Your Unique Cultural Lens: A Guide To Cultural Competence

Layer 2: Expression – Additional Example


I lived my first 22 years – through college – in Oklahoma, then moved to Washington, D.C., full time. For more than 10 years, I’ve also traveled at least a quarter of the time. “When are you going [or coming] home?” is a common question in my life, with often a confusing answer because that could mean any number of places.

Home, to my transient mind, can mean my hotel room or even office. I call D.C., where I really live, home; there’s a map of D.C. on my wall with a star that in fact says, “You are home.” And home is also Oklahoma, which is…home. It’s where I’m from, where I understand the most about what’s going on, and where I’ll end up, one way or the other, at the end of my life.

When I think of Oklahoma, I think: family and church; droughts and tornadoes; an economy based in oil, farming and the widespread belief that all wealth comes from the land. We have red dirt and some of the prettiest hills and trees on planet Earth. We are the land of the white man – in the historic 2008 election, Oklahoma voted for McCain over Obama by the widest margin of any state – but were originally a new homeland for Native Americans and very nearly became a black state by constitution. Oklahomans like their guns, and Oklahomans like their beef. Occasionally, the good guy with a gun myth plays out in real-life Oklahoma establishments, and most of us think that knowing almost everyone is packing prevents a lot of problems.  The state motto is Labor Conquers All Things, which is the most accurate four-word version of how I was raised and how I see life.

I’ve asked friends what comes to mind when they think of Oklahoma. God – religion, manifest destiny, our way of describing home as God’s country – came up the most. Republicanism and resiliency, ironic since Democrats dominated well into the 1990s and elements of the state’s management are anything but prepared to bounce back. Sports teams. Rednecks and Okies, neither of which is an insult anymore. Cheap, conspicuous, paranoid and racist are adjectives given, as well as friendly, warm and compassionate.

Oklahoma is a place people came when they had nowhere else to go. While some did because they were forced to (the Trail of Tears) and others came for opportunity (the Land Run), the common denominator was trying to get out of somewhere else. I have a disproportionate number of friends carrying German family names who have ancestors with known criminal records in the home country. While I swam against that stream – leaving to make my own better life somewhere else – the impulse runs deep.

There are certain parts of my personality I know come from that culture: I own versus rent; I always prefer to drive my own car; I am inclined toward self-employment; I tend away from fancy food, dress or attitudes; my sense of gender roles is complex and stubborn. Being Oklahoman has vastly influenced my impression of what constitutes a high wind, a solid day of work, excessive weight and a complete meal. Contemplating the things that made those two lists, I’m clear that the Oklahoma in me is part of why I tend to be so sensory, even visceral, in my experiences”.

Both of the geographic locations where I have roots – and the many places I spend rootless days and nights – offer a little bit of everything if though different sets of lenses, different filters on the human experience. I am a product of them and also fit nicely into them because I, too, am filled with paradoxes.