I was attending a conference and having lunch with a group of acquaintances when the conversation turned to favorite comfort foods. The answers ranged from tater-tot casserole to roasted pork shoulder to sweet potato pie. Then someone happened to mention sushi in a passing remark. I was about to declare my own love for Japanese cuisine when a 20something woman named Jenny blurted out, “Oh, yuck! I think that’s disgusting!”

I glanced around the table to see if anyone else felt uncomfortable hearing these words and realized that I was once again in a context where I was the only Asian American, the only person of color.

For a moment, I was too embarrassed to admit my own culinary leanings, but I knew that I could not let it pass. “Actually, I really love sushi,” I admitted as the expression on Jenny’s face turned from disgust to disbelief. I could also see a hint of remorse at her outburst, a flare of recognition that she had unwittingly stumbled into the invisible realm of culture.

The Invisible World

Culture is a word that is challenging to define and is used in myriad ways, many of which are quite different from one another. There’s pop culture, corporate culture, multiculturalism, and the list goes on. Andy Crouch’s seminal book, Culture Making, describes culture as what human beings make of the world. I appreciate this definition for the way it encourages people to pursue acts of creation as a way to change culture.

But that conceptualization of culture addresses the more visible, outward form of culture that tells only a part of the whole story. There is another way to think about culture that is equally important: the often invisible way culture makes us. This includes a range ...

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