I believe in Multiculturalism. You see, I crossed the U.S. border from Mexico when I was nine years old with my 75 year old great aunt, sister and two brothers. I spoke only Spanish. I swam towards English, even as other students sank towards academic despair. I lived in the center of multicultural Los Angeles. I attended elementary and middle schools where diversity was the norm. I attended a similarly diverse high school, community college, and university. I worked in menial jobs like every other teenager. I functioned in English at school and work and came home to my novelas and my tortillas, to my own private Mexico.
First, I studied geology, where I was always the only female, the only “minority” and later Latin American Studies which was interdisciplinary and where I was in multiethnic classrooms. I came to teach in Brown and Black South Central Los Angeles, with the responsibility of teaching my students in Spanish. I was almost engaged to a young White man. And still I had no sense of what multiculturalism was.
I was schooled and taught in multiethnic settings, in ethnic enclaves, in diverse settings but had yet to live multiculturalism. Multiculturalism has been defined from many different perspectives and the question that stands out for me is -whose knowledge counts? I had yet to be involved in a process where the knowledge of any other group beyond European Americans counted. In graduate school I, again, was the only Mexican and found myself explaining to others my Mexicanness. It was then that I encountered Bank’s Ethnic identity typology. I had live in the first two for most of my life, ashamed of who I was and/ or angry and encapsulated by who I was.
What a discovery, to think that I did not have to give up who I was in order to become truly American! I could continue to be me, both bilingual and bicultural with dissenting political views and still be American. I believe in multiculturalism. I no longer feel threatened or ashamed of who I am or where I came from. Rather I have a healthy sense of my ethnic self and a deeper appreciation of others. I listen and learn across differences as I develop skills that allow me to function in different settings with many people.
I believe that multiculturalism does not just happen, it is principled and deliberate. Belonging to a group that has been labeled a minority or spending time in a foreign land or working with diverse students is not in and of itself multicultural. Multiculturalism is more than commodifying or marketing diversity. We need the positive disposition, an ideological orientation towards equity and theory from which to understand our place, our practice, and the future that could be.
I believe that being American means that we don’t all have to be the same. Being American means we can be different and we can come together,
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