Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Culture vs. Nation

One of the things that has been smacking me in the face for the last few days is the difference between the maintenance of a culture and it's heritage as opposed to nationalism.

Does it happen to you that the same topic keeps coming up over and over sometimes?

Anyway, it all started when I was discussing Halloween with one of my students who is shall we say, quite nationalistic. He was polite and said that he was concerned about the maintenance of his culture and traditions, there is a festival the same night here normally but the kids frankly prefer Halloween. Now. This is not a simple thing. I come from Canada as most of you know, which is not exactly a nation that is aiming at world dominance, however we share many cultural traits with our neighbours to the south, whose government's aims about world dominance can sometimes provoke a little, um, hesitation in others. Halloween gets bundled into all of this political tension. The man I am talking to during this conversation has also been through a civil war, has had his language and culture banned and is still living within a nation he does not consider his own, and from which it would be against the law for the province to leave. It is, I am told, in the constitution of the nation, or whatever document fills that roll, that should any of the independent groups withing Spain chose to leave, they will be occupied by the military. And it has happened within these peoples lives.

A certain sensitivity to the maintenance of cultural traditions is understandable.




where do we draw the line here between nationalism, which for me is frankly a dirty word, and preservation of traditions. Now, I am a Bahá'í which is a religion if you haven't heard of it as many of you haven't, there is a link there and on the side bar...anywhoo, one of the central principles of the faith is profound importance of our recognition of the unity of humanity while still maintaining, respecting and treasuring the richness of our diversity.

This tips easily into nationalism. Another friend here, also deeply nationalistic, went to London recently and was delighted to see the diversity there and the range of people who were interacting...I wish his English were better, or my Catalan, so that I could ask him more about how this all dovetails together in his head....I am not being clear here...he has also invited us as a family to join a local group celebrating and supporting some of the local traditions...even though we are Canadians. Which is lovely of him, they also need bodies...but still, his Catalonia clearly is a place that has a language, fiercely defends it's rights to maintain that language and culture, yet includes anyone who cares to join and learn. At the same time, he is offended that some people working in a local restaurant were paid the same as he is, he being both a local and a Catalan, but once we teased it out past the language problems, his issue was that many of these people cannot speak Catalan, and don't care to learn...if they learnt it, they should be paid the same. He believes, probably rightly, that he has more skills than they, and so should be paid more accordingly. He also wants to spend the summer in London improving his English and getting to know the place and the next summer in Paris for the same reason with French. He seems to be dancing the line between cultural protection and Nationalism smoothly, though some might well argue with him.

There are Catalans who believe that you are Catalan if you can speak the language. I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams, anyone considering me Catalan. My kids, maybe, me? Sorry, I cannot picture it. Ask me in a decade if we are still here, but for now? Seems impossible. Catalan-ness, unlike being Canadian seems to be more than a language and a locale, a piece of paper, here I am again trying to draw the line between culture and nationhood....it's a slippery place and narrow to wander through.

It's fascinating to explore though...

It is also fascinating to look at it through the window of the Catalan experience as opposed to the immigrant/native dynamic that we get in the Americas.

So, am I polluting the local kids by doing introducing Halloween or no?

......later.........one of the women I know here told me that her son decided that he didn't want to do confirmation, no problem with her. Then he said he wanted to do Hanukkah. She had never heard of it (That Spanish Inquisition thing was VERY thorough). He had seen about it in a movie and thought that any event that got you a present every day for ten days had to be pretty good. An open-minded and opportunistic kid. I did my best to tell her the story behind it, clarified a few details for her around the number of days, the fact that it was an annual event of marginal religious significance compared to most of the Jewish holidays and explained to her that the presents are usually small. Still, he may well think that it is a great idea. Again, an interesting intersection of cultures. One of the things that is new here is having immigrants in any number. For a very long time Spain was mostly a place of emigration. This is a new experience that seems to be largely welcomed with curiosity and friendliness. But this is, as you would expect, not universal.

.....later still.....one of the Mom's came up to me after school very happy about the party. Her daughter had had a marvelous time, and she took her pumpkin home with her which they used, lit, as a centerpiece for their Tots Sants celebration. She was quite happy to blend both traditions.

I think there are probably as many variations of the answer to this tension as there are people, but if we can find an ability to share an interest in and respect for the cultures that we meet along the way, coupled with an understanding of the importance to each of their own traditions we'll probably come out all right.


Sirdar said...

That is pretty interesting. It is neat to hear about the different cultures around the world. One never really understands the culture unless you live within it.

In a lot of ways Canada is a very diverse nation. I am fortunate to work with many people who come from other countries. One of the things they always tell me is how friendly Canadians are. I love hearing that. We have a great culture within our company. Then there is Quebec......

Beth said...

Excellent thought-provoking post.
My hope is that different cultures can learn to mingle traditions and preserve what is unique to each at the same time. A pipe dream?

Boo and Trev said...

Good post. I know exactly what you mean. When does nationalism stop and fascism begin

oreneta said...

Sidar: It's a lot of why I travel...

Beth: I hope so too...maybe not a pipe dream.

Boo and Trev: yes indeed.....and thank you

dawn said...

I missed this post the other day when I was going to and fro, so came back to it. An interesting post. I think we have a bit of an advantage being Canadian, as we are exposed to many cultures and customs growing up. It is hard to change, to accept someone else's ways, and a think it has a lot to do with fear of the unknown and fear of losing oneself to that unknown.

Helen said...

We have a similar thing in Wales. The Welsh regard themselves as a separate nation, with a very separate language and a number of separate cultural traditions. They were conquered by the big brother next door (England) in 1400 and something and have been fighting back literally and culturally ever since. Now there is a recognition of the separation with the Welsh Assembly Government, and more control over how Wales is run and what the money is spent on. The language is not key however because Brian and my kids don't speak Welsh but are Welsh - especially at rugby matches.