19 October 2013

culture of origin

Here is a story about perceptions - a story because it may not be all true.  It's not the story of where I come from, but the story of where I think I come from, which is what makes the greatest deal of difference.


Having been born and experienced my early childhood in central California in the Silicon Valley, I am still used to rectangular concrete buildings, friendly neighbors, and suburbs built for biking.  Its open-home culture has greatly influenced my family’s culture and stuck with us even after the past fourteen years spent in the Pacific Northwest.  It was a shift experienced by many families in the 1990s as computer engineers like my father were drawn to the Microsoft headquarters. Several of those families were our previous neighbors and friends, slowing down the process of adapting to Washington culture, especially for us kids. 

My impressions of our first years there were of a little-California with evergreens and rain.  As a homeschooler, I lived in the walls of my family and church. Culture didn't yet exist as a category in my mind. The only difference I perceived in the people was a propensity to not open their doors when you knocked and a look of obligation from new neighbors as you handed them a loaf of banana bread. Soon after our pool of acquaintances expanded to include a family from the South. Suddenly, I began to see that another code of living existed, and one which let you in its doors.  Their speech was distinct enough to call my attention to it, but rather than seeming strange, it led my curiosity to discover that they interacted differently as well. They created distance with formal titles, but everyone, no matte their place in the structure, was welcome to scrunch onto the couch until breathing room was gone.  Where our neighbors’ arms were closed, theirs were open. 

Then came private school. My world turned upside down and backwards as I tried to cope with a barrage of rules, words, and folkways I didn't understand. My life became about being different. With no hope of learning enough to get by as one of them, California became an identity where before it had just been a past.  It wasn't until some three years later in high school that I began to identify as Washingtonian, evidenced in conversation starters about the weather, a propensity to look down when walking to class, and the ability to name the mountain ranges even behind the clouds.  Silent neighbors had become normal and we ate all the banana bread we baked. However, it wasn't until I began attending college in the south that I understood my newly-dubbed home culture.  

I discovered that we don’t talk much, but we mean what we say.  Many don’t open their homes, but they congregate for hours in the coffee shop in the nearby city. We don’t touch or talk to strangers, but we look them in the eye. In the South, I found myself cringing at the niceties falling out of people’s mouths which contradicted the look in their eyes. I reveled in the intimacy communicated to me through new acquaintances opening their homes and refrigerators to me, and the number of times I found myself getting a face full of unfamiliar hair from bear hugs.  Now, having spent three years here, I can barely label these scraps of action  with where they came from. They're just me. My speech proves an apt example. While its cadence is Seattle in texture with its mid-thought pauses and Canadian-influenced vowels, have me open a front door to welcome in guests and forget the diphthongs. Not to mention my propensity to touch, smile, and bake my way into friendships.  

1 comment :

Hannah! said...

I love you, dear friend. I miss you and I love hearing about your life in your beautifully-formed words. Hugs and warm thoughts to you <3

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