Cultural Self-Assessment

I am a buffet of complexity.  I come from incredibly dynamic parents, whom I so greatly respect and value.  My family is very close, and being the youngest, I generally hid behind my parents through a lot of experiences.  I so admired how easily they connected with people from all over the world.  Their educations, and their extensive travel, and expansive life experiences lent them the capability to make others feel secure with them.

My mother, Fijian/Russian, was born in Fiji to a Methodist father and Catholic mother.   She had 7 siblings, and was one of the oldest.  She was raised very British, with lots of Europeans, Indians, and other nationalities/religions.   My father is German/Irish, with Catholic parents and one brother, in New York, also surrounded by a wide array of religions and nationalities.  Both of my parents valued education, and both taught school internationally and received their PhD’s, and still strive to learn daily.  My mother’s family had converted to the LDS faith, and were the 1st family in Fiji to be baptized.  My father met my mother years later, while he was in the Peace Corp in Fiji while my mom was home from University in the States. They got married, and moved to New York.   

When we were little, they decided to move to Utah from New York, so they could attend the universities to finish their doctorate programs in a place where they knew was filled with young families and my mom wanted to be surrounded by people with her same faith.  But, when they first moved here, they faced a lot of adversity. My parents were a biracial couple; my mom was a career woman and going to graduate school; they drove “european” cars (which was an issue, among the list, to some), my father was still investigating the church (so,kids weren’t allowed to play at our house), etc… It was things my parents had not experienced until they moved here (fortunately those people came to know our family and became great friends over the years).  However, I always felt very different from all my friends and neighbors.  Everyone around me had a million cousins here, they had decades of family here and they all were stock from the mormon pioneers.  They all had the same “story”, and a very what I experienced as “utah” life.  For example, most of the people I new had big families, mini vans, moms who made them every meal and did their laundry, cleaned their rooms, etc. One thing that stood out to me, was everyone had family reunions, often, because so many of their family lived in Utah.  We didn’t have many, because our family stretched all over the globe, and would be an extensive ordeal.   My household, we all pitched in, my dad would make dinner sometimes and my mom would make dinner sometimes.  We did our own laundry, and were expected to clean our rooms.  We, didn’t have family reunions, but we did have friends and family from all over the world pass through bringing delights, stories,accents, laughing and love from everywhere.  We grew up traveling. We attended different religious and cultural events for family and friends.  Most of my best friends were of a different religion than me, and we truly loved and respected each other for that.  The reason I shared all that about my parents, is because it is apart of who I am…it afforded me a childhood with wonderful diversity and it is something I appreciate more than anything.  It was a little bit of a lot of different things, so I never felt fully “this” or “that”.  My mom took us to opera’s and symphonies, and museums.  We danced ballet, and played violin.  We went out to eat in beautiful restaurants. We would go away for weekends just to have quiet family time, because our schedules were so busy.   They gave us a beautiful life with so much to be grateful for, and they (along with us) served others, often.  My parents were a magnificent example of pure love to others and helped us appreciate and value every walk of life. For example, my parents were always serving the underrepresented.  My mom was a psychologist, but was also an educator.  She knew the power of education, and she was a director for a non-profit organization that helped single mothers, and teen mothers graduate high school, and then get them on a college path.  She was also a director for a program for first generation college students, to ensure they knew what options they could have available to them and I saw thousands of lives transformed over the years, both because her love and diligence and also education.  I watched my father transform lives of minorities here in Utah, that society thought were just thugs. They had hard working parents who they sometimes rarely saw.  They wanted to play sports, but no one wanted them on their teams.  My dad welcomed them into our homes, included them as a part of our family activities, and coached them to many wins.  Those same (now) men, still thank my parents for not seeing them as the rest of society saw them, and loved them unconditionally. There are many more experiences like this, that shaped my world lens.  

 

Ideas about cultural groups:

 

For these reasons, and many other experiences my parents examples provided, I have a hard time “labeling” groups of people.  I have come to learn that while there are many different religious and cultural practices, I also know that people are still very individual.  In fact, Utah county culture is very unique in and of itself, but I also know that people’s views can be fluid. I will say, that even though I have had a lot of exposure to many different cultures and races, I still have so much to learn and want to be less self-conscious of how little I know.  

I vividly remember majority of African-Americans being portrayed in the media very differently than white people.  White people were very whimsical, and wealthy and had very prestigious lives.  African-Americans were criminals, servants, uneducated or “ghettoized”.  They seemed to always be inferior.  I loved the Cosby show so much, because it challenged all of that, and I knew so many people of color who were actually like that.  My mom looked and acted very much like Claire Huxtable…she (both Claire, and my mother) was brilliant, classy and assertive. But, I can’t say that negative stereotypical messages in the media didn’t create ideas about being someone of color and feeling inferior at times. Also, there have been moments throughout my life that I remember hearing attitudes from other people that really help reinforce those negative stereotypes of minorities.  I remember in high school, sitting in a class chatting away with a group and my beautiful friend sitting next to me, who is African-American, when a boy casually said something not so nice to her, including “n*****r.”  He didn’t flinch, and he didn’t seem to feel bad about what he said, and quite honestly, we were all in shock.  None of us did anything about it, except disperse as class started, and it is something that still bothers me to this day.   I have had other experiences that have shaped a weird dichotomy within me, to act “white” to be “acceptable”, and yet I am quite upset about people who dehumanize people unlike them.

 

The second group that I am unfamiliar with is gender, or males. My brother and father were incredible gentlemen, and were so good to us, that I had a very selective and positive view of males for many years. I loved to read, and as a child, many children’s books depicted guys as heroes and princes, and my brother and dad were definitely like those dashing heroes, to me.  If I were to get my opinion solely from my later years exposure to media, including news, I would pin guys as very dishonest, greedy and most men give into their carnal or sordid desires.  And, I have had through the years learned about many guys who have reinforced some of those negatives portrayals of men. Throughout the years, I have learned about acquaintances whose lives look perfect from the outside, whom I thought were “good guys” getting caught up in ponzy schemes, or messing around with other girls, or other unsavory conduct.  It has really changed my perception of males, whether I would like to admit it or not.

 

I’d like to think, that growing up with parents like mine, that I would not have prejudices.  But, the truth is, my perceptions are shaped not only by how I was nurtured or trying to see through the lens of my forward thinking, and golden-rule living parents….It is partially, but it is also made up of the experiences I witness through a different set of lenses, and a whole new set of experiences I am continuing to experience.  It is not done, it is changing all the time.  And now, as a mother, that lens of mine is increasingly more aware of the biases and predjudices that are surrounding us, not just my own.   

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