Youth Matters: Teen Center Diversity Project

Teens create art as part of The Diversity Project at the Los Alamos Teen Center. Courtesy/JJAB

Editor’s note: This column is sponsored by the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. Columns appear periodically with the goal of informing parents and the community about issues that impact local youth and their families.

 

Youth Matters
Teen Center Diversity Project
By KIM PULLIAM
iCare Program Director, YMCA

Los Alamos residents have a unique opportunity to truly embrace diversity. Our state is well-known for its diverse cultures, and Los Alamos County itself contains the most internationally diverse population in New Mexico. To embrace and celebrate the idea of diversity in our daily interactions, reactions, thoughts, and feelings, the existence of diversity and its place in our lives must be recognized and addressed within us and among us.

This process of recognition and reflection in regards to diversity has been taking place at the Los Alamos Teen Center. For the past couple of weeks, these teens have taken part in an art and discussion project called “The Diversity Project,” which is a program facilitated by the Y Earth Service Corps and funded by JJAB. Teen participants of The Diversity Project have been immersing themselves in art projects focused on the topics of difference, inclusion, and acceptance. They’re able to describe and depict their own unique backgrounds and attributes, and they’re able to see those of others as well.  

The atmosphere of The Diversity Project has been highly positive and has truly exposed a group of individuals in this town who find joy in their own peculiarities, joy in the uniqueness of others, and joy in the diversity of the group as a whole. They are making an effort to examine the realities of the difficulties of living with difference, yet they understand that the benefits of diversity prevail over the difficulties.

One young individual in particular, Julia Swierzewska, a participant in The Diversity Project and a junior at LAHS, has especially voiced her enthusiasm for the differences that she witnesses in those around her each and every day.

Swierzewska is an exchange student from Poland, giving her a unique experience and perspective in regards to the diversity that we have right here in Los Alamos. When she arrived in Los Alamos, she found herself shocked at all of the different cultures represented in this one town. Not only is she enamored by the different cultures here, but she finds herself astounded by the ways that people within the “same culture” can act in such individually unique ways, dress in unique ways, and live their lives in unique ways.

Swierzewska describes her excitement in meeting so many diverse kinds of people here and learning about even their “simple” differences “like the way that they bake and eat.”  When confronting the more striking differences in others, Julia takes a stance from which we all can learn.

“I try to understand these things. I like to learn about these things not only from the people themselves, but I like to research the culture and the background that they come from.” She said. “That way, I can try to understand it. I think about it all and I think, that’s his thing- that’s his culture- I can’t judge it.  If you’re open, you can see it and understand it better.”

What a great reminder these youth provide for all of us. When confronting differences- whether differences in culture, ethnicity, spirituality, abilities, lifestyles, socioeconomic status, or age- an attitude of openness will be the attitude that allows us to truly appreciate the strength that we have in the diversity of this town.

Similar to the process that these youth are undertaking in The Diversity Project, through conscious reflection, introspection, and discussion about the difficulties of diversity as well as the excitement of diversity, together, we can create at least one kind of unified culture in Los Alamos: a culture of acceptance and inclusion in response to diversity.

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