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Jennifer Belcher | Dante Benedetti | Chris Jenkins | Enter Sharing Stories

SpaceJennifer with her three smiling nieces.
Jennifer with her three smiling nieces.

Jennifer Belcher is 27 and grew up in Connecticut. She studied journalism at the University of Arizona and now works in documentary film in San Francisco. She continues to learn about things she never dreamed she would pursue, such as alternatives to the internal combustion engine and the lack of modern day American heroes.

Explain the significance of community in your life.
I was raised in Connecticut in a house surrounded by acres of woods and trails, so I spent a lot of my childhood exploring on my own. I always wished I lived in a neighborhood and would beg my parents to move to a "normal" house on a block with other kids so I could play games like "30 Scatters" in the streets after dark! That never happened. Instead, I developed a sense of solitude when school let out and would spend my summers absorbing everything in those woods around me. Looking back, I can't imagine a better experience than the one I had. As an adult, I have lived in New York and now live in San Francisco, a faster pace than the woods behind my house, but places where I can continue to explore and observe with the same sense of curiosity I had when I was younger. I believe that because I lacked this feeling of belonging to a community, I have learned to seek out and appreciate the communities other people belong to even more. This is what led me to studying journalism, which gives me the ticket to entering into other people's lives.

Is cultural identity important to you? Why?
I think cultural identity is important in shaping who you are as an individual, but I don't think it has to be from one culture. As a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant in a very diverse, multicultural public school, I was the minority. When I look back at who I was intrigued by, I unknowingly was drawn to people from very strong, cultural and ethnic backgrounds: Irish-Catholic, Italian, Jewish and African-American. I went to Christmas Mass, Sunday lasagna dinners, Passover seders and racially mixed parties. I think it's extremely important to experience different cultures, but I don't think it's easy. It requires a conscious effort. I was very lucky that my hometown happened to be extremely diverse, but I have three nieces who live in a very homogeneous town and they don't have that daily exposure. I feel it is a challenge that I want to partake in to ensure that they grow up at least aware of other ways of life.

What roles do cultural traditions play in your life?
I don't feel that I have any of my own specific cultural traditions, besides those holidays that fill more of a family connection rather than a religious or cultural significance. My personal traditions come from my own unique experience, such as taking time to go off and explore, whether it's on a big trip for a few months or a short walk down my neighborhood street. I think traditions are extremely important, but they can be any kind of tradition, not necessarily cultural.

Is keeping ancient ways alive important to you? Why?
Ancient ways are important in the sense that they connect you with people who lived in a different place and time. I think it's important to be aware of these ancient ways, but also to be able to evaluate them in connection with the present. Not all ancient ways have a place in today's world. I think it's important to be able to make that distinction.