English Paper on Family traditions and cultural legacies inhibit self-identity
Family traditions and cultural legacies play a vital role in the formation of self-identity. Family traditions tell a story about a family’s origin of gives an insight to the religious and cultural history. Growing up, children are taught and made to follow these traditions by their families through stories and in most cases, cultural legacies and family traditions are preserved through story telling. These stories about who we are, where we came from and about our values are important to us for they provide a sense of identity. Apart from giving us an insight of our socio-cultural origin, traditions serve to remind us of specific events that shaped our families. However, traditions can serve as a barrier to the development of self identity because they tend to predetermine how we should behave. For example, there are traditions in families where members attend certain universities and join certain sororities. While that tradition might have worked on past generations, it might limit some individuals who want to attend different colleges and venture into different career paths. Family traditions and cultural legacies can inhibit an individual’s self-identity by pre-determining how an individual should act and giving members little liberty to carry out their own personal desires outside the traditions and cultural legacies.
Family traditions especially can sometimes limit our self-identity development. As an individual, I have no power over the family I am born in. We cannot choose our families and as a result we cannot change our family traditions. In my childhood, certain things like my name, which school I attended and other things were determined for me because back then I was still a dependent without much knowledge. My siblings and I attended the same school as my father and his father’s father before that. Attending the same high school as my father and his ancestors is our family tradition. According to my father, the school played a significant role in shaping the life of my forefathers. However, times have changed and most importantly, I am not the same person my fore fathers were. I want different things in life for myself and walking in the footsteps of another stands in my way. My children will definitely not be part of this tradition unless they wish to attend the school by choice.
In Walker’s “Everyday Use” Dee leaves her rural home in pursuit of an education. Dee is an African American and while she is away from home, she chooses to embrace her African heritage and as a result changes her name from Dee to an African name-Wangero (James & Alan, 382). Dee returns home wearing traditional African Attire with a Muslim husband. Her mother regards her change of name as disrespect to her heritage because the name Dee is a family name that goes back to many generations. The family tradition of naming children after significant people in the family helps in retaining history and creating a family bond. Dee represents many individuals who on their journey to self discovery must leave behind family traditions (which mean more to their parents than they do them), not out of disrespect but to create their own identity.
There is freedom in not having family traditions as they sometime they are bottle necks that limit our ability to explore what lies outside. We are forced by these traditions and legacies to live a life that was predetermined for us. We are expected to act in a certain way, marry certain, go to certain school, stay in the same house, share certain names and preserve other traditions which after several generations do not make any sense to us. Some traditions are obsolete and do not make any sense in our current generations and they only serve to limit us. Those who have no family or traditions live their lives exploring their self-identities. Kelly in “The People in Me” speaks of his multicultural background free of family traditions (James & Alan, 418). His multicultural background allows him and his family to live their lives free of any hierarchy or family meanings. Most family traditions and cultural legacies originate from our ethnic groups and in multicultural settings, some family traditions are lost or forgotten. Kelly narrates how his small brother who is a multicultural has married a Korean and lives in Japan. The absence of family traditions in his family has enabled Kelly and his family to explore their identities and form identities without any predetermined blue print. For example, Kelly’s younger brother seeks to identify as an African American, and works towards gaining the respect of other African Americans.
Cultural legacies exist in the form of artifacts, houses, paintings and other properties that are passed down in families from one generation to the other. In my family, the cultural legacy is an old house that belonged to my great great grandfather. As an immigrant, he worked hard to acquire the property which now serves as a legacy of my ancestor’s hardwork. The house has been passed down through generations and one of us in the 5th generation is expected to inherit the old country house. While the house might have been trendy in the 20th century, it is not trendy in the 21st century. I personally do not wish to live in the country side. I want to live in the city and so do my siblings. It would make sense to sell the house and split the money but our parents would see this as disrespect to my great great grandfather’s legacy. Oliver’s “The Black Walnut Tree” speaks of my predicament. The persona in the poem is caught in a dilemma whether to a black walnut tree in order to make mortgage payments (James& Alan, 402). The tree represents the hard work of the persona’s forefathers and according to the persona and his mother, selling the tree is a great disrespect to the legacy of their forefathers. So they leave the tree that would have helped pay mortgage and they continue to lag behind in mortgage payments. The persona and his mother are a classic case of people who have been tied down by cultural legacies.
Even though family traditions play a vital role in the formation of our identities, sometimes they inhibit our self-identity by predetermining how we should act. As young children, family traditions help in shaping our identities. However, upon growing up, we form and develop our own identities and sometimes they may not be in sync with our cultural legacies. Family traditions are of a negative effect when they try to limit our self-identity development. For example, Dee changed her name to an African name and embraced African traditional dressing in her quest to embrace her African roots. She did not mean to disrespect the cultural legacy of the name ‘Dee’. Hers is a classic example of how cultural legacies and family traditions can inhibit self-identity. Kelly in “The Other People in Me” is a classic example of the liberty individuals who are not tied by family traditions and legacies have. Rich speaks for individuals who are inhibited by cultural legacies and family traditions when she says: “my story flows in more than one direction a delta springing from the riverbed with its five fingers spread” (James & Alan, 406).
James, Missy, and Alan Merickel. Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Boston: Pearson, 2013. Print.