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Identity and Culture

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Identity and culture are two of the basic building blocks of ethnicity. The word “ethnicity” is used to describe a specific population’s characteristics of fundamental aspects that all humans share. When applied loosely, ethnicity becomes a blanket term to define large populations, undermining the worth and the diversity within that group and emphasizing the differences between cultures. Yet those differences come down to matters of preference and socialization within each culture.

In “Constructing Ethnicity”, Joane Nagel talks about the nature of ethnic identity and its relationship to cultural construction in the U. S. Nagel believes that the construction of ethnic boundaries through individual identification, ethnic group formation and official ethnic policies illustrates the ways in which ethnic identities are created. And that cultural constructions assist in the construction of community when they act to define the boundaries of collective identity, establish membership criteria, generate a shared symbolic vocabulary and define a common purpose. Grace Paley supports this view in “The Loudest Voice”.

A story about the involvement of Jewish children in a Christmas play which leads to debate and commentary throughout the Jewish community, where some embrace assimilation into primarily Christian America, while others firmly safeguard the integrity of ethnic and religious identity. Ethnic boundaries are central mechanisms in ethnic construction. Nagel states, “Ethnic boundaries function to determine identity options, membership composition and size, and form of ethnic organization. ” What she is basically telling us here is that ethnic boundaries determine who a member is and who is not.

Paley supports this view in his story. Shirley states, “Ach, Clara,” my father asked, “what does she do there till six o’clock she can’t even put the plates on the table? ” “Christmas”, said my mother coldly. ” This here is an example of ethnic boundary, “religion”. Shirley’s family is Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas as that isn’t part of their religion, which explains why Shirley’s mum is responding in such a manner. To her and other Jewish parents celebrating Christmas is like crossing the ethnic boundary. One of them said, “It’s disgusting! ” Culture is a substance of ethnicity.

It is one of the basic materials used to construct ethnic meaning. Nagel states, “Culture dictates the appropriate and inappropriate content of a particular ethnicity and designates the language, religion, belief system, art, music, dress, traditions, and lifeway that constitute an authentic ethnicity. ” What she is saying here is that culture animates and authenticates ethnic boundaries by providing a system of meaning. Paley supports this view. In his story, Shirley a Jew is to participate in a Christmas play however Christmas is a catholic religion.

Her mother is very surprised at her daughter’s decision, but her father is very supportive of his daughters desire to be in the play. He tells his wife that they are in America now and that she should be a little more open minded. However, all of their neighbors were against their kids participating in the school play. This basically just explains the idea of culture. The Abramowitz culture is different from the American culture. They have different beliefs. Shirley’s father’s says, “it was a certainly beautiful affair you have to admit, introducing us to the beliefs of a different culture.

Culture is constructed by the actions of individuals and groups and their interaction with the larger society. Outside agents and organizations could influence ones ethnicity and culture. According to Nagel, “scholars play a role in cultural construction. ” Academic actors and institutions influence people’s culture and identity especially children and grandchildren of immigrants. For example, native language loss, national language acquisition, decline in traditional religious practices, etc. Paley supports this view.

The Abramowitz are Jews that moved to the U. S. and adopted the dominant culture. Shirley who goes to school there learns English and even gets the lead role in a Christmas play. Shirley states, “I climbed out of bed and kneeled. I made a little church of my hands and said, hear, O Israel…” This shows the adoption of a new belief, Christianity influenced by external forces that shape the options and attractiveness of various cultures and beliefs. In this case, Shirley embraces assimilation into primarily Christian America.

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