culture, design, and why it’s important that i’m an immigrant
But for those of you who weren’t born in this country, you must understand what I mean when I say I’ve lived my adult life with my feet straddling two cultures. A good friend recently reminded me that immigrants, and especially those that emigrate from their native land after a coming-of-age, will forever remember their cultural identity as their homeland was when they left, not as it continuously evolves and adapts to modern ideals. My dad still recalls to me how things are done in the India he knows, turning a blind eye to the fact that it is no longer the India that has come to be. One of my favorite books is The Namesake, which tells the story of an Indian family trying to bridge their cultural gaps (watch the trailer for the movie here, it’s amazing).
I bring this up for two reasons: first, as a child and teenager I struggled to find room for each of my cultural identities, and only in adulthood have I learned that adopting pieces of one culture does not mean you’ve forgotten all of the other. I can be wholly Indian without losing the parts of me that are wholly American, and vice versa. Secondly, to understand your cultural footprint is to understand how you interact with people, places, and things. Spaces, products, and interactions are typically designed for the prevailing culture of where they are placed, and oftentimes are not fully interchangeable without modification (tip: Kyle). To know this and utilize this is immensely powerful as a designer.
But to be able to utilize your cultural identity, you have to understand it, to come to terms with it, to be able to see it with eyes wide open. Which, in my 23 years, has not proven to be easy.