Monday, July 26, 2010

What's My Culture?

When I was little I wanted more than anything to be Native American.  I even have a Shoshone name given to me by my mother for a second grade assignment, Morning Star.  No, my mom's not Shoshone, but one of my classmate's grandma's was!  He really didn't show that he had any Native American genes, he was super pale and had red hair!  It didn't matter though.  He had culture, a history.  Customs and traditions that tied him to something very cool, something unique, something I have never had.

All my life I was taught that I am nothing.  My culture if I can even call it that, is unimportant in history, and if anything we are the cause of most of histories problems.  Ok not all, but we are the bad guy a lot.  There is no study us day.  There is no recognize your cultural differences.  Heck, we don't even have cultural differences.  I grew up in a void of culture.  I was raised as a plain American.  That's it!  There's nothing else.  Our cuisine is microwavable and full of empty calories.  Most meals of our meals are bastardizations of some other group, and we even refer to them as such.  We have no holidays other than those on the national calendar and we celebrate those as represented by the Hallmark Channel.  We have no "special language".  No going back generations.  Nothing that set us apart.  Everything that made us different, that told who my ancestors were, that gave me roots had been torn away long before I was born.  I grew up in the anti-culture.
Thanks to the popularity of genealogy I do know a little bit about the people who got me to where I am geographically.  That explain the color of my skin, my eyes, and my hair.  I have a few names of places, events, even a bit of American history I can cling to.  What is lost is the unique celebrations, the food (oh I wish we had the food), the way of doing, acting, dressing, the language, the knowledge of what came before.  I have the culture of my chosen religious beliefs, but that is something I chose for myself and while the choice of Christianity does appear in my family tree (quite a lot), it was not something overly celebrated within my home growing up (other than the big two events of Christmas & Easter - almost an entirely secular observance in reflection.)

This is not the fault of my parents, although my father may have known of traditions we did not practice, and he seldom cooked.  My mother, I believe, had much the same experience as I.  The culture of my ancestors, particularly on my maternal side was obliterated during the second world war, at least according to my grandma.  I don't know all the details, but I know that her family is of recentish German immigration (well my grandma's grandparents or so).  As a result they were still closely tied to Germany when the war began.  In order to avoid the internment camps (that were very close to where I grew up), all things German were done away with.  Nothing that would be different was done.  For some reason they never went back.

Whatever the full reason for the void in culture.  Whether it's families assimilating across several backgrounds, or the repression of the inherent German-ness of my linage, by the time I entered into society, anything and everything that related to being from somewhere was gone.  Well everything except for my paternal grandmother's penchant for sweet tea and pecans.  My only two ties to the Southern US, where apparently she was from (but not my grandfather).  For a while I dabbled with the idea of learning more about Germany, since it is prevalent on both sides of my family and the source of my maiden name.  However, there just wasn't anyone to lead the way.  I had no starting point.  No guide, and no resources (remind me to talk about the lack of public library I experienced as a child.) I, like so many other times, gave up.

For a while I attempted to make my own culture.  To make my place with my fellow Geeks.  It's a comfortable place and more of who I am than any other culture I have adapted.  But it is not a complete culture, merely a subculture and it lacks in history and roots.  It is the start of a culture, and while I continue to participate in varying levels and to observe many of the observances, even inspiring my children to do so, it does not fill the entire void.

I have temporarily adopted other cultures from friends.  I've spent time with people from India, Taiwan.  I really like playing at being Taiwanese.  Unfortunately, that's all it is, playing at.  As much as I enjoy the culture they have shown me, I have failed to integrate it fully into my life.  As more and more of my friends move away, I feel myself slipping out of my most recently adopted culture.

Perhaps this is my fate.  That I will always be looking for that place.  For something to fill the void.  Perhaps this simply is the American culture.  Perhaps, this is the movement from one to another.  Yet, being at the beginning of the process is not something that meets all the needs we feel inside.  The beginning of a change in something so big as a new cultural way of life is going to be a several generation process.  The traditions we aquire, and the ones we leave behind in our attempt to pass on to the next generation as we form an American culture, a world culture, distinct of where we come from, and focused on something we can't quite define yet. It's incomplete, and maybe that's the problem, one we can't through anything other than acknowledgement and time.

Now that I am not longer a little girl, being told how horrible my ancestors, whomever they were, have been to all the other cultures, I am more able to deal with these losses.  I still long to be tied to a long tradition.  To have hundreds, thousands of years of development and accomplishments.  I long to have more to my identity to cling to than pop culture provides.

My search continues, this issue remains.... unresolved.

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