In the past, my understanding of my own culture, or cultural identity could best be described as underdeveloped. Visualizing an individual’s culture as a mosaic gives a much more developed interpretation and understanding of what culture is and what it means personally. Prior to the Chao reading, I would have defined myself, culturally, as a white, American, woman. This idea is very simplistic and, as I said severely underdeveloped. The cultural mosaic helped me to explore other cultural elements (or tiles) that make up my cultural identity (the mosaic). The mosaic metaphor also helps us to understand the impact of culture on our lives, relationships, values, and professional decisions. Chao helps us understand that culture, and the combination of cultures makes human beings alike, similar, and different to and from one another, all at the same time (2005).
Chao discusses the impact of culture on values, and how “values may have unique relevance and expression for particular groups.” (2005) I decided before I explore my own culture that I would first examine my values, in order to help me determine the less obvious cultural tiles that make up my personal mosaic. My short list of values included; family, time, health, education, and money. Determining my values left me with questions of why these things are important to me.
Understanding my own cultural mosaic helped to put into perspective the importance of my values. Also understanding the breakdown of personal identifiers by demographic, geography, and association, helped me to better define myself. Demographically I am a white, 27 year old, Generation Y, German-American, female. Geographic elements of my personal cultural mosaic include; American, Mid-Westerner, rurally-raised, and Colorado transplant. Finally, defining my associative personal identifiers, proved to be a little more challenging. These tiles, I feel, are most representative of my values, and were also heavily influenced by my geographic and demographic identifiers. My associative identifiers are Liberal, Atheist, lower-middle class, student, and (future) librarian.
The more I thought about it, the more cultural identifiers I was able to come up with, and the more I was able to explain the impact of each on my life. As an example, being raised in a rural environment, by blue-collar parents, in a lower-middle class family, produced a value of money, and as a result, my value for education in order to improve my life. After I began to think about it, I was able to build little webs which incorporated my cultural identifiers, or combinations of my cultural identifiers, that developed into values, goals, and ultimately impact each decision I make. This is a new perspective, of which I had not previously had a full understanding.
It is greatly important to identify all the tiles of your cultural mosaic. Chao explains how similar structure, within the mosaics of two individuals can be the foundation of a relationship (2005). This feeds into Network Theory when some tiles dominate in interactions between individuals in order to produce a connection. Professionally, understanding your own cultural identifiers, particularly less dominant ones, can help you to make connections with others and thus better understand them individually.
While there is often a level of cultural homogeneity within an organization, in a library setting, it is important to move beyond that in order to accommodate users and patrons with a wide variety of cultural identities. As referenced in proposition 7, members of different groups who share cultural mosaic tiles, are likely to bridge structured gaps that may exist between groups (Chao, 2005). Finding ways to understand cultural identifiers, even those of which may not identify you, can help to grow your understanding, and in the field of library science, this is of the utmost importance.
Chao, Georgia T. & Henry Moon. (2005). The Cultural Mosaic: A Metatheory for Understanding the Complexity of Culture. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1128-1140.