The inescapable truth was that we were listening to a true global citizen--a composite of cultural influences who was influenced by his roots but was un-tethered to and unencumbered by them. Carlos Izcaray, the Alabama Symphony's new Music Director, can play anywhere onthe globe, and like any good artist, allows himself to be moved by each place's particular flavor and character. And with each stop, his own artistic identity expands. Because he finds value in and is shaped by every experience, his own cultural identity resists simplistic definition. Such is the nature of a global c itizen. Perhaps, this is the nature of artists--to be and not be. A heritage of transcendence. An identity that is more amorphous than clearly delineated.
Lise Funderburg, in her National Geographic article "The Changing Face of America," reflected on the murky landscape of race and identity in the U.S. She argues that our categories of identity classification are inherently flawed, and, in the future, classification will be even more challenging. Will the endeavor be futile? In the not-too-distant-future, some of us may have mocha skin with blond curly hair and blue almond-shaped eyes. Into which box does this person fit? How does she define herself culturally? Purity is often a virtue; will the inevitable blurring of identity perpetuate historical antagonisms? Within those conflicts, will the roles be reversed? Will the individual with the straight-line ancestry be the minority? And how will our values adapt? I love that I can define myself as Greek and Italian--two culture groups more similar than distinct. I celebrate the fact that my fathers family traces its lineage to Crete, which is somehow reflected in my own identity and sensibility. 3500 years of culture welled up inside of me. The feeling is mysteriously palpable. But the shrinking globe and liberated cultural norms may make this a minority experience. In many places, it already is. The purity of a lineage diffused but enriched and changed by another. The children of the hypothetical woman above will feel this even more dramatically, and theirs even more as they become the new culture makers. They'll create the system and code that others will proclaim and wear and sing.
Our experiences are fluid. We get personally connected to the stuff that represents us. It's the stuff of our identity. But one of the few constants in life--change--often abnegates our attempts to cling to cultural relics as totems or symbols of definitive virtue. Consequently, the dissolution of that stuff, or its reinterpretation, symbolizes a personal death; an aspect of ourselves is no longer affirmed. Consider the anxiety surrounding the Confederate battle flag. As it falls from favor and flag poles all over the country, people proclaim "Heritage, not hate" to sterilize and legitimize the symbol and, by extension, the story they've chosen as their own. Shaming this cultural icon shames, correctly or not, the bearers of the banner. This happens with cultural relics the world over. But we should find solace and vitality in the resilience and malleability written into our genes. We change. Culture changes. We save what is worthy and discard the refuse. And we embrace the good ideas proclaimed by others. Such is the genesis of new cultures. We erect new monuments, define new styles, sing new songs, claim new banners, and espouse new values. We are still derivative of some past, but we pound, reluctantly and relentlessly, the unknown boundaries of our futures. Some may lament the loss of their Confederate emblem; but, if they are open, they may find a new icon—more authentic perhaps, that more accurately defines them. And later, still, they'll find a new one. Filling that cultural vacuum can be burdensome, but it’s also an amazing opportunity. While forging our identities, we should emulate Whitman's determination, "Hoping to cease not till death" (9).
When we feel anxious and rootless, we should look to our artists to show us the way. They teach us about blending colors and techniques. Pierce Inverarity, in Thomas Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49, reminds Oedipa Maas to "Keep it bouncing...that's the secret" (178), as she seeks answers and information. He wants her to invest in ideas and their progeny, not static ideologies. He wants her to know that symbols will change. In his poem "Ithaca," Constantine Cavafy reminds us that the journey, not the destination, is the point. He reminds us of the inimitable value of each moment--each experience. These artists remind us that culture is endlessly created and recreated. They teach us how to change gracefully. We listen and learn as Izcaray celebrates his global citizenship. His cultural identity is not either/or. His is best expressed as both/and.
Director of Altamont's Global Initiative
This blog is the collective voice of every person involved in the Global Initiative. Just as the globe hosts billions of disparate voices, we hope this space will embody and embrace the same diversity.