Our ethnic identity and culture may overlap but they are not interchangeable. There are obvious and non-obvious things that make up our cultural identity. A nice visual that helps explain this concept is an iceberg. Although you can see the tip of an iceberg, as you can see a person’s skin color, you can not see the whole iceberg underneath the water, just as you can not see a person’s underlying preferences, values, and beliefs, which are all important factors that make up their cultural identity.
Culture is becoming more fluid, diverse, and intertwined as our nation and world become more mixed and interdependent. For example, I was born and raised in San Francisco to immigrant parents from El Salvador. At home, I spoke Spanish; at school, I spoke English. There were things that I grew up with such as Salsa and Cumbia music, that I knew were part of my Central American cultural heritage. Growing up in the United States, I was also greatly influenced by Hip Hop music, which I consider to be a huge part of my cultural identity.
We must be careful not to assume things about a person’s culture just because we might associate certain qualities with a person’s skin color, gender, or style of dress. I once met a Chinese man who shocked me when he spoke Spanish. As I found out, he grew up in Mexico, so although his ethnicity was Chinese, his cultural identity was more Mexican than anything else. Our ethnic background is just the tip of the iceberg for what makes up our cultural identity.