If a police officer demanded from you this piece of information, it would be very easy for most people to prove their identity. A driver license, student ID card or passport would probably meet this demand, as well as answer many other questions that the officer could have (e.g., birthdate). However,…
“What is your cultural identity?!”
This question would most likely be met with silence and confusion, and you would probably be arrested.
Cultural identity is not something easily explained. This is because our cultural identities are made up of many areas, such as language, ethnicity, race, family, religion, and gender. This is very similar to the “ME” chart we made in Unit 1!
There are many models that help to understand cultural identity, and while some of them differ, most of them agree that cultural identity is made up of many different social aspects. What language(s) you speak, the region of the world you were born and raised, religious or spiritual beliefs, traditions you follow, how much money your family has, where your family “ranks” in society, plus many more parts of one’s life make up one’s cultural identity. The crucial point you must consider is that cultural identity is not static! It changes and evolves with a person’s experiences, travels, relationships, and jobs.
For example, a Japanese child who was born and raised in Tokyo, but suddenly moves to Australia at the age of 9 and lives there for the next ten years, will go through a cultural identity crisis as they determine which culture they identify with most. They may end up choosing to “be Australian,” or decide to return to their roots and “be Japanese”—or, as many are doing now, they may choose to be a combination of both. While this type of combined cultural identity is common in Western countries, such as Canada and England, the concept is relatively new to monocultural countries like Japan and South Korea.
It’s time to explore your home country’s cultural identity! What are some important parts that make someone a part of that culture? In other words, if you are American, what makes you “American”? For some, being patriotic is a big part of what it means to be American. For others, being American means loving baseball. Come up with five important aspects of your home country’s culture, and then write your thoughts on why it’s important.
Once you are finished with your chart, explain each cultural aspect to a partner or small group. Are there any parts that you agree or disagree with?
Say the word “France” to anyone walking down any street in the world, and the same images will probably come to mind: Paris, Eiffel Tower, Arc of Triumph, the Champs Elysees, baguettes, wine, cheese, berets, accordions, and romance. A phrase that probably no one would think of is cultural identity, but France is actually a very important country to examine regarding traditional cultural identity and the ever-changing definition of what it means to be French.
With the rise in immigration and refugee populations moving into Western European countries, France, like many countries in the European Union, have become an American-style “Melting Pot.” In spite of all the benefits of having multiple cultures in one country, there are some groups that believe accepting non-French people into France is slowly destroying their culture. This idea is very interesting to consider because it is essentially a “protectionist” perspective that they have taken. In other words, their cultural identity—the core of their very existence—is being threatened through outside influences.
A perfect example of this is the story of José Bové, a French sheep farmer who, with some supporters, literally dismantled a McDonalds that was being built in his hometown (Northcutt, 2003). Instead of being labeled a racist or a nationalist, Bové was praised as a national hero for protecting his beloved France (and his French identity) from the effects of commercialism and globalization. In addition, with the rise in crime and terrorist attacks, 57% of French people surveyed state there are too many immigrants in France, and that their presence is “causing their country to change in ways they don't like” (The Local/AFP, 2016). When asked what the main cause for concern was, many respondents claimed it was the immigrants’ inability (or lack of desire) to integrate into French society (ibid.).
This issue is a global “hot topic,” and many governments and its citizens are fighting against immigration, open borders, and its country accepting more refugees. Are these fears grounded in reality, or is this fearmongering (the act of causing fear among a large group or community) from local leaders and politicians? There are no right or wrong answers, but this issue is relevant for almost every country in the world because it poses a vital question that requires an answer.