This is an updated version of a post I published on a sister blog, Progressive Blogic in November 2010. It remains as applicable today as it did back then.
I love living in a college town. This is partially due to the exciting sports and entertainment options that are available to the students and local residents. The artistic, creative and entrepreneurial spirit endemic to academia also plays an important role. However, for me the primary reason is the cultural diversity found thriving in many college communities.
When referring to a college town, I do not mean a huge city where a college just happens to be located there. Instead, my reference is more towards the traditional medium size college towns located across the country. Places like Ann Arbor, Ithaca, Charlottesville, Oxford (Mississippi and Ohio), East Lansing, Madison, Lawrence, Iowa City, Boulder, Las Cruces, Eugene, Athens (Ohio and Georgia), Davis, or Corvallis.
In a college town, students, professors, researchers, and guests, as well as their families from all over the world bring a microcosm of our planet right to your very doorstep. You see it reflected in the course offerings in the local school systems, you see it in the variety of religious institutions, you see it in the range of culinary and retail offerings available around town, you feel it in the diversity of ideas expressed in the newspaper, you enjoy it in the arts and local fashions, and you may even see it in the foreign business investments that take place there.
For me, watching a cricket match on a local baseball diamond or seeing parents from south Asia teach their children how to play cricket on a Sunday morning is reflective of a healthy community that is welcoming and inviting to newcomers. Having a co-worker and friend who was born in the West Bank and daughter-in-law whose father was born and raised in India also evokes this spirit of unity.
Learning more details about the traditions, beliefs, customs, and values of other societies, cultures, and religions is both fascinating and beneficial. I had the honor of attending a moving Hindu funeral service in 2010. The love and support from friends and fellow worshippers expressed to the grieving family are no different than shown at a Christian service. Similarly, the Native American (Cherokee) elements incorporated into a funeral service I attended last year were equally moving. Emotions are universal, no matter the culture.
In 2011, I participated in a Hindu wedding ceremony and reception, as well as observed the beauty, artistry, and intricacy of traditional Mehndi. I found each of them to be as memorable as any American-style wedding events.
Americans should never be so self-centered or vain as to think we have all the answers to all of the earth’s problems, let alone our own nation’s issues. In addition, celebrating the customs and cultural heritage of our friends and neighbors expands our world view and our knowledge base from which to make decisions. To know is to learn and to learn is to understand. Yoga, acupuncture, and herbal medical remedies are just a few examples of how we have adopted health solutions from other cultures.
Local festivals, fairs, celebrations, parades, holidays, and similar events add an exciting flavor to a college community. These events demonstrate pride of one’s ancestry, whether it is Oktoberfest, a Renaissance fair, a Pow-Wow, St. Patrick’s Day, or a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
One of our nation’s greatest strengths is its diversity of people, cultures, and ideas. Each wave of newcomers to the United States has contributed to the betterment of our country in its own significant way. To restrict, restrain, or otherwise limit exposure to differing cultures is contrary to the open and welcoming society that made this country great in the first place. Those who advocate monocultural or monotheist ideals or prefer limiting discussion of other cultures in textbooks, do current and future generations a great disservice. The national bird might as well be declared the ostrich if we are going to hide our head in the sand.
As Americans, we are the sum of our parts and in a democratic society, no one part is more important than any of the other parts. Remove any segment from the equation and positive solutions become more difficult to achieve. The more opportunities we have to interact with our neighbors who are from different cultures and backgrounds, the more we grow to understand, admire, and respect one another. What better way to achieve a desirable solution, whether it be friendship or world peace.