Culture

A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Shock

It’s my birthday. A couple of years ago, around the early 2000’s, I had my last piñata party as I transitioned from infancy to puberty. I was living in my country of origin, Nicaragua, and enjoyed the celebration that my parents organized for me. Today, I stand far away from that small celebration in my “mid-sized” Nicaraguan town. I am waking up in the Midwest of the United States, speaking a different language than the one from my upbringing, and reflecting on the culture that I have adopted during these past 8 years since I moved from my Central American home.

I remember landing in the LAX airport at 10:55 P.M. on December 24, 2010. A Christmas Eve plane saw me arrive at another country with a different culture than my own. Since then, I have undergone my initial cultural shock, accustomed to the practices of the land, and engaged in the new way of living. I have lived in 5 different states and every part I go, I encounter a different culture.

Culture as Response

Culture, as I have come to understand it, is a reaction to life. It is the response that a group of people effectuate in their lives in response to reality. After some time, it becomes the norm and it can become a positive or negative tradition. For example, in my country, one reaction that we still participate in is the ritual of burial of the dead. We dig, shape, and prepare the place for those who have ceased to be. In the United States, the reaction to the dead is different. The sanitary procedures have taken over the families involvement on the task of letting go those who have passed from this life.

As I continue to reflect upon the different reactions to life, one thing becomes evident: Life is beautiful and there are negative and positive aspects about it. We choose, however, what we want to focus on. Reality is all around us, whether digitally or palpably. Let it be from the accents and hospitable reactions from the volunteers of Tennessee or the relaxedness and openness from the Californians, I have found different approaches to reality, all equally beautiful, all equally in need of more.

Learn and Shape

While arguments from all places come regarding the stratification of culture and regarding some practices in a more positive light than others, the best advice that I follow when I move to a new place is the Spanish saying “Donde fueres, haz lo que vieres”, the equivalent of the English phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I have come to recognize living by this maxim allows me to consider all cultures with value, respect, and consideration.

Culture is such a diverse word. People are culture, actions are culture, life is culture. Everyone of us has a culture, a way of being and reacting to the world. All of us has a apportation to make to the world. This contribution allows us to shape the world and make it a better place to live for all. A people without culture are just a collection of individuals without life.

Culture is not perfect, however. We have experienced many cultural biases throughout the history of the world. From the disregarding of human life during the colonial times, totalitarian regimes, and lack of appreciation of different people groups, to the awakening of an ethic that seeks peace among not only human counterparts, but the environment as well, culture has proved that it is always open to change, always ready to be improved.

Therefore, it is my hope that as we continue to traverse life, we all build our culture closer and closer to the aspirations of humanity, dignity, and love to one another. The aspirations that were enunciated by the most significant figure of history in John 13:34:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
— Jesus