The Intangible Asset

Apparently, I come from a rich culture.

The majority of my Mother’s American colleagues are interested in our shared Indian culture. My Mom explains the customs, holidays, and cuisines that define us and they eagerly listen. She is confused, however, by comments they make lamenting their own lack of a distinct culture. My Mom disagrees. According to her, Americans do have a culture. It is a culture she noticed as a young mother and woman when we first moved to the United States in 2001. In her words, “It is a culture defined by kindness and openness.” In other words, it is a culture of addition.

Indian culture might be labeled rich, but I think the accurate word is distinct. It is easy to point to something and identify it as Indian. Many newer immigrant cultures can be identified in the same manner. Immigrants and their accompanying cultures are not necessarily ‘richer’ than any other, including American culture. They are simply more defined in contrast to the existing majority. Indians did not begin arriving in full-force to the United States until the mid-1980s, and as a result, our culture is a novelty. It’s not inherently more interesting or complex than American culture. It is, however, more tangible and noticeable. You can see it, hear it, feel it, and smell it. It grabs your attention by popping from the background.

Culture is defined as “the arts and manifestation of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” The American culture my Mom noticed is difficult to define because it is immaterial. It represents the space between every culture that has found a home in the US. American culture manifests itself in the invisible strands of principle binding together a mosaic of diverse people. It is adaptable and adoptable. It is discreet yet distinct. It is full of paradoxes and at its best, devoid of prejudice. American culture is the intangible space between all of us.

For a few hours every night, a multi-billion-dollar corporation tries defining America. It tells millions of people what America was, is, and ought to be. It aims to present American culture in concrete terms instead of expanding the definition to its most accurate, aspirational meaning. For several hours a day, Fox News beams conspiracy theories, stokes racial resentment, and worst of all, incorrectly defines America.

Calling out their nonsense is a full-time, Sisyphean task. Jon Stewart did it for over 15 years on The Daily Show and it wore him out. It’s satisfying and important, but it’s not a solution. Addressing fears with facts doesn’t work as well as it should. But what are they really afraid of?

“Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.

“…we see stark examples of how radically in some ways the country has changed. Now, much of this is related to both illegal and in some cases, legal immigration that, of course, progressives love.”

“No nation, no society has ever changed this much, this fast.”

“In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America that we know and love doesn’t exist anymore.”

They’re selling fear. Fear of change. And they’re right about that. A lot is changing. We need to be able to speak honestly about the problems we face in a world that is increasingly competitive, an economy that constantly demands more, and a future that will require complex solutions to

complicated problems.

Where I take issue is where they are angling that fear. They are aiming it at non-European, non- white families who come to the United States for the same reasons that families of all colors have come here for hundreds of years: to seek better lives for their children. It’s why my parents decided to come here in 2001: opportunity.

Although it ought to be enough to make a moral argument about why immigrants are valuable, there is a financial one as well. Fear of change against the backdrop of an interconnected world and an economy that asks more and returns less is legitimate, but scapegoating immigrants and demographic change is bad business. By negating the very thing that gives America power, we risk writing off our most valuable, intangible asset. Defining American culture as a narrow set of cosmetic aspirations should rightfully be attacked as racist, immoral, and unprincipled, but it should also be recognized as fiscally irresponsible, a word which those who propagate these views would hate to be called more than anything else.

On formal accounting documents filed with the Securities and Exchanges Commission, companies can attach a financial value to a line item called “goodwill.” The largest, most prominent corporations have goodwill valued in billions of dollars. America’s goodwill is immeasurable. Our soft power translates into hard dollars. No one owns American culture, but we all profit from it. It is our greatest strength.

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professional amateur

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