Culture is the force of identity

Latino or Dominican or American

America is experiencing an identity crisis. It is not only the issue of immigration reform on the front burner but the cultural identity of our country. Finally, we might really embrace jalapenos as an American standard of cuisine.

Let’s be clear; like it or not, the United States is changing. The numbers don’t lie. But more importantly it is our culture that reveals who we are becoming. In every community from the city to the suburbs, you see it and you feel it and you taste it.

Culture is defined as the language, social habits, beliefs, food, music and the arts of a particular group of people. It is also the values and behaviors and ways of living of a community. Dominant culture always resists change and tries to assimilate the new arrivals first through language and second by not allowing for the preservation of their community beliefs and standards..

American “white bread” is losing the war to tortilla chips and salsa. The United States was built on a foundation of immigrants but resisted the primarily white European cultures from becoming a dominant force, the closest exception being Britain. But, how could we attach ourselves only to our former colonial power? Subjugation and exploitation has been the primary vehicle to preserve a dominant culture. As we brought black slaves from Africa to the United States, the strategy of destroying their culture became a way of control. Nothing to fear from them because they were less than human and considered property.

The next challenge to the dominant culture came in the late 1800s and early 1900s when millions arrived on our shores from Italy to Ireland to Germany to Russia and many other countries through Ellis Island. This wave of immigrants fought to retain their culture and while having an impact did not radically change the American way of life.

More recently, the millions of immigrants from countries in Latin and Central America and Asia are making a more powerful challenge to our dominant culture than ever before. In every corner of every community, the fight for a diversity of cultures to be preserved is ongoing. The ultimate foundation of control is in the language. When you begin to see this challenged, you know that assimilation is not as effective as it has been in the past. When a local Philadelphia cheese steak business refused to take orders from people unless they spoke English and posted signs English only, when states pass English as the official language, you know that the dominant culture is feeling threatened.

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