by Heather Bock
I was teaching my adult English as a Second Language class the language of comparison and contrast, and the teacher’s book suggested the students compare the town in which they were raised in their home country with the town in which they now reside. I liked the idea, so I started a Venn diagram on the white board—you know, those two big circles intertwined in the middle. All the students were from Mexico, so although each of their cities were unique, I knew I could start the task with them in a general way so they would get the idea of how to complete the assignment. I began eliciting comparisons and contrasts. When their ideas began to wane, I suggested, “Well, the people here are friendly. Were they friendly in your old town?” This seemed like a no-brainer to me. Since moving to this small city in Texas, I’ve found the people to be very kind.
That’s when I heard something unexpected.
“No, Teacher, the people here are not friendly.”
I looked around in surprise, seeing if the others would confirm or deny the statement given by one of the sweetest women in my class. I love my students and am dismayed to hear of any unfriendliness towards them. With my prompting, they began telling me a few of their stories of unfriendliness from the people in my city.
Aurelia*, a young mother who I rarely see without a smile every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights of class told me of the time she tried to get her driver’s license. During the driving portion, even though Aurelia could drive and follow the rules of the road just fine, the woman testing her chewed her out rudely for not knowing enough English yet, telling her she was a danger to society.
Santiago*, a soft-spoken and hard-working man my age, told of how a white man yelled at him on the road, pulled over and tried to start a fist fight with him. Santiago never figured out what he had done to make the man so angry.
I later talked to Alejandro*, a young Mexican man not in my class. He agreed that white people have not been nice to him and his family. He wanted to know if my husband was ok with me teaching English to Hispanics. He asked if my husband might divorce me over it. He wasn’t joking. In his experience with white people, he figured a white male would not be happy about his wife helping Hispanics.
One Hispanic woman I talked to had also lived in California. Thinking this might just be a Southern problem, I asked her to compare them. She said California was worse. Whenever I’ve talked to Hispanics in my city about this issue, they say the same: at the very least, they are treated as if they are less important than white people. Their words are ignored, ideas dismissed.
I couldn’t believe what I kept hearing from my students and from other Hispanics not in my class. Over the years that I’ve worked with Hispanics, I’ve found them as a whole to be warm, generous, and hard-working. They’re quick to help when they see someone in need, give big hugs, and love upbeat music, celebration, and well-made food.
As a Christian, I know very well every human being was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). I know my culture and color is not more important than another’s. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16, emphasis mine). I’m thankful the body of Christ is made up of people of many different colors.
So what can I do when people not deserving of ill treatment are treated that way by other white people?
First, I’d better make sure I’m stripped of even the smallest amount of condescension. As a teacher, I’m in a position of some authority, and I happen to know more about one subject (English) than my students do, but it doesn’t mean that I’m any better a person or any more important. I have a lot to learn from them, as well.
Second, I’ve got to go out of my way to show love to these people and others who are being treated as “less than” in my culture. I can make a point to notice them, smile at them, wave at them, and get to know them. I can help them when the need arises. I recently learned that inviting Hispanics in your home shows love in a big way to them. Why not do this?
Third, I plan to speak up for them whenever appropriate, whether on this blog, Facebook, or in my church.
I hope you will join me. If we Christians don’t treat all people with love, who will? Who will be Jesus to the marginalized around us?
*Names have been changed.
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