View from Lodi, CA: A Multicultural Microcosm

During the weekend of June 22-23, the Lodi
residents were encouraged to join the “Declaration
of Peace
” gathering to recognize Abraham as
the common figure among Christians, Jews and
Muslims.  Another local meeting, the Seerat Conference,
at the

Lodi Muslim Mosque
also discussed Abraham`s
role in the three religions.

The two events got me thinking (again) about one of
America`s most controversial topics—religious and ethnic
diversity. I`m forever tinkering with my feelings about
diversity. My ever-shifting position is a logical
consequence of my job at the Lodi Adult School where I
have students from

20 different countries
in my classes. I`ve lived on
both sides of the diversity coin. The West Los Angeles
primary school I attended was distinctly not diverse. We
were all Roman Catholic, white and middle class. But
when I was ready to start high school, my family moved
to Puerto Rico. I was one of only a handful of kids who
didn`t speak Spanish. And since Americans weren`t

particularly welcome
, I was out of the loop.

In most ways, it doesn`t really matter what anyone
thinks about multiculturalism. Diversity in America, and
especially California, is here to stay. Individual
opinions will not influence California`s diversity. The
Public Policy Institute of California (www.ppic.org)
recently released a new report,

“A State of Diversity: Demographic Trends in
California`s Regions.”
[PDF] The report found that in
each of California`s nine regions, population growth in
the 1990s was greatest for either Hispanic or
Asian/Pacific Islanders. In three of the nine regions,
no race or ethnic group constitutes a majority. These
trends started in 1980 and will continue well into
future decades.

Personally, I accept multiculturalism but with
qualifications. I don`t like to hear people say, “Our
diversity is our strength” or “Celebrate diversity”
because those phrases are trite and dismissive of
diversity`s inherent complexities. 

For an example of why I often pause before I
“embrace” (as we are constantly encouraged to do)
diversity, read Mary Min Vincent`s June 24th
story in the Lodi News-Sentinel, “`Declaration of Peace` discussed at Lodi`s Seerat
Conference.”
In her story Ms. Vincent reported that
the Muslim women, in keeping with tradition, entered
through the back of the building and sat in quarters
where they could hear but not see the speakers. Muslim
women do not have equal status with Muslim men.

And Americans object to Muslim women`s second-class
status. In an informal survey I conducted among female
friends, none indicated a willingness to enter the rear
door while I went in the front.  That valid concern was
not addressed this weekend. 


Brenda Walker
, writing on

www.limitstogrowth.org
,

reminds us
that many women in Middle Eastern
countries are denied rights as basic as driving and
voting. Much more serious rights violations include

genital mutilation
and

honor killings
. The conference organizers emphasized
that not all people and nations need to agree on
everything to live in harmony. And while that`s
certainly true, misogyny is something Americans cannot
wink at.


Multiculturalism
is an emotional subject; everyone
has his own opinions. And while I respect the media`s
right to support multiculturalism as avidly and
unabashedly as it does, I prefer a more balanced
approach.

For the few days before and after the conferences,
the extensive local coverage gave me the distinct
feeling that I was I was being lectured to.   Here`s a
summary: on June 21, a news story; on June 22, two
lengthy editorials by event organizers and a letter to
the editor by two other organizers; on June 24, two
front page stories (one above the fold) with five color
photographs; and finally on June 29, another editorial
and letter to the editor. Final tally: over eight days,
three news stories, three editorials, two letters to the
editor and five color photographs.

The message that I got was, “If you are a concerned
citizen, you will be at the Lodi Boys and Girls Club and
the Lodi Muslim Mosque.”  The reality is that only 300
people attended each of the conferences. That`s less
than ½ of 1% of Lodi`s population.

But that doesn`t mean that the other 99% aren`t just
as strongly opposed to hatred, intolerance and violence.
Those who didn`t attend, like me, are for the most part
just as interested in promoting good will. Among those
who didn`t go to the conferences, each doubtless has his
own way of creating harmony with his neighbors.

I can tell you what my colleagues and I at the Lodi
Adult School do. Each student, regardless of race or
creed, is treated with all the respect and decency that
every human is entitled to.

That was true before September 11, 2001 and will be
true as long as the Lodi Adult School is standing.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.