Multiculturalism: Some Experiences Last a Lifetime

Some experiences are so powerful and meaningful, you don’t realize it for many years. And some become even more relevant as time goes on.

As a high school student, I was very involved with the youth group at my church. It started in middle school, but really took form in high school.

I got some opportunities through my church life experiences which have had an effect on me, and gave me opportunities as a teen/young adult that have helped me to continuously expand my experiences and world view.

At 17, I was able to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in South Bend, Indiana. We hammered, took down walls, some people painted, and prepped a house to look like new as only high school students led by adults can do. It was demolition work, and probably a better fit for me than building would be.

I learned, as a primarily left-handed, but ambidextrous-ish person, that I can hammer with either hand, but it was very important to match the eye I used with the hand I was hammering with. A couple of good wacks to the thumbs reinforced that, and I think I ultimately decided my right hand was a bit better.

I also learned that turpentine takes off paint, but getting covered in paint due to being a terribly messy person is not really recommended. (The paint war probably didn’t help, but if turpentine gets off paint, wouldn’t that be irrelevant?)

Well, no…it is not meant to be bathed in, and I certainly have not made that decision or mistake with paint again.

At 18, I spent around 2-ish weeks with other high school and college students riding in vans from Indiana to join high school and college students (led by adults) just over the border of México. This event was sponsored by churches, in Indiana and Iowa, and led by Jayna from Indiana and Blake from Iowa.

We spent time at an orphanage, painting murals on walls, pulling weeds, and playing in the pool during the hot summer afternoons with the children who lived there.

We gave the gym, pool building, and general area a facelift, through painting, pulling weeds, and providing emotional support to the children and adults who resided and worked there.

We all tried to work to our personal strengths by remaining aware of the heat, self care, our own talents and skills, and the all important singing and camaraderie during evening devotions and guitar singing.

I’m an undiscovered folk singer, and when I get the opportunity to sing with a group in a key that works for me, I’m going to enjoy myself.

Although my high school French, and my not yet taken college German, were not all that helpful with communicating with the children and adults whose first language was Spanish, we did study important Spanish words and phrases during our drive to Texas to help to communicate in Spanish with the children and adults who worked or lived at the orphanage.

We learned that ‘trabajo’ means ‘work’, and ‘Conta Cuesta Es’ means ‘How much is’…..?

The ‘how much is?’ Question helped for our trip to Monterey where we did a little shopping and bartering for items toward the end of the trip, where we went once we left Reynosa.

We learned that ‘tango hambre’ means ‘to have hunger’ and most importantly to me: ‘donde esta el bano’, or where is the bathroom?. This is a phrase I use in my self talk to this day when looking for a restroom.

We stopped midway in DFW, the Dallas/Fort Worth area, as it is just about the mid-point between Mexico and Tipton, Indiana; as well as a good meet up point with our new friends from Iowa.

During the hot afternoons, we cooled off in the pool. Keep away was a huge favorite of the children who used the pool to cool down from hot summer days, and also a favorite of mine, a trained life guard who also loves to play and have fun.

I learned that ‘a qui’ means ‘here;’. They used it to mean ‘give me the ball’ or ‘I’m open’.

I learned ‘alto!’. Which means ‘stop’. I would yell ‘a key!’ A key!’, which sounds the same, and frequently got me, the object of the keep away, the ball. The children then yelled ‘alto! Alto!’ To tell each other to stop saying ‘a qui’.

I vaguely remember playing where those of us who had traveled in from the US played against the children and those who lived there, but it has been quite a few years. I also have played a lot of alto saxophone in my life, so I probably tuned into that word fairly quickly.

I learned that if I yelled ‘alto!’, sometimes that made the person stop and look.

Lots of fun was had in Reynosa by those of us who spoke English, Spanish, and sometimes a combination of the two.

At age 19, I traveled to France near the border of Switzerland, with my sister to be a part of a multi-cultural experience with 16-21 year olds.

Friends from Ireland; both Catholic and Protestant, who in 1990 did not have a history of peacefully co-existing; England (Bath), Czechoslovakia (now known as the Czech Republic); East Germany, West Germany (who had just joined to be Germany), Norway, and many youth from France attended. The East and West Germans were experiencing very different economic times including costs prior to their merge, and the people from those countries shared first hand the experiences they were having.

They spoke of movie prices, which had been somewhere around $3 in East Germany, compared to $10 in West Germany. When the merge occurred, the country had one price for movies, which was the West German price. Our friends from East Germany related the struggles with the quick inflation and how that had personally affected their families.

I had just taken 2 semesters of German at Indiana University (a 4 credit class, taught by a woman who would later teach me about Women in German History) which for my American ear was easier to hear.

I learned that each of the other countries participating taught English in primary school, when, as our friends taught my sister and me, we are more able to learn it.

Learning a different language after the age of 12 is much more difficult, so my sister and my experience learning Spanish/French (for her), and French/German for me set us far behind our friends in terms of speaking their language (whatever that might be) fluently, and each of them spoke English to an extent that far out-performed our efforts at speaking their first language.

All instructions were stated in German, French, and then English. We had an activity each day, and worked to clear a 5k trail. We had a talent show where I accompanied on piano as my friend from Bath sang ‘The Long and Winding Road’, by the Beatles.

I do not remember my own talent, but do remember a couple of girls playing the recorder, which is not an especially easy instrument to play well.

Sarah, from Bath, incidentally did not like carbonation in her soda. She clarified, each time she made her Coke ‘flat’; that this was not a product of Bath, England. It was her preference, as a resident of Bath.

I learned from one of my Irish friends that when I asked ‘should I wear pants?’, in regard to temperature, that her chuckle came from the fact that those with her Irish dialect called ‘pants’ what my sister and I referred to as ‘underwear’.

It was amusing to me that she had thought I asked such a personal question, and I have referred to those shorts with longer legs as ‘long pants’ ever since.

I also learned, fast forwarding to 2018 when ‘23 and Me’ became popular, that approximately 97% of my genes come from Northern Europe, most specifically from Ireland.

I have olive skin, which is reminiscent of the skin of those with Spanish heritage (among others). My parents have a long history of lovingly arguing about who is more Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

My cousin loves to tell a story about our Great Grandfather, who left Ireland for America due to his parents’ refusal to let him marry his maid.

We don’t know who he married, but he married someone and had children in America. I have always respected this great-grandfather whom I have never met; due to his integrity and tenacity about following his heart and his refusal to follow a class system assigned to him.

My mother’s family, in Ireland, was Irish Catholic; and my dad’s family, in Ireland, was also Irish Catholic. My mom was raised Methodist (Protestant), and my sister, brother and I were also raised Protestant (Methodist, and then Christian: Disciples of Christ). I attended church with my friends during sleepovers throughout school, and in college attended the local Catholic Church full of students and 2 young priests.

Two of my best friends in elementary school were being raised Baha’i, which promotes unity and works peace.

1990, France:

My sister and I described, matter of factly, that our mom is Protestant and our dad is Catholic. Our two friends, who worked at the holiday resort where we ate all three meals of the day, were incredulous that this could occur.

An experience in Belfast had caused quite a bit of trauma in our Irish friend with the pony tail (even then, terrible with names). Our Irish friend with the bob-length hair was less shocked, but did describe how our other friend’s family had urgently gone to the other side of the wall during the unrest in Belfast regarding religion, and not all of her family had survived.

Last week, as I continue to check the genetics as more and more people participate in ancestry testing, I learned that I had a 3% chance of having olive skin.

3. Per Cent.

As I child, once I learned in biology about dominant and recessive genes, I called myself ‘very recessive’ because I did not look like my family.

I have been complimented for my tan skin tone for much of my life, as I say ‘thank you’ and wonder how to avoid the tan lines that appear if I go outside for more than a little bit.

As a 51 year old, I checked my ancestory results again and saw that 3% chance of being olive skinned, as more and more people of my descent are getting their ancestry results to understand our origins.

As you think about your culture, and different life experiences that have helped you to form your own systems of values and beliefs, what are some ways you have been affected that help you to be open and non-judgemental of those who may speak a different language, have different values and life experiences, or may have different skin tones or hair textures from you and the people in your life?

What are ways that you would like to promote peacefulness during a time where there has been so much unrest?

What is a goal you have, that you can do within the next few days, or month, or even season to help your life feel more peaceful?

Is your goal to make a goal?

I’m excited to be having some different life experiences than I had planned for, and was very reticent to experience.

I hope your day goes as well as it can, and that you have some positive interactions with yourself and others this week

To read an article I posted on ‘Thrive Global’, Click below. That article discusses my trip to France to promote World Peace, where I learned about culture, met some great friends, and recognized some of my privilege.

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/culture-shock-france-in-the-90s/

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