Culture does not begin inside of us. Rather, culture stems from all that is around us, from all that we see, hear, learn, and reject throughout our lives. As children, our culture begins to take shape, sometimes from just a few influences. For others, as in my case, culture is obtained from a plethora of sources. As a result I find that I have become a person of acculturation, able to acclimate and succeed in a wide range of environments and amongst most every type of people I have encountered.
Culture is all too often confused for the generalized identity of a people, whether that people be a tribe, nationality, or part of a geographic encompassment. While these areas can represent groups with similar or specific cultural traits, alone they do not make up the whole that is culture. Culture, more than anything, is a set of characteristics or traits exhibited by individuals. Many cultural traits are shared and most individuals develop a culture unique to themselves. While I share many traits with others, I also exhibit many characteristics all my own. In my case, it is not the culture in which I was raised, but the manner in which I have applied that culture to my life that makes me unique.
Reactions/Surprises to My Own Diversity
I grew up in Dallas and considered myself a good ol’, if somewhat modern, southern boy. Not a racist, neither did I completely reject racial prejudice at its core. It was not that I held those of other races than my own in contempt, but in my earliest years I do not recall many experiences with those outside my own race. For some, overexposure leads to feelings of resentment. For me, lack of experience led to feelings of anxiety.
By the time I reached middle-school I had all but overcome this issue. In 7th grade I even invited a boy of a different race to join me on a spring-break trip. While this was not an issue for any of the attendees, I admit that I was a bit apprehensive, not of the boy, who was my friend, after all, but of the unknown that was his daily routine. Turns out his was not much, if any, different than mine.
My high school years found me again surrounded by those of my own ethnicity, perhaps because the activities in which I participated were predominantly one color, or perhaps because those different than myself had simply gone in another direction. Whatever the case, this trend ended shortly after my sophomore year as I enrolled in college at the age of 16 (and yet, for some reason, I’m just now finishing!!). The world of community college introduced me to diversity in a rather abrupt fashion. No longer were the classifications of jock, rocker, geek, and cheerleader quite so evident or defining.
The years that followed found my comfort level around those different than me ever-increasing. One of my best friends for several years of my early adulthood was a different race than I, and one of the first couples my wife and I began to pal around with was also. Still, the idea of a mixed-race family, in whatever combination, always carried with it an added concern to those the idea of family always brings. Though sometimes rational, I never completely understood why.
Though I had not thought much on this in the past several years, it seems I have overcome all feelings of anxiety or concern regarding the color, background, race, or ethnicity of those I hold close to me. I moved my family to Arequipa two years ago and, aside from my wife’s family and the occasional visitors, we are surrounded by people different than us in color, race, mentality, and, well, the list goes on.
My wife and I teach in a Peruvian school where my children are also students, and recently we have been given the incredible opportunity to add another facet of culture to our lives. We are in the process of adopting a little Peruvian boy, 7 months old, who is of indigenous Quechuan descent. Holding him in my arms, I see no color, no race, only the clarity that pure love brings. It is through these eyes I wish we all saw the world.
Aspects of My Culture that Conflict and/or Benefit Each Other
I had the pleasure, as a child, of wealthy grandparents. Though not generous, they gave for their own benefit. Blessed with money instead of personality, my grandparents would coerce my family into spending time with them by taking us on vacations to Mexico, Hawaii, and, my favorite, on cruises. Yet, for all their feigned generosity, my grandparents were the last people my parents would turn to in times of need, as the answer to their request was already known. My parents struggled financially, and I never wanted to relive those experiences. Yet neither did I want to gain material wealth if doing so meant acting like my grandparents. Today I find myself pitting generosity against frugality, as both are attractive in their own right, and I am sure a balance between the two exists. Living in Peru I now find myself a member of the upper-class, though not intentionally. In an odd fashion I have been given the opportunity to show true generosity to others while not always realizing the wealth I possess. Yet, in my surroundings, it is difficult to ignore what I have that most around me never will. All the while, back home, what I have wouldn’t seem like much to most.
Sources that Contributed to My Cultural Background
Already, I’ve mentioned the influence my parents and grandparents had on me, the way in which they shaped my thoughts on financial success. Another great influence in my life has always been God and the Bible, though I have not always been so willing to accept them. Never having been a fan of religion, I chose rather to believe in God and His Word. I don’t have tremendous faith in pastors, as they are ordinary people, as am I. I do appreciate the church of today while I also recognize the many fallacies and inconsistencies man has added. God and the Bible, though, have never changed, and they never will. Nothing in my life has ever been constant, save God and His Word.
My many travels as a child also brought with them a great amount of culture. Traveling during my younger years allowed my to better understand the oh-so small world in which I lived. In the case of my interracial experiences, not knowing allowed fear to be harbored. In the case of world knowledge, I knew more than most at a young age, and thus was granted a greater understanding.
I had the pleasure of visiting Pakistan and India at a young age while my Uncle Brad was living in Pakistan, and to this day my memories of both are strong, as is my desire to some day return. Brad has now made Afghanistan his home, and I hope to visit him soon. For several years of my childhood, around the time my parents were divorcing, Brad paid for and accompanied me to his annual church family camp in Minnesota, which provided me with many more fond memories. These times also provided me with a great deal of structure and security by way of self-assurance, and I am forever greatful to him.
Most recently Brad has worked for the Afghanistan Ministry of Health, and is currently employed by a medical mission. While I’m not sure what all that means, his dedication to selfless living while always providing himself with a decent life is a constant reminder of just what we are all capable of. Much of his free time is dedicated to charitable affairs, and his professional life is admirable, to say the least.
Assimilation, Acculturation, and Pluralism
Early on in life I feared that which was different, that which I did not understand. Today, as an adult, I embrace the unknown and attempt to grasp as much of it as possible. While proud to be an American, I find the ignorance of most of my countrymen to the outside world pitiful. Though no world scholar, no master of the universe, I am proud of my desire to discover and understand as much about those different than me as I can, and to be able to feel comfortable around them as often as I can.
From race relations to financial security, culture defines us as individuals as much as it does a family, society, or nation. Our familial culture is defined in the same manner as our social or national culture, through the absorption or rejection of the various elements that surround us. My culture is the result of the economic and social indicators passed on by those around me. My experiences were diverse and rarely in agreement with each other. It is this dichotomy that has made me who I am.
by Micah Cantley