Earlier last month, the students learned about the many ways to say “hello” in different languages. They excitedly greeted me in choruses of “Shalom!” and “Ni hao!” to show off the new words they had learned. These notecards are taped on the wall right by the classroom door so they are visible to everyone who enters and leaves.
This incident reminded me of the importance of diversity and the acceptance of different languages and cultures not only in the classroom, but also in the larger community as well. Although the students in the SOAR program are all Spanish speakers that come from Latino/a descent, there are other students in the class and school that come from very different backgrounds. Similarly, the local Champaign-Urbana community is made up of very distinct people, and it is their diversity that has helped mold the places they live and frequent into what they are today. Cultural diversity begins with acceptance, and as SOAR tutors we must learn to accept other cultures. In helping these children with their schoolwork and spending time with them every week, we constantly learn new ways to appreciate the Latino culture they come from, which then teaches us how to better understand the community outside of the university campus that they live in.
In no way should we ever discriminate against someone based on their cultural upbringing or heritage. My student has told me some things about her family that might be considered different and even socially unseemly, but that has not changed my perspectives about her as a person. Cultural diversity can also help the children I work with accept their identities. Many of them are the children of migrant parents, and by embracing their own cultural heritage they can learn to value themselves as people. In the future they can possibly take these values in themselves and apply it to issues in their community to make a positive difference not only in their lives but in the lives of others as well. By accepting cultural diversity, I have driven myself to make a positive impact on the lives of these students and to try to help them see that same value.