State Delegate Peter V. R. Franchot on the Importance of Multiculturalism

"We do not need rhetoric which pits "us" versus "them," and --with all due respect to Governor Ehrlich --we do not need the basis for our cultural diversity dismissed as 'crap'."
Takoma Park, Maryland; May 11, 2004--Maryland Delegate Peter V. R. Franchot made the following remarks at a specially called press conference on the subject of multiculturalism:
Good afternoon. I am truly pleased to be here at the Long Branch Community Center, joined by this impressive group of elected officials and civic leaders. Given the time of day and the busy schedules all of us manage, I find it encouraging that so many local and state leaders found the time to be here.

We stand here today with a profound sense of concern, and with a high level of frustration, over remarks that have been directed to Maryland’s immigrant communities over the past week. What began six days ago as a poorly conceived castigation of a food service worker has--thanks to Governor Ehrlich and the power of right-wing talk radio--evolved into a divisive public debate over the virtues of a multicultural society.

For those of you who may not listen to WBAL-AM --a substantial percentage of those in attendance today, I suspect --here is what Governor Ehrlich had to say about the concept of multiculturalism: "I reject the idea of multiculturalism. Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk [emphases mine], you run into a problem. There is no such thing as a multicultural society that can sustain itself."

Folks, it's hard to know where to begin. The opinions voiced here by Governor Ehrlich go beyond irresponsible. They are far worse than misguided. Barstool rhetoric like that spouted by Governor Ehrlich has the power to divide people in our society by the color of their skin, the nation of their birth and the rituals of their faith. In a nation of immigrants, such comments cannot be accepted.

They violate the grand traditions of sanctuary, tolerance and opportunity that have made American shores an enduring aspiration for people throughout the world.

They insult the very legacy of this great state, which was founded upon the principles of religious freedom and, through the years, has nurtured and sustained one of our nation's most racially and ethnically diverse populations.

Finally, those remarks betray a lack of understanding of one fundamental fact --that, far from being a problem, the great diversity that exists here in the State of Maryland is its greatest strength.

By simply spending a few days in my legislative district, Governor Ehrlich would come away with a far better understanding of what immigrants mean to our society. You would observe the business owners, entrepreneurs and workers who work ungodly hours, often under difficult conditions, to create a better life for their families. Far from being a problem, they are the lifeblood of Maryland's economy.

You would probably be able to find children dancing to traditional music from the three regions of El Salvador. You would be able to buy evocative works of Ghanaian sculpture, browse through the works of Vietnamese writers, then grab dinner from an authentic Jamaican restaurant. This wonderful convergence of cultures has done more than "sustain itself," as the Governor put it. It has made us an exceptionally cosmopolitan state, and has elevated the quality of our discourse and public debate.

Unfortunately, we also face urgent challenges. We still have immigrants struggling to climb out of poverty without the basic tools of opportunity --education, affordable housing, reliable public transportation or decent health care. We have parents working around the clock to provide for their children, while wondering where their own next meal will come from. We have housing tenants and wage earners who don't know their protections under the law, and are too intimidated to ask. Tragically, we have people that have been awakened from sleep by the sounds of gunfire in their neighborhoods.

These are serious, life-defining issues, and we must come together to identify ambitious solutions that work. We do not need rhetoric which pits "us" versus "them," and --with all due respect to Governor Ehrlich --we do not need the basis for our cultural diversity dismissed as "crap." I call upon the Governor to rescind his remarks and to join us in creating a climate of opportunity for all Maryland residents.

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This story was published on May 12, 2004.