We are all descended either from immigrants to America or from Native Americans. The sources of immigration were and still are so diverse that every person living in America has to a greater or smaller degree a cultural background that is different from the mainstream American culture. This statement might seem to be conflicting, but it is not. I would define mainstream or popular culture as the product of growth and interaction of mass media industries.
My Cultural Background
I personally come from a Russian background. My great-grandparents were born in Pinsk, Byelorussia and immigrated to Texas in the United States in 1916 just before the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. They have assimilated well in their new fatherland and they didn’t even bother to teach Russian to my grandmother and their other children. Although I have Byelorussian origin, I still consider my cultural background to be Russian, and it is. My grandparents converted to Catholicism, but they still observe some of the Russian traditions, especially national cuisine.
I can feel this background. For instance, one of the most prominent Russian cultural treats is that friendship is extremely important for us. Traditionally, Russians are very warm and open with the most close, trusted friends. They have a wide network of friends to rely on in hard times. I’m not saying, that American mainstream does not care about friendship, but with Russians, this is very typical. I feel this need in a few close friendships too and it was quite hard for me to meet someone who would be just as open and warm with me as I am.
Another distinction of Russian culture is the way views and opinions are treated. America adheres to pluralism and tolerance (sometimes to extremes), while Russian culture envisages consensus and existence of single truth. This derives mainly from hundreds of years of autocracy in Russia and has a great influence on people. I cannot say, of course, I am intolerant, but sometimes I do have a hard time in situations when many opinions, especially conflicting ones are presented.
What is similar in the two cultures is that people really appreciate casual and direct way of communication. Here, though, I can’t tell whether this trait in my character comes from my Russian background or American present realities. I really enjoy this straightforwardness and am very glad the mainstream is the same way (of course, I didn’t realize that before writing this paper). Another common trait for Russian and American cultures is outstanding hospitality to foreign visitors. I think this tradition comes from understanding that the country is great and has a big mission to bring enlightenment to other, less fortunate people. I am sincerely interested in foreigners, when they come to our country and this helped me make quite a few good acquaintances, even friends.
Russian Contribution to the Mainstream Culture
Although the world knows a great number of Russian American people who have made a great personal contribution to American development in any conceivable sphere of life ranging from ballet dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev to scientists and hockey players, the contribution of Russian culture to the “cultural mix” of present-day America is slender. This happened (or, rather, did not happen) because of too many differences between the two cultures. mainstream American cultural roots are in Western Europe, while Russian are in Eastern Europe and what is more important in Asia. To name a few most important differences I would mention the attitude towards authority: in America it is diffused from people, while in Russia it is centralized; human rights are celebrated in America, while in Russia they well might be disregarded for the sake of common good; the change (in any sphere) in American comes from individuals, while in Russia it is imposed from above. These differences are very conflicting – no wonder Russian culture did not have a very big influence on American mainstream. Linguistic differences are quite considerable too, therefore there are not many word adoptions to English language from Russian. These are mainly untranslatable words like “fortochka”, “perestroika”, and “Bolshevism” etc. Say, German influence on the language is far greater.
Learning your Culture
As to the culture, I support the views of determinism – people learn their cultural patterns from the very first day of their lives from the surrounding. We cannot change our inner culture by conscious decision. We get our culture from the outside world and cannot really do anything about it. Moreover, I believe that the genes have an impact on our culture too. In some inexplicable way we inherit cultural background of our parents even if someone else raises a child. We learn our culture by simply being around people and absorbing their attitudes and behaviours. The major part of what we call culture is formed before a child reaches an age of 7, then the alterations are nothing but minor. Of course, if a person immigrates, like my great-grandparents did, they will absorb much of the new culture too, whatever their age might be, but the core will always remain the same.
While phrase “celebrating diversity” might sound as a cliché, because it has been used over and over in various situations I still strongly believe in it. The “cultural mix” of present-day America is something that makes our country great.
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