We often hear the United States touted as the great melting pot, a country that values its diversity and multiculturalism. For most of us — hopefully — this is a source of pride. However, sometimes we are so proud of how far we’ve come that we become complacent and forget that it wasn’t long ago when things were drastically different. We also forget that our work is not done, and we still have a ways to go.
Growing up in the 1950s, Mexican feminist and author Gloria Anzaldua wrote about how when she was in school, speaking Spanish was not allowed, and if she spoke a word of it on the playground, she would be punished, sometimes physically. As an adult, Anzaldua penned numerous works that challenged the status quo and helped drive a cultural movement to where it is today, where racial diversity is something that is celebrated and embraced — and no longer considered ugly.
What is striking in many of these diversity stories in this issue is how young people are stressing the importance of multiculturalism, yet more often than not, there is also a subtle rejection of the “minority” culture. In Nina Huang’s story about being biracial, many of the people she spoke to said they embrace multiculturalism. However, most identify more with the mainstream — generally the “white American” side.
This presents a problem for our future generations — generations that will actually be a true melting pot, where every culture gets mixed into a big vat, integrated, and stirred together so that eventually America will be uniformly tan, and everyone will be the same. The individualities of cultures will be lost as more and more Asian Americans, Latinos, and American Indians forget the languages that their parents speak.
It’s not enough to just say we value multiculturalism because it’s something that has been ingrained in us since we started school. We need to remember why it’s important. We need to prove it in our actions. We need to remember that just a generation ago, people were persecuted for being different. We need to remember that today, people are still being persecuted for being different. We cannot become complacent.
This Friday, March 27, is Northwest Asian Weekly’s Diversity Makes a Difference Scholarship dinner, where high school students from the Puget Sound area will be presented awards and scholarship money for their commitment to building diversity. The staff here read through all the applications; so many of them were incredibly touching and inspirational. Many of the students will be the first in their families to go to college.
We are truly lucky this year to have such a great group of nominees for these awards. We need to continue to educate students and give them the resources that they need to succeed. In a time of economic decline, where funding is being cut everywhere, we can’t afford to cut programs that help promote diversity and civic involvement. Instead we would prioritize funding, act as if it is a necessity instead of a luxury. (end)