On Thursday, November 4, 2010, The Centerville-Washington Township Diversity Council hosted a very special event entitled “Voices and Stories: Tales from a Diverse Community”—a community project intended to embrace their own mission of “bringing together governments, schools, businesses, media, faith and ethnic communities, organizations, and individuals to promote multiculturalism and [to] address issues of diversity.”
The stage was set with red and white lighting, a tree stump, a faux
campfire, an initial four shouts through a conch shell, and rhythmic tapping on a wide, flat drum giving the audience an immediate atmosphere of closeness, and therefore a special kind of neutrality. Out loud, the speaker invites us to “Be Intrigued”! Then, we heard Native Cherokee Indian singing into the above pictured drum …..Throughout the event, Raymond Two Crows, a Native Cherokee Indian, of Scots-Irish and Lumbee Indian heritage plays different instruments to introduce the ten individual accounts of ten individual’s lives. For the audience, it was like listening to ten different news headlines and so I will share some of these stories as such in hopes of conveying the intimate, overall “holy ground” ambience (if I may) of the event .
This beautiful French speaking woman, whose father was an African Tribal Prince, moved to America with her 6 brothers and sisters (ages 2 to 14) and learned to speak English along with many other cultural challenges. She shared with us the humorous “What were we thinking?”- experience of returning to Cameroon a few years later, fully “Americanized” (if you will) in white T-Shirts during the rainy season! She also shared the traditionally enlightening experience of laying their grandfather to rest, witnessing the coronation of her father, and the “old chief sharing wisdom with the new chief”. A week of feasting and celebrating followed as they connected with who they actually were. Finally, her personal revelation of being American citizens in Cameroon, and Cameroon citizens in America, and then to recognize they were simply “Citizens of the world!” As she broadened her personal horizon, so ours was also influenced. She amused us in stating that when asked “What did you do last summer?” she responded “I became a Tribal Princess!”—and we can’t top that for an impressive response, I don’t think!!
Mukund Srinivas, shared his realization of the benefit of having two cultures
within himself and two viewpoints of all that he sees, and though missing his homeland culture, never regretted the move to America, and all that he learned through this lens of multiculturalism. He spoke two languages and went to the grocery store together with his family so that everyone could support each other through the experience. Our Chinese friend, Ruize Zhuang, shared that his background of being a Dutch-Chinese visitor to America turned many heads! He shared some Chinese traditions with us, the meanings given to certain foods, the fun family competition to find the store with the longest noodles, celebrations of birthdays back-to-back, coinciding with relatives in China simultaneously sharing the same celebrations with the same foods, offering him a feeling of connectedness. Suzuka Watanabe from Japan shared that the initial shock of coming to America was so great that her family thought they should immediately return, but then, it was decided that a Japanese school here in America where she would learn about Japanese math, culture and foods was a suitable solution for supplementing her education. She shared that it was quite amazing when 100 people were all pounding rice cakes at the same time and that she was glad she stayed here while staying connected to her culture as well.
I will tell you that we listened to a mother from southern India named Asha Mahambrey, who believed in the power of stories to raise her children and help them keep true to a sense of her culture. She shared a story of how she explained to them why there was one God but many different perceptions of Him and how we all experience God in different ways. She also shared her love of her simple mother, who had no education, but whose wisdom and love she appreciated more than her own education. In parting, she shared, “Hold onto your nature” and that “we can bring profound Truth to young people’s minds” through stories told not only to her own children but to the children she teaches.
There isn’t enough time or space to tell full details of the all the accounts, but I’d like to share a few more as concise synopses of the remaining cultures showcased.
Bill Castro ‘s family came to the United States from South America in 1966 and ultimately built their El Mason restaurant through the continuing visions of his father, who was a dreamer, and always saw the potential to expand, in essence, the potential of the mindset… “Si, se puede!” (Yes, you can!)
Karine Daddah shared her “Wedding Bells” story of growing up in Mauritania. She shared how her mother wanted her to marry someone from the Mauritanian culture so she would always have someone to connect with her on this level. And so as providence would have it, she met her future husband in Mauritania heading to the United States. She had a combination of Vietnam, Lebanon, France and Mauritania in her background. She married in the South of France and found her way to continue experiencing everything of these and the Mauritanian culture while recognizing that she married happily–knowing “no one else would understand her multiculturalism as uniquely well as her new Mauritanian husband would.
Kathy Hayes, who is formerly from Western North Carolina and now teaches Appalachian Studies at Sinclair Community College, shared her family’s “Pickin’ and Grinnin’” experiences at their old mountain cabin, with her very musically talented relatives, whose talents were regular events when there was no internet, tv, or ipods, but just the sound of mountain music. Kathy shared that her mother was a walking history book, a woman who felt just like a bird whose natural state is singing and she became a singer later on, receiving the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment of the Arts for her efforts in sharing and preserving her mountain music and heritage with others, and something she asked Kathy to promote, and while being true to that request, Kathy advises “Be yourself! Be true to who you are!”
Marsha Bonhart is WDTN’s Channel 2 Anchor/Reporter, and even she came out to share with the audience “All the World’s a Stage”–readings from William Shakespeare.
In the end, Alicia Pagan, (of Puerto Rican descent, identifying herself with Taino Indians, Spanish and African and who currently teaches Spanishat Trotwood High School) and her husband, Ray Two Crows, wisely advised us all that “Stories protect us from ill health…Stories are our defense!…In the belly of the story there is life for the people….the importance of love and respect. Our stories, she said, are sacred, because each one of us is sacred…and that we are ultimately all relatives—34th cousins from everyone else.”
We all know that by opening ourselves up to diversity we too, discover the power of the personal story and the personal experience.
In an article from the Principia Wire quoting the well-known Memoirist Patricia Hampl, she wrote: “…Stories can move people to oppose injustice in a way that reports and statistics can’t.” She continues that “Eventually, narrative may even help us avert injustice.”
This event truly embraced individualism. How sweetly it burns off the petty edges of our lives and restores the innocence we need to eliminate cynicism in whatever ways it tries to thwart that true sense of humanity and love that are truly within each of us, perhaps waiting to be viscerally tapped into in some tender, irresistible manner—such as through the power of a personal, cultural story, such as in this lovely event which we hope the Council continues to cultivate on an annual basis for all of Dayton to enjoy! We would look forward to that!
All photos by Jerry Huffman