What is My Cultural Identity?

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“My culture is my identity and personality. It gives me spiritual, intellectual and emotional distinction from others, and I am proud of it.” – M.F Moonzager

The quote above, said by M.F Moonzager, the author of “The Journalist: Attack on the Central Intelligence Agency” could not be more true. Your culture is your lifestyle, your clothing, your food. Your culture guides your perception and is the height of your values. From the way you dress down to the way you talk, culture is very much a vital part of your identity. To put it differently, there’s a such thing as ‘norms’. Norms are informal, unwritten rules that govern social behavior. Like in Japan, it is unthinkable to wear shoes in the household. Ultimately, whether you know it or not, culture, your culture or anyone’s culture is all around you, in the form of objects, traditions, languages, and more.

Given the points above, it’s clear that that a billion things fit into your culture alone. Sometimes you can’t even pin just one. When presented with the question of what culture, or even just my culture was, my mind went blank and I had to sit there for a while, thinking about it. Because the truth was, I had no idea. Was it my race? Was it family? Maybe food? My shoes? My holidays? I was lost. What I didn’t know was, culture is all of those things, plus more.

So, when it came down to putting in all in words, a three page essay even, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was given a ton of options, but I’ve decided to narrow it down to just a few. I hope you enjoy my essay on my cultural identity, who I am as a person, and who I have yet to become.

To illustrate further, I want to talk about my family. I don’t know much about my family before my great grandmother, so that’s where I like to believe my lineage starts. My great grandmother was born in Greenville, Mississippi. She was raised on a farm with 10 siblings, 2 boys and 8 girls. Currently, there’s only three of them still living. My grandfather was born in Nassau, Bahamas, but I don’t know too much about him. My great grandmother doesn’t speak of much of him, so he’s the mystery man of my life. The next generation were all sort of born together in the same location.

My grandmother, my great-aunt, and great-uncle were born in Chicago. My grandfather was born in San Antonio Texas, where his mother and father still reside. My mother was born in Waterloo, Iowa. She’s the only one born out of Illinois in her generation. My aunt and uncle were born in Illinois. Most of the next generation was too. Me and my two brothers were also born here. As for my dad, all I know is that he’s a native to Danville. Those mentioned above are kind of the circle I’ve lived in my entire life. I know I have some family in Florida, and some in Tennessee, but we rarely ever interact with each other.

While we’re not a very big circle, it’s still hard to keep track of them all at once. The biggest thing they all have in common is their religion. Personally, I’ve never been one for religion. But everyone mentioned above is either Baptist or a Jehovah’s Witness. Religion has always, always, always played a big role in my upbringing. We say grace all the time before dinner, we have to memorize scriptures, church every Sunday, I learned through going to church how to dress like a ‘woman’. Being raised as such, I grew up and decided I didn’t want to take part in either of these things. I’m still trying to figure out who I am as a person and I don’t want to limit that to my religion solely, or leave it for anyone else to decide.

Consequently, with religion comes moral values. With moral values, comes disagreements. So, most of my family being Christian, homeosexuality is a super big thing. They absolutely shun it, and for me, the homo, this secret is a particularly damaging one. If I come out, I face the risk of being disowned by my family. If I keep the secret, I’ll never be able to reach my true potential and be comfortable with who I am. I’ve been with my girlfriend for over a year now, and while I’m super happy and satisfied, I’d like to share it with my family. But the reality is it’s never going to happen.

Another one of my family’s biggest morals is gender stereotyping. Not exactly under that title, but definitely in that form. Because of the time she was raised in, she believes that women are submissive to men and should serve them always. When I used to spend summers with them, I’d spend my mornings and evenings preparing food for the boys and cleaning up after them. It used to annoy me so much. Who makes a kid clean up after other kids like that? Especially considering they were so gross, at that. I eventually stopped going over there as I got older because I wouldn’t stand for it. It just seems absurd to me, especially in this day and age.

I’m sure you can tell by now my family is very traditional. Not strictly, but they like to stick to the book and keep it that way. I couldn’t tell you how many years it’s been and they still prefer the old fashioned way. One of the biggest traditions that I can remember is my great-grandmother’s house. We go there for every. Single. Holiday. I want to go to Cancun, or maybe even Hawaii but no. We travel out to that house in Chicago and spend every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas sitting at the round table and eating. I don’t complain though, while it is nice to be with family, it does get out of hand and there are topics discussed that I personally don’t enjoy. Sometimes even the adults fight. So if you can imagine fifteen years of traveling to that one house, the family fighting every holiday in all those 15 years, then you can imagine the insufferable amount of emotional pain I go through every time I have to sit at that table.

Equally important as tradition, is the food. Fifteen years of fighting and being in that one house also meant fifteen years of excellent food. Everyone knows the oldest black woman in the family is the best cook, and those are the facts, no arguing. My great-grandma is from the South, and I like to imagine that origin is what gives her food that “5 months is worth waiting for” taste, especially considering she only cooks for Thanksgiving and Christmas. A lot of the foods I grew up with were heavy in spice, and, well, super unhealthy. Tons of salt, grease, sugar, oil, and whatever else you can imagine has been fed into my ever- developing body since the moment I could talk. She used to feed me grits, bacon and eggs in the morning when I was little, and she’d stick a spoon in the grits to make a hole, then put a slice of butter in for me to mix when I was ready.

I used to love that food so much even Id wake up early just to get it while it was still hot. Now if you can imagine how addicting that small breakfast was (I promise she put crack in it. No other explanation.) then you can imagine how good the Thanksgiving dinner is. Grandma makes turkey that falls right off the bones She smokes it with pineapples to give it a balancing taste of sweet and tangy. She makes dressing that doesn’t even deserve to be contaminated by cranberry sauce. Seriously. I don’t even understand why cranberry sauce is a thing. It’s disgusting. Revolting. Insult to the food. Blasphemous. Her sweet potatoes and macaroni are a combination to die for. I’ve always loved soul food and if I could eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be her cooking. I honestly feel like eating her food shaped my taste as I got older. I could taste the differences and dedication to the food. I wouldn’t eat sweet potatoes if I tasted too much nutmeg or too little. Maybe I’m just weird, but it’s my grandmas food or no food.

Ultimately, I love my family and everything about them. They have helped to shape me as a person, a daughter, a friend, and a student. Which brings us to the topic of me, the absolute train wreck of my family. I like to say that I’m intelligent. I know I am. I learn super fast. But for a long time, that’s all I thought I was. Smart. But I grew and I found I’m so much more than my grades. I’m the gray area between introverted and extroverted. I’m flexible. I’ve got a stupid sense of humor that bounces between dark and just utter stupid dad jokes. I’m passionate, and headstrong.

I’m stubborn, and I don’t listen sometimes, which you probably already know but I try to work on it. I can be serious when it’s time. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that when people asked who she was, not to say smarts I want her to tell them what she enjoys, what her favorite TV show was at the moment, her favorite color, her favorite pair of shoes, I wish she would’ve told them so much more than what other people told her she was because it set up a super rough, highly expectant future.

I grew up in Chicago. Most of my earliest memories happen at my little red house on the corner. Of course, those are my earliest memories. My mother has a lot more, and she knows I spent my early days in Danville in a small complex on the first floor. I grew up there with my brother Zion, but when I was 8, he moved to Texas. In that same year, my little brother was adopted by another one of my aunts, so it made me a single child. The transition wasn’t really easy. Going from being the middle to the only child was terrible. My mother had numerous girlfriends with children but I hated them all. Sadly, I don’t remember too much of anything before the age of 13. I’ve repressed it all because it truly does hurt to think about.

With that being said, I know as a kid the way I view things is a world away from how others around me might view things. Maybe I view things in this way because of how I’ve come to slowly know and explore myself. Even as an adult, I may hold some of these perceptions as I grew up with them. I like to say that I can understand cultural clash and I can understand the differences. I like to say I can accept such morals and be happy with my life but the truth is I simply cannot. For instance, my standard of beauty has made a complete 360 as a kid.

I used to be super small and super skinny as a result of a kind of broken home. There wasn’t really much to eat but there was some. Way back then, my family always used to compliment me on how beautiful I was and what not. But I got older and adopted into a healthier, happier home, and I turned to food for comfort, which led to me gaining weight and being the size I am today. While I see being this side as completely fine, my family always feels the need to point it out, make me breakfasts that consist of fruits and ‘normal’ breakfasts for others. I try not to take as much offense but it does sting.

Another perception that I have long gotten rid of was my intense racism and ignorance. While I try now to advocate for it as much as I can, as a kid I was terrible. I can remember a time where my Spanish speaking cousin was talking, and I made a bunch of gibberish noises thinking it was funny to mimic Spanish. No one stopped me, everyone just laughed and looking back on it I want to apologize, I can’t imagine what was going through his head. Years later and I regret it every minute of my life.

A lot of my perceptions are odd and make little to no sense. My family sees homexuality as wrong and at one point even I did too, but here I am fully apart of the community and I really enjoy it. They view homeosexuals as monsters when they’re literally just humans who chose to love someone different, and that’s okay. I don’t really take part in slandering the Christian or any other religion for their beliefs, I just wish it could be done a little more respectfully, and that we could coexist as humans. While I know it might take a while to come to such terms or even live in such a world, it’s slowly happening and people are slowly able to be open about who they are. People are becoming more comfortable being their true selves.

I like to think that some of my relationships have also shaped who I am today. Albeit my relationship with half my family is either not that great or distant because the last time I saw them I was a fetus, as they like to point out at every reunion. My relationship with my mother has always been my favorite. Mommy taught me tolerance and acceptance of other people no matter what they are. My dad taught me absence from a child’s life can cause a lot of confusion and sometimes in the end, pain.

My grandmother taught me virtually nothing, except gender stereotypes, which helped me branch out and discover I could do whatever I want. I didn’t always have to wear pink dresses and my hair up if I didn’t want to. I realized boys could have pink balloons too. My girlfriend taught me lots and lots of patience. But as a whole, my family taught me love. They taught me that even if there are some damaging disagreements, love is always strong enough to conquer any barrier. They molded my language and helped me form my words. They guided my steps and told me how to run. But more importantly, they jump-started my heart and let me choose what to do with it.

Furthermore, as a 15 year old girl you cannot imagine how many dislikes I have. Sometimes I believe they outweigh the likes. I like pink clothing and sparkly necklaces, I like jeans that are automatically folded at the bottom and I like being neat. I like organization and details. I like things to go smoothly and in order so that I don’t have to worry about them after the task is complete. I absolutely do not like metal going against the floor, saying crazy long prayers Christmas morning before the food is served knowing everyone starved themselves for days to prepare for the meal, I don’t like football, and I don’t like people who walk super slow in groups that take up the whole hallway. While they might be minuscule and super specific, I do believe they are a part of who I am as a person. Without my organization I’d be lost, and without my hate for football I might end up like some adults arguing over people kicking pigskin around.

To summarize, my culture and identity does come from all over. It comes from a weird childhood, delicious food, preppy dressing, boring traditions, an interesting family, a very distinct set of morals, a dislike of football and a love for planning. All of those things spell Zariya in one way or another. My perception of the world guides me from the moment I go to sleep until the moment I wake. The annoying traditions of my family have helped me to learn to keep emotions hidden in a professional environment. My determination to be known as something other than ‘smart’ and by my other features instead drive me to be great and know I can be greater. My southern and northern blood come together to make me, a super proud, headstrong, passionate, and loving person. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cite this paper

What is My Cultural Identity?. (2021, Jan 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/what-is-my-cultural-identity/

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