Monday, January 24, 2011

My Cultural Heritage and Me

This is an essay I wrote for a youth conference a couple of months ago:

My Cultural Heritage and Me

As I read the title of this essay that I am supposed to write for the 4th IYEP a myriad of thoughts engulfed me as I thought which cultural heritage that I have that i should write about. Aahh...I digress, before that let me introduce myself as a global citizen, one who was born in West Africa, raised in Southeast Asia yet I am from the North of that gigantic country known as India, known as a land rich in spices and culture.

When the question of culture rises, I suppose that a definition would mean the traditions which include the clothes I wear on special occasions as well as the type of food I eat, if that is taken to be the definition then I can definitely identify myself with Indian or rather South Asian culture. However if culture is defined as the way in which I think ideologically or perhaps a better word is align myself in terms of thinking then I can definitely say that I have a somewhat ‘rojak’ or mixed culture with influences from the American/British ways of thinking [due to my schooling and its education], as well as the Arab and Malay ways [due to the influence of friends] as well as a variety of various other cultures.

If the above paragraph shows a picture of an extremely culturally confused and ignorant person, then I must concur that I am guilty as charged. I am in somewhat of an identity crisis when it comes to culture, whilst I strongly identify with the positive family values of the Indian culture, I also believe that respect must be earned and not given on the basis of seniority, an idea some would say is an American import. Having not had any real pressure from my parents to strictly follow and adhere to certain Indian customs has allowed me to view the Indian culture in a more positive light than some of my peers who rejected it completely and as a reactionary measure embraced a culture that was completely alien to them.

In recent times I feel that more and more people are becoming racial and cultural conscious. This perhaps is due to the constant harping of certain players on the world scene on the differences between civilisations and cultures, or as one person would have it “a clash of civilisations”, as opposed to the similarities between civilisations and cultures, or the “collaboration of civilisations and cultures”
In this world unfortunately whilst communication barriers are being broken down every day, I feel that in place of them there are more psychological and emotional barriers being formed between communities and cultures. As a result of this blanket attack by a few quarters on my culture, I somehow fell more strongly connected to it than I would have 6-7 years ago. Perhaps this retrospection is good as it enables me to start to look for the good in my culture and in the process of that I hope to find the good in other cultures.

Perhaps something that has impacted me in the way I associate myself to my confused cultural heritage is the knowledge I consume and the language and sources by which I obtain it. I dream in English and that according to psychologists means that English is my mother tongue, which is a bit odd seeing as how I couldn’t speak English until the age of 3, which is when I started going to school. The material that I consume impacts the way I think, talk and even act. Hence seeing as how mine and most of the rest of the world, primary source of information is in English, we all exhibit at times a certain similar type of cultural thinking. This impacts the way I look at things and events, the movies and media I consume, and the information I digest. So yes I can say that I am partly if not greatly influenced by Western culture, whether that may be eating pop corn whilst I am watching a movie or eating fast food on a regular basis, I am lead to the conclusion that whilst I want to believe that because I have lived in and met a great variety of people I am different, I fear I am no different from the sheep that is being lead by the shepherd. I fear that in this world where a few people control a vast majority of information, I am being lead and not doing the leading, I fear I am a product of Western culture who hides behind his ethnicity to try and prove that he is deep and mature , whereas in reality I am shallow and naive.

Having said that , I feel that in every culture there is something that can be learnt , both good and bad. The heritage and legacy that I would like to pass on to my children, God Willing, would be that irrespective of our differences in clothes, sizes, shapes, spices, food or whatever it is that we identify with our cultures we are all equal in the eyes of God, differentiated only by our levels of piety.