Margaret's Musings: Diversity makes for better communityRecently I did a story and photo package on the Junior Diversity Club. While shooting the photos I saw a young girl scamper out of the mini-van eager to get to swim lessons.
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
Recently I did a story and photo package on the Junior Diversity Club. While shooting the photos I saw a young girl scamper out of the mini-van eager to get to swim lessons. She had an even complexion, shoulder length basically straight hair and a smile as wide as her face.
What came to mind was a phrase used to describe myself when I was about her age in elementary school. I doubt it is used much anymore, and I always understood it to mean I was quite tan. It was used by family members, specifically my grandparents, as I recall. It was not offensive to me and since it was used at the end of summer it made complete sense.
“You are as brown as a berry” was often used to describe me as a youngster, who spent most of the summer outside. Not tanning, just being outside, playing, working on projects or having fun with our assortment of critters.
With the wonders of the Internet, I looked to see if I could find the origins of the phrase. To my amazement it dates back to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the 14th century. It generally is accepted to mean entirely brown. There is a difference of opinion as to whether it referred to coffee beans or wheat berries, but the meaning was clear.
By now you must be wondering what this has to do with diversity. Another childhood memory will help tie with together.
I should explain that I grew up in a small, basically farm town made up of children of varied ethnic backgrounds, German, eastern European some English. None of us gave much thought to those things as we were all kids and, pardon the PC incorrectness, we were all basically “white.”
That was until the blue-eyed, blond-haired Scandinavians moved into our sleepy school district. The duo, Brent and Kristy Jensen, arrived with an attitude, and of course that made them the intrigue of the school. However, while the older girls swooned over the big brother Brent, my personal experience with Kristy was a bit different. Out went the phrase “brown as a berry” — to her I was the ‘N’ word. I don’t know that it caused me tremendous harm but it is something that I never forgot — so much for Italian, olive skin.
We all grew up without much benefit of cultural diversity and thankfully my parents were wise to never speak ill of other races, regardless of how they may have personally felt. That, I found, was one of the best gifts they could have given me.
It was when I took my first job in downtown Chicago, after graduating from college, that I received my first heavy dose of cultural diversity. My fellow employees were patient with me as I began a steep learning curve.
Arlene Harvey, who sat in front of me, used tomato juice cans to straighten her hair. I was absolutely certain she had gotten a hair cut when she showed up with hair that appeared only one or two inches long the very next day. She answered odd questions from this farm girl and didn’t take offense at my lack of knowledge. Our department was a rainbow of cultures, and it was fascinating to learn and observe.
Today, Hudson has students from over 13 countries attending school. This is a gift not only for their fellow students but also for the community. What an extraordinary opportunity for learning. It would be an exceptional thought if parents could wrap their minds around this.
Friends of mine once considered moving to western Wisconsin but decided they wanted their son to stay in the culturally diverse metro high school, and I more recently chatted with a parent who sent her children out of the Hudson district for the same reason.
So congratulations to the Hudson School District for literally wrapping their arms around the English language learners to give them a summer experience that not only helps them but the community as well.
Hudson will continue to be a great place to live. Di-ver-si-ty can only make it better.