What is USA’s culture?

Have you ever seen the movie, “Brave Heart” with Mel Gibson in it? Do you remember the scene where Mel Gibson aka William Wallace screams, “Freedom,” before charging into war? After discussing about patriotism in class last week, it made think about our culture here in the United States of America. Do we even have a culture? Sure, we have some people who are proud US Citizens. They might paint their faces red, white, and blue on our 4th of July celebration or post out a big US flag in their front yard. There are some people here who can be very patriotic. There’s nothing wrong with that. I would label myself as a very patriotic person because I am a very proud citizen and I would sacrifice my life for my country, but when I get asked “what is your culture?” That is what pretty much backfires my vision of being very patriotic if I am not sure what my country’s culture is? For the past few years, USA has been getting a lot of diverse citizens. We have people coming in from all over the world. We have people being married to other people from different countries and being brought here to become citizens. We have different languages. We have different ethnicity and race. We have different beliefs. Most of all, we have different cultures. We do have some other people who have moved from a different country, but still practice their cultures and beliefs. Only in USA, you would see a Chinese person being married to an African American. Only in USA, you would see a Muslim temple next to a Catholic church. Only in USA, you would have restaurants of all kinds aka Indian food, Chinese food, African food, Thai food, and so forth. Our primary language is English, but in some parts like the small towns in Arizona, everything written down would be in Spanish. We are truly indeed a salad bar of the world. We have all kinds of people and cultures here. We still practice the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance (or in some schools). We have baseball games with hot dog stands. We have big houses with big lawns. But are these our culture? The reason why I question this is because two of my friends went to South Africa for a Deaf conference. They met many other Deaf people there from different countries. During the two weeks stay, each day was contributed to a country’s celebration of culture. The Chinese delegates on their day of celebration dressed in their kimonos, brought dragon puppets, a gong, and served rice with chicken. The Indian delegates on their day of celebration dressed in saris, put on beautiful jewelry, created henna tattoos, and served rice with curry. The Kenyan delegates on their day of celebration dressed in their tribal clothes, brought spears and chant songs, a drum, and served Ugali with Sukama. Now, when it was the USA delegates, my two friends were not even sure what to represent other than red, white, and blue. They thought of serving hamburgers, but does that represent our culture? Then they thought of signing the national anthem, but it was not enough.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that what defines USA culture since we are the salad of everything? I am still patriotic. I am still a proud citizen. But, I want to know what exactly IS USA ‘s culture?


3 Comments to “What is USA’s culture?”

  1. “Only in USA, you would see a Chinese person being married to an African American….Only in USA, you would have restaurants of all kinds aka Indian food, Chinese food, African food, Thai food, and so forth..”

    Really? What about Canada? Or Brazil? Or Amsterdam? Or the diversity of restaurants in London or Toronto? What you are describing is diversity, but I don’t think that is something that you see much more off in the USA compared to everywhere else necessarily…..

    That said in answering your question, I do think there is US culture. I’d say some traits are uniquely American–appreciation and value for individual work ethic and achievement, somewhat simplified dualistic world views (i.e. black and white idea of good and bad–you see this in American movies compared to European movies), a strong distaste for interference in personal affairs. This might not really sound like culture, until you compare it to cultures that are opposite. For example, some societies would value collectivism over individualism. Some cultures might be ok with strong, overbearing (to us Americans) authority figures. Another thing is that these are cultural traits rather than specific cultural things, and they actually allow for some diversity. Tough guy politicians that wear cowboy boots and figuratively thump their chests, “USA~! USA~!” or the vast number of startups like Facebook and Google or hip-hop movement are all testaments to individual achievement, hard work, and resentment of interference in personal affairs. The challenge in defining American culture is sort of like the fish trying to describe water. A fish wouldn’t be able to describe what water is. Lastly, while I started off by pointing to other centers of diversity, I do think that Americans are especially more accepting of diversity on a *deeper* level–more diversity in prominent authority positions, both in politics and culture.

    PS. I’m Kenyan by birth, and I have not had sukuma or ugali in quiet some time. You’ve got me craving now!

  2. Dear Tunde and William,
    First of all, let me apologize to William, for again, seconding his comments for the second week in a row. We must have similar interests because you always manage to pick out the blogs that are of most interest to me, as well. Apologies–I’m not meaning to blog stalk you.

    Second, I would also like to respond to your posted inquiry, Tunde, about what defines American culture? I, too, have experienced the shame of being abroad and having to think long and hard about how to define my country to foreigners. From 2004 to 2007, I had a good opportunity to do so as an American Culture Representative and Scholar through the Spanish Ministry of Education. My task? To teach English and American culture to Spanish High School and University students in Malaga, Spain. How on earth will I teach American culture if, as William describes, I am a fish trying to describe the water in which I’ve lived most of my life?

    The irony is that once I stepped out of my culture and immersed myself in another, I could describe that water with much more clarity. Suddenly, the aspects I loathed and missed most about my culture were much more apparent. To give some tangible examples: I missed the array of choices that I had grocery shopping in American supermarkets; I missed seeing empowered and greatly respected African men and women on the street, in great constrast to the discrimination of Africans I witnessed daily by Franco-conditioned Spaniards; I missed peanut and nut butters and low-cost cell-phones that didn’t charge me .90 cents per minute to call a friend in need; lastly, I missed opportunity to excel in my career, especially as a woman and foreigner in Andalusia. With unemployment rates at 20% and many traditional views of the role of women still in tact, I came to appreciate, more than ever, the USA’s culture of inclusion and opportunity for growth for all.

    While these may not be as tangible, as say, Kenyan tribal clothes and ugali dishes, they are more qualitative features of American culture that I now know I wouldn’t give up for the world.

  3. Really great blog post, and I enjoyed reading your comments William and Lauren.

    I agree with you, Lauren. When one goes outside of one’s culture, then it is possible to truly appreciate what you’ve got.

    When I got back to the states this summer after traveling around Europe for 3.5 weeks I came to appreciate the following:

    1. The freedom of opportunity. An acquaintance of mine in Italy has a degree in Political Science from Sapienza Universita di Roma, and works at Hertz. 99% of graduates are unable to enter jobs in their field of study not only because of the stagnant economy but also because of the corrupted system. I have another friend who is a surgeon and had to leave the country because she would have been absolutely unable to advance her career due to the ever present levels of cronyism and nepotism.

    2. The freedom of choice. Like Lauren said you can go into a grocery store and get whatever you want. It’s an American expectation, yes, and it brands us as a consumerist society, but can we see it as something that makes us fortunate? Whatever we want, we can get it in one place.

    3. The freedom of self expression. I have a friend from Turkey who is gay and is now living in the states. He owns a successful salon here in DC. When I asked him if he would ever go back home he vehemently said no. There is no way he would be able to live the way he does here, with the ability to be who he is without fear.

    Now the above do not represent a simple tangible culture, like dress or food, but as Tunde said, “we are the salad bar of the world.” So American culture can’t be represented by a hot dog, but it can be represent by our values of freedom and democracy. Political implications aside, I feel pretty darn lucky to be an American citizen.

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