Updated: Aug 4, 2022
By Léa SAÏDI SADAOUI
Biculturalism is often described as two cultures coexisting within a nation. The perfect example would undoubtedly be New Zealand, which put in place the Treaty of Waitangi (1840). Not only was it aimed to protect Māori culture and enable Māori to continue to live in New Zealand as such, it also allowed the British crown the right to sovereignty.
However, what about when two cultures coexist within an individual ? Like bilingual people switching between languages, bicultural folks tend to switch between cultures. Tanija Desal Hidier, an Indian-American singer and writer, once stated that “After all, if she herself had wondered whether she was Indian enough [...] who could claim the sole right way to an identity ?”. This duality, between being unforgivingly yourself and being enough of two cultures, has also been a staple in French rap. In his song “Alger pleure” (Algiers cries), Médine (a Franco-Algerian rapper) comes back on his experience : “I'm mixed-blood: a little colonist, a little colonised [...] Old enemies coexist in my genetic code”.
This brings up the first stone in our shoe : being enough. Growing up bicultural is more often than not confusing. Your brain is wired a certain way : only talking in your mother tongue at home, making sure you don’t get noticed and therefore assimilated to a certain group which is not always greatly perceived by the dominant one etc. However, both of those “parts” are yourself : it’s like reconciling two long lost best friends.
The following scheme perfectly represents all the points stated above :
The following scheme perfectly represents all the points stated above :
Let’s take a second and dissect it. Our starting point is “willingness to make attribution to prejudice” : to put it simply, bicultural folks are prone to point out discrimination, injustice towards a certain group, which resolves into a feeling of hostility toward the dominant group. Understandably enough, this awareness of the world around has a direct effect on their psychological well-being. Yet, and that will be our last point, a real sense of community can be forged between minorities : and we all know how much visibility is important.
Let’s move on to another big issue when growing up as a bicultural kid : school. Heaven, hell, maybe a bit of both. It leaves a sour taste in your mouth you try to wash down with incongru situations and friends. Yet, in sociology, school is a great social integration tool. In a report, Massey University’s professor Stephanie Gedaries stated that “many students from non-dominant cultures are not free to be whom and what they are when they go to school”. So one must ponder : what is it that makes me, me ? As a matter of fact, this is what is implicitly involved about the whom and the what of the definition above. “Whom” as an individual living in a specified area with its own cultural and social norms, and “what” as how we cognitively integrated those norms, cultures and made it our own.
So when bicultural individuals have to interpret two cultures and forge it into one identity, what could be the direct consequences ? You may have understood by now, yet, more often than you would realise, such people consider it both a given and a curse.
Hence why, some of us see art as a way to reconcile both of those parts which fundamentally make us whole.
As an example, Laura Clay Hernandez, a Mexican-American artist, centred their artistic expression around biculturalism : “as a contemporary artist, the act of painting allows me to harness and visually express the complementary and conflicting worldviews of bicultural identity. [...] As a Mexican American, I both celebrate and struggle with this sense of duality and duplicity. [...] Abstraction provides a tangible platform to depict my inner juggling of selves while staying true to my identity and ancestry”.
Growing up bicultural has its advantages : very early in their lives, the exposure to two (or more) cultures, enables individuals to have broader perspectives and a different stance on different issues. Such realisation comes later on with maturity and realising that being different from the masses is a great asset. Yet, one of the most amazing things about growing up with two cultures is having two homes. It’s this feeling of comfort when you eat your mother’s special dish. It’s how you sway from left to right to the rhythm of African music. It’s when you feel at the top of the world in your traditional outfit. It’s during weddings when the room is filled with the women’s Algerian youyou. It’s also when you kiss your grandma’s soft cheeks and whisper I love you’s in your mother tongue.
We are nearing the end. I could not finish this article without at least enunciating multiculturalism.
In a report, Justice Durie (a judge and Chair of the Māori Council) proposed a clear distinction between the two : “Biculturalism is about the relationship between the state's founding cultures, where there is more than one. Multiculturalism is about the acceptance of cultural differences generally”. Logically, one could not go without the other. As a matter of fact, in an article, Ryan Wiseman argued that : “When we get to the point where we have become a single homogenised monoculture, we will have destroyed all the other cultural elements that used to be present in our nation. If you embrace the value and beauty of the different cultures that are found around us, and you want to protect and preserve those cultural identities into the foreseeable future, then why would you want to support a policy meant to destroy the different cultures and replace them all with a single monoculture?”
Objectively speaking, the idea of those cultures all mushing together to create a sole one is highly unlikely and unexpected in the foreseeable future. Why ? For the simple reason that, if it would be the case, we would all be growing up by the same cultural norms, meaning diversity would be dead. Cultural identities are not forged into stone : they develop, they grow, and essentially it is a concept built over time. They are constantly evolving. All around the world, new connections are being created between people with different backgrounds. Therefore, thinking that those are, somehow, anyhow, destined to perish in the short term is an illogical train of thoughts. The latter would suggest the idea that cultures are meant to dissolve. Such a conceptualisation that cultures are recessing is entirely against its very essence.
Finally, one major thing I noticed growing up and feeling more and more comfortable with my cultural differences, is how much the people around me were actually eager to learn about the way we (as in people with different rituals, foods etc.) live. About our takes on matters such as colonisation, religion, cultural appropriation. About their overall knowledge on addressing elders. What they could do to not be disrespectful. This is what biculturalism is also about : building bridges between people craving connectivity and learning about the world around them.
So talk. Ask your friends the difficult questions. Be curious. There is nothing more beautiful than the spark our cultures create when they collide.
Written by writer Léa SAÏDI SADAOUI