Culture: For some, a way of life, for others, a meaningless word

Two things had me thinking about culture this weekend. The first was the awesome global event that is the World Cup, and second was celebrating a wedding in the cultural hotbed of New Orleans.

Among the more exciting games I’ve watched so far, Switzerland’s match against Ecuador was the one to spark my thought on the matter of culture. Much has been made of Switzerland’s national team, as the Swiss government recently passed a measure to limit immigration into the country while their football team fields a fearsome team comprised mostly of players with immigrant backgrounds. I watched the diverse group of players and couldn’t help but think of the community I know.

My friends’ families come from all over the place — Lebanon, India, Hong Kong, Malaysia and China, to name a few. It’s wonderful having them introduce me to their native cuisine and customs. I always like to hear them speak their native tongues when they speak on the phone with their parents or gossip with their siblings. The frequent trips they take to their or their parents’ home countries sound fantastic as well. I think the presence of such friends throughout high school and college has made me a better person, and I cherish the opportunity to live in a place with such different backgrounds.

But sometimes, I’m jealous. Like many Americans, I sometimes feel as though my culture has become diluted through the generations my family has spent in this country. When in the presence of people with such strong, important ties to a singular cultural source, it seems as though you are missing something — that there is an absence of culture in your life. Around an exceptionally diverse group of people, it’s easy to feel like a mutt.

Although I like this state, it becomes especially apparent when living a place like Arizona, which lacks culture compared to other parts of the U.S. Places like the South, the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest all boast vibrant, distinct cultures. In areas such as these, one can cling to geographical culture if there is an absence of ancestral culture.

For a white American, I’m lucky. Spending a weekend celebrating a wedding in New Orleans helped me realize that. My mother’s side of the family hails from Baton Rouge and maintains strong ties to their Cajun heritage, despite spreading out to Colorado and Arizona a little bit. I was able to reconnect with that part of my culture. My father’s side resides in the Pacific Northwest and has ancestral roots to Ireland and Norway. Fortunately, my dad puts a great deal of work into tracking down family history and lineage. Because of my parents, I still feel connected to the cultures of these places.

Plenty of people are not so lucky.

Many are left asking the question, “What is my culture?” Or to a greater extent, what is the culture of mutts across the nation who can’t really pinpoint their ancestry?

There isn’t really an easy answer. Some people fill this void with religion, some fill it with geographical culture, and some simply don’t care.

For some the word “culture” means everything, and others don’t think it really applies to them.

Reach the columnist at bjmurph2@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @MurphJamin

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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