Diversity begins with the individual

As a girl who was born and raised in the United States, I will admit two things.

One: I partake in “typical” American holiday activities such as huge meals with family, shopping, wrapping presents and putting up the Christmas tree when it comes to this time of year.

Two: I grew up in a decently small town that was mostly Caucasian. Until I came to college I didn’t know very much about cultures outside of my own.

Now, in my third year of college, one of my best friends is Muslim and another is Hmong. I have a close friend from Kenya and another was born in the Philippines.

It has opened my eyes to many different religious and cultural practices I had never thought about before and made me aware of how ignorant our generation as a whole can be of those around us.

As Thanksgiving drew closer, I began to get excited to see my family and, of course, the huge meal that would be waiting for us.

My friends didn’t seem as excited for the break. Sometimes they made me feel as though this holiday, a part of my culture, was beneath them, calling it a “typical American holiday.”

After spending so much time learning about and respecting who they were, I was surprised at how indifferent they were to me and the traditions my family held. Sure, they may not have as deep of roots as their respective cultures, but they are still very important to me.

American culture is another form of culture, but sometimes it seems that is forgotten because we are so busy respecting or disrespecting everyone else’s.

I’m not saying that we’re the victims here. On the way back to school after break I encountered another form of cultural ignorance.

I rode back with a car full of students I had gone to high school with. When we got on the topic of culture, I was surprised at how ignorant they sounded clumping together stereotypes about cultures they didn’t understand.

This was me three years before I began my college career, and I was appalled. My friends have taught me more about diverse cultures than any class ever has, and I’m very grateful for that.

Unfortunately, for as “diverse” as UW-Eau Claire claims to be, there are still many people, like that car of students, who are never exposed to different cultures as I was lucky enough to be.

We can’t use the excuse that our school is diverse to ignore the fact that we ourselves are not. It is the individual choices we make on a daily basis that reflect how we respond to diversity. But this is a two way street.

America has a culture just like any other nation, and if we are expected to respect every culture that inhabits this wonderful country of ours, it is only fair the favor is returned.

Though we have come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement, there is still a lot of improvement to be made on both ends of the spectrum, and we can start right here simply by being more aware of the people who are around us.