There is no going back. You cannot remove the cocoa from hot chocolate, the curry from the rice or the jokes from the sitcom nor can we remove diversity from the US. Not without extraordinary pain and suffering at least.
As an immigrant from England 50 years ago this year I was first struck by the pride our new American friends expressed when they first met us. People needed to share origins of their own families, a grandparent from Russia, parent from Germany or great-grandparents from Ireland for example. Each haled from some diverse mix to become the very embodiment of the US motto E Pluribus Unum; Latin for “out of many, one.”
Let’s remember that our motto originated at the formation of our country and was adopted in 1782 as the defacto motto of the United States. According to Wikipedia it dates all the way back to Cicero who said in somewhat of a paraphrase of it, “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.”
We stumble across this motto everyday it is on our coins and paper bills. Whenever the president speaks he stands behind this motto. So it is a very important ideal that our forefathers hoped we would live by. It seems we have for the most part.
Originally the motto was created to represent the six countries and thirteen independent States of America that came together to expel the British. According to Charles Thompson who created the first design for the United States seal which included the motto it also alluded to the union between the federal government and the states, which was symbolized by a shield on the eagle’s chest.
Today our motto feels profoundly prophetic and relevant. It seems from six countries and thirteen states we have grown to fifty states and counting plus immigrants from all of the countries in the world. I’d like to point out that if we go to war with any other country we go to war with our self. I have close friends and family from all over the world including Muslim countries. My family embraced our German in-laws without a moment’s hesitation even though Germany bombed my parents during the war. I feel excruciating pain at our new administration’s mean and exclusionary policies. What seems to be missing from our US motto today is the most important and hidden ingredient: love.
Let’s put aside the “touchy feely” part of love for now though and look at the real effects of our current administration’s fight to exclude.
We have no arguments with Chinese food, Italian pizza, sushi, and Matzoh balls though we may have in the past rejected these immigrant groups when they were new. Today our lives are richer for the inclusion. Perhaps the only food discriminated against in the USA is English fruitcake. I don’t get it I love fruitcake but I am still English even though I am naturalized. We also seem to universally enjoy and accept diverse music. African drums, Indian chanting, didgeridoos, Sufi Quawalis and other ethnic sounds appear in all kinds of popular music. Protests and complaints are minimal; Sting, Carlos Santana and Robert Plant/Jimmy Page have all produced award winning “e pluribus” type music with diverse sounds creating excellent unified sounds. There have always been intersections of culture where brilliant enhancements to civilization have blossomed. Pasta, flamenco, and jazz grew through cultural fusion. Silk, coffee and law as we know it would not enhance our lives if not for cultural exchange of ideas and knowledge.
Many gifts of diversity are forged together to make this country into the exciting place we enjoy today. For example we are made from English legal precedents dating back to the Magna Carta, Indian spiritual tools like yoga from the Ancient Vedas, French fashion influence, Italian high design, African rhythms and passion, Chinese work ethic, food, and fabrics and it goes on and on. No part of our culture, society or personal lives can be seen to be untouched by the gifts of diversity that make up these US of A.
It is important to remember that all this richness comes from people, from individuals who bring their passion, their work ethic and their resources together to make an offering to everyone’s life here. Great new ideas like Steve Jobs’ technologies to connect us to each other in new ways improve our lives. Adam Neumann’s radical idea to rearrange the work place in his business WeWork create superb opportunities for so many to make their own dreams come true. Hamdi Ulukaya founder of Chobani Yogurt whose explosive start up is built on the peculiar idea of employees sharing in the success of the company reshapes the whole business landscape for a new kind of success. These guys were from Syria, Israel and Turkey. Where would we be without them? In Ellis Island there is a chart that clearly marks a steep decline in national productivity during every constraint on immigration.
“E Pluribus, Unum” is a great motto, a motto that permits us as United States to remake our selves as we incorporate more and more many into the one. “May you live in exciting times” is the old Chinese proverb. Curse or blessing, who knows but here we are, living in exciting times. Diversity creates change and change is exciting when celebrated rather than feared.
One of the best books I’ve ever read, The Bhagavad Gita, speaks of the nature of war and refers to dharmic war as opposed to adharmic war. The dharmic war is the righteous war, not in the Christian sense of a righteousness that is explained or taught but in a sense that is a heartfelt understanding of what we know is good and right in our heart. It comes from a foundation of respect and love. In a dharmic war you see the other as equal to your self. In the best understanding you see the other as your self. In the adharmic war the opponent is seen as inhuman, some kind of animal or devil that is evil. Sound familiar? This is how human beings can be convinced to kill someone else who is exactly like themselves – someone who also strives to live a good life and provide the best for their family.
We, in the United States of America, are already an un-paralleled diverse culture there is no going back. As I said it is impossible to remove the cocoa from the hot chocolate and who makes hot chocolate better than the French or curried rice better than Indians? Where would our TV be today without the influence of Yiddish theatre? I am thrilled to have joined the American experiment so many years ago but I know now that in my birthplace, Yorkshire, diversity is taking over too. So there was no avoiding this world trend of mixing and there is no getting away from it. Nor will we be able to reverse it the thought is terrifying. This world belongs to all of us.
It is critical to remember the gifts we share together, to celebrate our success and help each other in our failures. Let’s dance rather than fight, make art instead of bullets and gardens instead of battlegrounds. Everyday we face choices and I personally resolve to choose actions, thoughts and words that affirm life, the right to happiness as well as to freedom, liberty and justice for all. I resolve to love the other, hating is just too painful and takes far too much energy.
To add one final note: I just googled multicultural celebration looking for images for this post and discovered that Multicultural Celebrations seem to have sprung up all over the country. About a dozen years ago I researched this when presenting the idea of a Multicultural Celebration to a small town in Connecticut and found no such events anywhere. How great it is that they are finally happening now, we are already in the place of harmony together we just don’t notice it enough and point it out enough.