Sunday, June 17, 2007

Multiculturalism: How Far Is Too Far?

Here's an interesting article I ran across this past weekend in my surfings. It's found in the City Journal and it's written by John Leo, one of the better print journalists I have read over the years.
Commencement weekend is hard to plan at the University of California, Los Angeles. The university now has so many separate identity-group graduations that scheduling them not to conflict with one another is a challenge. The women’s studies graduation and the Chicana/Chicano studies graduation are both set for 10 AM Saturday. The broader Hispanic graduation, “Raza,” is in near-conflict with the black graduation, which starts just an hour later.

Planning was easier before a new crop of ethnic groups pushed for inclusion. Students of Asian heritage were once content with the Asian–Pacific Islanders ceremony. But now there are separate Filipino and Vietnamese commencements, and some talk of a Cambodian one in the future. Years ago, UCLA sponsored an Iranian graduation, but the school’s commencement office couldn’t tell me if the event was still around. The entire Middle East may yet be a fertile source for UCLA commencements.
I am not against being proud of one's heritage. I understand it, it's something that helps us all better understand who we are. In my city, we have people from all over the world living here. It's nowhere near what it is in New York, Los Angeles, or a Chicago, mind you. But there's a good mix of international flavor here (certainly more than many people that have never visited here, may think). We have Mexican, Italian, German, French, Greek, and Middle Eastern festivals. We have restaurants that serve those same cuisines, as well as from Russia, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Peru, Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco, Turkey, and many others. Multiculturalism, within itself, is not a bad thing. It gives us all more choices and helps promote learning.

But when we have something going on like what is being reported in this article, it makes me wonder how many have forgotten the lessons of Rome and other multicultural civilizations. Many of them tried to bend over backward to accommodate a variety of people and over time, it was a contributing factor to their overall demise.

I mean, how much is too much? When will everyone be happy and content? How far is this allowed to go in other countries?

To not allow someone to express themselves in a language they know or to practice the traditions they or their ancestors grew up with, is deplorable. But it's an entirely different issue altogether, when each and every group demands to be accommodated by a country that has so graciously accepted them. Not every country is willing to do this, much of it is for this very reason, right here.

If I go to a German or French University and earn a degree, is it realistic and practical for me to think I will get a commencement, especially for Americans? If I go to China, is it fair for me to demand that they accommodate me, because I do not speak Chinese?

As one who lived abroad for two years (many years ago), I can tell you that I would have never dreamed of expecting anyone I met in Germany, France, Spain, or Holland to go to such extremes for me. I made every effort to learn the languages and customs, and to not violate any social mores along the way.


Because I was a guest in
their country, not the other way around. And I appreciated the opportunity to live and work in a foreign land, seeing and learning things that were inevitably going to become an integral influence in my life, thus making me a more intelligent and well-rounded individual.


ms. miami said...

las- i don't get this. all commencements i've ever been to or been a part of have been broken down by college- college of arts & sciences, college of engineering, college of law, etc.

i've never heard of doing it any other way (must be a california thing).

LASunsett said...

//i don't get this.//

Don't feel alone. I went to a Div I-AA school and commencement was held at one time, regardless of school. But that was years ago, who knows what they do now? I throw all of my alumni correspondence into "File 13".

Greg said...

This is certainly a new spin on a tired idea. When I was in college, there were all kinds of clubs based upon ethnicity, and then they started dividing the dormitories into race. There was shockingly little opposition to this.

What little there was was along your lines, LAS. Some questioned whether this was a positive development. The apartheid groups claim that they are trying to make their ethnicity feel comfortable on campus. But what ends up happening is that these students are not better integrated into to the campus - they are separated from it.

To make them feel better, I invited some of the Apartheid Groups over to my club for White Christian Men. It's a white pride group, but "all are welcome."

Just kidding on the last part, but you catch my drift....

Greg said...

BTW, re the title of your post, LAS, since when is America "multicultural." When I was in grade school learning "civics" (do they still teach that), I was taught that America is a "melting pot," which is not the same as multiculti, right? What happened?

ms. miami said...

las- i found the article you linked to so weird that i went to ucla's website to check it out:

from what i can tell, students can choose to go to departmental graduation ceremonies that are more personalized and small enough to read out individual names.

the chicano, asian, etc. stuff regards the subject studied, not a student's heritage. thus, if your major was "chicano studies" or "asian studies," these ceremonies exist. it seems that the article's author is confused.

there may be events for students belonging to a 'chicano students organization,' but this appears to be separate from actual graduation ceremonies.

BEING HAD said...

Think how I feel- I am ethnically from Belarus! If I was graduating today, the ceremony would probably be picketed, banned or cancelled for reasons of national security.

LASunsett said...


//What happened?//

I have a couple of theories.

LASunsett said...


//it seems that the article's author is confused.//

Could be. I looked at the schedule too. There were some events (commencement or otherwise) that were pretty close to one another and stood a chance of conflicting. But anyway, I think the question is still a valid one. How much should we accommodate those that choose to live here, without them making an effort to assimilate?

LASunsett said...


//If I was graduating today, the ceremony would probably be picketed, banned or cancelled for reasons of national security.//

I think that's a bit of a stretch. There's a lot of people here in Indy from Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Russia. I doubt many people pay much attention to those from your region.

Now, if there was an al-Qaida or Taliban fraternity, that'd be another story.

ms. miami said...

How much should we accommodate those that choose to live here, without them making an effort to assimilate?

las- i'm not sure what you mean by "we." ucla doesn't seem to be doing anything except offering smaller ceremonies by department, be it 'asian studies' or 'mathematics.'

if a group of korean students or swedish-american students want to get together on their own and hold some sort of reception, i'm not sure that this is any sort of 'accomodation,' except that the university might be offering space (as they do for any student organization).

Greg said...

LAS: I presume you've seen the proposed Natn'l Lampoon movie on the al Qaeda college fraternity? Looks like a funny idea.

Anyway, even assuming that they aren't doing ethnically oriented graduation ceremonies, there are still plenty of ethnically-restricted dorms, clubs and frats. And I think it's a terrible development.

Am I the only one who thinks that many of today's immigrants have no desire to become Americans, and that this is a gigantic shift from prior generations of immigrants? And what happened to make this possible, exactly? What are your theories, LAS?

Greg said...

And actually, it's not just immigrants. Americans themselves seem increasingly desirous of what I would call apartheid relationships - only hanging with "your kind." Is it just my imagination?

I always wondered what they discuss at the Black Bar Association or the Latino Bar Association. And who thought it was a good idea or even socially acceptable in the first place to make a bar association based on race.

ms. miami said...

greg- on this larger question, i think that this isn't limited to the u.s. (i see similar concerns in france, the u.k., germany).

to me, it's just another aspect of globalization. even low-wage earners have greater access to media from their home country, greater ability to keep in touch via telephone or visits home.

even a few decades ago, it was much more expensive and difficult to call relatives in other countries or to receive satellite broadcast of tv stations from around the world.

it's just physically easier these days to not have to assimilate as much, an option not really available for prior generations.

Anonim said...

Assimilate? You're using bad words LA! As Ms. Miami says, globalization (another dirty word, but maybe, one deservedly so) and communications technology have a hand in all this. I think, Al Gore should own up to his responsibility here for inventing the Internet.

A.C. McCloud said...

It's amazing that Teddy Roosevelt was animated on this subject 100 years ago, and we're still fighting it. The only difference is back in his day it was over exaggerated, now it's quite real.

Divided we fall.

ms. miami said...

Divided we fall.

a.c.- unless we choose to view ourselves as residents of a globalized world instead of members of specific nation-states.

japan, for one, will have to dramatically shift its views if it wants to survive. with a negative population growth and a pension system that requires young workers, they may have no choice but to let go of their super-homogeneous society and invite immigrants in.