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My View: Grandfather's influence opens doors to other cultures

By Barbara Burgett

My grandfather was a very accepting person. I don’t know if it was because his family immigrated from Italy to America or that his wife was also an immigrant, who came from Poland.
It could have been because he saw the atrocities humans did to other humans when he liberated concentration camps during World War II.

After the war, he worked with an African-American man. He would invite his friend over for sauce on Sundays. Every time his friend would get off the bus and start walking to my grandfather’s house, he would be arrested just for being the wrong color. My grandfather would get a call from the police station and he would have to get him out of jail. Afterwards, they would enjoy dinner together. My grandfather would never allow anyone to say the word “retard” even though that was a common term used many years ago.

I believe this is the reason I’m so accepting. The lessons I have learned from him have stayed with me my whole life. I celebrate Christmas, but I am always excited to watch the Menorah being lit as each day of Hanukkah passes. One of the third-graders I was teaching explained to me about fasting during Ramadan because she was unable to have a snack with the other students.

For the last two years, I have been a substitute teacher. One of my favorite things I have seen as I travel to the different schools are the different cultures that each classroom has. I have been lucky to be at the schools when they have cultural days. During the cultural day, I learned more about Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. I found out about the celebration of Diwali and the Chinese New Year. I discovered why in the Sikh religion the men keep their hair long. Everything I have learned, has given me a deeper understanding of all the wonderful cultures that share the Earth.

When I am in the high schools, I see signs to join the LGBT group. No more is there a secrecy that has to be kept and each student can be who they were born to be without condemnation. One of my favorite schools to substitute has a large population of Native American students. I get the honor of seeing the Native American culture celebrated every day. There is a Native American study class that all students participate in. I love watching the dancers at assemblies perform century old dances. The display cases hold their items that were part of their heritage. This is a far cry from when society would tear families apart and send them to schools to have their belief system eradicated.

All four of my children have friends of different cultures. I have always enjoyed when the friends come over because it is great having the diversity under one roof. One night, my oldest daughter had a party. We had every religion represented at the house. One of her friends is even an Atheist. I made different foods to accommodate everyone’s diet restrictions. As I watched all the girls laughing and enjoying themselves, I thought to myself, this is how the world should be. Not one girl looked at the other and thought they were superior or threatened by the other’s beliefs. They saw each other as friends, just girls who liked each other.

A few years ago, I went back to school to become a teacher. I wanted to instill a love of learning among my students, but on this journey, I am enjoying being taught by all the wonderful children.

Barbara Burgett of Williamsville enjoys learning about people from different cultures.

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