One night in 2012, my friend and flatmate coerced me into playing guitar on Passeig del Born; that's me in the picture, and to my left, our bartender friend from Bar El Born:)
It's moments and memories like these that have really fueled the writing of my current work in progress, Heads or Tails*. Here's a part two of a post on culture clash and how it's also been an inspiration to all my writing.*
Yoga: part of one culture that became part of many cultures
When I began practicing yoga, it was just beginning to surge in popularity here in the United States in the 90’s. As the years went on, yoga pants were invented, different styles of yoga were developed, and the idea that one can appropriate parts of another culture began to rise.
It’s true: culture can be misrepresented, misunderstood, and misused. But on the flip side, culture is born of mixing, conflict, sharing, inspiration, and yes, sometimes a sort of appropriation. The word appropriation indicates a sort of stealing - but is culture something that is owned, something that can be stolen? Maybe even something that can be borrowed?
I’m an example of this cultural mixing, conflict, and sharing: I am Filipina, which is an ethnicity that has, for centuries, been mixing with other ethnicities and cultures. Even the language, Tagalog, has absorbed elements of other languages, so much that the modern form of it is now referred to simply as ‘Filipino.’ What it means to be Filipino these days is to be proudly mixed, eclectic, and absorbent of other cultures via the cuisine, language, and lifestyle.
So let’s just say I shy away from defining culture as something that is pure and only correct in its unbroken, long-held traditions. Perhaps this is why I really came to love yoga - I knew that it was exotic and foreign at one time, but not because it didn’t apply to other cultures. Once it expanded beyond India, many realized that the heart of yoga is universal. As Swami Satchidananda and the Integral Yoga sangha say, “Truth is one; paths are many.” Swami Satchidananda was just one of many gurus and teachers that have claimed that yoga can be practiced by anyone, from any cultural or religious background. In this light, no one viewpoint, religion, or spiritual path is the only one for all people.
Culture clash on a macro and micro scale
This is where culture clash comes in: because many people of different cultures hold the view that their culture is the best or the most correct way to live. It’s exclusive, confining, and has more to do with social pressures around what one should do as defined by long-held tradition (and things that are long-standing are not always best or morally correct).
On a smaller scale, though, families can have this type of clash. I grew up in a mini-culture clash since my parents were born in the Philippines, yet I was born in a liberal, free-spirited town in California. My parents only wanted the best for me, but they expected me to follow their cultural norms, but every time I stepped outside our home, I entered into American culture. Which culture won the battle for my attention?
Actually, they both had an influence on me. I am neither fully American, nor fully Filipina and I find that so fascinating. I know there are so many others like me, and that’s what drives me to write about this meeting point between cultures.
I’m not saying that Filipino culture has had no value for me; on the contrary, it’s brought some depth to my world view, but it was never destined to be my sole influence. So, I started wondering, aside from culture and ethnicity, who am I? On a deep level? Or on the highest level?
Who am I, beyond my culture and ethnicity?
That’s where yoga comes in, because even though it’s from a different culture, it’s more of a spiritual approach to life, not merely a cultural one.
But, my parents didn’t have access to yoga growing up or even throughout much of their adult lives. They raised me with what they had, which was their culture and their religion (Catholicism). That is what they had to offer me, besides economic security. All these things they raised me with did have value, but there was something missing to breach the gap between the culture of their upbringing and the culture they were raising me in. Their way of life didn’t explain to me everything I was experiencing. Parents don’t always know what challenges their children will meet; lifestyles change, the world changes, and the new generation faces things their parents never could have imagined. Sometimes the life knowledge gained by the older generation doesn’t apply anymore, and in my case, it wasn’t just a clash of culture: it was also a clash between generations. Here’s a little excerpt from my first novel, Erased by the Tide, that touches upon this idea:
“I think of the Footprints story. My version would also have me facing one set of footprints going off into the distance. They are my footprints coming towards me up until this moment. Then I would turn 180 degrees to find smooth sand with no footprints. This spooks me until I realize that this must be what the future looks like. I look around, and there are not even the footprints of other people. I think of what Daniel said about following in the footsteps of my elders, but how can I if I want to go forward? They haven’t walked into the future any more than I have.”
So I left behind the religion of my childhood. I was raised Catholic, but somewhere around the age of 18, I told my dad that I wasn’t Catholic anymore. When he asked why, I told him that I didn’t believe that Jesus was our savior; I told him I respected the teachings of Jesus, but that being Christian or Catholic wasn’t the only way.
I know, right now I sound either like an atheist or a New Age Hippie and I assure you, it’s more the latter than the former. Just learn a bit about where I grew up and you’ll agree that I must have been immersed in hippie culture and the art of tree hugging. This all sort of complicates my origins, in my opinion. Had my parents immigrated from the Philippines to the Midwest, or to the East Coast, I would have easily been a very different person.
Which brings me to the point that within a culture, there are subcultures. Within America, there are all the different types of Americans, and it’s more than just a melting pot; people from a given ethnicity or race or culture aren’t bound to their parents’ or grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ culture, at least not by the larger society in the U.S. (though they might be pressured by their families to carry on precious tradition).
This type of cultural freedom can be inspiring, challenging, terrifying, enlightening, and in some ways, spiritual. You start wondering, ‘Who am I, apart from culture, religion, my job status, my past experiences?’ In my work in progress, Heads or Tails, this is the driving question as we follow the story of an American expat in Barcelona.
Stay tuned for part 3 of this post, as well as some other excerpts from the novel I’m working on now, Heads or Tails.