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The Army and Culture

One thing I’ve come to love about life in a military setting is that you get to meet people from just about everywhere. I grew up in northern Indiana, and for those of you who haven’t been there, no, it’s not all corn fields. I’m from South Bend, which was named for being on the south bend of the St. Joseph River. It’s most noted for being the home of Notre Dame and is where Studebaker cars were once manufactured.

South Bend is also a town built on immigrants, like most places in America. The people believed to have been there first were a Native American tribe called the Miami. With French exploration, and industrialization, the railroad was built, and some of the first settlers there were Pierre Navarre and John Jacob Astor.

But I digress.

Much of the population was made up of Polish immigrants when South Bend was beginning to become a manufacturing hub in northern Indiana during the mid- to late 1800s. Let’s just say that a good majority of South Bend celebrates Dyngus Day.

My family celebrating one of the most important days of my life!

My background includes Sicilian, Polish, and Slavic ancestors. My most prominent heritage, however, is probably Sicilian. My great great grandparents both emigrated from Palermo, Sicily. Interestingly enough, they immigrated to America at different times from the same area of Palermo. I even had the privilege to know my great-great-great aunt—their daughter—who was deaf and only spoke Italian, until she died when I was 13.

I believe our heritage helps to shape who we are as people. Your cultural background can influence your beliefs about family, religion, politics, and even the world at large. I was having a conversation with some friends, and I brought up cannolis, which in my family, are something we usually make for holidays. One of my friends asked me what a cannoli was, and I was honestly kind of dumbfounded that she’d never heard of them.

Cannolis! Photo Credit

It definitely reminded me that I am in a different place, both geographically and culturally. I’m sure some of you may be wondering the same thing my friend asked. A cannoli is a Sicilian pastry full of delicious, soft, creamy cheeses, mainly mascarpone and/or ricotta. That may sound strange, but I will tell you it is a rich and decadent dessert, and I drool at the thought of eating one. The fact that it originates in Sicily—Palermo, specifically—probably tells you why it’s been a big part of my family’s food culture.

My husband’s family also has a great cultural background. His grandma is from the Philippines and his mom was born there. He has a lot of family that still lives there, and many of their family friends have Filipino backgrounds as well. I never knew what lumpia was until I met him!

Now, aside from all of these fantastic facts, I should get back to the point. The Army has afforded me the privilege of meeting people from different parts of America and even different countries. The majority of the people I’ve met are from the south, and I would say language is probably the most obvious difference, along with food.

As far as living here in Washington goes, I have had a great experience with some of the Pacific Northwest’s food and lifestyle. There’s a ton of seafood since we are on the Puget Sound, and most people here are pretty laid back. One major thing unique to the Northwest is its need for coffee. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many coffee places in my entire life as I have here. The lack of sun during fall, winter, and spring is likely to blame.

My husband has not yet gotten a duty station abroad, unless you count Hawaii. Hawaii has a fairly different culture there than most of America, probably because it used to be its own kingdom before it became an American state.

I imagine those of you who have had the opportunity to travel abroad must have had the chance to experience new cuisine and new cultures. Of course, even stateside there’s definitely no lack of new culture or cuisine when you live in many places over the course of a military career. Either way, take advantage of  your surroundings! You never know what you might discover.

Not only does family background influence how we live, eat and play, so do the experiences we’ve had with our own personal Army families. I know having friends from the south has brought a little bit of southern flavor into my eating habits, and having the chance to live in Hawaii brought a little bit more aloha into my life!


What’s your cultural background? How has it influenced your life as an army spouse? Has having friends from different places brought new flavors or traditions into your life?  Share your experiences in the comments! 


  • Mary Spangler

    Mary was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. She currently lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband, SFC Spangler, their two sons, and one cat. Previous duty stations include Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, Rivanna Station, Virginia, and Fort Shafter, Hawaii.


  1. Patty Gale

    I saw this posted on Facebook and it caught my attention because a lot of times, I’ll get asked “What’s a cannoli?”, too! My heritage is Italian on both side of my family. My father’s side is Sicilian and I grew up with this amazing pastry. My great-grandparents came here from Italy in the very early 1900’s through Ellis Island in NY and their names are on the Wall of Honor at Ellis.

    I agree, our heritage definitely shapes who we are. As a former Army spouse and having spent time in Germany, we met so many wonderful people while there and had the great opportunity to learn about other people’s heritage as well.

  2. Stephanie

    One of my favorite parts of the Army is experiencing different parts of the country in your backyard. I love hearing all the different stories! I’m from KC, and I love telling people that it is mostly in Missouri instead of Kansas, and that I don’t live in cornfields lol.


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