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Discussion held on culture and identity

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The Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS) continued their seven-week discussion series on culture and leadership through the lens of Kwanzaa.

On Nov. 1, the fifth discussion of the series was held in the Malcolm X Cultural Center, centered on the principle of “Nia”—preserving culture for future generations. Benjamin Barros, a sophomore chemistry major, led the discussion on how culture is preserved in various ethnic backgrounds.

Much of the discussion centered on how culture thrives in a diverse country like the United States, and how the so called “melting pot” has affected the preservation of cultural identity.

“It happens so much over time, that we see culture change. You change a little bit here, drop a little bit there, like not speaking the language, or not practicing the culture and soon, it’s completely different,” Barros said.

Barros discussed his own background as a Cape Verdean in the United States, and how he didn’t feel as “connected” to his culture and didn’t participate in local events.

“I say I’m Cape Verdean, but I’m also American. It’s about finding how to incorporate all of that,” he said.

Brian Choquet, a sophomore journalism major, added that he felt like the influence culture plays is very much part of someone’s identity. “I don’t associate myself [with my family’s culture]. Just because my family came from there, it doesn’t mean as much to me. It’s about what’s culturally influenced me growing up, and that wasn’t my heritage.”

DeRoy Gordon, a doctoral student in Afro-American Studies and a supervisor for the CMASS discussion, said, “What people do to maintain and sustain these cultures, especially in the African-American communities, is lost over time. Some celebrations, like Juneteenth, are not as well-known as they used to be.” Juneteenth is the celebration of the abolition of slavery in the United States and referenced as a holiday that represents an important cultural touchstone for African-Americans, yet hasn’t received much attention in recent years.

Choquet brought up the example of a family who adopted a South Korean child, gave him a Chinese name and raised him outside of an Asian culture in order to discuss how someone might identify what culture they belong to.

“For adopted children, it can be adopting a culture that your blood doesn’t have a lineage to,” Choquet said.

“If you’re raised in a culture that is different from your actual ethnic culture, which one do you have a right to?” he added. The idea of belonging to a culture was discussed among the group, and how it is often a personal choice whether to participate in a particular cultural group. “It’s often the parents that influence the decision of how much you’re involved in a specific culture,” Barros said.

The role culture plays was ultimately summarized as an important discussion to have in today’s society. “This is a year where a lot of people have been talking about how diversity is what makes America great. We need to talk about how to be all these different cultures under one flag,” Gordon said, “because the U.S. is the first country in history at this level of diversity.”

The sixth discussion in the series will be about the Kwanzaa principle of Kuumba, which means creativity. The discussion will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. in the Malcolm X Community Center.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected]

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