Discuss the issue of cultural identity.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the modern setting, cultural identity is a very important issue.  To a great extent, cultural identity plays a defining role in how a person sees themselves and the world around them.  Cultural identity can encompass the sum total of an individual's interaction with others.  In its basic definition, its profound nature is evident:

Culture refers to the customs, practices, languages, values and world views that define social groups such as those based on nationality, ethnicity, region or common interests. Cultural identity is important for people’s sense of self and how they relate to others. A strong cultural identity can contribute to people’s overall wellbeing.

Cultural identity is driven by how an individual identifies with a larger entity. It also focuses on how the individual appropriates this grouping in constructing their own identity.  It is in this where cultural identity contains wide ranging implications.  Cultural identity refers to the process by which individuals make decisions on which collective element is representative of individual identity. What makes cultural identity so fascinating is that it provides a great "chicken or egg" paradigm.  One of the questions that drives the discourse on cultural identity is whether individuals look to collective elements for affirmation of previously held values or if collective elements help to define individual identity once they have found validation from them.  In other words, are individuals looking for a larger group to validate their voice or is their voice developed from the larger group's validation?  Cultural identity does not provide a definitive answer.  Rather, it seeks to expand the notion of individuals and self, societies and the relationship with the human beings that form them. The dynamic between individuals in search of a cultural identity, recognizing limitations and affirmations of a particular culture, and then either validating or rejecting this into a construction of "cultural identity achievement" is important in defining an individual.  These areas illuminate how the discussion of cultural identity yields more fascinating questions than any answers.

eli468 | Student

Cultural identity can be described as," the definition of groups or individuals (by themselves or others) in terms of cultural and sub cultural categories (including ethnicity, nationality, language, religion, and gender)."

One's own culture is learned through family and previous generations that are part of someone's beliefs and values of a society. It is what makes a community. When you add in your own identity, that become's your own thoughts about yourself being different from others. It is what makes you unique. 

"Components of cultural identity include religion, rites of passage, language, dietary habits and leisure activities."

Issues that can arise through cultural identity is when two people from different cultures meet. Both cultures are now being pitted against each other and when someone grows up with their beliefs, challenging them can be very detrimental. 

Cultural identity issues can be very big among the generation after their parents who migrated. Their parents will have all the culture from their own homeland and their children will have the culture from their parents as well as from society. Having to be raised among two different cultures can be very difficult for someone because they have to decide which part of their culture is more "them." They may take certain parts of their parent's culture and parts of the culture of the new country they are living and create a very unique mixed cultural identity. They may also just stay with their parents culture and have a difficult time in the cultural society that they are living in because it is not the one they follow. They may also have a family issue if they decide to become part of the culture in the country they are being raised in rather than the cultural beliefs from the country their parents and older generations were raised into.

Another issue of cultural identity is when someone challenges their own culture. They may not agree with certain things that are highly important to that culture and can be looked down upon in their community. This can cause people to really have to decide whether they want to stick with their culture, despite not agreeing with some of it, or trying to live within parts of their culture and branching off into another one. If they disagree with most parts they may completely leave their cultural background which can be very difficult in trying to find an identity if you have only been raised in one culture that you disagreed with and have to have the internal struggle of," this is how I was raised," versus," this is who I want to be."

chrisyhsun | Student

Cultural identity is a method of self-identification by relating the self to a greater group of individuals. This in particular can be used in terms of immigrants or children of immigrants. For example, immigrants by identify themselves according to their country of origin. Parents who came from China to the United States probably more strongly identify themselves as Chinese because they practice the same culture (for the most part) as they did in China - they might make certain foods at home, celebrate different holidays, etc. In that case, the cultural identity of the child of the immigrants (born in America to Chinese parents) may face more of a struggle in terms of cultural identity. (Sidenote - I find that this is a common subject among certain types of literature - the back-and-forth between the "old" culture and the "new" culture). The Chinese-American child may be raised in an essentially Chinese home eating the same foods and celebrating the same holidays as his Chinese ancestors, yet the rest of his social life - school, friends, etc - will have a distinctly American flavor. This is an example of how cultural identity can become mixed as people move and blend together.

CaitlynnReeves | Student

There are libraries written on this topic from sociology texts to fiction to memoirs such as Sandra Cisneros' The House On Mango Street. Many factors contribute to cultural identity. 

Geography: Where a person is physically located has a lot to do with identity. There are traits associated with being from the North American continent as well as sub-regions such as Canada or specific states. 

Family: Family has everything to do with cultural identity! Traditions are passed down orally from generation to generation. Your past makes you who are to some degree and that includes your ancestors. 

Religion: This can be the result of both family and geography but it is no less important to cultural identity. Being Catholic will lend different traditions and view points than say being a Jain. This results in having a distinct cultural identity.