29 December 2008

Multiculturalism

A day without immigrants, May 1, 2006. Descrip...Image via WikipediaCan people of vastly different cultures really live together in peace? That question has new currency these days, as cultural clashes around the world highlight different expectations in areas as far-reaching as media, clothing, immigration, and foreign investment.

A lot of people ask for assimilation. Assimilation means that you forget about your heritage.

Those are the words of Thu Nguyen, a director in the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in Canberra, in a recent Christian Science Monitor article on cultural differences in Australia. An Australian government website asserts, however, that the official approach is once called "Australian multiculturalism":


Assimilation is the process in which people adopt the cultural practices and beliefs of the majority of the population. Multicultural policies respect people's rights to maintain and express their cultures and beliefs, seeing the resulting cultural diversity as an asset.

Australia is just one place where this struggle is playing out, and one of three nations (along with Canada and the UK) who have officially adopted multiculturalism as a national policy. "Multiculturalism" may be a new term, but the reality of co-mingling cultures is age-old. For much more, see the Wikipedia article on multiculturalism.

Our position? If you don't heed the extremist calls of the fringe fanatics (be they Christian or Muslim or athiest), you'll find a vast majority of people who just want to get on with their life, their work, their play, their worship. People who subscribe to some version of a teaching included in all the world's great faith traditions: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

But it takes some work, and some thinking. We've been pondering this week the various proposals regarding illegal immigration into the USA. And we've found disturbing the venom in some voices supporting a massive wall between the US and Mexico, or heightening the criminal penalties for "being illegal."

Some of the proposals sound reasonable, until you stop to think how they might affect the 10-12 million "illegals" now living and working in the USA. Should they all be deported? Should they be imprisoned? Should they be separated from their US-born children? What kind of void would this leave in the US workforce? What's the impact on tax revenues?

We don't have easy answers. Because there aren't any easy answers. Just as past and current foreign policies have led the US to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our policies and laws have created this situation with immigrants. The US economy is a magnet for people seeking a better life, or sometimes fleeing conflict that's been fueled by our foreign policies (think SE Asia, Central America...).

Because it's all connected, there is no quick and easy political fix. We need to realize that there really is no "us" and "them" -- with the exception of Native Americans, we're all immigrants, or descended from immigrants.
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