You see- Last week, I drove to southern New Jersey for an Alumni event. I took the opportunity to stay with one of my high school friends and her family. It was wonderful to spend time with her. She had it tough growing up. To say the least. But I can write a whole ode to Randa on another day.
To say there is a 'lack of diversity' in my homeland- would be an understatement. (For the record: I dislike the word "diversity". For some reason it doesn't sit right with me ...) It's discouraging- given what is to change in my life. But it is what it is- and I go forward.
Randa lives in a beautiful area. One of those cookie cutter neighborhoods with matchy street names- but an established, well maintained - safe, not creepy kind of place. As the sun rose, I walked outside to the car. Taking in the warm morning air - I looked across to the neighbors yard and watched the kids and a dad kicking the ball around their white picket fenced yard. Older guy, I thought. I wonder if they are grand kids. He's keeping up with them pretty good for an older fella. HEY! (excited reality setting in) They're brown! They are brown! Randa has brown neighbors!! I practically skipped through the yard.
Color. Oh the color!! I loved the all the colors I saw. The brown skinned neighbors. The bright colors in the scarves of the Muslim women. The many accents of those at the CVS, different than those at the gas stations. The mixing of English with any number of other languages. Forgive me- but I felt like a 5 year old at Disney World!!!
Of course, there are many races, religions, accents, here. In fact we have the 2nd largest Somali population outside of Somalia itself. The large nearby college does an admirable job *recruiting a diverse population*. The Muslim women locally where beautiful head scarves. We have a new mosque that serves the college and surrounding community - but even so- ... lily white mill towns make up the majority of our small population.
Its awkward to admit that when I notice a person of color in Sunday Mass, I want to skip over and sit next to them. I don't. But I must admit- it makes me so happy - I'm almost giddy.
I find myself being extra nice. An extra smile. Greeting. "Go ahead. You first." if I notice the person next to me, or serving me doesn't fall into the lily white world I normally live in.
You know when you go to a museum, or show and come away surprisingly happy, moved, motivated. You didn't go in expecting anything - but you are all a chatter with the things you saw! You know that feeling? That was my trip to New Jersey.
Here is the uncomfortable- odd - thing: It feels wrong attaching these adjectives to human beings. Individuals. It isn't right to think look- "New!" "Different!" Gawk like a start struck teenager. These are people, for crying out loud.
As 'exciting' as it may have been. It still makes me wonder- how will he do? How will he feel, being the one stared at. He'll look different. Refreshing. Exciting. Different. Exotic. Regardless of motive. He'll stand out here. No way around that.
It is beautiful here. And family is family. Its just very very white.
Some say- "No don't leave- we need you here. If all the people of color leave an area, for a place with more color.... it leaves this place whiter. Who else will come if you leave?" And yet- is that a decision to make for him. That he must be the *magnet*? That he will be the different one? I don't know. I don't know the answer. Not yet. Maybe never. Right now. I think it is important to question it and look at it. sigh.
Here is the other sort of weird part. When I graduated college- I was recruited to go directly to New Jersey and work. I suffered from culture shock so badly- I turned my car back north 365 days after arrival.