Does The World Really Owe Us Anything?

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The air conditioner was blasting frigid air throughout the bus, on this muggy summer afternoon.  It had not been this cold on the plane.  I could not control my shaking as I sat in my seat watching intently, the man seated behind my father.  Understanding that my shaking was attributed mostly to the chilled air blowing on me, I could not ignore that the immense fear I was feeling during the entire two-hour trip, contributed to my physical state.

As a naïve nine-year old girl who had just arrived to the US for the first time, I was convinced that my father would be stabbed to death while on the bus.  The man seated behind my father was the first person of Asian descent I had ever seen.  According to the television shows I had watched while in Puerto Rico, Asian men hurt others by utilizing their martial arts techniques or by stabbing their victims to death.  I was adamantly convinced that this man would be stabbing my father at any moment.

My sister, younger brother, father and I arrived safely at our chosen destination with no incident and where our new lives were to begin.

Although I knew it was summer, I was disappointed to see that there was no snow in the front yard of the apartment that was now my home.  The visions in my young mind of the US, always included snow on the ground regardless of the season.  My disappointment continued as I walked in to see my mother and older brother, who had arrived a week earlier, watching a man and a woman on the television screen speaking as rapidly as an auctioneer, saying words I could not understand.   These were my first impressions and memories I had upon arriving in this new bigger world.

As I made new friends and began school, I soon learned what the word stereotype really meant.  Just as I had stereotyped the Asian man on the bus, classmates and teachers would make general comments about me and assume that I behaved a certain way because I was Puerto Rican.  Mind you, this was 1973 when only a handful of Puerto Rican families lived in our town.  They stereotyped me based on TV shows, movies or Puerto Rican families they had been exposed to in nearby towns.

Did you live in a hut on your island?

You must love tacos and enchiladas

You are too white to be Puerto Rican

You are in America, speak American

Do you have cockroaches in your house?

In spite of these and many other forms of  discrimination my family and I encountered, we persevered, stayed true to ourselves and our culture and moved forward to reach our goals all the while, never assuming the role of victims.

It was not easy and hardly fair, but our pride in who we were as individuals as well as who we were as a family,  gave us the determination to fight through the obstacles we faced.   It was never about what we were owed.  It was never about pointing fingers.  It was never about placing blame.  

Sadly, I have seen a shift and an escalation in this line of thinking in people in our town and around the country.  No one deserves to be discriminated against and we must raise awareness of the racial and cultural disparities that exist, but it appears that we have lost something along the way.  I believe that we have lost the sense of personal accountability, responsibility and ownership of our actions.

It was not my fault

I deserve better

They should pay

What’s in it for me?

I’ve been wronged

The world owes me

I do not remember it being like this growing up.  My parents encouraged my siblings and I to be strong, feel worthy and to make our own paths.  This way of thinking was reinforced by our teachers and administrators at our school.

After having children of my own and taking them to school, it was clear that something had changed.  I rejected the coddling my children received because of their race.  I rejected the message teachers sent to children of color that they needed protection.  I refused to let my children take part in activities that reinforced the notion that they were victims because of their race.  What was happening?  I wanted no part of this.

I still don’t.

This obviously does not mean I believe racism and discrimination are okay.  I am the first to advocate for equality, fairness and to opportunity to contribute to change.  But, what message are we sending to our youth of all races?

Awareness and change are needed because most of us whether knowingly or unknowingly are guilty of stereotyping and judging others who are different from us, but let us not forget to look deeply within ourselves and take ownership of our actions and behaviors without the expectation that the world owes us anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

53 thoughts on “Does The World Really Owe Us Anything?

  1. You are in America, speak American

    This phrase pisses me off to no end. Sadly, ignorance isn’t confined to our shores, but I’m annoyed if ignorance comes from Europe or the British Isles, or is homegrown. So much of it uttered by people narrowly focused on stereotypes and differences.

    Most of them can only speak one language, to boot, and have ZERO desire to learn anything more than their native tongue (usually, English). Phhht. Whatever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That phrase kills me too! I remember a girl in elementary school who asked me if they had Puerto Rican cheese in PR since in America they had American cheese. I thought that was the stupidest question I had ever heard. It still angers me. 🙂

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      1. I looked to Wikipedia for clarification on “American cheese”. In short, it began as U.S. imitations of English Cheddar, then evolved into the processed cheese slices we know today– even though there’s an official, formal federal definition– it gets applied broadly.

        Not a true cheese.

        The only concession I’d ever come close to giving her is that in Mexico, anyways, cheddared cheese (yes, a verb- any cheese that is made from cheese curds like Cheddar is) is virtually unknown in the cuisine, and so anything that has cheddared cheese is mostly… Tex-Mex. I see the queso fresco and the crumbly Feta-like cojita, but anything else? Crema. (Oaxaca-style is my favorite.)

        Granted, elementary school is too young to speak about Puerto Rico’s contribution of Barcardi rum, right? And, in the end, not too much cuisine is completely pure… there was a fusion or introduction somewhere. I’m just happy to live in a land where there are so many delicious choices from so many cultures, peoples, and also the many immigrant reworkings of their homeland dishes using what’s best been on hand in the States.

        (I *love* to cook! I said that before, right?)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a great post, Maria! Your experiences show your maturity and grace.

    I’ve also noticed the escalation of entitlement. I have professor friends whose students demanded passing grades they didn’t bother to earn by showing up and doing the work.

    I agree about standing against stereotypes. Many fight against diversity, because they resist change. But change will come no matter what.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I deal with this when I travel. “Oh, you’re not from around here, are you?” (Spoken like I’m a dolt because I sound funny.) Humans need to classify, but it’s so limiting, isn’t it? People aren’t a category.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Peace. As I was expressing to Susie below, we need to stop stereotyping and generalizing about all people – this is what gets us in trouble and makes any effort counter productive. Glad you like my new theme. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Signaling out the kids “of color” including my kids and making them feel that they needed to be protected from the big white man, really bothered me. They were sending a message that they had been wronged and that they were victims. That’s not the message I want my kids to have. Racism exists and it is real but this other extreme is not productive for anyone.

      A lot of it comes down to stereotyping and generalizing about different groups of people. To me, the best quote circulating around during the Ferguson case was this one:
      “Not all cops are bad. Not all black people are criminals. And not all white people are racist. Stop labeling. It’s 2014 let’s get equal.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “…never assuming the role of victims.” Brava!! How strong you were. even then. “Looking deep and taking ownership of our actions.” Indeed, critically important and necessary. And it is my sense that more and more of us are becoming aware of what we say, do and how we act. We always read and hear about the negative. There is a lot of progress and positive going on ‘out there.’ I genuinely believe this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mr. B. It has been frustrating to watch this way of thinking take front stage in the schools. Intentions are good but as it often happens, extreme measures are taken that interrupt the balance that is needed. It’s really a shame.

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  5. Bravo! Paternalism produces whiny babies instead of autonomous adults who see the cause and effect between the choices they make.

    “If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased with where you took it?” – Neale Donald Walsch

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone just held themselves accountable for their actions and outcomes?
    As the child of European immigrants who arrived in Canada in the late 60’s with little money, 2 babies and zero fluency in English, I can tell you that it was a long, hard road for them. Working during the day, nightschool to learn English at night… No free ride. They worked hard to assimilate in their (chosen) country. To do so they had to learn the language and be productive (earn a living).

    This is where I learned my work ethic. No airs of entitlement. Work hard. Be a decent human being. That’s it.

    Nicely written, Maria.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very impressive how your family pulled through despite the obstacles! No question their values and work ethic must have contributed to their successes. That’s wonderful! I hope that we can turn this new toxic way of thinking around. xo

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