Saturday, November 01, 2008

700 Words—Applauding Our Diversity

The articles I write for Small Town Newspaper have a word limit of 700. This series includes pieces I have written using 700 words but have not submitted to the newspaper. This particular article was submitted but was preempted by the president election. So it doesn't go to waste, I'll post it here.

October is Diversity Awareness Month. This sort of marginal event can be easy to ignore when you live in an area that is ninety-seven percent white, but our valley hamlet in Ohio is part of a nation that is only sixty-seven percent white, a percentage that is decreasing each year as our society transforms. Trends in birth rates and immigration are reshaping our society and remolding our culture, a transition not so easy to ignore.

While some of us may be alarmed by this change in our population, it’s important to remember that our society began its evolution the day the first settlers landed on Plymouth Rock, shaking up the world of the people already living here. Those first colonists brought along their own history, beliefs, language, and life skills. They adapted to the unfamiliar environment and established a new order.

Since then, the United States of America has been known to many around the world as the “mother of exiles.” Through the sieve of various restrictions and quotas, we have welcomed people from every nation and culture, making us the most unique country on the planet. We are not a nation defined by race or religion but ideally by a common pursuit of happiness, dignity, and liberty.

To say we are a melting pot is not quite accurate. Immigrants who arrived here early on adopted our language and set out to make a better life for themselves than the ones they left behind. But they did not leave their own cultures on the dock at Ellis Island or beside the California coastline. Those who were forced here on slave ships did not forget their own understanding of life as it should be. And those who crossed our southern border did not discard their heritage along the way.

Today, the immigrants who arrive in the States bring with them their food and their music, their sense of family and their religion. They don’t melt into something unrecognizable, but they fuse themselves with the world they find here to make something new for us all to embrace. Instead of being consumed by this smoldering pot, immigrants add themselves to it to create a richer stew full of flavor and heartiness.

So many of us fight against this evolution kicking and screaming. My father was a product of the segregated South and liked it. When he took his family north to Indiana to help build the steel mills, he carried his ideas with him and struggled to hang on to them in a part of the country that at least on its face rejected his old ways.

Our beaches were integrated, as were our schools, churches, and city centers. That never set well with a man who was raised to believe races were not meant to mix and varied cultures were not meant to intermingle. My father loved food, and ironically his favorite dishes included okra, yams, black-eyes peas, and rice, all foods brought here by slaves from Africa. Those same slaves and their descendants influenced the music he loved to sing and dance to.

While he would have balked at this notion, I believe my father’s life would have been less flavorful and rich in texture had every immigrant group been forced to melt into a homogeneous and tasteless mix. The country he fought for during World War II would have shone a dimmer light to those seeking hope and refuge.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” We have emblazoned this poetic phrase on our most recognized symbol of freedom, and it’s essential for us to mean it. This sentiment has given us a distinctive identity and a cultural depth to be proud of.

As we invoke patriotism while championing presidential candidates or showing support for various issues or working hard to improve our lot, why not invoke that same patriotism to applaud our unique diversity. Instead of just being aware of our many differences, let’s welcome them and let them simmer together in order to form a more perfect stew. Something like a zesty gumbo or a bowl of well-seasoned chili would hit the spot.


dive said...

An excellent post, Robyn.
Where would the US be without blues and soul music? Without Mexican, Creole, Chinese and African food?
Just a bunch of whiny, white Christian fundamentalists trembling at (as H.L.Mencken once defined puritanism so beautifully): "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

While your father was a product of his time and so should not be judged by today's standards I am proud of you for bucking that trend and helping immigrants by teaching them English.

It's just a shame that so many in the States would append a line to old Emma's poem: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … except Meskins! Let's build a wall to keep those varmints out.

Sigh …

Shazza said...

Hi Robyn -

I agree with Dive, this is a wonderful post I hope you don't mind if I post a link to it on my blog. It's really something to be shared.

Scout said...

Dive, thanks. We do tend to fear the unknown. It isn't just the Mexicans but all sorts of people we think will take our jobs and our language.

Shazza, feel free to link this. I really did hope this would make it into the paper, but the timing just wasn't right.

anni said...

as i get older i find that we are more alike than different. and in that being alike, it's ok not to lose who we are. nice post. i agree.

Maria said...

Change always seems unbelievable slow to me, yet when I think of my childhood and the rampant racism that was par for the course and then compare it to my daughter's childhood where she really doesn't think twice about having African American friends over to play...(in my childhood, I didn't even KNOW any black people), I am just so grateful that we are moving in the right direction, albeit rather slowly.

lynn said...

Very interesting, Robyn. Glad you used it on here.

Joy said...

Hi, Robyn! If scribbled everything I want to write, it'll be a post in itself. So I won't.

October in the UK is Black History Month and people work in the field that I do love it! And throughout the rest of the year, having the title of Diversity Coordinator, I campaign for diversity in all its shape and form. It's an uphill climb, living in the last white city of England. But hey, it's also very fulfilling.

It's also easy to do my job because I have been the subject of racism and discrimination since moving to the UK in 2003. It's not fun, but I discover strengths I didn't know I have.

Close to the US elections, I can only hope that the best people for the job win. Then again, the job is really what they make of it.

neetzy said...


Your post on diversity was beautifully written. Many people in our country are embracing an African American presidential candidate. There are those, however who will not open their minds or hearts to him because of his ethnicity. My Obama signs have been stolen. When we got replacements those too were stolen. The new ones have been run over several times. Racism is still around. As a high school teacher, I do believe most young people are becoming less racist. That process is slower than I would like it to be but it is happening.

Gina said...

Wonderful, Robyn.

MmeBenaut said...

Beautifully written Robyn and I agree with most of it. My country has also embraced diversity and multiculturalism and ours is also a different country to the one in which I grew up and it is a stronger, better nation for it. Unfortunately though, we can't take everyone but our immigration numbers are higher than they have ever been.