I have something to say about being multicultural. And I don’t mean just being a multicultural person. I mean that in this country we haven’t paid enough attention to acknowledging our multiculturalism. Watching last week’s election and the ensuing coverage of it has made me, truthfully, laugh a little bit. Not in a guffawing “ha ha! you finally get it now!” manner. No, not at all. But in the way that one laughs and smiles to themselves when they watch other people start to get it. America has long been a nation of multiple cultures: races, ethnicities, religions. But we had to pause and take a step back last week when the realization of all that came crashing down on some of us. Yes, just some of us.
My childhood consisted of attending Catholic school and the Jewish Community Center. Our babysitter (when mom was working) was Velma, a Hispanic woman who was told not to speak English to us girls so that we could learn Spanish. My sisters, Erin and Tracy, and I grew up in the Hyde Park area of Chicago where there wasn’t a clear “majority” of which to speak and our mixed heritage blended in well enough not to constantly have to explain “what we are.” The University of Chicago is housed in Hyde Park, and it brought in all manner of cultures. After school, my sisters and I spent countless hours with our equally mixed-race friends Monica and Meeghan at the Museum of Science and Industry. Their mom, a white woman, worked there for a while and their dad, a black man, raised them in the Jewish tradition and sent them to a Jewish Day School.
All that was to say that multiculturalism isn’t new. At least not to me. But, listening to all the political rhetoric that surrounded the conclusion of the election would have you think that whatever “traditional America” there was, is no more. The problem, for those who are just now paying attention, is that traditional America has been happening all around them and they’ve just now woken up to that as a possibility. After the election in 2008, the buzzword was that our country was “post-racial” because we elected a President who wasn’t 100% white and that made me laugh, too. What, exactly, was that supposed to mean?
Look, I don’t want to make this conversation hard for us to have. On the contrary, the more we talk about our multiculturalism and the equality it deserves, the easier it will get. Have those discussions now while we’re still talking about them. There are some easy takeaway lessons from the past week that Americans, and I mean all of us, can learn and they’re fairly simple. Here are just five of them:
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Appropriating Americanism 1 of 5When Romney joked that he'd have a better shot at winning if his dad was born to Mexican parents he insulted a lot of Mexicans. Worse, he said that he was "unfortunately born to Americans." That kind of language is dangerous because he was equating that Americans = White. We need to shut down this language when we hear it and stop assuming that all Americans are all white. Americans ARE multicultural.
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Making Assumptions 2 of 5You can't tell by looking at this picture what this man believes. He could be a banker or a businessman down on his luck. Maybe that dirt is from his job as a builder. Who knows? He could be American or he could be German-born with a visa to visit the U.S. Either way, it's best to talk to people and learn them, not assume that they're in your club or on your side. Get to know your neighbors!
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Don’t Underestimate Multiracial Families 3 of 5According to the U.S. Census: Since 2000, the multiracial population has increased 50% and is the fastest growing youth group in the country. It's way past time to count multiracial families and, hopefully, the next Census will include the families of gay couples as well. I'm certain many of them will be multicultural as well.
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Solidarity 4 of 5We've learned that making assumptions about who our friends and neighbors are isn't the smartest thing to do. Not everyone agrees on every issue, but we sure could learn to celebrate together and champion our differences without trying to make one better than the other. We're in this together.
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We’re Not So Much a Melting Pot, Are We? 5 of 5Our country has long talked about being a melting pot, but that suggests we're losing our distinct cultural heritage. I like to think of us as a tossed salad: very different in color (and texture! hair!), not changing for the worse, but blending together and complementing one another to be a delicious concoction. This is an easy analogy for children to understand and adults could stand to learn, too.
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