One can preserve one’s heritage while celebrating foreign traditions

Dear Editor,

Permit me to respond to Mr. Freddie Kissoon’s article published on November 08, titled “Oprah Winfrey, Clinton Urling and increasing xenophobia.”

I will briefly attempt to explain what I meant by the evolution of cultural imposition or cultural sharing. During the colonial period, we psychologically developed a liking (or acceptance) for foreign customs and norms by physical presence. After the colonialist left and even though they had no physical presence to force us to adopt to their way of life, their influences continued to work their way into our hearts and minds through the evolution of technology (a force more potent than colonialism ever was), our liking of foreign traditions also evolved (and is continuing to) and in some cases replaced what the colonialist imposed on us, thus the popularity of holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving.

One can preserve one’s past and heritage while embracing and celebrating foreign cultural traditions. Not because I have absolutely no reservations with persons wishing to celebrate popular western traditions, does it mean that I have disowned my own Guyanese cultural traditions. Can’t I have both? What I’m professing is cultural sharing and not cultural replacement. Let’s use this simple analogy to illustrate my point: I’m sure many of you have eaten American fast foods, Italian pastas and other imported cuisines, and yet have not completely given up on your cook-up, curry chicken, metem, pepperpot and other popular local dishes.

The celebration of Halloween and other western traditions is not unique to Guyana and they have become universal in their signification. One would be hard pressed today to find a country where Halloween is not celebrated in some form or the other. Moreover, Halloween is not even indigenous to the US; the holiday has its origin in the ancient Euro Celtic (Irish, Scottish, Welsh) New Year’s festival called Samhain and only became popular in the US in the 1920s and 1930s.

I agree with Freddie that in some cases (not an overwhelming majority) xenophobia is on the increase, but when I speak of the world becoming smaller, I am talking primarily about technological advances like the computer, internet, satellite television, advance air travel, satellite imagery. Your family living in Florida can hop on to the internet and view a satellite image of your house in Guyana or your cousin can be in the middle of the Amazon jungle and place a phone call (or a live video stream) to you all the way to your house located in any part of the world. It is this smallness or flattening that has enabled the proliferation and sharing of many cultural traditions. The effect can be seen in the local example of our Amerindian communities, many of whom now have television sets in their homes and can be see adopting many western and modern cultural customs.

Even though I don’t know the true religious significance of Diwali( I just have a vague concept of good prevailing over evil) come Thursday and Friday nights I would have gone out to witness the Diwali motorcade and lay a couple of diyas in my yard and yet still maintain that I am a Christian on Saturday.

When these cultural and religious events are borrowed or shared, in most cases they are not carried out with the exact precision and literal interpretation as the source where it came from and are done in an abridged format or version. For example, people celebrating Halloween in Guyana only dress up with costumes and go to parties. There is no trick or treat aspect to it, likewise there will be no make-shift mandir in my yard for Diwali.

Yours faithfully,

Clinton Urling

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