Living in a cosmopolitan area like NY, one cannot escape the privilege of experiencing the gift of diversity; at the same time my experience here has taught me a lot about the sad issues of racial tensions in the US and the world.
Because of the diversity in the different groups of people I hang out with, the theme of racial tensions is inevitable. And I have learned that in some (not all) circles of our society (both the homogenous and the diverse ones) a subtle assumption might be considered: “Because you are of white or similar skin color, you probably have lived a privileged life without societal and racial discrimination.” In other words: “Piero, you are fine! you have probably lived a privileged life growing up anyways.”
Now, I do consider myself Hispanic, even though I don’t “look” like one, but culturally I am (shouldn’t that matter more than the skin-color anyways). With this being said let me show you why it’s not smart to have such assumptions by telling you some of my life experiences growing up:
I grew up in a family of four (mom, dad, and my older brother (two year difference)) in Peru. Sadly, even though my dad was an economist he was also an alcoholic, so it was not that fun growing up.
The Struggle is Real
We always grew up with financial struggles, we will have to change schools all the time because of our financial situation. I remember as a first grader I would be excluded from certain classes or tests because my parents did not pay the school bills, this happened quite often throughout my school years, even in high-school.
It was awkward and somewhat shameful to be singled out and called out in front of all your classmates to be told that you need to leave the classroom because your parents did not pay the bill. After all I was no different from my classmates.
Because of our financial and family struggles my brother and I would rarely receive gifts from our parents. I could count with one hand the times that we received something of value. We would be used to seeing others receive nice gifts for Christmas from their parents, while we did not receive any.
Get Your Candies! Two for 50¢ and Five for a dollar!!!
Throughout High-School there was a yearly camp for all the high-schoolers to go, there were some years that I would sell candies on public transportation (these buses are NOT like the ones in the US) on my way back from school so that I can get at least some money to cover the cost of the camp.
El Pituquito Blanquito
Throughout High-School I would sometimes be called “blanquito” (whitey) or “pituquito” (rich-city kid). These comments were said in a “joking” tone, and were made because of my skin-color (I was one of the few “white guys” on my high-school, and most likely the only one in my classroom). The reality is that I was NO “pituco”, I was far from being a rich-city kid, I lived outside of the city of Lima (two hour ride in public transportation). I had to take three buses and one moto-taxi (motorcycle-taxi), and then walk through a dirt road. I lived in more of a rural area, where I was surrounded by mestizos (mixed of Spaniards and natives) and native Peruvians. My parents had to move there in my high-school years because while I was going to 7th grade my dad suffered a car accident while he was intoxicated and almost died. For years he couldn’t work, and my mom had to take care of him and her children. So we moved to my grandpa’s property in the rural area. We were given one room (for the four of us), a bathroom, and then the cooking and all other activities needed to be done in a common outdoor space. My mom had to work wonders to stretch the money we had, sometimes we would have to eat eggs and rice; or lentils and rice, because simply there was no money for anything else.
Can’t Wait for that Yogurt!
I remembered as a kid, even as a high-schooler, looking forward on going to some of my friends’ houses. Because I knew I was going to have a breakfast or a meal different that from I was used to at home. I remembered some breakfasts with one of my friends in which we will have yogurt and other yummy stuff, things that we could not afford as a family. And guess what, this friend “looked” what many will consider hispanic. Even though in this particular scenario I might “look” (my skin color) as the one that grew up with more “privileges”, the reality was different; the stereotypical rule was broken.
Even living in the US, at a first glance I might be confused with a white-American, but wait until I open my mouth. I immediately become “different” and I could make someone “uncomfortable” (if I was in an environment of racial tension– which I experienced more when I lived in the South when I first got to the US).
I would not want you to feel sorry for me. I am not trying to show my ungratefulness for my “less privileged” past, I am actually thankful that I went through such struggles then in Peru and now as a foreigner in the US, for I know that through them the Lord strain me to be where I am now. If I am showing you all these details of my life is to draw the important point that there are cases in which the stereotypical rule breaks.
I am not trying to victimize myself, neither diminish the racial tensions of our time. But simply raising awareness of this reality, the reality that there are some of us that break the generality and stereotypical rule.
Now, to be fair, typically and stereotypically speaking I am an exception to the rule, but let’s face it– You never know when you are gonna encounter one of us 🙂
If I am where I am now, it is not for societal privileges. It is because simply the Lord has brought me thus far. I am not defined by the color of my skin, and you shouldn’t either. I am defined by the RED blood that was shed for me on the cross and that is what unites us all.