Illustration by Gauraang Biyani

Why You Should Consider Aculturalism

Some may call this cultural apathy — after all, I’ve got about four countries’ worth of culture on my back.

Nov 12, 2016

“Where are you from?”
That is a question that has haunted me since 2001 — before then I was a juvenile delinquent, cried in public and was unable to form coherent sentences.
When people ask me where I am from, do I tell them where I was born — Pakistan? Do I tell them where I was raised — half of my life in Canada and the other half in Saudi Arabia? Do I tell them where I study — the United Arab Emirates? For the longest time, I have struggled with producing a concise answer to this question, an answer that doesn’t involve my inviting them over for tea to tell them my entire life story when really all they wanted to do was dissolve an awkward silence and get on with their lives.
Sometimes they try to simplify the question and ask some of my favorite rephrased versions: but which place do you consider home? Which place do you culturally identify with the most?
Short answer: nowhere.
I honestly can’t say that I feel culturally embedded in any of the places I’ve lived. There is no sports team I cheer for, no national poet I feel particularly proud of and no politician I especially hate or love. Some may call this cultural apathy — after all, I’ve got about four countries’ worth of culture on my back. However, because I am not able to culturally identify with any of them, I have come up with a word to describe my predicament: aculturalism.
Aculturalism can be defined as: (1) of or having no cultural identification; (2) being independent of the traditional or nationalistic practices characteristic of any given country.
It is not a word recognized by my Microsoft Word dictionary.
The New York Times says that, especially since 2015, an increasing number of headlines have come up on the subject of identity. In today’s day and age we have had to grapple with the malleability of racial, gender, sexual and reputational lines. Who do we think we are?
These concepts are constantly in flux and often derive meaning from some form of social construction. I can’t be Canadian anywhere in the world because there’s no way people associate my skin color with North America. Similarly, I can’t truly be considered Pakistani anywhere outside of Canada but when you eat spicy food and your parents address you in a different language, the connection is automatically made to a so-called exotic Eastern culture.
In the age of extremes: East-West, Conservative-Liberal, Clinton-Trump, I’d consider my acultural identity as a reasonable middle-ground. Without having to worry about what you consider to be your people, getting the right opportunities or being preoccupied with touting only one specific group, you can instead take a step back and examine humanity objectively.
This is in no way to say that aculturalism is an identity only for the privileged or for those who can afford to have it, but rather that it would be helpful to shed our predisposed cultural identity once in a while and take up aculturalism.
In a time when we are becoming more and more trans-, poly-, ambi-, bi-, omni- and a-, and actively redefining boundaries in the process, this identity fits right in with the modern age.
Larayb Abrar is Features Editor. Email her at
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