“You sound white.” “You act white.” “You dress like a white person.” Growing up, these were the words that I heard from many of my classmates. I’ll never forget the feeling that I felt when I returned to the girls’ locker room after my 6th grade gym class to find my sneakers thrown in the toilet. I was bullied because I did not act, talk or dress, the way they wanted me to. What can I say? I had decided at a young age that the world that I wanted to live in was not white, black, Asian, Hispanic or any other racial identity. I simply wanted to be loved for me.
In 6th grade, I signed up to take French, when the majority of the student body signed up for Spanish. Although my family did not have much, I was thankful to have attended a middle school that offered 6-week, exploratory rotations of Spanish, French, Italian, American Sign Language and Japanese. I fell in love with the French culture and language at a pretty early age. I was enthralled with the country’s reputation for fine art, literature and cuisine. What can I say? I was an impressionable child. I ended up taking French through my freshman year in college.
Fast forward, many, many years later, I found myself in the middle of the Midi-Pyrenees in France, teaching English in the home of a family of 6 from Afghanistan. If I’m honest with you, you should know, I almost did not stay with this family due to fear.
I’ve realized that fear is not a white, black or racial thing, fear lies within each of us. It is dormant, until it is awakened. Something triggers our fear, perhaps, it’s fear of the unknown or fear of the unfamiliar. For me, it was both. Although my parents are amazing and raised me to love all types of people, I will say that their judgments about others’ religious beliefs had almost, passed on to me. This is ironic, given my experience in the 6th grade locker room. Well, perhaps we are judged and we judge others? However, it is critical that we learn to overcome these fears and tear down our judgments and stereotypes about others, especially those that we’ve yet to meet!
However, it is critical that we learn to overcome these fears and tear down our judgements and stereotypes about others, especially those that we’ve yet to meet!
I almost did not stay with my host family. I thought that most Muslims did not like Christians. I thought they would not respect my Christian ideals and beliefs. To this day, I remember how I felt when I read the Greenheart placement letter, letting me know that I’d be staying with a Muslim family who was originally from Afghanistan. Immediately, I felt conflicted. My heart wanted to love and embrace them as my own family, but everything else in me feared the worst, literally.
After talking with a friend who recently stayed with a Muslim family in Morocco, I decided to go ahead and give the family a chance and I’m so glad that I did! Taking a chance on the Greenheart France Homestay program, living with this French family from Afghanistan…it was one of the best decisions that I have made in my entire life!
I learned that my views about people from the Middle East were fueled by pop culture and the media. My relationship with my host mom showed me what love looks like. It is not a Christian love or a Muslim love. It is not an American, French or Afghani love. It is as pure as the love from my biological mother. She showed her love by picking me up from the train station at midnight when I got lost in Toulouse one night. When we went out to eat, she made absolutely sure that no food had dairy in it due to my allergy! And, we exchanged life stories over the most delicious Afghan meals that she cooked.
So, at the end of the day, I do not see myself as a black or African-American woman. I feel that I have no real place of origin. For me, home is where the heart is. And, I can rest assured that whenever I’m back in France, I always have a home to go to.