Learning To Define Diversity Through Vulnerable Conversations

October 24, 2017

Two weeks ago, I took some time off and ventured out to California to visit one of my best friends. She had moved to San Francisco a little over a year ago for a job opportunity. Despite going to different colleges and moving across the world post-graduation, my friends and I have remained just as close as when we met in elementary school.

Not many people can say they survived their awkward middle-school phase, let alone 16 years of growing up together, but that’s what we feel makes our friendship rare. No matter where we go in life, or who we meet, our group will always be there to come home to. To be cliché, they’re the type of friends that know you better than you know yourself.

Now, one of the many unique and beautiful things about my friend is her family’s heritage — she is exactly half-Irish and half-Japanese. This was a fact I’ve known since the first grade, and although I thought it was fascinating (coming from a family whose full heritage is unknown) I never really thought much beyond that.

While in California, and I’m sure over the years, I started to ask questions about her ancestry. I was curious about her family from Japan — does she still have relatives there? Do her grandparents speak Japanese? In my mind, I thought that because her parents are both 100 percent of one ethnicity, perhaps her family is more culturally involved with their heritage, as opposed to someone like myself, who’s a good percentage Scottish but doesn’t celebrate many traditions.

In one of our conversations, she said something that forced me to take a step back and reflect on how I viewed my friend – she said that she cannot remember a single time that anyone has asked her about her Irish heritage. People, like myself, have always inquired about her mom’s side of the family, presuming that side had more of an influence in her family traditions and interactions, when in fact it was both of her sets of great-grandparents that initially came to America; the lineage on both sides is the exact same. She continued to share that she actually knew more about her family from Ireland than any family she may still have residing in Japan.

This stuck with me, and despite being a casual conversation amongst friends, I felt like this was a valuable moment to learn from. Why did I think that way? Perhaps it was because my family is also Irish, so I assumed her family was just as culturally involved as mine is. I don’t have Japanese ancestry, so I was interested in learning more.

This is where I was wrong, though, for multiple reasons.

  • Just because my friend has an Asian ancestry, unlike myself, does not mean she knows everything about that lineage.
  • Just because my friend is also Irish, like myself, does not mean that her and her family celebrate the same traditions and have the same involvement in the culture as mine does.

I wanted to take the time to be vulnerable and share this insight, because I think this is something many people fall culprit to. It opened my eyes to any assumptions I had and allowed me to reflect on my interactions with not only my friend, but those culturally different from me. I hope I can inspire you to do the same — be curious, ask questions and learn from those around you. Whether or not you view someone as similar to you, and no matter how close you may be, you may surprise yourself with how much you still can and need to learn.