Old Culture vs New Culture: A Newcomer’s Perspective
By Judeen Meikle
The experience of a new culture is oftentimes eye opening and the shock that comes with it can sometimes leave us in awe. It can also be very effective in opening your eyes as to the alternatives that exist in comparison to the way we practice our own culture back in our old country. Effectively, we get absorbed in adapting the new culture, some of it is forced (like purchasing bag milk and a milk jug because that’s the norm and it’s also cheaper) and some of it we gladly accept (like the ability to use public transportation system for everyone with no separation as it relates to class, in some countries buses and trains are for lower class). I, for example, coming from a tropical country had to now get used to the fact that a bright and sunny day in Toronto, probably means it’s super cold out and that means layered sweaters and frosty breath as opposed to deciding it’s a beach day.
The decision to move from your home country is often based on a variety of reasons, some of which are more drastic than others . Some of us leave to pursue a higher education. Some will leave to join family who have already migrated. Some will leave for the possibility of greater financial security. Some will leave in the hopes of a better life for them and their young ones. For the many reasons it’s probably safe to say that most have come here to create a better life for themselves and their children whether they were forced to leave their original country or not. We all decided to leave our own culture to experience that of a new country.
Since coming here one thing I’ve noticed is that as immigrants we sometimes get so caught up in our new existence that we start bashing the ” inadequacies” of our old culture. Culture, my friends (another adaption to my new culture) is the way in which life is lived in a certain country. It is a culmination of ancestral, religious, social beliefs orchestrated to create the ‘way’ of life in a defined area. This all together will form the way in which societies operate. Now, we would all agree that not all societies are perfect and we would all agree that we will not always find the approach within our culture to be appropriate or necessary at times. But really more times than not it’s not affecting anyone negatively and just contributes to be the unique way of life in that space.
With that being said, I find it disheartening when immigrants or returning residents look down on their old culture way of life. Being Jamaican I am particularly offended when people from my own country act this way. Growing up in Jamaica , is certainly a contrast to what we now experience here in Canada. It’s the lifestyle that we grew up with and the exposure to other cultures/way of life does not by any means suggest that our culture is inadequate or inappropriate. Our new societal practices that we now openly enjoy and have adapted to and have found that it blends perfectly with our way of thinking, still does not make the old way of life wrong. We need to be open minded enough to agree that Jamaica has some practices, however messed up we may think they are, these are the same practices that moulded us into the fabulous humans that we are, I believe this can be said for most countries around the world. We are the product of our society, why are we looking down on our own culture. I came by this thought after a very active conversation concerning the need for Jamaican students to wear uniforms hence suppressing the ability to express themselves through their dress. My counter argument suggested that the contextual attributes of the society leads to uniforms being the better decision. Jamaica as we know is a developing country, that is also an island and therefore must import a lot of products. It means that the accessibility to clothing across the social classes is not as equal as it is here in Canada. Now that is just one of the arguments that I used, many more exist. But the point is we have to be careful to not contextualise our practices before inferring that it has lost its relevance. Everywhere around the world people practice their daily lives differently and does not makes them less of a person.
One of the most fun ways to enjoy life is to travel, which exposes us to the diversity of culture. It educates us on the difference in practices in different regions, which is quite fascinating. However, each culture will have limiting factors, factors that will make the way of life less appealing to an outsider looking in. This brings about uniqueness .So many factors exist, it is just not possible to inculcate all of them into one place, creating the variety that we see today. One of the really good things about Canada, having so many immigrants is that it becomes as well the melting pot of different cultures. Everyone shares a slice of their home with us. For instance, on any given day you are able to enjoy a meal from a restaurant that represents the diversity of people that live here and where they came from.
So, let us embrace our new culture but also accept the old. The old may no longer work for us but it continues to work for the persons that exist within it. Let’s slow our roll on trying to kill the culture, kill the practices as it is what makes them unique. We could start by not complaining and just be grateful that we were exposed to a way of life that we longed for and were able to leave that which no longer worked for us. I am Jamaican and will always be proud to be Jamaican. I am however grateful for the new exposure and the ability to live and raise my child in this society that reflects a lot of the morals and values that I support. This doesn’t negate the fact that I am saddened by some of the practices that she will miss growing up in Jamaica. It was those practices that helped to shape me into the person I am and I am proud of that. It will be my job to teach her these traditions from my past while showing her how we will live in our new country. Let’s view our people with class and dignity as we represent our country around the world. Looking at how many of us have become successful citizens all over the world shows me our country of origin did something right.
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