After 1970 the desirability of assimilation and the melting pot model was challenged by proponents of multiculturalism. They assert that cultural differences within society are valuable and should be preserved. Alternative symbols emerged of the mosaic, American Kaleidoscope, or salad bowl. Different cultures mix but remain distinct and diverse, not like the formerly thought-of soup, but like a tossed salad.
“Everyone knows better than anyone” suggests a collective intelligence that supersedes individual knowledge and recognizes the benefit of communal input. Contributions from an assortment of cultures, experiences, and opinions enrich the group IQ for the common good. That’s one way diversity benefits society.
While waiting for an order at Staples I met Kathy, who has since become a friend. Her husband Hossain was born in Iran. They’re retired professional educators who have taught in educational and university programs around the world: New Zealand; Ethiopia; Brunei Darussalam in Southeast Asia; Dubai in the UAE; Baku, Azerbaijan; Iran and the U.S. Hossain takes classes at the university and we’ve discussed the Iranian Revolution, Camus and Sartre.
My life is richer for knowing people with their world view.
I’m getting to know Mitesh Patel, whose family owns a convenience store and gas station. His place of worship is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Lilburn. Mandir, composed of man (mind) and dir (still), is the name for a Hindu place of worship and prayer. It’s a haven for spirituality where the mind becomes still to experience peace from worldly problems. It also serves as a center with vibrant cultural activities.
The Georgia Mandir opened in August 2007 after 17 months of construction utilizing 1.3 million volunteer-hours. More than 34,000 individual pieces of Italian marble, Turkish limestone, and Indian sandstone were carved by hand in India, shipped to Georgia, and assembled like a giant 3-D puzzle. You can view images of the impressive structure, which is the largest Mandir in the United States, at Atlanta.baps.org.
As the Hindu year ends families come together to celebrate one of their most sacred occasions. On Nov. 28 their local community celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Diwali has universal themes like darkness paving way to light, the triumph of good over evil, and ignorance leading to knowledge. The event was open to the public and I accepted Mitesh’s invitation to attend.
I was among men, some attired in shrivanis (tunics) and women in vividly hued saris and punjabi dresses. We sat separately in rows of chairs facing a tableau of Indian gods and gurus. Pyramid-stacked risers overflowed with hundreds of dishes of prepared food offerings. Annakut, a gratitude to god for his blessings, is literally a mountain of food.
Rhythmic tabals (drums) resonated off the walls of the WPA Center. Attendees clapped and sang to their god to please accept their offerings. Two saffron-robed sadhu (saints) from the Lilburn Mandir were guests of honor. Shantmurti Swami delivered remarks in native Indian Gujarti, admonishing that we should not change who we are on the outside but should start on the interior. The closing act of worship was performing the aarti, passing around a metal plate of flames symbolizing the five elements: ether, wind, fire, water and earth. The service ended with a prayer for everyone’s health; then we consumed the delicious mountain of food.
I understood the festival thanks to Amisha Patel, a May graduate of the University of Georgia. She remained at my side translating and answering endless questions. Amisha will spend three months in India doing research on their diaspora and return to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in Religious Studies. She thinks the way to break down misconceptions is to attend events such as this one and wisely reflected, “We live here but don’t know our neighbors.”
Humankind’s similarities outweigh our differences. All groups have families, observe cultural traditions, and practice their religion. Let’s heed Amisha’s observation and make new friends.
Murphy is a member of the Carrollton Creative Writers Club and the Carrollton Civic Woman’s Club. Reach her at email@example.com.