I live in a country that is predominately Muslim. 98% of the population follows Islam. I do not. I am an American. A Peace Corps Volunteer that set out to teach English in the rural mountainside and ended up learning a cache of lessons instead. Before I left the States, people made it a point of telling me to remain vigilant and aware. To watch myself in a country full of crazy Muslims because I might end up killed. A sentiment rooted in fear and cynicism that blinds us to reality. It’s spread like butter throughout the country, ignorance worming its way into the everyday mindset, poisoning us against all the beauty sprinkled in our differences.
It’s hard being on the other side of the world when the country I am representing is falling to pieces. I am a first generation American. My parents are immigrants. Loyal, hard working, dedicated and caring people that did all they could to provide a better life for my siblings and me. When they arrived to the states, they worked a multitude of jobs that ‘Americans’ look their nose down upon. They were discriminated against, insulted, cheated and treated as insignificant specks of dirt by some people. Yet, they kept their heads down and kept working not for themselves but for us. To provide us with opportunities that weren’t even fathomable when they were growing up. Spending the last 8 months in Comoros has given me a deeper appreciation for the trials and tribulations my parents endured. Living, much less growing up, in a third world country is hard. It comes with worries and stresses that don’t even cross our minds in the States. Not having enough water to live, food to eat, or money to afford the fast paced economic circus that has become our global market are just a few of the worries that plague everyday life. I grew up in New York City. A world that, regardless of the city I am in or the age of the person I am speaking with, is instantly recognized as an idealized promise land of opportunity, wealth, and success. I was crushed and created in a melting pot of ideas, cultures, beliefs, religions and outlooks. The thought that the open-minded nature instilled in me from the beginning is now under attack and slowly disappearing is heartbreaking.
When I first arrived to site a couple months ago I met a young man who shook my view of the world within minutes of meeting. He asked me why. Why were we different? Why was it that I could pick up and move to his country without fear or repercussion? Why was my passport valid internationally without question while he had to work his way through a mountain of paperwork and money only to most likely get denied in the end? Why as an American was I allowed to call any corner of the world home but didn’t allow anyone else to call America his or hers? Why? Before that moment I never realized just how selfish we are as Americans. We want to go to everywhere and see everything. We want to experience the world and are annoyed when it’s not as easy as booking a ticket and hopping on a plane. We enjoy instant gratification—a luxury that people around the world can’t enjoy. My parents made the weeklong journey to America with empty pockets and a heart full of faith. They left behind family and friends in the hopes that life would be better. Not necessarily for them but for their children. Today, millions of people around the world cross their fingers and pray to do the same. They want better for their families and loved ones. They’re fighting for their ability to love, live and dream freely; rights that should be given upon birth regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, gender or sexuality.
I live in a country that is predominately Muslim. I’m greeted with smiles and treated with care and respected no matter whom I stumble upon. I teach English, a language that isn’t widely spoken; I dress like a foreigner and act like one too. I don’t follow the same religion or practice the same beliefs yet I am always welcomed and not once have I been shunned away. I come from a country that preaches acceptance but lately, has turned a blind eye towards the injustice lashed out against anyone that seems to look or think differently. I come from a country whose newly elected president goes against all the beliefs and values written into the founding backbone of our democracy. I AM an American yet I’ve never felt more unwelcomed, disgusted and heartbroken. I AM an American. A daughter of immigrants, a fusion of cultures and I refuse to sit idly by and watch as the country I call home falls apart. Abraham Lincoln said ‘America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms it will be because we destroyed ourselves.’ We are a country that’s been cultivated in diversity and enlightened by an endless exchange of culture—a medley of people. America’s always been a kaleidoscope of opportunity and growth so why are we so pent on only seeing one color?
Be Bold. Be Brave. Be-YOU-tiful.