Paths of Life
Education Area: “What is Culture?”
Culture. We all use the word. But, what does it really mean? Everybody's got it, but few people can define it. To some, the word brings to mind a painting by Michelangelo, an opera by Verdi, symphony halls, and art museums. To others, culture is "low-rider" cars with tuck-and-roll upholstery, and "norteño" music.
To an anthropologist, culture is a "shared system of beliefs, values, and traditions that shape a person's behavior and perception of the world."
So, we all have culture. Everyone is part of a group of friends, relatives, ancestors, acquaintances, and fellow citizens from whom one learns how to act and, in many ways, to think. The group is united by common systems of communication (language), religion, economics, social organization, kinship, social control (laws), politics, and education.
As citizens of the United States of America, we all share certain fundamental components of culture: we value personal freedom; we participate in our democratic political system; we believe in the concept of personal property; and we submit to the authority of our legal system. Yet, there is also great diversity in our thought and belief. Just as our ancestors came from varied cultural backgrounds, we have many different religions, musical traditions, political beliefs, and even ways of viewing kinship relations.
Children in Boston, Massachusetts and Polacca, Arizona wear the same cartoon character t-shirts and drink soft drinks from the same "McDonald's" souvenir cups. Yet, one goes to a Catholic church in an Irish American neighborhood while the other attends Hopi Katsina ceremonies.
Today, in a country of increasing sameness, we are learning to value these differences in our cultural traditions. The Paths of Life exhibition explores the cultural values, beliefs, and histories of some of the American Indians of the Southwest. As you learn more about the cultures of your fellow Americans, we hope that you will also think about your own cultural beliefs, values, and traditions—whatever those may be!
View the Virtual Reality display by clicking on the image below (requires QuickTime Player.)
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