Friday, December 4, 2009


I grew up in suburbia. White bread, marshmallow suburbia. Where all the lawns were green and mowed, all the children joined Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, all the families went to church (or some religious observance was made) and where the Joneses were not just the neighbors, but also those people who dictated how you lived your life, in that you had to keep up with them.

Well, not exactly.

Although I grew up in this community, right next door to this quintessential suburb, so quintessential that it served as the model for the community in this television sitcom, I learned more about diversity during my years of public school in suburbia than I have since, including the years I spent in the open-minded atmosphere of a state university. Well, maybe I have learned some more about it recently, as my kids became members of the US Army.

See, I don't think that people remember that the suburbs were started by soldiers, and Marines, and airmen and sailors. These men and women returned from war and service, and, using their government benefits, bought homes and started raising families. My parents did. My dad left the Marines in 1957, and their home (they live in their first and, so far, only home) was purchased with a VA loan.

Their wives (not my dad's, but that's irrelevant!) and husbands were often from foreign countries, and their children had mixed heritages that were celebrated. Or they were used to being around people of all different stripes, and seeing how they worked together for a common purpose, and the differences didn't matter; what mattered was what people could do together. Anyway, that's how it was when and where I grew up. We didn't need Diversity Days; we lived them. Gary wouldn't come to school on Rosh Hashanah; we all talked afterwards about how he had celebrated. Liz's mom (who was Japanese, but had a Polish last name, thanks to her Army husband!) brought sushi to school and we all were grossed out by the seaweed, but it tasted GOOD! We'd go to Estella's house to visit, and challenge each other to eat the hot peppers her dad kept in a dish on the table, just like his family did back in Mexico. Things like that. Little things, but for a kid, they were big, and a part of normal life.

Different religions, too. My sisters and I were raised around the Lutheran church; the Michnicks next door were Catholic. So were the Gonzalezes, two blocks over. The Castles were Jewish; so were the Shores. Berna's mom was Muslim; her dad, fresh out of the Air Force, was not. It didn't seem odd to us to go Christmas caroling to all of these homes. The other families seemed to appreciate it, too, even when they didn't celebrate Christmas. No, we didn't agree on what religion meant, but they knew we were trying to make the holiday time more fun, and they enjoyed that. (The Castles always gave us apple strudel. No; that was not the only reason we caroled there!)

So much for the white bread suburbs. So much for the sterile, isolated lives we were supposed to have lived. There were many reasons I didn't like the suburbs, and have chosen not to raise my kids there. But I would never say I didn't learn about other cultures there.

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