The Story of the Funeral Home, Coca-Cola, and the Buñuelo

When I look back at my life I have to laugh at some of my quirky memories. One in particular comes to mind. As a child, my parents would send me to Medellin, Colombia every summer to spend it with my relatives. One of the things I would do often during my visits was to spend time at my grandfather’s business. There is where the quirkiness begins. You see the family business was and still is a funeral home. Imagine their dinner conversations. Although today the family business still performs funeral services, it has evolved into a very successful international funeral services insurance company. However, back in the 1960’s it was a modest family business helping to support a very large family.

The year was 1969. The funeral home consisted of industrial garage premises located in downtown Medellin. The front office was completely open to the sidewalk filled with people passing by and the street bustled with circa 1950’s cars and trucks. In the front room there was a desk with a receptionist, a black rotary phone, and a couple of metal chairs. In the backspace there was an office for my grandfather, the laboratory where the bodies were prepared, and what seemed like rooms and rooms of casket storage.

To my relatives, bringing me to visit my grandfather at his “office” was a very natural thing to do. I have no recollection of who would bring me or how we got to the funeral home. What I do remember is that once we arrived I would have a grand ole time. One of the employees would ask me if I wanted a snack and undoubtedly I would always say yes, because the snack du jour was and still is one of my all time favorites. The employee would go to the corner coffee shop and buy me a glass bottle of Coca-Cola (this is pre-aluminum can days) and a freshly deep-fried cheesy batter dough ball about the size of an orange called a buñuelo. Yummylicious!!!!! My mouth waters as I reminisce savoring a hot buñuelo and chasing it down with an ice-cold 1969 Colombian-formulation of Coca-Cola. There was also a method to buñuelo eating. First, I would slowly peel the hot golden crispy outside of the dough ball, and then I would eat the warm moist cheesy inside by carefully tearing small pieces at a time. (Note: Colombian buñuelos are different to Mexican buñuelos. I have included a recipe at the end of the story). I would sit at the front desk and eat my exquisite snack. But the excitement of the afternoon would not end there. At some point I would get up and skip away into the back rooms. I remember seeing the white-tiled sink body prep area. The truth is that I was probably only allowed in there when it was not in use. But where I got the most entertainment from was spending time observing the rows and rows of hand-carved heavily varnished wooden caskets lined with what seemed to me like beautiful padded velvety soft plush fabrics of jewel-toned colors. There were deep blues, royal purples, emerald greens, and burgundy reds. I actually remember saying, “When I die, this is the one I want” with amazing certainty and pointing to a casket with a deep red velvet interior. How crazy was that! So now you realize why it’s a quirky memory. I don’t know of many children aged 8 getting a tour of the back room operations of a funeral home and picking out favorite casket lining colors.

Medellin, Colombia 2006 My children with one of my favorite aunts. Teaching the next generation to enjoy Coca-Cola with Buñuelos!

Medellin, Colombia 2006 My children with one of my favorite aunts. Teaching the next generation to enjoy Coca-Cola with Buñuelos!

As a teen and young adult, and obviously as part of the family, it was only natural that in time I would be exposed to all of the operations of the business. Although I have always felt funny and weird saying, “My grandfather owns a funeral home”, the reality is that the business fulfills an important need. It has also given me a collection of light-hearted childhood memories.  And yes “red” is still my favorite color, and yes I still love to eat freshly made buñuelos and chase them down with an ice-cold Coca-Cola, although it’s Coca-Cola Light now. The family business has also made me acutely aware that my existence on this planet is temporary, so why not try to live the best life I can and eat my buñuelos too!!

For a buñuelo recipe go to:

http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/bunuelos-colombianos-colombian-bunuelos

 

Happy Birthday to Me!

Creative ways of recycling your children's birthday candles.

Creative ways of recycling your children’s birthday candles.

I love to celebrate my birthday. I’m a child at heart when it comes to balloons, birthday cakes, and celebrations. I’m very lucky to have family and friends who indulge me. I started the festivities on the weekend before my actual birthday. So this year, once again, my wonderful husband cooked delicious homemade pizzas and baked me an awesome fudgy double-layer chocolate cake. And leave it to my 15 year-old resourceful daughter who found in the basement: balloons, “Happy Birthday” signs, and previously used number candles. Imagine my surprise seeing that chunky “53” sitting on top of my cake. At first I pretended to “act upset” at that monstrosity of a number and then that quickly turned to laughter. The reality is that the number no longer bothers me. A birthday is a cause for celebration! And then again my philosophical husband reminds me that “every day” should be a cause of celebration. I wonder then… does that mean I can eat chocolate cake everyday? So I now embark on a new year looking forward to making every day count. My dad likes to tease me and say, I have really started my 54th, but then again who is counting.

I came across some wonderful quotes during my birthday week. Below I share them with you along with the cake recipe.

It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the Life in your years. – Abraham Lincoln

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone – Neale Donald Walsch

I am always the perfect age for where I am in my life. – Louise L. Hay

Recipe by Robyn for The Best Chocolate Cake ever.

http://addapinch.com/cooking/the-best-chocolate-cake-recipe-ever/

 

Seneca Falls, New York: The Birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement

I just returned from a wonderful trip to the Finger Lake region in upstate New York. We enjoyed beautiful lake scenery, award-winning Rieslings, delicious freshly made cheeses and ice cream. But what came as a most revelatory finding was learning that the town of Seneca Falls, New York was the birthplace of the Women’s Rights Movement. I call myself a feminist, always rooting for women and their rights, always looking for equality for women. And yet I must admit, I knew so little about the history of the Women’s Movement. Sure, I knew about Susan B. Anthony: something about the Suffrage Movement and she’s on a dollar coin. And I knew about Gloria Steinem and the 1960’s and 70’s Women’s Movement. But I must admit I was unaware of so much more history that helped inspire Susan B. Anthony, and shape the role and the rights that I enjoy today as a woman in Western society.

Seneca Falls, New York Birth Place of the Women's Right Movement

Seneca Falls, New York
Birth Place of the Women’s Right Movement

So here’s a recap of what I learned in Seneca Fall.

1840:  One Passion Feeds Another

A World Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London and was attended by delegates from numerous countries. The meeting was supposed to be exclusively for “men”.  Among the abolitionist delegates were seven women who despite the rules, decided to attend, creating quite the commotion and after much debate they were allowed to stay but in a separate room all together from the main convention. It was at this fateful meeting that Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton would meet and commiserate over the status of women in society and the lack of women’s rights. They discussed the possibility of holding a meeting to address women’s rights and issues.

1848: The stars align.

July 9th- Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived in Seneca Falls, New York. Lucretia Mott came to visit her sister Martha C. Wright who lived in Waterloo, a town near Seneca Falls. Stanton, Mott, Wright, together Mary Ann McClintock and Jane Hunt met for a social visit. I like to imagine that it was over tea and cake that these women decided it was time to hold a public forum, a convention, in which they would discuss the social, civil, and religious issues facing women and the rights of women. Although they realized that the convention would probably be a small event, Mott said to Stanton, “It will be a start”. And what a start it was.

July 19th – 20th

The convention was held at the Quaker Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls. Approximately 300 women and men attended the event. Stanton and Mott wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, the document that was presented, debated, modified, approved, and signed by the attendees of the convention. The document drew inspiration from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence and presented grievances and resolutions regarding women’s rights. Among the male attendees was Frederick Douglass who was a strong advocate of abolition and women’s rights. He was instrumental in encouraging the attendees to add the resolution around the issue of suffrage. In the end, 68 women and 32 men signed this Declaration of Sentiments presenting 12 resolutions calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights for women.

Wesleyan Chapel - Venue of the First Women's Convention

1848 Wesleyan Chapel – Venue of the First Women’s Convention

1851: Further Introductions and Friendships

Amelia Bloomer edited the first newspaper for women, The Lily. The Lily was published from 1849 -1853. It was Bloomer who introduced Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It is believed that this introduction together with attending the 1852 Syracuse Convention and listening to Lucy Stone’s speech were the events that inspired Anthony to join the women’s rights movement. And we know what she went on to do.

1851 - Traveling in time to witness introduction of Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton by Amelia Bloomer

1851 – Traveling in time to witness Amelia Bloomer introducing Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Trivia about Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone was the first woman in her state of Massachusetts to earn a college degree. When she married her husband, Henry Blackwell, in 1855 she opted to keep her own last name, something unheard of at the time. She and her husband recognized that the marriage laws treated women unfairly when compared to men. They wrote a statement to deliver at their wedding which said that the laws “refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer on the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess”. Women of the time who chose not to change their names when marrying referred to themselves as “Lucy Stoners”.

Although most of the history I learned about in Seneca Falls takes place beginning in 1840, I would add that prior to 1840 there had been many feminist and activist women who had already been discussing women’s rights in the US and abroad. The key events of 1848 would serve only as a catalyst. It would take until 1920 for the 19th amendment of the U. S. Constitution to be passed granting voting rights to women. The renewed women’s rights movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s would bring to light the continued inequality and discrimination towards women. We have accomplished a lot in 166 years, but I know there is still much more to do. We must continue to stay diligent and proactive so that future generations of women can enjoy equal rights around the world.

A Note About Bloomers

Note in the picture above of the statue that Amelia Bloomer is wearing the “bloomer costume”, the Turkish pantaloons and knee-length skirt. Although it was Elizabeth Smith Miller who introduced this outfit, it was named after Amelia Bloomer because she wrote about dress reform and this particular outfit extensively in her women’s paper, The Lily. Although a popular choice of outfit for the modern women of the times, it was eventually abandoned after a lot of negative press. I suppose we can call it the predecessor to current day women’s pantsuits.

For further reading:

For the Full Declaration of Sentiments

http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/declaration-of-sentiments.htm

Women’s Rights Movement

http://www.nps.gov/wori/historyculture/womens-rights-movement.htm

 

 

 

 

The Commencement Speech That Brought Tears to My Eyes

Let me begin by giving a disclaimer here. I cry easily. Give me sentimentality wrapped with just about anything, sad or happy, and you have the perfect formula to activate my tear ducts. It ‘s a bit of a family joke as my kids tease me and inspect my eyes to see if the latest movie, commercial, article, or You Tube video has moistened my eyes. Just the other day I attended my children’s school parent association Spring Luncheon where the outgoing president said her thank you to everyone and passed the baton to the future president.  The future president got up and I must admit, she was almost worse than me with the sentimentality. She had barely opened her speech notes when her voice started cracking. I knew that I was in for it as my battle began to restrain my tears in hopes of keeping the mascara intact.

The Wall Street Journal published in their weekend edition of May 24th /25th the amazing commencement speech delivered by Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University of Texas at Austin on May 17th.

It being Memorial Day, when we honor all the women and men who have served this country, I find it very appropriate to share this commencement speech which examines various aspects of Navy Seal training and draws life lessons that can be applied to all of us.

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My husband read the article first and recommended it to the rest of the family.  My son and I silently read it together. Suffice to say that by the end of the article I had to run to the kitchen for tissues and of course deal with my son’s inquisitive, empathetic, teasing question, “Ah, did that article make you cry?” To which I answered as I blew my nose, “It sure did”. It was a powerful and wonderful commencement message that we can all take to heart. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

The following is an excerpt from the commencement speech delivered by Admiral William H. McRaven to the University of Texas in Austin on May 17th.

The University of Texas slogan is “What starts here changes the world.”

I have to admit—I kinda like it.  …

… So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is: What will the world look like after you change it?

Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better, but if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world.

And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform. It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation, or your social status. Our struggles in this world are similar and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward—changing ourselves and the world around us—will apply equally to all.

I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, Calif.

Basic SEAL training is six months of long, torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacle courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable.

It is six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.

But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.

So, here are lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.

1. Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task, mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

2. During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students—three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy. Every day, your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surf zone and paddle several miles down the coast.

In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.

For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle.

You can’t change the world alone—you will need some help—and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the goodwill of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

3. Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class, which started with 150 men, was down to just 42. There were now six boat crews of seven men each.

I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the little guys—the munchkin crew we called them. No one was over about 5-foot-5.

The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African-American, one Polish-American, one Greek-American, one Italian-American and two tough kids from the Midwest.

They out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam all the other boat crews.

The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim. But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh—swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.

SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

If you want to change the world, measure people by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

4. Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges.

But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle, it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong.

For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed, into the surf zone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day—cold, wet and sandy.

There were many students who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated.

Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

Sometimes, no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform, you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.

If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

5. Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events. Long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics—something designed to test your mettle.

Every event had standards, times that you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards, your name was posted on a list and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.”

A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit. No one wanted a circus. A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue, and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult—and more circuses were likely.

But at some time during SEAL training, everyone—everyone—made the circus list. Yet an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students, who did two hours of extra calisthenics, got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength—built physical resiliency.

Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

6. At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot-high wall, a 30-foot cargo net and a barbed-wire crawl, to name a few.

But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three-level, 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot-long rope.

You had to climb the three-tiered tower and, once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.

The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable until one day a student decided to go down the slide for life—headfirst. Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the top of the rope and thrust himself forward.

It was a dangerous move—seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation, the student slid down the rope, perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst.

7. During the land-warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island near San Diego. The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for great white sharks. To pass SEAL training, there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.

Before the swim, the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. The instructors assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark—at least not recently.

But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position, stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you, then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout and he will turn and swim away.

There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.

So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

8. As Navy SEALs, one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training. The ship-attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over 2 miles—underwater—using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.

During the entire swim, even well below the surface, there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you. But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight, it blocks the surrounding street lamps, it blocks all ambient light.

To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel—the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship, where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.

Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed—when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

9. The ninth week of SEAL training is referred to as Hell Week. It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are an area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues—a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing-cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure from the instructors to quit.

As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud. The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit—just five men and we could get out of the oppressive cold.

Looking around the mud flat, it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up—eight more hours of bone-chilling cold. The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night—one voice raised in song.

The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two, and two became three, and before long everyone in the class was singing.

We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well. The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing—but the singing persisted. And somehow, the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan named Malala—can change the world by giving people hope.

So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

10. Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see.

All you have to do to quit is ring the bell. Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT—and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.

If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world—for the better.

It will not be easy.

But start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here will indeed have changed the world, for the better.

Thank you very much. Hook ‘em horns.

american-flag-flying-in-front-yard-of-home

Thank you to the veterans of the United States for your commitment in protecting and serving our nation.

Series on Multiculturalism, Diversity, and Cross-Cultural Relationships

This is the third of my three-part series on multiculturalism, diversity, and cross-cultural relationships. In my first article: http://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/series-on-multiculturalism-cross-cultural-relationships-and-diversity/ I shared with my readers how and when I became impassioned with this topic. In my second article: http://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/series-on-multiculturalism-diversity-and-cross-cultural-relationships/ I elaborated on the importance of exposure to multiculturalism and diversity. My definition of diversity includes people with all types of differences: race, religion, philosophy, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical health, mental health, socioeconomic, intelligence, genetic attributes, etc. In my third and last article I present some of the challenges that we face in dealing with diversity and share ideas on ways to increase our exposure to diversity and multiculturalism.

Part III

The Challenges and Taking Action

How do we engage people in the conversation of diversity? You see the moment we use the term “diversity” we isolate those who we most want to invite to the table, the non-minorities. Sadly, these non-minorities assume that any topic around diversity is just for the minorities and that it does not involve or affect them. But the truth is that it affects all of us. If for example we consider one aspect of diversity, race, the population of the world is becoming more and more intermingled. The United States estimates that by 2050, 62% of the nation’s children will be the minorities. The United Kingdom estimates that by 2050, ethnic minorities will make up one-third of Britain’s melting pot. We will see the majority becoming the minority and suddenly the conversation of diversity will become relevant to those that ignored it earlier. The dialogue needs to begin today because understanding and acknowledging the basic rights of all human beings regardless of who they are is relevant to all of us.

Trying Snake Wine for the first time in Vietnam

Forcing myself to try something that does not necessarily sound appealing. Trying Snake Wine for the first time in Vietnam. Aguardiente watch out!

It is in our human nature to protect ourselves and in many ways maintain the status quo if that ensures our survival. Therefore, initiating change or going through change can be a very arduous process if it challenges what we once thought of as the norm. One way to initiate change is to do it in small steps whether we are the person changing or the person effecting the change. Sometimes we have to be the one to take the first step, because if we wait around for someone else to do it, it may never get done. We also know that people’s value systems are different and what appears to be righteous to one group may completely contradict another’s beliefs. I do find it very difficult to reconcile in my heart and brain how people can use things like religion or politics as a legitimate excuse to discriminate or mistreat people. But that’s a whole other topic for another day.

I invite you to be the catalyst and to help initiate change. Below is a list of suggestions of how we can increase our exposure to multiculturalism and diversity.

Types of Exposure and what you can do:

  • Read, listen to, and watch both domestic and international sources of information and news media on relevant topics
  • Further your education: take courses, attend workshops, do research
  • Travel: within your own country and abroad
  • Visit museums, learn history
  • Try ethnic restaurants, try new foods (even if they don’t look good)
  • Try your hand at international cooking and share with family and friends
  • Listen to international music
  • Try new things
  • Join an international organization or one that supports specific causes.
  • Volunteer in organizations that support specific causes
  • Reach out, make new friends
  • Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, become the minority
  • Challenge your existing value system. Just because you were taught certain things at home does not necessarily make them right.
  • Allow yourself to improve your value system
  • Learn to recognize prejudices. Prejudices come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Reexamine your friendships and associations
  • Seek out minority role models for yourself and your children
  • Write articles, share your views
  • Organize international cultural events
  • Organize awareness building events
  • Practice Mindfulness.  For further reading:  http://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/mindfulness-and-living-a-mindful-life/
  • Refrain from judging
  • Listen to others
  • Remain open-minded
  • Be patient
  • Be tolerant
  • Be compassionate and kind
  • Become a mentor
  • Lead by example
  • Seek out the opportunities where you can engineer change.

One of my role models growing up was my Girl Scout leader, Mrs. Marshall, an African-American neighbor who lived in my building. Among other things, she inspired me to become a Girl Scout leader. I have always been a huge supporter of Girl Scouts of America because they are an “inclusionary” organization. As a Girl Scout leader I took the opportunity to share my passion for multiculturalism with my Daisies and Brownies. For one project I found a great website that offered international paper doll cutouts which the girls placed on individual poster boards that read, “ There are Girl Scouts all around the world. We may look and sound different but we are all sisters. We respect ourselves for who we are. We respect others for who they are”.

My daughter (right) and a fellow Daisy Girl Scout proudly displaying their International Girl Scout posters.

My daughter (right) and a fellow Daisy Girl Scout proudly displaying their International Girl Scout posters.

 

We also participated annually in World Thinking Day, a day honoring Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from other countries. World Thinking Day was a very well-organized town event with every troop representing a different country and creating a display, activities, and projects for the other girls to participate in.

Our Brownie Troop's display representing England in World Thinking Day. We made a poster showing the differences between American and British English.

Our Brownie Troop’s display representing England in World Thinking Day. We made a poster showing the differences between American and British English.

When my children attended The American School in London, ASL, I became involved with the International Community Committee, ICC, which was part of the parent’s association. Although the school is American there were students from approximately 42 different countries attending. The ICC hosts a Global Festival every two years. The festival celebrates all of the countries represented by the student body. The festival has cultural and educational components. Guests attending the festival get to enjoy music, dances, costumes, games, crafts and food from around the world. In the 2012 Global Festival I helped organize the food segment of the festival with a friend. We worked with 42 country representatives and helped coordinate their food displays culminating in a delicious gourmet extravaganza. The Global Festival is always a very well attended school community event drawing between 1200 – 1500 guests all in one day.

The ASL Global Festival: the organizers and country reps, with the food tables around the perimeter of the gym. Note by red, white, and blue outfit for the USA and my yellow, blue, and red scarf for Colombia.

The ASL Global Festival: the organizers and country reps for 42 nations, with the food tables around the perimeter of the gym. That’s me on the far left. Note by red, white, and blue outfit for the USA and my yellow, blue, and red scarf for Colombia.

These are two examples of activities that I have been part of. My quest continues, to make the great divide between us a little smaller, one relationship at a time. About a year ago I received an email, which had at the end a very powerful quote by Maya Angelou.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Maya Angelou

For further interesting exploration:

Patricia Gurin Ph.D.: Her research is focused on social identity, the role of social identity in political attitudes and behavior, motivation and cognition in achievement settings, and the role of social structure in intergroup relations. Her latest book is Dialogue Across Difference, highlighting the importance of engaging diversity now more than ever.

http://patriciagurin.com/portfolio/

http://patriciagurin.com/portfolio-view/dialogue-across-difference-practice-theory-and-research-on-intergroup-dialogue/

A must watch:

Ted Talk with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story. She emphasizes the need to fully understand a situation or a person before passing judgment.

http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story#t-19362

An article by Liz Ryan about how business approaches diversity the wrong way in the Harvard Business Review

http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/10/we-approach-diversity-the-wron/

An article by Nina Terrero speaking of the lack of children’s books celebrating diversity

http://shelf-life.ew.com/2014/04/15/kid-lits-primary-color-white-report/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maya’s Toy Collection and the Philosophical Ramifications

Maya's Foyer Toy Collection

“Maya, put your toys away!”

We keep Maya’s toys neatly stored in a basket in the family room. But Maya always manages to bring her toys over to the foyer rug one at a time, until she has amassed a collection of toys proudly displayed in the foyer welcoming our guests and a few more scattered throughout the first floor. Pure mayhem! The foyer serves as a home base for Maya. We play a game of chasing her throughout the house, in which she always runs to the foyer, anticipates our arrival, protects a toy in her month, and relishes in our futile attempts of taking it away. We have trained Maya to do many things, but somehow we forgot how to teach her to pick up her toys. She is 7 years old now, not what I would consider an old dog, so I suppose I can still teach her a new trick. What would that sound like?  “Maya, bring your toys to the basket!” “Maya, clean your room!” or “Maya, put your toys away!”. And of course, unlike human children who would probably answer back with some excuse or beg to do it later, Maya would just look at me with her beautiful brown eyes and wag her tail happily. And since her happiness is so infectious, I would probably just say, “oh who cares about the booby-trapped foyer rug, Maya you are way too cute, let’s go play.” Reminding me to have a little fun and to cherish our time together, even if it means tripping over toys.

 

 

Putting Life in Perspective

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In the mornings, the lotus comes out of the muddy waters to bloom again.

Sometimes life becomes complicated and we start fretting over decisions we must make. We allow the situation to control us and we become increasingly overwhelmed.

But then life throws you something that shakes you at the core and you realize that what you were suffering over or struggling about is not as important as you thought. You realize that your so-called problems are trivial in the grand scheme of life.

This is what happened to me this week. A dear high school friend lost her daughter. Her beautiful 26 year-old journalist daughter took her own life. My immediate reaction was of shock and terrible sadness. I wondered if my emotions were this strong, then how must a parent feel when they lose a child?

And as if that were not enough sad news for the week, I have been closely following the tragic news of the Nigerian girls abducted from their schools over two weeks ago by Islamist extremists. The number of missing girls is now 276, higher than originally thought. This week the authorities reported that they believe the girls are being sold as wives to some of the extremist abductors and that some have been taken to neighboring Chad, Cameroon. On top of this, the government has been very slow in taking action to try to find the missing girls, further upsetting the girls’ parents and Nigerian citizens. This week saw organized protests by hundreds of women in three different cities of Nigeria expressing their outrage.

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The lotus flower: a symbol of rebirth, purity, clarity, and beauty.

I cannot fathom the emptiness and loss that my friend and her family are feeling right now. I cannot imagine the anguish that the parents of the kidnapped girls are suffering, or the despair of the girls. I almost envision these feelings as if I were torn in half and left to rot. I almost envision the physical sensation of gasping for air as if drowning and a heavy painful compression in my heart.

What I find almost miraculous is that in time, people recover from these adversities and begin to heal. I would imagine that the hurt does not go away completely, but that somehow people manage to rebuild themselves and their lives, perhaps not as they once were but in the end overcoming the tragedy. Somehow they find the courage that it takes to just get out of bed, to eat something, to be there for a surviving child and spouse, or to simply breathe. They find the courage to survive one day at a time.

My friend is a terrific lady and I know she and her family will remain strong and overcome this tragic event. I wish for her and her family a peaceful healing journey. I hope the kidnapped girls are found soon. I wish for them to be reunited with their families once again.

I started the week feeling somber about stuff going on in my life and I ended the week realizing that I needed to refocus my energy and thoughts because although the stuff in my life right now may be challenging it is far from being critical in the grand scheme of life.

I wish for you a peaceful day.