Even if it wasn't before, Bakersfield has grown to become a city proud of its cultural and racial diversity.
Don't believe it? Listen. Hear the voices of people from across the city's broadening spectrum of communities. Where in years past diverging views may have been muted, now witness people speak confidently of the contributions their diverse cultures have made.
We invited prominent individuals from different backgrounds to write about their celebrations of cultural and ethnic identity, and what they hope people can understand about their traditions. Take a few moments to reflect on what they had to say. Because this is what's going on virtually next door right here in Bakersfield.
I enjoy sharing my customs and culture with others. As an African American, I feel that it’s important for people to not only know about my traditions, but why I chose to celebrate those traditions. We live in a melting pot where there are many different types of people, so understanding our differences is important in uniting us as a community.
One thing that I particularly enjoy celebrating about my culture is how we worship on Sunday mornings. It’s a time, once a week, where we come together and fellowship. It’s a place of spiritual comfort and a sense of community. From the spiritual rhythmic tempo of the drums to the jazzy swag of the piano keys, to the long, drawn-out service, and to the “call-and-response” between the preacher and the congregation, all have been culturally ingrained in me.
I celebrate the vibrant history of a giving congregation to a community in a time of need. I celebrate wearing my “Sunday’s best” that reinforced positive self-images of African Americans in a world that sees us differently. I celebrate the shouting “Hallelujah” and bent over praise dances knowing our hope is built on nothing less, and we shall overcome.
I celebrate my deeply held black church traditions for giving me a sense of belonging and pride. And I hope that one day we can look beyond color in the hope of forming one multiracial and multiethnic culture of celebrations to be shared by everyone.
— NaTesha Kindred “T” Johnson, CEO/consultant, Upside Productions Management Inc.
I celebrate and appreciate the deep values of compassion, joy, hope and the deeper purpose of existence that is embedded in our Jewish culture. Judaism has always stood for the power of the human being to affect his or her world. Judaism teaches us that we were not placed here as passive objects in our Creator’s hand. Rather, He endowed us all with free will to choose between destroying His world or partnering with Him to perfect it.
Judaism teaches us that we are all agents of the Divine to care for and perfect our world. Our job is to perfect it and allow it to be the place it was meant to be: a masterwork whose Creator is manifest in its every detail. I appreciate the power Judaism gives me to help create a better and more refined world through continued acts of goodness and kindness. My Judaism empowers me, fills me with joy and gives me the confidence to make a difference.
What I hope people know about my cultural identity is that we are your neighbors, friends and co-workers. Don’t assume what you are reading and watching about Jews is true. Increase your knowledge, ask questions and make space for acceptance and love for those who are different than you. Judaism teaches us that every individual has a unique purpose in this world and together we are all landscapers in creating the garden the world is meant to be.
L'Chaim! To Life!
— Esther Schlanger, Chabad of Bakersfield
Being Taiwanese American has been such an immense blessing in my life. Growing up in Taiwan, I had many fond memories. I remember receiving lucky red envelopes while proudly holding the wooden handle of a red fish paper lantern at the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. Our community came together for the annual divine pig contest to see who boasted the heaviest hog in the land. Our family would ride mopeds to the night market for xiaochi or “small eats” such as or ah mee sua (oyster vermicelli), gam zat (fresh sugarcane) or tsua bing (shaved ice with various toppings).
We moved to California when I was 5. Assimilating into the American culture was linguistically smooth yet culturally challenging. I struggled to find the right balance between maintaining my own cultural ties while forming new ones. It wasn’t until college that I finally realized that being Taiwanese American meant that I had the best of both worlds.
I’m now a proud member of the Bakersfield Chinese Women’s Club. There’s so much to celebrate about my heritage. I love the beautiful qi paos, exciting lion dances, my mom’s delicious home-cooked meals, my dad’s artistic calligraphy, and now, giving the lucky red envelopes.
It’s important for me to pass on the traditions as well as the values of hard work and integrity instilled in me by my parents and grandparents.
— Nina Ha, writer
I celebrate my culture every day through food, music, history and remembering where I come from. I enjoy learning about my ancestors' favorite traditional dishes and learning recipes and enjoying them while sharing stories with my children.
Traveling to Mexico, my native country, and exploring the vibrant, magical towns while eating my way through is another way I love to immerse myself in my culture — and then it all continues when I return home and prepare new dishes with new ingredients to share with family and friends.
Showing up for our diverse community and uplifting communities across Kern is another way I celebrate my culture. I hope that people can recognize the value of diversity and see our cultural identity as an asset to our community. I believe that by embracing our cultural identities, we can foster a greater appreciation and respect for diversity in our community.
— Reyna Olaguez, executive director, South Kern Sol
Both my parents are from Gujarat, India. My mother is from Dharmaj. Her father is from Dharmaj and her mother is from Karamsad. My father is from Bhadran. His father is from Bhadran and his mother is from Nadiad.
I am a product of their love but also their sacrifices and I can see where systemic oppression influenced their need to sacrifice. While caste discrimination continues today in India, and I hold immense privilege being a Patel, I try to commit myself to an abolitionist and communist lifestyle, which I believe have a very long history in our home country. I celebrate my family’s resistance to white assimilation and our history of anti-colonial sentiment even with Hindutva nationalists dragging us down, including fascist prime minister Narendra Modi. Communist Indian women and femmes have been at the forefront of revolutionary politics in India and we would have never seen independence from colonists had it not been for them.
So, I hope people know I continue the revolutionary tradition of my ancestors and hold no space for white supremacist structures or beliefs. It is with my ancestors' blessings I look forward to a day when white supremacism is brought down by either God or the people themselves. I hope to commit to my cultural identity by passing on the culture of revolution my ancestors fought for.
— Riddhi Patel, economic development coordinator, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
When I reflect on my ethnic background as an African American/Black woman, I celebrate my ancestors’ resilience, an attribute that I intentionally cultivate and encourage others to discover in themselves.
In order to understand what I mean by resilience, an acknowledgment of the past is necessary, for as everyone knows, the history of my family, and those of my ethnic background, is one of enslavement as well as all the pivotal historical milestones, which are admittedly, many, that have led to my being able to write about celebrating my identity. What strikes me as truly remarkable in my ancestors is their ability to absorb setbacks without being defeated, the very definition of resilience.
We see it in the refrain of an oft-sung line “We shall overcome.” We shall overcome slavery; we shall overcome segregation; we shall overcome unequal education; we shall overcome housing discrimination — the refrain has been the same in overcoming incredible challenges, and still, my ancestors kept fighting for what they imagined themselves to be before others treated them as such — equal, human, worthy.
I remember the first time I became aware of this amazing power that I had both observed and inherited. I was in the fourth grade, and someone used the N-word on the playground. I went home, and my father asked me if that described me, and I said “no.” That to me was when I took up the mantle of resilience. Where others had a limited view of me, I realized I had this incredible ability to define myself to bounce back from feeling humiliated, discounted. It’s a trait that has helped me overcome, and one that I consider priceless.
— Jessica Grimes, regional chair/interim associate vice chancellor of career education and workforce development, Kern Community College District
There are many things I celebrate about my culture. I am fortunate to be able to celebrate two cultures year in and year out. I come from a Mexican and Filipino background, and my identity is important to me because it represents my family and my love for them.
My father, Jimmy, an Air Force veteran, is Filipino American, and my mother, Olivia, is Mexican American. They raised me to embrace both my cultures through food, language, attire, family traditions, community events and involvement. For instance, being a Filipino community official in Delano is just as important to me as El Grito de Dolores, the Mexican Independence Day celebration in downtown Bakersfield.
I love traditional Filipino and Mexican folk dances and music. Most importantly, both my cultures are very family-oriented, faithful and religious, and they believe in giving back. I think that’s why I remain so involved in the community. My parents always instilled in me to be a good public servant. I hope other folks know that my story is not unique. There are many others in our community who celebrate multicultural identities. I consider myself fortunate. It’s a beautiful balance to be able to move through two worlds.
— Jay Tamsi, president and CEO, Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Some see Blackness as the damage America has done to African Americans. Others, particularly Blacks, see this word as demonstrative of our joy, our hope and our undeniable contributions to how everyone lives and thrives daily in trying times and a challenging environment.
Frankly, to understand Blackness in America is to understand the joy we derive from just being Black in America.
Further, people need to understand a few things about Blackness. Never label our passion as anger! We have overcome the unimaginable, so we have a sense of urgency that is mixed with joy, hope and relentlessness, and it is captured or demonstrated in our passion. It is how, according to Black feminist scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “we get free.”
African Americans were subjected to incessant kidnapping and enslavement culminating in rape, lynching and debt peonage. Our ancestors endured and resisted centuries of oppression. Yet, we salvaged hope and resuscitated pride.
Blackness in America is greater than the sum of its parts, crafted from struggle and resistance. We are equals with earned successes and demonstrated, extraordinary ingenuity in producing distinctive traditions and profound innovations.
We’ve advanced racial justice, the Civil Rights Movement, shaped American religions, familial, political and economic behaviors. Our imprint is evident in a myriad of ways, often hijacked, capitalized and legislated, only to dismiss us, stand on our backs, and take a win home that excludes us. We see you!
Our culinary contributions are foundational and ongoing. Over 400 years, we have inspired our country’s food, what we farm, what we produce, what we cook and where we eat. My sons are carrying on ancestor legacies with their Soul Food business, Bentley Bowl (BentleyBowl.com).
We have a sharp vision for the kind of social change to improve our lives. Racial and ethnic inequality cost the U.S. economy $51 trillion since 1990. Education inequality is costing the U.S. $965 billion annually in lost tax revenue and increased spending on public assistance, criminal justice and more. The target isn’t the only one affected; all are.
The late motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, "Words do two major things: they provide food for the mind and create light for understanding and awareness." So, I urge you to celebrate my culture with joy, enthusiasm, commitment and relentlessness. And know that Black people don’t want a handout. We want you to stop talking and start doing.
— Arleana Waller, CEO, ShePOWER Global
My cultural identity as a Punjabi Sikh has shaped my worldview and has been a guiding force in my life. Sikhism teaches that we are all created equal, irrespective of race, color, origin or gender and that we all originate from the same source, and that is what I celebrate most about my culture and faith — its belief in our collective oneness! Sikhs also believe it is our duty to serve our community and to speak up for others in the face of injustice. Sikhs originated from Punjab, India, and like the Central Valley, Punjab is an agricultural hub and Sikhs are farmers at heart.
Our faith, music, food and clothing are intrinsically tied to the land we cultivate. We love to dance, cook and be with our families, and we have many culturally significant celebrations throughout the year. However, the most anticipated celebrations we have are our weddings! Punjabi wedding celebrations are vibrant, joy-filled events with tons of food, music and dancing!
I have come to cherish my cultural identity; however, that wasn’t always the case. As a child, I shied away from my culture because I wanted to fit in with my peers. But as I got older, I learned to embrace my culture. My hope is that all children feel confident about their cultural identity and that we all make the effort to learn about one another, and in doing so, we realize that we are all more the same than we are different.
— Raji Brar, chief operating officer, Countryside
Celebrating our differences, as well as our common interests, helps unite and educate us as Americans. African Americans have always been resilient. I love that about my culture. We’ve created businesses and founded schools in the face of racial terror. We’ve helped send men to the moon, become president and are responsible for significant inventions. But you don’t have to be famous to model resilience.
Conversations surrounding African Americans and resilience call us to unearth stories, both old and new, of Blacks evolving and thriving despite setbacks. Our city and local communities can improve their resilience through programs and policies that advocate for affordable housing, health care access, food and employment stability, quality schools, and more.
What I hope people will understand about my culture is that we are the epitome of human bravery and dignity. We are not victims. We are victorious.
— Michael Bowers, government relations and public affairs, Centric Health California
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