By: Gabriela Yareliz
A scene keeps playing over and over again, in my head. Summer of 2009, I visited France and did a stage with the French government. We were living in a small French mariner village. I gathered with young people from around the world (whom I love— friends for life), and what we had in common was our passion for the French language. Because we came from around the world, we had nights where we would present on our country and what it was like there.
I wasn’t the only one from the U.S. Joining me, were two young adults from Boston. I remember that when it was our turn to present, and it was my turn to speak, things got weird.
You see, the group didn’t really see me like they saw the Boston friends, who were also representing the U.S. They were white; I was not. People associated me with Puerto Rico, more than anything. I was fine with that, but that was interesting.
When my friends presented a glorious view of the U.S., I realized that my experience in the U.S., while something I am deeply grateful for, did not match theirs. When it was my turn to speak, I spoke about the Hispanic experience in the U.S. I spoke about racism, immigration and certain dynamics that we could improve in my country, because part of our conversation was about the future.
You could have heard a pin drop. People looked a bit bewildered, to be honest. I was talking about something that didn’t match an international perception of the U.S. at the time. This was a summer where all over France, beach towels with Obama’s face were ubiquitous.
Some people had this look on their face, you know, how people look at you when they think you are irrationally bitter about something. But I wasn’t. I just wanted to be honest and share my experience. I wanted to add depth to their understanding of my great nation.
My mind goes back to that presentation a lot, these days. Sometimes, I wonder if now, in this different world that we live in where everything is videotaped and disseminated— I wonder if they watch the news and remember what I said.
Time has given me a very public and strange vindication that I didn’t want. I wonder if they see the state of our country and think, “So this is what she was talking about.”
Where will we go from here, America? I still think of all our future could be if we did the hard internal work. Racism is a manifestation of the deeper evils we allow to take root in our hearts. Where will we go from here?