I took Dillon and his friend Zachary on a road trip to Peoria, IL last week. As we conversed over ice cream sundaes in Lacon, Zachary shared that another classmate, who is from Poland, told him that “he hated Mexicans.” Well, Zachary is Mexican. When I asked him how it made him feel, he answered, “sad.” Zachary is only 8, but I bet if you ask him 20 years from now if he’s ever felt prejudice, he will remember the time in second grade when another child singled him out. When Zachary pointed out that he was Mexican, the other child said, “well, not you, just all the other Mexicans.”
I also had a conversation at the Minority and Female Business Enterprise Conference last week with a gentleman about the idea of when and how we become aware of our cultural identity. For me, as part of the majority culture, I never thought about it per se, until more recently. For this gentleman, who was African American, he remembered growing up as a child, in the care of his caucasian God father, who was in the military. He remembered that people would treat him differently once they realized who he was with. It was subtle, but now that we were talking about it, he knew it was there.
Sometimes the moments are hurtful, sometimes just curious. When was the first time you became aware of your cultural identity, as distinct from others? Did/How did you respond? Did/How did that feeling help frame a more empathic approach to interactions with others? Which incidents were paralyzing, and which empowering?