In this day and age, the world seems to be getting smaller. Though not in the sense that you’re constantly running into your old high school friends at the supermarket. No, the world is becoming smaller and smaller because it is now easier than ever to travel. It is becoming increasingly easy to move to other countries and grow roots there. Whereas before, people had to go on dangerous journeys that took weeks or even months.
This was especially so to go from one continent to another. Nowadays, you can hop on a plane and be on the other side of the world in a few hours. It’s also never been more important to travel. Due to the south becoming more and more unstable, people are packing their bags and leaving. The dream of a better life is moving people towards emigration. Many immigrants are not moving due to those extreme situations but due to other reasons.
Sadly, no matter the case, immigrants themselves are always significantly impacted by moving from one country to another. This is due to one thing: culture. Cultural differences are what makes it both exciting and challenging to settle into a new country. It can have long-lasting psychological effects on the people who participate in this kind of ‘culture shock.’ But before we get into what that is, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page by defining some terms.
What is Culture in The First Place?
‘Culture’ is a tricky term to define because it presents all around us. Yet, sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish it, especially for people who are native to that culture and have therefore grown up thinking it’s normal. In a nutshell, culture refers to the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a group of people or society. You can see this everywhere, on a large scale like countries and continents, and a much smaller scale like offices. ‘Office culture,’ for example, refers to how people who work together in an office dress, talk to each other and interact.
In terms of immigration, we can distinguish between the immigrants’ native culture’ (meaning the one they grew up in) and the ‘dominant culture’ present in the country they move to. Let’s take a Mexican immigrant, for example. Suppose they grew up in certain parts of Mexico. In that case, they’re probably used to greeting their relatives with a kiss, being open about their feelings, eating foods heavily based on meat and dough, and listening to Latin music. This is the person’s native culture. For example, if this person immigrates to Switzerland, they may be surprised and perhaps shocked by what they see. They’ll notice that no one greets each other with a kiss, that people often talk in their codes, and that they eat entirely different kinds of foods, primarily fish-based.
A Mexican immigrant can get this feeling called ‘culture shock.’ Culture shock is the feeling people get from experiencing new social traditions and rules. Such cases of culture shock can vary from mild like our hypothetical Mexican immigrant to the extreme, which is the case of people who escape North Korea to live in South Korea. One man who grew up in a reeducation camp reported feeling hopeless and alone upon relocating to South Korea. Even though he was living in much better circumstances, he couldn’t understand the people around them or why they acted in the way they did. Nothing made sense to him. But why was he so overwhelmed? And how did other people react to his arrival? This leads us to our next topic.
The Concept Of ‘The Other’
Since the dawn of time, humans have feared strangers and, in general, the unknown. It’s an instinctive fear within us to be cautious of new and therefore different from us. This fear translates to different cultures as well. When we meet people, who grew up in other parts of the world and therefore had slightly different customs, traditions, and beliefs, we develop this sense of ‘the other,’ that is to say, inherently different from us.
Sometimes, this ‘other’ can be seen as exotic and desirable. Many people (mainly white people) travel to faraway cultures to interact with people who do things differently than they do. People can often get bored of their native culture and feel like they don’t fit in. These people end up packing their bags and going to different places to study and adopting new cultures. However, it is essential not to let this desire turn into a need to appropriate certain aspects of another person’s culture without knowing their significance. This is what leads to cultural appropriation.
What Is Cultural Appropriation?
While many people may tell you this is a myth, it’s not. We see it in media so much over the years that we’ve grown accustomed to it, and it has even destroyed some people’s lives. In a nutshell, cultural appropriation is when members of a dominant culture (such as white people) adopt some aspects from a minority culture (such as native Americans) without understanding the cultural significance that they hold.
An example of this is the controversy from Victoria’s Secret’s models wearing Native American headdresses. Native American people protested this so-called fashion choice. The headdresses that the models were wearing (called war bonnets) are headwear traditionally worn by male leaders of tribes who earned their place in the hierarchy through much strain and suffering. This is why Native American people consider it inappropriate for white people to wear war bonnets. They are a powerful symbol in their community, and white people wearing them implies that aspects of their culture are ready to take, just like their land.
Does that mean you can no longer wear Japanese-inspired clothing and listen to Latin music if you don’t belong to these cultures? No, of course not. The key to diffracting between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is intent. Suppose you wear Japanese-inspired clothing because you genuinely love the artistry in it. You are also supporting a business that Japanese people run.
In that case, you’re not appropriating their culture. You’re doing a good thing which is showing your deep appreciation for something that you consider beautiful. However, if you’re a corporation and you roll out a new publicity campaign. In that campaign, you use Japanese-inspired art made by non-Japanese artists.
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Using Japanese-inspired art made by non-Japanese artists for the sake of appealing to the Asian market, then you are appropriating their culture. You’re taking aspects of a culture that aren’t your own. You are using them to generate profits that never reach those communities. At the same time, you are also ignoring the darker aspects of that culture’s history.
After all, how would you feel if someone broke into your house, stole your valuables, and left behind all the trash and dirty plates? This is what cultural appropriation feels like to members of minority cultures.
The Positive and Negative Impacts of Culture on People
Speaking of minority cultures, a good question would be how it is like for someone moving to a new country? How dosed this shift impact them psychologically? Well, according to specialists, it all depends on the context around the move. Someone moving to a different country to study or pursue business opportunities has fewer chances of having adverse mental health problems.
The initial move will probably bring anxiety and stress to someone who was forced. This will be the case, especially while the person learns and figures out how to behave. Once the person moves, they’ll be happy they decided to migrate. This person will probably make many new friends and partake in many aspects of the culture.
Shifts as violent as having to move could negatively impact their mental health. Many immigrants who come from underdeveloped nations report feeling more anxious and depressed. This can be because this person lost someone they love or have trouble adapting to their new home. While this may seem bleak, it’s important to remember that humans are the most adaptable species on Earth. All people have the potential to change and adapt; they need time to figure out how.
Cultural differences impact all of us. Chances are you know someone who is an immigrant in your country or that you’re an immigrant yourself. In either case, you can probably be sympathetic towards other people’s struggles. Understand their struggle to adapt culturally to a new place and help them out of they need it.