Monday, September 05, 2005

Diversity...unexpected ingnorance

I like to believe that I have grown up in a very diverse upbringing, having a sister of same blood that also very much appears to look african american, my mother, primarily asian, but raised catholic, and a white father, whose baptist upbringing with a twist of a pentecostal black youth. My friends all have been of many races, black, hispanic, and white, but even now I still feel ignorant of the many cultures and norms.

To most, I am mongol, with an ambiguous look that can be interpreted in many ways. In Durham, I am often viewed as hispanic by both hispanics and not, usually with them attempting to speak spanish to me. I find this very compelling that people will go out of their way to communicate with me. On the beach, I am hawaiian, especially when seen with a surfboard. I usually get comments relating to some Samoan descent and how 'we' invented surfing. In Pembroke, NC, where I went to school, many locals thought I was related to someone's brother or father, claiming I was pure native american. With other asians, I am viewed as Fillipino, or Chinese which sometimes makes me wonder who I really am, or what sort of person I look like.

In many ways, being 'ambiguous' has its rewards in that I can move easily in and out of many different cultures without the pains of being lablelled someone outside of thier acceptable circle as far as race. The tribal benefit of being included has afforded me much insight into how people view each others racially, but there are also drawbacks. Sometimes I feel I do not belong to any category and upon declaration of my ethnicity, I am sometimes feel marginalized or not totally accepted. I feel this normal, but do not see it as a hindrance to learning more about others, but is also why I like to let people make assumptions of my ethnicity to see their perspective on my behaviors and attitudes. I think it's amazing when you can make a connection with someone under their premise of who they view you as, then to shatter thier perception with compassion and understanding.

Last week I totally forgot the boundaries of religion and race when I was working with a student. As the technology coordinator, I usually give explanations and tutorials on how to use our department's website. Well, upon finishing this explanation, I went to shake that student's hand, only to be withdrawn and told they cannot and it's against their religion. It sort of blew me away in a wierd way because in my upbringing a handshake is commonplace and considered a respectable way to meet when I was denied something I thought to be a humble way to show respect, I felt a little hurt. I had to think on this because the conviction in that student's voice did not hint at being cruel or non-appreciative, but just a matter of fact.

The more I thought on this, the more I understood that I have not been exposed to culture not related to Christianity and in the Muslim world, touch by the other gender is not allowed unless married or kin. I see this more now and am interested to learn more. It seems I need to learn more of other cultures so that I won't be as suprised, but understand reasons behind certain norms.

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