Cultural Identity Reflection Essay


 The Origins Dilemma

I would like to begin my paper by identifying a fallacy in most all studies conducted by psychologists, sociologists, etc. I believe that most all of the studies in these fields (as withmany “scientific” fields), attempt to pinpoint the origin of a particular phenomenon in humanthinking, feeling, and/or behavior, as if human life was so linear, so causal that, like a snowballrolling down a large hill, human life can be watched from beginning to end, the origin of a phenomenon discerned, the growth in magnitude of a phenomenon meticulously measured alongits trajectory, and the ultimate affects of a phenomenon’s climatic collision with an obstacle painstakingly recorded in absolute detail. While this is a fallacy in and of itself, the bigger fallacy is on the part of the researchers themselves, who are wrapped in a cloak of hubris as theyraise their studies above others and say their treatises on any given phenomenon is the moreappropriate, accurate, and truthful.For instance, Herbert Blumer in his article “Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position”decrees all previously held notions regarding the origin of race prejudice as irrelevant and laudshis own theories as undeniable truth. He explains how race prejudice does not find its beginnings in individual self-construction, but from group position.


If Blumer would havelogically followed through with that theory, then he might have concluded that race prejudicecould not exist where there exists solitary individuals. There are individuals who form certainaspects of their personal identity apart from what would be their “group.” It is possible for  people to form their own prejudices towards another race in the absence of a group of similar individuals. Further, Blumer should have asked himself whether the opposite of racial prejudice,racial tolerance, is formed at an individual or group level, because very clearly racial tolerance is


Herbert Blumer, “Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position,”

 The Pacific SociologicalReview

, Spring (1958): 86-93


Mose, M. (1997). "A personal reflection on cultural identity." S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.


What is my cultural identity? What does cultural identity mean? If culture includes one’s native language, customs, beliefs, artistic characteristics, philosophies, theologies, norms, mores, and community, then my culture is Samoan. Samoans are people of Polynesian anthropological traits. Samoans generally are of average height, have brown skin and black coarse or straight hair, brown eyes, and strong physical bodies (typical of people with strong ties to the land and sea). Today, Samoa has two political governments—American Samoa and Western Samoa—but the culture has remained the very much the same since Samoans first occupied the island groups now called Samoa.

I was born to Samoan parents in Atuu, a village on the island of Tutuila, American Samoa. For most of my childhood, adolescence, and adult life, I have been connected to Samoa. The first time I left Samoa for an extended period was to attend college and graduate school. Now that I have become a naturalized U.S. citizen with many years left in graduate school, I do not know how long it will be before I can return to Samoa for ministry.

Although much of my cultural identity is Samoan, I also identify with Western, American norms. The interaction between Samoan and American values, combined with the influence of important early social systems, have ultimately shaped and transformed me.


My family was most influential in shaping my cultural identity as I grew up, especially from the ages of five to twelve. Everyone in the family knows what is expected of them: the father is the leader, the mother is the assistant, and children must obey. Family is a sacred institution, meaning that individuals exist in the context of their family. Strict rules dictate how children should relate to each other. The eldest sibling is respected, and girls in the family are treasured members. Girls are expected to model the values of honor, integrity, and family goodness. They are to be protected, by the males of the family, from slanders, scandals, and unwanted suitors. Boys are expected to be brave, adventurous, honest, honorable, respectful, and strong; the responsibility of protecting their sisters is important to the brothers of the family. Boys are also given tasks to enforce their warrior-like mission in the family and are trained to plant crops for family provision; these tasks demand physical exertion and psychological and mental acumen. Girls are assigned work that relates to the home, and they must respect their parents and honor their brothers by shying from trouble. Most of the girls’ interactions with the family are within the home, as this is where the mother is usually found: the daughter is the mother’s apprentice, preparing herself for womanhood.

The first and most important family lesson learned by any child is obedience. Parents teach their children obedience through delegating tasks, assigning chores, and providing protection and the overall needs of the family. Parents render their children’s basic needs, and children show their gratefulness by obeying their parents; thus, children are an honor to their parents. Children are living reflections of their parents to all in the community or village. Since the village is considered an extension of the family, elder members in the village also have the privilege of instructing children (they act as surrogate parents). In fact, the Samoan family is usually recognized as an extended family; cooperation in parenting is exercised and even expected by both the parents and children in the village. One neighbor may discipline a son or daughter of another neighbor. To the village, a misbehaving child damages the parents’ honor. Most children behave well because they understand that the whole village is looking after all of the children.


A second influential social system is school. In the Samoan village there is a pastor’s school. Children go to this school after they return from the government or public schools. The pastor’s school is also called the Samoan school because Samoan is spoken on site. Children learn mathematics, Biblical history, and Bible stories, all under the watchful eye of the pastor. The pastor is an important member of the community; he and his wife are considered the spiritual parents of the village. Therefore, when children attend the pastor’s school, the children are expected to show utmost respect to the pastor. The pastor is expected to discipline the children—for the good of the kids and the community. Teachers in public schools are also considered important authorities; parents encourage teachers to be strict with their kids. Young people clearly understand that at school, honor, respect, and obedience are demanded. No child—toddler to teen—wants to dishonor his or her parents at home, in the village, or in school.


A third important social system is peers. Peers are influential, but they are not as prominant as the family. Village youth develop peer groups within family-oriented and community-supported villages, so the same values of the family—honor, loyalty, and respect—pour into their peer groups. Peer groups prepare kids for adulthood and secure their commitments to the community, family, and society. Except for the few times when peer pressure overrides family expectations, rebelling against the family and community ensures self-humiliation, guilt, shame, and possible public apologies. Since families are judged by their success in upholding the good name of the community; parents may dictate which peer groups are acceptable for their kids. Parents generally approve of peer groups organized within the church. The village pastor sets up these youth groups to mold youngsters into obedient, honorable, and respectable kids. In schools, peer groups that foster community values are encouraged. Kids who deviate from community valued peer groups are often strongly disciplined by the teachers and are also reported to their parents and the community in which those kids live.


Media also influence young people. The family is still a stronger influence, even during adolescence. Television and radio are the two most popular forms of media: kids love to watch Saturday morning cartoon shows while older youth tend to prefer the radio. Contemporary Samoan songs are also popular. Most songs communicate themes of honor, respect, and responsibility to family values. Other themes in songs are about love, dreams of happiness, and relationships with sad endings. Films are popular and have been enjoyed even before video stores became prevalent.

Theaters and televisions ushered the "outside" world into my life. Those "outside" views depicted on the screens were forbidden in my family; yet, family values of honor, respect, integrity, goodness quickly seemed boring to me. However, the family values prevailed. It was not until I left the comfort of my family and community to attend college in a totally different environment that I became seriously confused about the conflict between the values of my family and other cultural values.


Family was the most influential system in my life. Growing up in a family system that was also quite accessible to the community helped me find supportive role models and acceptance in who I was as a young person. Other kids who rebelled against family value systems were not allowed to continue in their rebellion. I chose to live within the boundaries of the family influence, and I think that served me (and the community) well. On the other hand, when I left my family and community, I was not prepared for the cultural shock of the United States. I am still struggling to comfortably live in both communities and find comfort in the values of both my Samoan and American identities.

Mose Mose cCYS

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