We and our children, Laura and Marc, (whom you heard from in May and June) moved to Cambridge, England in the mid-1960's. We descended on England with all the cockeyed optimism and confidence of Americans abroad then, sure of our place as representatives of the greatest nation in the world, the one with all the answers to all the world's problems.
Imagine our shock, then, when the press and the people of stately 'olde' England viewed the good ole' USA as an empire-building, brassy, upstart, former colony. It became clear to us then that we had been fed a lot of propaganda by our government, and we had been brainwashed by the American press to think that our country could do no wrong, and that being the mightiest nation in the world made us the 'rightest'. Most importantly, everyone else in the world saw us as acting from only the most selfish motives. America may have been a melting pot, but her people were most certainly not multi-cultural. It was a uni-cultural vision through which we looked at the world. American families with Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian and Romanian children were a phenomenon of the future. (When my first cousin married an African American, a huge family scandal ensued.) Our children, five and three at the time, had not yet absorbed the American party line, and so they blended effortlessly into British life. Their speech took on the accent and cadence of their classmates. And their mother, a language major with a good ear, soon came to sound like a native Cantabrigian out of self-defense.
Two years later, we traveled back to America. Only then were we able to experience the uni-cultural mind-set of our own countrymen. Our children, seven and five, felt isolated and marginalized because their accents and clothes set them apart. Classmates were cruel. Teachers, themselves products of American uni-cultural upbringings, were clueless. I experienced the rampant materialism of the society (now on view on the "Mad Men" series on AMC). In England, one plum-colored dress served me for any and all semi-dressy occasions. It dawned on me, after I had worn that dress to five events in a row with many of the same people, that all the other women wore different frocks for each occasion. Soon I succumbed to societal pressure and acquired a multi-dress wardrobe.
Years later, in the 1980's, Laura spent a college semester in Italy. "The Italians were welcoming, open, tolerant, and anxious to learn about other cultures," remembers Laura. " And there was a true acceptance of other people's cultures and foibles, in contrast to what I and others experienced at home in the U.S."
Both of our children, and, now, their children have always had friends from other countries among their friends. For our children, it was their experiences at home and abroad that led them to these friendships. As they were growing into young adults, visiting students in my husband's laboratory included Chinese, Mexicans, Italians, Koreans, Japanese, Germans and Indians, all of whom were frequent guests in our home. An unusual upbringing for young Americans, and one that led them to a mid-set of tolerance and appreciation for people and cultures around the world. And for my grandchildren, too, it was the acceptance by their parents of these diverse people that allowed them to treasure the many different cultures from which their friends have come.
Perhaps, at last here in America, the multi-cultural families that now abound will lead us to a truly multi-cultural society.
Ellen Baron is a wife, mother and grandmother who has had three distinctive careers:
1) as an editor at an educational laboratory;
2) as a businesswoman who ran a private-label group at Black & Decker, and then served as Director of Marketing for a consumer electronics start-up company; and
3) as an academic administrator who was director of a post-baccalaureate business program.
Her 'Just Jobs' (as opposed to "Careers") included piano teacher and French tutor (her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis having been in French).
Now retired from both careers and jobs, Ellen serves on the Maryland State Attorney Grievance Commission, as well as the Boards of several non-profits. She has lived in England, Switzerland and Germany, as well as St. Louis, Boston, a suburb of Washington, D.C., and, now, Baltimore, MD.