Imagine this: You travel to France to finally fulfill a life-long dream of visiting Paris, the City of Lights and Love. Oh-lah-lah!
Your excitement comes crashing down when the Parisians – the very people you once idealized, those you used to read about and see in the movies wearing hip sweaters and trendy scarfs – won’t give you the time of day. On the contrary, at the mere detection of your place of origin (painfully obvious by the baseball cap, shorts, and laced up tennis shoes you’re wearing) will act as if you’re something they must scrape in disgust off the sole of their stylish boots… just because you are an American.
“What is wrong with these people?” You wonder in a haze of shock, bewilderment and honest indignation, “and what right do they think they have to mess up my trip with their horrible attitude towards me – an innocent and complete stranger!
It sounds so infuriatingly unfair! Because it is.
Unfortunately, my fellow American friend, you are not alone. You’ve just joined the ranks of those minorities, defined by moi, as “a group of people within a larger group that is different, and which differences cause said smaller group to be misjudged, misunderstood, and at times even mistreated.”
I, too, joined the ranks almost 30 years ago when I moved to this beautiful country. Call me ignorant or naïve, but I was completely taken aback by the way some people treated me just because I had been born in a different country, didn’t know the rules of the game, and had a thick accent.
Since I tend to be a people pleaser, instead of angry, their treatment made me feel sad and confused. “Why would they reject me when they didn’t even know me or the type of person I was?” I wondered so many times. “What if they knew that I came from a highly educated and accomplished family and that I, too, had a college degree? What if they knew I’d lived very comfortably in my parents’ home back in Guatemala, and that I had had a chance to travel extensively before I moved to the U.S.? What if they knew that I had visited this country numerous times before, and that each time I was lucky enough to have come, not by foot through a hot desert, but by airplane and with a tourist visa?”
Yes, it’s true that as with most Latin-American immigrants I still struggle with the language and rarely show up on time to most engagements. But just like as many of my fellow Latinos, I also put a great value on family, hard work, fun, traditions, and friendship.
I don’t know if knowing these things would actually change some people’s views about me. In some cases it never will, because these people won’t take the time and interest it’d take to get to know me. Instead they choose to rely on their preconceived ideas of what people who look, act and sound like me must be like – at least in their small, closed-up minds.
Thankfully I’m not bitter. I love the American people and consider myself fortunate to have become one. I just think it’s incredibly sad that we as a nation have allowed our prejudices to keep us apart. Worse yet, we’ve allowed our differences to tear and divide us, instead of embracing the richness they could provide.
Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35, NIV) We cannot change the heart of an entire nation, but we can start with our own. What if we committed ourselves to loving one another, showing patience, kindness, understanding and respect to everyone, no matter the color of their skin, their place of origin, or how uncomfortable we think their differences might make us feel?
Maybe we could be the spark that starts a bright, wonderful fire of change that spreads through our neighborhoods, towns and cities; reaching far beyond our nation – who knows? – even all the way to Paris?