Today I give thanks to this happy couple. My parents – circa 1969 at Banff or Glacier NP. They represent what the United States of America is all about.
A country of compassion.
A country of opportunity.
A country where an economic refugee from Germany and a political refugee from Cuba, could meet, fall in love, get married, and carve out a life and raise a family.
All of that happened in a little neighborhood on the far north side of Chicago called Rogers Park.
They embodied the American Dream.
My dad, a craftsman, opened a business with his brother and my mother went to school to become a registered nurse. It took them a little over 20 years to buy a house, which by that time my brother and I were in college.
But it wasn’t all peaches and cream – if I may use that cliché.
My little nuclear family was a place where two very different cultures collided.
Yes, collided. No melting happened in the pot of my family. Although, you could argue German and Cuban DNA did blend to create my brother and me. But that is another story…
From our little experiment – I am authorized to say the American melting pot is a farce, a fantasy, a disillusioned idea.
What does it mean to melt cultures together?
What does it mean to have no diversity?
What does it mean to have no differing opinions or perspectives?
What if there was only one color in a rainbow? Blue bow? Red bow? Purple bow?
Take a walk in the woods, snorkel around a coral reef, canoe along a river through a rain forest.
In nature there is only diversity. An ecosystem is made up of diverse creatures. From microscopic plankton to huge whales. Life on Earth thrives on biological diversity. Any time one organism takes over a habitat – the ecosystem becomes imbalanced. Disease, mass die-offs, decreased food sources.
Life on Earth thrives on biological diversity.
Why should it be any different culturally?
In my little family, we didn’t blend cultures. We didn’t create a new culinary genre where sauerkraut is paired with arroz con pollo, lechon asado, or ropa vieja. Although bistec milanesa or empanisado (breaded steak) was very similar to wienerschnitzel – and this little Cuban/German girl loved both.
Dad never learned how to dance the Cuban son – mom never learned to polka. Neither learned the other’s language. A version of English is what we spoke in our household (although I always say English is my second language).
Dad thought my Cuban family yelled too much. And Mom thought my German family didn’t like her because she was a “darkie.”
For better and worse, my parents stayed together until my Dad’s death in 2013. Despite their outer dysfunction – the communication challenges, the short bouts of yelling, followed by years of silence – deep down inside, they loved each other.
As I approach my late 40s, I have finally realized what my parents gave me.
Cultural sensitivity, an ability to be patient with and understand people with accents, a mysterious morphological make up that allows me access into a diversity of groups, and the consciousness to see the humanity shared by all of us.
So I give thanks for them and for this country that made it all happen.
I only hope I can share their gifts with others.