Shortly after I moved to Texas, I met up with my good friend and former college roommate, Stephanie. Stephanie is German and she had moved to Corpus Christi, Texas with her husband one year prior to my moving to Austin. When we first reunited, she told me about an interesting discovery she had made. While sitting in her car stopped at a red light, she heard the same style of music that her grandparents use to listen to when she was a little girl but in a language she couldn’t understand. She looked around to see where the music was coming from and then realized that it was coming from a car next to her. But instead of an old person, she saw a hispanic youth jamming out to the familiar music. That was when Stephanie first discovered that much of Texas culture was indeed an intermixing and cross-pollination of cultures with strong roots from German/Eastern Europe and Mexico. (For more on the history of Tejano music, click here.)
Since the beginning of trade, mankind has been very adept at adopting and redefining cultural ideas, customs, traditions and beliefs through multicultural exchange. In fact, rather than being a product of isolation we are, by our very nature, a product of multiculturalism. Unfortunately, in the name of greed and power, countless people from differing cultures have been persecuted, enslaved and discriminated against. Yet, in spite of it all, many of these same cultures have made and continue to make considerable contributions to our society as a whole.
In rejection to xenophobia and isolationism, let us come together and recognize the value that each group brings. Let us build mutual respect for each other and avoid repeating atrocities to innocent life caused by hatred, discrimination and persecution. Let us connect through our shared values that unite us as humans and discover the beauty in our differences. Let us look through the eyes of others with understanding and find ways to work together regardless of skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender and socioeconomic status. Let us be what is so innate to human nature, let us embrace multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism is not a rejection of your own culture; but rather it allows you to learn more about your own culture as you also learn about and build respect for the cultures of others. It is important to remember that no culture is without negative aspects and no culture is inherently good. Multiculturalism is also not an open door for accepting human rights abuses and discrimination based on gender, race or socioeconomic status. Rather, multiculturalism beckons you to come with an open mind to appreciate the good in other cultures (as well as your own) with the understanding that no culture is without faults. Moreover, when we embrace multiculturalism, we also open ourselves up to new possibilities, creative expression and insight that we can in turn alter in ways that make it our own— just like the early Tejano musicians did after being exposed to the German and Czech music by adopting the accordion in their musical repertoire.
How to embrace multiculturalism:
Be open to meeting and engaging with people who are from different backgrounds.
- Volunteer with programs that serve the refugee or immigrant communities and other underserved communities;
- Host exchange students and/or families;
- Attend cultural events and celebrations;
- Make a genuine effort to build friendships with others with backgrounds and ethnicities that differ from your own;
- Introduce yourself and your family to books with diverse characters;
- Watch plays, movies and other performing arts with diverse characters who tell their story through acting or song;
- Enjoy trying new types of cuisine from family run restaurants. While you are there, talk to the owners and staff.
Be prepared to be both accepted and rejected:
- While multiculturalism is innate to humans, so is discrimination and tribalism. Regardless of culture, you will always find people who resent any aspect of their culture and/or language being shared with or appropriated by others. This is especially true for cultural groups who have been or continue to be discriminated against. For this reason, mutual respect and cultural understanding are extremely critical for any fruitful multicultural exchange.
- Acknowledge your ignorance. No group of people is without bias. Bias based on media images, ingrained cultural and/or generational prejudices and du jour religious doctrines further fuel our ignorance and reduce other groups to often negative stereotypes. When you meet others from difference cultures, be humble to the fact that until you are intimately connected with that culture, you remain ignorant with preset biases.
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