American Culture

The more I write about culture, the more I realize I know very little about the subject. Culture is one of the most interesting subjects to me because even if we don`t like to admit it, it shapes who we are and how we react to what our senses tell us. Tasking dishes from all over the world has taught me that food should be judged by taste and not how pretty it looks. Reading about culture and discussing it has also told me that Americans do not know what their culture is.

Reading the American Heritage post by Josh Rosenau and having a discussion about language with some friends I have come to think that most Americans have no clue about what American Culture is supposed to be. I cannot even count how many times I have heard the “you have to speak English” tirade, and even though I agree with it I also believe in keeping my own culture alive.

I have dated white American woman and they could not be any more different from one another when it came to the definition of culture, family and values. It wasn`t until I started dating someone from my own country as an adult that I realized how much of my culture I was compromising and hiding under the being “American” banner.

I have also realized that American is a salad bowl and not a melting pot. Even though the quilt that it is American culture is very colorful there seems to be a need to keep it not just white, but white Christian fundamentalist protestant. When you think that American culture is just meat and potatoes and leave out enchiladas or chilli for that matter you are missing the whole picture. Any time that people talk about immigration as a problem because we are going to lose American heritage and language we seem to forget not only where the word lunch came from, but that almost everyone here knows what a taco and a burrito is… funnier even than in Mexico most people are going to think of a little donkey rather than an overstuffed flour tortilla.

While in my political views I do think that illegal immigration is a problem, I do not believe in someone saying that Latin American`s are attacking American Culture and heritage. I believe that what makes this country awesome is the mixture that I experience in Chicago where I could find awesome Polish food as well as several Colombian restaurants. It was also good to know that there was a little Italy, Greece, Mexico and of course Chinatown. I believe they are all American and keeping those cultures alive is just as important as making sure our education system becomes stronger.

If it was up to Jefferson, this would still be a country of only farming and all of the industry would have stayed in Europe. Some people should really watch the movie The Village, even though I hated it, and see that what they are shooting for is a sad reality where you just stick to your own and believe blindly instead of living and learning.

I once again challenge people to define to me American Culture as a single set of all encompassing rules that I should adhere to… however, I am not going to give up my own heritage to go live in a farm and eat meat and potatoes every day.

5 comments on “American Culture

  1. I don’t really think that American culture is a melting pot or a salad bowl. It’s more like a stew, I’d say. A whole lot of it blends together, but the individual components don’t always entirely blend. Nor should they, necessarily.

    There certainly isn’t a single American culture. I come from the south, which has its own culture. For a while I lived in the Mormon west, which had its own culture. New York City is a place unto itself, as are individual states (Texas, Massachusetts) and even portions of states (southern Louisiana, southern California). That’s not to even mention the varied ethnic groups and what they’ve brought historically and do to this day.

    I think you’re overstating the influence of fundamentalist protestantism. I’m a protestant, technically, but I come from the church that the other protestant churches look down upon. Yeah, there are a lot of people that define American culture that narrowly, but there is a counter-force that defines American culture as freedom to believe what you want.

    We were greatly influenced by the Enlightenment. One of the tricky things about it is that The Enlightenment includes a great deal of intellectual exploration and many ideals that are at once mutually exclusive.

    Some say that means that America has no culture, though I don’t think that’s true. Take any specific person and you will find all sorts of contradictory traits. I am at once laid-back and anxious. I am a strong believer in morality, but sometimes it conflicts with pragmatism. I love my country, but there are all sorts of things I would like to change about it. I also don’t think that these contradictions mean that I don’t have a self. Rather, it’s that my self is fluid and complicated. I don’t think that I am unique in this regard, I think it’s true of most people.

    So what do you need to do to be an American? I think that you need to take an oath of allegiance to this country, be a productive citizen, participate in our democracy, and engage yourself with your fellow Americans. None of that is mutually exclusive with Colombian culture or Mexican culture (it’s unfortunate that some people don’t get that).

    I think that part of American culture is that it has the ability to absorb other cultures into it. Italian food has become every bit as American as the hamburger. Italian-Americans are no longer considered a distinct ethnic group (except where they are heavily concentrated). Catholicism is largely viewed as another type of Christianity rather than some of the more unfortunate things it has been thought of in our past.

    Everything you do will get you condemned by someone, somewhere. Everyone has a different ideal for the way that life should be. One of the good things about our way of life (which may be more true or less true elsewhere) is that people get to pursue their own ideal. They compete with one another (as agriculture and industry once did) and eventually one wins. But we still get our farmers, too.

    One of the myths about the Founding Fathers is that they were a single entity of a single piece of mind. They disagreed vociferously as to what America was supposed to be and Jefferson disagreed strongly with Washington, Adams, Hamilton, and eventually himself (Jefferson 1796 would never have approved of the Louisiana Purchase). Jefferson won some debates, lost others, and the country moved on and grew into something else. A couple generations from now, it’ll grow into something it isn’t now. I consider that a strength.

  2. Will,

    When I became an American I took an oath to do just that, which I take very seriously; however, when I hear the radio, TV and general discussion by the public openly attacking Latin America because of the illegal immigration debate I feel a little singled out.

  3. I feel a little singled out.

    And justifiably so. It has become an extremely ugly debate and attacking immigrants is one of the few ways that racists can air their crap with a cover against allegations of racism.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that you hadn’t taken the oath. I know it’s an immigration requirement. I was merely outlining what makes one an American.

    (Just so that nobody reads me incorrectly, I’m not saying that concern about illegal immigration is an inherently racist position, just that it’s the position that racists do hold and are very vocal about.)

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