So what does the word culture means?
Culture is the sum of total of the learned behavior of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation. https://www.tamu.edu/faculty/choudhury/culture.html
Is every culture on earth the same?
No, they are not the same. Different cultural groups think, feel, and act differently. There is a large group that identifies everyone, and it’s important to remember that within that large group, there are subgroups that have their own special cultural identifications. In the U.S. for example, citizens identify themselves as Americans but there are different groups of people with their own “cultural markers” who are Americans, and create this American culture.
So what makes my culture different from yours?
Cultural differences manifest themselves in different ways and differing levels of depth. Symbols represent the most superficial and value the deepest manifestations of culture, with heroes and rituals in between.
- Symbols are words, gestures, pictures, or objects that carry a particular meaning, which is only recognized by those, who share a particular culture. New symbols easily develop, old ones disappear. Symbols from one particular group, are regularly copied by others. This is why symbols represent the outermost layer of a culture.
- Heroes are persons, past or present, real or fictitious, who possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture. They also serve as models for behavior.
- Rituals are collective activities, sometimes superfluous in reaching desired objectives, but are considered as socially essential. They are therefore carried out most of the times for their own sake (ways of greetings, paying respect to others, religious and social ceremonies, etc.).
- The core of a culture is formed by values (practices). They are broad tendencies for preferences of certain state of affairs to others (good-evil, right-wrong, natural-unnatural). Many values remain unconscious to those who hold them. Therefore they often cannot be discussed, nor can others directly observe them. Values can only be inferred from the way people act under different circumstances.
- Symbols, heroes, and rituals are the tangible or visual aspects of the practices of a culture. The true cultural meaning of the practices is intangible, and is revealed only when the insiders interpret the practices.
Think about the cultural group you belong to. What are the symbols, heroes, ritual, and values that identify your cultural group? Do some research and share your findings with others.
There’s nothing like meeting your own people at an event where you thought no one who knows your culture will attend.
Meeting someone from my island home at any event is always pleasurable especially if those I meet are receptive to being who we were taught to be…nice people. To meet someone who speaks my language (Patois), eat the food I grew up eating, dance the way I dance, listen to the music I love, and believe most of the things I believe, is refreshing.
Recently at a book fair, I had a delightful opportunity to have such an experience. It was a book fair where 99.9% of the participants were other than Caribbean. The others making up the remaining .1% were Jamaican authors.
As we have been taught from childhood, you take your place wherever you are, and do what you are supposed to do. At this event, the tasks of my partner, and myself were to first, greet people warmly, second, be courteous no matter what, and third, try to sell books. We knew the participants were likely going to be 100% Non-Caribbean but were hopeful that some of “our people” would show up.
I had gone on Twitter and other Social Media venues to advertise where we would be, and hoped someone would see the tweets and come out to support. I love the support of everyone, but there was a part of me that wanted to see hundreds of Caribbean people at the fair, especially Jamaicans. If one showed up, it would make my day.
As expected, not many Caribbean people came to the fair but one person visited our table and made my day. A former Jamaican expatriate showed up and proceeded with his wife (an American) to look at the books. I started to give my “sales pitch” and when he realized that the people trying to sell him books were Jamaicans, the whole atmosphere changed. We the authors were no longer sitting conservatively at he table greeting patrons with a smile and speaking Standard English. The moment was no longer about just selling books but became a reunion of sorts, what some would think were long lost family. Everyone began to laugh, and talk loudly in Patois. Suddenly, all of the Jamaican phrases I had not spoken or heard in a very long time began to roll off everybody’s tongue. Hearing patois is something I don’t always hear, and it made me laugh hysterically. It sometimes does that to Jamaicans who are far removed from Jamaican people or the culture. I have been so immersed into the American culture that is it always refreshing to hear and speak my language and for whatever reason some of the phrases bring me such pleasure, I can only react by laughing. That’s culture.
Bunny (name changed for this blog) brought “the Caribbean flavor” to our table. As soon as the “Jamaican style” greetings were out of the way, the talk about music, food, and anything Jamaican began. The longest discussion (filled with lots of laughter) was about the callalloo, yam, and other Jamaican food items Bunny planted in his backyard. Everything he was accustomed to eating in Jamaica was planted in his backyard! The thought of anyone planting anything other than callalloo in America was hilarious to me. Callalloo is easy to grow and is a welcome food item for most Jamaicans. But planting yam, sugarcane, mango, turnip, orange, grapefruit, etc., is going too far, I thought. I asked Bunny why the need to plant so many things and would he have a need to ever go back to Jamaica to eat the “real” Jamaican food. Jamaicans love Jamaican foods and with all of the items in his backyard I was thinking he wouldn’t miss the food in Jamaica. In between the belly laughs he said yes, he would go back to Jamaica, but he wanted to eat some of the foods he ate as a boy here in America. Can’t blame him. That’s culture.
The conversation turned to rearing kids, kids leaving home, traveling, eating, and then we came back to the real purpose of us being in the building. Bunny and his wife bought books for their grandchildren and Bunny was extremely proud to have authors who shared a culture similar to his at this book fair.
Before we left the facility Bunny went home and brought back some callalloo seeds and orange for us to take home. We were all also given a standing invitation to his house in the future to continue the cultural gathering. I will take him up on that offer if for nothing more than to see the backyard farm.