I know, I know, many an ‘anti-racist’ will say that simply enjoying the foods and traditions of another culture as a ‘tourist’ does nothing to combat racism. But, honestly, I disagree. I’m raising a 7 year old, and for now I’m not going to go into in-depth history to explain why there is racism and then tell him not to be racist. And while those lessons are important and are mixed in here and there, as the central topic it’s too abstract for a child his age, and exposure and interaction and a great experience in his own home town is also a good experience.
There’s also a way to approach it. Looking at maps, talking about immigration and how people come to live in different Cities, researching cultural traditions on the internet in advance, talking about what you might see and hear and where you might have seen adaptations of that in your own everyday life…these are all ways to build conversation around the experience of going to an ethnic festival. And, ASK Questions-if L wants to know what something is or understand the origin of a particular style of dance or costume, I encourage him to ask-it’s a chance to interact and engage in conversation with fellow festival goers and planners. And I’ve unequivocally found that people generally like the opportunity to share something of their culture with someone who is interested in learning about it.
And it’s an opportunity to be ‘the other.’ I was 14 the first time I experienced being the only Caucasian at a Mexican wedding-and that was in Mexico, where I expected to be the minority. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I had the experience of being the only white person in an African American neighborhood…in “my own city.” It changed my life to really understand in a visceral way how different our perceptions and experience of our world are, based on where we live or our cultural or racial identity. It has engendered a compassion that is at times unbearable seeing the tragedies around the world, but also has served as a call to action that cannot be ignored.
L, on the other hand, had this experience at age 6, last summer when we went to the African Festival of the Arts in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood. As we circled the park looking for parking, L slowly noticed there was no-one else who looked like us. I asked him why that mattered, we were all here to enjoy the festival. “What if they make fun of us?” he asked.
I could try to explain until I was blue in the face why prejudice is bad and unfounded. But that moment was priceless-he grasped the essence of prejudice in that question and I am positive that is a building block to his growth and understanding of being an incredible and embracing human being.
p.s. A couple of websites…for Chicago, I just found the best list I’ve ever seen on Centerstage Chicago, of all of the neighborhood ethnic festivals in Chicago. You may also want to try a fairly new site, ethnicevents.com where you can search festivals and events by City.