May 2017: Ethnic Diversity

May 2017 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Ethnic Diversity: Out of Many, One?

Monday, May 15, 2017
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is America the great melting pot of peoples? The Statue of Liberty welcomes the wretched refuse of the world. After entering the golden door by the shining lamp, do they all become the same? Do only ethnic restaurants remain to remind us how many different groups have contributed to a dream of unity? But how does it really work? Haven’t barriers been erected against some of the wretched, starting perhaps with, “No Irish need apply”? And what of Native- and African-Americans who have sometimes been deemed unmeltable? Are we ready to embrace ethnic diversity or are we further away than ever?

Has religion been a pathway or a wall to uniting Americans? At one time Minnesota divided Lutheran Churches by language with English, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish congregations. Minneapolis was considered the most anti-Semitic city in the country. Before the so-called “Muslim menace,” there was the “Popish plot” with Catholics undermining public education and answering to a foreign despot, not the Constitution. Have we moved beyond White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americanism to something more inclusive? How inclusive?

Would we want our loved ones to marry someone from another ethnic or racial group? In Fiddler on the Roof the hero Tevye accepts that one daughter rejects an arranged marriage and another asks only for his blessing rather than permission. But when the third wishes to marry a gentile, he says that if he “bends too far he will break.” Do we too have a breaking point, or does love conquer all, with modern multi-colored Romeos & Juliets proving prejudice must bow to romance? Or are these couples branches who will be pruned from the family tree and spoken of only in whispers?

In his World War II propaganda film, War Comes to America, Frank Capra celebrated 22 immigrant nations including fellow Italians who made up America. All seem to be working and playing together. Was this true in the 1940s? Is it true now? Do outside enemies unite us, or provoke us to build internment camps for the descendants of our foes? Would even 3rd generation Japanese-American citizens (so many of whom fought bravely in combat units and helped as translators at Fort Snelling) have been sent to California’s Manzanar concentration camp if they weren’t Asian? In modern times, why are immigration bans really targeting certain Muslim-majority countries labeled as sources of terrorists? Are some ethnicities too diverse?

In a global community must ethnic diversity be embraced? Or can it legitimately be seen as a threat? Why do we talk of a wall or of banning refugees and visitors from Muslim countries? Why is there still a quota for new immigrants based on their country of origin? Don’t our newcomers want to be part of America? When Somalis of Europe and Canada were asked their identity they said “Somali,” but in the U.S. they said “American.” With all of the U.S.’s limitations, why did they say that? Does America create Americans despite itself?

Has our melting pot clogged? Is America suffering indigestion from its diversity? Do we want to deal with the genuinely different? In certain cities it remains perilous to cross the street from one ethnic enclave to another. How does this square with inclusiveness? Is ethnic diversity the dream or is it the threat? If we’re already a multi-ethnic family, do promised “walls” frighten us more than the “other”?

On Monday, May 15, from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask, does the many really become one, or does the melting pot brew chaos and confusion? We hope our reasoning agreements of open-mindedness, curiosity, acceptance, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will promote civility even if we’re divided. Wherever you came from, there will be treats.