in defense of difference

Today, I took Roman to our small town's library for a story time program and a playgroup session followed.

It was a pretty busy story time session (for 11:15 on a weekday I'm always surprised when it's busy) and I arrived late/on time as usual so I took my normal seat in the further back. We took in the normal activities: songs, a story, more songs, the "main" story, bubbles. Afterwards we dawdled around the legos and landed in the playroom where about nine or so children were running (or crawling) around the three stations set up to entertain them. Sure, some of them were more entertained by each other or by snacks or some took a little time to warm up, but looking around I noticed something I overlooked growing up here.

In this small town, in this tiny playgroup, there were about three white children and the rest were made up of all American children (I feel like I need to be careful here) but they were Japanese, Hispanic, Indian and Muslim (country unknown) in ethic origin. And that, as an immigrant myself (but a European one, so I "pass"), I just love that. It's one of the most amazing things about being American (which I wasn't, until I was 9). The melting pot. The ability to go anywhere at anytime in any place in the country and find the diaspora of your choosing.

It's getting very narrow in the world today. Narrow mindsets, anyway. Narrow opinions too, especially on immigrants these days. But we're not getting political here. Only cultural. "Diversity" is a cultural buzzword that has been targeted by the left and right politically and it has expanded to include gender not just ethnic difference. But many children are being left behind as these narrow opinions flood social media and invade the homes of their earthly ambassadors - their parents.

How do we develop acceptance of other's differences that lasts from the playgroup to the classroom to the board room? How do these feelings seep into the child's subconscious and leave an impression to convince future action? How do we normalize diversity as not just some buzzkill buzzword but something actionable, exciting and opportunistic? Not an opportunity taken away from someone (which "affirmative action" critics may cite) but an opportunity to enhance the workplace, the classroom...the playroom.

Maybe it's as simple as being interested in someone else's life.

My husband is also from a small town. The difference here is my small town happens to be an hour from the political heart of the entire country, full of Ambassadors, international schools, world-renowned hospitals and famous universities, and his small town, while bordering another country and surrounded by well-regarded universities, is extremely lacking in much diversity at all. And the town is not doing so well.

Some people might comment and say well, we're all just Americans, it's really divisive to talk this way. It just set ups more boundaries and enclaves and keeps us from one another. But to be American is to be from somewhere else! It is intrinsically American to have one foot here and one foot somewhere else - even if that somewhere else is deep in your history from 400 years ago. It's essentially the same argument as people being mad about illegal immigrants and also taking 23andme ancestry tests. We just want to find "our" people, yet as the world becomes more globally oriented, that narrow worldview is going to leave us in the dust.

I feel like I may be leaving out some people, or at least have the wrong perspective. But that's the thing, we do only have our perspective. Mine is from the mind of a mid-30s white woman who happens to be Romanian and now has to navigate raising her son with Romanian and Italian influences to remind him of his cultural heritage. Some people just have...American perspectives, I guess. Some are born onto farms, some are born into different regions with different cultural baggage, and some are new here. We don't have the luxury of being scared of the people around us, but how do we cultivate it for the future? I definitely don't have the answer to that, but the first step is recognizing there is a problem.

Further Reading:

#diversity #multiculturalism #nprmulticulturalism #libraryenrichment #children #toddler


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