Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Post-Colonial Life

I've been reading some critical essays on life in the post-colonial world. There have been some difficult questions raised about both political and personal identity; and if these are necessarily connected to the patch of ground/nation/region to which a person belongs. The other question is if these "roots" are severed what is the impact on the personal identity? Is it beneficial to retain the cultural roots of a home that you no longer occupy?

One of the critic-poets argues that yes, you can remain true to "your roots" and still make changes. But the solution offered is very difficult; it basically calls for people to not allow themselves to be pulled into the conflict. A "leave the past behind" attitude. While you don't have to forget the people who died, you shouldn't fight on in their name.

This sounds good in theory, doesn't it? But, can it really apply to places like Rwanda? (or Ireland, or practically anywhere that there has been conflict between cultures, which is exactly the entire globe.) Basically, the critic would be telling the people who suffered the most: ok, just move on. (of course, this is a gross simplification) I'm not sure practically how that would work on a grand scale. On a small scale, it's possible. It is possible on an individual level to forgive and move on. But on a large scale? I don't have faith that this would work.

Another argues that the trying to cling to these "pasts" is damaging, especially for the second generation who might end up lost in the limbo between two cultures and often two languages.
Another claims that living "without roots" is, in fact, a self-imposed silence. That's dangerous too, right?

The most popular option for navigating this seems to be "hybridity," which seems great if you're from the dominant culture: I'll appreciate some of your culture and you can appreciate some of mine. But how long will it before the other culture is so watered down that it disappears?

Even though I've lived in the same country my entire life, I still think about these ideas as applicable to my own life. I like the thought of being connected to a history, a heritage. But, I haven't inherited many traditions from my family's country of origin. Our family has been here too many generations and by my parent's time they are all gone. Occasionally, one of my folks will mention their grandparents doing this or that, baking a particular treat, eating a certain food. But all the tradition (how & why) of these has been lost to time. And we move, a lot. Probably more than the "average American," although it seems our culture is getting more adept with the moving boxes every year.

And of course, the post-colonial theory is very applicable to the US today. I've lived across the country where there are some traditions left; and we've known many people from a myriad of cultural backgrounds. (One of our family's favorite meals is a Japanese type of curry that a friend from Hawaii shared with us. Another is a particular (regional) way of making pinto beans that is so much better than any other Mexican-style I'd had, taught to me by a friend from Mexico.) I try to make some 1st generation traditions for my boys, too. (Chinese food on Halloween, anyone?) (Yes, most of these traditions *are* involving food here, because they're the quickest to describe & relate to. [I guess I get a little frustrated too with how many of our American traditions are dictated to us by the corporate world through super-saturation in advertising. Chex Mix, anyone? But that's probably a topic better left for another day.])

Perhaps an effective thing to do, instead of demanding that people mold themselves to one American ideal is just to live and let be. But can this work politically, as well? Doesn't it still lead people to an us vs. them mindset? What does America want? appears to be the question on all the politicians' tongues. What America are they talking about? There must be a million versions of America and each of them wants something different. Good luck answering that question.

So, I'm left to consider how to go about living the best I can in this complicated world and hoping that we each can individually discover a way to go about living peacefully and interacting one with another.

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