Most of my life, I’ve lived here in Utah. Despite that, I have never identified with the culture here in happy valley. I’ve always been a loner and a weirdo. Instead of trying to force myself to fit into a culture that I don’t identify with, I’ve always reached out to learn about other peoples and I like to think of myself as a culturally aware person. There’s almost no ethnic food I haven’t tried, I’ve traveled, am bilingual, have friends from many different countries, and try to learn what I can about places in the world that I’ve never been. However, through this class, I’ve learned that I’m not as culturally aware as I thought.
As for my own cultural identity, it is complicated. I am a white middle class female. But it’s not as simple as that. I’m half Croatian, my mother is from an upper class family, and I am do not believe in enforcing gender stereotypes and roles. Although I spent most of my life in Springville, Utah, we did live in Georgia for five years when I was young. During that time, most of my classmates were black. I remember being young enough to not think much of it, but I did begin to become aware of race. I remember another white girl saying “Carrie is cute… for a black boy.” I pondered at that notion. Were white boys cuter than black boys? I didn’t think so. I actually felt myself feel that fluttery playground excitement around some of the black boys and it wasn’t different from what I felt for the white boys. I lived there during the OJ Simpson trial and I remember the other children talking about it. Surely they were just repeating what their parents had said. But the black kids wanted him to be acquitted. Although we were too young to understand, we were already being programmed.
Back in Springville, there was almost no cultural diversity. I think there was one black girl at my school and quite a few Hispanics. There was one Asian girl, but she was born in Utah. No one of Middle Eastern descent. I didn’t identify with the Mormon culture and had a very hard time making friends. I spent most of my days alone. This was before the internet was big, so it was near impossible for me to have contact with the outside world. I did look at encyclopedias often and when I wasn’t looking at animals, I was looking at the cities around the world. Rome, London, Tokyo. I dreamed about what it must be like there. But there’s only so much you can learn from a few pages in an encyclopedia. When I was 14, another girl showed me an anime called Fruits Basket. It was in Japanese. I fell in love instantly with the language and became obsessed with the culture. This was when the internet was becoming widely used, so I was able to research online. However, I didn’t meet a Japanese person in real life until I was 20. His name was Nobu and we are still friends.
When it comes to other cultures, I’ve always been more curious than anything. I want to know what they eat, what phrases they use, how they live. I think I’m pretty good at asking questions and not being offensive. I’ve also done a lot of research on many cultures, and can surprise people with the things I might know about their country. This isn’t to say I’m always right, and I do still make mistakes. Although in my youth I was very ignorant, I have worked hard to overcome that. When I was young, we didn’t have much contact with the outside world and other cultures. I grew up in a bubble and didn’t have to be aware of other cultures. I do wish my parents had made more of an effort to teach us about other peoples, but it has been fun to discover on my own. As an adult, I’ve been striving to be a culturally aware person.
I have a group of international friends at UVU from Saudi Arabia, Latin America, Korea, Russia, and so on. We often talk about our languages and laugh at the creative things that other cultures come up with. Those conversations make me feel alive. I am always thirsty for more and want to visit their countries. However, that is not to say that I don’t have my biases and stereotypes. These are ingrained in our minds from a young age. I often catch myself thinking about them. Black people like hip hop, Mexicans are lazy, and so forth. TV and society enforces these ideas. Until we stop and think about them, we are slave to them. Because of this class, I realized I know so little about African cultures and Eastern Europe and the Pacific Islands. When we only have a “single story”, we lack so much information about these cultures. Being brought up in Happy valley, we were taught that everyone is equal, but we never did anything to help people less fortunate than us. My dad still makes racist jokes sometimes and thinks he’s funny. It bothers me and my siblings a lot, and we try to talk to him about it, but he doesn’t understand.
When it comes to other genders, I think I am more empathetic than some other people. I mentioned this in class, but having my gender identify pushed on me really affected me negatively. It made me hate my younger sister which translated into becoming a jealous woman. I have worked to overcome this but it’s deeply programmed in me. Because of this, I am very open minded about gender and have a lot of trans and gender fluid friends. It doesn’t bother me at all and I don’t think it’s tearing apart the framework of society. I think gender is a performative notion that should be allowed some freedom.
Whenever I meet a person who is not performing their gender in a binary fashion, I make sure to be careful about the pronouns I use and ask their name. This makes us treat each other as individual humans instead of clusters of men and women. Overall, I think this is a positive thing for society. Maybe others don’t see it that way, but I would rather approach other people as individual human beings, instead of being programmed to talk to them a certain way because of their gender. I do, however, have some stereotypes about men. This is mostly enforced by experience but also culture. I often think that men perceive themselves as superior and will always treat me as less. This is not always true, and I have to take things on a case by case basis.
For the most part, we learn about culture from TV, movies, news, and the people around us. When you’re young, and especially when you are brought up in a fairly homogeneous society, it is hard to get your knowledge from elsewhere. In the news, you often see stories highlighted with black or Hispanic criminals, and Middle Eastern terrorists. This enforces our stereotypes and doesn’t paint an accurate picture of what is really going on. When we went to New York for my grandmother’s funeral when I was 16, I was blown away with all the different cultures in the city. I loved it. I knew I wanted to live in a big city. Even the weird things excited me, like the street preachers and homeless people and all the colorful characters on the subway.
When I got older, I started traveling by myself and got even more excited about the possibilities. The food in Europe, the entertainment in Japan, the history of China, it all made me want more. It made me want to be a more aware global citizen. Once I started traveling, I started learning how to use proper terms for people, how to be culturally sensitive, and how to learn about other cultures. This has helped me break down the stereotypes I previously had and made me see how much there is to know in the world. No matter how hard I try, I can never know it all, but I’d like to learn as much as I can.
Overall, no matter how much I try to be a culturally aware person, I know I am still lacking so much. Having Donette in the class made me realize I know nothing about Liberia. I’d love to learn more about his culture. We also have a Fijian girl in class, and I think it would be really interesting to hear about her country of origin. Lastly, I think it would be interesting to hear from other classmates who may not have a visible difference. They may be bilingual, or from a European country. It would help us understand that we don’t always see differences, but they are always there. Overall, this class has enriched my worldview and I am excited to learn more.