It’s not surprising that immigrants continue their traditions in whatever land they emigrate to, but it is always interesting to see how this phenomenon can lead to unintended consequences.
The resulting comprises and cultural shifts as a result of these two differences is the core to identity expression for new immigrant groups in how they adapt and maintain their culture in the face of a strange new land with its own unique customs laws.
For instance, a recent New York Times article details how Hindus living in Queens, New York are actually contributing to pollution in Jamaica Bay as a result of their traditional rituals.
Hindus routinely give offerings of clothing, statues, cremated ashes, and candles to the gods as part of rituals to mark festivals, births, and deaths. But Jamaica Bay is actually a federal wildlife preserve and because it is an enclosed habitat, the trash accumulates and winds up littering the beaches for miles.
“It’s been a mounting problem for years,” said Kathy Krause, the supervisory park ranger. “The breakdown of these items is very, very harmful.”
Apparently the ecosystem in Jamaica Bay is quite fragile and the introduction of these foreign objects can greatly damage the area. For instance saris strangle the sea grass, birds choke on flowers, and fruit disrupts the local food chain.
While many Hindus understand that littering can be harmful to the environment, they find it difficult to let go of their most sacred customs because of it. More recent immigrants have refused to adhere to the law whereas others have recognized the damage that they are doing to the environment and have helped cleanup efforts.
Aside from regularly organized beach cleanings, some local religious leaders are striving to find compromises that honor traditions as well as the local habitat. For instance, some have suggested dipping offerings into the water several times before taking them home to throw away.
This may be better for the environment, but at the same time it cuts against the very meaning of leaving an offering to the gods.
Asha Kanhai, who now takes home the offerings she would traditionally leave in the water, said, “In your heart, you feel like your offering is not accepted, but we have to obey the rules.”
To read more about different cultural experiences in America, check out one contributor’s experience watching the Cricket World Cup at a bar in New York in a recent Pluck Magazine article.