I know I wrote about weddings recently, but I'd like to take another look at them. This past summer has involved many weddings for me and I got perspectives both as a guest and as a host. Of course, the majority of my experience has been from attending the Pakistani-Canadian weddings put together by my Pakistani-Canadian family. However this is only increased my desire to visit other weddings solely to get some first hand experience about other cultures.
The first thing I want to say is that weddings are an intensely cultural experience. For some people, maybe even the most cultural experience they'll ever have. This is true for many immigrant families who still cling strongly to their home culture, but even otherwise less cultured communities have roots and traditions that might only appear during the occasional wedding.
Many immigrants who left their home countries brought with them a huge amount of cultural baggage. Lots of this happened in the era before high speed internet and international telephone service, so the small immigrant communities had to stick together and build whatever cultural institutions they sorely missed with their own handiwork, fueled by their own inherited values. This was no easy task and lots of multiculturalism we take for granted today are the fruits of their labour.
However, many immigrants in this position had an opportunity to. They could bring with them the culture and values that were most dear to them and leave the rest behind. Preserve the good, and leave behind the bad. Integrate that with the best cultural aspects of the host country, leave any negative baggage at the door. And so over time I've noticed that different immigrant enclaves develop in slightly different directions - two shoots growing from the same branch.
I can only speak to my own family, but I have a huge amount of relatives all concentrated in roughly the same area in the suburbs of Toronto. In the 50 or so years they've lived in Canada, having generations of children who continue to build on this cultural project, I've noticed some differences compared to how things are done in the motherland. My crude, untrained eye can even sees a few small differences compared to other groups of my family in North America, but it's hard to tell whether these are real differences or if I don't fully understand everything that's going on.
As you might have guessed, most of what I've observed has been during weddings. The most cultural kind of event there is.
I said before that I wished we could get a lot of the positives of weddings at other times without having to wait for a literally once in a lifetime event. I still feel that way, but it does make sense why so much emphasis and cultural cachet is placed on weddings. We humans love to celebrate. We are arguably at our best during our celebrations, and there's a reason one of the most common things western governments do with other cultures is to adopt their holidays. Nothing feels better than coming together with your friends and loved ones on a joyous occasion to all have fun together.
Similarly, it makes sense that whatever thin strands of culture that people hold on to tend to be saved for weddings. Culture isn't just a set of behaviours. You can't list them down on a page; it's impossible. It's not just the cuisine or the clothing or the language or the religion. It's the meaning of each of those things and what they build to together. Culture is more than the sum of its parts. It's all of it, all together, with everyone involved.
That's why weddings are such big bombastic affairs. You can't just have the right food, or the right songs. All of it feeds together; each component has its own history and traditions and meaning and all of that is required for a wedding to be culturally just right. But, that doesn't mean weddings are always the same.
I think it's really interesting how routine actions turn into traditions which become culture. I'm going to use a specific family I know here as an example, but I really wish I knew if this is unique to them or if this is common everywhere.
South Asians are no strangers to dance, and it's quite common to see some Bhangra (a local style of dance) on display at these weddings (I'm quite curious whether the same goes for immigrant weddings of other cultures). However this family, due to their appreciation of dance and the Indian blockbuster hits which inspired them, has taken the wedding performance to the next level.
A normal South Asian wedding might typically have a few dances from those who enjoy them most, with maybe an open dance floor or even paid dancers for the rich. However these guys have perfected the wedding performance. It's not uncommon for there to be up to an hour of meticulously choreographed, finely tuned dance numbers from dozens of different friends and family members. South Asian weddings have multiple different events and there might be different long dance numbers for each event, perhaps even with a live skit to top it all off. It's the kind of thing that truly can't come from anything but passion, and these spectacles are a joy to watch.
This first happened a handful of times as an experiment. Then the crew got bigger, and it became a tradition for each of them to do this at each others' weddings. Now, they sometimes do it at the weddings of their friends and families. To them, all of the hard work put into these dance routines, every little drop of sweat, is an expression of their love for the bride or groom and the families. It's the only thing that could motivate such elaborate and lengthy performances. They also dance to popular cultural songs that surely the adults in the crowd would recognize.
I really do wonder if this tradition will make its way into the larger culture of my Canadian family. Is it even sustainable? I'm sure they'll do it for the rest of their own weddings, out of love and loyalty to each other. But will this be passed down to their children for them to keep the dances going? The existance of dance at all is already a divergence between Pakistani and Canadian-Pakistani culture, but only time will tell if the tradition these few have started will have any hold on their culture.