer but for those of us who were born in one cultural environment and end up establishing lives in different (and sometimes incompatible) cultures, it is a rather confusing and, somehow, painful issue to deal with.
    I guess if you only think of identity as formed by a place then you would have a limited set. But identity is formed by a multiplicity of factors: what we become, the sports we enjoy, the career paths we embark on, our sexual orientations, the types of people we are. There were those where I grew up who were college bound, and they had and then further developed a distinct identity from those who became plumbers or mechanics and therre were those who hung out drinking in bars and those who went to the library and played chess. All living within the same street. Heck we had an identity of being the guys from 72nd street and we played ball against those who were from 76th street and we had very strong bonds of loyalty between our respective cliques. I think of identity as a circle which contain a slew of cultural elements, those we share with some and those we don't. It's as if there are overlapping circles of shared elements of identity.

    So what is the make up of your cultural identity? How do you define yourserlves?
    Yikes, given what I said above, it's incredibly complicated. Italian Immigrant, American, Brooklynite, Staten Islander, New Yorker, American, Catholic, Mechanical Engineer, ameteur writer, lover of literature, etc...
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

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    veni vidi vixi Bakiryu's Avatar
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    I'm 2nd generation Irish/scottish and 2nd generation Canarian, born and raised in Cuba until I was about 10 years old, I've lived in the US for the last six years. I've never identified as a Cuban, as I child I was a bit of an outcast since Cuban children often do not read and are little interested in intellectual pursuits, girls my age are expected to be honestly, slutty and their main occupation is prostitution.

    I don't feel like a Cuban girl and as for the values I was raised with, i feel they are the same as most people's: honesty, bravery, truthfulness, kindness etc.

    However, many Americans expect me to be the aforementioned stereotype due to my accent. My own subculture looks at me like something other and most people can't believe I'm interested in writting.

    I don't identify myself with any one country. I look a bit different than most Cubans too since I'm rather pale whereas they're sun-tanned. As for religion, most of us are Catholic and honestly, i couldn't care less about the church.

    I'd like to move to an entirely different planet.
    Shall these bones live?

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