Culture flowed to the suburban Midwest after passing through a thick insulating layer of corn fields and long highways. We were always a couple years behind.
As a kid I didn’t know what culture was or meant. Most my association with the word came from pictures of brown and black people — Asians too -- but mostly brown and black featured on community brochures advertising ‘cultural’ events and horribly produced public service announcements on TV. That and of course ethnic foods such as chips and salsa. The word culture evoked images of non-white people and non-white ways of life, but not much else. I didn’t even question whether the oiled-up wrestlers powerbombing each other on TV could also be ‘culture’.
I was a straight-A student, so I never bothered asking anyone for clarification on culture and continued thinking that it meant salsa, curry, and Tribal masks. Whenever the topic came up I felt lost, but I nodded my head and acted like I understood everything.
It was in high school I realized for that my small town wasn’t unique: that it was just like every other small town in America. When I thought about this that first time it all made sense. It was just that I’d never thought about it until that time when I first questioned what culture was and where it came from. And I had only been on such a thought from talking to my friend's older brother.
He was two years older than me, and had just returned from a two month trip. I’d never known anyone who’d gone on such a long trip. His graduation gift from his parents had been a fully funded backpacking tour across Europe, and he got to do it all alone. I’d never even heard of the term backpacking until he had already made the trip and returned. But once he was back my world became saturated with things having to do with backpacking and Europe. There was even a movie called Eurotrip. I watched it and thought it was a terrible movie. But I reached out to my friend’s older brother to see how his trip had gone.
I did this because a girl I kind of liked had found it fascinating that someone I knew had gone backpacking. She'd made it sound like she was planning to do the same and she wanted to know more about his trip. Only I couldn’t tell her because I hadn’t talked to my friend’s older brother in so long that I felt nervous about reaching out to him. In fact, I didn’t even have his cell number. The last time I'd talked to him, we had just used our parents' land lines. So instead I messaged him privately on Facebook. At the time his profile picture was of him sleeping on a park bench in a place which was obviously not America.