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I am a self proclaimed coffee addict and Executive Director of a non profit missions agency working primarily in the Mexican cities of Oaxaca, Guadalajara, and Ensenada. I've been married for over 30 years to Chelle, and we have one grown son, Joseph, a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Defining American Culture

When people serve with me in Mexico, we try and introduce them to a little of the Mexican culture. It is my belief that until you know a little about what makes people tick; you can’t really understand and effectively serve them.

Now many people can readily identify certain aspects of the Mexican culture. Things like mariachi music, charros and the Jarabe Tapatío [the Mexican Hat Dance] from Guadala
jara readily come to mind. Foods like tacos, salsa, carnitas, and pozole are some of the traditional foods many in America have experienced either here in the US, or across our southern border.

But there is another culture in Mexico as well and that is the indigenous culture. Found primarily in the south, instead of tacos and tortillas, we see more breads, tlayudas, and of course the heavy molés found in the state of Oaxaca. And we have the Guelaguetza, an annual celebration of the Oaxacan culture shared every July in almost every city and town across the state.

I bring this up because one of the concerns I have seen expressed a lot recently in the wake of the new Arizona legislation is that we are losing our American culture. I have been wondering a lot about what exactly that is.

Maybe Chevrolet had it right a few years back with their “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.” But I would like to believe who we are can be expressed better than an advertising slogan.

So help me out. If someone came to you and asked for those quintessential examples of American culture, what would they be?

Comments on "Defining American Culture"


Blogger RealityZone said ... (10:53 AM) : 

Great Question.
IMO It is ever changing. Sometimes for the worst, sometimes for the better. But it changes none the less. In the end we are all better for the change.
The problem that always occurs is that some are afraid of the unknown. They stay secluded in their little comfy zone. As soon as they feel threatened by their own ignorance.
They become the persecutors, even though they were once persecuted.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (11:12 AM) : 

Great points on that Reality. Your point about persecutors is one I. Mosala brings up in his book "Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa.'

He notes that all people, once oppressed, become oppressors of some degree once they are in power.

But is there nothing you might consider "American" in regards to culture?


Blogger RealityZone said ... (11:34 AM) : 

Culture, what culture?
Like you pointed to. Baseball, Chevrolet, and Apple Pie?

Our true culture is with in.
Our freedoms, our acceptance of others for who and what they are. Not what we want them to be. Today it is called tolerance. We have no tolerance for any one or any thing any more.
The fear card has been played hard on all Americans.
It is our free spirit that is suppose to get us through our trying times.
Ozzie, and Harriet are no more. There is no town called Mayberry in America.
We are suppose to have a sense of family. That family should come in all colors, and all incomes.
Our culture has always been to improvise, to see what is around the next bend. A sense of adventure. Not only geographically, but also to try to wander into the hearts and minds of others.
We are slowly becoming a closed society.
This passe idea of looking at National cultures, and societies must end.
We are the human culture.
A culture more important and vast than any culture before. our planet, our species is now at stake. That is what we should be putting on a pedestal. Not Baseball, Chevrolet, and Apple pie.


Blogger Doug said ... (12:06 PM) : 

What I great question.

I've been trying to think about this all day but work keeps getting in the way.

Maybe that in and of itself is the answer...

I hope not.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (12:22 PM) : 

Doug, that would be scary...

Perhaps sports really are an important part of who we are...


Blogger Tim said ... (12:39 PM) : 

How about "Guitars, Cadillacs, hillbilly music"?

Coney Island hot dogs with chili onions, and mustard.

Apple pie, Thanksgiving dinner. Fireworks on the fourth of July.

Little League baseball games, backyard cookouts, football, and the ice cream man coming through the neighborhood playing music, or having a banana split at the Dairy Queen.

Some of the seemlier things of late seem to be a lack of patriotism, greed, selfishness, out of control consumerism and competitiveness, and the abandonment of our fellow Americans who haven't been as fortunate.


Blogger Doug said ... (12:49 PM) : 

I'm going to amend my comment by saying "the land of opportunity".

Which includes playing hard and working hard.

Yes, many of us are workaholics.
Yes, many of us like sports, and I'll add media and entertainment.

One of my first great eye opening experiences outside of this country was when I went to England with one of my best friends after we graduated HS.

What I knew of England I knew through the media, which was the network news and Monty Python.

One of the first people I met over there was my friends Grandmother. She had the John Clease accent parody down perfectly. It was all I could do not to laugh in the poor womans face.

Anyway, her first two questions about america were. "Are the streets really paved with gold?" and "Who Shot JR?" (they were one season behind and they knew it)

Anyway, that just about sums it up for me.

And yes, I'm that old. ;-)


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (1:04 PM) : 

Doug, who'd have guessed? Did she sing the Spam song?

Tim, I think that Thanksgiving dinner would certainly apply, but I am sure it is pretty different depending on your traditions.

I wonder if native Americans celebrate it like the rest of us.


Blogger RealityZone said ... (1:50 PM) : 

Why would African Americans or Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, or the 4th of July?
Just asking.


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (2:43 PM) : 

Actually Reality, my Thanksgiving is a huge holiday in the family of my wife, an African American.

I think that day jas morphed into a day where we give thanks in a very general sense for the blessings of life.

For me, it might now be the single American holiday in which all cultures can participate.

Perhaps because everyone can find something about which they can be thankful.


Blogger RealityZone said ... (2:51 PM) : 

Seems we have a few things in common.
My X wife is African American.
I am Anglo.

My current wife is S/Korean.
Her daughter, who I consider my own daughter, and flesh and blood. Is half Korean and half African American. As my currents wife's X husband is African American.

So perhaps there lies the answer of what the American culture is.

What a great country.
Only in America. :-)


Blogger Dave Miller said ... (8:50 AM) : 

Your phrase "only in America" perhaps does hold the key. I know of no other place where races can mix as easily as they can here.

Now that is not to say there are not issues, and I am sure you have experienced a few of those, as have I, but still...

Places I serve, to marry someone from the next village you must get permission from the elders of both villages or make the decision to live elsewhere all together and renounce your land, family, etc.

My fear is that there are large segments of our population who do not wish to see this march continue. They have a picture of America [think Ozzie and Harriet] that want for their kids/grandkids that in reality never existed, but that they are willing to fight and struggle to have. No matter the cost to others.


Blogger RealityZone said ... (11:01 AM) : 

They are always those that are afraid of the unknown.
They would much rather stay in their own comfort zone. Even if that is a mirage.
The demographics in America are an ever changing entity. So what is American culture today will surely not be American culture in 20 years.


Blogger Z said ... (12:30 PM) : 

No country survives as MULTICULTURAL and as much as I've lived in Europe, I've never seen so much hatred from within against any of their countries like we have, nor have I seen any other cultures thriving and not being a terrible hurt to the native-born in those countries...but then they get blamed for not being tolerant, those making trouble hide behind the guise of "We're just celebrating our own way of life here:" (while we're living off of you, too, I might add)... it's a dangerous situation but most Americans can't grasp that.

By the way, we're fairly successfully MULTIETHNIC. The more successful we become at that, the better.


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