I’ve been pondering this story for a long time. Istiak, a stoic Bangledeshi, piqued my interest. I viewed his demeanor with humor as he practically grunted through purchases I made at a local convenience store. More than anything, I wanted to see him smile. He has such a beautiful face…
His coworker is Guatemalan. Hmmm—there’s a pattern here.
I tend to ask people from what country they come. It’s as if I have no concept of—they’re American. My people came over during the time of the Mayflower. Even though my ancestor wrested control from its indigenous peoples, I feel a sense of possession. But I am the descendant of immigrants. How dare my mind capture a sense of belonging when, in a sense, I don’t belong here.
So do I generalize that notion to those that embrace this country as their home? I find myself sitting alone here at this keyboard muttering,
This morning, during my usual foray, I encountered another young man at another convenience store. His dark eyes and golden skin screamed “foreigner” to me. His shock of black hair topped off a beautiful face.
“What country are you from?” I asked.
“Mexico,” he said.
I knew immediately he was not from there. He must have seen the confusion on my face because he clarified his home of origin, Pakistan.
So why did he say he was from Mexico, I wonder? Was he parrying my thrust of curiosity with a response that said, None of your damned business?
We Americans often call ourselves the melting pot of the world. Embracing that can be hard. I grew up in a White Ago-Saxon neighborhood. It was with a sense of pride that I acknowledge the two black families on our streets. How dare I. My Jungian memories lie deeply entrenched in my Puritan roots.
Supposedly the Puritans came over here to experience religious freedom. What is not often contemplated is that the Puritans did all they could to eradicate the beliefs of those already entrenched here. Religious freedom? We’ve changed our history books to extoll us, but in viewing history books of old, I found references to Indians being viewed as a lost tribe of Israel. Hence the connotation of “tribes” for Indians. And hell—they aren’t even Indians! Columbus just got his GPS screwed up when he set his directionals. He thought he was in India.
As indigenous peoples sought to hold on to their homes, Puritans eradicated them in the name of religion. Again—Religious Freedom?
So what is it I’m seeking when I ask where people about their home countries? Am I a racist? Perhaps—or is it that I seek to embrace the world by experiencing other cultures through the faces I encounter?
I experienced Bangladesh through Istiak’s Facebook page. I never realized Bangladesh was so beautiful. I found smiling pictures of him that I see now every time he grunts through my purchases. I no longer see the pictures I assume were from his homeland. It’s as if he wants people to know, “I am American.”
My Pakistani friend told me I should travel to India, etc. I would love to do so, but the truth is that I can flip through lives far quicker on my computer. Those I meet walk me through the splendor of their countries rather than the dismal references we often get through the news. I am an innocuous figure, so I am often able to wrestle a few details from folks that sets my mind to wandering.
Thank you, Friends, for sharing your roots. You’ve taken root here now and enriched us all.
Sobre el autor: Joyce Bowen es un escritor independiente y orador público. Las consultas pueden hacerse en firstname.lastname@example.org