What exactly is culture? Though I am influenced by my undergraduate courses and textbooks, here is my own working definition: Culture is a lens and set of values through which we see and behave. Culture is important because so much of it is implicit, and we don’t often recognize its force. The way we think, the clothes we wear, the language we speak, the food we eat and so on are all informed by the culture(s) surrounding us.
As a Korean American woman, I live by at least two cultures given the land of my birth (Korea) and the land that’s become my home (America). Quite often being a minority is assumed to entail cultural conflicts. Indeed, some clashing of values is to be expected. I faced cultural conflicts as a young immigrant to the United States. When I was young, I was more puzzled by having to learn the American culture alongside my Korean culture (with Korean parents and surrounded by the Korean community). I had to start determining which values to emphasize in various situations – to decipher to cultural codes in the various communities that together built up my identity. There was a learning curve, but I got better and better at figuring out these codes and I gradually realized that living among various cultures is not so much a conflict but a privilege.
Since this realization, I consider myself not as semi-Korean and semi-American, but rather as fully Korean and fully American; these two cultural identities intertwine in every aspect of my daily life. To paint a picture of what I am trying to express, I enjoy eating a “typical” American breakfast such as pancakes and hash browns, but for dinner, I usually eat Korean meals of rice, hot soup and a number of (usually spicy) side dishes. I live in Koreatown but commute to attend courses at UCLA. I enjoy watching American movies and reading in English but I also like watching Korean dramas and shows and listening to Korean music. I typically speak English with my friends and interact casually with my professors but I speak Korean with my parents and use respectful vocabulary to Korean elders at my work. I attend a Korean church but go to service and join the songs of worship in English.
Does all this sound very muddled to you? To me, it feels natural although it took me my journey so far to get this comfortable between cultures.
We each have only one life to live, but when we are bicultural, we have the privilege of enjoying and seeing and thinking in more than one dominant way. Not only do I live in two ethnic cultures, but I also have multiple identities as a daughter, a friend, a student, an immigrant, and many more. These converging identities make my life all the more interesting and exciting. What about you? How many cultures do you live in and how many converging identities make you uniquely you? Can you imagine untangling the cultural lifestyles and identities that you have? Do you struggle with the multiple cultures and identities that you live with or are you relishing them? I have a hunch that it’s all a matter of perspective. What perspective are you taking?
*Image source: http://www.stop-idfraud.co.uk/*