Where I Come From
One aspect of cultural identity is the unique set of traditions held in common by a group of people. We can observe evidence of these traditions in day-to-day activities as well as in the ways groups celebrate special occasions. Introduce or review this concept with students and help them generate concrete examples of traditions commonly associated with special events in the United States (e.g., fireworks on Independence Day, feasts on Thanksgiving, valentines on February 14).
Then introduce the idea that families are unique cultural groups. While a specific family will share many traits common to larger groups (e.g., religious beliefs, clothing styles, language), each family develops its own set of traditions that sets it apart from other families. These traditional activities become so firmly a part of "the way we do things" that we sometimes feel puzzled or out of place when these activities are not present in other families.
Students will examine their own family traditions to identify how beliefs, values, and customs vary from culture to culture and how those traditions influence their perception of other groups.
Note: This activity asks students to share potentially sensitive aspects of their personal lives. Help students find "safe" ways to participate and set clear expectations for mutual respect in the class. Teachers should be sensitive to the needs of all students. Reassure students who live with single parents, grandparents, other relatives, or foster families that their experiences are valid and valuable contributions to this activity.
- Ask each student to write a list of special events that are observed by his or her family. Events can include annual holiday or religious observances as well as family milestones, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Some families have special traditions for observing annual events, such as the first day of the harvest season, or for celebrating special accomplishments, such as graduating to a new grade level.
- For each item on the list, students should complete this sentence: On this day my family always _______________.
- Ask each student to share one or two sentences with the rest of the class. Be sure students understand that they need not share information that is considered private or sacred. Discourage students from making judgmental comments about others' lists.
- Finally, ask the class to comment on the variety of events celebrated by the families represented in the room. Do some students celebrate special events in similar ways? What do their lists show about what the students and their families value? Which family traditions are truly unique and which are connected to community, ethnic, or religious traditions observed by larger cultural groups?
- For homework, ask each student to choose one family tradition to explore more fully through interviews and library research. Students can compile this information into oral or written reports for the class. Work with students to formulate a set of interview questions that will encourage family members or acquaintances to discuss their traditions with students. Possible questions include:
- When did this tradition begin?
- Is this tradition associated with special food, clothing, decorations, music?
- Who participates in this event? Do individuals have specific roles or responsibilities?
- Has this tradition changed over the years? What led to these changes?
- Is this tradition associated with a particular season, climate or location? Would it be the same at another time or place?
- How do other family members feel about this tradition? Why do they think it is important?
- How would you feel if you were unable to participate in this event with your family?
Discuss with students how family or community traditions contribute to each individual's idea of what is "normal" and important. Help students extend this idea into their thinking about and accepting the traditions, values, and beliefs of other families and larger cultural groups.
- If your class is corresponding with a Peace Corps Volunteer, have students explore how families in your Volunteer's host country celebrate special events.
- Volunteer Michelle Fisher commented on the importance of family gardens to the people she knew in Vilnius, Lithuania. Michelle served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lithuania from 1993 to 1995.
- Explore the Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program online resources to learn more about the traditions of the people who live in Peace Corps host countries.