KUHF-Houston Public Radio's "This I Believe" with John Burke

John F. Burke moved to Texas from Pennsylvania in 1985. Since then, the Professor of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas has blended the many cultures of his youth in Pennsylvania with those of his new homeland of Texas. Professor Burke says his experience is similar to many of us living in the Houston area and the resulting diversity is a great reward.

Professor Burke also directs the Social Justice Studies Program and the Rev. William J. Young Social Justice Summer Institute at UST. He's published several articles on political theory and multicultural relations in several journals and periodicals. John also has a love of music and is the Music Director at Assumption Catholic Church in Houston.

Here's John Burke with her essay for Houston Public Radio's This I Believe.
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"I believe that the gifts of diverse cultures enrich both personal and community life and that we can find the courage to "cross borders" by drawing upon rather familiar experiences.

For the past two decades, I have lived and worked in Houston, Texas a cosmopolitan city whose intersecting cultures has been further magnified by evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and by immigrants from Latin American, Asia, and from all corners of the world.

As much as I have studied diversity issues as a social scientist and as a church leader, I believe my fascination with diversity derives from a locale quite distant…Bethlehem, Pennsylvania a former steel town founded by the Moravian religious community.

Growing up in Bethlehem during the 1960's and 70's, I was an Irish Catholic who attended public schools, participated in Cub Scout groups at Lutheran and Methodist churches and inhaled the atmosphere of Pennsylvanian "Dutch" or German culture. The Moravian spirit of ecumenism was pervasive.

As much as Texas seemed exotic when I arrived in 1985, I came to realize that this ecumenical upbringing had prepared me well for this Tierra nueva or new homeland. Although endless summers of sultry days replaced icy, frigid winters and enchiladas and tamales rather than sauerkraut and dumplings became my staple diet, crossing this frontera or border was more a difference of degree than kind from the Catholic-Protestant, Irish-German intersections of my youth.

For example, I direct my church choir practices bilingually. I initiate practice with just the English group, turn to bilingual music once the Spanish group arrives, and then conclude practice with just the Spanish group. Gradually, these diverse choir members have come to realize that they have more in common than they have different.

In public presentations on diversity, I illustrate my past heritage by displaying a Pennsylvania German hex sign with a beautiful large green shamrock superimposed on stylized birds and flowers. Frankly, I need to add jalapenos and bluebonnets to that design to accent the positive impact that Texas cultures have had on my life.

Especially given the current hostility against immigrants and the insistence on building walls rather that bridges between cultures, my life experiences from the Delaware River to the Rio Grande suggest it is better to err on the side of too many border crossings than too few."

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Paul Pendergraft

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Paul Pendergraft is KUHF-Houston Public Radio’s Senior Producer for News & Public Affairs...