"Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story and that is the only celebration we mortals really know."
- Orleana Price, The Poisonwood Bible
I grew up as a minority, surrounded by the multi-layered tapestry of Asian and Polynesian culture of Maui, Hawaii. I was the half Mexican, half Haole [white] girl who stuck out amidst the sea of cocoa colored faces. Sometimes I was ashamed of the color of my skin but very rarely I would be an object of fascination because my hair was softer than my Tongan friends or my skin would peel off in layers after spending a day at the beach. My family cooked food from New Mexico and my mom made Corn Beef and Cabbage like a her proper Irish mother taught her. I didn't taste seaweed until I was 6 years old and I still to this day, have never scraped an Opihi off of a rock in the ocean and plopped it into my mouth.
I was different and I knew it. But I wouldn't change this experience for anything. It taught me to be curious, adventurous and brave. Being a minority is one of the most treasured parts of who I am. I love the perspective it brings me and how I get to view the world through a lens that is often very different than my peers.
To say I have been marked by April Diaz is an understatement. She has been one of the most consistent voices in my own life for the past decade [or so] and has spoken countless truths into my heart.
April has a few things to say about this too. Listen today as she talks about the importance of diversity and in particular the idea of taking on an intentional posture of becoming the ethnic minority.
April, you have found yourself in a community of people where you are often the ethnic minority. Can you tell us how this story started and how it has evolved over the years?
It started with an increased passion to see the world through bigger eyes, really through God's eyes. I grew up in a vastly white community, white churches and schools. I'd been exposed to other cultures and communities in high school and college and love what it did in my soul. Something in my spirit knew that there was more to be experienced as I lived life with (not just visited) those not like me.
I married a 1.5 generation Puerto Rican, which really expanded my worldview. His family's different language, family traditions and cultural values struck a cord in me. It was nearly a decade ago when I moved into a community as the minority. I loved the idea of being a minority but then reality hit when MY cultural values, norms, traditions, foods and everything else wasn't the dominant expression. I really struggled for a couple years as I laughed at ethnic jokes I didn't get, ate foods I didn't like, searched after why certain expressions and values were held in high regard. Theoretically, being a minority was a sexy thing to pursue. Realistically, it broke me.
What has changed about your belief systems since you have intentionally engaged with other ethnic and racial communities? What did these relationships teach you about yourself?
My view of God has changed tremendously as a result of living in a multiethnic community as a minority. I see a non-white, non-middle class Jesus in new ways. My compassion for "the other" has soared as I've been a recipient of misunderstandings, long glances, criticism and challenged motivations. I've become more cognizant of my desires for comfort and power. My selfishness has been ragingly obvious as I've confronted my sinful longings for control, popularity and prominence. Yet I've also tapped into a deeper part of myself that has more capacity to love and be stretched by challenging experiences. My relationships with those not like me have taught me about how much disparity and injustices exist between my gender, class and ethnicity and others'. Those same relationships have shown me the power of forgiveness, hard work and perseverance. They've helped me see the world - and God - through different eyes.
How did you process what you were learning over the years?
One of the gifts of my community is the commitment to reconciliation. Which means that when I said something racially insensitive or emotionally hurtful, my new friends were gracious to tell me, forgive me and show me a better way. We determined that we were family, even when we spoke a different language (literally), claimed different values, or communicated differently. The community itself allowed me to process with them - and them with me! - as we learned to live harmoniously with one another.
I also processed those early days with my husband, a spiritual director, therapist, and a few close friends. Since my husband has been a minority his entire life, he very gracefully yet strongly helped me make sense of my cognitive dissonance and emotional roller coaster. Honestly, it really strengthened our marriage because I understood his journey more now that I was in shoes (which he was still the minority). My spiritual director and therapist played critical roles for me to come as I was and let me speak freely, without judging me, for my thoughts and feelings. Experiencing and naming the darkest, ugliest sides of myself has allowed me to grow even more. Finally, my friends (including Rebecca!) were people who knew me but wouldn't allow me to stay where I was. They accepted wherever I was in the journey. Mainly, they provided safe places to retreat to comfortability and strengthened me for what was next.
Why do you think it is important for us to build real, authentic relationships with people who are different than us?
We're not designed for comfort. Pain and discomfort are the crucibles for transformation. You see this littering the pages of Scripture, but if you're like me, you won't really see that until you get into uncomfortable places. The story of the Good Samaritan is the best illustration (Luke 10). As Jesus asks the challenging question, "Who is my neighbor?", the response through this story shows that your neighbor is someone not like you. It's at the crux of the Gospel.
As you and your husband lead a very diverse and racially dynamic family, what challenges have you encountered relationally, socially, emotionally? How have you engaged and/or overcome those challenges?
Oh wow! This is really a book to be written but I'll share a few thoughts. First, we know that family isn't about blood or race. Family is about love and commitment. Our Puerto Rican, Caucasian, and Ethiopian family mix is a reflection of that core belief. Our kids are siblings. Truly. We are their "real" parents. We belong to each other.
Second, we've worked really hard for years, even before our adopted kids came home, to be educators and visionaries of a greater story. We love because He first loved us. We adopted because we've first been adopted into God's family. We grafted our two oldest children into our family because the Gospel commands us to care for orphans. We obey because it's our greatest calling and privilege.
You can imagine that everywhere we go, we are stared at. Mostly, we receive lingering eyes of warmth, approval, and affection ("that's so beautiful"). There are definitely looks of confusion and curiosity ("how do they all go together?"). Sometimes those eyes seem to communicate criticism and critique ("why would they adopt black children?"). More often than you'd expect, strangers ask the most personal and surprising questions:
- Are they siblings?
- What happened to their "real" parents?
Most days I eek out a socially acceptable answer:
- Did you adopt because you couldn't have "your own" kids?
- Yes, they are siblings.
- We don't share their stories with others because their stories are their stories.
Our kids are still young enough where they can't process or really understand those questions. But I'm certain every time those questions are asked, they are emotionally filed somewhere in their little souls. Our world is not as it should be.
- No, we've always wanted to adopt. We did have infertility issues but adopting was always a Plan A for our family.
Even as I type my thoughts to this question, emotion wells. There's nothing like LIVING a multiethnic story with those you love the most who've also lost the most. We've already done a hundred things wrong when it comes to engaging and overcoming the challenges in our family. But we're in this for better or worse. As we say in our family, "I love you no matter what". Thank God love covers a multitude of sins.
People talk a lot about diversity yet seem to have difficulties applying this value to their lives, churches, companies etc. What are some of the major social obstacles that you see when it comes to applying the value of diversity? How do you see us overcoming those obstacles?
I said it above: we are addicted to comfort. Our spheres of work, school, church, and our physical addresses search to be "like" everyone else and with people who will advance our status in life. Jesus wasn't about that. In our value for our kids to have the best educations, we flee urban schools or the average school down the street. We join churches where the music fits our cultural roots and the length of service meets our expectations. Diversity isn't easy and our American culture lauds the path of least resistance.
Candidly, we don't see how central of a Kingdom value diversity is and how much it reflects our discipleship. Therefore, our American culture trumps a Kingdom culture.
Can you talk about white privilege and how you have experienced it and work to utilize it for the good of others?
Yuck. White privilege is surely a privilege I did not earn and don't even fully understand for the inner workings of my life. At the end of the day, this privilege is so pervasive that I truly take it for granted: driving at night, walking into a store, walking down the street, applying for positions and memberships.
I'm not sure I do a good job utilizing my white privilege for others, but I do see my privilege and opportunities at work for those who don't have a voice. I deeply, deeply want to understand and strengthen my own voice so I can build a collective voice for those who do not have a well-received one. Being a voice for the voiceless is a core calling (particularly for women, orphans and teenagers).
Can you recommend resources that would be helpful for us to better engage with this topic?
My boss, Dave Gibbons, wrote a great book about third culture and diversity that I'd highly recommend. You can purchase The Monkey and The Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third Culture Church by clicking the link.
The first book I read when I came to my church was Pursuing The Pearl: A Comprehensive Resource to Multi-Asian Ministry by Ken Fong. It gave me a jump start into multi-Asian ministry.
I also did a fair amount of study on conflict-resolution and communication styles (Myers Briggs Assessment, TKI, etc) to help me understand better.
As a youth leader, Deep Justice Journeys by Kara Powell and Brad Griffin helps process short-term missions trips (Disclosure: I also contributed to the book). Deep Justice in a Broken World by Chap Clark is also a great read for youth workers.
I'm always captivated by Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.
Finally, I think The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein has some interesting metaphors for giving your life away.
April has pastored in the local church for over 15 years. Secretly, she's a total girly-girl, reads more than she can put into practice and is still crazy about her high school sweetheart, Brian. Together, they co-parent the most beautiful Ethiopians, Judah and Addise, and bio son, Asher. Her first book Redefining the Role of the YouthWorker: A Manifesto for Integration is scheduled to fly off of shelves on October 1, 2013. You can follow her on Twitter and her shiny, new website Aprildiaz.com will be born on October 1, 2013.