How Yachi Namamoto teaches us the Cultural Overlaps Model
Cultural Overlaps

By Sara Micacchioni

Yachi Namamoto is Japanese, an expatriate residing in Hawaii, and a quiet intelligent individual. Though he initially is shy with strangers, he likes very much to play host for his friends. In conversations, he will demonstrate techniques of jujitsu, in which he holds a high-ranking belt, and talk about the incidents that he experienced in his travels throughout Asia and America. Brought up in a middle-class, though relatively traditional home, Yachi Namamoto finished high school and taught ikebana, the art of flower arrangement. In high school, he became a member of a splinter faction of the Zengakuren, the militant student movement in Japan, and participated actively in numerous demonstrations and student revolts”.

How would you describe Yachi Namamoto? Do you think he identifies more as a Japanese or a Hawaii resident? Maybe he applied to and obtained his Green Card and he’s now a US citizen. Perhaps, sometimes he introduces himself as an expatriate and ikebana teacher, and other times as a middle-class man who is into politics. 

Like Yachi Namamoto, we all hold multiple intersecting identities which define who we are and how we understand and experience the world. When we think of these identities individually, they are just a snapshot. In fact, depending on the context in which we find ourselves, the importance, salience and awareness of certain identities change. This means that the perception we and the others have of our identities not only varies during the course of our lives, but it may change throughout the same day. At the same time, other identities might as well fade away in time as a result of growing older and having different responsibilities in life. For example, “student identity” may be a rather central one during university time, but it then gradually fades away in favour of other features such as “career identity” once graduates move onto different stages of their lives. 

And if you were to conceptualize your own understanding of who you are, what are the most important identities that come to your mind? 

How might others think of your identities? Is this answer similar or different than the first one?

Like Gardenswarts and Rowe (2003) point out, there are many aspects of identity, such as age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, ethnicity, race, parental and marital status, religion, union affiliation, department or unit group, etc. The list is actually much longer.

The way our multiple identities overlap is a fundamental symbol of our existence and functioning aspect of our individual personality, placed at the core of the scheme proposed by the two authors. 

The Kaleidoscope of Identities

Imagine a kaleidoscope with several different colorful pieces. Think about those pieces as your relevant identities. There are also three mirrors, and depending on the lens through which you observe the reflection, different patterns are generated. With a turn of the lens, one can see things from a different perspective and understand better what all the identities at play are.

Very often, we are too focused on our national identity, which we often use to describe ourselves in an international context where, given the abundance of nationalities, our national identity becomes more relevant. In fact, even if we rarely think of ourselves in these terms, we are a patchwork of multiple identities: we act according to certain internalized roles, rules, norms and functions which are typical of certain subcultures. 

Who we are is not individually determined by the single subcultures to which we belong. Rather, psychologically and socially, we are the result of the overlap of all these subcultures taken together and each person’s identity is shaped by this multiplicity of traits. As we said earlier, they are generally all equally relevant at the same time, though they always co-exist. They can also confer privilege and power or can be marked by oppression and marginalization.

Try to recall a situation in which you might have had a wrong impression about someone and think of what made you change your mind. 

About Sara

Sara
Sara

Sara Micacchioni is currently working as Academic Intern at Global People Transitions, where she is head of research and quality assurance projects. At the beginning of 2020, she graduated from an international English-taught master’s degree in Intercultural Management at the University of Burgundy, France. In the past, she also carried out several short-term and long-term voluntary work projects in Europe and South America.
Sara lived, studied, and worked in seven European countries and speaks four foreign languages. She considers herself an interculturalist with a real passion for globetrotting. In her mission to travel the world, she has now ticked off 30 countries globally.

Resources

Adler, P. (November 2002). ‘Beyond Cultural Identity: Reflections on Multiculturalism’. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from https://www.mediate.com/articles/adler3.cfm#comments

Gardenswartz, L & Rowe, A. (2003). Diverse Teams at Work: Capitalizing on the Power of Diversity, Society For Human Resource Management.

Ngo, C. (2014). ‘Kaleidoscope of identities’. Tedx UOregon. University of Oregon. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRGqgNuJDIk

Blogs

Edgar Schein on Culture



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