Author: Hyon O'Brien
We just returned from a two-week tour of Morocco in North Africa. Seventeen of us traveled. All of us were American citizens who came from different states and different backgrounds. However, we all had one thing in common: the Peace Corps. Four had served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco, two in Tunisia, others in Malaysia, Belize, Costa Rica, Korea, Brazil, Mali and Jordan at different times. The remaining four are the spouses of those who served: interestingly, these spouses represented four different countries, Turkey, Korea, Australia and America.
In recent years, the National Peace Corps Association began to sponsor trips to various countries around the globe and we were delighted to find the tour to Morocco. Not only was it a country that we had always wanted to visit, but also it added one more dimension to our regular trips: the opportunity to meet currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers while traveling to different cities in Morocco.
Over the past nearly fifty years during which I have been involved with the Peace Corps (first romantically, then professionally as a Korean language teacher), I have come in contact with many Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. The most consistent traits and characteristics that I have personally observed among these volunteers, no matter which country they served in, is their respect for other cultures, countries, and people.
I have concluded that most of them were open-minded people, to begin with before joining the Peace Corps, but their individual service in a particular host country must have deepened, cultivated and reinforced that inclination and disposition. I have been in constant awe of their great attitude. They are truly wonderful role models for world peace. It is very unlikely wars and conflicts are stirred up and violence inflicted to others by people who consider the well-beings of other countries’ people as important as their own.
So I am dismayed by the current American administration’s approach to immigrants and minorities. I am uneasy to hear the talk of building a wall along the national border between Mexico and the United States, and of a policy of deportation of countless undocumented immigrants whose children may be permanently separated from their parents, as well as deportation of those who grew up here after being brought into the country illegally by their parents as children. The list could go on.
I am saddened and shocked by this turn of events. I grieve at this change in the story that America tells the world. I was naturalized as a U.S. citizen on May 1, 1970, and I have always admired and loved my adopted country because it represented social justice, righteousness and equality for all where the rule of law guarantees human rights and liberties.
Recently I re-read the contents of the poem New Colossus, a sonnet that American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) wrote in 1883 and was cast onto a bronze plaque and mounted inside the pedestal's lower level that established the Statue of Liberty as the greeter of the new immigrants coming to America through the New York harbor.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
What’s happening in America goes against an American value that for many years has been a touchstone of what makes America great.
President Barack Obama urged us to bear in mind that we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.
What about diversity in nature? I was stunned to discover that in the palm tree category alone, there are 2,600 species. Daily I am enthralled to see varieties of seagulls, pelicans, terns, and sandpipers that fly around our beach. Many different wildflowers and plants adorn the path that parallels the shore. Nearly 40 lifeguard huts that line Miami Beach’s miles of shore are designed in the “Miami Modern” (MiMo) style, adding color and liveliness. I see people walking their dogs: they are all different and it provides me with fascinating time to gawk and stare. Indeed it is never flat when I look around my neighborhood. The architectural styles that the houses and buildings have adopted vary while maintaining harmony. I am so glad everything is different and unique.
Mohamed VI, the current King of Morocco, said something that resonates with me. “We need to fight violence and ignorance…. Morocco is built on tolerance.” People’s ignorance is a dangerous hindrance to cultivate diversity. It perpetuates narrow-mindedness that blocks nurturing the different human potentials to thrive and grow.
Diversity is strength, not weakness,
Diversity is prosperity, not poverty,
Diversity is natural, not man-made.
Let’s honor the God-endowed gifts to humanity.
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About the Author
Korean-born Hyon O'Brien is a former Peace Corps language teacher and retired reference librarian. She now lives in the United States after extended sojourns in London, Hong Kong and Seoul. Her monthly column, Thinking Aloud, appears in the Korea Times.