Wednesday, April 16, 2014

People are People

Several months ago, the Superbowl happened and there was more controversial talk about the commercials afterward than about the game itself.

When I first saw the Coca-Cola commercial, I was almost in tears. How beautiful, I thought, to bring the many cultures and diversity of our country together in a song. A song about beauty and freedom . . . things that mean something to all people regardless of religious beliefs or what language you speak.

Later when I got on Facebook, I was again almost in tears, but not the good kind. I was in shock over how many hateful comments I read pertaining to Coca-Cola's advertisement. There were comments about how unpatriotic it was that the song wasn't in just English (English isn't our national language, just fyi). There were comments about how people needed to learn English or get out. There were comments (and this brought out my inner-wolf) about how awful it was that the "terrorists' language" was used in the commercial.

I don't know exactly what spell I fell under at that moment, but man oh man, I got defensive. I turned into one of those super opinionated people who start silly arguments on social media. I'm willing to bet I even lost some Facebook friends that night . . . and I won't hold it against them for blocking me or deleting me, because I got intense.

I understand why people get upset about illegal immigrants.

But the thing is, I feel like people very seldom try to understand the risks that come along with being an illegal immigrant, and why they feel those risks are worth it.

If I lived in a country where the government was corrupt and I feared for my life every day, I would want to get out too. If I were treated like a piece of property and denied my basic human rights because I'm a woman, I would not be okay with that.

I can't say I understand immigrants, legal or illegal, but I'd like to try to understand. I was born an American, and I'm proud of that, but that doesn't make me better or smarter than someone who comes from different circumstances. I learned that very humbling lesson at a young age.

In grade school, I was very advanced in reading. I started reading Greek Mythology and Shakespeare when I was in first and second grade (how did I have any friends?). When I was in third grade, my teacher asked me if I would like to be her helper during part of reading time. I proudly said yes.

I grew up in a very small town in Southeastern Idaho, a location abundant in farmland. It was a common thing for Mexican immigrants to come and work on the farms. These families typically did not stay in one place for too long. In third grade, there was the sweetest little Mexican girl in my class. I can still imagine her large brown eyes and mischievous giggle clear as day, but I can't remember her name. I've never been good with names. We will call her Daisy for the sake of the story.

Daisy didn't speak much English and she was behind on her reading. My teacher wanted me to go out in the hall with Daisy for a certain amount of minutes during reading time so I could read with her one-on-one. This quickly became routine for me and Daisy. We would sit with our backs against the wall near our classroom door and make our way through Daisy's basic workbooks. I watched her progress from attempting to sound out one syllable words, to being able to read and comprehend full sentences. It was exhilarating. I was teaching her.

However, I didn't realize how much Daisy would end up teaching me.

We could have built a friendship and understood one another, but there was one problem . . . I was too prideful.

 I made the mistake of thinking I was better than Daisy.

Daisy set me straight.

Fridays were library days. On Fridays, Daisy and I would pick a book to read together for fun. Usually, she ended up just asking me to choose the book. On one of our library days, I told Daisy she could choose any book in the whole library to have me read to her . . . and I wasn't going to help pick it. That's when she led me to a section of the library I'd never been to before. She pulled a picture book from the shelf marked "Espanol".

What did that mean? I was about to find out.

We claimed a spot in the library pit and I opened the book to the first page. I recognized all the letters on the page, but they were thrown together in an order I did not understand. But I couldn't not understand in front of Daisy, so I started sounding out the words and struggled through a paragraph of sentences that held no meaning to me.

And what did Daisy do?

She laughed. She was laughing at me. I quickly felt my face heat up with anger and embarrassment. My palms, damp with sweat, stuck to the pages of this book filled with utter nonsense. How could she be laughing at me? I was smarter than her. I was a better reader than her. That's when she started correcting me as I read words incorrectly, as I had so commonly done for her. I made my way through the book, speaking terrible broken Spanish, with the help of Daisy by my side.

I finally understood how Daisy must have felt every single day she came to school. She showed me that I was not better or smarter, we just had a different understanding. I'm so grateful Daisy taught me such a valuable lesson that afternoon in the library pit of our grade school. It's an experience I will never allow myself to forget. I wish I knew where she went and what she's doing right now . . .

After I simmered down from my Facebook rage and realized that no matter what I think, Coca-Cola will continue to make gobs of money with or without my support of their commercials, I sat back and asked myself why I was so passionate about the subject. Then I asked myself how I was making a difference by merely voicing my opinion on the subject. It's easy to have opinions. It's harder to act on those opinions. So I figured it was my responsibility to act. I recently started volunteering at the English Language Center in my community and thus far it has been so rewarding.

I really do not care what your political views are. Gosh, I can't even make up my mind on my own political views. I'm glad you have opinions even if they are different than mine. However, I don't have much tolerance for hate and arrogance.

It comes down to one basic point: people are people.

People are people . . . with beating hearts in their chests which keep them living and breathing. People are people . . . with hopes, and fears, and insecurities, and passions. We are all people. We're really not that different from one another.

Before you openly call someone a sinner or terrorist, before you label someone as uneducated or poor, remember that person has feelings. Same as you.


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