May 2008 Linn County Leader Column – “Remembering Our Multi-Cultural Heritage”

NOTE: This column’s header was incorrectly listed in the Linn County Leader as “Finding Common Ground”…It should have read “Slice of Home, Slice of Life”.

How fitting that this column will run on May 5th, otherwise known as “Cinco de Mayo”.

You might ask, “What is that?” Well, here in America, it is best recognized as a day that celebrates the culture and experiences of those people of Mexican ancestry; much like the Chinese New Year, St. Patrick’s Day, or Oktoberfest. It has been observed continuously in California since 1863, and in certain parts of Mexico, where it is not a declared holiday, but rather one that you can acknowledge if so desired. And, it is also a wonderful time of music, food, and dancing.

My exposure to this holiday first surfaced when my family lived in Los Angeles; I attended Lillian Street Elementary School and there, amidst the melting pot of kids from all parts of the world, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo in earnest. We learned about the culture and ways of the people of Mexico, the history behind May 5th (which was the initial victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín over French forces in the Battle of Puebla on that date in 1862) and other intriguing facts on Mexico.

And, yes…we learned to do the Jarabe Tapatío; this you may know by the moniker of the “Mexican Hat Dance” here in the States. It is a very popular folk dance in Mexico and also the southwestern U.S.; besides being a symbol of national pride and honor of the Mexican people, it also tells the tale of young love and courtship through song and dance.

I can remember the festival-like atmosphere of that day so long ago; the sights, sounds, and tastes of authentic Mexican cuisine like arroz con leche (rice with milk and sugar), menudo (and no, not the band, but soup made with tripe), and my favorite then and even now, caldo de pollo (spicy chicken soup; they serve it wonderfully at the local Mexican restaurant in Brookfield, Tequila Jalisco). Those three stand out in my mind the most because of their unique flavors and aromas. They weren’t bland, for sure; it was a full-combat assault on your taste buds and nasal passages. But, oh! what a taste! Guaranteed to stay with you for a few days afterwards.

People might ask why I choose to remember that special time, because I’m not Mexican in heritage; indeed, I am half-Japanese and very proud of that fact. However, I think the reason I hold these thoughts and memories near to my heart is because it reminds me that we, as Americans, are all part of that “giant” conglomeration of people who call this great country our “home”. Whether our skin color is different, or whether we speak another language sometimes, really doesn’t matter. What does matter is the simple fact that, unlike any other country on the face of this earth, America offers a new chance and a gleaming hope for those who choose to immigrate here. It gives a second chance for a better life, without the oppression of government or military powers.

Next time we want to blame our nation’s ills and problems on any certain culture, we should think about one thing: that the United States of America is comprised of millions of people from ALL racial backgrounds; none of us are true natives of this land except for the Native American Indians. And, sadly, look what we did to them when we started colonizing this country. They were pushed into “reservations”; places where “we” told them where they could live and work and play. And that, my friends, is a true shame; they sure deserved better.

So we should all get over our differences, no matter how big they seem sometimes, and celebrate living in this wonderful land of opportunity; and most of all, we need to stop using prejudice and racism to promote our own agendas and/or ways of thinking. It not only happens in the secular world; it happens in the religious side of things as well.

All of us have a multi-cultural heritage here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Embrace it with enthusiasm and a joyful heart, and especially learn to enjoy the wonderful and diverse foods, languages, and traditions that are all around us in places such as Chinatown (San Francisco); Little Tokyo (Japan, Los Angeles); Bensonhurst (Italian, New York City)…and the thousands of other little ethnic communities spread across our land.

It might just open up your eyes and help you to see others in a different…and better…light.

Next month: Our trip down Route 66 begins! (only a year late)

Richard is a regular monthly columnist for the Linn County Leader, and is the pastor of Bear Branch, Purdin, and Pleasant Grove UMC’s in north Missouri. You can reach him via email at sliceofhome@gmail.com, or leave a comment on his blog at https://sliceofhome.wordpress.com

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