You won’t be able to truly understand the United States until you begin to understand our country’s citizens. In earning the American Cultures merit badge, you’ll learn about the differences between race and ethnicity, understand the contributions made to our country by individuals of various cultures, and even present your findings to a group!
If you’re interested in any of the other ‘American’ merit badges which include American Labor, American Business, and American Heritage, check out my difficulty rankings and review of the American merit badges right now! I’ll wait.
It’s time to begin earning your American Cultures merit badge. First, thoroughly read through each of the badge requirements below. Then, I’ll help you to answer each question and better understand how you and your family fit into Amerca’s diverse cultural background! Let’s get started. 🙂
What Are The American Cultures Merit Badge Requirements?
- First, choose THREE groups that have different racial, cultural, national, or ethnic backgrounds, one of which comes from your own background. Use these groups to meet requirements 1, 2, and 3.
- Do TWO of the following, choosing a different group for each:
- 1a. Go to a festival, celebration, or other event identified with one of the groups. Report on what you see and learn.
1b. Go to a place of worship, school, or other institution identified with one of the groups. Report on what you see and learn.
1c. Talk with a person from one of the groups about the heritage and traditions of the group. Report on what you learn.
1d. Learn a song, dance, poem, or story that is traditional to one group, and teach it to a group of your friends.
1e. Go to a library or museum to see a program or exhibit featuring one group’s traditions. Report on what you see and learn.
- 1a. Go to a festival, celebration, or other event identified with one of the groups. Report on what you see and learn.
- Imagine that one of the groups had always lived alone in a city or country to which no other groups ever came. Tell what you think the city or country might be like today. Now tell what you think it might be like if the three groups you chose lived there at the same time.
- Tell about some differences between the religious and social customs of the three groups. Tell about some ideas or ways of doing things that are similar in the three groups.
- Tell about a contribution made to our country by three different people each from a different racial, ethnic, or religious background.
- Give a talk to your scout unit or class at school on how people from different groups have gotten along together. Lead a discussion on what can be done to help various groups understand one another better.
0) First, choose THREE groups that have different racial, cultural, national, or ethnic backgrounds, one of which comes from your own background. Use these groups to meet requirements 1, 2, and 3.
As mentioned earlier, our country is filled with diversity. Many people of different races, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds consider the United States their homes. For the sake of better understanding the point of this merit badge, let me quickly explain the differences between a race, a nationality, a culture, and an ethnicity.
- Race: A group of people who share similar physical characteristics. For instance, skin color and hair type. Typical separations of ‘race’ include “black”, “White”, “Asian”, and “Middle Eastern.” However, there are few biological differences that can scientifically separate people among clean racial lines.
- Nationality: People who hold citizenship within a country, or cultural ties to a country, are often described as having that country be their nationality. In the US, nationality can even be used to refer to the country where a person’s descendants came from too (Check out my guide to the Eagle-required Citizenship in the Nation merit badge to better understand nationality). Examples of nationalities include Mexican, German, or Russian.
- Ethnicity: People who identify themselves based on shared ancestral, cultural, social, and national backgrounds. Some examples of different ethnicities include American Indian, Hawaiian, English, and Hispanic. These ethnic groupings can be as broad or as narrow as its members choose to define them.
- Culture: Groups of people who share the same beliefs, norms, and values, and who pass these practices down from generation to generation. Cultures can be very broad or very narrow. For instance, there’s African culture, but in addition to that, there’s also African-American culture. Again, culture is just a shared identity that’s passed down from generation to generation.
Confused? I am. Apparently, there’s a lot of overlap between cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, and races. All you really need to know is that races are the broadest category, whereas culture, and ethnicity can vary based on how broadly or narrowly you define each term.
To simplify this merit badge, I’d recommend choosing people of specific nationalities/cultures that you come into contact with on a regular basis. For the sake of this merit badge example, I’ll be learning about the cultures of Mexican, American, and Japanese people.
Do TWO of the following, choosing a different group for each:
1c) Talk with a person from one of the groups about the heritage and traditions of the group. Report on what you learn.
1d) Learn a song, dance, poem, or story that is traditional to one group, and teach it to a group of your friends
1a) Go to a festival, celebration, or other event identified with one of the groups. Report on what you see and learn.
1b) Go to a place of worship, school, or other institution identified with one of the groups. Report on what you see and learn.
1e) Go to a library or museum to see a program or exhibit featuring one group’s traditions. Report on what you see and learn.
If you’d like to begin earning the American Cultures merit badge right away, I’d recommend completing requirements 1c and 1d. Here’s something that you might not have yet considered: you, your family, and your family’s ancestors all belong to an ethnic culture! You can start this badge by asking your parents about the heritage and traditions of your own family!
Personally, I think this will be the best way to begin earning the American Cultures badge! By learning about your own family’s history, you’ll be able to discover how people with the same ethnic background as you ended up in the US. You could even ask this question to your grandparents, as I am sure they have some interesting stories to share!
Now on to completing requirement 1d! Check out worldoftales.com to find cultural stories from almost every country around the world. On the website, you can click on the icon bearing a country’s flag to find exciting tales from each culture.
If you’re learning about Japanese culture, I’d recommend reading the adventures of Momotaro, the peach boy!
Being able to effectively tell stories is an important life skill! Make sure to learn your chosen story inside and out before you present it to a group of your friends. Remember, you don’t need to memorize it word for word. Just recount the main points in an energetic and engaging way!
Watch the short video (5:10) below for 5 awesome tips to keep in mind when presenting your cultural story before a group:
2) Imagine that one of the groups had always lived alone in a city or country to which no other groups ever came. Tell what you think the city or country might be like today. Now tell what you think it might be like if the three groups you chose lived there at the same time.
This requirement is asking you to flex your creativity muscle. Are you able to imagine the world differently than it already is? I’d recommend starting by choosing a group and then calling to mind a few of their cultural icons. As an example, let’s talk about those of Japanese nationality.
If the Japanese lived in isolation:
What comes to mind when you think of ancient Japan? Personally, I think of large pagoda-type castles, katanas, and sushi. (For some reason, I imagine everyone walking around with foxes or other wild animals, sort of like Pokemon, but that’s definitely not historical haha.) My point is, let yourself be creative while brainstorming.
This might be incorrect, but I imagine that if Japan were a country that stayed in isolation, they’d have giant cities of interlinked pagodas. There would be samurai, lords, and one shogun that ruled over them all.
Because Japanese culture has a heavy emphasis on family ties, I’d also imagine that most families would live together under one roof. Everyone would contribute to the household and help to either prepare meals or earn income. If the Japanese stayed in isolation, I think Japan would actually look quite similar to how it does today!
If Mexican, American, and Japanese people lived in a country at the same time:
Optimistically, I’d like to imagine that if these three nationalities lived in the same country, they’d coexist and share the best aspects of their cultures with each other. As technology progresses, each of these culture’s unique viewpoints would help to better society as a whole.
Hopefully, as time passes, each of these cultures will intermix and make diverse family structures. Each nationality would share their foods, traditions, and celebration styles with the others, creating more joy in each citizen’s life. Altogether, they would respect each other’s cultures and flourish as a society.
Realistically though, when groups of people place their shared ethnic background above their belonging to a collective community, there is likely to be conflict among the groups. Throughout history, many wars have been fought because groups perceived each other as different.
However, right now, because of our understanding and compassion, we may overcome our primal impulses and be able to work together and create a better society. The United States is the perfect example of a country in which many people of different cultures and backgrounds can coexist!
3) Tell about some differences between the religious and social customs of the three groups. Tell about some ideas or ways of doing things that are similar in the three groups.
- Around 95% of Mexicans consider themselves religious.
- The dominant religion in Mexico is Christian Catholicism.
- As of 2010, Catholicism was practiced by 82% of Mexicans.
- Family structure is prized above the individual.
- Many Mexican households have 3+ generations living under one roof.
- On their 15th birthday, a Mexican girl celebrates their quinceañera by throwing a lavish party.
- Corn, beans, rice, and peppers are staples of the Mexican diet.
- Soccer is the most popular sport in Mexico.
- Around 80% of Americans consider themselves religious.
- The dominant religion in the US is Christianity.
- As of 2016, around 72% of Americans were either Protestant-Christian or Catholic-Christian.
- Individualism is prized.
- Many American families live far distances away from their relatives.
- The ‘American dream’ is that anyone, from any background can achieve anything.
- Americans spend more money on ‘stuff’ and consumption than any other culture in the world.
- The most popular sport in the US is American football.
- Around 92% of Japanese people are Buddhist or Shinto.
- Shinto and Buddhism are spirituality-based religions and don’t involve a church.
- Japan has an extremely low rate of ‘organized religion.’
- School is seen as incredibly important in Japan.
- Men are typically seen as family breadwinners, while women control the home finances and raise children.
- Japanese culture is very polite and respectful, especially towards elderly people.
- Bowing is a common sign of respect in many parts of Japan.
- The most popular sport in Japan is baseball.
4) Tell about a contribution made to our country by three different people each from a different racial, ethnic, or religious background.
Barrack Obama (African-American):
Barack Obama was the first African American to become President of the United States. While serving as our 44th president, Obama ended the war in Iraq, helped to reform environmental protection policies, and even was awarded a Nobel peace prize.
However, the time that Obama spent in office was not without its challenges. Facing many criticisms, stemming from his progressive policies and the color of his skin, Obama was nevertheless able to create bipartisan changes and move America towards a brighter future.
Amelia Earhart (German-American):
Amelia Earhart was a German-American aviation pioneer, author, and visionary. Born in 1897 and raised in Atchison, Kansas, Earhart developed a passion for adventure at a young age. In May of 1932, only 34 years old, Earhart accomplished her most notable achievement of being the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Within the US, Earhart was also an early and outspoken supporter of women’s voting rights. Before her tragic disappearance during a circumnavigational flight around the globe in 1937, she was also a best-selling author of books detailing her flying experiences.
Believe it or not, one of the greatest contributions made to America came from a woman who wasn’t even an American citizen! The Native American woman that I’m referring to is Sacajawea of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe. In 1804, at only 16 years of age, Sacajawea guided the Lewis and Clark expedition thousands of miles across the continental US to the Pacific Ocean.
The expedition that Sacajawea guided led to the annexation of the Louisiana territory and a massive expansion of our country’s territory. Sacajawea‘s contribution and legacy lives on even today, as in 2003 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She’s also on some types of golden $1 coins!
5) Give a talk to your scout unit or class at school on how people from different groups have gotten along together. Lead a discussion on what can be done to help various groups understand one another better.
When planning your talk, consider taking examples throughout history of how people from different groups have interacted. In most cases, people of different races and ethnic backgrounds have had difficulty getting along with those who were different. However, this is rapidly beginning to change.
Now, more than ever, we are beginning to understand that human beings share many more commonalities than differences. Skin color, nationality, and religious background are having a diminishing role in how we perceive others, overall! People are becoming more open to ideas that are different from theirs, allowing them to be more accepting of other human beings.
If you want to be able to work with and relate to people of other cultures, it’s important to learn the principles of cultural diversity. For tips on communicating with a culturally diverse audience, watch the short video (5:01) below.
Change begins with the individual — with you. By respecting the customs of other humans who might share different ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, and nationalities, you’ll help to encourage harmony in our world. 🙂
To recap some of the video’s main points, here are a few things that you can do to better understand people of other groups and cultures:
- Understand that different cultures have different customs. What may be considered polite in your culture may be offensive to others (for example, eye-contact).
- Observe and match their body language. People naturally like others who act similarly to them. By noticing and mirroring the mannerisms used the other person, you will likely build a strong rapport.
- Appreciate differences. Adapt to the communication style of the other group’s culture, and don’t take impoliteness personally, right away.
- Be patient. Your mannerisms might appear strange as well, from another culture’s point of view. Try to practice understanding and patience.
- Act with kindness. Understand that, just like you, the person you’re speaking with is human. They feel the same emotions as you and have encountered similar struggles. Try to be as kind as you possibly can to everyone you interact with.
With these points in mind, you’re now ready to explain to anyone how diverse groups can coexist!
Our country is home to an incredibly diverse population. By learning about the different cultures that surround you, you’ll gain exposure to new viewpoints and ideas. A scout is kind, so remember to always treat others with respect and you’ll surely go far!
Thanks for improving our planet through your involvement in Scouting! If you’ve found this guide helpful, I’ve also written other merit badge walkthroughs for Eagle-required badges that you can check out here. Come back to ScoutSmarts often, because I’m constantly uploading new content for scouts like you. Until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey!