Thursday, December 16, 2004

Feeling Less Than Zero

Several years ago I took an introductory political science class in college where the professor proceeded to tell the class that American students simply do not appreciate other cultures. He, himself, was not a natural born American citizen. His reasoning was that foreign students will travel to the U.S. and learn other languages (English) therefore becoming bilingual or even trilingual or more. Furthermore he said that we (the American students) have every opportunity to learn other languages but simply do not want to. Therefore he concluded that we do not appreciate other cultures.

I was a bit steamed. I grew up in Hawaii and have always had an appreciation of other cultures even though I could not speak their languages. In fact, one of our close family friends growing up (people who I called aunty and uncle) were Filipino. We were not related to them by blood but simply by association. I have always appreciated growing up in a multicultural society where customs from the Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Hawaiian and even different Caucasian groups (e.g. Swedish, English, etc.) were incorporated into everyday life. I know some people may not find this true but I am only relating my experience. My very best friend in elementary school before she moved to another school is Swedish. To this day, my mom will occasionally see this girl's mom and they "catch up" on what I'm doing or what this girl is doing.

So when I heard this professor make that statement, my hand shot up and I said to him that appreciating someone else's culture doesn't mean you have to learn their language. I think he realized the blanket statement he was making and actually agreed with me. Whether I changed his mind or not, I don't know.

There usually isn't much that gets me "steamed" or upset enough to say something. But in this case, I needed to say something to defend not only myself but the other students who simply sat there and didn't say a word. And maybe for the future students who will be sitting in his class in the future. I know we all try to be correct and just in our thinking, and no one is perfect, even myself. I guess I fear less for myself and more for my future children. I would hope they don't have to contend with stares, misstatements, or even blatant prejudice. I've experienced little of that compared to many others, but the bottomline is that when you let other people do these things to you, they exert their power and privilege over you. No one should ever feel that they are less than anyone else.