A Culture? Please …
I know, I know. This might seem like an odd question, but many out there wonder whether or not the U.S. really does have a culture. It’s debated by researchers and academics, even questioned by many Americans themselves. Well, you know I’m going to give you my opinion. But, what is culture in the first place?
Read more: Doubts About Americans
All countries have one (there goes your answer right there), and most countries have specific regional cultures within them. Even many cities have different “cultures” depending on the side of town. This usually happens in a north-south and east-west frame. Think of, say, Eastern and Western China, East and West Russia, North and South Italy, or North and South India. The same differences happen in the U.S., where you get different cultures from north to south and east to west and diagonal and so forth.
Probably the reason many would question whether America or Americans have any culture has more to do with having a culture of their own. Since everybody knows it’s a nation composed almost entirely of immigrants, it’s easy to see why people might question whether the U.S. even has a culture in the first place. Especially for visitors, often the first things they see are Uber and Lyft drivers that can hardly speak English, a Chinese restaurant on the left, a Mexican restaurant on the right, an Indian bazaar, a building that looks just like any other in Europe or somewhere else.
Culture(s) of the U.S.
A lot of that is just on the surface, though. First and foremost, we just need to look at the first nations within our nation. Native Americans were here before “America” was even a thing. They have used hundreds of languages to express their many musical styles, customs, dressing traditions, and cuisines. Many of the food items common in current American cuisines like corn, turkey, different berries, and tomatoes are homegrown, original to the continent. And indigenous art and design are still highly influential, especially in regions like the Southwest and parts of the Midwest.
The Anglos and other British settlers also had a chunk of influence. They brought their heritage, sure, but established a distinct set of folklore, musical styles, attire, and identity altogether. Generally those identities differed from North to South and urban to rural too, where differences in lifestyle, accent, and ideology would diverge those two parts of the country even more. Besides setting the foundation for the United States as we know it, they also gave the nation its main language, now the most prominent and influential version of English on the planet. (Brits, please don’t get mad at me!)
With all that going on, others from Europe like the French, Dutch, Swedes, and Spanish were all pushing their own traditions and styles onto the locations they’d settled. This left Dutch architecture in New York, Spanish architecture in California and Texas, and French architecture in Louisiana. It also gave way to celebrations like Mardi Gras, and the establishment of some of America’s greatest and most iconic cities.
The Africans that were brought over to the New World also made their cultural impact. From their influence on cuisine, especially in the South and Mid-Atlantic, they helped to produce and invent many of the nation’s most iconic and preferred dishes, several with ingredients from the ancestral continent. Lyrical storytelling and passing down vocal history allowed many to preserve their musical traditions. This continues to impact American and World music in a huge way till this day. With some of the most important black social leaders and intellects, African Americans have become some of the most recognizable and admired black individuals known all over the world. Many black people from other countries and colonies also had a huge impact on the nation’s ID. And America’s obsession with athletics, TV, and movies have helped to solidify that role.
Oh, and let’s not forget the many immigrants that came to establish their own unique cultures in the U.S. different from their home lands. I mean, Chicano isn’t quite Mexican, and Nuyorican isn’t quite Puerto Rican (even though Puerto Rican is still American, as much as Guamanian, American Samoan, Mariana, or Virgin Islander is). Just name all the religious sects and denominations that sought refuge here. Heck, many still were persecuted when they got here. Many of their traditional cuisines and customs have been modified to U.S.-style, but there are still places where their customs have been preserved like in their ancestral countries.
Just the Beginning
And that’s just looking at individual groups. I haven’t even begun to talk about consumerism and capitalism, the phenomenon of malls and suburbs, movie culture and car culture, skateboarding and surfing, baseball and basketball, football and the bashing of any other sport that claims to be football, Americana and jukebox nostalgia, hostility and hospitality, Broadway and Hollywood, Main Street and Middle America, country living and the urban rush, the woes of yards and pounds, love-hate feels about war and the admiration of military, the superiority complex and the self-loathing, “pulling up your bootstraps” and the mental health crisis, ranches and rodeos, guns and cowboys, hippies and hipsters, donators and volunteers, scammers and schemers, big enterprise and social media craze, an app for everything and a distrust in politics, religious fundamentalists and homegrown extremists, luaus and hula dancers, freezer food and barbecues, bison and bald eagles, conservative rules, and the sex, swearing, and drugs that never seem to get ruled out.
There’s a lot that makes America what it is, but one thing’s for certain; Americans do have a culture … but I’ll let others figure out what that culture actually is.
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