Monday, July 11, 2011


I had the strangest flashback. I was laying in bed after feeding the baby early this morning, trying to go to sleep, when suddenly I was back in second grade. My teacher, or maybe a "special guest" or someone else, had announced that there was going to be a multicultural assembly/celebration/something or other. The details are a little hazy. Anyway, any students from other countries or with "multicultural" heritage were invited to participate.

I'm part Danish. If you don't believe me, just look at my full name. It really doesn't get any more Danish than that. My great-grandparents came to Utah from Denmark, making my grandfather American by birth but fully Danish by blood. My dad had always made a big deal about being Danish, and my mother claimed to be an "adopted" Dane, so I always took a little pride in my sort-of-quarter Danish heritage.

Back to second grade. Back to the multicultural program thingamabob. I volunteered. I wanted to be part of it. Whoever was in charge and had made the announcement--I only vaguely remember that it was a round woman--took me out into the hall after I excitedly raised my hand. I don't think she believed that I was multicultural. All she saw was a little white girl from Utah.

"Are your parents from another country? We want kids whose parents or maybe grandparents are from another country."

"No. I think it's my grandma or something. She was from Denmark."

Or something like that.

So she grudgingly added my name to her list. I don't think she was very excited about it.

When time for the assembly came, everyone involved was to walk into the gym carrying the flag of their country. For the life of me, I could not remember "Denmark" when the flag person asked me where I was from, so I just got handed the last random reject flag. I really wish I could remember what it looked like, because to this day I have no idea what country I was supposedly representing.

I do know that I was the only white kid in the assembly. There were Mexicans, Koreans, Colombians, and none of them white. I stuck to my guns though, determined that I was multicultural.

And indeed, I think I am. My ancestors came from Denmark and Scotland and England and Ireland and Germany. Some of them were pre-revolutionary war colonists; some were relatively recent immigrants. There's even rumor that a native American woman named Watchikitka was among my progenitors. And there's solid evidence that I'm directly descended from "Mr. Cool." A lot of different cultures went into the making of Jo. The girl next to me may have had Korean parents, but I don't know that she had traveled outside of Utah any more than I had. And it's entirely possible that she was descended from a long line of Koreans, and not Russians or Chinese or Welsh or anything else for a long way back. Yet she was legitimately "multicultural" because she wasn't white. And I was kind of the multicultural assembly's white bastard child.

So what does "multicultural" actually mean? Does it simply mean "not white?" Do predominantly white cultures not count? Are they completely homogeneous simply because the people who created them freckled easily? A white person born and raised in South Carolina would bristle at the idea that she was essentially the same as, say, a white person born and raised in Boston. Am I to believe that "culture" is white and "multiculture" is brown/black/purple/green/yellow?

I think that's dumb.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. It is the same debate that goes around so many workplaces. I remember when I worked with the Water District in Las Vegas there was some complaint that there is Black History Month as well as Latin American Month, but that so many other cultures looked at as "white" on the outside were not represented. Why not include everyone for their individual differences and "culture" whether it be Russian, Spanish, Taiwanese, or Danish. (I also come from Danish heritage on my Dad's side.)