Originally published on December 25, 2017 on my old blog, Roses and Jannah.
As a diversity enthusiast who loves to learn about and explore different cultures from around the world but at the same doesn’t have enough money, time, and energy to actually travel to the sources of all these different cultures, I do whatever I can to be able to experience them without having to cross long distances. I love to befriend people from different countries and learn about them and their ways of life. It’s always interesting to interact with people who have different backgrounds from me, and find what we have in common among our differences. It’s also super cool, as I get sort of a “first-hand” source of the cultures from which my friends, especially my international friends, are from. In addition, I try to take advantage of the cultural resources available to me, such as TV shows, movies, music and books from the cultures I intend to learn more about. I also try to get more experience about these cultures through one of everyone’s most favorite things: food!
However, despite the different ways in which I immerse myself with elements of the cultures that I am intrigued by, I’m not sure whether any of that will ever be enough to actually capture the true essence of what it is like to be integrated into each specific culture. It’s one thing for an “outsider” like myself to attempt to experience and perceive these cultures, and it’s another thing for a person actually from the cultures to have the “true set” of experiential knowledge of growing up or living with their original cultures. And more interestingly so, there are cultures within cultures, so even when you attempt to explore the country of a certain country, there are “subcultures” within the common cultural facets of that country, as there are within those subcultures; there are various cultures within among the provinces, and even more cultures within the areas of those provinces.
When I do have the opportunity to travel to other places, I feel like this outside-insider phenomena still applies. Although I will still be able to immerse myself in the source of the cultures themselves especially with regards to geographical elements, I still will never understand what it is like to grow up or live in and with the actual cultures in the points of view of the people who did or continue to do so. No matter how large my interactions and experiences within that culture are, I will still never get more than a glimpse into these cultures except through the lens of my own experiences and perceptions from the cultures integrated into my being.
That being said, I still try to take knowledge and the limited perceptions that whatever small or large glimpses my opportunities for cultural experiences have to offer. For example, I am in an organization for Latina and Hispanic students in my university. I am not Latina myself, but I have been attracted to the vibrancy and beauty of whatever specks of light I saw from their cultures through media and my limited interactions with Latina and Hispanic people themselves. However, wanting to expand on my knowledge and experience on Latina and Hispanic cultures, I set out to discover this club where I would actually be able to expose myself in these intriguing cultures through interacting with Latina and Hispanic people themselves. After being in the organization for more than a year so far, I can say that I am blessed to have been surrounded by the familial, loving, welcoming and accepting vibes that the people of this organization have to offer to all. I always enjoy being in the atmosphere which is filled with fun and excitement, stemming from the love the members have for each other. I love learning about the cultures of different Latina countries, and viewing the unity between Latina students, and how they extend their love and relationships towards people like myself outside of the Latina cultures. However, once again, it is important for me to note and keep in mind that my experiences are definitely not comprehensive of Latino cultures. I didn’t grow up as a Latina woman, and nor was I exposed much to their vibrant cultures before coming to college; therefore, I only have the experiences as an American woman who grew up in the United States carrying Muslim and Bangladeshi value alongside her American ones alongside whatever other vast experiences I had.
This past semester, I also decided to join the Bangladeshi students association at my university. At first, I was hesitant to be a part of this organization as I wasn’t sure how I would fit in and establish relationships with the members of this organization, which was comprised mostly of students who had grown up in Bangladesh prior to coming to college, and consisted of a majority of graduate students when compared to the amount of undergraduates like myself. However, I knew that I wanted to become more in touch which the culture from which I did not grow up in, but from which values much of my perceptions and values stemmed from. Bangladeshi culture has always been a significant part of my life, intermixing with the significance of my American identity.
Although reluctant at first to join, I came through and was delighted to become a member. I participated in a cultural dance performance to a few Bangladeshi songs, while wearing Bangladeshi attire. The atmosphere in which I participated in brought back the familiarity and memories of the cultural dance performances I took part in when I was younger–of the environment where people were culturally informal with each other and befriended one another through the connection of dance and the cultural foundations of our dance steps. Except, this time was different compared to the times when I was a child. There were subcultures within the culture of Bangladeshi dance groups. When I was in third grade, the dance practices consisted of me dancing with girls who were usually a few grades above me, and were led by a single teacher, who also happened to be a family friend. This aunty breathed colors into her life with each dance move, exhibiting her passion for the art. In comparison, while it seems from my memory the rest of the girls enjoyed the dance, I, for one, did not. I waited impatiently for breaks as I begrudgingly forced myself to perform step after step. Now, in this semester, I chose to participate in this dance performance because I wanted to; I was excited about participating in this dance. I enjoyed the practices, and willingly thrust my willingness into the sweet beats of the music. And rather than being led by a single teacher who was an aunty to us, we had an apu, or an elder sister who danced gracefully to the rhythms as she taught us the steps. I felt a deeper connection with the young women I danced with, closer to my maturity and age.
This association for Bangladeshi students in the American university I attend is a subculture of Bangladeshi people. The ways of interaction and practicing dance in our university’s Bangladeshi organization is another culture within the culture of our Bangladeshi students association. Next semester, I plan to become an active member of the Korean students organization of my university, and maybe even the Japanese students association, as well. I want to continue surrounding myself in multiple different colors of humanity that defines the rainbows of life.