Peace in Diversity
I was born in the south. When I speak, it almost sounds like Elly Mae Clampett; though, it is getting better, I try to hide it here in the mile-high city. The southern accent is still a far cry from the quick speaking people here. I can tell I am annoying to marketers and people on phone calls. I am Caucasian, with European, Irish, and Welsh ancestry. I am so white you can see my blue veins straight through my skin. You would never know that I flourish in the city or in the country, just by looking at me. You’d never know I kick my shoes off at the door, an Asian habit I’ve carried with me since childhood. You wouldn’t know I still love shopping at the universal markets, or that one of my good old friends thinks I am a “Texican.”
When I was a kid, I had an Asian step mother. While we didn’t get along and weren’t really the best of friends, I learned a whole lot about people and different cultures growing up. I found myself fascinated by her culture and beliefs. So, while it felt so foreign to wear those dresses and to learn to properly bow and serve in it, it felt quite empowering. I have news for the cultural appropriation people, most people from cultures different than yours, appreciate it when you assimilate and take up their habits. They see your effort to fit into a world that is foreign to you and respect you for trying it. My white skin never offended her or her relatives, while I was wearing their clothes, eating their food, and taking up their habits. I still kick off my shoes before I enter the house because that is what was taught and engrained in me as a child, by a Thai woman. As a child I got to know a very diverse group of Asian people, she had Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Laos, and Japanese friends, to just name a few. You would be able to tell by looking at me that I remember how to serve tea Geisha style, or that I can relate to “growing up Asian” memes and vids. My love for Yan Yans and tiny jelly cups still has not left as an adult, and I teach my own white daughter to roll eggrolls and dumplings just the same way I was taught. Do you know how good dumplings in broth is on winter day? It’s awesome, and even better when you don’t have to drive to the local pho restaurant to get some. It’s also pretty friggen difficult to wrap a saree when you don’t really know what to do with it. Everyone thinks I am weird because I still eat on the floor at a low table, and a full dining room isn’t an important functioning area for a home. I keep an office there instead. A typical day at home would be watching and helping my step mother clean, shopping vegetables for her to mix up and squish in her mortar and pestle and making a pot of rice in an electric rice pot that sat on the counter. In times of stress and happiness there would be Buddhist offerings, foods, and incense around photos.
I also had a whole lot of Spanish, Mexican, and Latina friends as a child. I grew up with my inter-racial parents in a predominantly populated Mexican part of town. I quickly learned all the curse words and stayed so long there that I eventually learned most of the language, though it also feels foreign trying to speak it. A typical afternoon after school would be spent on the couch with my Spanish friend sitting on the couch listening to Sylvester the Cat from Looney Tunes in a deep Spanish voice while her mother brewed an entire cow’s head in a large pot for barbacoa, I can’t say I wasn’t shocked at that, because that was pretty shocking to me as a kid. Sometimes I even got that chankla right with those kids too, just like I was one of their own. When I was a bit more grown, I also frequented the border with my husband to visit his relatives. I learned to cook authentic Mexican food down there from the lady who lived next door. Her name was Concha, which ironically means Shelly in Spanish. We would visit and talk and have some fun there. I’d visit the nearby Mexican towns for shopping and participate in the famed southern fish fry’s that we’d be invited to. At home, we had a lot of friends between the two of us, that were Spanish speaking Mexican friends. My husband’s friend whose real name was Juan, aka Johnny one Time, used to send me $22 every year on my birthday, even for a long time after we divorced, he still sent me a check every year, just so I knew he was thinking of me. He was like a nice uncle. They always treated me just like I was family. I loved that.
My dad’s work kept him away from home a lot, so when I was younger, I would spend some time with him too. He’d drink some beer with his buddies and was the “All-American” kind of guy. We ate American food when we were able to get out, cheeseburgers, chicken fried steak, and lots of mashed potatoes. Dad made me understand what is to be American. We work our asses off and build. We work hard, we play hard. He never differentiated me from my brother, even now as an adult, I feel I am expected to work as hard as anybody. And I do. I got my pretty sweet 16 party out in a country field behind our house with some friends. I remember him putting 2 posts out in that yard where I would try to learn to parallel park sometimes. Once he lined the bed of his pick-up truck so the kids could sit in it like a pool. And another time getting stoned just watching a kite fly high above the house was cool. He told me stories about my Grandpa, God, and lots of “that time I was in the army,” and “when your mom” stories too. We watched old westerns and war movies. He’d take me out driving in an old dodge pick up truck way too young and I’d drive on the wrong side of the road because the deep ditch on the other side was too scary. We would do that just after going out to a farm where I would pet horses and dogs while he got the work done. I watched him fire someone when I was young from his office. He sat me down and told me he had to fire someone, and I asked if I should leave the room. He said no, just sit down and stay quiet, so I did, and I watched. It’s a hard thing to do, to fire someone you know. I’ve had to do it a couple times in my adult life, and I am glad I was taken aside at a young age and shown how that should be done. I’m not sure what everyone thinks “All American” really is, but growing up blue collar working people seems to be what I think of when I think “American.” The term seems fitting here.
When I was in college, I spent my time studying civil rights. I learned a lot about the Atlantic slave trade, watching movies, and relating to that. I learned about WW2 and Jews and became friends with yet again another very diverse group of people. In my early 30’s I moved to this huge metropolitan city and have since come across an even more diverse group. Here, there are all the flavors. I live in an area where there are Whites, African Americans, Pakistani’s, Indians, Mexicans, South American’s, and even Russians. I remember at one point, I was living next to a guy from Oklahoma but had a New Yorkers accent, another man who rode one of those high wheel bikes called a Penny-Farthing. There were 3 Russians, one of which used to love to juggle for everyone in the sitting area by our building. I lived next door to an old Italian lady who liked to roll meatballs and teach me the proper inflection on how to say shut up in Italian, and a Laos guy who would always stink up the whole place with his very fishy smelling foods.
My daughter knows some Spanish and wants to learn to speak Mandarin. She goes to school with kids from every race and creed. When you raise your children in diversity, you get a person who sees no color and carries no race. I am the sum of all these people and experiences, they shaped me into who I am; all of them did, and in this country, I see no race, except American. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I strongly feel diversity could cure most of the world problems, if people would look with an open mind, and an open heart. We are all people bound together in freedom, regardless of our race, gender, national origins. You don’t have to travel the world to find diversity when it lives in your own back-yard, and that is what makes this the greatest nation in the world.