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Be Happy - Choose Diversity
April 21, 2004
by Debbie Gisonni

Americans often take pride in the fact that we have a diverse population consisting of different races, religions and nationalities. One would assume an environment such as this would encourage and celebrate the differences among us. Why then does our multi-cultural society often make us feel ashamed to be different?

Aside from my looks (olive skin, dark hair), much of my ethnicity growing up was defined by the food I ate. As a child in grade school, I remember being singled out and embarrassed by classmates for the lunch my Italian immigrant mother used to pack for me. Crushed meatballs or pepper and onion frittata stuffed into a thick hunk of Italian bread gave a whole new meaning to the brown bag lunch. Once I opened the olive oil stained bag, the smell of garlic and onions permeated the entire lunch room! Inevitably someone would ask me, "What is that?" The tone of those three little words made me yearn for a plain bologna or peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread.

Today I appreciate all that sumptuous ethnic food, not only for the taste, but for the fact that it was the cornerstone of my family's cultural rituals--the 1:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon mandatory pasta meal, the 6:00 a.m. aroma of garlic and onions simmering in olive oil, the sizzling roast leg of lamb (not turkey!) on holidays. I now consider myself lucky to have eaten frittata instead of bologna for lunch, and for being exposed to foods many of my American friends never had the opportunity to try.

I don't believe America is as much of a melting pot as it is a nation of people with unique differences--some of which have been borrowed from each other and assimilated into the American culture. Funny how we are so quick to demand diversity in everything we consume--from the food we eat to the flowers we plant to the cars we buy. Yet when it comes to the category of people, we want everyone to be the same. What an absurd and boring concept! We all come into this world with our own special qualities--the color of our skin, the food we eat, sexual preferences, religious beliefs, personality. No one should ever feel left out, embarrassed, or even worse, killed for being different.

Imagine what your school years might have been like if all the kids accepted each other's differences. No fights, no bullies, no embarrassment. Now think of that concept on a broader scale. What would happen if we required the families of people at war to spend a week living together, learning about each other and peacefully exchanging cultural rituals, food and conversation? Maybe they would figure out that they are much more alike than different, because they share the most common bond there is--that of the human race!

Five ways to choose diversity in your life:

  • Take time to learn about and appreciate different cultures through books, documentaries, magazines, travel, foreign language classes or cooking classes.
  • When you meet people who are different from you, welcome them into your circle, ask them about their culture, and be open to talking about yours.
  • Stop judging people immediately after looking at them.
  • Stop judging nations of people only by what the news media reports.
  • Plan a monthly trip to your nearest big city, even if it's just to walk around.

Copyright © 2004 Debbie Gisonni, All Rights Reserved.

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