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Today's world is seeing a growth in intercultural interaction as a result of factors such as globalization, international business presence, and the incredible pace of connectivity and transport. Multiculturalism undeniably affects how people see themselves and others, as well as how they structure their environment. The United States of America is one of the most successful multicultural nations in the world today. The country is viewed as land with limitless opportunities, and because many people believe in the American Dream, it has the largest levels of immigration. Any individuals enter the country lawfully, and others enter unlawfully. Given that these immigrants come from different nations, they speak in different languages and also have differing cultures. This eventually leads to the development of a mixture of cultures and languages in the U.S making it a multicultural society.
What is a multicultural society? This a phrase used to describe the existence of several cultural traditions within one country, mostly as a result of immigration. Immigrants often find it difficult to find their place in two differing worlds and to feel that they are accepted in a place where they are a minority. Some individuals experience some confusion regarding their identity either as first or second immigrants, particularly in cases whereby their upbringing differed from their cultural and ethnic background. It can be challenging growing up in a different culture, or not really being able to identify with the culture of one’s background.
Cultural identity is used to refer to how individuals from a particular ethnic setting or group actually lead their lives (Benet-Martínez and Hong 348). As has been recorded by several experts in this topic, culture plays a significant role in the definition of a specific group of people or community. Culture is a historically shared structure of symbolic resources from which individuals obtain and develop meaning of their worlds. How people view their world tend to differ and this is primarily shaped by how individuals in differing societies think of or view other people from societies different from theirs. Of great importance is the understanding of diverse cultures in order to be able to co-exist amicably with individuals from different cultures. Cultural identity results when an individual understands his/her culture and this helps them to not only understand, but also appreciate the culture of others.
This paper will study the importance of cultural identity, the social organization of different cultures in the U.S, how each one of them culturally identifies itself, and how they co-exist in such a huge multicultural society. The major communities that will be analyzed include the Chinese community, African-American community, the Central American community, and the Caribbean community.
Forming cultural identity
Cultural identity is the extent to which an individual is a representative of a particular culture sociologically, behaviorally, psychologically, and communicatively. It is made of beliefs, values, customs, and meanings used to relate to the surrounding world. Cultural identity is ever evolving; it changes based on the social context. It is created and strengthened in communication with others during social interactions. Forming a cultural identity entails making choices regarding the cultures an individual identifies with and choosing to be a part of the cultural community to which one actually belongs. The practices and beliefs of another community could also be adapted. Members of the dominant culture may adopt certain elements of the minority’s culture such as music and dressing, or vice versa.
Milt Thomas and Jane Collier merged social construction and the ethnography of communication to develop the properties of cultural identity. The properties refer to the means through which members of community or group communicate their identity. The seven properties of cultural identity are:
Avowal and Ascription: The two deal with what produces or constructs cultural identity and how these identities get communicated. Avowal refers to how an individual expresses their views regarding group identity; how one presents themselves to another individual. Ascription, on the other hand, refers to how others view an individual. It may include stereotypes. For instance how Americans view Asians. Cultural identity is an outcome of how an individual views themselves and how others view him/ her, thus making avowal and ascription very important.
Modes of expression: Core symbols, labels, norms, and names that are shared and used by a cultural community to show that they are a part of a certain group illustrates a shared identity.
Communal, relational, and individual identity: These are the three components of cultural identity. Individual identity refers to how one understands their cultural identity primarily based on experiences. Relational identity refers to how people interact with each other and communal identity refers to the utilization of communication in the development, confirmation, and negotiation of shared cultural identity.
Affective, behavioral, and cognitive identity aspects: It refers to emotions completely attached to cultural identity in certain situations.
Enduring and varying aspects of identity: Cultural identity varies as a result of different factors which might either be contextual, political, social, or economical.
Content and relationship levels: It refers to the dealings or interactions between two or more people. The communication carries content and those taking part in the conversation interpret the meanings of the words majorly based on their experiences. Additionally, the interactions also reveal the relational level depending on how an individual communicates the message. This message level simply implies a cultural interpretation of the individual in control, their closeness levels, trust level, how they feel about each other, and many more.
Prominence or salience: This refers to the extent to which identity is illustrated in a certain situation and reveals how much the cultural identity of an individual stands out. It is mainly influenced by the degree of difference or similarity between two people. Its intensity varies based on situation topic, relationship, and context. Salience demonstrates a strong involvement or investment in a particular identity.
Importance of Cultural Identity
Cultural identity is especially important for those individuals lining in multicultural societies. Cultural identity gives an individual a deeper connection to certain beliefs, social values, customs, and religions. It allows an individual to identify with other individuals of the same backgrounds and mindsets. Cultural identity provides an automatic sense of belonging and unity within a particular group and allows one to better understand past generations and the history of where they come from. In the huge cities particularly, it is easy for one to feel alone and lost among several other backgrounds and cultures. New York, for instance, hosts individuals from all over the world. There several communities found here such as the Irish, Asian, Italian, and many others.
Another importance of cultural identity is communal support. Those who identify strongly with a particular cultural heritage are often more likely to assist others of the same community. Also identifying with a certain culture gives an individual a sense of security. It provides individuals with access to various relevant social networks that provide support and shared aspirations and values.
Cultural identity is particularly important in the wellbeing of children. It can be difficult and at times confusing for a kid from a different cultural background to interact with other kids in social settings such as school. In some instances, such kids face ‘cultural conflict’ and often feel as if they have to choose between two cultures though they live in both. Such a situation can be stressful for a child and have adverse impacts on his/ her wellbeing and mental health. From, this, it is clear that a strong cultural identity is not only crucial to a child’s wellbeing, but also to their mental health. Having a clear understanding of their own cultural traditions and history helps children develop a positive cultural identity, self-esteem and a great sense of belonging. By having a solid cultural identity, children become well-placed to develop social relationships with others even if the culture of that community is different from their own family culture.
Below is the study of four different cultures existing in the United States:
African-American culture in the United States includes several cultural customs of African ethnic groups. Even though slavery significantly limited the capacity of Africans in the U.S to live out their cultural traditions, a lot of their values, beliefs, and practices survived and have been incorporated into the American culture.
A history of repression and survival can affect how a group is organized. The organizations and networks that are established with the aim of protecting the rights of its members impact the manner in which the group members organize themselves for self-help. African slaves that were “Christianized” by their European “owners” utilized spiritual symbolism to spread the word on freedom and to give one another strength and hope. As an outcome, in the African-American culture, spiritual centers, mainly Christian (for instance the African Methodist Episcopal Church), have operated as education centers, mutual-aid societies, and political forces. In nearly all African-American communities, finding one or more churches that are the central point for political, social, and economic activities is common. Spirituality, particularly Christianity, offer an effectual bridge amid African-Americans, Americans, Latinos, and Europeans. One good example of utilizing spirituality to organize an alliance amid the leaders from these three communities is the Allied Communities of Tarrant (ACT) in Fort Worth. African-American Baptist ministers, Latino and European American Catholic priests, as well a European American Lutheran and Disciples of Christ ministers who were linked to each other via their spiritual interests decided to unite and work with each other across racial lines so as to enhance the quality of life of their members. African-American church leaders worked together to come up with initiatives within their churches to support and empower parents to take part in the effort.
Another significant aspect of African-American cultural identity is Jazz music. By the early 20th century, various musical forms of African-American origin had transformed the famous American popular (pop) music. Promoted by technological innovations such as those of the radio together with phonograph records, jazz and blues gained popularity overseas. The 1920s was referred to as the Jazz Age (Newton-Matza 214). Additionally, the African-American Cultural Movement that took place in the 1960s and 1970s also encouraged the growth of funk music and hip-hop forms like hip house and rap. African-American music is presently experiencing a lot more widespread acceptance in the American pop music than ever before.
African-American dance is another thing that cannot be overlooked. It draws its roots from the earliest dances. Contemporary African-American is very popular in the U.S. and groups like the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continue to contribute to this growth. Contemporary popular dance in America is significantly influenced by African-American dance. Apart from this, American popular dance also draws a lot of its influences from African-American dance, particularly in the hip-hop genre.
Hair styling is another important aspect of African-American identity. African-American hair normally consists of tightly coiled curls. Also, keeping facial hair is more common among African-American men when compared to other male populations in America. The soul patch is in fact named so because African-American men, specifically jazz artists, popularized it. Preference for facial hair in African-American men is partially due to personal liking, but also because they are more susceptible to develop pseudofolliculitis barbae, or razor bumps.
The Chinese group is not only the largest, but also the fastest growing community among Pacific and Asian islander populations. One key aspect of the Chinese culture is that it places a lot of emphasis on taking good care of one’s family. They believe that caring for their families is a great contribution to community welfare as healthy families translates to a healthy society. This particular belief is founded on Confucian values that put emphasis on respect for the family or filial piety. This concept of filial piety gets instilled in the children from a very young age. Simply put, familial relationships are the basis for Chinese social organization.
Chinese parents put a lot of emphasis on their kids and their ability of succeeding in life. Perfection is a key Confucian value and it they believe that it can only be achieved through education. It is for this reason that Chinese parents actually invest a great deal in ensuring that their kids do extremely well academically.
Education is another concern that can be used in mobilizing the Chinese community. Academic excellence is something that this community is greatly associated with. Immigrant Chinese parents expect nothing but utmost obedience and excellence in academic studies from their kids. In addition, they expect their children to work hard for the professional careers. Most Chinese immigrant children work extremely hard to please their parents, often aiming for academic success.
In Chinese communities both in America and other nations, it is common to come across local associations known as huiguan established by members from the same village or province in Taiwan and China. These particular associations offer capital to its members to assist them in putting up businesses. They also conduct social and charitable functions and offer protection to its members. These local associations play a significant role in community building efforts, specifically in Chinatowns. They are established because of the emphasis placed on the meaning of family; in China, individuals from the same village or province are considered as extended family. Thus, in order to involve any Chinese community in whichever community building effort, identifying and engaging the leaders of these local associations is very important.
Another life aspect whereby Chinese-Americans introduce their ethnicity is in dating and marriage. There are studies which reveal that Chinese, Korean, or Japanese communities in the United States actually prefer and intend to marry within their own community. This is another way of maintaining one’s cultural identity particularly in a huge multicultural community.
Chinese immigrants, however, fear a lot that their kids or the next generation might lose touch with their traditions and culture. They therefore do whatever they can to teach their kids how to write and speak Mandarin. This particular desire has led to the creation of several Chinese learning institutions in regions that have vast populations of Chinese immigrants. Such schools might have their own buildings or they are at times carried out on the weekends in a public school.
Central American community
Most Central Americans left their home countries because of oppression and poverty. In 2015, nearly 8% of the population of immigrants in the U.S. was made up of Central American immigrants. They come from regions such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras, among others. Below is a table showing the distribution of Central American immigrants in the U.S by country of origin in 2015.
Table 1. Distribution of Central American Immigrants in the United States by Country of Origin, 2015
Other Central America
Source: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau 2015 American Community Survey (ACS).
An individual would settle in the new location, look for a job, save up enough money, and then help his or her family members migrate as well. As a result of the extended and informal family networks that are characteristic of the Central American culture, support systems naturally develop to help the new arrivals.
Also, Central America’s close proximity to U.S. (compared to other nations) plays a significant role in their social organization. Local associations that are usually named after a region, town, or city in Central America surface in the new geographical settings of the immigrants to enhance cultural identity, security, and upholding of connection with their friends and family back home. These particular associations are normally associated with soccer clubs, religious groups, revolutionary movements, and political parties in Central America.
A common Central American activity is soccer. One will often see both children and adults from Central American communities play soccer in school compounds and public parks. One thing Central American nations are proud of are their national soccer teams. This can be compared to how the U.S values its baseball and football teams. Soccer is an avenue for interacting with individuals from the same region or nation and developing a social support network.
Another major institution that identifies and unites Central American communities is the Catholic Church. Even back in Central America, the church played a huge role in political organization and advocacy. In the new nation of the immigrant, the church still plays a significant role, apart from offering social support, and sustaining a communication line between immigrants and their friends and family back home in Central America.
In 2014, about 4,000,000 Caribbean immigrants lived in the United States. More than 90% of these immigrants come from Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic ("Caribbean Immigrants In The United States"). Below is a table showing the distribution of Caribbean Immigrants by nation of birth in 2014.
Table 2. Distribution of Caribbean Immigrants by Country of Birth, 2014
Region and Country
Number of Immigrants
Trinidad and Tobago
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Source: MPI tabulation of data from U.S. Census Bureau 2014 American Community Survey (ACS).
Migration patterns can offer important data regarding a particular group of people. Normally, a lot of immigrants move to the U.S. because they already have a friend or relative leaving there. Upon arrival to the new country, they simply move in with friends or relatives who also assist them in finding their very first job so that they can chip in. In the Caribbean culture, there exists a tradition of assisting the new arrivals by rotating saving clubs or credit associations, commonly referred to as susus. In this tradition, a group of individuals collect some money and then loan it to an individual who needs it. The debtor then pays back the money over certain time duration and makes a commitment to remain in the susu until payment of the loan is complete.
A stroll down Flatbush Avenue immerses none in rich Caribbean culture, with the presence of several businesses that are centered on the Caribbean culture and identity. Restaurants that mainly serve cultural food, grocery stores selling items directly from the Caribbean lands, markets quite similar those in the Caribbean nations, and numerous hair salons are some of the things one will come across; a clear picture of the Caribbean culture. What’s more, the mannequins in the clothing stores differ from those in the American clothing stores in the sense that they are a lot curvier, a reflection in the cultural preference of the female figure.
Maintaining cultural identity in a multicultural society
Maintaining one’s cultural identity after moving to a different country could prove to be difficult, particularly if one is trying to adjust to the new community. Below are some ways of ensuring that one does not get absorbed in the new culture and totally forget their who they are, their cultural identity.
Maintaining communications with the friends and family back at home: Staying in touch with friends and family back at home is simple at first but slowly fades away once one starts to get comfortable with the new environment. Staying in touch with family and friends help one to maintain a connection with their old home and culture.
Joining clubs and associations with ties to an individual’s cultural identity: Small towns and even most big cities have clubs or associations affiliated to different cultures and communities. These particular organizations are often in the form of social clubs; social gatherings, parties, and special events. Being part of a club that focuses on an individual’s old culture not only helps them to preserve that tie, but also provides an opportunity to interact with other people sharing your ethnic background.
Maintaining cultural traditions: Adhering to old traditions is of great importance. Celebration of holidays that are specific to one’s culture is one great way of achieving this.
Sharing one’s culture with new friends and colleagues: Opening up to others about one’s culture is a great way of sharing what one loves and misses about their culture. There are several ways of doing this including carrying homemade treats relating to an individual’s culture to the workplace or dinning together with friends at a restraint that specializes in one’s cuisine.
"Caribbean Immigrants In The United States". migrationpolicy.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 May 2017.
Benet-Martínez, Verónica, and Ying-yi Hong. The Oxford Handbook Of Multicultural Identity. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.
Newton-Matza, Mitchell. Jazz Age: People And Perspectives (Perspectives In American Social History). 1st ed. ABC-CLIO Interactive, 2009. Print.
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