America: the forgotten campus culture

I was having a conversation with an international student the other day who informed me America had no culture of its own. What we had instead, this student explained, were many distinct, separate cultures that existed within our borders and not a unifying national identity. Those things I might claim as our own, I was told, were simply stolen.

These words are not an isolated irritation, but express a pervasive and dangerous lie.

America without her culture is like a body without a soul-yet many of today's youth see America as nothing but a meeting point for the cultures of other nations.

How can America survive if many don't acknowledge, let alone embrace, the very culture that gives it life?

We must come to the defense of our heritage. And for us, that fight begins right here, on our campus.

It's easy to understand how the student I spoke with arrived at her deeply misguided conclusion. Duke, in lockstep with the modern American university, worships at the altar of multiculturalism. As we obsess over, adulate and extol the non-American cultures we ignore the culture we all hold in common.

Every year Page Auditorium is packed to celebrate Indian and Asian culture, while crucial American cultural events like Thanksgiving, Christmas, President's Day and Veterans Day are ignored and forgotten.

Duke requires every student engage in cross-cultural inquiry to graduate, yet there is no requirement to learn about America or larger Western civilization.

Our peers have assembled a litany of cultural groups from the Bulgarian Student Association to the Taiwanese Student Association, as though a college campus were a place not to congregate together under one flag but rather to retreat back to the nationalities our ancestors eagerly shed in exchange for a greater, freer life.

We are watching a generation of youth enter into society without the ability to appreciate-and in turn sustain-the very culture we inhabit and which has blessed a tormented world with a refuge for dignity, opportunity and hope.

Doubtless some of you reading this column are among those who deny the existence of a unique and cohesive American culture. In advancing this view, chances are you employ the predictable argument that America simply inherited, borrowed or stole what appear to be elements of its culture from other peoples and nations.

The utter shallowness of this argument can be revealed by showing how when faithfully applied as a test it demonstrates not that America is lacking a unique and cohesive culture but rather that this is so for many of the cultures the multiculturalists herald and embrace.

Take, for instance, Mexico. Here the multiculturalists and I would be in complete agreement in saying that Mexico has a distinct and identifiable culture.

Yet, applying the argument they use against America, Mexico can be said to have no such thing. Two defining features of culture-language and religious values-were foisted upon Mexico's indigenous peoples by the Spanish empire. In America, by contrast, our language and religious values were brought to us by those who settled and founded our nation.

Mexico's national pastime, soccer, has been traced by some back to ancient Rome and as it is known today was first played in Britain. The first official game of America's national pastime, baseball, was played in Hoboken, N.J. in 1846. As for our other two most popular sports, American creativity transformed rugby into the sport of football, and basketball was born at a YMCA.

The traditional music of Mexico is played on instruments exported from the West and recorded with technology made possible by American inventors. The modern music of Mexico is largely influenced by America and uses instruments, such as the electric guitar, that we created.

In my trips to Mexico I noticed that blue jeans were a very popular clothing choice. But these too are not Mexican in origin, instead hailing from the United States.

I think you get the point.

Yet many have bought into the myth of America being a multicultural nation without a culture of its own. In reality, America has enjoyed a cultural output of unprecedented depth and unparalleled greatness.

Our rich culture has been exported all over the world, mimicked, copied and reproduced. We are the nation of cinema and radio, crooning and jazz, convertibles and diners, the Old West and New York City. Our culture includes Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jackie Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Douglas Macarthur, Milton Friedman, Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison and again, for emphasis, Elvis Presley.

Most importantly, we have shared with the world the cultural value of individualism and liberty-a value rooted in our unique and glorious history of settlers, pioneers and frontiersman.

Continue to worship at the alter of multiculturalism and we may come to see that we are participating in the sacrifice of the one culture which binds us all.

And that is a sacrifice the world cannot afford to make.

Stephen Miller is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Monday.


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