Care, Challenge, Change, Repeat

“…I exclude no one I am strengthened by all

My name is Diversity and yes I stand tall.

Recognize me and keep me in the mix

Together there’s no problem that we can’t fix.

I am your best hope towards true innovation

And to many, I reflect hope and inspiration.

Your lives and companies will continue to change

Thus the need for Diversity and Inclusion will also remain…”

— I Am Diversity, Charles Bennafield

 

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz because I think privileged mentality in America about immigrants needs to be proven wrong. I went to lunch with my grandparents last week— both Caucasian, heterosexual, conservative members of the upper middle class who have been conditioned into perspective “whiteness” by their background and their community. During the meal, the concept of immigrants and the historical narrative surrounding them surfaced. It wasn’t long before the conversations was being dominated by sweeping, generalized statements about the immigrant experience. You see, like many Americans, my grandparents are under the impression that all immigrants are the same simply because they are immigrants.

Immigrants first, race second. Immigrants first, rights second. Immigrants first, humanity second.

To believe this is to have a proclivity toward xenophobic tendencies and racial prejudice. And it is far too normalized in the society we live in.

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because the Dominican American experience is altogether ignored by High School English curriculum. Out of the most popular novels seen in common English reading lists for high school students, a majority of such “classics” or “noteworthy” texts have been written by heterosexual, able-bodied, white men that feature characters of a similar background. Even among the “token” books that reflect diverse cultures and experiences, not a single frequently curricular text addresses Dominican Americans.

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because as a future educator, I cannot excuse this. I have an obligation not to excuse it. And I have an obligation to one day create a classroom library that will reflect the diverse, multicultural backgrounds of my students and will also function as a window that leads them to delving into the cultures of their peers. We cannot continue ignoring what we do not know. Instead, we must authenticate each other in our differences and encourage following generations to do the same.

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because I think that recognizing the voices of diverse authors is of paramount importance to the future of the writing industry and greater society. There is so much that is wrongfully left out of the spotlight when these authors and their works aren’t taken seriously by predominantly white, privileged culture. Junot Diaz speaks to how he as an author (and person of color) has wrestled with identity in the creation of his work in one interview by saying:

“In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway”

He has also shed light on how realistic fiction can bring to life what would otherwise be dead and forgotten in the a history text book. What history misses in its simple documentation, Diaz seeks target by providing relevant and eye-opening narrative through his characters and their lives.

“That’s what fiction can add to a historical project: we can imagine the gaps. It is in many ways what fiction is called to do. History tends to draw the gaps out with heartbreaking clarity. Fiction can most readily enter those gaps.” — interview with Asymptote Journal

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because I am coming to understand that as an aspiring ally of marginalized communities, you cannot pick and choose the movements and the groups and the experiences that appeal to you while disregarding others. That is not how advocacy works. That is not how cultural responsiveness works. If I really want to “show up” where it counts and work toward creating appreciation for the rich uniqueness of a diverse America, I must educate myself in breadth as well as depth. That means that I must seek to learn about cultures that haven’t been the focal point of major media and mainstream literature. I must not abuse my own privilege by legitimizing certain narratives while remaining ignorant to others.

I’m reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao because I want to allow it to stretch me, to grow me, to help me go beyond the bounds of my own literary comfort zone. I want to permit it to instill new passions in me and inspire me to foster new compassion and drive for culture. For quieted voices. For people.

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