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My Multicultural Extended Family

By Kent Converse

The Converse familythe United States is known as the melting pot.  People from all over the world have made this country their home.  Their contributions are legion and part of our history.  The Chinese helped build the railroads, the Germans helped settle the Great Plains and so on. 

In Kansas we have Swedish-American Days in Lindsborg, Oktoberfest in Hays and Black Heritage Days in Nicodemus.  For these days old customs, costumes, song and other ethnic things are resurrected.  The rest of the year we all blend together and even most accents in language is gone.

The Converse family has been here long enough that we have melted together with one language and no apparent traits from where we came.  We can trace our roots to 1000 AD in France, and also to Germany, England and the American Indian.  That was a long time ago with the most recent Grandparent from overseas being five great Grandfather Christian Mueller who was a Hessian soldier in the Revolution War.  Captured in the battle of Trenton by General George Washington he and his fellow soldiers were marched to Fort Carlisle Barracks Pennsylvania.  There he was put to work building gun powder storage buildings out of stone.  These buildings can still be seen today.  None of these men returned to Germany.

My family today is multicultural because I am a member of Rotary International.  Through Rotary we are encouraged to reach out and meet people of the world to foster World peace through understanding.  We understand each other best through meeting each other, being hosted in homes and doing projects for the less fortunate people of the world.

Therefore, through this organization I have accumulated a large world family of a Host Mom and Dad, several sons and daughters, nieces and nephews.  Through them, I have acquired a great deal of understanding of different cultures and people I never had before.  It is also fun to host them when they come here and when I am hosted by them in their homes.

The first such family was Junia and Alex Grizendi of Brazil.  They were one of several host parents I had when I visited Brazil as the team leader of a Rotary’s Group Study Exchange Team (GSE).  The game Rotary plays and seems to be the custom in Brazil and Vietnam of placing a title on someone you know well is a game but also very real.  It is a matter of respect.  The older title you get the more respect.  In Vietnam I am mostly called “Bo” (Daddy) but some call me “Bac” (Uncle) and some call me “Ong.”Grandfather. 

This is not only fun to participate in these family relationships but very powerful.  Every year the Rotary Student Exchange program facilitates around 8000 students worldwide that exchange their homes and countries.  I was fortunate enough to host Trang Nguyen from Vietnam in 1999-00.  Trang was the first Rotary Exchange Student from Vietnam in the history of our two countries.  She was a sensation.  The popular saying was: “If you know Trang is to love her.”  Her own motto was “a stranger is only someone who you haven’t met yet.”  Through all her speeches, entertaining and meeting people she was the perfect ambassador for Vietnam. 

I say this is a powerful program to raise the understanding and love between people.  I say that if we had a Trang in every Vietnamese village in the early 1960’s there would not have been a Vietnam War.  That war was fought on a lot of misunderstanding.

The trouble is, it is difficult getting families to volunteer to host a child.  Instead of 8000 we should have 800,000 every year.  If you want a rich cultural experience that will change you and your family’s cultural awareness, host a child from somewhere.  Go down to your Rotary Club and volunteer for the experience.  You will not regret it and the world will be a better place.

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