Monday, January 16, 2012

Cultural Diversity at Disneyland

Cultural Diversity at Disney
Today we remember a great man, Martin Luther King, Jr. His goal was to encourage people to accept each other. His dream was for his black children to play freely with white children. When necessary he used peaceful means to protest and prove his point. He had a dream of all people treating each other as equals. Things have come a long way from when he led marches. I see his dream coming real in my home and at Disneyland. In my home because we, a white couple freely chose to adopt a biracial chid.
People come from all over the world to Disneyland. Just stop anywhere in Disneyland and listen to people talking. Of course you will hear announcements in English, Spanish and Japanese but what else to you hear? If you listen you will most likely hear German, French, Chinese and people with accents from England and Australia along with languages and accents from many other countries as well. You will also see people dressed in the clothing from their countries. All colors, creeds and religions come to Disneyland. All are coming together simply to enjoy a day of fun. Many are visitors to the United States. Some are people who moved to America from other countries for various reasons. All are peacefully enjoying a day at the park and interacting without issues for the most part.
When my daughter was young we were waiting for the fireworks. We had been waiting for quite some time and still and a couple of hours to go before the fireworks started. As we sat a family from Japan came and sat next to us. They sat extremely close, so close in fact we felt our personal space had been violated. Our daughter whispered in my ear, "Mommy why are they being so rude and sitting right on top of us?" I thought for a moment and realized they were not being rude. I asked my daughter what she knew about Japan. She told me it was a country made up of small islands. Many people live there and homes are small. There is not much room there because the islands are small. I let her own words sink into her head then I asked, "Are they being rude?"
What do you think? Were they rude? I say no and so did my daughter back then. Japan, as my daughter noted is a group of small islands and the population is quite high. The Japanese people are use to being close to each other. Americans feel their personal space is violated when someone steps within a 2 1/2-3 foot area around them. This is unreasonable in Japan. The Japanese people have a personal space of just a few inches. The Japanese people that sat next to us were just acting as is normal in their culture.
Shortly after 9/11 I was at the park and saw a woman dressed in the classic Muslim clothing. She was in a store looking around at the clothing. As we both waited in line to pay for our purchases I asked, "Are you having a good day here at Disneyland?" It is a simple question that I ask a lot of other guests. She took a step back as if she was concerned I might attack her! In a shaky voice not much above a whisper she said, "I'm not from America, I'm Muslim." I looked her straight in the eye and replied, "I am American and I hope you are having a wonderful visit to America and to Disneyland." She took a couple of steps back as if she was afraid I would do something to hurt her. "I'm Muslim and not from America. I'm from the middle-east." With this I told her, "I'm a Christian and an American. I'm glad you are here to visit America and Disneyland. I hope you are having a good time." With that I could see tears starting to well up in her eyes. She smiled, "Yes, I am having a wonderful time. Thank you!"
Was this Muslim woman being rude by not talking to me at first? No! She was shocked that in a country that was attack people by people that "looked like her" would openly accept her and in fact an American would say not only hello but would ask how she was enjoying her day. In her culture people of differing religions don't talk to one another let alone ask if they are enjoying themselves.
When you are at a Disney Park look around, enjoy the different clothing, accents and notice the cultural differences of people. Before judging someone as rude because they don't act as you do think about where they are from. Is it normal for them to act that way where they are from? Use it as a chance to show your children diversity is not something to be feared and that all people are the same under the skin. Use it as a chance to show someone they are welcomed not only to Disneyland but America. No matter what religion, color or creed we all have fears, (some are afraid of roller coasters and some of heights.) need love, care for family and can feel joy in the whimsy called Disney. We are all human. Its a Small World after all.

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