Thanksgiving for Diversity: from gardens to a sabbath

GOLDEN GATE PARK’S famous Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, California.All this month, we are sharing fresh ideas to celebrate diversity for Thanksgiving. We started this series with a look back to 1621. It’s a simple yet powerful idea in our deeply divided America. Across southeast Michigan for Thanksgiving 2010, interfaith networks of men and women are organizing special community-wide interfaith Thanksgiving services. But, most of our online readers don’t live in Michigan—and we are encouraging you to join in this effort wherever you live, this year.

Thanksgiving for diversity!

Most weeks, this Friendship and Faith website publishes stories about friendships that cross cultural boundaries. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving 2010, we have been publishing women’s thoughts about why we are personally thankful for diversity. Why are YOU thankful for diversity? Email us at [email protected] with your answer to that question!

Reaching into nature for examples of diversity

Today’s photo shows one portion of Golden Gate’s Japanese Tea Garden, which is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States—but this beautiful vision of natural diversity suffered its own tragic loss. Built for a San Francisco World’s Fair in 1894, the garden became a permanent public attraction in 1895. Makoto Hagiwara created the garden’s original design and his family painstakingly cared for it until 1942—when the entire family was forced into an internment camp. The garden was left largely untended and was all but lost to the world. In the late 1940s efforts were made to restore the garden. In the 1950s, it was expanded and dedicated to world peace.


PADMA KUPPA: Homogeneity has never been the crucible of excellence or creativity. Different notes create beautiful music, different colors create beautiful pictures. Immigrants have brought to America a variety of cultures, languages, tastes, and ideas that enrich our understanding; America’s physical landscape makes for amazing lyrics (spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, and the fruited plain) … As I strive to promote pluralism and inclusiveness through my work with Troy-area Interfaith Group, WISDOM and the Hindu American Foundation, I am thankful for the diversity of viewpoints I encounter and the difficult dialogues we undertake, which help me become a more compassionate and empathetic human being.

RAMAN SINGH: I am thankful for Diversity because it gives me an opportunity to see and feel the Divine in so many different people, faiths and ideas. I have been uplifted and inspired by the all the people I have met who are involved in celebrating Diversity. It deepens my spiritual connection with the rest of creation and reminds me to be thankful for the variety and bounty of God’s gifts to us. Diversity is truly Divine.

MOTOKO HUTHWAITE: The reasons I am thankful for diversity go back a long way. Born in Boston, Mass., of Japanese parents, my earliest memory of diversity goes back to when I was three in nursery school. I was borrowed by another nursery school to play with their children. I was dimly aware that being Japanese was a unique distinction and a highly favorable one.
Every few years my brother and I were taken to Japan by my mother to meet grandparents, aunts, uncles and a zillion cousins. Because we were practically the only Japanese family in the Boston area, our house was always filled with Japanese students from nearby colleges so my brother and I spoke and understood Japanese, but our reading and writing left much to be desired. Consequently, when we went to Japan, I was always enrolled in the English-speaking International School of the Sacred Heart Convent in Tokyo. There, my classmates were either children of diplomats, or businessmen who had served abroad, or Eurasians. My best friend was half German and half Japanese. Another one was half Swiss and half Japanese. I grew up in a diverse culture.
During World War II, it was not diversity of race and culture that defined me but being the enemy as a Japanese in America when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and later as an American in Japan after going to Japan on the exchange ship the Gripsholm.
Perhaps the happiest time of my life was when I taught at the American School in Japan after college. There were 34 nationalities in the school and, when I taught a fourth grade class or a high school English class, there would be different races, cultures, and faiths. We got along well and saw each other as individuals, not stereotyped by race or ethnic background or faith.
Some thirty years later, when I came to Detroit to enter the doctoral program at Wayne State, I went church hunting and fell in love with Fort Street Presbyterian Church, not only because of its magnificent architecture and fine classical music, but because of its diversity—not only by race and ethnic background, but economically, socially, theologically, generationally. For one Christmas pageant, Kevin, who played Joseph, happened to be black. Laura, who was Mary, happened to be white. At Fort Street, it was perfectly natural.

When I first attended a World Sabbath service, then became involved with WISDOM and started speaking on the Five Women Five Journeys panels, I felt completely at home. I am thankful for diversity because I always find there is more that unites us than divides us.
Like a bouquet of flowers, I enjoy the different colors. Like the instruments of the orchestra, I love the harmony made by different instruments. I owe my Muslim friends a new appreciation for the importance of regular prayer, regular charity, and assurance of the hereafter. I owe my Jewish friends a stronger assurance that God is our Refuge and Strength and, when I am still, I know He is God. I owe my Hindu friends a new realization that Divinity is present in every object, all creatures, every individual. And so it goes. I am thankful for diversity that enriches and enlarges my faith. Amen and amen.

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As readers, we welcome you to contribute your own stories of cross-cultural friendship. (NOTE: There are helpful tips under “We’d like to publish your story”)

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