How should we define diversity?
Or, maybe a better question is, in our efforts to maintain diversity, is it possible that we suffocate the core of what we are trying to preserve—a flexibility of mind and an openness of heart?
Since coming to study in the United States, I have struggled to answer this question.
I am a first-year, Indian Italian American college student who was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My parents, a South Indian mother from Delhi and an Italian American father from Massachusetts, raised me as a cosmopolitan human being.
They inculcated in me the idea that I, like everybody else, was the product of many places and cultures. I grew to believe that to say that you are fundamentally of one place and one place only is to deprive yourself of new opportunities to learn and incorporate that new knowledge into your vision of yourself.
In this way, I grew up seeing myself not as being of three cultures, but rather simply of the world, completely fluid and totally free to adopt and join whatever cultures I may encounter as I move through life.
I was very confident in this position until I began my studies at Brown. During my first few days there, I participated in a program for “students of color” called TWTP, which intended to ease the transition into the university.
This fractioning into clearly distinguishable cultural societies inspired in me no small amount of panic. I now recognize that associations with any of these groups are merely practical and situational, but at the time, I saw the whole thing as an incontrovertible process of self-identification.
I had grown up simply calling myself “of the world” and leaving it at that. But now, I felt as though I had to choose my cultures. While I could “legitimately” sign myself up for at least three, I felt an ever-deepening anxiety about the fact that I wasn’t completely a member of any one of them.
What does it mean to be an Indian?
Or a Puerto Rican?
Or a multi-ethnic individual?
Or an American?
As we struggle to answer and define ourselves in these terms, how many valuable aspects of ourselves do we exclude? When we choose to socialize exclusively with people who fall into our ethnic category, how deep do our friendships really become?
My visits to India have been fundamental in my cultural and spiritual growth. But that does not mean that I will jealously guard my “South Asian-ness” and behave as though I were part of an exclusive cultural club.
What I liked most about Brown was not that I could find some other South Asians to talk to. What I liked about Brown was that, when a cultural show kicked off, or when that Bollywood song began to blast, everyone was cheering and dancing… in their own, personal way.
That flexibility of mind and an openness of heart which enables you to pick up and grow from any and every culture you may encounter is, I believe, the core of diversity.
Many people in our society are searching for a kind of exclusive inclusion, where they are legitimate because other people are not.
Is that how cultural exchange (or any exchange) should be—like a game with teams and rigid rules? Whatever happened to hybridity, the driving force of most positive history? … that spontaneous flow and marriage of ideas necessary to create true human progress and joy?
Since the freedom to freely interact and exchange ideas is one of the real values of this (and of many other) country(ies), I think it’s time that that freedom should be embraced.