Talk on Culture and Community

On January 28, 2013, during the high school general assembly, Mr. Brian Marana was given a chance to talk about culture and community. By sharing his own personal story, he was able to inspire the audience to deeply think about, reflect on, and appreciate one’s roots.

Mr. Marana has been with Xavier School for eight years. He taught CLE for three years, after which he became the XCE Coordinator. He is currently the International Programs and IBDP coordinator, an Operation NExT consultant, and a TOK teacher.

“Good morning.  For those of you who don’t know me, I am Mr. Maraña, and I am the IB diploma program coordinator here in the high school.  I’d like to talk to you this morning about culture and community, and to do so, I think it’s fitting to tell you just a little bit about myself.

I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, where the majority of people are caucasian.  My two brothers and I would join the swimming team every summer, and at the end of the summer we would get a picture of the swimming team– an image of about 100 people in their swimming suits standing by the pool.  It was easy to find the three of us in that picture.  We were the three brown bodies in a sea of white. From kindergarten through college, for 16 years of my education, I was the only Filipino in the classroom.

As a result, I grew up with Filipino culture at home and American culture at school.  I ate adobo and sinigang for dinner, and I had ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch.  My family would observe noche buena for Christmas, and I’d join my friends for cook-outs and barbeques on the 4th of July.

As fun as it was to have those two cultures, I have to admit that sometimes I felt that my Filipino culture was holding me back.  While my friends got together on Sundays to hang out, I had to go to Church and lunch with my parents.  While my friends would get prizes for their parents just for passing, my parents, in true Filipino fashion, demanded nothing but the highest grades.

But that changed in my third year of college, when I studied abroad in China for a semester.  Note that I am not Chinese; both my parents are 100% Filipino.  When I was in China, however, I saw just how rich and wonderful Chinese culture was.  Many of my American friends observed this as well, and some told me that they wished they had a deeper sense of cultural identity.  You see, many of them had long lost any connection with their cultural roots.  Many of them could not say where their great grandparents came from.

But that wasn’t the case with me.  I did have cultural roots.  I just wasn’t looking at them in the right way.  Rather than holding me back, my roots actually gave me a sense of identity.

I think the word “roots” is very appropriate.  If you look at plants from one perspective, it might seem sometimes that roots keep them restrained.  But look at it another way, and you can see that roots give stability and nourishment too.  The very thing that keeps plants tied to the ground are the very things that allow them to grow towards the sky.  So too it is with us and our cultural roots.

When I came to Xavier eight years ago, I was excited to see an entire school community that supported this dual cultural identity as Chinese and Filipino.  I was amazed at how you were all expected to speak three languages.  I was moved by all the efforts to preserve and cherish culture.  How happy I would have been if I had been given this opportunity when I was growing up.  How connected I would have felt.

So to tell the truth, I was saddened and disheartened when I discovered that many of you do not put your utmost effort into learning Chinese or Filipino–the two subjects that deepen and strengthen your cultural roots.  I was dismayed when I saw how many of you misbehave in Chinese class and explain that behavior by complaining that there’s a language barrier in class.

If you ask me, the Chinese language is not a barrier to relating to your Chinese teacher–it is a bridge.  If you look closely, you will see that your Chinese teachers are deeply connected to you, for they, more than most, are like your immigrant grandparents or great grandparents.  Like your grandparents, our Chinese teachers live far from home, struggling in a culture they may not understand well, hoping only to share their passion and their language with young men who share their cultural roots.

In a rainforest, the roots of each tree dig in and interweave with the roots of other trees–connecting them and giving them all greater stability and greater life.  We are like that rainforest.  When you look deep into the characteristics that give you life, and when you look deep into the characteristics that give your classmates and your teachers life, then you will see that like the interconnected roots of the trees in a rainforest, we are ONE community in the eyes of God.

It was this insight that led St. Paul to proclaim that “there is no Jew nor Greek . . . for you are one in Jesus Christ.”

It was this insight that enabled the Spanish Jesuit St. Francis Xavier to preach the word of God in India and Japan, and enabled the Italian Jesuit Mateo Ricci to master the Chinese language and become such good friends with the Chinese scientist, XuGuangqi.

It was this insight that empowered the French Canadian Jesuit Fr. Jean DeSautel to travel to the Philippines and establish Xavier School.

It is this insight–that by knowing your roots you can understand others–that leads us to this very day to require students to join XCE.

So this spring festival, pay close attention to the wonderful mix of Chinese and Catholic practices during mass.  Take some time to get to know your Chinese teacher.  Rededicate yourself to learning Chinese–and Filipino–with the aim of deepening your cultural identity.  Dig deep and extend those cultural roots, so that you can truly connect with our interwoven, interconnected, human community.”

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