Being a minority does hurt. It hurts a lot. When I first came to America at a public university, no body really cared. I had a hard time making friends. We automatically got pushed to the international student group or ‘support’ group. Regular American students were disinterested in foreign students unless they were particularly interested in your country and culture. When some Christian friends came to befriend me, it was refreshing and their warmth reflected Christ as well. And not all Christian friends would easily be friends with you either. There were some that particularly had a heart for international students and hung out with you.
When I moved to Grand Rapids, a predominantly Dutch-American, small, private, Christian, Kuyper College, things were even worse. Most students here went to private Christian schools and most had never traveled outside of Michigan. I became a complete outsider. They easily dismissed me. It was a very lonely phase of my life.
Two big churches, we went to before settling with the current church, probably don’t even know we ever went there. No body ever greeted us, followed-up, or invited us to their small groups. Perhaps the nature of a huge church is such or perhaps the fault was ours that we never actively tried to get noticed or involved.
When I got into the workforce, things were the same. Though the program serves refugees and has a need for a diverse staff, I witness how the minority staff struggle every day. We really have to be extra-ordinary to be noticed. We have to put an extra effort to be friends with the people who make up the majority. The social life is limited to people of similar backgrounds. And this ,maybe, is all just natural. And perhaps this is just how people who are coworkers go about their life. It is hard-work to take the time out to understand and relate to people who are different. People who cannot talk like the majority and carry on small talks about the sitcoms they grew up watching.
The current church that we go to, we were warned or informed even before we joined the church that it comprised of the upper middle class, White Americans of Ada and Cascade. In a sense, ‘be prepared to be ignored.’ And so it was. We do not know very many people in that church nor do we have many friends. Since we started getting involved in the Refugee Ministry, refugees are all we know and deal with. Only a handful of people know us by our names. My husband has been on staff for four years, he does not have one friend who will call him unless it is work related. The other day, a woman that I thought fairly knew me- asked my name. Obviously, I was a little hurt. We talk every Sunday when we pass each other in the children’s floor. We have common friends that we usually talk about. But over the course of time, I guess, she had forgotten my name. I think, all this just boils down to her disinterest in being friends with the minority.
A friend who came over to our house told us how great it was for the white American churches to have this cultural experience right at their doorstep. The interested white Americans only make up less than a percent of the church. Yet, to have any is truly amazing! So I do agree with his point. However, over the four years, what I have felt is that refugees have become a source of gratification for most them. Most people involved with refugees are retired people who are engaging themselves to fulfill a purpose in life they probably never had time for. But, yes, the interest and desire to serve are genuine. God Bless them for that! But relationships between these two vastly different cultures are so complicated. Who is going to take the time to truly have a friendship with a person who cannot compose one correct American sentence and vice-versa!? Eventually, every one will be tired of this. The refugees will move on with their own life and community once they have the wings. The American well-wishers will move on with their own. It won’t be until the second or third generation for the refugees to be fully integrated in their new guest culture.
My American friends, you have the freedom to be mad at me. Yet I am allowing myself to freely express what I have felt over the years. …….