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Sticking with what we know

Last update - Thursday, March 1, 2012, 14:49 By Tara Fannon

New York City is a multicultural mecca – and the Irish have a big share in this. They along with many others in one way or another recreate a home away from home or, in the case of younger generations, forge a fresh connection with a heritage that’s familiar mainly through stories, myths and historical facts. The result is a setting so diverse that differing values, beliefs and customs often intersect and collide.

It’s perhaps this aspect of big city living that inspires within us a greater recognition of our cultural origin. Everyday people, packed together, scramble and fight to make their mark in order to be understood, represented and remembered by others and by their own.
At the heart of this is culture. I believe that maintaining what is distinct about culture is crucial to the subsistence of individuality and group identity. At the same time, the transference of culture in western societies means that we must also adapt to the new ways culture is used and understood – some of it being rich and meaningful, and some of it being empty and pointless.
Take New York City: it’s a mosaic of cultures with its different neighbourhoods dedicated to nations around the world (in fact, many American cities are like this). Taken as a whole it’s becoming more homogenised, with the colour, variety and true difference being processed out and replaced with a one-dimensional way of seeing and doing things to which we’re all expected to conform. This coincides with the tension between tradition and modernity that undergirds everyday life.
As humans we find security in what makes sense to us. This in its purest form is tradition – the customs and habits that have driven our existence through time. These days we must negotiate this natural urge within times that are increasingly advanced, strange and in many ways estranged. Even though we resist modernity, we continue to crave it. It doesn’t help that everyone around us seems to want to be a part of it too, which only makes us want it more.
Modern western culture has become a glamorous and exclusive A-list party to which everyone wants to be invited just so they won’t be left behind. It becomes easy to lose yourself and forget what you know amid such dominant forces. We compensate by immersing ourselves in the familiar. We highlight it, promote it and claim it as our own. It’s accessible and probably lets us believe we’re in command of ourselves and what happens to us. No matter what course culture takes, we will always look to our heritage and the traditions associated with it for guidance. It, above all things. becomes our anchor in this big and changing world.
This is clear in New York City. It was clear in London, Paris, Boston, and Berlin, and it was certainly clear in Dublin, too.

Tara Fannon is a Sociology student at UCD. Her column appears regularly in Metro Éireann.

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