On the eve of president Obama's commencement address to University of Michigan graduates, I am thinking about the little "salad bowl" of personalities and ethnicities that is Ann Arbor. Whether you voted for the president or not, nobody can really discount the fact that his election made a lot of people think harder about who this country really is.
But I am sometimes plagued by a question; How does one go about championing multiculturalism and diversity in a "post-Obama-election" age that everyone is quickly equating to racial politics? What are we really talking about here?
Campaigning politicians like to tell anecdotes about everyday people to get their platforms across to the general public. In that vain, I ventured into the blog-o-sphere and found a woman who is sharing her experiences and expertise on multiculturalism and diversity. Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is “a writer, editor, speaker, multicultural educator, and activist on Asian Pacific American community issues," according to her annarbor.com profile - she is lead multicultural contributor and blogs about "Adventures in Multicultural Living." Wang is also an editor for IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, another online resource for you to peruse. You can also read more from her on her "Multicultural Toolbox" website, and her blog.
Hers is but one voice. My point is not to find somebody to speak for everybody - nor to endorse her individual ideas. I would suggest taking a look at how one single person can contribute to the discussion in an active, engaged way - you can search for others on your own. She will also keep you posted on diversity-related events, announcements about what other people are doing to work towards a better understanding of multiculturalism, and she throws in plenty of anecdotes about her own experience as a second-generation Chinese-American living in our country.
For too long, people have viewed "diversity" as a soft and fluffy, touchy feely, nice-thing-to-do concept. It isn't, it is an economic necessity. The Diversity and Inclusion in Government Group (DIGG) held a mini-summit in Kent County to discuss the impact of diversity on a community's ability to recruit knowledge workers. We heard some impressive statistics and information that really drove home the business case for inclusion, but the story of two young scientists deciding whether to move to Grand Rapids resonated most with me. They wanted "gourmet ghettos" that included cuisine from around the world, they wanted to know that others who speak with an accent are welcome, they wanted to see the beauty of the beaches on lake Michigan and the urban feel of walking to work and grabbing a cup of authentic cuban coffee on the way. And guess what? Michigan has it, Grand Rapids has it! Let's be sure to let the world know, one molecular biologist at a time, that we have world class, 21st century communities waiting to welcome them.