CultureEducation

When it comes to voicing opinions these days, our generation has become paramount in articulating difficult issues facing the world. However, due to corrupt and old-fashioned politics, there has been an increase in voter apathy and decline in voter turnout. With fallacious advertisements and discouraging structures like the Electoral College, young people today do not see the importance of voting anymore – oftentimes, they underestimate the power of their votes.

With the midterm elections this week, I hope to inspire a few more people to go out and make their opinions matter. For example, say you prefer ideology that is kinder to those of lower classes but you decide not to vote. Well, for the past few decades, statistics show that those of more affluent households have dominated the voting circuit, and though some of them may vote alongside your ideals, it is most likely that a large majority will not. Go out and stand up for your principles; no one else will.

For those of you who are like my roommate in the fact that you look at a newspaper and immediately shut down: do not be afraid to learn about the tough issues. My roommate justifies her desire to not vote through the fact that politics panics her; she does not understand nor does she wish to comprehend the bureaucratic system our country exhibits. And although I respect her opinion on this matter, this troubles me because people like this live in this country too, and it is vital to care about your country’s politics. What if you do not vote purely because you did not care to look at the platforms, and an abominable law is passed that affects your life negatively? Take the time to educate yourself on the candidates’ platforms and history as politicians so that you can make the best choice for yourself. Just because you do not vote does not mean that the political decisions made post-election do not affect you.

It is astounding how younger generations today are making films, writing songs, and creating art that explore tons of the social and economic concerns dealt with today, and still feel completely apathetic toward voting. For those of you on the fence about voting this week, your voice should not be reserved only to the creative ventures you have. Each candidate specializes in issues that cater to different demographics, so please look into them and discover what you need out of the American political system. Your opinions and beliefs are preeminent in a time struggling to situate itself with rising issues, therefore, take advantage of the chance you are given to express your beliefs.

To get started, check out these useful resources: 

1. Vote Smart: Just the Facts

2. On the Issues: Every Political Leader on Every Issue

Image: Theresa Thompson

CultureTravel

“Where are you from?” she asked with a confidence that rapidly dwindled into embarrassment when I responded, “I was born here.” The awkward pause that causes eyes to wander, skin to prickle, and blood to rush is quickly relieved by the “but my parents are Colombian.” She seems to breathe again and feel the comfort she was familiar with six seconds before she had asked me the line-drawing question. My parents were born and raised in Colombia, but I was born and raised in Weston, a Fort Lauderdale suburb. Answering the following questions almost makes me feel like an actor rehearsing my lines for the millionth time. Yes, I am bilingual; yes, I have traveled to Colombia; in fact, I visit every summer and my profound attachment to the country has made the declaring of myself “American” unfit, yet, classification of myself “Colombian” slightly uncomfortable.

I knew I couldn’t be the only one with this dilemma, and it became an even more prevalent confusion in my junior year of high school when I chose “White” on my answer sheet through the process of elimination. I am not Indian, Asian, African or biracial, and choosing “other” at the time seemed more like giving up in how to identify myself rather than making a statement; leaving “white” as my last option. But I asked myself, “Do they mean ‘skin-color-white’? Or ‘I-was-born- in-America- white’?” I justified my answer by reminding myself that my father has white skin and green eyes, so, I chose “white” when, in reality, I have dark olive/tan skin. While I could have easily bubbled-in “Other,” at that moment, I chose to identify with my American self. But this was not always the case.

I have spent years trying to decipher this mystery. Am I both? Am I neither? What am I and where am I really from? For years I have felt absolutely uneasy with the idea of trying to label myself one or the other. However, being raised in South Florida has made it much easier to answer the black-or-white-question, “where are you from,” in a grey form. If the U.S. is a melting pot, South Florida is a recycled city bench. The amount of South American, Central American, European, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern communities in that region is astounding. More specifically, in my particular city, Venezuelans and Colombians are even more heavily concentrated. Most of my friends and people of association were either fully American or first or second generation immigrants from Colombia or Venezuela.

In light of this, to those who were first generation immigrants, I was an “American” and those who were second generation immigrants like me thought of me as “Colombian.” Likewise, I am considered Hispanic in this country but considered Gringa, or American, in Colombia – or any other country for that matter. This points directly to how easily others can perceive you, and many times, it may not be in correlation with how you see yourself. It all depends on adaptation and just how much those who have foreign-born parents or immigrants themselves have accustomed to the very-American, semi-American, or in my case, almost Hispanic-colonial-based culture. It has to do with what exactly the person has chosen to integrate into their lives, and what they reject as something they don’t want in their lives. In other words, it is very possible to create one’s own culture, per say, and develop one’s own identification.

Having parents from a different country than the one I was born and raised in means I have Carlos Vives and Frank Sinatra downloaded onto my iPod. It means I am the vegetarian that gets confused looks when I order only a side of red beans with rice and a pandebono at Colombian restaurants. It means that I speak the truly convenient and creative Spanglish language with my friends and US-born-family members, yet, jot down any unfamiliar English word in my agenda to look up and learn later. It means that when I am in the U.S., I will miss Juan Valdez Coffee and when in Colombia, I will think of how many free Starbucks drinks I am missing out on every 12 days. It means I chose to stuff my luggage with a stash of home-made frozen arepas to cook for breakfast instead of swiping my ID card at the college dining hall every morning. It means I criticize both American and Colombian governments and societies. It means I felt the knife in my heart that Saturday afternoon when I abandoned my unfinished homework to protest for a better Venezuelan government in snowy Boston. It means I had to unwillingly part from my cousin at the airport only to wait two hours for her because owning a blue passport unshackles me from having to bear the immigration process. It means that I am a daughter of the breath-taking mountainous rock that veins Colombia and a daughter of the Miami concrete jungle that is arranged as an unending labyrinth. It means many, many things, but it most importantly means that I am a little bit of both cultures and I find my balance in what I create it to be.

Figuring out just where to draw the line in your opinions, practices, and beliefs is where that balance is created. The next time somebody asks you where you are from, strapping yourself to one label is unnecessary; even when you find yourself surrounded by people who are of a certain nation or have decided their ethos, you can craft your own identification through a medium of what you have been exposed to.

CultureEducationTravel

Followed by some, distorted by a few, and misconceived by many…what is Hinduism, after all? While explaining what it is would take an encyclopedia’s length, I’m here today to tell you what it is not. Western media and translators have misinterpreted the religion due to many cultural and linguistic barriers, but I’m here to break those stereotypes. You may be shocked but you will definitely learn, even if you are Hindu. Ready? Let’s start.

Misconception #1: Hindus worship cows.

Hindus do not worship cows, but respect them. Before copious amounts of industrialization hit India, the cow was used in a simple system that I like to call a resource triangle, as depicted below:

hindu 1

Agricultural benefits came from the fact that cows were used for plowing fields efficiently. Essentially, they acted as tractors before modern technology. This allowed a farmer’s harvest to be plentiful. Also, the manure produced by these bovine beauties was quite useful. We all are cognizant that homes must have this: food. You need to feed a family, and cows take care of that need too. Cheese (or paneer as many Indians prefer), milk, and butter could easily be provided to run a household. For this reason, many Hindus are vegetarians and abstain from eating beef as cattle provide them with what is basically an unlimited supply of food. Energy is produced by cow dung. It can be used to light fires and insulate homes in rural areas because it is easily flammable and can retain heat. Cows are respected because they act as a sustainability system for early Indian society. For fostering society, the cow is even seen as a maternal figure. As far as worship goes, Hindus regard all forms of life as sacred and venerate them, as they believe that no harm should be done upon to others—be it a human, a cow, or even an insect.

Misconception #2: Hinduism is a polytheistic religion.

This is perhaps the most common misconception. Hinduism is actually not a polytheistic religion. It’s rumored that Hindus worship 330 million gods or so, but that’s simply not true. Western interpreters of the religion misinterpreted this part, as one Hindu text states there are 330-million devas, or spiritual beings. Therefore, there are not millions of gods in Hinduism, making it not polytheistic. Rather, Hinduism is pluralistic. This means that there are multiple ways to connect, think, and relate to God. It’s believed that God can come in many different manifestations, and that God exists in all forms of life and in the universe.

Misconception #3: India is a poor country…of course generations of proletariat, uneducated beings would believe in such a silly religion.

Actually, India was a rich country until it was plundered and pillaged by centuries of Mughal rule followed by decades of British colonization. Indians discovered the Hindu number system (an early ancestor of the Arabic number system we use today), the concept of zero, various trigonometric functions, ayurvedic medicine, cataract surgery, plastic surgery (this happened as early as 2000 BCE, actually), shampoo (derived from the Hindustani word champo), and even the game of snakes and ladders (now also played as chutes and ladders). Hinduism has also been called a scientific religion in its teachings by several religious observers and analysts. So, while uneducated and illiterate people may be bountiful in India (just like anywhere else), that does not equate to stupidity or silliness.

Misconception #4: Hinduism endorses the caste system.

Way back when, a group of rich, upper-class priests decided to make a social hierarchy system: the caste system. What must be noted here is that the caste system was a cultural brainchild, not a religious rule. Tragically, the advent has been associated with the religion, when in reality it is a mishap of people, not divine rule

Misconception #5: Hindus use the swastika. They totally endorse Nazism.

The swastika existed in South Asian culture long before World War II, roughly about 4,000 years ago. However, the meaning of the symbol was not meant to be a social stigma towards a certain group of people. Unfortunately, during the 1930s and 1940s, a man decided to rise to power and propagandize, pervert, and misuse the swastika to accomplish a mission so murderous and heinous. The swastika actually represents the beginning of life and its swirling out into all the ends of the universe. It is meant to promote life, not destroy it.

Misconception #6: Hinduism isn’t relevant. No one really practices it and it has no influence in the world.

Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, just behind Christianity and Islam. There are one billion believers and counting. It is also the world’s oldest religion, believed to have been founded nearly 8,000 years ago. With being the world’s oldest religion, Hinduism has had some effects on other beliefs. Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama, was of Indian origin and a Hindu himself. Many of Buddhism’s principles are rooted in Hinduism’s teachings. Christianity’s story of the birth and childhood of Jesus Christ is analogous to that of Lord Krishna’s. Though Christians believe that Hindus “stole” that idea, the story of Lord Krishna came before that of Christ’s. Concepts of eternal truth and accounts of divinity were first recorded by Hindus. All in all, Hinduism has had an impact on the world as it has shaped policies of various mediums of spirituality.

Misconception #7: Hinduism is only practiced in India.

To be frank, with one billion followers, one country cannot contain all of Hinduism and its adherents. While most of the followers of this faith reside in India, large communities have been established in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America. Hinduism has truly proven to be a global religion, spreading its ideas to a myriad of people.

I hope you had the opportunity to learn a few things from this article. Hinduism isn’t the only misconceived religion, as all faiths have had their fair share of misinterpretation, stereotypes, and misunderstandings. I want you to depart with one idea in mind: educate yourself. Educate yourself about other beliefs and cultures. I say this a lot nowadays, but only because it’s true. Twenty-first century illiteracy does not come from those who cannot read, but rather from those who remain ignorant and refuse to learn. So go ahead, learn something new during your youth. Seize the chances you have and don’t miss a single one!

Image: Nicolas Raymond, Flickr