I found this photo of three of my siblings standing in our backyard surrounded by apple and pear trees. One look at my brothers Emmanuel and David and it’s easy to identify hat this photo was taken in the late 70’s. The beard, long hair and bell bottom pants are markers of the times. But then I look at my sister Deborah and it’s not so clear.
All through high school Deborah wore dresses and pants, but then suddenly when she began her college education, she was required to wear saris. I never knew exactly why. I just knew that wearing saris on the University of Minnesota campus was difficult to say the least; not just because of the frigid temperatures, but also because other female students wore hot pants, boots and mini-skirts. She had to dress in a sari during a time and in a place where being different wasn’t vogue. Words like “ethnic” and “culture” were dirty words. Being-The-Same was a required and mandatory tagline in order to be accepted and fit in. Wearing traditional clothing was “weird”; not a label that was complimentary, as it can be today. And “weird” people were outcasts and lived on the fringe of society.
In some ways we have come a long way—yes, people do respect different traditions and manner of dress. In the past month I have loaned my own saris to a number of American friends who are excited to wear them to special occasions or weddings.
But in many ways, there is very little respect for the right of all people to hold different beliefs, traditions or views. People who hold conservative value systems are met with vitriol and anger. Those that have more liberal views are judged and labeled harshly.
Thinking or being different is a right we all have—this means even if we don’t agree, we must respect and accept alternate points of view, value systems and traditions.