Diversity: Appreciate it
Appreciation of Diversity - appreciation for and understanding of the rich complexity of the human experience.
Lesson arranged by Abby Nace and Chris Lopez
Step 5: Chris' journey to understanding the word Diversity
My experience as a person of color in America, and many others that I know intimately, has been one of trying to blend in. Because of this my perception of the word diversity was kind of tainted for a long time before I came to truly appreciate diversity. I came to appreciate not only ethnic diversity but also differences in gender identity, different backgrounds, different regions, different philosophies, and interests. Allow me to take you through my journey of understanding the word “diversity.”
Growing up in a conservative small town in Colorado I not only lived on the wrong side of the train tracks, I lived right next to them and the county jail. I did whatever I could to hide the fact that I lived in the predominately latino and poor neighborhood of Riverside in Grand Junction, Colorado. During my early childhood I understood diversity as a disadvantage.
Wanting to belong and to not feel different turned these feelings into shame. Thankfully, these feelings took a 180° turn when I began gravitating toward an older cousin of mine named Lalito. This cousin was very into chicano, or mexican-american culture, he introduced me to rap music, lowriders, lowrider bikes, the clothing, the artwork, the culture, but most importantly he taught me to be proud of my heritage. I took this a bit too far and was so proud of my heritage, that it got me into trouble. One day my cousin and I were coloring, I drew an American flag and a Mexican flag on poles, and I drew flames engulfing the American flag. My cousin was shocked and told me that what I did was wrong. He told me that I was both Mexican and American and to embrace both cultures equally. I remember drawing this scene because I was bitter. At school earlier that day a girl was proudly wearing an American flag bandana (biker style) on her head and I was wearing a belt with a Mexican flag on the buckle. My belt was taken away under the notion that it was gang-affiliated. A nine-year-old child gang-affiliated. I thought “well maybe a nine-year-old can be gang affiliated, but why not the girl with the other country’s flag. Oh that’s right because I am “diverse.” I pushed this further by wearing my Mexican flag bandana on my head during recess, this was also taken away under the same notion. I learned that I couldn’t express my diversity through my clothing without consequences. When I tried to express my diversity in grade school art classes I remember getting called into the principal’s office for drawing “gangsters.” The principal would question the figures hands, asking if they were doing gang signs and what they meant.
I dealt with uncomfortable situations like these, my whole life. Situations where diversity was associated with negativity. A more recent example would be overhearing my girlfriend’s father talking about a school shooting at Reynolds high school in Troutdale, OR. This high school is located right down the road from my home. Before the identity of the student that committed the shooting was identified, my girlfriend’s father attributed the problem to diversity. Not easy access to firearms, but diversity. He said “well it’s a very diverse school district” assuming it was a person of color who had committed the shooting or that racial tensions caused the shooting.
I have come to terms with accepting that being diverse, or different in anyway comes with it’s challenges, whether it’s prejudices of one’s character because of one’s ethnicity, prejudices of one’s ability because of one’s age, or financial obstacles because of one’s socioeconomic standing or class. My life experiences have taught me that embracing and appreciating diversity not only allows you to be more respectful, understanding, and empathetic to others, but it is also helps you to become more present and courageous. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Abby's Journey to Understanding the Word Diversity
A truly rewarding experience I want to share with you that I have with diversity is with my partner, Alex.
He and I are truly different in many ways. He grew up in San Diego - a large city that is very racially diverse, especially being right next to the Mexican border. I grew up in Vermont - a New England state that is 95% white. I don’t deny that his relationship with different cultures in America is deeper than mine because of this. He is Mexican-American, I am “Pennsylvania Dutch” or German-American. Our cultural heritages couldn’t be more different! Without succumbing too much to stereotypes on being Mexican and German, I do notice that...He is more comfortable outwardly expressing his emotions, and partying than me! While I am very comfortable being serious, disciplined, and somewhat reserved. In many ways, we compliment one another; him encouraging me to loosen up and me encouraging him to “serious up.” Other random differences: he loves the musical genre of metal, which I knew nothing about before meeting him, and I love modern dance, which I know he knew very little about before meeting me. The list goes on and on! The last one I want to share is much harder to talk about, but we do, and that is the role white privilege has played out for us in our lives. He has experienced discrimination for being a person of color, and I really cannot understand what this is like, and it is all very hard. But in being with him, he has brought me a little closer to understanding it better than I had before I met him and I am really, truly grateful. He has helped me with my humility just by sharing his experiences with me. I feel that our being together is a small step to breaking down century old barriers. But I do not want to linger on race, main reason being it’s not something we notice about each other when we’re together. More importantly, I notice that our loving each other and being together with our very different experiences and backgrounds has helped us grow as people, and influenced our ability to accept difference more.
step 6: Group Activity
Split the group into three groups. Have them talk about the following prompts or questions as a group, and then write or draw a summary or main point from their discussion.
Name a time or experience when you felt as if it were a challenge to be diverse?
Can you name a time when you or someone used the word “diverse” to mean something negative?
Name a time or experience when you felt an advantage by being diverse?
Do you believe diversity can help to effect change? If so, how?
Can you name a time or experience when diversity changed your world view? If so how has it changed your world view?
Does diversity bring us together or separate us further?
Step 7: Group Reflection
Gather the class into a circle. Ask participants to reflect on anything they learned, something they hadn’t considered before, or something that stood out to them during the group activity. Pass around a talking stick.
Step 8: Examples from Walk out walk on
By “Scaling Across” vs. “scaling up,” community is practiced (p. 36): “Scaling across happens when people create something locally and inspire others who carry the idea home and develop it in their own unique way.” Celebrating and embracing diversity is local ideas and development from the people who are going to be directly affected by the results. Scaling up is only based on one individual’s idea.