As a child of suburban Massachusetts and then a student of Carleton College, I must disclose that I am well conditioned to a certain degree of homogeneity. The town I grew up in is almost 95 percent white, which made Carleton, which is approximately 70 percent white, seem relatively diverse. I have spent my whole life in liberal communities, being conditioned to venerate diversity, being taught that diversity, and the freedom to express said diversity, is the bedrock of the United States, a country of immigrants. This rhetoric has further been emphasized in my time at Carleton. As students of Carleton, we understand the value of diversity. We are liberal; we are interested; we are respectful—we are politically correct. We feel uncomfortable with the homogeneity of our liberal arts bubble and thus further emphasize the value of multiculturalism. And multiculturalism is incredibly valuable. But we must understand that our understanding of multiculturalism is an incredibly privileged one.
I, for example, like many Carleton students have the privilege of studying abroad. I think that Carleton students typically go abroad specifically for an experience of cultural immersion, to become themselves more multicultural through the understanding of a new culture. I have been in Argentina for the past two months attempting to master a foreign culture. I have been following the liberal multicultural mission, but the cultural lessons I have learned in Argentina have been different from what I expected.
Argentina is 97 percent Caucasian. Argentina is 92 percent Catholic. This exotic country is more homogenous than the two sheltered rural towns where I have spent the first 20 years of my life. However, I have never heard a single Argentine comment on the homogeneity and the lack of diversity in their country; they do not seem to notice. Multiculturalism and the idea of diversity -- such an omnipresent discourse, the source of innumerable arguments debates and celebrations, a huge and troublesome topic in the United States -- is, in reality, not even a consideration here in Argentina.
Here is the thing though, if you talk to an Argentine and even intimate that is even slightly possible that Argentina is, as a country and a populace, culturally lacking you will be emphatically and vehemently rebuked. The absence of multiculturalism does not signify a lack of culture. Argentines and the residents of Buenos Aires especially believe that Buenos Aires and Argentina in general is a cultural mecca and enclave in South America. I am struck everyday by the amount of cultural pride the people of Buenos Aires exhibit. Argentines are proud of Jorge Borges and Antonio Berni. They are proud of their fútbol teams, of Messi and Madonna and the fact that sports in Argentina are a passion not an industry. They are proud when people from all over the world come to see the opera or the ballet or the philharmonic at their beloved Teatro Colón. They are self-identified people of passion. They eat red meat because it tastes good and drink red wine because it feels good. They are blissfully culturally secure. Their Argentine pride is distinctly cultural rather than nationalistic. They can feel this pride because they are so incredibly secure in their cultural identity, because they do not let their lack of diversity dampen their culture.
Argentines are proud and content to embody a unilaterally catholic and European culture. They follow their traditions and passions regardless of any considerations of diversity or multicultural awareness. Let me be clear, in many ways this attitude is problematic. When it comes down to it homogeneity is not only deeply problematic but also just less nuanced and stimulating than diversity. Some Argentines can be racist and classist and just generally ignorant; their acceptance of their own singular hegemonic culture often alienates and discourages the existence and expression of different and equally rich cultures.
But perhaps, it is worth considering that the fact that they are so much less preoccupied with multiculturalism allows them to actually be more cultured. Ideally diversity and culture exist symbiotically, diversity creating a rich and complex culture and culture fostering diverse thoughts and expressions. But perhaps the insecurities Carleton feels concerning its own homogeneity are hampering Carleton’s ability to truly create and embrace its own culture.
Please understand me, the culture of Carleton should embrace all of Carleton’s diversity, be it ethnic, religious, cultural, sexual, socioeconomic or political. But multiculturalism is about celebrating, fostering and strengthening an identity that is all-inclusive, not about obligatory and hollow acknowledgements of diversity or lack there of. Carleton should be proud of its multicultural identity. Carleton needs to stop saying, and start doing. Culture isn’t just a convocation or campus dialogue or extracurricular group. Culture is a lifestyle, a vibe, an aura that Carleton needs to cultivate, emanate, and proliferate. Culture should be a passion not a consideration. Culture should be a practice not a discourse.