"Your Culture is not Unique"

9 January 2018

By Saaiqa Merali - On a recent trip down the Facebook video rabbit-hole, I came across a vlogger’s take on how cultures are not unique, and frequently borrow from each other. In a world where ‘us and them’ is a constant rhetoric, I feel that similarities should be the bigger focus rather than differences. A simple reason could be that it makes for a more agreeable setting and highlights the fact that we as human beings have more in common than just that: being human beings.

I grew up in an Indian household, in an East-African country, enrolled in a British international school. In hindsight, the medley of cultural influences was inevitable. In 2018, third culture kids (TCK’s) are everywhere, and more normal than ever before; exhibit A: Erasmus University. Meeting young people who speak 3 or more languages is a regular occurrence now, as is the normality of being multicultural. So maybe I’m late to the game with realising how relevant that phrase above is to me and many other people.

Indian food is delightful; if I could afford it, I would be at Curry’s Kralingen every week. It’s the closest thing in Rotterdam to ‘home food’, which is also Indian food but a completely different kind to what restaurants serve. My mum’s cooking is ‘Indian’ to anyone that asks but in reality, it’s a fusion of Indian, Pakistani, Swahili and Arabic food as East African culture contains all four (and more) influences. When the internet became part of her life, mum often tried new recipes, which brought Western cuisine into our family’s diet.

Religion plays a part as well- I was born into a Shi’a Ismaili Muslim family, which meant our family life was heavily influenced by things learnt in the religious community. The history of Ismaili Muslims includes movement within several countries and continents, empires even! This in itself is a great example of how a religious subculture was built upon retaining certain parts of other cultures within its history. Food, music, literature, art and other traditions have been passed down to create what we are living now.

Just like the multiple cuisines I was raised on, these other aspects of culture were varied as well. My taste in music was heavy in Bollywood, Afrobeats, Arabic dance music, American R’n’B and Britpop. Apart from local music, anything that was popular enough to be on MTV was popular enough to make it onto my CDs. This might validate my enjoyment of Dutch rap, much to the surprise of my Dutch friends. The same goes for TV shows and movies. No 90’s or 2000’s Bollywood references are wasted on me, and I feel honoured to have witnessed Shah Rukh Khan’s reign.

While some of these examples will seem oddly specific, an entire generation of TCKs will relate. The friends I grew up with may have had similar experiences, with their own identity crises and random pop culture references, but the blend of many cultures will be evident.

That’s the beauty of it all, especially because many of you reading this have not had the exact same upbringing as I had and yet, some of these examples will seem relatable to you, too.

I do believe that being raised in a multicultural environment has encouraged me to appreciate other cultures more, accepting the similarities as wonderful connections and understanding the differences as opportunities to learn. Now more than ever before, cultural crossovers are a daily occurrence, with social media helping along the discovery of and conversation around how people throughout the world celebrate and live their heritage. This is just one person’s train of thought, perhaps it’ll trigger yours!

To see the vlog, click here!

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