Tag Archives: cultural awareness

Students learn to appreciate their culture in the Bay Area

By Kristian Bekele and Micah Tam

Staff Writers

Being in the Bay Area means that there is a vibrant enough mix of cultures within our small sphere, at least in the means of ethnic and cultural diversity. But within the great mix of different kinds of cultures, how can one learn to appreciate their culture?  

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Student journalist and junior at Summit Preparatory Charter High School, Kristian Bekele

I, Kristian Bekele, was born in Ethiopia. I arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport on July 17, 2007. But it took me several years to fully appreciate the culture and the people that I came from.

Before we dive into anything else, yes, there are cultural differences between Americans who identify as African and those who identify as Black, which is why the term African American can be misleading. It can end up being rather complicated as to who is who, but the difference, in my mind, can be summed up to this: those who identify as African have parents/grandparents who came straight from the continent and still have some connection to the culture; those who identify as Black have ancestors who lost contact with African culture due to the deliberate separation of families and communities during slavery.

This was something I greatly experienced when I moved from Ethiopia to the United States. I went from a place where everyone had the same values, culture and beliefs to a place where I became a minority. This led me to be confused about how to identify myself.

On one hand, I was African. I came from the continent and became a resident in the United States. On the other hand, I was seen as Black, but I did not have the same experiences as many Americans who identify as Black because my ancestors were not subjected to slavery and segregation in the United States.

It was within the last five years or so of being a citizen of the United States that I have started to identify myself as Black and to check the “Black/African American” box when I’m filling out forms that ask for racial identification.

Living in Menlo Park, I also was in an area where there aren’t that many Black people, let alone those who are African. It also didn’t help that my features are “racially ambiguous.”

This led me to have a large disconnect with my culture. On the one hand, I am racially identified as Black, but I primarily identify with my Ethiopian heritage.

It wasn’t until I was in the seventh or eighth grade where I started to once again connect back to my culture like speaking Amharic. Also, the creation of the Habesha community famous Twitter page Buna Time (I discovered this page last year) allowed me to connect back to my culture in a way that was never available before.

One of the ways I have furthered my understanding of the cultures that make up Ethiopia is reading about its history and talking about that with my parents. As a child, what I had heard about Ethiopia’s history was mainly about the communist government, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, Haile Selassie, Tewodros II and King Menelik II.

My parents didn’t participate in all of the cultural aspects of the typical Ethiopian culture. For instance, we were not Ethiopian Orthodox, but instead Pente (non-denominational).

I also wasn’t exposed to much about the different dialects and languages throughout Ethiopia since I moved at such a  young age. As I look back at my experiences in exploring and understanding who I am, I see that both my faith and my culture greatly influenced me.
 In both areas, there is the idea of freedom being a human right. Freedom is something that is emphasized within the Ethiopian culture because of the independence that Ethiopia had throughout the Scramble for Africa. With Christianity, it’s the belief that Jesus Christ came down and saved all, and that the freedom that is found with Him is accessible to all.

I’ve been able to not only discover myself and what my identity is, but also to understand the large role my cultural experiences play in the world view that I have.

As Lissa Thiele, who teaches courses on the Holocaust and Sociology of Law for the Expeditions team, said, “People think race and culture are the same, but it’s not.”

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Student journalist and junior at Summit Preparatory Charter High School, Micah Tam

I, Micah Tam, was born in San Francisco, California. I am half Chinese and half Taiwanese. Amidst the whole China and Taiwan political drama, it’s kind of a weird position to be in.

Growing up in the Bay Area, I feel that I have been in a pretty protected bubble when it comes to racism or cultural ignorance. Living here, it seems that I am surrounded by people of my race or at least similar race, which led me to the false pretense that there are a lot of Asians in America. Little did I know, that coastal cities are where many Asians live, whereas many states in the middle of America have few Asian citizens.

I also attended a Chinese immersion preschool in San Francisco then moved to Burlingame for primary school at Franklin Elementary School. There, the majority of the students were either White or Asian.

It wasn’t really until middle school that I experienced some mild racism. Nothing really major such as physical or emotional bullying, but some incidents still stuck out. Some of my classmates would throw around phrases like “ching chong” and ask me what it meant, or they’d make comments about how small my eyes are.

Like Kristian, I consider myself to be pretty “racially ambiguous.” Maybe that’s because my skin is a bit darker than the stereotype of how East Asian people have perfect, smooth, pale skin, but people usually are surprised when I tell them I’m Chinese. They usually go on to guess every single major East Asian race before they finally give up.

Because of the mild racism and racial ambiguity, I felt stuck with my identity. I was uninspired to have pride for my culture.

Also, like Kristian, it wasn’t until I found different social media accounts like @asians4thewin and @asiangirlsunite on Instagram, that really encouraged me to have pride in being who I am.

The accounts that focus on Asian American pride and cultural awareness brought up the injustice and problems that Asians face, just as many other minorities in America face prejudice. I learned about acts such as yellow face and yellow fever, which was people of other races trying to look stereotypically East Asian. I also learned about White actors depriving Asian actors of roles that are written to be Asian, such as how Emma Stone played a half-Chinese, half-Hawaiian woman in the film “Aloha” or how Scarlett Johansson is playing a Japanese woman in the upcoming film “Ghost in the Shell”.

Connecting my ethnicity, my culture and my identity to real-world problems made me realize that there is too little recognition of the misappropriation of Asian culture and too much injustice for me to feel ashamed of who I am. I started getting sick of laughing off racist jokes and seeing blatant “whitewashing” all around me.

We, Kristian and Micah, encourage you to learn more about your culture and identity and take pride in who you are. Spread cultural awareness so that everyone can be understood and accepted. All in all, don’t forget to love yourself, and don’t be afraid to be unconditionally you. 

 Related: 

Cultural awareness builds understanding between Americans

Experts offer strategies to be more culturally aware

Cultural awareness builds understanding between Americans

By Kristian Bekele 

Staff Writer 

Cultural identity is something that we all have either encountered or will encounter later on. It is a confusing mess of terms, cultures and ethnicities. Even through those basic identifiers, there is something more complex to a person besides the environments that they have been raised in that influence them greatly.

We had two members of the Summit community share with us their opinions of culture and how their identity shapes them.

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Rasmia Shuman, a junior at Summit Prepatory Charter High School

Rasmia Shuman (Mia to her friends), is a bright, fun-loving and outgoing person. She is a junior at Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City.

Shuman explained that her devout faith in Islam is a large part of her identity. Shuman is a young woman who is not afraid of showing and teaching others about her belief in the Qur’an and about how she follows its teachings. In an interview with her, she told us about how her culture of being a Muslim American has affected her.

She stated that culture was “not me, but it forms who I am.”  

Shuman also talked about how Arabs are often negatively portrayed in the media. She said that, often times, the media portrays Arabs as “not completely peaceful” and also said that her culture is “not the way people see on the news.” The media assumes “every Arab is angry, not peaceful, and wishes hate on everyone.”

She also shared how being a Muslim American has been for her and how she is able to balance the various aspects of her life.

Shuman said, “Being Muslim is a part of my culture.”

She also said, “Basically, I have been raised that not everyone knows what’s going on. Keep a smile on your face and not take anything offensive.”  This is in reference to whenever people tend to ask her a rude question concerning her identity as a Muslim, especially those around the hijab and women’s roles in society. For Shuman, the hijab is not something that inhibits her. Rather, she sees it as a way to be modest.

Shuman also shared about the conflict that can often time come with being a Muslim American. One of the struggles that she had was with her daily prayers. Specifically, she was talking about the Salah (the five daily prayers that Muslims perform every day according to the Quran) and juggling that with attending school. “I do keep up with my prayers, but there’s school and other things. But I don’t want to clash with being American and Muslim.” Shuman instead prays at home, scheduling her time to fit in her school work with her religious duties.

But overall, she is immensely grateful for living in the United States. “Being in America is probably the best place to be,” Shuman noted. She cited the incidents in Germany and France, with the recent ruling of Angela Merkel to ban burqas and  France’s ban on the burkini.

In the end, she sees herself as a representation of what it means to be Muslim. Shuman said, “I want people to have a good portrayal.”

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Lissa Thiele, Holocaust and Sociology of Law Expeditions teacher at Summit Public Schools

Lissa Thiele, an Expeditions teacher who specializes in Holocaust and Sociology of Law, also focuses on how to teach others tolerance toward other people’s identities.

Ms. Thiele achieves this goal by having lessons that are both exciting and informative. She highlights for her students that schools don’t always take an in-depth look into different cultures, even though that is an important part of what shapes our country.

“I think that culture is a set of human traditions that can have a relationship to race, ethnicity, gender, religion that is passed down from generation to generation.”

One of the things that Ms. Thiele mentioned was that, for her, a lot of people tend to forget that she also has Puerto Rican roots alongside with her Jewish heritage. “People think that the culture equals race, but it doesn’t.”

Ms. Thiele also told us about the differences that she tends to encounter within the understanding of the practice of Judaism as a religion versus the beliefs that are a part of the Jewish culture. She added that, for outsiders, this difference is hard to see, especially in the United States.

She explained that the Jewish experience in Israel can be very different than the Jewish experience in America: “Judaism is both a religion and a culture. There, it’s either you’re religious Jewish or cultural Jewish. In America, those lines are totally blurred, but in other parts it’s not as blurred.”

One of the things that Ms. Thiele emphasizes is that she believes in the things that she teaches. She said “what I teach is what I live.”

Of course, she has some concerns about how to pass her mix of customs and cultures to her four-year-old son, Skyler. Since he is half Jewish, she is concerned over how he will be able to understand the different aspects of his ancestry and not be ashamed about itsince her husband has German roots. Ms. Thiele said, “My son, I have a bit of concern over…One-half of him wanted the other half of him dead.”

At the culmination of everything, she wants the world to know that she is also human and that, while she might not practice the same things that others do, she can still feel pain.

Ms.Thiele said, “I always want to be for real with it, but I don’t want people to see me as less than human … If you punch me, I’m going to hurt just like you.” 

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Expeditions teacher Lissa Thiele and Summit Prep junior Rasmia Shuman share a moment.

Related:

Students learn to appreciate their culture in the Bay Area

Experts offer strategies to be more culturally aware

Experts offer strategies to be more culturally aware

By Micah Tam

Staff Writer

Though America is usually referred to as a “melting pot” of different races, cultures and ethnicities, cultural ignorance is widespread. According to Chimes, Biola University’s student-run newspaper, “America continues to struggle with cultural ignorance. Some national pride is useful, but too many people take this pride beyond proper proportion and forget that America is only one country in a world filled with nearly 200 different nations.”

Here are five ways you can become more culturally aware:

  • Understand why culture and diversity matters: The Diversity Awareness Partnership, an affiliation of the Greene County Juvenile Office in Springfield, Missouri explains that diversity “teaches us to accept differences in others and look beyond the base emotions of language, culture, gender, race and color…It teaches us to be more open and accepting of things that are different from us and in that process makes us more adaptable and open.”

 

  • Learn about your own history and culture: According to an article from the American Psychological Association, it is important to “get started by exploring your own historical roots, beliefs, and values… Self-assessment makes participants realize the pervasive role culture plays in their lives… It also makes people aware of their own biases while sparking open-minded curiosity about other cultures.”                

             Want a way to know about your personal culture? Take this quiz!

 

  • Adopt a flexible attitude: Be motivated to get to know people who have different cultures than you. Keep an open mind when talking to people, and don’t be surprised or disgusted when they show differences from you (whether it be behavior, speech pattern, etc.).  As when you talk to anyone, be respectful and cordial. Remember that we are all humans in the end, just with some differences in what we believe and the ways of our rituals. Also, keep this in mind when talking to people who want to explore your culture as well.

 

  • Check your assumptions: Assuming things about other people can be dangerous. Not only does it cause misunderstandings, but it keeps you from learning more about different things and people, causing close-mindedness. For example, don’t believe in common stereotypes about different races and cultures. Even if there might be “some truth to it,” it’s best to take it with a grain of salt. According to S. Chris Edmonds from The Purposeful Culture Group, “Seek multiple sources for facts… Learn from opposing viewpoints… Don’t trust labels.” Make sure facts support your belief. The main thing that can help check your assumptions are concrete facts. The key thing to exploring other cultures is remembering that assumptions are one of the major reasons why there is such a disconnect between people. Yes, letting go of some assumptions might be hard. But in the end, the amount of culture that you can absorb is more fruitful.

 

  • Celebrate diversity: This can be as easy as visiting a museum dedicated to other cultures or planning an international movie night. (Find a museum near you here.) Every culture is unique in its own way, and there is so much depth to each one that can be explored. Anything that can help you immerse yourself in a new experience can celebrate diversity. Remember to spread love rather than hate, and open your mind by taking a step back from yourself and seeing a new perspective.  

 

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Students learn to appreciate their culture in the Bay Area

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