Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Importance of Diversity (and Unity)

Charrango shopping in Cuenca

In my process of integrating into the community I have learned the importance of diversity.  Surrounded by brothers and cousins and sisters-in-law and neighbors of near identical nature and nurture, family and employment, seems to lend itself to like-mindedness and resistance to change.  A diverse community, on the other hand, forces neighbors to see different ways of earning money and spending money, and good ideas can be imitated faster.  Conformity is not a problem in a diverse community because there is no norm or status quo or that's-the-way-it's-all-been-done.  In short, diversity encourages innovation and innovation causes living and working conditions to improve.

My hope is that as an outsider, my presence has shaken up the status quo in this community and people look at farming differently and realize that other folks' opinions don't matter so much; that the right thing to do is what makes money or save money and not what everyone else is doing.  But I am one heterogeneous blip in a sea of homogeneity and usually that just makes me the fly in the ointment.

In the US on the other hand, diversity has indeed driven innovation and has made us quite successful.  Unfortunately today I see America having the opposite problem: nothing holds us together.  The States are still 'United' in name, but apparently not in many other ways.  In the words of Jorge Ramos of Univision, "El crisol es roto." or "The melting pot is broken." There was a time when Americans held together but now, despite tremendous leaps forward in terms of civil rights for many disenfranchised groups, all I see is growing animosity and a lack of understanding of our fellow citizens' challenges and beliefs.

The atrocities happening almost daily in America these days don't just headline US news, my neighbors hear about it on prime-time TV here in Ecuador too.  To be honest, there are volcanoes erupting, earthquakes shaking cities, and landslides covering mountain roads here, but nothing compares to the carnage and havoc Americans are wreaking on each other.

With our close of service and return to the States drawing near, my neighbors are worried about me.  They're saying what my family told me about Egypt and Latin America before I left, "It's dangerous, don't go!"

Sometimes I wish America had a pair of shoulders so I could grab and shake them yelling, "Pull yourself together!"  How we succeed or fail to pull ourselves together over the next few decades will be the beginning of a new chapter in American history and I hope not the final one.

Our diversity, our "melting pot," has made America great through innovation, but we need to find some way to say "United we stand," and mean it.