Courtesy Hartford Courant, Josiah H. Brown

All content is copyrighted and may not be republished or distributed without permission.  



Wednesday, June 28, 2006










Josiah H. Brown lives in New Haven, where he is associate director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, a partnership between Yale University and the New Haven Public Schools.









Global integration is personal for our family.

My parents married 44 years ago this month. My mother was a German immigrant from a Lutheran background, my father a New Yorker of Jewish descent. In Germany, my mom's father had been an aeronautical engineer and test pilot under the Nazis. My dad's father was an observant Jew. Despite these differences, my parents' relationship has thrived.

In 2004, I married a woman from India whom I'd met in Connecticut. Her family is Muslim. Months later, my brother married a woman he'd met in India; she is Hindu.

Not everyone in my wife's family -- having sought an arranged marriage for her -- rejoiced over our union. Three uncles have yet to acknowledge it.

Still, most of her family embraced me. Our wedding combined Indian and Western dress, Indian food, poems by Emerson and Tagore. We had receptions in New Haven and New Delhi.

A happy consequence -- and a cushion -- of increasing globalization will be more global families. Call this intimate diplomacy. Countries including the United States and Canada have long prospered through immigration. Further weaving together the planet's continents and citizens should be our aim. Love and marriage -- the deepest forms of trade and investment -- complete the tapestry.

Scholars such as Orlando Patterson advocate marriage across cultures. His Harvard colleague Randall Kennedy, a law professor, has written of ``interracial intimacies'' -- and how love should override ``race'' in matters including adoption.

There is value in preserving distinct religions and cultures; members of particular groups can take pride in their shared histories. But proponents of such preservation should be secure enough to accept hybridization, too. Cultures can both continue and create fruitful mixtures. Indeed, genetic diversity has biological as well as social value. As historian Charles Mann notes, ``Few things are more sublime or characteristically human than the cross-fertilization of cultures.''

It's not just conquest that makes us mestizos, to borrow the Latin American term. Trade, education, language, music, food, sport, fashion, electronic media -- each contributes to cultural exchange. Family plays an especially profound role.

Four decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled, in Loving vs. Virginia, that laws against interracial marriage were ``odious to a free people.'' Mr. and Mrs. Loving prevailed, and with them the cause of progress. Loving vs. intolerance is God's way, whatever your race or religion.

My wife and I have a baby daughter, a U.S. citizen who joins the surging population of multiethnic, interfaith Americans. Two percent of Americans over the age of 18 describe themselves as multiracial; that figure doubles for those under 18. Growing acknowledgment of pluro-cultural realities -- which aren't new -- promises to mitigate the narrow, corrosive zeal with which members of specific groups sometimes defend their identities.

The demographic blend trend should not diminish awareness of the discrimination that certain populations have endured. Affirmative action is a necessary transitional measure to equal opportunity and respect for every person. The experiences of former African slaves and their descendants are singular.

Jews have suffered hostility over millennia; maintaining the Jewish religion and culture understandably demands care. Chinese and Japanese Americans faced exclusionary immigration laws and even internment. They and others overcame decades of bigotry. We shouldn't forget these Americans' struggles.

But remembering history, and moving beyond it, aren't mutually exclusive. The melting pot metaphor still resonates, with love heating the pot that economic opportunity and social liberty have shaped.

Our daughter will celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid and the Hindu festival Diwali. She will experience Christmas dinners and Passover seders. Her grandmothers speak to her in Urdu and German, as well as English.

Countering fundamentalist dogmas, the emerging generation will see the flourishing of a humane, eclectic individuality. This ethos is what philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah calls ``rooted cosmopolitanism'' -- an alloy stronger than any contrived cultural purity.

There is enough hatred and terror on earth. Military and economic strength are insufficient in combating these backward-looking dangers. ``Soft power'' matters, as national security specialist Joseph Nye reminds us.

Love is a form of soft power. It is a force for freedom. Its advance can help bring not only people, but also peoples, together toward peace.