Monday, October 12, 2009


In honor of Columbus day and Latin American Heratige Month

See if the following account sounds familiar.

I am a foreigner in this country. I came here uninvited. The locals aren't especially fond of my "kind". It seems they go out of their way to make me feel unwelcome. If I need help, they put me off. They tell me that if I want to be in their country I should learn their language. When I try to communicate in the few words and phrases I have learned, they criticize my pronunciation and grammar or simply pretend they don't understand. 

So, I live, work, shop, and socialize almost exclusively with others of my native tongue. We get together and share our "horror stories" about interacting with the local people. Some of those conversations get pretty heated and some are tearful and sad but they are always emotionally charged. We feel mistreated. We don't like "them" either. Few of us have anything positive to say about our experiences with the local people. Any desire to learn their language and adapt to their culture has been doused by their coldness and rudeness. 

It's too bad. I wanted to come here. I wanted to partake of what these people have to offer. I even wanted to learn their language. It would make my life so much easier. Learning a language is hard. Simply living in a place doesn't help. You have to be taught. It requires time, patience, understanding. I need help. I WANT help. I rarely get it. Instead I am told to "figure it out or go home". All they see is a foreigner, invading their space, wasting their time, eating their food, breathing their air. How dare I! 

I know they are not all like that. I have met some really wonderful people here and I have seen the beauty of their country. I also know that they feel this way, in part, because of bad behavior from others. The bad examples of what my "kind" have done has left a bitter taste in their mouth. I can't blame them for that. I would feel the same way. I just hope that if the situation were reversed I would not be one of the people mistreating the outsider. I hope I can see past the stereotype to the person, a fellow human being.

This is a pretty accurate description of my experience living in Belgium for 4 years. Not what you thought is it? I usually tell people Belgium was not "user friendly". There was a lot about Belgium to enjoy. I don't want to give the impression that I am slandering this country or it's people as a whole. However, I was actually scolded on multiple occasions for not speaking French! This was done by someone who spoke fluent English, of course, which made the experience even more infuriating. More than once I was told that "French is easy" and if they could speak English I could learn French. Never mind that I had small children and limited resources. Even my friends who had taken french classes didn't fair much better. They still had an accent or didn't get the word order right. Most of them gave up trying and just avoided the locals as much as possible.

It's a shame, too. The Belgians I did get to know were warm, loving, intelligent people. Once we got past the language barrier, we found we had a lot in common.

My experiences living in foreign countries have given me a very different perspective about the foreigners living in America. While I do not condone or appreciate illegal immigrants I know that the entire Hispanic community or even the "foreign" community gets lumped together into one group. That is not fair. Nor do we have the right to mistreat decent, hardworking people based on their race or the actions of their countrymen. I don't blame them for wanting nothing to do with us. Why would they want to be friends with people who hate them?

There are immigrants from many other countries living in America. It has been this way for centuries. This is the great melting pot, after all. I know immigration is a big issue. There is more involved than what I have described here. But for me, one person to another, I don't want to be like the "bad Belgians". This is my home, a place I love and I want others to love it too. I don't think it is the government policies that need to change as much as the hearts and minds of the citizens. Let the authorities take care of the drug dealers and criminals. Let us love our neighbors, whoever they are.

1 comment:

tkangaroo said...

Loved this post. I think we assume a little too much sometimes. I remember a friend telling me about a different friend who was deported for being illegal. Yep, I assumed, and I was wrong. He was deported--to Canada.