Ever heard someone say, “I don’t even see color”? How about a comment like, “I overheard you speaking in Spanish. . . where are you originally from? Peru? Nicaragua?” Then there’s always the classic idiom, “There is only one race: the human race!”. We’ve all heard these phrases used to communicate cultural awareness on the part of the speaker, and while they may be well-intentioned, they are usually misguided.
In reality, sayings like these, dismiss diversity as unimportant, make it seem like it doesn’t exist, and it can question a person’s background based on observed differences. Diversity isn’t something to hide- the traits that make us distinct from each other are often the traits that enable us to make an impact on those around us.
Let’s get a couple of definitions out of the way- here at Language Matters, when we use the term “diversity”, or “cultural diversity”, we are referring to differences in ethnic and cultural backgrounds, both observable and imperceptible; this means that diversity isn’t always something you can see! It’s not just about the pigment of someone’s skin or the country they were born in, it’s also about the memories, experiences, traditions, values, and people that make them who they are.
We want to communicate something about cultural diversity that we think the whole world needs to hear: you might not see yourself as a “diverse” individual, but EVERYONE expresses qualities of diversity, and they are NOT something to be ashamed of! Think about an interview setting: do you highlight the things about yourself that make you like every other candidate? If you are gifted in a certain area that others around you are not- do you suppress that gift, or do you draw attention to it? When you’re asked to “give a fun fact” about yourself during an introduction, do you state something that is common to everyone present? Of course not! The unseen traits and abilities that make us unique are often the ones we’re most proud of, and that translates to cultural diversity!
We’ve said that cultural diversity isn’t always visible, but sometimes it can be audible. As language-enthusiasts ourselves, we couldn’t help but highlight this aspect. That’s right- diversity includes the language or languages that a person speaks, and we can’t emphasize enough what an asset speaking a different language is, or speaking more than one language, can be!
Take, for example, a French-born individual working in Panama. His French accent probably stands out in a crowd of Panamanian Spanish speakers. Maybe it’s even a source of self-consciousness for him, as he’s spent the last ten years practicing his Spanish- but what if he is employed as a French teacher, and his knowing French enables him to make a living and impact hundreds of students? What if he’s one of the only Spanish-French interpreters in his city, which allows him to create connections between people who would never have had the chance to communicate? The very thing that makes him different may be his greatest contribution to those around him!
How about a loud-and-proud Puerto Rican living with her family in Maine? She might laugh and speak more animatedly than her peers, but her unabashed joy for life, welcoming nature, and confidence have the power to impact others in ways that others around her can’t!
So let’s get to our point. Once we realize that diversity exists in all of us, and that our cultural differences can help us build each other up, what do we do with that information? We embrace and take advantage of it to create a better world! What else? Embracing diversity isn’t pretending that our differences don’t exist, hiding them, or calling negative attention to them- it’s positively recognizing and celebrating the endless strengths, unique qualities, and opportunities diversity creates! And there’s only one way that we can do it --TOGETHER.