What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. — Octavio Paz
What a fascinating discussion we had this past week on diversity! It had not occurred to me before that I cannot describe my culture. I’ve always known that I grew up in a somewhat privileged environment with basic values of working hard and playing fair, but those don’t strike me as cultural characteristics as much as they seem to be attributes of personal character. The town in which I grew up was a very homogenous middle-class suburb that was predominantly white with so few exceptions I could have counted them on one hand. My undergraduate studies were at a similarly predominantly white institution, where I was actually a minority on several levels — gender (although this is not the case of the student body there today), socio-economic status, and political leanings. And yet, I did not feel out of place on campus, so there must have been enough of a shared culture to make me comfortable.
I do know I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt out of place, which I suppose could be construed as being in the midst of a culture other than my own. So I know what my culture is not. This was most acutely felt during my marriage when we would spend time with my husband’s family who is Filipino. Their idea of family extends well beyond actual blood relatives, and they have many customs and rituals that were unfamiliar to me. There was also a language barrier at times because although they all spoke English, they would choose to converse in Tagalog or another dialect when they gathered in social settings. And yet, as uncomfortable as that could be for me at times, I have not shied away from other opportunities to inject myself in other cultures. When I had the opportunity to teach a Junior Achievement program on financial literacy, I purposely chose an inner city school rather than one in a suburban area that might be more like my own neighborhood. Sometimes I wonder if that first grade class didn’t teach me more than I taught them. These children came from home environments quite different from my own and had experienced things that I still cannot fathom at my age, let alone could have dealt with at age 5 or 6. On an even more personal level, that last few men I’ve dated have all been from different ethnic/racial backgrounds from me and from each other. Maybe through exposure to these different cultures I will be better able to put a definition to my own culture.