Here she is: Ms. America!

We need to enhance cultural literacy, not for the reasons some people think: To make everybody feel equally included, and happy. Cultural, ability, multiple-talents/intelligence/giftedness, and linguistic “inclusion” have its own educational rewards. The meaning of happiness however is another matter that I leave to theologians and philosophers. It is also not just a matter of learning about others so that: “we can all just get along”. Cultural ignorance/illiteracy has and will continue to do great harm to the economics, safety and social wellbeing of our nation. Further, as the world “shrinks”, and international contacts, commerce and communication expands; U.S. students are being placed in a position of future disadvantage when knowledge of the culture and language of the rest of the world is required.  (I am still haunted and amazed by the conversation I had ten years ago in a cab in Paris, France; where the cab driver was discussing in perfect nuanced English, the discography of Miles Davis, I felt like a minor league cultural-linguistic player in a major league game; all the time thinking: “how does this guy even know who Miles Davis is?”)

 

“…….Miss America crowns first winner of Indian descent, and critics slam her as Arab terrorist Miss New York spends her first press conference defending herself from angry viewers calling her un-American, Arab and Indonesian. ‘I have to rise above that,’ she said after winning the coveted crown….”

 

“I don’t look less Chinese.”-Julie Chen

Really Julie?

 

First, I must confess that I am not a fan of the entire “beauty” contest hoop-la. The participants all look too much alike; sounded and acted too alike; and they all seem to concede and accept a definition of “beauty” that was as narrow as it was shallow. I do remember in my younger days seeing Bert Parks singing that famous: “Here she is, Ms. America…”; as it reminded me of my all season athletic experiences, I liked the wining part; where the winner tried not to cry off her made-up self, and the runner-ups worked so hard at being gracious in defeat. These silly contests where for years contestants vacillate between displaying their curves in bikini outfits; juggling bowling pins and singing at the same time; while always responding to the hero question by proclaiming the obligatory: “My hero is the Dr. Martin Luther King”. I always wondered if they really knew anything about the thinking and mission of MLK; and in what way was he their hero.  Did they want to emulate his life and ideals? Was this a sincere yearning on their part to live a life of service? And how do they reconcile this extreme subjugation and  objectification of the female body by the “pageants organizers”; with his powerful  commitment to the subjective and objective liberation of the American personality. I don’t think I could name the last three states that won the Ms. America contest. But this year, the contest marred by the ugly and misinformed comments hurled at the winner, got my attention, for two reasons. First, because of my “failed education radar-detector”. It seems that too many Americans are sadly geographically challenged; now assuming (and I want to be generous here), that her cruel critics attended somebody’s school system through the 8th grade. Even the states with the weakest social studies curriculums, would by that time have establish in the students brains that India is not an Arab country, and has no cultural connection to Indonesia. And even if they were absent from school on the day when the topic of India was covered; a high school world history course should have corrected the misunderstanding. This is why I cringe when I read that teachers in school districts like Philadelphia complaining that this year they will be forced to teach middle and high school history courses without maps and globes; the social studies educational equivalent of: “making bricks without straw.” But the second reason this year’s contest got my attention was again the response by her hateful critics as to her “Un-Americaness”. Again,  we see a failed educational experience; clearly these are people who perhaps missed the entire American history course in high school; or it was taught so badly that at the end of course they left without learning one of the primary learning objectives: We are a nation of many people; from many different places and cultures. And I know that theses ignorant commentators could not have been from NYC where there is an annual wonderful rainbow of ethnic parades and citywide celebrations. All of us, that is everybody including those who arrived here long  before there was something called: America; are emigrants. Becoming an American may have been by choice, or an unfortunate circumstance; but we are all very much Americans by virtue of our citizenship. Most important, many Americans who were born(1st generationist like myself), or came to the US at a young age; have no “real” connection to the nation of their parents; they are (despite their feelings) every ounce, culturally, Americans (just try traveling to other countries, and be honest with yourself). All of Ms. Davuluri’s detractors represent a descent from some land, nation, people, outside of the U.S. geographical borders. There is no cultural or legal “time line” preference, no citizenship “seniority status” based on the length of the of the descent line. Yes, here she is; Ms. Davuluri and many who look like her; who is in every sense a growing reality and recognition of what is, will be and should be America. And perhaps that senseless fear of: “the different from what I know”; is the fuel of their ignorance. Finally, if these crazy folks were fortunate enough to be part of a strong high school biology program, they may have learned to their surprise that perhaps they may be more closely related  genetically to the people of India then to the folks in the “old-country”, they claim to descend from. Perhaps their closest genetic ancestry can be found on the banks of the Ganges, not the Hudson River. Now that’s an education they could use.