I have always been interested in this topic, maybe because I always stood out as a sore thumb both in my adopted family and at school and then later in the workplace...
No matter what we do, culture is part of the society we live in; whether it is our culture by birth or the culture of the new country in which we reside.
I truly believe we are born with a unique fingerprint that includes three things: first, the ethnicity of that person which includes the distinct DNA of each parent; second, the culture of both parents; and third, kindness, which I believe is innate in all human beings at birth.
So here we are at birth with our unique fingerprint made up of ethnicity, culture, and kindness. But before I continue with this train of thought, I think it would be very useful to give you my definition of some of the words we are going to use.
Dictionary definition: (a) the way a person behaves or conducts oneself, (b) the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment.
For me, when I think of this word, what comes to mind is a response to stimulus.
Dictionary definition: acquired changes in behavior during one's lifetime.
This is also what comes to mind for me when I think of "learned behavior."
Dictionary definition: does not have to be learned or practiced; it is also known as instinctive behavior.
I see this as part of your initial fingerprint at birth (whether we know this or not).
Dictionary definition: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time.
For me, culture is a country or a place that has its own beliefs, a way of life, etc.
Here we have the four parts that I believe are all intertwined with the word culture... Some believe it is innate, some believe it is learned, and some believe we need to get rid of culture all together.
One of the interesting things in our lives in 2016 is that we are all connected, and I mention this because it is so important to understand that we are exposed to much more than we were 30 years ago. Meaning we did not travel as much and the World Wide Web was only a tiny figment of someone's imagination. We had no idea that technology -- what we see on the small and big screens in our homes -- would bring into our day-to-day lives such closeness with so many different cultures!
Today, where most of us live in a completely different society or environment from which we were born into, we sometimes do not even speak the language of our birth-culture. For example, you will meet a lot of Mexicans in California, who were born and raised here and have never spoken Spanish. I would like to take this example to open the conversation about culture and how it affects our everyday lives.
The child who is born here, what they call "first generation," has a burden on their shoulders at birth. The parents may have immigrated under difficult circumstances and their hopes to see their children do well in their new environment are huge. The pressure is on that child from the moment it is born! The expectation of the parents for this child are of tremendous opportunities that the parents can only imagine as they have never had that. Education, college, a master's degree, a well-paying job, and hopefully citizenship of the new country.
Now we will add culture to this mix and suddenly we have a lot of explosive elements. This child has to navigate two sets of cultures. Remember, his/her unique fingerprint along with the culture that is inherited. Let's take the example of a Mexican family in the US, but this could be any family really!
At home, this child most likely hears Spanish spoken by the parents. If there are other children who are older, they already speak English. And so when this child goes to school, where it will spend I would say 75 percent of its time for the next 15 years at least, he or she will be exposed to the culture of the new place, the new country, with its own sets of intricate rules and customs that are totally different from the culture of his parents.
This is why I added the definitions of the word culture in the beginning to make it easier to follow. A society, place, or country comes with a culture and customs so that we can behave accordingly and find a place to fit in and to belong in the culture and thus in the country. In the case of this child, the adaptation process happens twice in a day. When she arrives at school every morning and when she arrives back home after a long day at school.
Now one of the reasons I find this fascinating is first of all how adaptable children are in general, and second, that often nobody in either culture actually assists in explaining how their culture works, like having a manual or a textbook to help you through the trials and errors.
These children are then left to their own devices, abandoned to fend for themselves by both cultures!
Stay tuned! Next week, we will cover how to help our children, students, or friends navigate several cultures and feel at the same time a sense of belonging in all of them! We will also address different examples of how culture works for us or against us at crucial times in our development... When is it a constraint or when do we perceive it as a freedom?
To be continued....