Learning About Others
Culture is fascinating. For years I grew up aware of my culture but not immersed in it. As I have moved through school, and college, and into a career on the other side, my understanding of my culture and how it fits into our modern American society has changed and grown. I can trace my ancestry to three continents, North America, Africa, and Europe, each with a segment of family that exemplifies it. Growing up, I never thought of this. That was just how things were, and I never considered how anyone else’s experience might be different. Until, that is, I started taking interest in, and actively learning about, my indigenous culture. The more I learned, the more aware I became of the different perspectives of each culture that eventually led to me. The more aware I became of the cultural differences just within my own family, the more interested I became in the diversity of cultures around the world … and I don’t think I am alone. As a leader in the Native American Student Union at the University of Virginia I met several people in other minority groups, each of them strongly rooted in their respective cultures, each genuinely interested in learning of others’ cultural perspectives, and each devoted to working together with others from different cultures to make great things happen for everyone at the University. My journey of self-discovery has led me to a single conclusion: cultural understanding, or at least the drive to understand, is universal. Those who embrace their culture and actively learn of and from it are more willing and able to learn from others. Furthermore, culture is not just how a group of people looks today, but it is the aggregate memory of a people from centuries and millennia past. Culture is more than behavior, more than history, more than a pattern of thought. It is all three, and more. Culture is the common thread of all people. The more you understand your own culture, the more you will understand my culture and the more we together will understand another’s. In this way, studying our differences reveals our similarities and allows us to work together for the benefit of all, with the benefits from all. Whether or not our history from 1619 through to the present exemplifies true multiculturalism, we as Americans have benefited from our internal diversity. And I would argue that, if we take the time and conscious effort to, each of us, learn of our peoples’ past and present, we would experience a shift in our collective consciousness as Americans, allowing us to truly and actively harness the benefits of our diversity.
Editor’s note: Would you like to experience Virginia’s unique history and culture? Mark your calendar for the Customs, Cultures & Cuisines Festival.