Source : Google photo of cultural diversity in India
Synopsis: We now live in the modern world that has shrunk due to the technology, ease of travel and instant communication that has made many countries culturally rich that have taken in new immigrants from other countries who are different. People migrate for various reasons and take up residence in other parts of the world where they flourish if there is the freedom to live the way they have always lived back home. This brings in the diversity that the countries benefit from so it should be welcome.
I have seen how people are forced to become like others in many countries. This is done through overt and covert ways to force people to become homogenized through the process of pressure to assimilate. It starts at the kinder garten level where all children are taught to behave in a certain way, recite the same nursery rhymes, recite the pledge of allegiance every morning without knowing what it means and teaching them selected and biased history of their country.
It does not stop there. The pressure on them grows to belong to the same brand of religion, same ideology and the same style of clothing. Any time some one speaks with an accent different from others, they are scrutinized. If some one wears clothes that are different from others, they are ridiculed or worse beaten up because such people do not believe in diversity. At the root of this behavior lies the ignorance of other cultures, languages, other beliefs and other way of doing things. From this ignorance comes the idea of denigrating others who are not like them.
While it may be good to have one nation under one law where it is applied to all equally, it is always worth considering the fact that there is a great diversity among people coming from different countries, different cultures, different set of beliefs and different ways of doing things that should be appreciated and not suppressed. Each culture has something unique to it that should be seen in its proper light because we grow richer if we care to learn about others who are very different from us.
So the question to ask here is why we do not appreciate others who are different and why we feel threatened by them and in what way? Why do we feel the necessity to homogenize people so that every one looks the same, wears the same clothes and cracks the same jokes? Why do we feel the necessity to belong to the same set of beliefs and ideology, same religion and same everything?
To find the answers to these very basic questions, we must seek it within each one of us. I think this has something to do with the fear of the unknown that gives rise to the assumption that people who are not like us are not to be trusted so they must be either assimilated to be like us or be pressured to leave and go somewhere else. This is the overt expression of homophobia that many countries suffer from even today and is getting worse.
The dictators find it easier to control the population if everybody is the same so the Chinese government insisted to have one form of Chinese language as the national language and discouraged all other forms . While it was good to have a common language all could understand, it undermined all other languages in China that were used for thousands of years but now face extinction due to this pressure.
If you visit the United States where there is no official language but English is assumed to be their language, you will notice that very few people learn other languages in school or college although there are a very large number of people who speak Spanish there. There is absolutely nothing wrong to learn other languages that make you understand their culture and history better but the pressure is on everyone to speak only English.
Here in the Philippines there is pressure to belong to Christian faith so other faiths are ignored or even disapproved. Many schools will not admit a child unless he or she is a Christian and where Bible study and wearing religious medals is mandatory to show your zeal for the religion. The government meetings and even a barrio meetings always start with religious prayers where some people act like zealots. If there are Muslims , Buddhists or Hindus, they are at best tolerated but never assimilated because they are so different. They take the homogeneity to a level so formidable through this pressure that people have become so similar to each other leaving little room for their individuality.
This is done through massive brainwashing that teaches you to be like others. There are numerous TV religious channels that spread this message day in and day out that try to hammer in the religion into everyone from their childhood. I suspect that there are commercial motives as well because a good Christian gives money to the church and even properties that make the churches rich. They send Christian missionaries to other countries to spread the faith and make them “civilized” .
If we visit the Middle Eastern countries where people are Muslims, you will notice how strong this pressure is to conform to their brand of religion be they Sunnis or Shias. They look down on Sufis, Hazaras, Bahai, Ahmadias ,the moderate and liberal Muslims and the the minorities whom they try to force to convert or discriminate socially. It is very difficult for the minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh to live a normal life like anyone else due to this discrimination. This has led to severe persecution so many have fled and sought sanctuary in other countries.
The countries where people appreciate diversity prosper because they become culturally diverse and richer. They become more tolerant of each other by learning about each other and promoting social harmony. I visited Egypt recently where I found the Egyptians so friendly and welcoming that made our visit very joyful. They never asked me about my faith and gave me hugs. Beautiful Egyptian girls gave me directions to reach Luxor in fluent English and not hiding under black veils that you see in other countries. Our manager of the hotel in Cairo was so nice that was unbelievable. The Coptic Christians live in Egypt and are proud to be Egyptians although some fundamentalist Muslims see them as very different and try to persecute them. But over the centuries the Coptic people have prevailed and brought wonderful diversity to Egypt.
The process of assimilation into any society starts with workplace and where people live, where they send their children to school and how others accept the new immigrants. It is normal for the immigrants of a particular country to seek his compatriots in a foreign country for comfort, food , language and social support so we see the Filipinos in the United States who tend to live in Filipino communities , shopping in stores owned by the Filipinos and eating in Filipino eateries . This is also true of other immigrants who come from other countries because they find their adopted country different from where they come from so seek comfort with their own people making their assimilation harder.
Off the boat people are perhaps the hardest to assimilate into their adopted country at first but the second or the third generation born in their new country find it easier to blend in although there is still the suspicion due to their looks, religion or other things that set them apart from the rest. The lingering fear of discrimination based on their culture, ethnicity and religion is prevalent in many countries making total assimilation a very daunting task for them.
But if you look at the immigrants from many countries who find a new home in other countries , you will also notice the rich culture , the food and the skills they bring with them to make wonderful contribution to their adopted country. The Indian doctors, professors, scientists, IT experts and entrepreneurs in the United States , England, Australia, Canada and many other countries have distinguished themselves in their field of expertise and have settled down there without totally giving up their culture, food and the language.
There was a time in the past during the colonial period where the colonial masters took the indentured laborers from India to Fiji, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and other colonies to run their plantations cheaply . They were uneducated people who were uprooted from their homeland and sent to foreign countries so they settled down in their new homes and have stayed there just like the Japanese , Chinese and the Filipinos who stayed in Hawaii and other states of the United States.
When the colonial era ended and the colonies became free, the export of indentured laborers stopped and the educated and skilled people started the migration that has slowed down but not stopped altogether. Now the diaspora of educated and skilled people from many countries has grown to millions bringing with them new skills, technology and resources enriching their adopted countries where such skills are sorely needed.
There are thousands of doctors, med techs and nurses of Asian origin who have made England their home and are noted for their education and skills. There are accountants, scientists, writers, business people and artists of other countries who have chosen to live in England contributing greatly to the economy there. This diversity is very visible there that disturbs some natives who see them as cultural invaders and resist their assimilation although this process is unstoppable and should be seen as a positive thing.
India is known for its rich diversity where all sorts of people live mostly peacefully although there are some who remain or want to remain separate from others to protect their cultural and religious identity. I see nothing wrong in remaining faithful to one’s cultural and religious identity and still be able to live with others who are different .This diversity brings with it its charm and benefits that makes the country so interesting. It would be boring if all Indians looked the same and lost their regional differences.
In a multicultural society ,the country benefits from this diversity where people of different faith and background learn to live together and even intermarry to some extent. In the struggle for independence in India ,people of different religions , traditions and culture joined the Indian National Army (INA) of Netaji Bose to fight the British and eventually succeeded in ousting them although the credit was given to Gandhi and the Congress party. Thus the history was written by them downgrading the contribution and achievement of the INA of Bose but eventually people have come to know the truth today. It took a great leader like Bose to bring together a diverse group of people to fight the British together because after all they were all Indians first.
Today the world is very different from what it was centuries ago thanks to massive migration of people from one continent to others. People migrate due to economic hardship in their own country caused by natural disasters like the Ireland potato famine, war and oppression to other countries where they start a new life . Others migrate due to religious and political persecution so they seek other countries where they can live without fear and prosper. This movement of people to other countries is an ongoing process that makes the diversity possible in their adopted country.
So I am in favor of diversity as long as one group of people does not start to feel superior to others and tries to introduce religion and language as means to homogenize people. That is where the trouble starts and creates animosity between them. As long as people remain tolerant to others and their way of life and culture, the diversity is good for any country because it benefits everybody. You can’t go wrong embracing diversity.
Please also read my earlier blog called Unity in diversity in this context.
Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links as well as my biography. My blogs can be shared by anyone anytime in any social media.