Pamela Atkinson is a community advocate for unity and a member of the Alliance for Unity. She works in behalf of the homeless and poor. Currents spoke with her in 2003 about tribalism in Utah.
When you look at the west side of Salt Lake, you see there are areas of little tribes, areas unofficially called Little Mexico or Little Bosnia, for instance. As the refugees come here, the agencies try to keep them together.
We're now getting families from Somalia--Bantus. In their own country they were treated in a way that is inconceivable to us. I worked with a family from the Sudan; they were in an apartment complex with Sudanese, which helped their level of comfort in a strange country.
What we're getting are subcultures and sub-subcultures--with a way of living that is foreign to other cultures in Salt Lake. It isn't any different than historically. There's an outcry in West Valley about people parking on the lawn. But you must understand the cultures. The cars are their property, and they feel the need to have them close to the house for protection.
However, I have found on the west side teachers who are helping students understand each other's cultures. They understand that what is right in one culture may not be seen as right in another. The teachers are helping children understand where people come from, why they do what they do, that you may not agree with them but still can respect people from different cultures.
This morning I went out on the Homeless Outreach van. Even among the homeless there are different groups, and I continue to learn from many homeless friends.
Mormon - non-Mormon is the big division in Utah. I'm an elder in my church. My Mormon friends have a hard time with that, because in their church only men are elders.
To overcome divisiveness, I look for commonalities. I find many similarities between LDS values and my values. If one concentrates on commonalities, difficulties take care of themselves.
People can allow disagreements over issues to interfere with relationships. If you disagree in a way that disrespects a person, you are letting issues interfere with relationships. You can continue to respect another even if you disagree.
I'm appalled at how people from Arab countries, citizens of the U.S., were treated after 9/11. I'm appalled at how people make judgments based on skin color, accent, and clothes.
One of the big mistakes we make is that we don't learn from history. When I read about what happened to Native Americans in this country, I think it's still happening--people saying, "If you don't like it, you can leave." There are so many lessons to be learned from the fighting that went on in the past.
One of the main reasons for teaching history in school is so people can learn from the mistakes we made and vow not to make the same mistakes.
People talk about diversity. To me, diversity is one of the components of an umbrella of unity. It's only when we respect the diversity that has always been a part of this country that we can achieve unity.
Unity is respect for one another regardless of race, creed, culture, and religion. Learning from one another is so important. Helping others, regardless of where they may be from, is essential. We need to allow other people to help us learn and grow. One of the most important components of giving is to allow others to give to us!
There's a saying: Nobody's born a bigot. It's learned. Children make friends with children who look very different from them.
We need to learn from children and reach out to one another. They have always accepted each other, until they learn from adults not to, when they hear disparaging remarks about color and culture.
In several schools I learn about people from different countries and cultures and realize my life has been enriched by people from different countries. I learn from their strength and how they deal with adversity. I think about my childhood, about the terrible times we had with being very poor and the conflicts we had.
However, I meet people from Somalia and the Sudan and I think, "Good gracious, Pamela, you really haven't suffered." I love to reach out and try to make a difference in people's lives because they make such a difference in my life.
Particularly in Utah, I know people who have known each other since preschool or kindergarten. Some have so many friends and acquaintances that there is no room for new ones. But the new friends may be the ones who enhance our lives. So we need to make room for people who are different than we are
I'm thinking of the Lost Boys from Sudan. One became the valedictorian from Weber State. This was a young man who arrived in North Dakota wearing sandals in the middle of winter.
If you look at the Lost Boys and those who succeeded or who are still struggling, the difference is the people who have stepped in to mentor and help. When people mentor, they need to make sure they aren't preaching but are accepting others as equals, knowing that they too can learn.
I have been seeing a Venezuelan family. They greet me warmly and prepare food from their country. They're from a different tribe; I'm from Great Britain. But they're friends now. That's part of unity--becoming part of one another's families.
If we had more unity, there would be less criticism, less backbiting, more groups who are different getting together and having a great time. When tough issues come up there would be healthy discussion and compromises. We would get rid of bigotry, hatred, and paranoia.
Taking advantage of other people would disappear. Cheating on others would disappear. We'd be more open and frank in our discussions. If we are unified, everyone will see themselves and others as equal--no one is superior, no one is inferior.
We just have different roles in life.