Diversity vs. “no big deal”

My daughter and her best friend - I can tell the difference but it took me a few seconds!

My daughter and her best friend – I can tell the difference but it took me a few seconds!

Since the adoption of our 2 Asian daughters, I have strived to expose our family to cultural diversity. We have attended more Asian musical performances than I can count, visited ethnic restaurants and grocery stores, read books, and participate in Korean culture camp each summer. Our neighborhood is not diverse and neither is our church – most of the diversity on Sunday is due to attendance of internationally adopted children.  Fortunately, our school district has a more diverse population.  Every year my girls have had at least one other Asian child in their class, in addition to other minorities. As they have reached the teenage years, they no longer are willing to embrace the cultural events that we have attended in the past. They want to be like the majority of their friends and “fit in”, not emphasize their differences. Luckily, culture camp has remained a fixture of their summer and a time that they can connect with friends they do not see the rest of the year. They still enjoy ethnic restaurants and have a broader palatte than most young teenagers. 

Growing up, the only diversity I was exposed to was religious – Catholics, Baptists, Lutherns and Methodists in my small community.  There were a few African American students at the liberal arts college that I attended, but I never got to know them. Medical school brought a bit more diversity, but it was Minnesota in the mid 80’s. I learned basic medical Spanish when I moved to Denver for residency and cared for a large Latino population.  The remainder of my diversity training has occured on the job with my patients.  They have been my best teachers.

Last month my daughters both asked if they could have a few friends over on a Friday night.  Two hours later, I had a chance to reflect on the cultural diversity in our house.  My older daughters best friend is a Korean adoptee and my younger daughters 2 friends are half Latino.  One boy was Ameriasian, another Jewish.  There were even a few Caucasian kids in the mix, but they were the minority.  If I had asked the kids present that night to reflect on the diversity, they would have meet my question with more than a few blank stares. Diversity has become the norm for them and they have ceased to focus on it, believing it is “no big deal”.  Rather than embracing diversity as I did, they make diversity work by ignoring it.  Other personal characteristics of their friends are much more important than what their skin color happens to be or what religious institution they attend.

Researchers have noted that top-down efforts (ie parenting directives) to impose contact and improve understanding between diverse groups are likely to fail.  Connecting is often something that needs to be accomplished on our own.  Those opportunities exist much more frequently for our children than they did for my generation.  I think I just need to sit back and watch now, rather than booking tickets to cultural events.  Or better yet, I can make a date with my husband for a cultural event and leave the kids at home!

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