I’d like to begin with a short but important disclaimer: I have no idea what it is like to be a member of a minority group in the U.S. or what it’s like to live my entire life as a minority in any country. I have gotten a tiny taste of it and that may be all I will ever get. I recognize the amount of privilege this comes with and while I am grateful for the life I have been able to live, I am sad and frustrated that it exists at all, because “privilege” inherently means that some have rights or receive benefits that others do not.
I consider myself a compassionate person. I care how other people feel and are treated and I think it’s important to try to understand people whose experiences are different from my own. However, as much as I listen to others and sympathize with their feelings and agree with their thoughts, I’ll never really understand what it’s like to be another person. So, I’m grateful for any and all experiences I have that give me just a little more insight into what it must be like to live a different life.
It’s generally not too difficult to blend in in Buenos Aires. It’s a huge city and has experienced a great deal of immigration, so people are pretty physically diverse. While my Spanish is good, I’m not fluent and no one is going to mistake me for a porteño any time soon. But, if I keep my mouth shut I feel like I kind of fly under the radar. Of course, that’s hard to do because so much of life involves verbal interaction and every time I speak, people know I’m different. While this makes me self-conscious and a bit lonely, people here have generally been kind and generous about it and for that I am fortunate and grateful. As a result, I’m able to not spend all of my time thinking about it.
Being in Peru and Brazil for spring break, though, was different. There was significantly less physical diversity in Cusco, so my white Irish skin and red hair stood out like a sore thumb. People took one look at me and knew I was a tourist and treated me accordingly. Again, they were generally nice and meant well, but it’s an uncomfortable feeling to be singled out and noticed. The same was true in Brazil. In addition, though, Brazil is a Portuguese-speaking country. I had expected to be able to get by a bit with my Spanish since the two share a lot of very similar vocabulary. But boy was I wrong. While I was able to understand a lot of signage because many individual words are similar, as soon as people started talking to me, I had no idea what they were saying. The accent is completely different; Portuguese sounds more like French than Spanish. And, of course, I had no idea how to respond. Very, very few people spoke English and I felt completely stranded, isolated, stupid, and helpless. I also felt guilty coming to their country and forcing them to try to understand what I was saying or asking and being so ignorant of their language.
Again, these brief experiences in no way amount to the systematic and personal discrimination that many minority groups experience in the U.S. and around the world. They did, however, help me to feel more compassion for the experiences of others and more passion to do something about it. I’m grateful for that because it helps me to be a better, kinder, more well-rounded person and it inspires me to do more to help others.
I’d like to digress briefly at the end here too. I’m an English major, so I’m a major book nerd, and I really believe in the power of books to help us feel understood and to help us understand others. That being said, there are two books I’ve read in my life that I feel were written in a way that allowed me to have insight into the world of people with different identities from my own like no other books have. One is The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas, and the other is Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli. As a straight, white person, these books have opened my eyes and touched me in distinctly singular ways. Check them out.
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<p>I'm a senior at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, with a major in English and minors in Creative Writing, Psychology, and Spanish. I started training psychiatric service dogs as a junior in high school and continue to do so on school breaks when I return home to Connecticut. Much of my time is spent reading, writing, practicing yoga, and playing with my dog, and I'm a big fan of peanut butter, early 2000s television, and the Oxford comma.</p>