Every major holiday, I have the same thoughts, thoughts about how a holiday originated and how it transformed from what it used to stand for to a day consisted of barbecues, gift-giving, going to the beach, pigging out, etc. So, of course, with Memorial Day here, I’ve been thinking.
First stop? Wikipedia. Here’s what the all-knowing (obviously) site has to say–
Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, which was first recorded to have been observed by Freedmen (freed enslaved southern blacks) in Charleston, South Carolina in 1865, at the Washington Race Course, to remember the fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War.
While I always knew that Memorial Day was meant to honor deceased war veterans and soldiers, I never knew that it dated back to the Civil War and remembering fallen Union soldiers. This got my mind racing, thinking of more than just the meaning of the holiday today but about race relations today. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come–in a short 40 or so years–from slavery to having an African American (who was, yes, born in America) president. Though we have definitely made progress in that aspect–as well as with the plight of other minorities in America–there is still so much to work on. In college, in jobs, we still see remnants of the pre-1960s area everywhere. Though it’s easy to ignore signs of racism, especially when raised in a very liberal, open society, the truth is, not much has changed in the past few years, maybe even in the past few decades. To bring out a more relevant (to me, at least) and concrete example, I’ll draw from findings of the 2010-11 Associated Press Sports Editor Racial and Gender Report Card (found here). Racial hiring has been up from 2008 to 2010 from a C to a C+, which seems like a good thing, except that the numbers are still devastatingly low for minorities. In 2010, 97% (-3%) of sports editors, 85% of assistant sports editors (+4%) , 86% of columnists (+2%), 86% of reporters (+1%), and 90% of copy editors/designers (-1%) were white from the 320 APSE websites and newspapers studied. Sure, it can be easily argued that interest in the sports journalism business simply isn’t there for minorities, or that they have no desire to serve at top management positions. It can also be said that with the print journalism business slowly declining and the industry facing many financial difficulties, there have been multiple layoffs, regardless of race. But the brutal truth remains the same–there are few minorities in the business, something that doesn’t seem to have changed drastically despite supposed attitude and perception changes in the past several decades. This reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend the other day about stereotypes in college–the typical “Asian premed” versus the “humanities-major Caucasian.” Why is it that more Asians seem to major in science-related subjects, like neuroscience, biology, and chemistry, and plan on going to medical school upon graduation? Why is it that Washington, D.C. and Wall St. are dominated by powerful Whites? What we–both of us minorities, him Indian and I Chinese–came up with might be biased, a view into the mind of minorities from Asian-dominated high schools in Southern California studying at a Southern, predominantly White college. Why are many Asians premed? Because most sciences are merit-based, with usually the best students getting into the best medical schools, regardless of ethnicity, family background, etc. These admissions require strong personal statements, that much is obvious, but the rest is largely based on GPA and an MCAT score. Interviews play an important part, as well, but these interviews pale in comparison to the ones required to even make it to the second round for multiple consulting, finance, and investment banking firms. This ties into why we think Asians tend to not do as well in business or in government–because society still sees Whites as the norm, the ones who are rooted in “American values,” the ones who have not grown up with a language barrier, the ones who are not used a different country’s style and manner of living. Minorities–regardless of where they are from, even if it is America–are still seen as different, as people who don’t entirely understand the American way of life. Of course, not everybody thinks this way, but the values rooted in society are still there. Minorities get surgery to model themselves after the American ideal for beauty–the gorgeous, tall, blonde, White. Though things are still not perfect the way they are today, it wouldn’t be fair to say that America has not made significant steps toward changing this view. It has, it most definitely has. And maybe one day–in the next generation perhaps–when American becomes a minority-majority nation, everyone will be on even footing, and the way one looks, the way one talks, and the way one was brought up will become an advantage, with each person bringing something new to the table.
But all this discussion about race distracts from the main reason I started writing a post in the first place–to express gratitude and appreciation for our war veterans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice for a generation they wouldn’t grow to know, for a future they wouldn’t be a part of, for a country they wouldn’t see develop. These soldiers who choose to leave behind their family, their friends, those closest to them, knowing that at any given moment they could be faced with a life-or-death situation, they are the people who command my deepest respect. They give up so much of themselves based on a hope that as an individual, they can help to make America stronger, safer, and an overall better place to live. They don’t know me personally, or maybe anyone I know, but still, they give their 100%. They have no obligation to do so other than their firm belief in America and securing its future for generations to follow. They owe me nothing, yet they are sacrificing their lives for me. And for that, I owe them everything.
So thank you to everyone, who has ever served, who has ever known anyone who served–happy Memorial Day. I really am so blessed to be living in such a great nation with such great traditions, and such amazing people.