culture: one

i have been in at corat-africa outside nairobi (kenya) for three weeks now. there have been many many “blog worthy” thoughts, conversations and topic that have come up, but i haven’t been very good at writing about them in this space. this is mostly due to the giant nature of the questions i find myself asking as well as being kept busy with things like step aerobics (yes, pictures are forthcoming), teaching yoga, doing homework, exploring nairobi/karen/the matatu system and getting to know my fellow participants.

but tonight you’re lucky! two posts in one evening! and both about culture!

tonight we had our “cultural evening”. each country represented was invited to give a country profile and then perform a traditional song or dance.

being the only american i worked alone, and i was intimidated by what i knew i would be following…the other countries represented were: kenya, tanzania, nigeria, uganda, d.r.c. and zambia. all with rich heritage in song and dance. and here i am, a “mutt” american with nothing nearly as exciting as sister margaret (south eastern uganda), who literally very nearly danced a whole in the floor (!) or kenya who had at least 5 tribes represented in their awesome merged song and dance…

pasted below you will find what i gave as the “country profile” for the united states of america…i hope i didn’t misrepresent my sisters and brothers from u.s.a. too much!


hola. ciao, bonjour, hey, hi, hello, howdy. welcome to the united states of america!

the united states is a unique place often referred to as “the melting pot”. it is referred to as “the melting pot” because almost every culture and country is represented somewhere in the u.s.a. we were founded as a place of freedom–freedom of speech and freedom of religion. but something that is often overlooked in the history of the united states is the fact that people were already living in on the continent before columbus showed up in 1492–and had been there for at least 12,000 years prior.

now these peoples are referred to as the ‘native americans.’ there are many tribes and peoples that fall into the category of ‘native american’–they are a minority in the country.

there are a few who still try to live in a somehow-modernized yet traditional way, living in what are called “resevervations.”
europeans stumbled across the north american continent in 1492. columbus thought he had reached india and mistakenly called the native peoples “indians”. it was in 1776 that america fought for freedom from king george of britian and became the 13 states instead of the 13 colonies, and the deceleration of independence was written.  we celebrate our independence on 4 July every year.

we now have 50 states and 1 federal district. we are situation in middle of the north american continent with canada to the north and mexico to the south.
we have about 3.79 million square miles of land (which is 9.83 million kilometers)

and our population is over 309 million people. (plus an estimated 11.2 million undocumented or “illegal” immigrants.)

english is the de facto national language, and technically there is no official language at the federal level, some laws—such as U.S. naturalization requirements—standardize english.

in 2006, about  80% of the population aged five years and older, spoke only english at home. spanish, spoken by 12% of the population at home, is the second most common language and the most widely taught second language.
* number of languages spoken in the u.s.: 311.
* those languages indigenous to the u.s.: 162
* those that are immigrant languages: 149
* there are at least 14 million households in the united states where english is not the primary language.

the united states is officially a secular nation; the first amendment of the u.s. constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion  and forbids the establishment of any religious governance.

in a 2002, 59% of americans said that religion played a “very important role in their lives.” 78.4% identify as christian, 1.7% as jewish, 0.7% buddhist, 0.6% muslim, 0.4% hindu and 0.3 as unitarian. 16.1% describe themselves as agnostic, atheist or having no religion.
we are one of the world’s most ethnically diverse and multicultural countries in the world, nearly all americans or their ancestors immigrated to the u.s. within the past five centuries.
in the united states you can find: people from this continent, from europe, eastern europe, asia…everywhere!

tonight i represented many cultures and places represented in the u.s. by the jewelry i have worn: my earrings and a sandals are from here in kenya, my necklace is from india, the bracelet from uganda and a ring from brazil.

the u.s. is also referred to in regions. we have the east coast, the south, the midwest, the plains states and the west coast. each region has their own subtle differences from the others. i come from the midwest, from a state called missouri.  my home is right in the middle of the united states which is why it is referred to as the MID west. it is the middle west.
in the midwest we are a combination of unique things and of adopted things from other regions in the u.s. for example, we have our own accent but we have adopted a lot of foods from the south like sweet iced tea and cornbread. we tend to take our shoes off before entering the main part of someone’s house, wave at all other drivers on the road even if we don’t know them and shake hands to greet each other in person.
the culture held in common by most americas is mainstream american culture— which is a western culture largely derived from the traditions of european immigrants with influences from many other sources, such as traditions brought by slaves from africa (african americans) whose spiritual songs, foods and stories have permeated the american culture.  more recent immigration from asia and especially latin america have added even more diversity for our food, our music, holidays celebrated…etc.

so you can see how it is difficult to identify any cross-cutting cultural songs and dances in the united states. there is no “traditional wedding dance” that has been passed down from generation to generation…no songs of celebration that we have sung since 1776. (except perhaps some patriotic songs)

as far as family culture goes i am very typical. my father’s side of the family are scotch-irish who immigrated to the united states in the 1620s. my mothers side is a combination of british and a native tribe called the cherokee.

we do not really talk about the countries we came from (scotland, england, ireland or even america before the white people came) and i was not taught customs, language or songs/dances from any of those places. my upbringing and ‘culture’ has been an education in AMERICA.  in what it means to be an american. which is difficult to define as it is in flux-changing and moving.

some things that have continued to be important to americans are freedom of religion, freedom of speech… we struggle with these things but the american spirit is one of perseverance and it is my hope that we continue to persevere to grant the basic human rights of all.
i have no exciting dances to share, and no ancient songs to share. so i have bring you two “traditional” american songs.
the first is called be Thou My Vision, which is an 8th century irish melody. the english lyrics were added around 1912.
the second is called Red River Valley.

hasta luego, ciao, aloha, tak, avedsein, goodbye, and thank you!


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