My parents were about to face an empty nest and the freedom to travel, experience and develop an awareness of new cultures. All this should have taken place in a few short years. My siblings were on the threshold of their teens.
And then, I showed up. My father called me the ‘bonus child’ but I was born 11 years after my older sibling. So I think I was more the ‘accidental’ child. My parents, luckily, had the means, to very comfortably raise me. They were also able to save enough to send my siblings overseas, for their college educations.
Travel and Understanding
In addition, when my older siblings eventually flew the nest, I got to travel with my parents. I would get to experience and learn to understand new cultures at a relatively young age. We went all over the world.
Traveling was different through the 1980s, than it has been after that era. Less people traveled the world on vacation then. I was one of the lucky ones.
Now let me clarify what I mean by ‘travel’. I mean seeing the locals and experiencing cultures. I do not refer to the crammed, one day trip to ‘experience’ tourist traps. This was not the ‘authentic’ cultural experience, which really is a glossy version of human reality. We stayed at mid-price hotels. We did not hole up in exclusive resorts, with no access to the locals.
Here was a unique privilege to roam all over the world. We experienced diversity and different cultures. I learned a myriad of things. Those experiences permanently shaped me.
Cultural Comprehension and Respect
The first thing I came to understand from traveling, was that I had to respect the country and places I visited. Someone’s culture, religion, rituals and practices may be different from mine. I need not understand everything the person does. However, this very fact did not allow me to think less of that person. I should respect him or her.
I learned that many people’s cultures and practices emerged because of where they lived. For example, we find spicy food very commonly in cultures based in hotter or tropical locations, because the intake of spice causes sweating. In turn this process of perspiration cools down the body.
The origins of food and recipes is a topic that totally fascinates me. I started and hope to grow a section dedicated to food because of this near-obsession with food. See the backstory here: https://sueslife.com/food-and-preparation/.
The second thing that all those years of traveling taught me, is that people all over the world in all their diversity have commonalities. People everywhere enjoy having celebrations and eating together. Everyone enjoys the arts within unique cultural constructs. All people seek love, happiness and peace. People everywhere also feel pain, sadness and the myriad of human emotions. Joy and suffering are common to us all. People everywhere display good and bad behaviors. As human beings, we are surprisingly similar.
Knowing The Facts
I also became more convinced than ever, that there is no one superior race. Many of us look the way we do because of where our ancestors originally lived. The closer to the equator one lived, for example, the more melanin one needed as protection from the sun. One needed less melanin, if one lived further away from the equator, because the sun’s rays were really only absorbed for certain very limited periods of the year. Melanin is a dark brown to black pigment occurring in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals. It is responsible for tanning of skin exposed to sunlight. It is a protective mechanism for the skin.
History shows us that human beings then moved from place to place over tens of thousands of years. In the process, they inter-bred. See https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-great-human-migration-13561/. Therefore, it is my opinion that the whole concept of racism arises from our ignorance. It arises from our own fears, real or imagined.
I was also born into a minority community in Singapore. Singapore, despite being an Asian country, is a very multi-cultural place to live. I, being South Asian and Christian, was assimilated into and became part of the unique national make-up. Living alongside people who didn’t look much like me or worship like me, was something I was used to.
Also, in my work life, I got to meet and interact with people of different cultural backgrounds, from all over the world.
By the time I met and got to know my now-husband, from the United States, a man with Irish-British roots, I was transformed again. He grew up with different cultural experiences and looked completely different from me. Here was somebody who understood and aligned with me on a deep and personal level. We believed in the same things and had the same values. And we eventually got married after I moved with him back to the United States. My perspective of how people are different was changed forever.
We Are Alike, Through Differences
Looking back, I realize now, that I was truly lucky. I was able to drink in international experiences with my senses, observing and absorbing. I learned to listen. And in listening I gained understanding.
Also, for the first time in my life I loved somebody who looked very different from me. He grew up in very different circumstances from my own. Yet, he ‘got’ me and he ‘saw’ me. This is the miracle of our common humanity. We can really see each other, communicate and understand one another better, if we only try.
As a writer, I write for everyone, from everywhere. I also hope to, in my writing, convey my deep understanding, respect and acceptance of all peoples. I certainly am going to try. After all, my background and experiences have shaped me for this very mission.