Cultural Identity: If You Don’t Have One, Make One

It would be an understatement to say that my family lacks a cultural identity. The closest habits we have to customs are that we eat a pork roast and potatoes for dinner every Sunday, and we eat cabbage rolls and perogies at Christmas dinner (mostly because they’re tasty and not because of our Ukrainian heritage). My family immigrated to Canada several generations ago and since moving here we have lost touch with much of our cultural and religious heritage and have adapted to a more Western Canadian “culture”. I say “culture” because Canada in general is known for being a multicultural country with no real “core” culture that is considered to be Canadian.

I never really noticed my lack of cultural identity until I entered post-secondary. Once I started attending Douglas College and meeting many international students, I realized that I had never even considered my cultural identity. Although biologically I am part English, Swedish, and Ukrainian, I would never feel comfortable saying that I have any of the cultural traits of those countries. In fact, I’ve never even visited them.

So, I started thinking that since I have no cultural identity to speak of, how did my family come to create the habits and traditions it did? Recently I’ve realized that our habits and tastes were picked up from the people we know and the regions we frequent. For example, although I have lived in the same house for my entire life, my father’s significant other lives in the Vancouver West End. Because I have spent a lot of time there over the years, I have picked up a taste for multicultural food; in particular I love Japanese food and noodles (if you haven’t been to the Legendary Noodle then you haven’t lived). Another example is that my family on my mother’s side lived in Powell River (a small town up the coast of B.C.) for many years, a place where they trusted their neighbours and therefore did not lock their doors until recently.

Admittedly, I do sometimes find myself slightly envious of those who have a strong cultural identity, but, I have come to appreciate how I now have the opportunity to build my own.

How has your family come by its cultural identity? Do you feel as if your cultural identity is always changing as well?

One Comment on “Cultural Identity: If You Don’t Have One, Make One

  1. This is a really interesting article. My family is from jamaica and growing up, I bonded with other children of immigrants over our otherness. But as I got older and visited Jamaica I realized I don’t belong there and don’t feel it is my home, culture or identity. In jamaica they call me foreigner, and in Canada, by virtue of my black skin, they ask me where I’m from (implying certainly not here) and thus also calling me foreigner. Everywhere i am a foreigner. Combined with a canadian upbringing, i feel i have no cultural identity, at least not a strong one. I wonder if the fault of growing up westernized is the sacrifice of a cultural identity?

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