I’ve had two of my best friends in my life since we were in Mrs. Grader’s kindergarten class — 25 years ago this year. Over the years, we were never consistantly inseparable (it’s difficult when you all go to different colleges and move to new cities) but for whatever cosmic reason, we take on the ebbs and flows of friendship in the best way we can. We may not have a lot of time together with no chorus to go to after school or dances to attend but we make the most of the free time we scrounge up.
It’s our differences that inspired me to write this post today. After reading at least 150 books a year in the last 3 years, I am confident when I say there are very rare fictional circumstances that mirror the town we lived in and the schools we attended. Sure, we all had two parents, one sibling, and grew up in the same town but I’m half Polish and half Spanish, Jen is Polish, and Nisha is Indian. Our high school prided itself on this diversity. It was a life lesson. It was a proposed subject for college essays. How did our high school environment prepare us for the future? We were lucky enough to be surrounded by different cultures and backgrounds, and not only that, we celebrated them with organized groups, presentations, and acceptance.
So I roped Nisha and Jen into answering some questions about our high school experience and our differences. They are such great sports, seriously. Here goes:
Looking back 10 YEARS (ahh), do you believe our high school was really a diverse environment and how has it helped you beyond that?
Nisha: I think as we got older, the schools did become more diverse. It was nice to be a part of this little melting pot. When I was younger, I didn’t realize it was okay to be different. The older I got and the more I saw, I realized that I didn’t have to be like everyone else. My family and culture was different and it worked. It helped prepare me for college. My little melting pot was nothing compared to that. Having experienced it earlier, it wasn’t as shocking or intimidating. It allowed me to just enjoy the experience and take it all in.
Jen: I def think our school was diverse. Our student body had the typical cheerleader types as well as academics including African American and a Latina. We had clubs for any type of group. I remember once going to Asian Studies Club with another friend. Diversity opens you up to the real world. Not everyone is going to look like you or have the same background and having experience with different people allows you be open to different views, open minded and more understanding of others. Less irrational fear and more acceptance.
Is there any situation you remember from grade school where you felt left out or the opposite, loud and proud, about your culture and sharing it with others?
Nisha: When you’re younger being any kind of different automatically makes you feel left out. It cannot be helped. All you want is acceptance at a young age. Grade school wasn’t as diverse so my idea of ‘normal’ was what I saw on TV. Shows like Full House and Step by Step were my normal. However, I didn’t look like them, my family didn’t do the same things as theirs and we didn’t even eat similar foods. When you tell someone you had rotli, shaak, dal bhaat for dinner and they look at you like you have three heads, you feel a bit intimidated. Unfortunately, this translated into being ashamed of my culture when I was younger.
Jen: I never felt left out. Once I wore my polish national outfit for Halloween at school and got a lot of compliments on it. Always thought it was cool that my parents grew up in another country. (Didn’t we do a project once on our cultural backgrounds? I seem to remember laminating placemats that had something to do with Poland. ha.)
I don’t see a lot of friendships like us in media (books, TV, etc.) Am I wrong? Are there any I’m missing? Why do you think there’s a lack of diverse friendships in this place?
Nisha: I don’t think you’re wrong which is unfortunate. I think it’s hard to find these kinds of relationships because people haven’t experienced it. It’s hard to write about something you don’t know or have dealt with. People generally stick to what they know when it comes to befriending people. They don’t allow themselves to go out and explore the options.
Jen: It seems to be more obvious with male relationships. Thinking of The Big Bang Theory that has an Indian and Jewish guy in the same mix. New Girl is pretty diverse. Jess and Ceecee are white girl and Indian girl and the guys include a Jewish guy and two African Americans. I guess Glee tries to be diverse but it always seems like a struggle to teach something before it turns to an actual friendship.
So what can we take from this? Not to pat any of us on the back, but we are all pretty open-minded people. We’ve all been interested in each other’s lives from the mundane to the most personal. We recognize people as people. Then I asked Nisha if she could remember any recent books with diverse characters in them? She was tired, so I’ll give her a break, but not one came to mind.
I guess it’s time that shocks me the most. In third grade, our teacher was very enthusiastic and focused on having her students understand each other. We hosted an international fair every year, city-wide, and we planned many events in school during the year. From a very early age, we were taught to be curious and accepting. That was almost 20 years ago, and still, I don’t see enough of these environments or relationships in the books I’m reading.
That being said, I can recommend three books that reflected my high school experience truthfully so far. Fingers crossed this list expands as the years go on.
Now it’s your turn! Are your friendships well-represented in what you are reading? What would you like to see?
Be sure to check out Rebecca’s first post for DID — Taking the Good with the Bad!
It’s the first official month of Dive Into Diversity so don’t forget to check in with you diverse posts below. Rebecca, Magan, and I cannot wait to read them and check out your blogs! If you haven’t had a chance to join the DID reading challenge, feel free to visit the intro post and use #DiversityDive on Twitter & Instagram!