Thursday, October 18, 2012

Off Topic - The Many Colors of Washington State

There were a lot of hopes I had for Washington state before moving here.  That it would be better economically and financially (true), that it would be better for the dogs (true), that it would be better for LGBT couples (true), and many others.  One thing I didn't really think about was diversity.

I grew up in the more affluent parts of Rochester and Syracuse, about twenty minutes from the city in each case.  As you might expect, the schools were not exactly models for diversity.  I think my graduating class of around 440 students was made up of 10% minorities if I'm being really generous.  One of my best friends, Jun Jie, was born in northern China, but by no means did I experience a melting pot of culture.

College got a little better, although the demographics didn't.  As luck would have it, I lived next door to guys from Nigeria, my freshman physics lab partner was from Sudan, and one of my other freshman classmates was from French Guiana.  I also soon befriended Jon, a black man from Harlem.  Jon, it happened, was also fond of other cultures, frequently participating in events held by the University's diversity center, and while it was nice to be thrust into those experiences, they felt forced at times.

Senior year was even more interesting as a vacancy in our townhouse meant we'd be housing exchange students.  The first, a man from Barcelona named David was extremely social and frequently brought the other exchange students back to our house for dinner and parties.  It wasn't out of the ordinary to walk in and find my two white best friends in the midst of a political discussion with students from Germany, France, Russia, Spain, and Austria.  The second, ironically also named David, brought some differences that were more familiar from his home near Newcastle in Great Britain.

Those sort of different perspectives, so long as they're coming with a certain amount of open-mindedness and intelligence, are the most valuable thing in the world to me.  I cannot understate how much I enjoy looking at myself, my experiences, and my country through the eyes of someone who has been through such a different upbringing, both as a writer, and as a human being.  (Even when those experiences underscore how hideously un-diverse and uncultured my upbringing has been.)

The pleasant surprise in moving to Washington is the amount of diversity.  Granted there are fewer African Americans out here, but already I've talked to people from Mexico, Brazil, Germany, and Turkey, seen a variety Asian countries represented, and hear more Russian spoken than I ever have in my life.  I have a certain amount of confidence and belief in myself and my capability for greatness, but it's also nice to remember what a tiny sliver of society I really am.

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