Race defines me as Mexican, German, and Irish. My religion defines me as Catholic. My country of birth defines me as American. However, I believe these terms describing me, merely list historical facts and statistics. The fact remains; I belong to these various groups by birth, not choice. I believe I am fortunate that my family instilled the understanding of diversity as far back as I can remember. Each of the people who raised me contributed to my value set in different ways. In addition, and most important, my personal experiences helped me to discover and appreciate diversity.
I hail from Santa Ana, California where Hipics make up 76. 1% of the city’s population, according to the U. S. Census Bureau (2009). In addition, my Mexican American grandparents primarily raised me. The neighborhood I where I lived consisted of fellow Hipics and distant relatives. The Hipic influence shaped my strong family values and racial identification. My grandparents truly believe that regardless of circumstance, family is first and above all else. The fact they raised me and still enjoy my company today is a testament to this teaching.
Growing up with my grandparents meant, in addition to lifelong allegiance to family, a strong religious set of values. I was sent to Catholic school along with my cousins, taken to mass every Sunday, and prayed the rosary in hopes of keeping me safe from sin. I do appreciate the cost relating to my education; however, I am afraid it only served to strengthen my current beliefs. Specifically, that religious intolerance is unacceptable. Religious beliefs are individual. No religion is correct or incorrect. My grandparents grew up and survived an era of intolerance and prejudice.
In spite of their experiences, they instilled in me values of tolerance and acceptance. My father, former “hippy,” is also responsible for my belief that, a person’s place of birth or color of skin is of no consequence. In my opinion, this teaching is the most valuable and relevant today. My second husband and I am an interracial couple. We share the same values, beliefs, and morals. The only differences we have relate to color and religious background. Thankfully, I was taught to value the person, all else is irrelevant. Through my husband, I learned that familial tradition influences religious and social beliefs.
After several debates, I recognized that I was not as open-minded and tolerant as I believed. He helped me to accept myself given both, the negative and positive experiences in my life. Through him, I learned that to accept others, I had to accept myself. For me, this realization was monumental. Whereas I hold close the family values and acceptance taught to me, I realize that my diversity is due to my personal perspective. My grandparents could never teach to me the understanding of addiction. However, my father, through his own addiction taught me sympathy for those suffering from their own conflicts.
I wore my father’s addiction as if the addiction were my own until I realized my siblings wore the same shame. I never understood loss of faith until I met a colleague who lost hers. Her experience helped me to understand how people are broken to the point of non-belief. I first married a person most resembling myself in terms of race and religion. However, I learned quickly that these commonalities do equal a match made in heaven. I went to school with people who came from wealth while I suffered poverty. Through these classmates, I learned that money does not magically equal happiness.
My experiences do not necessarily relate to a specific culture, but do relate to understanding. I cannot make determinations upon anyone until I have experienced his or her same set of circumstances. I make no distinction between people based on religion, race, nationality, or sexual preference. I believe that each person has a purpose, even those who disturb me. By that, I mean, each person serves to strengthen beliefs or change our minds. Each experience with someone different is an opportunity to learn a new perspective.
In my family, we married into various races, befriend people of various beliefs and religions, and enjoy the company of others regardless of association. Cultural diversity, in my opinion, is a two- word phrase describing understanding. I believe that I am not a product of pluralism, for I do not believe that cultural or ethnic values bind us (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2003). Assimilation does not fit my values or beliefs, because I do not believe that a single culture describes my upbringing. I believe that, based on my statistics, I am multicultural. However, based on my beliefs, experiences, and perspectives, I am simply diverse.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). State & County QuickFacts. Retrieved October 1, 2009, from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06/0669000.html Kottak, C.P., & Kozaitis, K.A. (2003). On Being Different: Diversity and Multiculturalism in the North American Mainstream (2nd ed.). New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies
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