I’ve been struggling with the meaning of culture most of my life, but especially lately. I don’t want to offend anybody, but the culture that I have been told is mine doesn’t always seem to hold my values. There are gems here and there, but the mainstream part of it is not anything with which I connect. So, who am I?
Two of my grandparents are full-blood Italian, second generation in USA. One is full German. One claimed to be German, but her maiden name indicates French. She is a mystery, and took her own life long before I was born. I would have loved to meet her. Pain runs in my family. And also love. I’ve spent a lot of effort trying to heal the pain part with the love part. Progress, backsliding, more progress. But that’s personal choice more than culture, so back to that.
I spent three months studying in Italy to try to connect with my Italian roots. Both of my Italian grandparents were still alive at that time. I learned a lot about cathedrals, fashion, amazing food, language, art- both fine and performance, siesta time, shops closing on Sunday, cobbled roads, buses, trains, markets, the hill-stairs called scalette, and clock towers.
I spent several weeks in Germany. My mother went to school in Berlin for a year and we went back for her reunion when I was in 8th grade. I spent another bit of time there for a Hurricane festival. I learned about beautiful backyard gardens, hostels, islands full of peacocks, language barriers, walls, and more about buses.
So, am I Italian, German? I’ve connected with a few roots. I’ve lived in USA for several generations. Am I native to North America, though not indigenous? (despite a quarter of maybe from my mysterious grandmother)
I started learning about the enormous number of the worst sorts of injustices that have happened and are STILL happening in the country in which I was born (see: Dakota Access Pipeline, Run4Salmon, the cutesy kitty with a headdress who is the chosen gatekeeper of the spirit world advertisement in National Geographic (WTF National Geographic, I thought you were cool)). I lived in Mt Pleasant, where the horrendous boarding school in that town was closed down the year before I was born. I heard a story from someone that went there. A teacher beat a kid to death in front of the class with a hook that pulls down maps because he was speaking his first language in school. I heard more stories, but I feel that is sufficient. I’ve spent so much time ashamed of being white/caucasian – that’s what I’ve been told to fill in on any standardized form – and trying to sort out race and culture and justice and injustice, that it has broken me and scattered my pieces to the winds. My experiences at the Unity Concert in South Dakota were very healing (more in a previous entry, more in a later entry, too).
I still feel torn about continuing on this road trip, rather than joining with people who went to Standing Rock. I love to stand with justice. But I can’t be in all the places where all the injustices are being sorted out, and I’ve learned and experienced so much along the way. And here in Pátzcuaro, Mexico, I am learning about a lot of beauty. I am learning possibilities. There was a speaker last night who was saying that there’s all this money and whatever in other places, but here there are riches. The sacredness is being honored. And I see it every time I connect eyes with someone as we pass each other on the street, and we smile, and there is such deep beauty it makes me want to sing. And in a moment, I will go back outside to experience dia de los muertos (which is singular in writing but plural in actual days) and honor death and life as they are honored in Michoacán, and hope I’m not insulting anything cultural. So far, we’ve been met with mutual appreciation.
I connect with plants a lot. They can’t write articles telling me I can’t do planty things because of years of injustice that made things like cultural appropriation separate from cultural appreciation. They don’t judge me for wearing something unfashionable or having whatever body type or letting my living space get messy. They sit around and feel the sunshine and rain, and make food. They’re sometimes jerks too because they sometimes take each other over and choke each other out. But mostly they’re pretty cool to each other. So maybe plants and people aren’t so different. Life. Still trying to figure it out.