Walking through the farmer’s market this past Saturday was both a colorful and reaffirming experience for me. I had strolled past the fragrant stalls many times over the years, but on this particular Saturday I wasn’t admiring the vibrant assortment of produce. It wasn’t the sweet scent of blushing peaches that caught my attention, or the golden honey beckoning with its amber warmth, or even the blackberries, sparkling like so many jewels in the light filtering through the market’s canopy. This time I was watching the colorful array of people.
Over the past few days I had become rather discouraged by the human race. I had attempted (and failed) to convince a handful of extraordinarily narrow-minded people, that helping rebuild the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes that had been destroyed in Israel, was an act of kindness, a moral obligation, the right thing to do. They were more concerned with religious beliefs and affiliations than with helping their fellow man, and would only assist those who shared in their faith. I was astounded.
I was also sickened by the likes of Donald Trump, spouting hateful vitriol as he maligned an entire culture in one after another ignorant remark, a crowd of enthusiastic supporters waving him on in the background. I could not believe we were of the same species.
And despite the heart-warming decision to finally allow individuals to marry those they love so they too could share the precious bond so many of us are privileged to have, it was difficult to shut out voices still steeped in hatred stemming from a fear of that which they do not understand and thus threatens their way of life.
Yet there in the small strip of space taken up by vendors and customers alike, I began feeling a bit more positive despite the lack of humanity from which our world still suffers. While our fair city is not as diverse as I would like it to be, we are a fine example of tolerance and human kindness, perhaps because of the sheltered space in which we live. Sitting on the low stone wall enjoying the Saturday morning sunshine, Faith Ndama, a student from Liberia studying biological sciences and psychology at UC Davis, told me that while the town itself did not feel very diverse compared to Fairfield where she previously lived, the campus certainly did. A few moments later I spoke with Miriama Satala, a woman from Fiji who used to live in Spokane, Washington and finds Davis much more accepting. “I love it here!” she enthusiastically declared as she posed for a picture, her pink top as vibrant as the wares behind her. Just a few steps more and I found myself standing in front of a table covered in an assortment of breads, among them the familiar Challa bread, the kind I used to make with our children, sesame seeds sprinkled across their domed backs like so many freckles. Behind this tempting display stood a young woman in a hijab, who after introducing herself as Maria Sandhu, shared that she had moved to the States from Pakistan when she was two years old and had been the only student in a hijab in her class at DSHS, where she felt accepted by everyone she knew. When I asked her employer, Trudy Kalisky, owner of the Upper Crust Bakery, how she felt about diversity in Davis, there was no hesitation as she told me that diversity, “…is what made us strong as a nation. What everyone wants is a good life for themselves and a better one for their children. We’re all made up of sweat, blood and tears.”
I made my way out of the market and past couples walking hand in hand, families laden with children and fresh vegetables, wide-eyed toddlers waiting for the clown to breathe life into their balloon animal creations. I could still hear the faint notes of the Klezmer ensemble as I walked toward Cloud Forest Cafe to join my husband for a cup of coffee. I chatted with barista Paola Monrroy, who said she found people here, “…in our own little bubble” very friendly, and that …”Davis had good vibes.” Hailing from the Bay Area, her co-worker, Lauren Turner does not find us that diverse, but enjoys meeting, “lots of international students” who make their way from campus into the coffee shop.
As we sat on the patio of the cafe, I mulled over the many faces I had come across in the span of an hour. I recalled The Colors of Us, a book my daughter once loved when she was still at that age when color, and religion and gender simply don’t matter. That age when we are so easily capable of appreciating and accepting each other just the way we are, our eyes looking beyond the superficial and into what counts and connects us, the heart. That evening when I went searching for it, the book was still on my daughter’s shelf, well-worn from the hundreds of times she chose it as her bedtime story. I thumbed through its pages, reacquainting myself with its main character Lena, who is taught by her mother to admire the variety of individuals in her life, “each one of them a beautiful color” (The Colors of Us, Karen Katz). It was a celebration of diversity, the very idea I saw demonstrated that morning by people who still saw the world the way it is intended to be seen, in all its spectacular color.