Culture is an important element of self- identity and contributes to how individuals view themselves and the community they live in. Family is our foundation. If we do not have a foundation to build on, having a strong sense of self might be difficult. Your family is where you get your basic beliefs and understanding about life. I cannot imagine not having the family I have and them teaching me what they taught me. Beliefs, social values and ethics vary depending on the community and/or ethnic group. I tend to consider culture as being types of foods eaten, religious practices, politics, clothing worn and music. The ways in which people live within the community are passed down from generation to generation. Heritage is the commonality for the members within the community that builds feelings of belonging to their community. I think of cultural individuality as a state of mind and heart. A person’s self- identity begins with our cultural heritage and ethnic integrity. We need cultural identity because of the importance of self and how we relate to others around the world. It defines who we are and how others view us. Some people struggle with self-identity more than others do.
That could be do to their upbringing, friends and family. My family traditions are similar to many people who are close to me but I am sure that there are activities each of our families do differently. Because we come from various backgrounds and cultures, our experiences are going to vary. This essay will cover how we should make ourselves aware of the cultures of others so we can better understand ourselves. I will cover several poems and short stories I have read and how they relate to family traditions and self-identity. I identified with the reading “The People in Me” by Robin D.G. Kelley. He wrote about race and nationality and his being mistaken for various races by his peers. He was a black man but as his first line in the story says, “So, what are you?” This is what he was asked throughout his life. All of my life I have been asked “So, what are you?” When I read this, I could instantly relate to Kelley. I am black just as Kelley is. Just as him, my family and I have an “exotic” look which is not normally characteristic of black families. The United States is such a melting pot that many people no longer look like a specific race.
I have many different ethnicities in my family but I identify with being black the most and that is what I have always identified with. When I’m asked “So, what are you?”, I do not go into explaining the various ethnicities within my family (Kelley 483). There is no need for that. I’m black and very proud to say that. I have a strong sense of self and family history and I am extremely grateful for that. I knew my maternal and paternal grandparents and a great grandmother. They constantly made sure that their grandchildren knew where and what they came from. This meaning they wanted us to be aware of how far we as black people had come and how much we have yet to accomplish. I heard all of the stories of segregation, protesting and going to jail from my father and grandparents but could not appreciate it for myself until I experienced racism firsthand. To realize that my relatives before me experienced mistreatment on a regular basis was awfully disturbing. I felt such a connection to the poem “Lineage” by Margaret Walker. She wrote about the hard work her grandmothers did and how they had so many memories.
The grandmothers in this poem were described as being strong and happy. This reminded me of learning that my grandmothers cleaned the houses of others to earn money and they never complained to their family. It was just something they had to do to provide for the household. The poem ends with, “My grandmothers were strong. Why am I not as they” (Walker 460)? I often wondered how my grandmothers were strong enough to face the negativity and humiliation they were confronted with. It is amazing to me still. Now that I am grown I see that they had choice but to deal with it. You do what you have to do to survive. I think this poem can speak directly to the young generation today. Our children today are spoiled compared to children fifty years ago or even twenty years ago. They take for granted the hard labor and sweat our ancestors went through to earn a simple dollar. If children today were faced with the same trials and tribulations of those our ancestors experienced they would surely be full of complaints. Keeping the family name alive is of most importance to my family. After my maternal and paternal grandmothers passed away, the family cohesion seemed to be lost.
My grandmothers definitely held the family together but of course we did not realize that until they were no longer around. The holiday dinners and parties no longer took place and all of the family members began to scatter and lose contact. Since then, my family has reconnected and regained the unity we lost for a short while. We are now closer than ever and continue to tell the same stories our grandparents passed on to us. I find myself telling my son stories that were told to me as a child because I do not want that history to be lost. I believe knowing the struggle of my grandparents during the great depression and through segregation made me appreciate what I have today. I want my son, nieces and nephews to see that anything in life is possible.
Cultural identity is something that must start at home. Parents should teach their children about their culture and ancestors so they will know where they came from and who they are. They are more than just their outer appearance. There is history, traditions and knowledge to be passed down. When we can identify with a specific ethnic group or culture, we gain a feeling of security and of belonging. I am grateful that I have a family that was able to provide photos, videos and family history to share because all of those things have made me what I am today. Having a strong self security will allow us to learn and understand others and the various cultures that exist around us.
Kelley, Robin D.G. “The People in Me.” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Ed. Missy James and Alan P. Merickel. 4th ed. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. p 483-485 Walker, Margaret. “Lineage”. Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Ed. Missy James and Alan P. Merickel. 4th ed. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. p 460