Sometimes it can take a number of years for a term or idea to catch on, in this case, around sixty or so. Transculturalism, a word that's slowly creeping its way into marketing-orientated books and blogs, was actually first coined back in 1940s by the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz. What is even more astonishing, is that his thinking was based on an article published much earlier in 1891 by José Marti entitled 'Nuestra America'.
Ortiz, following Marti’s lead, defined transculturalism, in its earliest stage as a synthesis of two phases occurring simultaneously, one being a deculturalization of the past with a métissage with the present. This reinventing of new common culture is therefore based on the meeting and the intermingling of the different peoples and cultures. In other words one’s identity is not strictly one dimensional (the self) but is now defined and more importantly recognized in rapport with the other. In other words one’s identity is not singular but multiple. As Scarpetta stated earlier “Each person is a mosaic.” (p.8)
But I doubt even Marti or Ortiz realised just how relevant and powerful the idea of transculturalism would become, especially following the increasing ubiquity of the Internet throughout the world. Transculturalism: how the world is coming together is a more modern take on this idea, which features a number of essays and personal tales about people who consider themselves ‘transculturalists’:
This book is about identity, and the modern quest for belonging. Still, it’s not about conforming. At its core, we will explore how certain curious, open-minded intelligent people manage, through perseverance and affinity, to adapt to new alien culture, in order to explore, examine and infiltrate foreign culture. (p.25)
What I like about the transculturalism idea generally, is the important role that it assigns to culture in the way that communities develop. Reducing community to conformism based on psychological drivers is not sufficient in my humble opinion. Transculturalism reminds us that cultural pre-understandings and diversity influence the way that communities are formed, and that grass-roots communities in turn influence the future by bringing ‘cultures’ together, not just ‘people’. The fact that London is one of the most transcultural places on the planet (with around 270 nationalities blurring, bleeding, clashing, colliding), and quite possibly the most creatively diverse, clearly speaks volumes in this sense. Which begs a key point: we need to be sensitive to the way in which transculturalism is not just a special case for globalisation studies and cross-cultural research, to varying degrees, transculturalism takes place at all levels of geography i.e. national, local and increasingly virtual. Yes, cultural diversity is now more prevalent than ever, so let’s embrace it, and learn from it.