The other

Warning: some political musing below….

Today is one of those days when I didn’t think I had anything to really write about, but then I recalled reading a heart-wrenching article over lunch. A city near where I live is struggling with the influx of Somali immigrants into their central Minnesota town, and lifestyle. It’s been a struggle for the past few years, as the community has reacted badly towards these settlers in their community, and it has been sad to watch hatred and bigotry unfurl itself.

I won’t go into all the details of this particular situation, as it’s a common one across the country when people struggle to learn to accept others that are different than themselves. One of the comments in the article however, got me thinking about the history of the culture of America. I don’t mean the history of cultures IN America, but the history OF American culture.

As a country that was built upon immigration, it may seem odd how we’ve become so entrenched in our mindsets. I remember growing up and listening to songs like “This land is my land, this land is your land”, and hearing about how race and color doesn’t matter, but what’s in people’s hearts. Yet, I think that there was a subtle cultural undertone that is only now coming to the fore.

The idea that all are welcome and should be respected equally in America seems to come with a caveat. Namely, that acceptance into America means adopting and embracing a culture that is “American”. That culture shows some trappings of openness, but within some certain guidelines. Christianity is the faith of the country, and while other religions are a curiosity, they don’t ever seem to fit into the overall American meta-narrative. Other cultural traditions also get looked at as something odd and different, as if you were sampling some rare exotic food, that you might never taste again in your life.

People look at these other faiths and traditions and are intrigued, but the general notion is that none of these are truly “American” culture. For all of our talk of openness, and being a country founded on many different traditions, our actions speak of a society that prides itself at looking down at those who are different than us. We expect those who come to our country to mimic our paths of success, with little regard for the concepts and ideas that other cultures hold dear. What is mediocrity to our eyes, may in fact be humble contentment to others.

Our country is slowly becoming less homogenized in faith and traditions, though some would argue that we’ve always welcomed those who are different. The founding of our country did in fact include many different “faiths” and “cultures”. But all of those majority faiths and cultures were simply permutations on European traditions and Christian denominations. When American pioneers encountered something that was truly different than themselves, the attacked it, killed it, and put it on reservations.

Truly being open to “the other” is one of the hardest steps that American culture needs to take to grow into the true melting pot that we claim we are. No country in the world has been able to completely be that place of harmony between people of different traditions and faiths, yet. Many try, but even the “enlightened” societies of western Europe have found themselves in a mess trying to deal with a large influx of immigrants from places very different than what they are used to.

As we look around at what America is now, and what America can become in the future, let’s try and continue to evolve each generation into one that can more readily accept a future where many faiths and traditions must stand together for the betterment of all. I don’t believe I’ll see the fruition of this type of society in my lifetime, but as I slowly progress towards being an elder, perhaps I can help influence the generation of my children to continue to take steps towards truly accepting the other.

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