Are You A Foreigner?

I have known Pam for over ten years. We spend every Friday night standing around the softball field shooting the breeze , about a whole lot of nothing. Last Friday night was a bit odd; odd and a tad awkward.
” Hey Jessi, can I ask you something? ” Before I could answer, Pam continued, ” Are you a foreigner?”
Wow. Where do you think that came from? Right out of the blue. Okay, let’s assess the situation. I am dressed in a softball jersey and Nike shorts; nope not that. Could it be my jet black hair, maybe? Or is it my dark suntan than has enhanced my already “suntan color” skin? Is it my dark eyes?
” Um, no, I am not a foreigner Pam…” I said as I chuckled. I am Indian.” I think that should have cleared the matter right up……. or not.
” Oh cool. Do you wear the dot? You know the dot thing in your forehead?” By now the whole ball team was interested in the convo.
” Dot? Say what? What dot?” I asked before I thought it through. She was referring to the bindhi, the symbol adorning women from predominately Asia, including India. Pam thinks Indian means India-n.
” No, not India, Indian;…. Native American …Indian….” I explained. She seemed satisfied with the clarification, so I thought………
“Oh, I didn’t think Indians were called Indians anymore. Ya’ll are called Native Americans, that’s what is correct now. That’s why I was confused. Indians are the “dot people”, and the other Indians are Native Americans.” Pam’s education of what an Indian was/is and her definitions of both sects of people amused me.
” Well Pam, I understand your thinking, but to say I am a Native American is incorrect. America did not exist, until an Italian explorer named Amerigo Vespucci actually arrived in the continent before Columbus , discovered it. Hence the name ” America, after Amerigo.” Oddly enough, when Columbus did “discover America, he thought it was ” India”. Native Americans called America, ” Turtle Island” or other names, such as “Fourth Home” depending on tribal location……..” Before I could finish my explanation, Pam had lost interest and moved to another conversation………..just as the Ump yelled, ” PLAY BALL”!
As the team took to the field, I thought about Pam and the whole conversation that had just transpired. I wondered why she had thought to ask the initial question; what her curiosity was sparked by, and if she had understood anything I had said. Having been friends for over ten years, what difference did it really make it I were a “foreigner” or not? Would it have changed our friendship if I had answered ” yes”?
We worry these days about being Politically Correct. We don’t wish to “offend”, but yet we will judge in a moments’ notice. Right after 9/11, each time I boarded an aircraft, I would become extremely nervous if I saw a “foreigner”, dressed a certain way…..If I took the subway in New York, I would become very alarmed if someone boarded the train that wore saggy pants and a sideways baseball cap……….Even though I knew the politically correct identity of each, it was what I thought I knew that allowed me to judge them…….I guess you could call it stereotyping. We forget who the person is, their stand alone identity…..and choose to group them as we assume they all are. Not all who are from the mid-east are terrorist……not all who wear baggy pants are thugs……
One day I will ask Pam why she asked that question, just to satisfy my own curiosity…..But you know, I did learn one thing from that Friday night experience; none of us are above being judged by another, even those who are our friends.. It’s just human nature. If there is anything unique or different about you, be sure those around , have taken notice and made a decision about how they feel about you.
Look at dementia patients. They have names, John, Bill, Teresa, Mary, Wilma, Nana, Grandma…Grandpa, Boompa, or Papa….Yet, due to the progressed dementia, they have been re-classed, fitting the definition of a disorder, not the person they are. Just because Nana can’t remember the family tree, her visitors slowly fade….The “family” doesn’t think she “knows what’s going on, or knows who they are”, hence the lack of visitors. Nana has been stereotyped with a class of forgotten people…the “dementia patients”. Here’s my question to them, ” Have you forgotten who she is? Is she the same Nana who cooked your favorite creamed filled chocolate pie every Sunday when you were a child? Was her home the destination for Christmas Eve feasts, where she filled your stocking with so many goodies that it overflowed? Did she not babysit you at some point in time? Were you not the ” apple of her eye” as most grandchildren are? Then why suddenly has she fallen into the profile of the forgotten? Simply because her memory is shot?
Just as Pam made her assertions based on what she saw, thought or had even heard, I am still the same person I was ten years ago when we first met; just as your Nana is the same person as she was in 1970……….it’s the your perception of the person that changed…………….
My point today is simple…..I don’t care about Political Correctness. I don’t care if the Washington Redskins are called the Redskins or The Washington Blacksheep, they are my football team. I don’t care if you think Columbus discovered America or India…….I am proud to live in the United States. I don’t care if you think dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same thing……
I care about kindness. I care about living peacefully with everyone else. I care about finding a cure for dementia. I care about making the world a better place……..It doesn’t matter if I’m red, black, yellow or green; or if I have on baggy pants or skin tight jeans, wear a bandana or a Hijab….or if I am of sound mind or half crazy……….none of it matters. ….. What matters is, we should all matter.


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