During his inauguration, President Barack Obama spoke of the strength of our "patchwork heritage," describing America as "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers... shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth." Weeks later, these words still reverberate within me.
Perhaps, because, like my country, I too am a product of a "patchwork heritage"-- purposefully shaped by many cultures, molded by many languages.
I spent monsoon summers in Bombay, watching my aunts bargain for glass bangles and silk saris at bustling bazaars. I enjoyed warm winters with my maternal grandparents in Indonesia. Rather than a bowl of cereal, I woke up to a steaming bowl of spicy fried rice topped with an over-easy egg. I cherish my memories of lazy afternoons in Spain, taking a siesta on the cool tile floor alongside my paternal grandparents.
I've worshipped in Catholic churches, Islamic mosques, and temples both Hindu and Buddhist. I've grown up with an agnostic mother, a meditating father, and everything else in between. I am who I am precisely because of my "patchwork heritage."
But even in my day-to-day life in Boston, as a foreign rights liaison at Beacon Press, I see President Obama's words materialize. I bear witness to the steps the international publishing community is taking to embrace other cultures and promote tolerance.
Beacon books have been translated into dozens of languages. They've reached the gilded corners of China, the dense jungles of Suriname. Our words travel, our books have legs. And I believe, in some way, they are part of a global discourse.
The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Israel's leading intellectual center for advanced learning, recently purchased Hebrew language rights to American-Palestinian author Rashid Khalidi's book The Iron Cage. The Institute will no doubt use the book, an exploration of Palestinian history and politics, as a tool to gain a deeper understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Soon after selling Hebrew rights to Arab-American author Laila Halaby's novel West of Jordan, a glowing full-page review ran in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Halaby's story of the struggles endured by four cousins offers readers a glimpse into the Arab world and its rich culture-- a glimpse, and book, now accessible to many Jewish readers.
Just as these two Hebrew deals represent a community's desire to draw insight from another culture, our recent Ethiopian and Indonesian deals prove similar.
Within a year, many Ethiopians will be reading Khaled Abou El Fadl's The Place of Tolerance in Islam in their native Oromifa language. There is a real need for this book. It will not end up in bookstores or libraries, but in the hands of teachers, preachers and intellectuals within the Ethiopian Muslim community who are trying to prevent Arab-Wahabi "missionaries" from preaching a much less tolerant form of Islam to the poorer communities. This Beacon book will be used as one means of spreading peace and tolerance, one means of combating violence and ignorance.
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh's The Miracle of Mindfulness will soon make its first appearance in Indonesia. The Zen master's Buddhist teachings of tranquility, awareness and meditation prove that there is a desire in this predominantly Muslim country to embrace other cultures and religions.
Likewise, I am excited for Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith to arrive in Indonesian bookstores. This is a moving memoir about a young Indian-American, Muslim activist striving to counter religious fundamentalism through his interfaith movement. Patel's book, which addresses incidences where religious extremism has led to violence, will particularly resonate with many Indonesians who are witness to the rise of terrorism within their country.
Although seven years have passed since the bombs blasted through a crowded Bali nightclub, I still remember the fear that shrouded my mother's face when we learned of the terrorist attack. Her parents, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews lived in her hometown of Jakarta-- but many holidayed in Bali. While our family was fine, the bombs left behind an ever-present fear of the rise of fanaticism.
And again, this past November, multiple terrorist attacks battered Bombay, home to dear family friends. And this time my loved ones were not all fine; the bombs left behind orphaned children, widowed wives.
Today's conflicts are heavy and deep-seated; they are not black-and-white and they will not be resolved solely through books. But my work at Beacon proves to me that peace is making progress. Every day and every book I help send overseas gives me hope that our collaborative cultures will prevail in harmony.