July 4, 2019
Culture. It means so many different things. One thing about culture is understood pretty absolutely: it is learned behavior of a society.
As I celebrated Independence Day in the American tradition, I witnessed simple acts of separate cultures colliding. And it was the sharing of unconscious acts that struck me. I came to realize it was the simple act of sharing that is the creates American Culture.
Americans celebrate the birth of their nation each July 4 steeped in tradition. Picnics, family togetherness, yard games and fireworks. I can't say exactly how those particular traditions formed, but surely there is a shout out to the war that won the freedoms from the British government that Americans from all regions of this nation hold dear.
Food is an essential part of every culture around the world. Food is generally part of every celebration or ritual for every culture. Looking back at my childhood, I am saddened by how much of my immigrant grandparents' native culture was I failed to recognize, understand or adopt. I have been forever saddened at not learning Arabic. I wish I still had some of those records sent by relatives back home. My dad always wanted to travel to Buenos Aires to meet in person some of his dad's refugee sisters who ended up there. My grandparents came in 1920 after years of drifting around Europe until finally gaining entry into the United States. They were WW I refugees from a part of then Syria that is now part of Lebanon.
Sundays after church meant family gatherings for supper at their home. It meant parents, cousins, uncles and aunts. Everybody pitched in to help with the meal and cleanup. Games on Gidu's (that is the word I was always taught to mean "grandpa) immaculate lawn were played; tag, hide and seek, Cribbage. I do miss those days. But I digress. Food. A cultural mainstay from everywhere. The unanimous favorite is a food Situ, (that would be grandma) called "yubra". That's what we all called it. People in Sioux City flock each October to the Syrian Orthodox Church to have a plateful. It is simply stuffed grapeleaves. Brined grapeleaves wrapped around a mixture of rice and seasoned meat. It is so delicious and I make it from time to time.
My kids in Sheldon have taken over hosting July 4 festivities in our family. They live on the edge of town with LOTS of yard space. It is perfect for food, yard games and fireworks. This year I was asked to bring grapeleaves. So I did.
In keeping with American tradition, or maybe it's American values. I'm not sure, I will have to think about it a bit more before I can decide, but as my mother married the child of an immigrant, so did my son. Celebrating the quintessential American holiday, her immigrant parents joined us. They brought food. They played games. It was a fun day.
But the collision of cultures that I witnessed solidified for me the absolute identity of American culture. I offered some grapeleaves to my son's inlaws. They readily accepted a taste and true to their liking, decided that they needed hot sauce. Okay, this was a moment for me. Middle East meets Mexico. And then the lightening bolt struck: this is American culture. Share. Compare. Create. We are all greater together. And that is American culture.