Last summer at age 83, my mother downsized from a four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom apartment. She loves that her eight-unit cluster includes black, Indian, Middle Eastern and Jewish neighbors.
One day, she noted that someone — she thought it was the Indian couple upstairs — had bought a new car, and that someone had vandalized it. There was a swastika on it, she told me on the phone. She wanted to show her support or call security. She felt uncomfortable that creeps might be hanging around the complex.
When I visited her that Sunday, she showed me the car. Sure enough, there was the swastika, smack in the middle of the hood. I leaned in close and saw grains of rice in the symbol.
I stood up and used my phone to look up “Hindu, blessing, car.”
“Mom,” I told her, “when you see your neighbors, tell them that you see they have a new car and that you see that it has been blessed.”
I had heard about the Hindu blessing ceremony, or puja, at a temple as part of the work by my Michigan State University journalism class on a new guide titled “100 Questions & Answers About Indian Americans.”
The guide is the first in an MSU School of Journalism series on cultural competence. The class is called “Bias Busters.”
The idea is that, if we can answer 100 very simple questions about a culture, religion or ethnicity, we have taken the first small step toward greater understanding.
–Joe Grimm, “‘Bias Busters’ Class Publishes Cultural Competence Guide,” Maynard Institute 5/23/13