The term diversity was not applicable to my hometown during the first decade of my life. At this time, Dearborn was a city where most of the faces were white and the majority were Christian. I was able to learn about people of different religions from the news and at home but I did not have first hand experience with people that were different from me until I started middle school. At this time the faces became darker and my classmates talked about Allah and going to the mosque. Changes were also seen in my community. Restaurant and store signs were now written in English and Arabic. Through my experience growing up in Dearborn, Michigan and through reading Diana Eck’s work I believe as religion in the United States becomes more diverse the landscape and our communities have to transform accordingly.
In her opening chapter in A New Religious America, Diana Eck states:
Our first challenge in America today is simply to open our eyes to these changes, to discover America anew, and to explore the many ways in which the new immigration has changes the religious landscape of our cities and towns, our neighborhoods and schools. For many of us, this is real news (2).
The biggest challenge is exactly that, to realize change is happening. After this realization occurs, the development of acceptance and pluralism can follow. In Dearborn, many people that had spent their entire lives in the city were unable to “open their eyes to the changes” that were taking place. But as the religious beliefs became more diverse and more engrained, the new transformations were made apparent.
The format and procedures of the schools in Dearborn had to be modified after a high enrollment of Muslim students. The religious holiday of Ramadan is now built into the school district’s calendar; all students have one week vacation to celebrate. There is also a special room set aside for Muslim students to pray and continue their fast during the month of Ramadan. The high school sports teams take a hit when Muslims on the team are unable to drink or eat to refuel themselves during a game.
In Dearborn, advertisements are written in Arabic and in English while restaurants advertise that they use halal meat (even McDonalds!). The Dearborn ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) organization has five locations in the city and hosts national Arab American conferences and helps in the celebration of religious holidays. The landscape of my hometown has been, and is still being drastically modified because Dearborn is now religiously diverse.
I have seen the growing anxiety about the religious changes in my hometown but have also witnessed the wonderful things Muslims have brought to my community. By accepting and witnessing this change I strongly believe that as religion in the United States becomes more diverse, the landscape and our communities have to transform as well.
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