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: I shared with my readers how and when I became impassioned with this topic. In my second article: 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:
  • 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.

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.

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

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











Mindfulness and Living a Mindful Life


You may have heard of the word mindfulness and wondered what it meant. I feel that the topic of mindfulness is slowly infiltrating the psyche of our society and that it is on the verge of becoming mainstream. Although I am not an expert on the topic I would like to take this opportunity to share the little I know and direct you to further resources.

You may be thinking that mindfulness sounds very Zen or too spiritual for you. Indeed, mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, but neuroscience has finally caught up with thousands of years of these ancient teachings and has proven to the Western skeptical mind that the practice of mindfulness does without any question help reduce stress. With lowered stress come other benefits. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease disease symptoms and has helped manage chronic pain in patients. The practice of mindfulness can also help increase personal energy and concentration thus leading to higher productivity. Mindfulness is being used successfully in many areas like parenting, in schools, in the workplace, in management and leadership.

The word mindfulness is a translation from the Sanskrit word, smRti. It can also be translated to mean awareness, inspection, recollection, and retention. In the practice of Buddhism, mindfulness is one of the eights steps taken to end misery and achieve enlightenment. However, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical school, states that,  “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program, MBSR, in 1979 and has been teaching it and treating patients ever since. Jon’s inspiration came from the teachings of the world renown and highly respected Zen master, poet, and peace and human rights activist, Thích Nhất Hạnh.

The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.

 – Thích Nhất Hạnh

A Maldives Island Sunset

A Maldives Island Sunset

In the traditional practice of mindfulness you find a quiet place to meditate and you focus on your breath to help clear your mind and your thoughts. You may meditate following an instructor’s words, choosing to recite something (your mantra), or listening to specific music while focusing on your breathing. You achieve a level of calmness, clarity, and relaxation.  I must share that my meditation practice is a work in progress. It is very difficult to set time aside, and when I do it is even more difficult to clear the mind which is why they advise you to focus on the breath. Then there were those times that I got too relaxed and ended up peacefully and happily dosing off while listening to my instructor’s soothing gentle voice. (Which you are not really supposed to do. I hope my mindfulness teacher is not reading this, otherwise he’ll send me back to remedial meditation 101). I am however optimistic that with each passing day I will develop this practice further until it becomes a well executed habit.

So I decided that I needed to try something in addition to classic meditation that was perhaps easier for me to implement. I like to call this practice Anantara Meditation  अनन्तर© where anantara is the Sanskrit word for continuous. That is, I can practice a form of meditation, continuously throughout my day by consciously focusing on each of my daily activities (while successfully managing to stay awake!). Once I identify the activity, I center on the environment or the situation surrounding the activity and on the activity itself. I become aware of my body, emotions, and sensations. This increased awareness provides clarity if decision-making is required and I become more receptive to choices available to me. By doing this I am actively living in the moment and it is then that I can perform better while achieving a higher sense of satisfaction and appreciation. For example, when I walk my dog Maya, I focus on just that. I focus on her and her actions. I take in the scenery, the sounds, the sights, the smells and I absolutely do not allow myself to use the cell phone, unless I am taking a picture of something beautiful. Another example can be if I suddenly find myself in a disagreement with one of my children, I take the opportunity to focus and think of what it is I want to say and why. This allows me to de-escalate the situation as opposed to losing my temper and accomplishing nothing (which of course I have learned from experience). This active awareness leads to mindful living. It does not matter what the activity is, you can be mindful in: parenting, relationships, communications, eating, wellness, leadership, teaching, medicine, learning, etc. This practice also requires dedication, but its something you can do at any time and in any place. Our challenges are that we live in a society where multi-tasking is the norm and when half the time we run on autopilot. On top of that, we are addicted to the constant bombardment of information being delivered on our personal electronic devices. Science has once again proven to us that multi-tasking does not work and that information overload is not good for us. We run the risk of ending up with half-completed tasks and dysfunctional lives.

Mindfulness, no matter how you choose to practice it, can be such a powerful tool to calm ourselves and allow us to re-boot. It can help us perform better, makes us more resilient and allow us to better adapt to today’s ever-changing world. There is ample scientific evidence supporting the benefits of mindfulness. At the end of this posting I share many links with you so that you can explore further.

“The sum of your daily mindful activities, turn into a mindful day, which blossom into a mindful life.”

Rubbing the Happy Buddha's belly  in Central Vietnam

Rubbing the Happy Buddha’s belly in Central Vietnam

My Report Card

So as I finish this posting I ponder on my own life and share with you my thoughts. I try to model this behavior of mindfulness because that is the only way I can hope to motivate others in my life. I am very lucky to have loved ones model the behavior for me as well. I too am on this journey of self-improvement and self-reflection. I must erase “I should have” from my vocabulary and not dwell on regrets. On the other end of the spectrum, I need to stop postponing events or decisions to the future and take action today. I try at the end of each day to look back and say, “today was an awesome day” with a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, happiness, and gratitude. The key is to find those things that will give me these feelings. Often times it is the subtle moments in your day that are the most powerful, but that so often elude us because by themselves these subtle moments appear to be very normal, and therefore we take them for granted on any given day of our lives. For example, moments like a great conversation you have with your teens on your drive home from school, when your dog greets you at the door with exuberance and love, when your spouse bakes you a triple layer chocolate cake for your birthday, when a friend’s positive words provide encouragement, when a parent hugs you, when you are so inspired by a leader that you give them your absolute best. The list is endless. I can report that I have made progress, but I have plenty of room for improvement. I continue on this expedition with a positive mind and an open heart.

“Learn to recognize and acknowledge the subtle moments in life, for it is the collection of these subtle moments that have the most impact on the life we choose to live.”

…And if you are still yearning for more knowledge on mindfulness, and about living a mindful life, simply take a look at your canine companion, and they will teach you everything you need to know about living in the moment.

Maya, My guru.

DSC_4497 - Version 2_new

Mindfulness Practice

For further reading on mindfulness go to Plum Village, the Mindfulness Practice Center of a the world renown and highly respected Zen master, poet, and peace and human rights activist, Thich Nhat Hanh:

General Information:

For more information of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical school:

For Training to become a Mindfulness Teacher:

Mindfulness Practices in London

Leith Brown:

Veronique Ryan:

Mindfulness in Medicine

For more on Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, also known as MBSR program:

The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School:

To read about clinical applications of Mindfulness:

To read the results of a Cleveland Clinic study looking at the impact of mindfulness on cardiovascular patients: 

Mindfulness in Parenting

Mindfulness in Classrooms and Educations

Many schools around the world have started to implement mindfulness. We were very grateful that our children’s school in London, The American School in London, was at the forefront of adopting these practices. In 2012 they hosted a day retreat for educators from around the world.

Mindfulness in Schools Global Conference 2013:

To read about the success of mindfulness in classrooms, read:

For children’s books on mindfulness:

Using mindfulness to teach different kinds of learners:

Mindfulness in Leadership

To read about mindfulness can help you become a better leader:

Mindfulness in the Military

Mindfulness in a Nation

This past weekend I attended an amazing mind/body/soul retreat in New York City held by Hay House, a major publisher of self-help inspirational books. To my great surprise, one of the authors speaking at the conference was, Tim Ryan, a United States Congressman for Ohio. Setting political affiliations aside, Tim Ryan has written a book entitled, “A Mindful Nation”. Tim Ryan was introduced to mindfulness several years ago and was so inspired by it that he decided to bring the practice to schools in his district. In his book he presents the scientific findings that support the benefits of mindfulness. He shared with us how nervous his staff was when he announced to them that he was planning on writing this kind of book. They felt he was committing political career suicide. Tim Ryan stuck to his convictions and wrote A Mindful Nation. Perhaps a more mindful government is what we need to run this country. For further reading on “A Mindful Nation” by Congressman Tim Ryan:

For Inspirational books and videos visit Hay House Publishing:

Why Multi-tasking does not work:,,20707868,00.html

Don’t You Dare Steal My Parking Space

So I am spending a few weeks in the US and today I experienced something that I don’t think would have happened in London, someone stealing my car parking space. In London, I have become very used to people apologizing and excusing themselves endlessly, before something even happens, giving the right of way, and saying “I’m sorry” to each other before it’s even warranted.  It’s a culture of non-confrontation and of politeness. Bottom line is that I have gotten used to this culture, I enjoy the apologetic style, and the never-ending “I’m sorries” shared day in and day out everywhere I go.

Well, today I went to our nearest Trader Joe’s, a wonderful food market near my home. I was driving down one of the lanes of the parking lot, I had identified my parking spot, turned on my indicator light, and made my careful approach to MY parking space. Then, out of nowhere I see this dark sedan turn into my lane, and a woman with a crazed look makes a sudden move, and takes my parking spot. I saw the woman get out of car quickly and head into the store.  But it was all over for her, I had recon, I had visual, I knew what she looked like. I was left momentarily speechless. I actually had to put my car into reverse and take a spot that I had already passed. The nerve of this woman!!!!! All of my mindfulness and Zen training went out the window. An injustice had been committed and I was not sure I could remain silent. I tried my breathing exercises but it was all in vain. I was not happy. I felt bullied. I took a cart and entered the Trader Joe’s. I first encountered a mom with 2 kids but quickly realized she was not my target.  Then I saw another mom with 3 kids, and after my sharp swift thinking, I also concluded she was not “The parking space thief”.  I tried to distract myself in the bread aisle but then as I approached the cheese section I spotted HER. To add to the imagery, she was about 6 ft tall compared to my 5 feet tall stature.  I approached her and carefully gave her a LOOK. I made EYE contact with her and just stared her down, so much so, that she grabbed her cart and fled. I thought, “Don’t think you can get too far from me girlfriend”.  Not feeling fully satisfied, I rushed through my shopping, not quite sure what it was I wanted to accomplish, but fully knowing it was not over between us. I was upset at myself for letting this incident get under my skin. I tried more breathing exercises but they did not seem to work. Images of my mindfulness teacher, nodding his head in disapproval, crossed my mind. I exited the pasta and soup aisle and there she was again, standing at the cashier, completely vulnerable and open to my impending confrontation. As if carried by divine intervention, I approached her and stared her down again, but this time I SPOKE in a calm tone. I said something to the effect of, “You realize that you took my parking spot out there”. To which she answered very nervously that someone had already taken her previous spot in another row, and that there were other spots that I could have taken and therefore justifying her move to take my spot. To which I answered in still a calm voice, “You were very aggressive, and rude, and you were not very nice by doing that, and HAVE     A     VERY    NICE    DAY!!!.  She did not say more. She seemed very flustered. After the confrontation, I really wanted to share the experience with someone, but I had no one to talk to. I thought that if I randomly shared this story with the mom with 3 children, she would think I was crazy. So I kept silent, I picked up the multi-colored couscous, the pomegranate seeds, and the green onions. I made my way to the cashier, paid, and left.

I had mixed emotions about my confrontation with this parking spot thief.  Why could I have just not let this incident slip off my shoulders? Why could I just not have done my shopping and ignored this woman completely? Well I know why, it’s my innate sense of justice. I cannot remain silent in the face of injustice, even an injustice as petty as the theft of a parking space. Somehow it did not seem right to let this woman go on with her day without her knowing that she had been a “bully. Furthermore, it was not an innocent mistake, she was cognizant of her behavior. However, I also thought, that maybe she was just having a bad day, and that maybe a bit of compassion from me would have alleviated her stress.  Escalation is never a good thing. Understanding is. If only life were this simple, we would solve half of the world’s problems. The next time I go to Trader Joe’s I will park way in the back of the parking lot and let the others duke it out for the front spots.

Happy Mother’s Day

To all the women who have raised or help raise children, be they biological mothers or stepmothers, adoptive mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, or godmothers, my glass is lifted in a toast, to you unbelievable women who have been part of molding the next generation. May I remind you that no one ever gave us a manual on how to raise children. May I remind you that society does not place much value on raising kids or gives out awards for parenting. May I remind you of all the women out there that are raising our future leaders of the world on their own, our amazing single moms. May I remind you of all the moms that hold down full-time jobs and sometimes even multiple jobs and still have the patience and love to raise a small human being.

Allow me this moment of saluting you amazing mothers of the world, because sometimes I feel that parenting has been the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, harder than engineering school, a Harvard MBA, and rocket science. I have to admire those women who make parenting look so effortless. Some of you have hosted babies in your bodies, sometimes for nine months, and others for just a few heartbreaking days. Some of you have struggled with infertility and its emotional roller coaster. Some of you have been entrusted with suddenly caring for a child. We have had to care for, bath, feed, change this baby, and later teach this child the difference between right and wrong. May I praise the mothers who have children with special needs. I was left speechless, when one day at the supermarket I observed a mother with a cerebral palsy child in a huge wheel chair contraption, while she calmly picked her tomatoes in the vegetable aisle and included her child in her conversation. These women find the courage and strength to handle all kinds of challenging situations. Then there is all the worrying. Let’s not forget the nights you stayed up with a feverish child, or the nights you stayed up waiting for your teen to get home. And then there’s the moment when your “pollito”, little chick, must leave its nest. You have completed your mission to a degree and now you can only place your trust in them and send them on their way. You think the worrying ends when they get older and become adults but it seems that it never ends. There are those other difficult moments when nothing you say or do can fix the problem, no amount of holding or supporting can change destiny’s course and only guilt and helplessness consume you. You may not know it but you teach the rest of us so much about endurance, perseverance, and understanding.

I cannot deny the joy of the moment when your child laughs uncontrollably when you tickle them or when they give you a big kiss. These are the happy thoughts that sustain you through your child’s colicky nights or the moments when your annoying teen thinks they know more than you do. There are those amazing moments when a stranger admires your child’s manners or compliments their kindness or performance. You sigh and think to yourself that perhaps you are doing something right after all. Then there are those moments when you feel you are of some great use, when your child’s head wound is bursting with blood, and only your hugs and kisses, can make it feel better or when your child asks you for help in math homework and you can actually be of help.

I would not be the mother I am today if it were not for my role models. Among them, my own mother who deserves the title of saint, a mother who has always had patience and love to guide me through life, a mother who has been unselfish and giving in every aspect imaginable.  She is a mother who always has a solution, who always says, “yes, we can do this”, who is always ready to take on a task.  She is someone who only knows positivity and possibilities, who never gives up. She is the one who jokes, laughs, dances, and makes me laugh. She is the one who played with me as a child, plays with my children, and finds the playfulness in life. She is the one who practices mindfulness and meditation, and who is thoughtful and magical in her ways. She is a healer, a source of positive and universal energy. How lucky for me to have had this amazing role model.

And then there are all those other great women in my life who have shared with me their wisdom and ways.  Everyday I learn something new from the women who surround me, be they mothers or not. I feel blessed to be surrounded by such powerhouses, with amazing insight and experiences. I take all of this in to help me in my most challenging undertaking, that of raising my children.

To my dear fellow women raising children out there, around the world, a big salute to you because I know what a challenge it can be sometimes and I hope you recognize the value of your effort and your amazing contribution to the human race.

My friend wrote something to me in an email the other day, it was an ordinary email response but oh, so powerful. This is a friend who does not have children of her own.  She wrote me after I commented to her about my daughter being upset at my not letting her do something. She wrote back,

“Your daughter is fortunate to have you as a mom.  It’s not always easy – I say this from watching my sister and closest girlfriends raise children.  I admire all of you mothers for the gift you provide to our planet.  It’s great to set boundaries and also prioritize yourself!!!!  This is something not enough moms do even though everyone benefits! “

Wow, “the gift I provide to the planet”, that sounds very powerful when put that way. And in all of this we also need to follow my sage friend’s advice, to ”prioritize yourself”, find time for yourself too.  We must not lose ourselves in the everyday craziness of parenting. We must find time to learn and achieve new things, to better ourselves, and to reward ourselves. We must first take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. Aim for greatness as a person, and greatness is what you’ll hope to impart on your child.

What more can I say, wherever you are in the world, raise that glass of wine, beer, margarita, shot of aguardiente, detox juice, or just a beautiful crystal glass of sparkling water, and join me in this special Mother’s Day toast, in celebration of who we are and the special role we play,

I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day, and a Happy Mother’s Life.

Brussels, Belgium
June 2000

Cordoba, Spain
December 2011