Can you offer advice as to how to answer "Please tell us more about your cultural background and identity."
I'm a white American with mostly Italian ethnicity. Do I write about my mom's Italian cooking or possibly our yearly tradition of making Pizzele cookies (Italian cookies) or possibly more about being an American? Any suggestions would be helpful.
This question sounds like it is really asking, "What makes you, YOU?" It wants you to answer this question using information about your cultural background to explain how culture makes you who you are.
So any cultural tradition or activity that you feel has helped to shape who you are would be appropriate to include in your response. If you don't feel that making Italian cookies has helped to shape who you are, then don't include it. If it has, however, by all means add that part in.
You can talk about being split between two cultural identities. Many Americans are split between a country of heritage and the United States. You might consider spending about 50 words talking about your Italian heritage and then the last 50 or so talking about what makes you American.
Whatever you write, make sure it is authentic. That is, don't talk about stuff you don't know anything about. Write about real experiences in your own life that have helped make you who you are.
Start with your cultural/ethnic background: where your ancestors are from, when they came to America, etc. Then discuss how much that background informs your life today. What parts of your ancestors' culture plays a role in your life and in what ways? And then try to answer how those traditions link and/or conflict with your current American heritage. In considering these conflicts, and with particular attention to your Italian heritage, you might consider addressing the negative stereotypes of Italians in American cinema (i. e., the mafia). This is just one way of comparing your authentic Italian heritage with American popular conception/misconception of that heritage.
You could use this Italian/American comparison to serve as an introduction into your identity. Discuss what you think identity is. Is your identity limited to notions of Italian and American? And given the diversity of American identities, how do you classify yourself - at the risk of putting labels on yourself. For instance, if you described yourself to an employer at a job interview, or to someone with whom you're on a first date with, do you construct your identity around your political affiliation, your religious beliefs, your taste in art, music, etc. Then try to link these elements of your identity with your cultural ancestry. Are you progressive, traditional, or a combination of both?
Inasmuch as this writing exercise seems to be about your ancestors and your current American culture, it is also about identity itself and how we think about identity. For some people, they are very much defined by their political beliefs. For others, it has more to do with interests, hobbies, their career, ideas on family, and so on. This is the subjective part and must come from how you define yourself. Identity can be a flexible thing; which is why, politically speaking, a person might define themselves as "independent" in order to indicate that they do not follow a fixed set of beliefs.
Identity is a diverse issue. And the labels used can be useful, misleading, or sometimes difficult.
First of all, you may wish to consider what the real purpose of this assignment is, what motivates it, and for whom it is written as always it is important to consider one's audience.
So, in order to avoid any labeling or stereotyping or misjudgments about yourself by others, you may wish to discuss your "cultural background" as it pertains to your cultural exposure to the Fine Arts: art, architecture, music, and literature.
For instance, have you visited and/or studied any art? attended any operas, symphonies, jazz concerts, or the like? Do you go to cities such as New Orleans that have cultural experiences with food and music--festivals of various genres of music and art, for instance? Have you traveled and been exposed to other cultures? Italy, perhaps? Or "Little Italy" in New York, for instance (there are several) or "Chinatown" in any of several big cities.
You should include both cultural backgrounds as these define who you are. You can do a comparison and contrast between the traditions that you have experienced and you might also add on your opinion if the other one suits your taste more than the other. Write only what activities from these two certain cultures and do not try to beautify it by adding interesting tradition to beautify your paper but in reality, you have no idea what it really is.