This I Believe

Katherine - Omaha, Nebraska
Entered on April 14, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: tolerance

I believe in defining your own culture. There is not one dominant culture in America and there never will be one dominant way of life. We are a mix of hundreds of different backgrounds. We are a “tossed salad”. We come from different families, different schools, different regions and often different countries.

I grew up in white suburbia. My high school was referred to as the “country club” of schools in my city; life was not difficult. My parents never scolded me for speaking English in the home. My mother never scolded me for stepping outside the boundaries of my culture. They were not things that concerned us or even crossed our minds for that matter.

My first year of college, I met a surplus of different people, most of which were from the South. Being from the Midwest, that alone was a culture shock. When it came to housing, I was randomly paired with a girl whose family was from Columbia, South America and her step-dad is from Africa. At first I was amazed with the way she spoke to her family in Spanish, and we had fun with her translations of other Hispanics in the supermarket. Although once we became good friends, I started asking more questions and began learning much more. She shared with me her struggles of growing up in America but having a family who was very much against conforming to American standards. Her mom was offended when she spoke English to her, something I couldn’t even comprehend. She often accused her of acting too “Americanized.” These were issues that never even crossed my mind because they never had to even enter my thought process. Here she was struggling to define her own culture and way of life while her mother was demanding otherwise.

We lived together for one year and in that year I learned more from her than any friend I had in the past or have had since. She opened the door for me and let me see what life is like for those who don’t quite fit in to the “average American teenager.” She enabled me to understand other people. The more you learn about the differences the more you can understand the similarities.

No matter what country you are from, or the household you grew up in, generation after generation we are forced to define our own culture. As the “tossed salad” of America grows, so do our possibilities of our definition.