Recently, someone came to me to talk about the need for parishes that have diverse cultures to become more knowledgeable about those who worship with them.
It’s difficult enough for someone who was not born here to understand the dominant culture of this country, let alone understand other cultures that also live here. Does it require understanding yet another new language? Or does it require learning about distant customs? It’s quite a task when one’s first priority is becoming familiarized with a dominant culture.
I wondered: If I am Peruvian living in a parish with Vietnamese, Nigerians and Koreans, do I stay in my Peruvian enclave? Do I ignore those around me, or do I mix with them to better understand them?
Sooner or later all of us will have to learn about others so we can coexist peacefully, move up the economic scale, and keep up with the times. When people become marginalized they tend to become social outcasts, too. This can lead to crime, destitution, health problems.
It then occurred to me that this is nothing new, that I had to learn about other cultures as a child. In our neighborhood we had Irish, Latin Americans, Italians, Greeks and Jews. We would often play baseball together on the vacant lot across from my home.
I remember my friend Angie, who was Greek. Angie attended the Plato School and a beautifully decorated Greek church four blocks from where we lived. From him, I learned about the beauty of Greek music at weddings, joyful dancing and their exquisite cuisine.
And then there was Chico, who was great fun to be with. Later in life, I learned that Chico is the Spanish word for kid. To this day, I wonder if Chico was his real name or a nickname we gave him?
Interestingly, I lived with my Italian grandparents, and even though my last name is German, on the baseball field I was Gino DeSylvester after my mother’s maiden name. In fact, most of us had nicknames or names that revealed our nationalities.
I would not trade those days for anything. The flavorful mixture of cultures was an absolute delight and ever so educational.
As difficult as learning about other cultures may sound at first, it will happen faster than we think and we will do through activities such as sports or at parish and neighborhood gatherings. Our nation will be greatly enriched by the freshness diverse cultures bring.