By Anne Silva
I was reading an article the other day about how a discriminatory US law in 1882 led to an entirely new fusion of cultures and cuisines. Traditional Mexican dishes blended with traditional Chinese fare after an anti-immigration law left many Chinese immigrants stuck on the Mexican side of the US border. Today, these century-old traditions live on and are entrenched in the culture of the region.
What struck me about this was how long-reaching the impact of our everyday decisions can be. I mean, this law passed way back in 1882 is hardly a hallmark of American history. I have to wonder if it was even a big deal at the time for the majority of the country, given how young our country was at the time. But yet, a relatively unremarkable (and, frankly, embarrassingly racist) decision by some dudes in Washington over 130 years ago has led to the cultural identity of an entire group of people. Isn’t that kind of amazing?
On that note, consider the division of South America into Spanish-speaking and non-Spanish-speaking territories. You’ll have to forgive my mediocre attention to historical details, but the gist is this: Spanish and Portuguese explorers were both mucking around on the continent at the same time. They even arrived at almost the same time. So why does so much of the continent speak Spanish? In 1493, the Spanish-born and notoriously corrupt Pope Alexander VI was called on to divide the “New World” between the two colonial powers. So he drew the line of demarcation… and I’d say he missed he halfway point of South America by a little bit, don’t you think? And not on accident: the Catholic Monarchs in Spain were some of his cronies. So today, Brazilians speak Portuguese and Argentinians don’t, all because of a guy trying to get brownie points with his powerful compatriota lobbyists over 500 years ago. Hmmm. Isn’t that kind of incredible? Am I just easily impressed?
Doesn’t it make you wonder what kind of effects our collective cultures will be seeing 100 or 500 years from now? Especially given the exponentially increasing rate at which we interact and communicate, even among us non-popes and non-lawmakers? Will the culture of my school in Colombia be different in the future, even just a little bit, because I was there? Will your students’ kids and grandkids have different cultural practices because of something you did or said? How will your community, your state, or your country be different down the line because of the actions of a few people today? Will you be one of those people?