01/28/2014 05:28 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2014

Why We Should Respect All Cultural Celebrations

It's the beginning of 2014, and this may be a good time to begin raising awareness about how we celebrate our numerous ethnic holidays throughout the year. Each and every American today stands on the shoulders of courageous, hard-working ancestors who came here from another country, some under great duress, bringing their cultures with them.

Each of us is justifiably proud of our culture and heritage, and we deserve to see them respected, if not honored. Unfortunately, that was not the case on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when members of the State University of Arizona chapter of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity threw an "MLK Black Party." The party was reminiscent of days back in the '50s, when white people painted their faces black and put on "minstrel" shows. Surely we've put that sort of thing behind us! Or not.

The insults have already started for St. Patrick's Day, though it's not even March. Getting a head start on the holiday's commercialization, Bed, Bath & Beyond keyed in to the ignorantly popular excuse of "celebration" of Irish culture with drunken binges. The degree to which Irish people see such misrepresentation as erroneous, degrading and insulting cannot be overexpressed. Thanks to pressuring by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Bed, Bath & Beyond has withdrawn their objectionable items and apologized to the Irish community.

About the Irish: First of all, it's "St. Paddy's Day," not "St. Patty's Day." Second, Irish people typically don't celebrate by getting falling-down drunk; that's an invention by non-Irish who look for an excuse to binge in the form of insulting, degrading "fun."

The culture and history of Irish people is that of hard work and progress despite unimaginable obstacles and prejudice. Cultural and other contributions of Irish people are certainly memorable: in politics (22 U.S. presidents), in literature (James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, to name a few), in music, and in so many other fields.

In addition to MLK Day, Black Heritage Month and St. Patrick's Day, throughout the year in America we're also anticipating Chinese New Year, Eid, Hanukkah, Diwali, Buddha's Birthday and numerous other ethnic observations.

Because my heritage is Irish, I plan to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with family and friends, perhaps beginning with Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King, filled with overtones to Ireland's patron saint, followed by a reception with local Irish entertainers.

In the evening, I'll have friends and family over for a sumptuous Irish dinner followed by storytelling, songs, laughter, music, and poetry reading in front of the fire. And when it's time to wind down, we'll cap it off with Irish coffees, and everyone will go home filled with another celebration's happy memories.

So, please, everyone, let's be aware of how we celebrate our own and each others' cultural holidays according to the highest common denominator, expressing the best of us all. If we don't know much, or anything, about others' celebrations, it's easy to research them online and then find a local event. Perhaps we can even join in whenever we see an opportunity; let others know we appreciate their heritage as well as our own. After all, we are all Americans, and we wouldn't be here if all those before us hadn't led the way.