Do I Belong in This America?

February 10, 2014


We were stopped at a stoplight when the truck pulled forward in the lane to our right. It stopped beside the van in front of us and the driver rolled down his window.

A slew a hate was unleashed and screamed through the driver’s window. Lots of the F-word. GO HOME! Illegals. The word Mexican spat out like sour milk.

I could taste the hate in the air.

It happened so fast and so unexpectedly. To our knowledge, no driving transgression had occurred. It felt random and fierce. And of course, not really random at all.

We didn't know how to respond. In person, I would feel some sort of compulsion to step in. But in cars rumbling at a red light, it felt like the only options were to ram them or pray for green.

We frantically rolled up the windows, trying to press out the hate. I looked at the dark-skinned, Latino face in the side mirror of the van in front us. He stared ahead. Tears wet my eyes.

***

I have been empathetic as long as I have known myself. But this goes deeper for me than an “I hurt for you” response.

Witnessing this type of horrible-ness, whether in real life or on Twitter when a child sings the national anthem… it chips away at my soul. It drives a disconnection inside me that makes me feel homeless.

It feels almost inappropriate to say this as a white person. My white skin and my husband’s white skin means we avoid much of this direct racism spewed our way. I am aware of that privilege.

And yet.

I wrote a sentence in my Coke ad post that surprised me: Sometimes I sigh and wonder if living here will ever feel like it “fits” again. I guess I didn’t know that I often feel like I don’t fit.

I resonate with the stories of immigrant children, who wear both cultures but sometimes feel exposed as fitting into neither. I hear the same experiences echoed by missionary kids, recent immigrants or people of color raised in an environment of a different culture.

I don’t want to “steal” their stories or pretend that my experiences are exactly the same. I know that, if I want to, I can blend into majority culture, and from the outside, appear to fit right in.

But there’s a reality in my heart that I’m uncomfortable. I am sometimes taken aback by how much my worldview has changed and how much mainstream culture in the news reflects an America I haven’t experienced in a really long time.

It feels like two worlds. And it hurts because it used to fit. But it’s also freeing because I feel more like myself.

But when I hear the hate... when words like, “Go home!” are screamed at a stoplight, I know I’m not the one yelling. But I’m also not standing behind the screamer thinking, “Don’t say that!” or “I don’t agree! I don’t feel that way!”

No. I’m in the same lane behind the Mexican drivers, listening as the shouts echo on my heart, thinking, “But where will I go?”
http://shelovesmagazine.com/link-belong/

I am linking up this month with SheLoves Magazine around the theme "Belong." You can link-up your post here.

I'd love to hear your thoughts around belonging and multicultural identity. Please feel free to join the conversation in the comments!

8 comments:

  1. I think that the older I get, the more I long for heaven, and the less this earth feels like home. What you have written is just one piece of that. Sometimes it causes me despair, but at the same time, I have hope that there is a place that terrible ugliness like you described will never happen.

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  2. Sometimes I wonder if I am living in a bubble that skews the reality of the country I live in. In my mind, I know these incidents exist, but in my daily life, I'm so far removed from people and incidents like the one you describe. I tend to write off twitter comments as idiots just looking to get a reaction. For some reason, I let myself believe that people don't really think that way...they're just trying to spark a reaction. But real world experiences like this show a side of America that I rarely see with my own two eyes or ears.


    I do think empowerment of the next generation, before they get co-opted into an old way of thinking, is our greatest hope. As I watch kids grow up, they don't have the labels we have yet (or at least labels with the negative connotations that go with them). I have hope that in 20 years, those in power won't question anyone's legal right to get married, regardless of their sexual orientation. I just don't see the next generation caring about the issue as much as the current generation in power does. I see the same with transportation funding - at some point we are going to reverse course and start investing differently because every stat shows our young generation doesn't want to be a slave to the car. For many younger people, we are living in a country constructed by generations that we differ with and it's going to take time to change that and I think we will.


    However, I wish I held the same hope for immigration, but for some reason I don't. This comment is turning into a blog itself, but I'm sad that I think we will never really solve our issue with immigration. As a country we've treated newcomers the same way since the early 1900's. Be it Southern Europeans in the early 1900's...Asian immigrants in the mid to late 1900's and Latin American immigrants in the last few decades. All have be scorned. Maybe once we move through the entire globe, we will finally accept immigrants that come to our country. But that might take a few more hundred years. Praying that I am wrong...

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  3. I grew up in a multicultural environment. California is truely a melting pot. I had friends of Mexican decent and African origins. I had friends from Vietnam and teachers with accents.

    Now that I am older, the world seems so small and peoples minds seem so small. I live in the deep south now. I live in a city where african-americans were hanged into the early 70s. I live in a place where there is a white side of town and a black side of town. I live away from that. I have darker skinned neighbors, but that fact that these places remain today can be over looked by even me.

    I attend a predominantly white church and wonder how I am helping to break or cause the divide. It's easy to ignore the onslaught of insults to my neighbors by my other neighbors. The small comments that suggest darker skinned people aren't as smart or will never want to be educated. Sometimes I stand behind those whispered comments by doing nothing and saying nothing. I don't think I can change that generation. Other times I try to be quick with my retort as to not offend the sayer. Truely, though, it breaks my heart and I shame myself by not standing up as though I were the one offended.

    We are trying to teach our son that a person is a person no matter his skin tone. Will act and make judgements on that persons character and actions, not by what others say or the Colorado of the hair, eyes or skin.
    (Ignore below. Couldn't delete!)

    We are trying to teach our son that a person is a person no matter their skin tone. We will judge that person by their own actions and not by what Colorado and culture

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  4. Anne-Marie9:47 PM

    Hi Sarah, Anne-Marie from Sheloves, here. I have lived a bit of the same in the connections with another culture (was bilingual after living in Spain as a small child and did not fit here, but still very white and part of the dominant culture). We stand outside and inside at the same time. Such a puzzle to know what our place is, especially as believers. I also love your awareness of the man ahead of you. So many immigrants I've met come here because they don't 'belong' at home due to a being a religious or ethnic minority there. How painful to be outcast again in their new home. Thanks for wading into such a tough part of the 'belong' question, and for linking up.

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  5. I also think about that sometimes, Vicki. There is something hopeful about remembering this world is not as it should be and is temporary.

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  6. I appreciate your blog-length thoughts. :) And I know you are right about our country's history with immigration and different groups. I'll keep holding out hope for the both of us for a little while longer! :)

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  7. Thanks for joining the conversation, Beth. It's been many years since I lived in a white neighborhood or attended a predominately white church, so I appreciate those folks who are in that environment seeking ways to bridge the gap or stand up when it's needed. That can be a huge challenge. It overwhelms me a little bit to think about it. Thank you for standing up! I share your hope that our kids' generation will handle multiculturalism better and affirm the dignity of those around them.

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  8. Thanks for stopping by, Anne-Marie. I love that statement "We stand outside and inside at the same time." So true. I appreciated this month's "Belong" topic as it resonates deeply with me.

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