Oktoberfest and Culture

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.


Driving home from San Francisco I listened to a CD my husband burned for me when we were dating. He titled it “Romance and Culture.” Rightly so, the compilation ends with authentic Russian and Japanese tunes. Listening to the different musical quality of this Asian art, I recalled how I love other culture’s music. There is something fascinating about in learning what the shoes of another person feel like when you put them on.

In “You Learn by Living,” Eleanor Roosevelt encourages the reader to try to learn something new from every person he or she meets. When we show genuine interest in others, we enhance the scope of our perspective, improve our lives, and build a connection with the person we meet. Every person wants to be interesting to someone and to be known. By opening our minds to learn about the other person’s experience, we have the opportunity to give that gift. We can do this whether or not they reciprocate the curiosity.

My maternal grandmother arrived from China by airplane on Christmas Eve. She married an American. In the advent of the Communist Revolution, all Americans had to leave China. She lost contact with her relatives who were being re-educated in labor camps of China. In a culture so different from her own, she struggled to learn American ways of baking pies and cleaning house.

In contrast, my paternal lineage goes back to signers of the American Constitution. One ancestor ran for president (and lost). My grandmother’s people were German and Bohemian (Eastern European). My dad danced the polka with her in the kitchen.

With my grandparents’ experiences; my father’s proud Irish heritage; the Irish Catholicism build into the fabric of the Knights of Columbus, a staple of my childhood; and the Greek of my Greek great-grandparents owned a Greek restaurant; I had a full answer when school chums asked “what are you?”

No one is just white or just black or just brown. There is history in every family. It may be tragic. It may seem remarkably adventurous. It may seem incredibly dull. When we explore the history lived by the individuals, it comes alive.

As a young adult, my grandmother began to tell me stories of her upbringing in China, the war with Japan, her courtship with my grandfather, her experiences transitioning to America. To see her eyes light up describing their picnics during the war or her boyfriends before her marriage is a treasure to me.

Sometimes those strangers we could learn about are right in our own family.

Sometimes those strangers are people whose culture is wildly different from our own. Blessed by the diversity of the Central Valley, I learned to love the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe at a young age. International days at school were rich events because of the diversity of backgrounds. Potlucks are exciting because of the potential to get our hands on puposas or pancit.

October 7 we have another opportunity for a taste of a different culture, one close to my heart. I learned about German culture during a short trip to Germany for World Youth Day and living in Minnesota where people are generally closer to their German roots than we are here. Hughson is hosting Oktoberfest, a celebration that seems to be multiplying with the growing interest in microbrews.

On October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. They invited citizens of Munich, Germany to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the royal marriage. Thus Oktoberfest began. It became an annual celebration, now, celebrated worldwide with beer tents, music, and amusements.

Here in Hughson, we will see a family-friendly event with brew and bake competition and live music from local bands. I am looking forward to it.


In Munich, Germany, 2005



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