Diversity is the spice of life. The longer I live, the more truth I find in that saying. Growing up in rural Indiana, diversity was not that common. I can count on one hand the number of students I went to high school with who were not white Protestants from a nuclear family.
When I first moved to Turlock, I was amazed at the number of different cultures who all lived, worked and worshiped in one small town. Before coming to the Central Valley, I had never heard of Assyrians or the Sikh religion, and I thought Portuguese immigration ended centuries ago.
The other two cultures that make up the majority of the cultural background of Turlockers — Swedish and Hispanic — I was more familiar with, but I soon learned much more about both cultures.
Being a student of communication studies, I know that most people are ethnocentric — which means they believe in the inherent superiority of their own culture. That’s not as bad as it sounds. It has been my experience that ethnocentrism doesn’t necessarily lead to prejudice. In fact, I believe when people are given the freedom to express the pride they have in their own cultural background it fosters understanding.
Sunday’s Sikh parade is an example of how showcasing one’s culture and religion can lead to an increase in understanding. The people of Turlock who opened their front doors to see hundreds of brightly dressed Sikhs singing and marching down the street were also met with those willing to answer questions about the religion, while handing out free food and drinks.
Approaching a coworker about their individual culture and religious beliefs can be awkward and potentially seen as harassment, if not done right. But cultural events open to the public are an invitation to learn more about our neighbors.
Say the word “festa” in the Central Valley and no matter what your cultural background is, chances are your mouth will start watering just thinking about Azorean food. These Portuguese religious celebrations are now a part of Valley culture.
My grandmother came to California from Sweden when she was a girl. This cultural background remains part of my family and was something we were able to share through Turlock’s annual Scandifest, until it ceased to exist in 2002.
Two years ago when the annual Taste of Turlock event decided to take on a cultural flair, I was excited that Scandinavians would once again have a place to dance around the May Pole. The 2010 Taste of Turlock also featured mariachis, dancing horses, an Assyrian parade and bluegrass music. It was the perfect event to highlight the diverse cultures of Turlock, all in one place.
This year, organizers decided to make the event solely focused on food and leave the cultural flair out.
It is my hope that cultural events make a comeback in Turlock — and maybe a few different organizations could team up to present one festival that encompasses all the cultures represented in the Valley.
Cultural events not only celebrate our pasts, but they also highlight what we have in common. No matter how authentic a festa is or how many different languages are spoken at a parade, in the end we are all Turlockers.
This column is the opinion of Kristina Hacker and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.