If the America of my youth could be said to be the “melting pot”, my adolsecence found Columbus to be the snow globe version of the whole. I was surrounded by differing opinions, religions, ideas and lifestyles-and found merits in almost all of them. Some of my favorite moments were when I could engage a stranger in a conversation that brought my faith in humanity up. I remember working at Subway one day and being able to understand the Latina woman before her son translated and then wished her well in her own language. She started laughing and the son and I spoke of how wild it is that I would take the time to treat his mother as an equal (well, formal equal). I remember interacting with a Muslim woman who became overjoyed that I would understand her not eating pork, and that I knew it was her holiday. If Columbus was my own personal melting pot, I became delighted to explore the rest.
I’ve had a lot of eye opening experiences-and not all of them for the better. When I was assaulted, I saw the depravity of human nature. I saw the victim-blaming and felt the humiliation that came from not being able to cope. When I moved to Kansas, I was confronted with the fact that people didn’t accept my belief system, and that the names of the LGBT club members were not released because of fear of violence and possibly death against them. I was a blue dot living in an overwhelmingly red state. I came to understand why it was such an issue to blend in when you were born to stick out. I was rebuffed for my naïveté-that I should not have been surprised that the things that made me (and millions of other people) different, were suddenly the things that made it dangerous.
And then I understood.
You see, I had always been on the other side. I was the ally that showed others that not all (insert category here) people were bad. I was the person who worked hard to be the best ally I could be-without ever really understanding the gravity of what I was allying for. And now, being on the flip side-they’re even more important. I’ve met friends who accept me for who I am, and that’s wildly important. Because how many times have we all needed someone to make the darkness stay away?
But I now understand why speaking Spanish to a woman in a predominantly white neighborhood was a novel thing. I now understand why being kind and considerate to a Muslim woman was considered something out of the norm. It isn’t because they expect every single person to be vehemently against who they are- it’s that too many people are against who they are. They, much the same as I, were looking for a beacon, a person to tell them that it is okay to keep being absolutely just yourself. That there is a place for all the differences, no matter how alone you might feel.
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” -Dr. Seuss