Cultural Autobiography Essays

Cultural Autobiography 2 Born into a typical white Christian American family, I was raised as part of the US ethnic majority. My parents were both of German and Irish decent like a good portion of the population. Being that my family was Catholic, tradition was a main part of life. My parents had four children, all born two years apart. Planning and living the American dream became the main values and goals that I could only hope to achieve by following in my parents footsteps. My childhood education began in Catholic school where religious discussions of morals and guilt became a part of life. As a child I took everything to heart. Being the oldest child, I strived to set a good example for my siblings and always stay in line with the expectations set for me. Every morning I would wake up early to help my mother get my siblings ready for school and once we got to school, each grade lined up and recited the Hail Mary and the Pledge of Allegiance. Structure and conformity was engrained in everything. Each grade consisted of no more than 20 students so that teachers could focus on teaching each student how to live the righteous Catholic lifestyle. Through religious classes I learned the rules set in place by God for us. If we all abided by these guidelines we would be freed of our sins and spend eternity in heaven. All of the traditional subjects were also taught by the teachers but the material was purely factual whereas religion class provided a way of life. Following the examples set for me, I did as I was told and truly believed that by listening to those older and wiser than me I would lead a happy fulfilled life. One day my class watched a video about poor children in Africa, seeing how little the children had in other countries made me not want to have everything I had. The guilt I felt as a child for being so privileged caused me to reject all gifts given to me for years. Eventually I realized that it was alright to accept gifts but I should be aware of how lucky I was and I should try to contribute to the lives of others less fortunate in any way possible. Catholic school made me feel guilty about everything and overcoming the guilt I felt over my slightest faults became one of my biggest struggles throughout grade school. As I got older and passed through each grade with my classmates, we underwent the usual changes associated with growing up. One day in second grade, one of my friends decided that she wanted to kiss a boy in our class while we were at recess. As she ran towards him and attempted to tackle him, he yelped for help so I stepped between them and was appalled by her persistence as she tried to get around me to do what I thought was purely repulsive. I could only think that boys had cooties and wonder if she didn’t know that. As we got older each of my

Cultural Autobiography

When I first saw in the syllabus the type of paper we would be writing for this course I thought about what culture means to me. What was the culture of my family? Where did we come from? How did we end up in Virginia? How did we end up believing some of the things we believe? To me culture was basically how I was raisedÐ'--my behaviors, beliefs, values, and ideas cultivated during my youth and its evolvement as I grew into an adult. This truly was to be a very interesting and involved quest for information. Though I attempted to use websites such as and, I found most of the information from a couple of the adults in my family. Adults? I, too, am an adult, but in my family, age comes before everything; and because I am younger, I am treated as such and am expected to behave a certain manner towards the elders in my family. So begins the learning of the nature of my familial circle!

It was incredibly difficult to get information from older family membersÐ'--and younger family members knew little! I went through several adults before obtaining any information. I received no information from the men and minimal information from the females. Much of my information I had to remember from what my grandmother told me which had to be pieced together with information from cousins and my brother.

My grandfather is the only one of my grandparents still alive today. He is from Stony Creek, Virginia, and his father is from North Carolina though he grew up in Sussex, Virginia. His mother was a slave descendent and his father was a landowner. I could not retrieve names or dates for his parents' births or deaths or their marriage. My great-grandmother's biological father was white and her mother's race remains unknown to me. Because my great-grandmother had very pale skin and soft, dark and wavy hair, I cannot assume that her mother was of African descent or of Cherokee Indian descent as were several of my great-great aunts and uncles.

Information was quite limited on the Cherokee Indian background of blacks in Virginia and North Carolina. I did, however, find the following information on why this may be the case

Her [Dr. DeMarce] work is mentioned here because there are thousands of African Americans from Virginia, and the Carolinas who claim Native American Ancestry, yet have no direction as to where to go to document this relationship. The effort to trace Indian ancestry from the Upper South is probably one of the more challenging areas of Black-Indian Genealogy. Unlike the extensive records to be found in the Five Civilized Tribes, there was a deliberate effort of the United States to eliminate other tribes by officially eliminating them from the Federal Census. In the early 1800's it was not uncommon to learn that many tribes were simply "terminated". As a result, among those families where Indian ancestors lived, they were frequently listed as mulatto, or as white, depending upon the complexion of the individuals enumerated. This official "termination" gave the impression that the population in the United States was either black or white. This challenge in locating Indian ancestors from this region must be clearly understood by the family historian from the beginning.

The Five Civilized Tribes are the Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and

Seminoles. Euro-Americans referred to these tribes as civilized because the cultures of these tribes had traditional characteristics that were misrepresented as evolving from Euro-American contact. Some of these tribes even had slaves.

When my search ended within the family, I searched for the family name of Parham. Parham is a name from places in Suffolk and Sussex, with pere Ð''pear' and ham Ð''homestead'. The majority of the Parhams immigrated from Germany, England, and Ireland.

There are 4 living generations currently in my family. Normally, the eldest person in the family is considered the wisest and the one to be most respected. Now my grandfather is not the eldest in the entire family, but he is the eldest in his bloodline. If our family were compared to the mob, my grandfather would be the Godfather. He is very respected. Family members, young and old, do what they are asked to do by him usually without question. Though he gives the impression that he should not be treated that way, he is still given the greatest respect because of his age, wisdom, and life experience. When he passes, the next eldest or most responsible of his children, or one of his own siblings, will abdicate that right. After the grandfather, the next most prestigious would be the elders, or his siblings.

The men in our family are looked upon highly as the breadwinners and protectors. They farm and gather and bring home the spoils for the family. The Parham men are to be respected as they are the Kings of their households. Though several of my grandfather's sons have their own families now, they are still viewed as head of their household and will have the final word in matters. The Parham men are farmers and work hard outside daily to grow grains, tobacco, beans, and peanuts. They start early in the morning, often before sunrise, and may often work until after sunset.

Though the females in the Parham family are also very strong individuals, we are looked down upon. It seems as though females in the Parham family should be seen and not heard as our opinions are not valued or considered equal to the male opinion. However, the Parham women are strong and nurturing individuals; and though our opinions may not be as valued, we are often the ones with the information as each woman may have the duties of wife, mother, secretary, receptionist, doctor, nurse, pharmacist, teacher, cook, housekeeper, farmhand, and counselor. When my grandmother passed away several years ago, my grandfather did not know where anything was from toothpaste to paperwork that was used for the family business. He was truly at a loss. Everything had to be reorganized because she had her own way of filing things. It was quite devastating to the entire family when she died because she did so much for so many but was truly under-appreciated. She was indeed a family stone as many of the Parham women have the capability of being.

The children of the family can be considered both least and most important. Least because they are the last to get served at dinner and if help is needed on the farm, they will be kept home from school. They are most important because they will carry on the Parham name and are especially valuable as farmhands. As soon as the children are old enough to understand personal safety and they are able-bodied, they are used to help plant, prune,


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