Just recently, I returned from an out-of-state Mexican/Indian wedding. The groom was Mexican (actually half Mexican and half Polish) and the bride’s family was Indian. Before I go further, I need to clarify that I’m talking about Indians from India and not Native Americans. To say that the festivities were interesting is an understatement. The only thing Mexican about the wedding was some of the food during the reception. The strongest mark was by the bride’s Indian heritage.
I was struck by Indian culture’s classicism. Almost everything in the festivities (all of which I’d seen for the first time) was rooted in some sort of long-held custom. The night before the wedding, the bride participated in a number of rituals to prepare her hair, skin and appearance for the ceremony. The bride and groom were kept separated (in ancient times so that neither would be injured or otherwise unable to make it to the ceremony). At the wedding, the groom carried out the custom of paying for the bride (exchanging goods to compensate for the daughter). To carry out the ceremony’s symbolism, the groom gave a small amount of cash. Going into the Sikh temple, I had to cover my head with a scarf. The men sat in areas segregated from the women. Following the wedding, all the guests ate. Particular attention was paid in feeding the bride and groom. I was one of the people responsible for getting them food. At the ceremony, the Indian women sat apart from the men. During the dancing, men danced separate from the women. One of the repeated themes was keeping the men and women separate.
I feel fortunate not to regularly engage in those customs or belong to such a society. I remember that one of the Indians told me, “This is one of our customs although I’m not sure what the purpose is.” You would think that this was a young person that told me this. It wasn’t. The person was one of the elders and also an immigrant. The point that this person made is that the custom was followed for so long that the people forgot why it was followed in the first place.
While I’m an American born of Mexican parents, I pick and choose what customs I feel are important. I don’t blindly keep a custom just to keep it. I don’t accept the explanation, “It’s how it’s always been. We’ve always followed it.” While it is necessary to keep one’s customs since customs are an important characteristic of culture, customs were once brand-new practices. Customs didn’t come from nowhere. Somebody did something new and enough people kept repeating it that it eventually became a custom. Just as much as customs came into being, customs can also end. Not all customs are worth keeping. Some are downright cruel and barbaric. I would ask that before you follow a custom, ask yourself if it’s something worth following.