Mandatory Disclaimer: I am not stating anything within this post that is hard or fast. I am merely bringing up points and trends that I have noticed, considered and mulled over. I am presenting ideas to push others to question and consider their own stances. I am not making any particular statements about culture, or what is or isn’t appropriate. I am merely throwing out ideas for everyone to think about.
Culture is a popular topic now a days. Everyone talks about it, whether you should only work with the culture you were born with, the one you live in, not to touch cultures for fear of appropriation, etc. Culture culture culture. This, of course, got me thinking about culture, and how it’s sorta like inception, or an onion, layers and layers and layers of culture. And I wonder, sometimes, if we’re not considering all of the layers in these discussions.
Allow me to illustrate what I mean.
Let’s take my family. My family, for the most part, has origins in northern Europe and Canada. So by most people’s standards, I should be learning about culture from those two areas (Poland, England, Scotland, France, Ireland, Germany, Sweden… those types of places). So this is dream one: Northern Europe. The culture of my ancestors (on the by and large).
But there is also the consideration of the culture that I was raised in- the American Southwest. Down here, our culture is a mix of Americana, Mexican, and Native American. There is heavy influence from the immigrants here from Mexico, and seeing Day of the Dead festivals and other similar practices is pretty common. We also have a heavy influence from the local tribes (Apache, Hohokam, Navajo, Hopi, etc). I was raised learning about common motifs that you see in the community, the legend of the Apache Tears, Geronimo, dream catchers, etc. It’s just part and parcel with living down here. There are tons of museums and seminars/workshops/festivals to teach you about the culture of the American Southwest Native Americans (btw, side note- if you’re ever down here and can go to the Heard Museum or their annual hoop dance- I highly highly highly recommend it). So this is dream two- the culture I was locally raised in.
So, two dreams in, we have Northern Europe, Canada, America, with hints of Mexican and SW Native American cultures all mixing around.
But there is more to consider. Yes, I was raised with a local culture and custom. But I was also raised with the influence of my grandparent’s cultures as well (I use them because they did most of my raising, not my parents). My grandfather’s side of the family is pure Cowboy Culture. Not sure if anyone reading knows much about cowboy culture, but it does exist as a sub-culture within America. There are rules within this sub-culture. There is proper etiquette at the table, with ladies and children. There is a whole list of rules in handling cowboy hats. There is a right and a wrong way to wear your belt buckle. It is it’s own thing. And I was raised in that. I don’t actively participate in the culture anymore- but I know it’s rules and procedures. It was engrained into me from a young age, and still affects how I handle certain situations today. On the flip side, you have my grandmother. She was raised a military family, which involves a lot of rules (at least, it did for her family)- which she brought into raising her kids and myself. You do things in a certain way, you follow certain protocol, you don’t half-ass stuff, etc. It was all engrained into her from her father and the military setting that she was raised in. This is the third dream: the cultures that the people who raised me were raised in and how that influenced my upbringing- cowboy culture and military culture.
But there’s more!
My grandmother was introduced to a fair amount of stuff because she traveled around with the military. She spent a fair amount of time living in Japan in the 50’s, when the American occupation was at it’s height. She lived in a relatively rural part of the country. To this day, she can tell me stories of local matsuri. Of customs and practices she picked up from living there. Being there effected her greatly- and in so doing, effected how she raised me, and therefore- effects me to this day. I still practice a lot of the stuff she learned there (no shoes inside, no large outbursts of emotions, reverence for nature, those sorts of things). While she didn’t live there for the entirety of her youth, it played a large role in how she grew up and chose to live her life- and in turn, it influenced how she raised her kids, and how I was raised as well. The cultural influences placed on those who raise us permeates into our own minds and mannerisms. In a way, the culture transcends location, and can crop up in unexpected places like this.
By the time you get into the fourth dream, you’ve got Northern Europe, America, Canada, Mexican, SW Natives, Cowboys, Military and Japan- and I’ve not even covered everything (such as the heavy influences from my Polish great-grandmother or how my father’s side could have influenced me).
Culture is not clear cut. It’s not entirely your ancestors. It’s not entirely where you were raised. There are no hard lines. You can find traces of overlap between cultures in odd places. And you can find cultural practices that will show up in unexpected places due to people moving and mixing. Culture is messy. No man is an island, and neither is their culture. Because of the inter-connectedness of people today, cultures are mixing together, rubbing elbows and swapping spit. It makes for a very hodge-podge and unclear definition to which cultures are ‘acceptable’ to embrace or adopt. Which is most correct for me? Should I only focus on my ancestors in dream one? Am I allowed to adopt or embrace some of the local practices that are down here in the Southwest? If I do adopt practices from the Southwest, is it only applicable while here in the Southwest? Would it be bad if I took my Day of the Dead practices with me to… Maine and decided to continue doing that up there? What about my Cowboy roots- should only people whose parents or grandparents were “real” cowboys have the right to wear a cowboy hat? Because I no longer ride and wander the prairie (stereotype alert) wrangling up cows, should I no longer have the right to those cultural things? Do I have no right to touch kimono because I’m pale white, regardless of how/where I was raised, or if I wear it properly?
Where are the lines in the sand? Do those lines even exist? When you consider your layers of culture- does it blur the lines for you as well?