Sunday, August 18, 2013

Celebrate diversity, don't sneer at it

A friend recently posted a picture of a t-shirt on Facebook.  The shirt rather snarkily compared the quality of life in one State to the quality of life in another.  I have to say that this kind of thing is really a hot button for me.

I've been a long-term resident in two different States: Texas and New York.  Each State is the victim of amazing amounts of stereotyping, which frustrates me to no end because I have found that each of those States is ever so much more than those doing the stereotyping would have us believe.

New York is the victim of New York City-itis.  Apparently the entire world thinks that the whole 54,556 square miles of New York State is covered in skyscrapers, neon lights, and homeless people.  The people who believe this have obviously never been to New York.  They haven't seen the miles of orchards where apples and cherries hang heavily from the trees, bending the branches so low that you can pick them without a ladder.  They haven't bitten into an apple pulled freshly off the branch and polished on their sleeves.  They haven't felt the juice run down their chins as the sweetness fills their mouths and the scent fills their noses.  These same people haven't looked over the acres of vineyards as they sipped a sweet New York Riesling and nibbled on sharp New York cheddar cheese.  The people who believe that all there is to New York is Broadway and bohemians have never climbed in the Adirondack Mountains, slept in a cabin to awake early in the morning to mists and birds twittering sleepily.  They haven't fished for trout in the streams, or sat in a deer blind watching the graceful beauty of a doe bending her head for a drink from that same running water.  These people have never experienced the awe of staring out over Lake Ontario, or the fear of being caught in a sudden squall on a body of water the size of a small sea.  To them, all that New York will ever be is concrete, glass, and subways.  Those things exist in New York, but they are not ALL that New York was or will ever be.

These same people think of Texas and believe that it consists of nothing but herds of longhorns being rounded up by grizzled men wearing chaps and cowboy hats.  To them the entirety of Texas' 268,820 square miles is made up of tumbleweeds, desert and hay-chewing hicks.  They don't know or believe that Texas is home to some of the top names in aeronautics, computer technology and film-making.  The arts have a home in this State, with Dallas having the largest urban arts district in the United States.  There are multiple opera companies, theatre companies and performing arts companies throughout the state.  The music scene in Austin, Texas is well-known, but amazing new music is being made everywhere from the smallest town to the biggest city.  The museums in Texas are vastly diverse, ranging from the traditional to the quirky.  And the food...oh my goodness!  The same people who believe that all there is to Texas is rattlesnakes and miles of endless nothing have never explored the amazing diversity of cuisines available in this State.  Some of the top chefs in the world live and work here, and are proud to do so because they can draw inspiration from so many sources that it can almost be overwhelming at times.  So I feel sorry for the people who have never had the good fortune to wander the halls of the Dallas Museum of Art, feeling the tears well up when they stand in front of "Water Lilies" by Monet.  They have never stood in wonder, realizing that the metal module in front of them took Astronauts Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Jack Schmitt to the moon and back as part of the Apollo 17 mission.  Those people will probably not ever savor the perfect mole sauce at a hole-in-the-wall authentic Mexican restaurant or the perfect bowl of Pho at the small, local Vietnamese place right down the road.  They'll never move from club to club in Austin, hearing the future stars of the music world.  They will never understand how much they are missing by not walking the fence line, feeling the wind tugging against their clothing and the grit of the dust as it lightly sands the skin.  Because while that is not all of what Texas is, it IS an important part of the State's past and present.

These are my homes.  These two States share space in my heart, and to see them minimized into caricatures by anyone (even people who live there) breaks that heart because I know how much more there is to both places than the stereotypers would have us believe. 

The thing is, that is how it is for every location in the world.  There is always so much more than the casual observer can ever guess.  We do ourselves a disservice by dismissing places other than our own and by distilling them down to minimalistic, unrealistic cartoons of what they really are.  The people who live in these places know the truth, they know that Maine is more than lobster, Florida is more than Disney World, California is more than Hollywood, and Washington State is more than rain.  Africa has more than safaris, China is greater than just a Wall, and Japan has more to offer than sushi.  Yes, places become known for specific things because those things are an important PART of their identity, but we have to remember that those symbols are just a part of the whole, and in no way present a full picture of all there is to be offered to us by visiting or even living there.

So do yourselves a favor, and the next time that you find yourself making one of those snarky, dismissive comparisons or assumptions, stop and remember that the only limitations being spotlighted when you do so are your own.  The only lack of depth that exists in regards to wherever or whatever you are sneering at is your own lack of depth and your own lack of understanding.  The insult isn't to the people who live in those places, and the only ignorance on display is your own.

I am proud to be a daughter of New York, and an adopted daughter of Texas.  Both States are full of infinitely wondrous diversity.  Both States are full of people I am proud to know and love.  Both States have helped shape and mold me and how I see the world.  Both States are my homes, and I am blessed to have lived there.  I do honor to them, not by putting down other places, but by sharing the wonder of my homes with other people, then by letting them share the wonder of their homes with me.  I'll tell you this, I have yet to find a place in this country, or in this world, that doesn't truly contain a wonder of its own.  I don't think that I ever will.

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