Cultural heritage connects us to the stories that shape our identities and a healthier society.
This article originally appeared in INCITE magazine, Identity Issue 2022-03.
Every family has a story – tales and truths, rituals and recipes, even keepsakes and heirlooms all worth documenting. They are not only the pieces that construct our current identities but the pieces of ourselves that we hope will get passed down through generations.
But with time, these stories – and the identities they contain – can fade if not carefully tended to and preserved. This holds true for all families, although there is particular risk for second-generation immigrants, who are a step away from their cultures of origin. With an aging first-generation population, the permanent loss of heritage is a real and present risk.
As daughters of first-generation immigrants, we have each been on our own rediscovery journey to reclaim our cultural family stories. What we have learned along the way, and have shared with others, has been invaluable in shaping our identities and helping others uncover theirs.
Why We Need To Remember
Everyone benefits when we seek to understand our identities better.
Individually, understanding your family heritage helps to explain the why behind many of the choices, personality traits, attitudes and paradigms you possess. On a community level, more self-awareness among humans leads to a more thriving society – one with less divide, less comparison, less hate.
With awareness of your own story, you are contributing to a healthier society.
People also turn to culture for answers after major world events like a pandemic. There’s something about understanding what people from your culture did before you that helps you understand yourself better. Knowing where you come from helps you to know where you are going.
That being said, family, culture, tradition and religion are not all sunshine and roses. We belong to a generation that is challenging the staunch, uncritical ways of the past and digging deeper to understand the why behind cultural practices that we want to take forward. That sifting, sorting and decision-making is only possible with an understanding of your cultural roots – and then you can decide what aligns with present-day values and what you want to continue practising and passing on to future generations.
But it’s a journey of understanding worth taking.
Inspired By Our Own Journeys
Like so many children of immigrants who came to North America in the 1970s and ’80s, we’ve grown to have families of our own and are now charged with bestowing these traditions upon our own children. As we have navigated our family stories, we have uncovered a deep desire to get in touch with the meaning and significance of our cultures. It wasn’t always easy, and perhaps was never a completed job, but we’ve found ways to make it more fun.
We know that people often don’t invest in documenting their familial history until it’s too late, perhaps after that key family member passes away or immigration and assimilation start to erase the story. No matter the reason, the damage is almost always permanent.
That’s what inspired us to start Root & Seed, a content hub and online tool that helps people uncover family stories through a series of questions that prompt conversations. The platform has options to record and share the stories. The Root & Seed Podcast enriches the user experience, celebrating family and cultural identity.
We love how today’s technology can help people connect deeply with their roots. Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible of the infinite combinations of cultures that represent families in North America today. And with that effort comes a celebration of individuality rather than painting everyone with the same brush.
What We Have Discovered
Through our work, we’ve learned that putting in the effort to fully understand your audience is invaluable in making messages resonate, creating tools that actually provide value and gaining traction through engagement. People are so much more than a segment. And what we remind people who use Root & Seed is that their loved ones are so much more than the roles they play in our customers’ lives. A mom isn’t just a mom: she also has personal interests and wider perspectives. She was once a child with different values and circumstances, and
maybe she too was impacted by immigration and the weight of those experiences.
They say humans are more alike than different – but what has blown our expectations is the number of people who see themselves in each other’s stories, who have found new language within these stories that helps articulate their feelings and the overall sense of community.
Some people don’t think they have a story worth documenting; they think their story is typical. However, once they start to dig deeper into their past, they are hooked.
Investing time in capturing your past can create incredible value for your present through greater self-awareness, self-esteem and interpersonal relatability. By helping to sustain our unique heritages into the future, we preserve more than memories: we recover pride and shape a society that celebrates diversity.
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