Saturday, May 19, 2012

Valuing Culture: Beyond Surface Labels

I chose to speak with my son, Tyler, who is 11 and in the 5th grade.  He defined culture as customs for certain groups of people.  He gave the example of sombreros are part of the Mexican heritage and the Danish cookies grandma makes at Christmas represent our Danish heritage.  He defined diversity as differences between groups of people.  He said that America is much more diverse than other countries, especially Asian countries.  He also said that he felt his school was pretty diverse as there were many different types of children there.  

Next, I spoke to my husband, Terry, who is 49 and grew up in San Antonio.  He also has lived in Germany, California, and Washington State.  He defined culture as a person’s heritage.  He also said that culture is tied to ethnicity.  He defined diversity as many different cultures being represented.  Just like our son (and they did not hear each other’s answers) he said he felt like America was the most diverse country in the world. 

Finally, I spoke to Karen, a colleague, who is 40 and a Caucasian who grew up middle class in a small town around San Antonio.  She defined culture as the ideas, traditions, and beliefs of a certain group of people.  Diversity is when many different beliefs, cultures, and ideas are represented. 

Even though the three people were all different, they all gave similar answers to each of the questions.  All of them failed to see culture as more than just surface culture.  My son gave specific examples of dress and holiday traditions in his definition.  They also did not apply the terms to anything other than groups of people.  There were no references of personal diversity or social identity. 

I learned that I am not alone in my unawareness of culture and diversity.  Just like me, all three of the people I spoke to failed to recognize that culture and diversity can apply to individuals as well as groups of people.  My husband and my son both mentioned that they feel America is more diverse than other countries.  My husband referred to his hometown of San Antonio as a great example of diversity.  Many different cultures are represented here.  Although we are all unaware of the true definition of culture and diversity, I feel we respect and value different cultures and diversity. 

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