31 Oct

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?


Posted by on October 31, 2012 in Rambles


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 responses to “Culture-ception

  1. cheshirecatman

    October 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I don’t think a person needs to restrict themselves to a culture they were born into/raised in/etc. Plus the deities choose who they will; in my own spiritual practices I follow deities that are completely outside of any culture I was born into or raised in. That being said, I am very aware of cultural appropriation, but don’t often overanalyze it. Generally, a lot of appropriation problems can be avoided with an attitude of respect and humility.

  2. autumnsilvermoon

    October 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    My dad was born and raised in Ireland, while my mom was born here. Her parents are a mixture of things. My mom is half Irish and half French, depending on who listen to. Her dad didn’t like to be considered French Canadian, to him he was French. Turns our he’s French Canadian. I was born here and raised on Irish music, stories and brown bread. Of course I listened to the oldies station so I grew listening to the Beatles, Elvis, and all the rest. I’m interested in Japanese culture and Japan in general. Pocky rules. So I guess culture is what ever you want it be, because mine is still a mystery. Apparently I might have some Jewish or Native American in me, we’re still not sure. Genetics in my family is still a mystery for my moms side of the family at least.

  3. ladyimbrium

    October 31, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    We are the sum not only of our own experiences but of the experiences of those around us.

  4. Jove

    October 31, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    I just stumbled on your blog and really enjoyed this post. I practice shamanism and cultural appropriation is a particularly thorny issue; you’ve inspired me to ponder it more deeply tonight. Thanks!

  5. Aubs Tea

    October 31, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I am so in love with this post, I will find a way to marry it.

  6. Aubs Tea

    October 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Reblogged this on Mystical Bewilderment and commented:
    In all ways, this post is every aspect I have ever deliberated on in regards to the ‘culture question.’ However, it is said a good deal more eloquently than I ever could have said it.

  7. Cin

    October 31, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I don’t think we need to stick to our “Blood culture” for lack of a better word. I lived many years surrounded by Native people growing up but I am white. I lived in China Town and Little Italy for many years. All these places became part of me.

    As long as I respect these cultures and don’t do anything terrible with them I see no reason why I can’t wear my formal Chinese gown when I go out to dinner. Just like how I wouldn’t see anything wrong with my Chinese friend wearing a kilt when we go out. Just like how I wouldn’t see anything strange with having a Native person in circle calling on a Norse God.

    Respect and attitude. As long as we keep both on good terms there shouldn’t be a problem. Am I really going to say to Bast “I’m sorry I can’t work with you because I’m a white Canadian” ? :/


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