Where do you think is the best place to view and explore the different cultures that make up a country, group, religion, or even town? For me, one of the best places to go is an art museum.
Where else can you see French culture hanging on the wall next to African style, British fashion, and Italian masterpieces? I’ve been to my fair share of art museums, among which include the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art (affectionately called MoMA) in New York, the Louvre in Paris, the Musei Vaticani (the museum of the Vatican which is filled to the brim with art), and a plethora of others in Philadelphia, Alexandria VA, Italy, London, and just about every place I’ve traveled to. All around the world, there are art museums and galleries everywhere. In America, there’s a gallery on just about every corner, at least in small towns like mine.
To me, an art museum or gallery is a fitting metaphor for America. In these places, there are displays of tons of different cultures, and each is celebrated in their own exhibits. Walking through a museum, you can find classic oil paintings from the French Revolution in one room, Pollocks covering the entire walls of a huge open room adjacent to it, and modern art hanging from the ceilings of the hallway leading to the Van Goghs and Da Vincis in the exhibition next door.
America is like this. Different cultures can be seen everywhere. The U.S. can be like the museum, housing every culture, or piece of art, you can imagine. And each of these cultures, just like a masterpiece in a museum, is celebrated. I don’t believe people in America need to lose their cultures in the midst of the growing “American” culture they are surrounded by in their every day lives. There are plenty of organizations, like art preservation staff in museums, whose main purpose is the preservation of culture, from
groups on college campuses to societies in local towns. Each work of art identifies largely with a museum, like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, yet it also closely identifies with the specific exhibit it inhabits, the Italian paintings section of the Denon Wing. Many Americans are the same way. They identify as Americans, but also work to preserve their heritage, whether that’s by joining organizations like the National Italian American Foundation or just cooking authentic foods and teaching their grandchildren some Polish.
America is definitely a multicultural country, built on the coming of immigrants over the past several centuries. Over this time, the museum of America has gained a wide range of exhibits hailing from all around the world. But most Americans today can’t be sorted into just one exhibit. Many Americans identify with multiple cultures. I’m American, but I’m also Italian, Polish, English, and a little German and Scottish. Where would I be placed in the museum of America? Well, there are works of art that are in similar predicaments. Do you put the bold, colorful new piece by an Italian artist in the Italian paintings exhibit or the modern art collection?
Should there be a specific exhibit for “Americans” in our metaphorical museum? Sure, why not? Personally, I choose to identify with all of my cultural heritages, and I’m sure others do, too. So, why not have a traveling exhibit while we’re at it? This way, as pieces of art, Americans can identify with several different exhibits, not just one “American” one. Maybe some people will choose to stick with one exhibit, perhaps like those who they themselves or their parents came directly from another country. But then again, they may embrace the new American culture around them and become a traveling exhibit because isn’t that what America essentially is? An intermingling of cultures for us to see and explore?
When it comes to describing America’s multiculturalism, I think of an art museum. Maybe it’s because of my love for art, but the metaphor works well. So the next time you go on a tour of America, or maybe just of your town or school, try to make a mental floor plan of what you see. Can you spot the different cultures that make up the “American” culture? Can you tell when you’ve walked from the German exhibit to the Irish one? Map it out, it could be pretty interesting.