Culture and the Wellness Wheel
The ways that people respond to illness and potential treatments is individual. Some people will clamor for medical attention at the slightest hint of fever or sneezes that happen at too close an interval. Others will do everything in their power to avoid seeking medical aid even when they are bleeding profusely or hallucinating because of a high level of infection. Reasons why people react the way they do to illness or injury has a lot to do with the way in which that person was raised. Those that are dealt with by hypochondriac parents will, in turn, become worried adults. Similarly, those that are raised to deal with illness at home will usually be adults with similar perspectives. In many instances, the culture in which a person was reared will have a high degree of influence on the adult that the child becomes. For example, a cultural background from Great Britain or other western countries will likely seek out hospitals, doctors, and nurses when they are unwell. However, people from a less developed heritage, such as those from Vietnam will be more likely to use home remedies and seek out healers as opposed to doctors. As a descendent of both Ukrainian and German culture, I have been influenced by the medical ideas and customs of my heritage, even if I was not aware of this before conducting research.
I. Background Information:
My ancestors come from both the Western and the Eastern parts of the European continent (Family 2012). On my father’s side, I am a third generation Ukrainian American. My paternal relatives came here from Eastern Europe. My mother’s side comes from Germany. From the maternal side of my family, I am 7th generation American which obviously means that my mother’s family came to this country more than twice as long ago as my father’s family. Because there have been so many generations in the United States on my mother’s side, it is hard to determine what types of difficulties they had during immigration. The paternal side, being more a recent immigration, is more easily traceable. They came from Ukraine approximately 70 years ago before the Second World War. The reasons behind the immigration were a disagreement with the governmental influences that were being put into place in pre-World War II Eastern Europe.
Shortly thereafter, the United States would be allied with the Russians against the Nazis in Germany. After that war, the United States would be at war with the Russians. My family, though not Russian was considered close enough geographically as to create some animosity between neighbors who feared potential Communist sympathies in the new Americans (Buhle 1996,-page 200). This fear which only got worse in the late 1940s and early 1950s throughout the Red Scare period led my grandparents to fear strangers and to instill that caution in their child, who then passed it down to me. This insecurity and suspicion encouraged my grandparents to Americanize as quickly and thoroughly as possible, which meant abandoning many of their customs and traditions.
II. Current Information:
The greatest cultural conflicts that my relations have experienced in the United States have been the erroneous belief that people who come from a part of the world in which the U.S. is at war. My family members from Germany had to deal with angry American both during the First World War and then again during the Second. The fact that they had not been in Europe for a long time did not matter because they happened to have a last name which was reminiscent of the enemy. This same thing would happen to my unfortunate Ukrainian relatives during the Cold War. The citizens of the United States have a history of overreaction to citizens who have ancestral ties to their enemies, no matter how far away or through how many years that connection may be.
In both Germany and in the Ukraine, gender has been a major cultural and political issue, just as it has in the United States. Both cultures are highly patriarchal and have stereotypes of butch, manly and masculinized women. Much of this stereotype is based upon the perception of women in lower income and lower class portions of the countries where women were required to perform hard labor in order to help feed and clothe their families as well as to support men in times of war and violence. People of the United States like to believe that this country has made more strides than any other nation in creating equality between the two genders. There have definitely been improvements, but in no way are women considered the equals of men. This is true in the Ukraine and in modern Germany as well. According to R. Nataliy (2007), women in the Ukraine are encouraged to behave without more effeminate characteristics because it is their responsibility to support and rear their families, even in the harshest of circumstances. This ideology is exhibited in the few women who have been able to obtain positions of political power in the Ukraine. All of them have traditionally male characteristics, the underlying psychology being that a feminine woman would not have the strength of character or intellect to lead a nation. In modern day Germany, women are encouraged to be stay-at-home mothers and getting jobs outside of the home is more difficult for women than men. There are plenty of females in the workplace, but a large percentage of the German population leave the work place after they become mothers (Women 2008). These are idea which are remnants of the past cultures wherein women were completely dominated by men and their gender identities modified by the social perspective into a type of propaganda.
III. Personal Reflection:
When certain populations immigrate to the United States from other parts of the world, there is a large amount of pressure to accept the new culture of their adopted country. That way, they do not seem to be archaic or inappreciative of the new opportunities that are awarded them. Often, those that are not able to assimilate quickly are castigated and marginalized in this country either through the discomfort of the immigrant or through the friction between foreign-born Americans and natural born citizens. There are many ways in which the culture of foreign-born nationals does not coalesce with those of the United States and even in the modern moment with populations which have been raised in this country, the influence of the old country still presents itself, sometimes in unexpected ways.
I consider myself to be an American. My birth certificate reads that I was born in this country. I have a Social Security card with a number which identifies me as a member of the citizenry of the United States. I have never tried to expand my sense of nationalism beyond the limits of the United States of America. This identification is complete. To be honest, I only had a cursory understanding of my ancestry before this research project was assigned. Now I understand that I have both German and Ukrainian ancestors who suffered quite a bit so that I could become the American citizen I have always considered myself to be. Examining some of the history has made me both more understanding of my family members and their behaviors, but also more appreciative.
In this post-9/11 world, society has seen an increase in the amount of distrust and suspicion that is placed on people from the Middle East, especially those that happen to belong to the Muslim religion. Although I can say without hesitation that I have never been one to hold an entire group responsible for the actions of a small percentage of political and religious extremists, learning about my relative’s sociological and psychological misfortune at the hands of their adopted countrymen makes me feel even more sympathetic to those types of people. It is not the Islamic religion that celebrates terrorism or murder. People who happen to be American citizens but who also happen to be a part of a cultural heritage with ties back to the Middle East, particularly Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan are largely prejudiced against because of the erroneous belief that they associate or condone the actions of the terrorists. Just because your family used to live in the country that has a population with which the government does not currently agree does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that descendents who live in the United States have anything to do with America’s enemies.
This experience has also led me to have some further understanding of the psychology of my grandparents and then my parents after them. My father’s parents left the Ukraine in order to escape the political upheaval that was evident in the days before the First World War. Yet, when they got here they had to contend first with the attitude of nationalism from native-born Americans who were resistant to embrace new immigrants at all, but then that conflict was exacerbated by the Americans involvement in World War II and then the Cold War. Naturally dealing with the hardships of the home country would make them more protective and careful because there was so much danger. They would naturally have been less extravagant because they would have known pretty severe hardship in the Ukraine. Then they would have developed a sense of unease around Americans who did not have the same background because of the relationship between the Western world and Eastern Europe following World War II. This fear led to my father being raised not being allowed to explore his neighborhood alone and being encouraged to interact only with other Ukrainian immigrants, severely limiting his relationships. This caution naturally enough was passed to me as a young child.
IV. Issues of Wellness:
In my family’s background, the maternal side has been Americanized for enough generations that there are few culturally-based hesitations towards seeking medical attention through western means such as hospitals and doctors. My Ukrainian background has far more to do with culturally biased attitudes against western medicine. In Ukraine, there is a very large difference between their medical practices and those of the western world and that is still true today (Styles 2012). In the past, faith healers and home remedies would often be the best way to treat various illnesses and injuries when in the Old Country. If a person was so ill that they required something other than basic home remedy, then a person from the family would go to a doctor, usually in a larger village and would acquire medicine based upon a description of the symptoms, often without the medical practitioner even seeing the patient at all. In modern Ukraine, people can go into a pharmacy and get medication for illnesses. They can do this often without seeing a doctor. Prescription medications and controlled substances can be acquired by many people without the intervention, advice, or approval of medical professionals. Such can be the same for physical, mental, or emotional conditions. This shows exactly how the culture difference exists between west and east.
The culture clash between western and eastern peoples has had a profound effect on my family. Given the fear of western medicine that my family has from a cultural perspective, I am not surprised that many, even those born in the United States, are reluctant to seek professional medical attention on a regular basis. Could I give advice to my family members and following generations, I would ask them to reconsider seeking attention. Instead of viewing it as a cultural issue, I would ask them to think first and foremost of what is best for their health.
Buhle, Paul (1996). The Immigrant Left in the United States. State University of New York
Press: Albany, NY.
“Family History.” (2012). Personal History
Nataliya, R. (2007). Welcome to Ukraine. Retrieved from http://www.wumag.kiev.ua/index2.php?param=pgs20033/80
Styles, R. (2012). “Pharmacies show contrast between Ukraine, West.” Kyiv Post.
Working mothers, unite! Women have long been held back in Germany, but that is now changing. (2008, Jun 10). Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/11708457
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