A Touchy Subject...

WARNING!!!! I might step on some toes with this post because it is going to be my strong opinions based on my experiences here in Central America as well as my observations and current outsider's view of the United States. My intention is not to offend, just to sort through my own thoughts and challenge others to engage in these thoughts with me.

Ready? Okay, here goes.

Being a minority is hard. Yes, I am a minority here as I am a pale-skinned, blue-eyed, native English speaker, not to mention North American. I am whistled at, stared at, called names (do they think I don't understand? probably not...), pushed by ladies in the grocery line, etc. Some people tell me I speak Spanish super-bien, others question my abilities to my face. I don't understand all the cultural cues, I offend people unintentionally, I am doing the best I can but in some situations people aren't very gracious with my obvious lack of cultural cue knowledge. I sometimes feel inadequate or clueless about how to act in social situations.

Thus, I have a need for authentic learning. I am in these real life situations every day and I want to learn how I am supposed to act or what I am supposed to say in the daily encounters I have with Costa Rican natives. BUT in order for me to learn, I first have to be willing to ask questions, to admit that I won't get it right the first time, to admit that my college degree in English really does nothing for me in Spanish. AND the people around me that I am engaging with are hopefully in a place where they can answer my questions, give me grace even if I don't get it right the first second third time I try, and encourage me when I do it right.

So I am here, I am learning, I am hoping that someday I will speak well enough to communicate effectively no matter if I am at the grocery store, the bank, or the auto place, no matter what level of conversation I am having (think small talk vs. vocabulary specific vs. a heart-to-heart). And what is my purpose in learning? To become a better teacher, and ultimately, a bilingual teacher.

Okay, are you ready for me to get to the point?

I say all this from my own experience because I sense tension in the United States about minorities. Yes, there are migrants pouring in, legal and illegal. Yes, the government is working to filter out the illegals, but the attitude I generally hear from North Americans is that they are not open to having new migrants (but how our own families even part of the United States.... our grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents migrated!). It is said migrants are ignorant of our ways and do not want to learn English, therefore shouldn't be part of our country(But what did our ancestors speak when they came? Probably not English...). Stereotypes about migrants abound, but I won't go too deeply into that because I don't want to present my thoughts as if they are the only right way to think.

Am I a legal migrant to Costa Rica? Yes.

Am I trying my best to learn the language? Yes.

Am I asking questions of the people around me, observing them to learn their ways? Yes.

Do I have goals for the future after this hard work of learning? Yes. (But I won't be done learning!)

I guess my plea is to examine your thoughts next time you interact with someone who might be a migrant, whether they are Mexican, Polish, Indian, whatever. (I mention those because they are the first growing populations that come to my mind in the Chicago area... but it might be different in your area) Cut them some slack. Ask them if they need help, even if it's something simple like helping count change at the grocery store or teaching a new word. Give grace because trust me, if you were learning a new language and desperately trying to figure out cultural cues, you would need grace too, just like me.

An example of a situation in which a North American was not sensitive to a Costa Rican... I was at the airport in December, in line for my Houston flight. A tico needed to pass through the line, and so he said ''Excuse me, lady'' to the well-dressed woman in front of me. Now, I know that in English, we do not say ''lady'' unless we are saying it with attitude... like a snap-your-fingers, don't-treat-me-like-that kind of way. BUT in Spanish, ''Con permiso, muchacha'' is perfectly acceptable. In fact, it's considered very polite to say it that way. So this tico thought he was being very polite, and the well-dressed woman turns to her well-dressed husband and says ''That was soooo rude. I can't believe he just called me 'lady'.'' Now me having gone through similar experiences has taught me that to be called ''muchacha'' (lady) in Spanish is the very polite form, but this woman didn't.

I have become more conscious of situations when I need to give grace to others, even when I don't understand where they are coming from, and my challenge is that you will examine your own attitudes and actions when you don't understand someone else, namely minorities.

Thanks for reading my jumbled thoughts!

1 comment:

K Siscoe said...

You go girl! We could speak on this topic together to churches, teachers and to counselors!