by Tamara A.
I love to have coffee dates, park time, etc. with friends or people that I want to become friends with. One-on-one time is something that I cherish and need in order to really get to know someone.
This week I met up with Anne, another Edge of Seven volunteer, at The Market in Larimer Square. (One of my favorite Denver discoveries!) Anne is a quality individual who shares my affinity with traveling. In fact, she told me that she just bought tickets to go spend three months in Argentina. That is my kind of girl! So naturally, we spent our entire rendezvous chatting about all of our travel experiences: how we started, our struggles with languages, the lack of money at times to do so, the people that we were fortunate enough to meet along the way, and the reasons why others don’t do it.
That last topic is something that I can get a little worked up about. The reasons why others don’t do it. Now I’m not referring to the “others” that don’t because of the lack of interest. That is their own prerogative. I’m more addressing the hoards of people who don’t because they come up with every excuse in the book not to. My view: especially when you are young, pre-family, pre-stable career, pre-holding a ton of additional responsibilities, there is no reason that you would not be able take a small chunk of time from your life to go experience another culture. (I know there are other setbacks such as medical issues and such, but for my purposes, I’m not really acknowledging those right now.) I do not accept mental setbacks such as not wanting to miss anything at home, not knowing a language, not being comfortable, or fear of new things. Push yourself outside that comfort zone. You’ll find that (generally) people everywhere are nice and that you have a lot to learn.
Anne told me about a friend of hers. This girl is Costa Rican, has lived in Argentina for a while, studied in Ireland, speaks perfect English, wants to come to the United States and yet is too scared of stereotypes and judging to do so. This makes me sad. I know that these exist everywhere. There are always stereotypes floating around about every type of individual based on anything and everything from gender to race, sexuality to nationality, disabilities to religion. As an American in different countries, I have definitely had others assume falsehoods about me. They thought that I’d be more arrogant, more blonde, more sexually promiscuous, more into iPhones, iPads, and the latest gadgets. I have surprised some people because I have not fit the American image that they had pre-set in their minds.
While it may seem like I’m taking a fairly large leap here, this reminded me of an article that I read in the Denver Post last week called “An Eagerness to Connect”. It focused on the Muslim population in the Denver area and their struggle to find gathering spaces, qualified leaders and an acceptance from the surrounding community. Even though the centers within this specific area are facing their own issues, Gorski (the article’s author) pulled back and looked at the American Muslim community as a whole and the obstacles that they are facing as an entire subculture. These obstacles primarily deal with others’ assumptions of what it means to be Muslim and their lack of accurate information.
As most people are aware of, Muslims have had a lot of difficulty to shake the violent terrorist image that a lot of the world associates with them post-9/11. This is especially true in America. As Dr. Behram Mohmand states, “Unfortunately, a lot of people were introduced to Islam by airplanes hitting the twin towers.” In a predominately Christian country, the United States is fairly ignorant of the elements and teachings of Islam. This, along with the 9/11 terrorists identifying themselves as Muslims, has led to a breeding ground for stereotyping and group hate.
Many Muslim leaders in America have recognized the fact that it is the lack of knowledge the general public has of their religion and culture that leads to the discrimination. Some have placed the responsibility on the Muslim community to educate others and explain their teachings so that outsiders can understand the good that they believe in. I like this approach. Education cures ignorance. Education corrects the wrong associations that we make in our minds.
Whether it be an traveling American attempting to show that not all of us think we are arrogant entitled divas or a Muslim trying to convince society that the extremists do not convey the sentiment of the entire religion, teaching and seeking to be taught are the means for us to help ourselves and others to move away from nasty stereotyping and towards total acceptance.
Different isn’t bad. Different is interesting. And we should all look to offer the same acceptance that we are hoping for ourselves.
Information take from the article “An Eagerness to Connect” written by Eric Gorski in the Denver Post on Saturday August 20, 2011.