Race and culture have always been sensitive topics given the rise in racial discrimination in the recent past. This prompted me to carry out a study on various aspects of culture and levels of discrimination that are common in the society today. In addition to the above, I highly anticipate that this study – which was basically handled through live interview – will open up some salient issues that culturally diverse people face in different communities. Chung – not real name of the 19 year old Korean origin – will therefore form the basis of this case study.
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The aspect of culture draws a lot more in people to a large extent than I had initially imagined before this case study. Chung arrived into the United States four years ago with his mother and dropped out of school because of his inability to make friends. This was because of language barrier and conflict in culture. Culture plays a pivotal in personal identity. This is reflected not only through my language but also through a list of other related activities that defines the cultural identity of an individual. The homogenous population of the Korean Republic shares a common ethnic, cultural and language historical background unlike the American or the Chinese culture. The Korean people are thus more likely to view themselves as a group of people sharing a common destiny. This is because of the cultural aspects that they consider as more important than other cultures. The cultural identity of the Korea is reflected and defined through the oppressive colonial rule of the Japanese.
The Kimchi, an artifact that Chung brought on the second day of the interview was a meticulously carved walking stick. One side was painted beautifully with the Korean national colors while the other side was meticulously carved art of an old man. The artifact was a strong indication on the culture of Chung as a believer in the ancestors. This was a true representation of his grandfather who was a village elder decades back. The belief was that leadership was an inherited trait and so the walking stick has been passed down from one generation to the other. This artifact was inherited by Chung from his grandfather and resembled not only the respect for older generations but also depicted the belief in ancestral powers.
Family is considered as the basic unit in the Korean culture and plays a pivotal role in the social fabric of the Korean society. This is because Chung emphasized on the importance of family in defining the cultural identity of an individual. The most important person in the life of an individual of a young Koran man is the father, followed by the mother and then brothers and sisters. The family unit thus plays a central role in the definition of the Korean identity. The people in Chung’s family identified themselves through the turbulent history shared together in the politics of Korea. This is why it is very easy for the Koreans to form strong social bonds amongst themselves than along different cultures. The family therefore forms a microcosm of the Korean culture in that it mirrors the various aspects of the Koran culture. It is through firm family values that a young person begins to appreciate the bonds that have been natured through history and the importance of blood relations.
In addition to the family, the Korean culture takes great consideration of their language as a very important in the definition of their cultural identity. As opposed to the United States and the China, the language of Korea descended from the language of the Silla kingdom that is the unifying factor behind the Peninsula in the 17th Century. Language affinity thus forms a fundamental factor in the cultural identity of the Koreans. Chung explained bitterly that language barrier formed one of the main reasons behind his ability to make friends in school and to culturally integrate within the American culture. The cultural practices that remain entrenched in the Korean culture include a long list of the Korean festival and holidays that traces their roots from the agrarian culture. Some are held according to the lunar calendar and determines the meanings and customs of the Korean culture. These cultural practices include the Yudu, Dano and Hansik.
Furthermore, the Lunar New Year (Seol-nal in Korean) has been regarded as a much more important celebration in the Korean culture. The Lunar New Year holiday is characterized by the gathering around the families in their hometowns and traditions of food preparations and ancestor worship takes center stage in the celebrations. This festivity entrenches the important role of the father as the head of family. The children are required to live according to the rules and regulations that govern the family and the society. These include giving enough respect to the parents and the older generations.
The people in Chung’s world are his parents and friends back home who share with him the same cultural background. His inability to connect with American friends has made him unable to share his experiences. Some aspects such as teen drinking in the United States clash with his culture and as such demonstrate a strong disconnection with his Korean background. In addition to the above, the clash in culture was strongly evident in the language differences. The Korean language possesses the polite and honorific aspects especially when addressing an older member of the community as opposed to the American language in which very little of that exists.
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His hatred for racial discrimination developed in school where a group of his American classmates made racist gestures against him because of his inability to communicate fluently in English. While the incident was not so big, Chung believes strongly that discrimination exists in the American society. His experience in school was not good enough and he eventually dropped out. In addition to constants feeling of loneliness, Chung felt discriminated against because of his culture. While his mother and step-father emphasized the importance of school and encouraged him to work hard, the school environment was hostile that he found it hard to integrate himself in school and feel the homely atmosphere he was accustomed to in Korea. His step father’s attempt to help him with his homework and teach him basics in English language did not bear fruits because of the hatred he had developed against the American culture.
The curriculum was a very different to that in Korea. As a young man, basic skills in life such as martial arts skill (Taekwondo) are predominant unlike the American culture in which the curriculum is almost entirely composed of academic work. While there was no specific policy in Iowa that directly impacted on the identity of Chung, he believed that America could do more to their land a better place for people with different cultural backgrounds. His belief is that he will one day find a friend who share with him the same cultural identity.