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Quite a cultural exchange: where are American cultural events?

We know America as “the melting pot,” where people from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together as one. I was born here, so I naturally relate to American culture in ways that other people who moved here from other countries probably don’t.

I was born in Georgia and grew up in a small Florida town consisting of predominately white people. It wasn’t a racist area, but definitely a place with very little diversity. Upon moving to a larger city while in high school, I was amazed by the diversity of the people that surrounded me. I was even more amazed by people’s pride in their respective cultures.

One piece of culture that I became especially engrossed in was the Asian tea culture. Having been a fan of Southern sweet tea for years, the tea culture was not only delicious, but also engrossing. The fact that many countries in Asia have festivals surrounding tea (because it’s a part of their daily lives) is so fascinatingly foreign to me.

What would the American equivalent of tea be? Coffee? I think it’s safe to say that America doesn’t have anything like this, something so deeply rooted in our culture, and I think it’s sad. Here, we don’t have many traditions to unify us all other than a lack of tradition. But is that enough?

The Japanese have conducted tea ceremonies since the 9th century C.E. According to Japanese Lifestyle, matcha, which is powdered green tea, was enjoyed not only by Buddhist monks but also samurai warriors. By the 16th century, tea was drank throughout all social levels in Japan. A main historical figure of the tea ceremony named Sen no Rikyu introduced the concept of “ichi-go-ichi-e.” This statement means “one time, one meeting,” which is the attitude that remains associated with tea ceremonies today.

Everything about the ceremony and the host must be perfect. The host will prepare for several days to present and on the day of the ceremony he or she will wear a kimono. The guest will purify themselves by cleansing their hands and mouths with water minutes before the ceremony. After being welcomed to the tea room or outside garden, guests remove their shoes and enter. Typically, a light meal is served along with some sake before the tea. The ceremony is meant to be peaceful and sensuous.

Kim Pham, a local tea specialist and co-owner of Kaleisa Tea Lounge in Tampa has been trained in Japan to perform the Chanoyu ceremony and performed it a few years ago at the Polk Museum of Art. I was fortunate enough to attend. Although I had heard about the ceremony before I saw it, it was more beautiful than the descriptions online or the videos I had seen on YouTube.

“The performance is the process of preparing tea but it has a deeper meaning,” Pham told the Polk Museum of Art. “The principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility are integral to the lives of ones who follow the art of Chanoyu.”

After experiencing a cultural event like that, I can’t help but think about my American culture and what it entails. Our celebrations come around once or twice a year, and to celebrate, we just put on our red, white and blue outfits, drink and watching fireworks.

Are we wrong for not incorporating more of our history into our present? Or is our history rooted in our diversity? Perhaps American society incorporates too many other cultures to narrow it down. We’re still young, maybe once America defines herself we can define our traditions.