This I Believe

David - Alexandria, Virginia
Entered on July 17, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: tolerance

To “put oneself in another’s shoes” means to understand where that other person is coming from. That is to say, to recognize their background— a background which may be different from yours.

Recently, minorities, especially Hispanics, have been protesting a bill regarding immigrants’ rights. A recent census shows that Latinos are now the largest minority, and their numbers are growing. It is a fact that is well-known but forgotten in everyday life: America is a mixing pot.

I was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia, where the demographics are comparable to that of New York City or Los Angeles, although this wasn’t the case just 30 years ago. Yearbooks from regional high schools can attest to the fact that the area, which was predominantly white in the 70’s, slowly changed in conjunction with world events.

In my elementary school, our grade did a presentation for the community in which we sang Disney’s “It’s a Small World” and held up heart-shaped cards with the word “love” written in other languages.

I went to J.E.B. Stuart High School, a school named after a Confederate General. It was recently featured in National Geographic as being one of the most diverse schools in the United States. The number of students number only 1400; Half of them were born in 70 other countries.

I now go to George Mason University, which proudly represents over 120 countries and wave as many flags during International Week every year.

I believe that getting to know a culture is not simply to enjoy their food and look at snapshots from someone’s recent visit. I talk to them and compare my culture with theirs. I meet their friends and go so far as to try and learn their language. So far I’ve studied at least 11 languages seriously.

But that’s a bit extreme, and that’s just me. I’m just saying that we can no longer pretend that there’s nothing outside of the country of America when we’re wearing shoes made in Malaysia, shoes from Italy, eating kabobs for dinner in an Egyptian restaurant while talking to a friend through a cell phone made in Taiwan.

I’m also not trying to portray a romantic advertisement for global peace. That’s another story. I’m just trying to remind you to be aware of the great opportunities we have to learn about other cultures right here where we live without having to travel. Of course, traveling would be even better.