Recently I had an opportunity to share my proposal for this cultural art project with a local business owner whose primary marketing language includes the word culture. I was encouraged by her positive response and delighted she agreed to sponsor me. But not long after I began sharing my vision with her, in her excitement, she interrupted me—just the once—to say, “So you’re putting a face to diversity—got it.”
Putting a face to diversity is a very good description of what I’m proposing here because it’s precisely what I am doing. But it certainly isn’t the only way to describe what I hope to accomplish over the coming months. I hope it’s just as confrontational as it is beautiful; just as uncomfortable as it is necessary; and altogether witness-bearing. The idea to photograph every language spoken in our metroplex should be needless. This project could have been prevented by open-mindedness, civility, and neighborliness. Nevertheless, Beside(s) Me aims to feature a single portrait for every language spoken in the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex.
For some, this project will be confrontational; worldviews will be encroached upon by a new reality. Others will be uncomfortable. Having believed themselves mindful of our cultural diversity, they may find they are unable to easily reconcile a burgeoning sense of personal unrest. Yet despite what may be taken as two negatives, I hope this will be a witness-bearing moment for everyone who visits each portrait. That we all will be compassionate observers of cultural diversity; that we will begin realizing the dignity in our neighbors; that we will be happy living among us.
This isn’t all about language but rather what language points to—culture. With every language comes different behaviors, different traditions, and different ways of interpreting life. This exhibit certainly is about who is here. But more than that, it’s about the people behind the differences. And even more so, it’s about how we might become more culturally aware, civil, and openhearted.