Cultural Background Paper Essay
Cultural Background Paper
The fusion of cultures has been ever growing and I would like to say- being multiracial these days is not a new phenomenon. There are many of us who come from a similar status where we share different ancestors from different cultures. For instance, my own friend has a Hispanic father and an African-American mother. Both the parents come from different cultures and the instances have been increasing. However, I share an Indian background with a Hispanic background. The fusion of the two cultures was unthinkable but I believe it has to happen sometimes that way.
The main reason why I believe we have cultural fusions is because of the increased ethnic and racial diversity in the United States of America. It is interesting to note how different parents from different cultures actually bring in their stories and traditions into our lives. I believe it is easy to distinguish characteristic traits from an Indian background and a Hispanic background. There are a few traits that make one easily recognizable and distinguishable from others. Importance to family ties and bonds is extremely crucial.
I remember my father (who obviously shares an Indian background, American-Indian) who stressed on the importance of relationships. Grandparents, uncles, aunts and every relative had to be respected and served on their occasional arrival. Indians are particularly fond of spicy food with their own kind of spices which includes lots of chili, cumin powder and other so-called “masalas” in their food (Gawle, 2003). There is an obligation and responsibility that the Indians exhibit in their mentality which makes them extremely family-oriented.
As Jean Bacon in his book, “Life-lines: Community, Family and Assimilation among Asian Indian Immigrants” states regarding this stance, “The notion of obligation perhaps encourages members of the second generation to follow the wishes of their parents regarding issues such as educational choices or choices of marriage partners more often than would be the case if this sense of obligation were not present. It was very surprising to me that none of the children in these families ever defied his or her parents’ desires.
No one ever decided to move away and become financially independent in order to pursue his or her own, as opposed to his or her parents’, desires. No one took out educational loans to secure the education of his or her choice” (Bacon, 1996). The system of joint-families and extravagant weddings with lots of food and numerous ceremonies is synonymous with them. Their music sense with the sitar and the classics by well-known singers was their favorite. Religion and spiritual obligations were also taken seriously. As Charles A. Moore in his book, “The Indian Mind: Essentials of Indian philosophy and culture” states regarding Indian culture,
“It is common ground in Indian thought that the adoption of secular means and methods do not lead to freedom or salvation. It may be held that, if we could conquer Nature and fully exploit her resources, we might satisfy all our wants, and as soon as they arise. The modern man in the atomic age with his immense faith in technology is prone to think that the solution lies this way. But wants may still outstrip our ability to satisfy them; a leap-frog race may result. The root problem is left untouched. Technology cannot provide the wisdom and the good will necessary to make a wholesome use of our power.
Control over Nature without control over oneself (self-restraint) can lead only to rivalry, domination, conflict, and suicidal warfare. The human problem is basically spiritual; it lies in self-control and self-education” (Moore & Morris, 1967). The following quote from the book on the Indian culture shows the immense spirituality in the Indian community and how they try to resolve their problems through the means of self-control. Their religion and their belief in spirituality play a vital role in bringing out these characteristics.
My mother who is a Hispanic lady submitted to the Indian culture as they shared a few common ideologies. On the whole, the Indian trait in my family background is dominant. An interesting study was done by Shamita Das Dasgupta on the gender roles and cultural continuity in the Asian Indian Immigrant community in the United States of America where she evaluates the attitude of women and dating in the Indian culture. Her revelation is as follows, “Where attitude toward women was concerned, there seemed to be great intergenerational similarities between parents and children.
The belief in gender equality of both mothers and fathers was positively correlated with that of their children regardless of age. However, mothers’ egalitarianism seemed to be mitigated by their children’s age. That is, the older their children, the more conservative mothers became regarding women’s roles. Since mothers’ own age was not linked to this relationship, it can only be speculated that as adolescents grew older, their mothers started to experience the pressures of socializing them in traditional gender roles.
In the process, they themselves turned toward conservatism” (Dasgupta, 1998). Another interesting trait that can be drawn in the Indian culture is regarding the relationship between a boy and a girl. The Indian culture places an immense importance on the physical chastity. In other words, there is nothing like sex-outside-marriage for them. As Shamita Das Dasgupta in her journal article states, “Undoubtedly, a reason for instilling inhibitions about dating in girls more than boys is due to Asian Indian parents’ obsessions with maintaining sexual chastity. Dr.
Prasad, a professor of engineering conducting a youth forum in New Jersey, stated, “From an Indian Culture point of view, dating involving physical relationships before marriage is not permissible. ” Segal (1991) notes this fear in Asian Indian parents and believes most Indian immigrants who are not quite familiar with the practice tend to conflate dating with sexual activity” (Dasgupta, 1998). The idea of physical chastity plays an important role in the Indian community and any kind of illicit relationship outside the framework of marriage is taboo for them.
It means absolute disgrace on the family if any such kind of an act is indulged by either the boy or the girl. In Hinduism particularly, such girls are exiled from the communities and their family members are disgraced and humiliated to a great extent. My parents value their own cultures and traditions. Though I come from a bi-racial background, my family has most of the Indian traditions in it as my mother had very willingly given herself to the Indian heritage. The freedom stories as well as the Indian history are still known to my father. My father stated in a brief conversation,
“Indian culture imbibes its traditional roots from the Vedas. We have a deep attachment to it and we cannot forget what our country has done for us to bring us so far. Our Indian tradition and culture is our identity to who we are. Indian culture promotes an inner sense of brotherhood and unconditional love- something that I witness lacking in the West but we have a small world of our own here. I still value the Indian norms and I am proud of it as well. I cannot forget the freedom fighters that fought for our beloved country. I believe that is how we are here.
I cannot forget the sacrifices given by our country’s soldiers to protect India from foreign invasion. The emotions are far too many to be forgotten…” (John K. Ram Prasad, personal communication, May 15, 2007). John Y. Fenton, in his book entitled, “Transplanting Religious Traditions: Asian Indians in America” lists some of the important characteristics that are found in the Indians and are most desired to preserve. He lists family as the most important trait and dominant in the Indian culture. Secondly, he states Indian character (pious and chastity) and thirdly, he states religion as the inherent trait amongst Indians.
Fourthly, he finds cultural arts and language as important traits in the Indian culture. (Fenton, 1988). There are some hints on the Hispanic culture in my family background as well. Though they are not very dominant, they are worth looking into as the character traits are identifiable in their own way in my family. I believe the reason why it was easy for my Hispanic mother to accept the Indian traditions as her own was because they shared many similarities, one of them being their conservative or traditional lifestyle. Furthermore, the Hispanic culture also places immense emphasis on the family, religion and community (Sutherland, 1997).
My father also exhibits similar characteristics as discussed above but he has evolved in some sense. As stated in several literatures above regarding religion, my father keeps his religion in his own personal space and allows his children to make their own decisions (which are very unlikely to happen in a typical Indian culture). Adapting to the American environment came easy on him and adapting to the Indian culture came easy on my mother. I have witnessed many occasions when my father gave his first priority to family and then on building a perfect human character in his children.
His children and wife were always his first priority over everything and he made sure they received the best of education and lifestyle. Furthermore, his moral stories enlightened us to be good humans and be of good human character. His teachings also revolved on the aspect to respect our grandparents as well as our great-great-ancestors that he so proudly talks about. Though an American now, his Indian values are still present and he vows to pass it on in every way he can through us and though his grand children, as he says. He still celebrates all the festivals and all the Indian rituals.
I have personally witnessed these traits in my family that show that my parents are indeed very knowledgeable about their culture. As we saw above, the traits of the Indians are very dominant in my family and most of them have been discussed and stated as being visible in my family. Yes- the traits have also been found visible in my close Indian relatives as well as grandparents who value their Indian culture and still prefer to eat chapattis, curry, sweets and love Indian music and ghazals (Ghazals are slow Indian songs with Urdu lyrics, sort of a beautiful poetry on subjects like love, life and sadness).
Old Indian movies and soap operas still occupy a prominent status in my grandparents’ menu through which they cherish their Indian culture and the traits are obviously noticeable. As my grandmother stated a few days ago, “We cannot forget where we are from… we cannot forget our land, no matter how long we have lived here. We cherish our cultures through centuries and no matter where we are, we will continue to cherish it till our death and pass it on…” (Jodha Ram Prasad, Personal Communication, May 20, 2007).
Racism has been an old tale in the history of United States of America and still continues in different manners with different thinking patterns today. They label people like my parents and grandparents as “typical stereotypical characters” though they have lived all their life to this country. Personally, I have never had any racist experiences but my relatives who have been here for over three decades did. They had problems getting enrolled into American institutions and they would often be looked down as from the “third-world countries,” though they hold the American citizenship.
My uncle states his story that depicted racism exhibited in his own words, “I was 18 when I had finished my high school and lived all my life in the United States. Even then, we had our house in such a locality where only immigrants lived. It was difficult for us to buy or rent houses in those locations where whites would live. Once I tried getting a house in a typical white locality and found that they gave me rates that were twice expensive than what they charged the white people. This would eventually force us to buy homes in immigrant localities, hence depicting discrimination. We were discriminated based on where we came from.
We would be paid lower than the whites in our era when the fight against racism was still in its beginning stages. It was difficult to get the law in our support either. We were eventually marked as weak and powerless…” (Hardy Lewis Choudhry, Personal communication, May 21, 2007). There are many such stories that we would get to hear. These were not new then and are not new even now (though we have several legislations and agencies protecting us from racism). Our grandparents, parents and relatives have a lot more to say than anyone else as racism was extremely common when they immigrated to United States than it is now.
Today, we have our rights protecting us from discrimination and racial profiling (that previously didn’t exist). Even today, as I see, Indians are marked stereotypically as foolish and old-fashioned thinking people. There are quite many things that I have learned about my family’s culture through this research and this includes the Indian philosophy and culture, including the racism stories and several other experiences from my primary care-givers. The American culture that I have blended in and the Indian culture that still persists in my family are poles apart in their philosophies and so are their lifestyles.
I have witnessed that the conservative Indian thinking is actually a trait that is passed on and I have seen that the Indian culture values a person by his character. Earlier, my focus was never laid on my family’s culture as we lived the way as every American family would live but it was interesting to note the rich characteristics of Indian culture in my family, including my parents, grandparents as well as relatives who gave a tremendous insight into several notions of the Indian philosophy and Indian traditional values.
I believe and I respect the traditional cultural values of my family (earlier to which I was not exposed to) and I have learned how spirituality plays a vital role in the making of a person’s character and mind. On the whole, the experience has been quite enriching as India is truly a country with diverse cultures and an interesting history. I am still reminded about Mahatma Gandhi and the times of the Mughals (ancient rulers of India) by my grandparents which show that the traits still exist in them and they want those traits to prevail in me as well which they hope I will pass on to my progeny too… REFERENCES: Moore, Charles A.
, Morris, Aldyth V. (1967). The Indian Mind: Essentials of Indian Philosophy and Culture. East-West Center Press. Page no. 323-389. Dasgupta, Shamita Das (1998). Gender Roles and Cultural Continuity in the Asian Indian Immigrant Community in the U. S. A Journal of Research, Vol. 38, 1998. Bacon, Jean (1996). Life-lines: Community, Family and Assimilation among Asian-Indian Immigrants. Oxford University Press. Page 242. Gawle, Rupa (2003). Ask not what your family can do for you… Is obligation an exclusively Indian trait? India Abroad. Published on the 13th of June, 2003. Retrieved online on the 22nd of May, 2007 at http://www.
highbeam. com/doc/1P1-78807655. html John K. Ram Prasad, Personal Communication, May 15, 2007. Fenton, John Y. (1988). Transplanting Religious traditions: Asian Indians in America. Praeger Publishers, Page 201. Sutherland, Jean (1997). Understanding Hispanic/Latino culture and History through the use of Children’s literature. Yale-New Haven Teacher’s Institute. Retrieved online on the 22nd of May, 2007 at http://www. yale. edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1997/2/97. 02. 06. x. html Jodha Ram Prasad, Personal Communication, May 20, 2007 Hardy Lewis Choudhry, Personal communication, May 21, 2007