Tag Archives: Cultural Identity

Losing Our Traditions

In a recent post I wrote about character differences between Americans and Brits.  Such subjects are always fraught with peril.  Reflecting on it, I may have made it sound like all Englishmen are passively sitting around doing nothing about the problems of daily life, while all Americans are tackling their daily problems head on.  That’s not the case, of course.  I have a very deep respect for the British people which stems, in part, from how they defended the rest of humanity from the Nazis for two years while being bombed.  I admire that they (in general) place a greater emphasis on the common good rather than on individual rights, as we Americans do.  That’s why they have the NHS and sensible gun laws and public footpaths.

Culture is so complicated.  I attended a wedding this weekend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the bride and groom were both Native American.  Everyone in my family was excited to attend an Indian wedding.  But the bride, my niece, is Ojibway, while the groom is a member of a Pacific Northwest tribe.  She is also half Mexican-American, and he is half Scottish-American.  So what kind of Indian wedding would it be, and how would the other strains of ancestry be acknowledged?

They did a beautiful job of covering all the bases.  The music featured native drumming, a bagpiper, a Mexican-American singer and string orchestra, and a Motown trio.  The bride wore a white dress and stilettos and the groom wore a tux—with moccasins and a leather headband with eagle feathers.

At the end of the 10-minute ceremony performed by my cousin under the authority granted him free online as a Universal Life Church Minister, the couple were draped with an Indian blanket.  The meal included salmon and huckleberry jam flown in from Portland, Oregon.  A scholar read a wedding blessing in Ojibway.  An elder from the Pacific Northwest spoke about the sacredness of water, land, and animals.  The bride read a list of all the ethnic identities in attendance, including a dozen Native tribes and a dozen European ancestries.

The bar was open for one hour, maybe in recognition of all the alcoholics and recovering alcoholics in attendance—of all ethnicities.

The venue was the fantastic Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by a Spanish architect.

This made me wonder, what culture would my son or my nieces or nephews focus on, if at all, at their weddings?  I raised my son in the Jewish faith and community but he has no longer has any belief or affiliation.  None of us have any direct connections to our European ancestors.  What are we?  Americans, of course.  But what kind?  Who is our tribe?  What are our values and traditions?  We read the New York Times, listen to National Public Radio, and don’t feel unpatriotic driving Japanese or German cars.  I don’t see how any of that would play out at a wedding, but I’m sure my creative younger relatives will think of something.

Lynn and I arrived in Shaftsbury after circling the wrong roundabout three times, then circling the right one another three times.

“It looks like there’s a wedding here,” I observed as we pulled into the hotel parking lot.  There were a lot of dressed-up people milling about.  Then I saw the hearse.

“What a strange place to hold a funeral,” Lynn commented.

The Royal Chase Hotel was billed as a historic 18th Century monastery but it had been stripped of all character and was now just another Best Western hotel.  It was basic; it was fine; we wouldn’t be spending much time in it anyway.  That’s what you tell yourself when you arrive at a hotel that’s seen better days, right?

But it was true.  We loved Shaftsbury and spent most of our two days out and about.  It is home to Gold Hill, site of a Hovis Bread commercial every English person of a certain age remembers.

We walked to the hill, and it was really scenic.  Pictures don’t do it justice.  It was Sunday evening and all the attractions were closed, so sat in silence on a bench at the top of the hill for 20 minutes, enjoying the view.