The Journey of a Multi-Cultural Family (Part 1)
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
"...Our native American festival is is not a publicity stunt...”
Elizabeth Charles, a granddaughter to the Ojibwa tribe of the Northern United States, cherishes the times she visited the reservation in Northern Wisconsin as a child.
“When I would go up there,” Elizabeth remembers, “my grandmother would teach me a lot about the value and the beliefs of the tribe, and we’d also participate in a lot of the annual activities and festivals.”
Growing up in small-town, Marengo, Illinois, she loved any opportunity to travel, learn, and participate in her Native American heritage. One September in her early teen years, she traveled up to the Bad River reservation to celebrate the Minaman (wild rice) festival. Raising her camera to take a picture, Elizabeth distinctly recalls when another woman from the reservation approached, speaking in a tone of condemnation. “This is not a publicity stunt,” the woman told her. Fair-skinned and blonde-haired, Elizabeth is familiar with the barriers formed by assumptions.
“She probably looked at me and thought, ‘oh, you’re a white person, infringing on this tradition of ours,” she reflects. She was an outsider. Although they shared a heritage, this woman’s perception of Elizabeth created an immediate barrier between them.
“It was an interesting interaction,” she says. Her own appearances could not testify to her identity. But instead of creating divisions in her life, these experiences taught her that culture is shaped by something deeper than one’s physical appearance.
Later on, after years in Marengo, Elizabeth excitedly anticipated moving to Chicago for college. Aware of her own unique identity, she craved a more diverse setting. Incidentally, or perhaps by fate, it was during college that Elizabeth met and began dating Maurice Charles, her now husband.
Maurice’s parents are from Trinidad and Tobago, an island in the West Indies. “My parents come from a place that is very culturally diverse and accepting and even celebrating of diversity,” Maurice explains, “I grew up eating a lot of different types of food, I’ve got aunts and uncles of all different types of looks, I’ve got family members that speak all types of languages from all over the world.”
The experience of dating and marriage as a biracial couple further shaped Elizabeth’s understanding of the beauty of each person’s individual story.
Coming from different backgrounds and upbringings, “we can understand each other’s differences and embrace those and actually work together to become a stronger unit,” she says. “You know, together, I have such a rich life with Maurice in it. How different of a human he is. There are so many similarities but there are many differences. It is so rich to experience.” Now with a one-year-old son, Elizabeth and Maurice want him to know and be proud of the rich cultures he comes from.
“Different cultures think about things differently, process things differently, you have to be able to listen,“ Elizabeth says, in order to truly understand.
Elizabeth has always strived to understand and participate in the lives of others, unafraid, setting an example for those around her in the process. She has never led a life characterized by conformity, but has always allowed differences in with open arms. You do not simply “pass through” Elizabeth’s life, because she seeks to experiences life with you.
“You have the ability to experience a much more full life and experience just by choosing to participate and listen to somebody else’s story,” she concludes. “Even if you’re the same color, we all have different stories. Embrace diversity and allow that to enrich your life.”
Elizabeth Charles | Human Being
Written by Abi Floresca