Diversity is one true thing we all have in common…
At the Buddy Program, we introduce the mentor (Big Buddy) to the mentee (Little Buddy) for the first time at the home of the Little Buddy. The moment is full of excitement and nervousness. It is normal and natural to feel a little apprehension about meeting someone for the first time, especially if you are expected to become their trusted friend. Add to that a significant difference in age, in socioeconomic status and racial and ethnic background. Mentors in the Buddy Program are matched with youth who may look and act very differently and whose backgrounds and lifestyles may be dissimilar to their own.
When I met my Little Buddy, Natalie, back in 2002 (ok, she’s 19 now BUT she will always be my Little Buddy!), I was certainly nervous but mostly excited to have the opportunity to share my life with a child from a different culture. (I’m Caucasian and Argentine; she was born in this country – with a Hispanic background.) Yes, we are very different yet we quickly realized how many things in common we had within our own cultures. And that’s the beauty of mentoring – it can help bridge diversity gaps by helping us focus on our similarities and not our differences.
Over 50% of our Little Buddies have a Hispanic background and most of them are matched with a Caucasian mentor Big Buddy. Some of those Little Buddies have recently arrived to this country – an experience that is very challenging. It is common for children of recent immigrants to react negatively to their parents’ insistence that they follow the “old ways.” These children may feel ashamed of their own culture and their traditions; this can be a very confusing time as they try to adjust to a new culture. Big Buddies are instrumental in helping their Little Buddies celebrate the uniqueness of their culture by showing curiosity about the culture of the Little Buddy, participating in cultural traditions, and sometimes even learning a different language! Some Big Buddies attend Aspen Santa Fe Folklorico performances. If you haven’t had the chance to experience these AMAZING performances, I strongly recommend that you do! Big Buddies also learn about their Little Buddies’ traditions which can be so much fun and rewarding – attending your Little Buddy’s quinceañera (a girl’s 15th birthday celebration) can be a fun “culture shock!”
As most of us know, mentoring enhances the lives of everybody involved and the relationship has as powerful an impact on a Big Buddy as it does on a Little Buddy. An important but often forgotten aspect of cultural diversity is the mutuality of the mentoring relationship, which is what we call cultural reciprocity. Big and Little Buddies alike benefit from their increased understanding of others who may at first seem unfamiliar. For the Big Buddy, a greater breadth and depth of understanding of others can facilitate better relationships at work, at home, and in society-at-large. As Little Buddies begin to trust and know their Big Buddies, they also begin to learn about life outside their circle of peers and discover new opportunities and ways of doing things.
The process of sharing your culture with another person gives you an opportunity to introduce them to new exciting things. Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn. I challenge you this month to get out of your comfort zone and develop a good friendly relationship with someone from a different culture. Our lives can certainly be enriched by diversity!