i hesitate to broach such an emotional topic, but i’ve been poked from a couple of directions these last days by thoughts about diversity. i live in a big bowl of it here in the DC metro, diverse people, foods, shopping, cars, financial positions, attitudes and careers. i’ve lived here longer now than any other place in my 39 year-old life, a whopping eight years. in the last ten, i have lived in five different domiciles here, in different suburbs, punctuated in the middle by an 18-month sojourn in New Jersey…right at the now infamous “shuah” (translation, “shore”). in other words, i’ve done very little “settling down.”
right now i live in a predominately Korean suburb. my neighbors to the left are Ethiopian. my neighbors to the right, Louisianan (ask a yankee who’s been there if Louisianans should be included in diversity numbers), and most of the rest of them are Caucasian retirees. my two year-old daughter has been exposed already to four different languages, and some hybrids i’m still wrapping my brain around (Dora in Arabic? what’s Arabic for Spanish?). she learned heavily accented English and some Urdu first from her Pakistani daycare provider. i love that woman…she provided stability, love and a comforting ear during a rough mommy year. she watched my world fall apart, never judged me, and marveled that i spoke candidly with her, brought her flowers and gifts, and was genuinely curious about and appreciative of her perspectives on culture and of her experiences, both in Pakistan and the US. i marveled when she told me that i was the first American parent who had ever bothered to get to know her…the co-provider of care for my precious, tiny, learning baby.
when i moved from one ‘burb to another, into the Korean neighborhood where I now rent a cute little townhouse from a cute, loaded landlord (loaded with cash, not booze…though who knows?), i had to find a new daycare provider for my littlebean. i found her more than that. besides her warm and amazing teacher, she now has a third “grandpa” (Sido in Arabic), and a whole loving family to help man the village i require to care for a toddler while i work, Love and live. there she’s learned to love Halal food made with special products shipped directly from relatives in Jerusalem and Jordan. i’ve also come to love ms. tima’s home cooking…since the dear woman hands me a hot plate of something fresh at least two nights a week. ms. tima and all her relatives are Palestinians from Jerusalem. i embarrass myself privately sometimes by saying “Pakistani” when i mean “Palestinian” and “Palestinian” when i mean “Pakistani.” they are far from interchangeable…very, very far.
all around me, languages and alphabets overlap. all of my life the diversity of the US has enraptured me. i went to a university in the deep south without much diversity. our relationship with what we did have was pained at best. i see now in alumni magazine snapshots that diversity is growing there, if not slowly. (i also find it rather poetic that we teach something called “diversity” at a place called a “university.”) i’ve soaked up new cultures in New York City and the DC area, and seen tolerance foiled by the fear and homogeneity of many towns in the midwest and all over the “dirty south.” (i can call it that, i lived there and still have the t-shirt and accent to prove it). i’ve met great people in every place i’ve ever lived or visited. i’ve found that the diversity of opinions and attitudes all over this country are like fertilizer for the progress and ideas that seem to make us unique.
i read an article yesterday, written by a Native American writer and celebrator of diversity, where he called on those of us who write to be cultural bridges spanning and linking the world’s and our country’s many peoples and ideas. (http://oscarhokeah.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/cultural-bridges-builders-weavers-architects/). i love Oscar’s perspective and felt his mission hit me right in my wheelhouse. diversity is the natural state of things…fully embraced and necessary. we work as a global community to explore and preserve it all over the planet, even as Mother Nature herself continues to mutate to support growth and survival. and we all know that mutts are generally healthier and better adjusted than purebreds. (i’m talking dogs, not people, although….) my point is that fighting against diversity is about as futile and counterproductive a fight as any there is. each of us has a choice to spend that energy differently…to use it to study the world and spread Love, to learn and experience all of the things that unify a wildly varied human species…to Love unconditionally our fellow humans as if it were our calling.