Culture and Cultural Identities
The United States as a "Melting Pot"
Identity plays a major role in culture. Various different ethnic groups hold onto their identities, especially in the modern world, where people can become “Americanized” and lose their cultural identities. The United States is called the “melting pot” of the world because it is made up of various different races that flock to the United States for freedom. The United States, part of the New World, was colonized by the Dutch, French, and English. They persecuted the Native Americans and replaced them with Europeans. The English, who inhabited the thirteen original American colonies, imposed harsh rules that pushed their colonists away, leading to the American Revolution. Over time, various different peoples, hoping to escape persecution in their native countries, took refuge in the United States. Because of this, the United States has various different cultures within itself.
Different races try to stick together for support, which helps create a feeling of “belongingness”, where everyone shares an ethnic identity. In order to unite against oppression or simply to have someone else who shares one’s history, culture has evolved. Various different groups of people have used music, dance, food, and art traditions to remember their ancestors and express themselves. These are vital aspects of culture that help set apart different ethnic groups. A group of people’s cultural identity is that which makes it special and different from the other groups.
Culture is largely based on tradition. What the ancestors did before is mimicked and repeated annually in some form. All cultures have traditions and practices that people have been doing for years, sometimes even centuries. Sometimes, when people become too modern, these traditions are lost or modified to fit the time. This makes the conservatives and others who respect the meaning of the traditions upset; they often feel betrayed by their own people. Sometimes, cultures refuse to modify their practices that are outdated, such as the division of roles between men and women. In the Jewish religion, both the conservative and reformed movements have allowed women to count as people in a minyan (a minimum of ten people to conduct a service) and serve as rabbis. However, the orthodox movement still refuses to do so.
Language plays a major part of culture. When people become assimilated into a new culture, they may lose some of their original language. Some people try to hold onto the language, but often the young people want to adopt the new one. Other times, in places where indigenous children go to schools where the teacher does not speak the language, there are problems, such as the threat of losing the indigenous language. These people need their language to identify with their family’s history to get a sense of who they are. Language plays a role in understanding the meaning of someone’s life, and if you are forced to abandon your indigenous language, you are in danger of losing this meaning.
During the time before the Russian Revolution that led to the creation of the U.S.S.R., Czar Alexander III practiced Russification. This process forced schools to teach Russian only. There were various different ethnicities within Russia that protested this. The were upset that they would lose their cultural identity. It is important to hold onto a cultural identity. Culture helps create a sense of pride and nationalism in a group of people, and this is a very important aspect of society when in the proper amount.
The Holocaust attacked cultures that were different – Judaism, gypsies, Slavs, Communists, and other groups. Not only did Hitler want to wipe these people of the face of the earth, but in the process, he tried to rob them of their identities. They were given numbers to be called by, instead of their names. This made them less than human, and as they were starving, persecuted, and dying, they were robbed of their identities. The Holocaust was a gross attack on human rights. All throughout history, the enlightened Europeans boasted of believing in equality and Locke’s basic human rights. Why, then, were they so accepting of Hitler’s aggressions and policies towards these ethnic minorities? Even though Western Europe was affected by the Great Depression, they could have tried to stop what Hitler did. Hitler stole the identities and hurt the reputations of the different ethnic groups. Not only did he seek to destroy the Jews, gypsies, Slavs, Communists, and others with weapons and starvation, but he sought to destroy them from within. Sometimes, Hitler gave one Jewish family more bread than the others. He tried to force the cultural identity to break apart and cause tensions between the people. Instead, the Jewish family distributed the bread to make it fair.
Today, as more people are becoming modernized, people fear the loss of their culture. Intercultural dialogue helps solve this problem. Intercultural dialogue is the communication within various cultures. These cultures inform each other about their own cultures and what makes them special. This sharing and education in the practices and beliefs of other cultures helps to bring culture back into an important position in society. By learning about a culture, one is helping to eliminate stereotypes, grant acceptance of different cultures, and help to arouse the cultural identity of some people who have strayed away.