It’s honestly a little difficult to completely narrow down my culture being that it shifted quite a bit at certain points in my life. I was born in Orlando, FL to parents who had both been born and raised in small town Central Florida, Mt. Dora and Eustis to be exact. Between my mother and father’s families I am of English, Irish, French and German descent, although still I’m not sure what (if any) cultural impact this had on my life. My parents were what raised in what most would consider to be a traditionally Southern environment: Baptist church every Sunday, home cooking, good manners, and generally conservative beliefs, although I understand that they began to change a few years before they had me, deciding that they wanted to live and raise their future children in a more liberal, open-minded environment. They were both young, twenty-something year old’s who were (in my opinion) basically still kids developing their own opinions and deciding on their own moral codes when they had me. Early on they were avid pot smokers who verbally protested how it should be legalized frequently. I’m not saying this for any other reason than that it had a huge influence on them and the way they viewed the world, which, in turn, determined a lot with regard to my own upbringing.
When they weren’t voicing their opinions on that, they enjoyed taking me to the beach and/or Disney World every weekend and introducing me to their love for 70’s rock. I grew up listening to Tom Petty, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Seger, Eric Clapton, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Doobie Brothers (to name a few) on heavy rotation. I guess you could say that, in a nutshell, I was raised by free thinkers who wanted me to be my own person, just like they were trying to be. That doesn’t mean that their Southern roots weren’t apparent in our household; for example, I was introduced to small-town gossip, hush puppies, collard greens and hunting/fishing pretty early on in life (I still love collard greens and fishing).
When my parents divorced I was 5 years old. My mother moved us down to Miami, FL while my father moved to Charleston, SC for his job (Navy). I was immersed in the culture of South Florida at this point, something extremely unfamiliar to me. I made friends and learned about Cuban and Caribbean culture, eating Cuban sandwiches at corner diners and drinking watermelon soda while (secretly) feeling envious of those who could speak Spanish. I felt like pretty much the only person in my school who couldn’t, but throughout the years I eventually learned to speak and understand it rather well. When I entered middle school my mother decided that she wanted to start taking me to church to set a “better example”, so we began attending a Catholic church in Davie, FL. Once again I felt slightly out of place as I was pretty much the only kid who hadn’t had their first communion since I technically came from a Southern Baptist family. I have a tough time determining what cultural influence my mother really instilled in me at this point other than how important it was to believe in God and have proper etiquette – please, thank you, yes ma’am, no sir, use the fork furthest to the left, etc etc. I complied but was honestly already a bit stuck in my ways due to the influence from my earlier childhood – I preferred a simpler way of life that included going to the beach, listening to rock music, going to the roller rink and reading every book I could get my hands on. My mother was a hard worker who didn’t like to ask anyone for handouts, and there are times I remember her working 2-3 jobs just to make it by and support our small family. She was with my (ex) stepfather for 8 years and he was as Italian as they came – I watched him cook all of the traditional Italian dishes and learned all of their customs (which mostly centered around food if we’re being honest). I even learned some funny Italian expressions along the way, a couple of which I still use out of pure habit. When I entered high school my mother met and married her current husband who is as southern as they come – he’s from Texas – and I was then introduced to biscuits n’ gravy, cowboy boots and classic country music (Conway Twitty, George Jones, and Loretta Lynn are his favorites), all of which I grew an appreciation for in their own right.
I’d like to think that I’m a combination of the various cultures that I was exposed to growing up and I fully appreciate the fact that I was exposed to so many different, interesting lifestyles. I believe that it’s made me more open minded to other cultures and has allowed me to easily adapt in unfamiliar environments and develop amazing friendships with people from numerous backgrounds. For that, I really am grateful.