Monday, September 26, 2016

The "American Quilt"

The “American Quilt”

I recently started a petition to have the Hindu holiday of Diwali recognized by our local school district as a holiday so families can celebrate for one day without worrying about homework and going to bed early.   For me personally, it’s not about getting time off from school. It’s much more about being accepted as part of the American multicultural fabric.

We need to remember that the Pilgrims, the first group of people who landed on this soil, came here to escape the Church of England and practice their own religious ideology and to carve out a good life for themselves, away from the tyranny of the king.  This is the cornerstone of the building of America, religious freedom and economic opportunities.

Most of the early settlers were of European descent. Many came due to famine or unrest in their countries, often coming as indentured servants to the wealthy already settled here.  These were some of the first of millions of the “poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe,” that Lady Liberty later beckoned to.

Later in history, the first Asians arrived during the Industrial Revolution hoping to capture a share of the gold rush but ended up working on America’s railway systems. America became home to people from Asia, Europe and Africa. Immigrants from all over the world have since come and carved out a spot to call their own. Each group of people who migrated brought with them their own cultural identity, food, language and religious beliefs.  Today, America is not a melting pot but more likely a salad, with each ingredient in the salad adding to the color, flavor and texture to an otherwise boring bowl of greens.

So why celebrate Diwali now?  The prevailing religion within the US for centuries has been Christianity/Catholicism and as such, Christmas and Easter have always been seen as part of the American religious-cultural experience.  In some parts of the country, where the Jewish faith is a strong presence, many of the Jewish holidays are recognized by various school districts. In recent years, some cities have started honoring the Chinese New Year and the Islamic Eid.  And rightfully so because America is no longer a country just of European Christians and Catholics.  The fabric of America has transformed from the time of the first Europeans making home here, centuries ago.

America is not a homogenous land of one culture, color, race or religion.  I like to say, we are part of the “American Quilt.”  We all symbolize a piece of the quilt with our varied experiences and beliefs.  However, we are all part of the bigger, collective fabric, rich in color and stories.  Each patch of a quilt has a place and purpose within the whole. Each patch has a story and history behind it.  And the great thing about a quilt is that we can keep adding to it… but taking away a patch only destroys its beauty, value and integrity. 

So what does this have to do with celebrating and recognizing Diwali as a holiday?  Lady Liberty didn’t beckon just white Europeans. Anyone who has read the poem by Emma Lazarus would know that there is another important line, “From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.” 
The people of Indian decent, most of whom are Hindus by religion, make up many significant and powerful pieces of the American Quilt.  It is not so much recognizing Diwali, per se, but acknowledging that the people of Asian descent are American too. We are all Americans, and like the Europeans who first came and brought their culture with them, we also have  something to contribute to America. We have celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas, and now we should all revel in celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Eid, Lunar New Year and, of course, Diwali. This is what America is, a land of many different cultures and  religions coming together.

Some may argue that there are limited days in the calendar, and where do we stop.  My response to that would be that numbers have power.  If a certain people make up a larger, more significant group in any city, and they voice themselves, we have to find a way to let them be heard. They are just adding another beautiful patch to the changing face of the “American Quilt.”