He is wrong, of course. America has always been a multicultural nation. Our music, literature, art, and beautifully varied forms of worship make that clear. They’re all informed by the people who stepped forward to represent their cultures. They shared their experiences of growing up African, Asian, Latinx, Native, gay, bi, or transgendered.
The day after Pompeo made his ridiculous statement, Justice Sonia Sotomayor—the first Latina on the Supreme Court—swore in Kamala Devi Harris as the 49th Vice President of the United States. As Vice President, Harris will represent a whole new realm of possibilities for Black women, Asian women, women who are the children of immigrants, and just simply WOMEN of any color or background.
A woman who has frequently been told it “wasn’t the right time” for her to reach for a new career achievement, Harris simply says, “I eat ‘no’ for breakfast.”
What does it mean to represent?
Harris represents opportunities at the highest levels of government. But, if you look around, you’ll see that it’s important for people to represent themselves and their cultures at every level of society and in every field of endeavor.
Take Omar Thomas, for instance.
Thomas is a contemporary American composer who writes for symphonic and wind ensembles. Equally grounded in classical music and jazz, he has been lauded for bringing a fresh new voice to the stuffy and inbred symphony world.
If you want to meditate on the holy spirit, listen to the first movement of Thomas’ work, Come Sunday. If you want to stand up and dance, listen to Come Sunday’s second movement. Thomas dedicated the work, “To all the black musicians in wind ensemble who were given opportunity after opportunity to celebrate everyone else’s music but our own – I see you and I am you. This one’s for the culture!”
Thomas is far from the first Black American composer, but his impact on classical music caused conductors to re-evaluate music by earlier Black composers. So, for instance, Col. Jason K. Fettig, who conducts the United States Marine Band, slid Black composer Adolphus Hailstork’s Fanfare on Amazing Grace in among the Sousa marches and patriotic standards at the Biden/Harris inaugural ceremony.
Being the First
But what do you do if you are the first?
In 2007, a skinny sixteen-year-old London-born Indian kid had a ferocious argument with his mother. She wanted to take him to an open audition for a new teen drama on British TV. He argued it was pointless because there were no brown faces like his on British TV.
She dragged him to the audition anyway. After that, there was at least one brown face on the telly: his face.
A year later he snagged the lead role in a little indie film everybody thought was going straight to video release. But the movie got great word-of-mouth buzz. By the time he was eighteen, Slumdog Millionaire had ten Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. And Dev Patel’s brown face was plastered across busses and billboards all around the world.
Today, Patel has an ardent fan base throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia. He has begun to break out of the “exceptional Asian” roles. Now he turns up in what he calls “regular dude,” parts. You can catch him in TV shows like The Newsroom, and Modern Love.
Perspective from Dev Patel
Patel is acutely aware of his responsibility to open the way for other non-White actors. “When you get to a place of privilege or success,” he says, “Make sure you send the elevator back down for your friends.”
Because, no matter what Mike Pompeo thinks, we are a multicultural nation. We are a multicultural world.
“We’re talking about humanity,” Patel says. “It’s a story about love. It’s a story about unification and diversity. There is room for stories like that.”
Gratitude for Those Who Represent
We should all be grateful for the Kamalas and Sonias, the Omars and the Devs, who step up to represent their realities. And if you don’t see yourself represented? Maybe it’s time you stepped up, too.
Many thanks to AFP and WION for the photo of Vice President Kamala Harris’ swearing-in. We appreciate American Libraries Magazine and photographer Elena Seibert for the photo of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. We also thank Omar Thomas Music and WASBE for the photos of Omar Thomas.
Many thanks—for their service, their music, and their photo—to the United States Marine Corps Band, and photographer Staff Sgt. Chase Baran. Also, thanks to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, for the photo of the USMC Band. We also thank Africlassical for the photo of Adolphus Hailstork.
We thank MovieKoop for the Slumdog Millionaire movie banner. Thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/Searchlight Pictures, the New York Times, and photographer Dean Rogers for the photo of Dev Patel as David Copperfield. And finally, thanks to Variety, as well as to YouTube for the video, and to photographer Art Streiber for the photo, of Dev Patel and Octavia Spencer.