I was born in Canada to Lebanese parents, raised in a suburb of Washington DC, pursuing an art form steeped in African American culture. It’s a wonder I’ve grown up with any sense of a singular or complete cultural identity. In trying to reconcile who I was made to be with all the different people I was around I’ve come to this framework.
Cultures are expressions of values. The art that is created, the relational norms that are established, the way a group operates and expresses itself has a direct link to what that group cumulatively believes.
We often think of culture as language, food, art, etc., but what if we began to look at the roots of a given culture: the values. Does a particular people value competition or sharing? How does a people relate to nature? How do they deal with their need for food? How to they care for their elderly and children? Their choices in these (and other) matters are guided by a matrix of priorities, desires, and solving problems around restrictions.
So when I experience a culture shock in the areas of language, food, or art, I ask myself why. Why is what I’m experiencing so different from my norm? What can I learn about the people from this difference? Is there something deeper – trauma, pain, joy, Love – that can be recognized, explored, addressed. Only then am I engaged as an equal human, not simply a consumer. And only then will the conversations be rooted in the thing that truly matters: what it is that we believe.