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Diversity is enriching our culture

Last update - Thursday, November 29, 2007, 00:00 By Metro Éireann

 Celebration – that is what the MAMA Awards were all about. I have not had too many opportunities in Ireland to experience diversity in a positive, happy atmosphere; it has always seemed confrontational, with provocative media questions, angry respondents on opposite sides of the debates and nothing informative or enlightening resulting from the duel – more like a soap opera or a wrestling match, really. But the MAMA Awards event was refreshingly different and vibrant. This time, Ireland’s myriad races and nationalities had the opportunity to celebrate their differences, share their cultural wealth and return with a deep sense of belonging. Every person who made this possible deserves to be congratulated.  

It is not often these days that we hear about race or nationality in a positive light. Race, in particular, is used to disparage and discriminate against. The idea of a monocultural world with just one race is not just boring, but against the very laws of nature, which sustains life through diversity.

A dragon dance from China, a traditional classical number from India – I wonder if these would have been possible in the Ireland of the 1980s. Immigration does not just bring people into a country – it brings in a wealth of cultures, of philosophies, of age-old knowledge that is passed on in unadulterated form.

But that is not all. Immigrants who bring in their cultural wealth also learn to adopt the local culture. Easy evidence of this is the large number of immigrant children going to Irish dancing and music lessons, not to mention the many budding hurling and football stars from among the immigrant population. Many could go on to make Ireland proud, given half a chance.

Then again, people back home who have had only known of the stereotypes of Ireland hear real stories and experience real Irishness and many come over to visit, in turn taking back more anecdotes and knowledge to share. At the very least, the commercial success of shops that sell Irish souvenirs should reflect the contribution of immigration towards spreading Irish culture in its simplest form. Think of a leprechaun adorning the living room of a family in remote Nigeria, a bottle of Baileys in a Chinese household, a shamrock growing in an Italian home, an Indian girl giving an Irish dance performance back home – and of course, those wonderful stories of Irish warmth and hospitality that make their way to distant shores.

Most multinational companies today have some kind of training program in place to familiarise employees with cultural etiquette across nations. Important business deals have often failed because the people interacting do not understand the nuances of each other’s cultures.

Our children will therefore be far better off growing up as global citizens, equipped to live and work in a globalised environment. That is the way forward for economic and social success, and more importantly, for peace and harmony.

In a recent Newstalk radio programme discussing immigration, a leading expert on immigration studies, speaking on his research findings on the subject, said that far from eroding local culture, the immigration experience has revived and enriched Irish culture significantly. It is rather the explosion of American and British culture through television and new media that is posing a bigger, more real threat to Irish culture. The evidence is all around us. The Big Macs, the pop icons, the Hollywood influences on lifestyle and fashion, the plethora of American and British television programs targeted at youngsters – I rest my case.

Priya Rajsekar is a freelance writer and director of Naabi Communications Ltd. Send feedback to priya@naabicommunications.com

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