This assignment has been really hard for me to find the motivation to get started on. When it comes to my culture I feel like I am super boring. I am always trying to find new ways to add a little bit of diversity to my cultural self-identity. Changing one’s culture is an amusing concept. Culture is who you are, your beliefs and practices mixed with things you cannot control like race and gender. The following post is where I think I am at. Hopefully I can keep this as objective as possible and report about the person I am, not necessarily the person I want to be.
I am Caucasian. I am a man. I am straight. I am very fortunate to be middle class. I am privileged. I sometimes feel guilty about it. Growing up, I thought my family was impoverished, but I now realize that my family has it better than most of the world. Racism was never a real issue in my life until late adolescence and adulthood, and I’ve been on the privileged side of most of the gender discrimination I have witnessed in my life. I know I am fortunate, however, in the immortal words of Cat Stevens, “I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do, and it’s breaking my heart in two…” I know where there is privilege, there is usually discrimination.
As a child, I was never allowed to get toys at the grocery store and it seemed money was all my parents talked/argued about. To the credit of my child self, my parents were definitely strapped for cash for the majority of my early childhood. This was due mainly to the fact that my father was working on a PhD until I was about 7. The fact that such education was even an option means that we were financially better off than most. Not until I was a teenager did I really come to appreciate the fact that my family always had food in the refrigerator/pantry, a sturdy roof over our head, money for utilities, and even multiple vehicles.
As a straight boy, active in the predominant religion (Latter-Day Saint/Mormon), growing up in a suburb in Utah County, I was perfectly normal. I grew up in the then small town of Cedar Hills, Utah. For many years town hall was in my Aunt’s basement. Everybody knew everything about everybody else in town. Although the majority of my ancestors came to the United States from countries like Spain, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and France just two or three generations prior to my existence, most of the cultural differences between these European countries and Utah County had been diluted in my parents’ generation. This being said, we still celebrated a very German Christmas, and my mom occasionally carried on conversations with friends in French.
Although Cedar Hills, Utah is no cultural “melting pot” like big U.S. cities like New York or Los Angeles, I remember being exposed to a couple of unique cultures growing up. We had a couple of sets of Latino neighbors, one family from Brazil, and another from Argentina. We had a special relationship with these neighbors because my father speaks Spanish fluently, something he learned as a missionary for the LDS church in Peru. Most of the cultural differences I observed with these families were the fantastic dishes they would serve when we shared meals.
Later in life as I made more friends I was introduced to greater cultural diversity. I met friends from different sects of Christianity, atheists, and even Buddhist. I also met friends who came from single parent households, and relied on government support for their meals and other needs. I even met friends from neighborhoods where the homes were the size of my church building and the families had employees who lived with them. As I reflect on my own impressions upon meeting some of these people, I am ashamed to admit that I thought that something must have been wrong with those people who were less-fortunate
For this assignment I will spend a little time focusing on my exposure to people of differing socioeconomic class from my own and different views on Gender.
As a child, I always assumed that rich people must be smart and beggars must be dumb. The more of the world I have seen I understand that this is not the case. It is true that the majority of the wealthy people that I have met have had significant education and are, for all intents and purposes, smart; but as I have met more people in my travels (mostly in the United States), I have come to realize that there are so many more factors that determine the socioeconomic status than just intelligence.
One individual in particular comes to mind. For this assignment I’m just going to refer to this person as Sam. Sam has a degree in mechanical engineering from a respected university in California. Sam has designed, built, and patented many complicated inventions both for the military, and recreational use. Sam should have the “American Dream” sort of lifestyle. He is extremely intelligent and at one point a hardworking and diligent employee, and a loving husband and father. Last time I saw Sam he was living in a tent, guarding a crop of marijuana the middle of a patch of land off of Highway 70 near Quincy, California. Sam has made some poor choices when it comes to drug use and his finances. Patent disputes, heroin use, and failed lawsuits left Sam nearly destitute and angry. Does intelligence equate socioeconomic status, not in Sam’s case. My experience with Sam is definitely not the norm for someone with his background. It is normal, however, for a smart young African American student from the intercity to be dirt poor regardless of how smart they are. I don’t have personal experience with this sort of situation, but I know that overcoming these hurdles can be nearly impossible.
Growing up in a rather conservative, Latter-Day Saint household I was exposed to very traditional gender roles. The man of the house is responsible for earning money and providing for the family. The woman’s responsibility was primarily for the children and the home. Women are to be submissive and sympathetic of the man as he fought hard for his earnings. Although there is some merit to this family model, I am so incredibly grateful for the exposure to cultural differences when it comes to gender. As a child I assumed that if someone didn’t fit my stereotype for their gender, they must be homosexual. I have had several examples of strong, independent women in my life. I have also witnessed men who do a better job of taking care of children and maintaining a warm and loving household. I know now that these personality traits don’t reflect their sexual orientation, it is just who they are. Three individuals, in particular helped open my mind to a broader gender reality; one was my favorite teacher from high school, the other a close friend, and the third, my wife.
The teacher. Sally is an incredible influence on my life. She is a middle-aged single mother who many assume is a lesbian because she is fierce, strong, and does not back down from anything or anyone. Sally entered my life at a very critical time in my life, junior year of high school. Not only did I learn from her curriculum, I learned from her example of what a woman could be. She rides a Harley Davidson motorcycle when weather permits, she now instructs and coordinates other teachers, and still fills the role of loving mother. Sally is truly an inspiration of what it can mean to be a woman.\
A close friend. I have lots of friends, but none quite like Don. Don is the man! Don is a loving husband and father of 4. Don’s wife is the primary “breadwinner” in the house. Don can often be found cooking, cleaning, gardening, or taking care of his grandchildren. I met Don when I was 19 years old. When I first met him I instantly felt his warm and compassion for others. We share a common love for music, in particular 60’s and 70’s folk/rock music. Don has spent the majority of his adulthood being the primary caregiver to his 4 children and multiple grandchildren. Don helped me understand that men don’t have to be macho to be straight. This has helped me with my personal identity because I have been able to embrace my own personality traits that are more feminine.
My wife. My wife is amazing. I am so grateful for the people in my life that have helped prepare me to be with my wife Jessi. Jessi is a strong independent and successful woman. She is currently supporting me financially so I can finish my degree at UVU. When we started dating a huge topic of discussion was feminism. Until I met my wife I only really had one friend who I considered a feminist and it always sort of had a negative connotation in my mind. After spending the majority of the past 5 years with my wife I now consider myself a feminist and understand the ins and outs of what feminism means to me.
As I continue down the path of life I am constantly meeting new people from different cultures. It is interesting, as I have considered this assignment and gotten some of my thoughts down, I don’t feel as boring as I did at the beginning. I know I still have lots of room to learn and grow. As I have embraced several people that are close to me from the LGBTQ+ community I look forward to learning more about their perspective in life. I hope to do some more travelling with my wife once I get my degree. I know if I apply some of the principles I have already learned by bumping shoulders with people who are culturally different from myself, and this class, I can more easily communicate and hopefully adopt some more beneficial beliefs, practices, and ideas.