Friday, May 7, 2010

Diversity Awareness

In my many years in Corporate America, I sat through countless hours of “Diversity Awareness” training. This involved someone who wouldn’t know diversity if it bit them on their backside telling me that I should respect everyone, regardless of sex, race, or gender, and that transgenders use the restroom at McDonald’s to avoid being found out. I think a much more effective method of teaching diversity awareness would be to take all of the participants to a nearby ethnic market or restaurant.

I, for one, love the ethnic markets. My all-time favorite is the Pacific Ocean Marketplace in Broomfield, CO. Like all good Asian markets do, the POM smells like decaying fish, a smell that, when you walk through the door, slaps you in the face and calls you Suzy. They sell a mean banh mi, and you can get some good pho at a couple of nearby joints. (For even better pho, head to the area around Federal Blvd and 70th Ave.)

Sadly, the Asian market in Kannapolis closed its doors a few months back, so I have nowhere locally to buy banana ketchup. I have, however, begun frequenting my nearby Latin supermarket. I still go to the American supermarket for things like milk and eggs, but I love the Latin market for everything else. The produce section is larger. The meat section is larger. They have spices I’ve never heard of. Going to an ethnic market is like going to a foreign country, only they sell things like Tide and Charmin. Your typical American supermarket sells items that are neatly wrapped, so you can’t tell what animal, or even part of the animal, that you’re eating. Not so at an ethnic market! Chicken feet? Check. Pigs’ ears? Check. Pork stomach? "Beef bull fries"? Check and check.

My local Latin supermarket also has an impressive produce department, carrying those items that the 16-year old stocker at the American supermarket has never even heard of. In truth, that same 16-year old is probably not familiar with a lot of the items that he’s placing on those shelves. I’ve found carrots as big as my arm. Epazote. Cilantro, 3 bunches for $1. Every kind of pepper that you may need. Sometimes I go in solely to look at the selection. And the cheese! Plus, tell me, where else can you buy frozen yuca and arepas? If you only shop at the traditional American supermarket, you probably don’t even know what those things are.

Why do I think that diversity awareness training would be more beneficial if taught in a venue like this? Because it really is a melting pot. I saw blacks, Asians, whites, and Hispanics at the market today, all just going about their daily business. And it gives us the opportunity to experience and intermingle with other people and cultures in a way that a slideshow in a conference room never will.

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