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Guyon: Multi-cultural Arts

07/30/10 5:55PM By Annie Guyon
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(HOST)  Writer and commentator Annie Guyon is continually amazed at the ethnically rich offerings to be found right outside her door, but before moving here, she wasn't too sure what to expect.

(GUYON) For years, Vermont has been ranked #2 on the list of the whitest states in the nation - in terms of population, that is, not snowfall - with Maine being #1.  For someone who grew up in diverse California, where about half my friends, colleagues and neighbors were either black, Asian or Hispanic, this statistic was the only negative thing I learned about Vermont when exploring the possibility of moving here years ago.

I not only worried that my kids might have a narrow view of the world but that - well, for lack of a better way to put it - things might be kinda boring here, culturally.  No disrespect to my own race, you understand, but I'd been spoiled growing up in an ethnically rich environment where, as an immigrant myself, I was an integral part of a vibrant and varied community.

My childhood was peppered with colorful, dynamic influences that were welcome respites from my all too homogenized waspy British home life.  My best friend in grade school was Japanese and every summer she'd take me to Obon Festivals where I was wowed by Taiko drumming, bonsai displays and dancers clad in stunning kimono regalia.  Over the years, I went to a lot of international fairs, with every type of heritage represented, from Native American gatherings and middle-eastern belly dancing to Balinese performers and Brazilian Capoeira demonstrations.  

As an adult, I instinctively gravitated towards multi-cultural experiences, studying yoga, Tai chi, African-Haitian dance and living in San Francisco's largely Hispanic Mission District.

So when planning to move to New England, the one worry I had was whether my kids would be sufficiently enlightened about the world beyond this remarkable, yet racially monochromatic, region. Little did I know, my worries were unfounded.

The day after we arrived here, we were strolling through downtown Bellows Falls when the sound of vigorous percussion came pulsing down the street.  We followed it to a small storefront gallery and walked in just as a Nigerian warrior adorned in striking beadwork began performing a traditional Igbo dance, accompanied by powerful djembe drummers.  My kids, then ages 2 and 4, were transfixed and, to my delight, this introduction to our supposedly non-diverse new home proved to be no anomaly.  

Since then, their childhoods have been just as infused with vivid multi-cultural sensibilities as mine was: they've seen live performances by Mongolian dancers, Ecuadorian musicians, and Abenaki descendants; and original art by Egyptian jewelers, Thai painters and African-American photographers.

With the economy making travel prohibitive these days, it's especially meaningful that my kids can have these experiences right in their own backyard.  A few weeks ago, my daughter's school learned Taiko drumming from a visiting master and performed it at a huge public concert. Needless to say, I was bursting with waspy pride.

And I've learned that regardless what the overall hue of the general populace might be, Vermonters are inviting, inquisitive, worldly and wise - and thirsty to learn about what the rest of the planet calls home.
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