People are people. My first awareness of anyone being unique in any way was in school. A classmate was not in school because it was a Jewish holiday. A passing awareness that his religion was different from mine. Nothing more.
The next time I was aware that something important was happening was when my father told us our next-door neighbor had come to the door with a petition. She wanted signatures to keep a black family from moving into the neighborhood. My father asked her to go home first and tell her children what she was doing. That was the end of that. The black neighbors moved in and became a welcome part of the neighborhood.
I was an observer. It wasn’t until I was working at a factory during a summer break from college that I became aware of discrimination. I became fond of a lady working next to me who was about to drive south for a family vacation. “We will have a difficult time finding a hotel for the night,” she commented. Naive, I said, “Oh, there are plenty of hotels ...” She interrupted me, explaining that, because they were black, they would have trouble finding a hotel that would let them stay, not trouble finding a hotel. I was incredulous.
Where was I? How could I get to my late teens not knowing that?
I lived in a little New England town where tourists would stop at the Wayside Inn or visit the Martha/Mary Chapel or the Grist Mill, all popular with tourists. It was before I had an awareness that “Happy Days” was entertainment, not the way everyone lived.
I am no longer naïve but in shock. Here I am today and just became aware that people are frightening Asian Americans right here in “River City.” What is happening to this wonderful country?
How is it that so many have forgotten facts like these: the American Indian had claim to this country long before the rest of us came. My husband’s grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee. When I found that out, I was thrilled to have some relationship with the original Americans.
I am no longer naïve but in shock.
Here I am today and just became aware
that people are frightening Asian Americans
right here in “River City.”
What is happening to this wonderful country?
My ancestors came from two places: Ireland, fleeing the potato famine, and French Canada. Both my maternal and my paternal grandparents had one of each. I learned that Irish immigrants had experienced a rough go right up to John Kennedy’s time. Having a Catholic president was a big deal then.
Why is it that so many differences are unwelcome? Why do we care if someone is Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist? While I grew up in Christianity, I am transfixed when I see the Dalai Lama, who seems to radiate goodness. I attended a friend’s son’s bar mitzvah years ago, understanding (and concerned) it would be hours long. It was an experience I will always remember—inspiring, fascinating. The Rabbi held the attendees in the palm of his hand. When we are in the presence of true believers, we can give thanks, regardless of the religion, as long as they value theirs while respecting others’.
What is better than diversity? I graduated from George Washington University, located four blocks from the White House. It took my breath away to meet people from as far away as India. For a naïve teen from a small New England town, what an education I had, as much from the diversity of those attending as the outstanding professors. An eye-opening experience for four glorious years.
People are people. Period. We can celebrate diversity. We can be disappointed if someone does not share our religious or political convictions. Chances are that they are likewise disappointed in us.
If someone is frightened or hurt by someone else’s actions, we need to step up. I don’t ever again want to ask myself, “Where was I?” This is America, and there is a document that begins “All men are created equal...”