Identity and Culture

​As a second generation immigrant living in the melting pot society of the US, it’s hard for me to hold on to my cultural ties. There’s a spectrum: on one side, there are always those who feel as though they can’t embrace their non-American culture in order to fit in and on the other side, there are traditionalists who refuse to adapt.

In today’s increasingly globalized world, it’s impossible to be a fundamentalist. You must adapt. First-generation immigrants are the ones who have the most trouble with this. They want to live in the US the same way they lived in their home country. But that’s not feasible. I think that adapting is hard but crucial because so many of America’s cultural values are considered quite progressive for people from other countries. For example, my family is starting to grasp how unreasonable it is for a woman’s top priority to be marriage. They understand now that education is so much more important and valuable to a woman if she is to stand on her own two feet. In Bangladesh, gender inequality is still a very real issue and something that I experience firsthand whenever I visit. Anyways, my point is, traditionalists need to be more modern. They need to get out of their bubble of strict and rigid gender roles and cultural norms, while still respecting their values. Of course, adjusting takes time. Even my parents and grandparents, who have lived in the US for more than two decades, still have trouble with this.

On the other hand, second-generation immigrants are the ones who are losing their heritage. So many of my Bangladeshi friends don’t even know how to count to 50 or say the days of the week in Bangla (Bengali) — which makes me really sad. I believe that it is SO important to know, to be familiar with, and to be proud of your heritage. It is a personal goal of mine to be fluent in Bengali so that I can teach my kids and so that my mother language doesn’t die away.

There’s a happy medium: not enough people realize that you can be both your non-American identity and an American. Don’t get me wrong, me telling traditionalists to be modern is NOT me telling them not to celebrate their cultural holidays. Celebrate them! Wear traditional clothing! Eat ethnic foods! But always be open-minded. That’s what America is all about: diversity. Embrace what makes you unique but never forget that we are all so much more similar than we are different.

This brings me to my other point: the label “foreign” should not be used to describe the culture of immigrants. Having a “foreign” culture IS American in itself. America is quite literally a land of immigrants. (Even though it seems that a certain blonde-haired Republican presidential candidate would like to think otherwise). Our founding fathers and mothers emigrated here from Britain. They came to escape religious persecution and for the economic opportunities in this land of the free, just like so many immigrants still do today.

To me, American culture is a mix and mold of the separate cultures of all of its residents. This is why it’s so important to open our doors rather than build walls. We should always be honored and humbled when someone wants to come to this country because they want to live in a place where they have more freedoms. It is un-American of us to close our doors because we are afraid of the dangers of “different”. To me, tolerance and openness are some of the most important traits we have.

Terms I use interchangeably: “Bengali” or “Bangladeshi” (both are adjectives to describe a person who originates from the country of Bangladesh)
The language spoken in Bangladesh can be written as “Bengali” or simply “Bangla”.
Books related to this topic: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri​
Feel free to comment your opinion about this topic below! ​

Originally published at aspiringactivist.weebly.com on 6/7/2016.