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The Aspects of Cultural Identity

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How can one define a person’s identity? Is it their personality traits, where they live, or the history of their family? Someone’s background can directly correlate with they are as a person. Each of these factors contribute to an understanding of the concept of identity, yet, in a globalized world, they cannot determine identity. Identity can be categorized in so many different ways, particularly through fluidity and hybridization. Most people base their personal identities off of personal experiences, preferences and characteristics, not just their background. In reference to the assigned readings, it is apparent that, in today’s day and age, more and more people are redefining what identity means to them, in more ways than one.

The world is constantly changing, and people are constantly adapting. In our globally-centered world, an ever-changing society has a huge impact on the way identity develops. Deterritorialization seems to play a huge factor in the way identity develops, according to concepts theorized by Tomlinson and Appadurai. Tomlinson goes into detail about globalization, describing it as an uneven process. Tomlison explains that, since the media and society are always changing, people are always adapting and changing their perspective. As a result, a sense of identity or view of identity can develop. This concept suggests that one’s identity no longer solely relies on where they are from; other factors come into play. For example, my father was born in Italy. His family moved to America for better opportunities, and then met and married my mother. I was taught Italian traditions and customs but I was truly raised in American culture because I was immersed in it, so I could identify as American. Appadurai comments on this theory by stating that people are deterritorialized, meaning that one no longer needs to rely on their surroundings or location to clarify an identity. Deterritorialization impacts people and place directly, which can allow identities to develop anywhere at anytime. The development of one’s identity is a complex concept; identities are no longer shaped by a physical location, but by the way media is changing people’s perception of the world. Mass media is a powerful force by presenting new ideas and ways of living to people on a global scale.

Recognizing new identities goes far beyond adapting to changing times. Embracing an identity can be all encompassing: through language, dance, food, customs, traditions, etc–essentially all of the factors that describe a way of living. In retrospect, people can also have a certain identity forced and imposed onto them, as well as having their identity suppressed by their surrounding environment. Gloria Anzaldua is a very big advocate for embracing language identity, and promotes the recognition and adaptation of this form of identity. She believes her language and culture is a part of who she is, and she proudly wears her identity. Anzaldua believes that her language is her form of identity. If people feel offended or excluded, she states that they have no right to take her identity from her, or try to suppress it. Anzaldua stood for the validity of one’s identity, even identities that are hybrid. In reference to the example I used earlier, I am of hybrid identity having been raised in an American household but under Italian traditions and customs. In a similar way, Ien Ang wrote an article about embracing one’s identity, especially when personal identity outweighs heritage; her journey to embrace her identity is quite unique. Ang was born in Indonesia to a Chinese family, and went on to pursue an education in the Netherlands. Being split in three directions, Ang had a decision to make in regards to her identity. As a result of hybrid identity, people assumed she was Chinese (and not a good Chinese person culturally at that) even though she didn’t identify as Chinese. This led her to wholeheartedly believe people are entitled the freedom to embrace their own personal identity, and others shouldn’t take it upon themselves to label them. Ien Ang has the ability to identify as whatever she pleases regardless of what others want to identify her as.

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So many people are firm in their belief to identify as they please, and believe they don’t need to compromise their beliefs in order to satisfy the wishes of others. But, as part of the complexity of identifying oneself, there is another factor that must come into play: negotiating one’s identity. Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of several fictional short stories where we displays varying scenarios in which people may need to negotiate their identity. One story that stands out among the rest is “Mrs. Sen’s” where a woman does not negotiate her identity when coming to America. The woman does not know how to drive and doesn’t adjust to the American way of life, in one aspect specifically: she refuses to use industrial knives, she only uses one knife she took with her from India. Over time, the woman becomes miserable, and doesn’t feel she will ever find her place in America; she feels like an outsider, and that she is alone. She only feels this way because she refuses to compromise her identity for the sake of adapting to a drastically different culture. In another fictional story by Lahiri writes about a character who assimilates to Western culture solely to live comfortably and securely. Holding onto one’s personal identity is admirable in most cases, but there has to be some leeway when it comes to negotiating in dire situations.

New York University’s Chair of Nutrition and Food Studies Associate Professor, Krishnendu Ray explained during his talk that, “No food is innately good, bad, attractive or unattractive; what changes is our attitude toward the people which is related to a matrix of class and race.” We are in a constant negotiation with ourselves in what food is really better. We have had several moments in American history were us Americans have changed our attitude towards food after certain historical events. A specific moment in history mentioned during his talk was that German food was getting hidden in plain view, but in actualityAmerican food is really Germanic food with a different name. Data was then pulled up showing the years from 1881 to 1910 and then to 1940. From 1881 to 1910 German food was talked about very highly in the New York times, but between 1910 and 1940 when America was fighting in two world wars against Germany, their food started to plummet and as time went on it almost “vanished out of sight,” as Rey puts it. These wars not only influenced what food people ate but it also had an impact on what was revolved around the country as a whole. Back in the day, schools taught German as a second language, in present day Spanish is the second language that is taught in most schools.

Personal identity is a complex concept. In the theories presented by the aforementioned authors and theorists there are solutions that are easily adapted to or difficult to embrace. I feel that Lahiri’s theory of negotiation through assimilation is the most difficult to adhere to. It’s challenging enough to move to another country with new customs, traditions and a completely new lifestyle, but having to compromise your identity for the sake of living a comfortable life is possibly one of the hardest things to do. I can’t imagine having to sacrifice all that I stand for to simply adapt to foreign surroundings. I believe Ien Ang’s theory about identity is the easiest and most comfortable theory to embrace. Ien Ang believed that identity was based on experience, not heritage; this is the most modern concept of the theories. As clearly seen through the articles and short stories, identity goes far beyond who you are, and it is up to interpretation what identity truy means to you, and how it impacts who you are and how you choose to live.

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The Aspects of Cultural Identity. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-aspects-of-cultural-identity/
“The Aspects of Cultural Identity.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-aspects-of-cultural-identity/
The Aspects of Cultural Identity. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-aspects-of-cultural-identity/> [Accessed 1 Feb. 2023].
The Aspects of Cultural Identity [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2023 Feb 1]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-aspects-of-cultural-identity/
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