By Barbara Davis Thompson
Special to CSMS Magazine
The phrase “much of culture is invisible” is in fact true. Culture is not a tangible thing that can be touched, but rather something that is experienced and learned. Culture defines people’s existence in who they are, what they should be doing and why they are here. Even when a child is born, society members come together and give the child a name that embodies a part of his culture. The culture of a people is mostly seen in the food they eat, the recreation they play, the songs they sing, the religion they worship and the families they rear.
As a person grows to be an adult, he begins to learn who he is. Through this learning of one’s own culture, the person begins to see the differences and similarities in other cultures.
Today many counties throughout the world have included the teaching of American History in their schools. It is hoped that Asian, African and South American students could begin to understand the American culture through learning of America’s rich history. Americans have always been a people of native Indians, immigrant European, Asians, Jews and Africans. Although the American government may have a failing grade in international relations, the American people have always been welcome, appreciated and respected by many people around the world. Americans are of the most travelled people in the world, and they love to take part in the interactions and experiences of other cultures. Sometimes other cultures have to learn what is often seen on television and heard on the radio may often not be true.
Correct pronunciation of the name makes a big difference
The experience of Somovar and others concerning the impact of names, terms of endearment and Anglicization of “foreign names” is important in the understanding of culture. The authors give an example of Patricia Covarrubias, whose Mexican name was changed when she integrated into the American society. Her name was shortened from Patricia to Pat by people who did not want to even try to pronounce her name correctly. The name Pat might have been seen as harmless, but the change had a serious effect on the misunderstanding of her cultural identity.
Various cultures hold a significant importance to a name, and it should be respected—especially by people who are not of that culture. Terms of endearment are special words of expression shared by people of the same culture. For example in my Bahamian culture, my nephew is referred to as “boo,” which means my loved one. Another person from another culture might misrepresent the understanding of calling my nephew “boo.” Therefore, it is important for a person from another culture to address others by their full name to avoid unnecessary offense.
The Angliazation of Negroes’ names have been handed down from the transportation of African slaves. Many black Americans know very little of their African culture, due to the stripping of their language, religion and family—an injustice inflicted upon them by their white European oppressors, who were plantation owners. The first to be changed was their names, which affected their whole being.
As a teacher in my country, there is a similar situation in the changing of children names. Many Bahamians have Anglo Saxons names, something they inherit from their forefathers dating back from the time of slavery. For the last thirty years, there has been a steady immigration of Haitians, Dominicans and Cubans into the Bahamas. Their names are entirely different, due to their French and Spanish heritage.
The most prevalent in the classrooms are Haitian children. Many teachers refuse to try to pronounce their names, and shorten it to say another. My experience has been one totally different. I always try to pronounce the student full name. At the same time, I use the opportunity to explain to the class who the student is and what country he is from while I move on to give a short lesson about the child’s culture. Through this introduction, students in the class begin to accept the Haitian student because they have gotten an understanding of the child’s culture.
In high school, similar work of pronouncing children’s full name and allowing them to share their culture has also been a success. Many of the Haitian students have graduated with honors and obtained scholarships to attend Universities in the Bahamas and the United States. It only has shown that once the Haitian students saw how Bahamians have accepted their culture, they were willing to learn our culture.
Also see Race really matters