by Nelia Dingcong Bernabe
February 14, 2011
For a while now, I’ve watched this lady push the wheelchair every day. She does it with so much love and care that it makes me take a double look at my life and reassess my purpose every time I see her do it.
Aside from the occasional hi or hello when we bumped into each other in the hallway, I only see her around lunch time and get to observe everything that she does from afar for a good 30 minutes or so. I didn’t even know her name.
But that changed a few days ago.
I chanced upon her as she was heating up her food and I was about to use the microwave that’s kitty-corner from our office to heat up some water for my late morning tea. I decided to wait and in the process, we struck up a conversation, an interesting one to say the least.
It’s amazing what you can find out about another person in such a short time if you only stop and allow the moment to unfold. Being at the right place at the right time allowed for one of the most interesting conversations I had in a long time to happen.
She told me she’s originally from Jamaica and she’s married with three kids. She also told me her kids’ ages and what they’re up to now as well as her married life, which she described as “blissful.” She then asked me about my nationality and I told her.
She went on to share with me what she considers important – education and being proud of where she came from – and how she said she tries to instill these in her kids. The word “diversity” came up in our conversation and as innocently as the word was mentioned, it jolted me into thinking as I heard the tiny beep from the microwave.
Diversity. It has a nice ring to it. It’s what I see every morning when I get ready for work. It’s what prods me to give my best every time I turn the key to open my office. It’s what keeps me on my toes 24/7.
Embracing diversity and allowing one’s self to remain authentic at the same time allows the spirit to run free. It does not warrant an acceptance, it does not call for curtailment nor should it cause you to inhibit your thoughts and actions. Being comfortable in your own skin is as potent as the venom from a cobra that’s ready to strike.
Diversity is best exemplified via a conspicuous darker skinned woman with long black hair who must prove herself worthy of her place in this brutally cold arctic-like environment. Or it could point in the direction of my new friend who wears matching outfits – from the color of her turtlenecks and coats to her pants and boots – when she goes to work every day.
But the flip side is, as much as I tout embracing it and all, diversity does not come free. It has a price tag that translates into doubling or tripling our efforts for our rightful place in the pecking order. No skin off my back really. It’s a challenge that I welcome wholeheartedly.
From my vantage point, the price tag has stirred strong emotions within me akin to someone who’s stranded on a deserted island. Your survival instincts kick into high gear and you’ll do everything to get out alive. Same deal. There are people who will test you or whose main goal in life is to crush your sense of pride for embracing and flaunting your diversity. If you let them, these people will devour you alive. If you remain steadfast, resolute, and acknowledge that like them, you’ve earned your rightful spot, they’ll leave you alone for the most part.
However, the road to self-acceptance is never an easy one. It’s treacherous and bumpy. It’s a process that one has to go through in stages before realizing that it is really okay to be different or to not be a part of the mainstream or the majority.
I’ve learned that seeking acceptance from other people is quite elusive and in some cases, nonexistent. It could even be downright hurtful. But I also know that coming to terms with who you are and who you are not helps squash those who would like to see you fail or fall.
As my friend, now with a name, and I wrapped up our impromptu conversation, she related to me the story of how she got here. Fueled by her parents’ desire to give her and her siblings a better life, she said that she is determined to live her life to the fullest and take advantage of the opportunities that America has to offer.
Sometimes we from the diverse side forget the underlying reason why most of us are here. Instead we complain, whine, gripe, and find fault at every little thing.
To live in America and be part of the mainstream allows one to enjoy the best of two worlds. Diversity allows you to live a happy compromise without losing yourself in the process. The ability to juggle two cultures every day demands from a person the kind of thinking that is limitless and should be without boundaries.
The best way to describe the feeling is to look at Oreo cookies. A person who embraces diversity to the hilt is that creamy filling sandwiched between the two hard cookies. Every bite allows one to enjoy the explosion of tastes inside your mouth, something that has to be experienced together. Calling America home for transplants simply put allows for diversity to be experienced to the fullest by staying true to your roots but at the same time embracing what this country has to offer, good or bad.
My friend is right. Diversity is a beautiful thing. Immerse yourself in it without inhibition and like snacking on Oreo cookies that allows you to belch with gusto after a handful, you’ll find yourself talking about it while inhaling the savory aroma of somebody’s lunch and ginger tea. As you know, diversity comes in many forms!