rude awakening: my first time as a minority

My first time as a minority wasn’t until the ripe age of 22. Up until then, I’ve lived in the rural Midwest. People still think we ride horses everywhere. (Unless you’re on the west side of the Missouri, that’s bogus.)

When I plunged head-first into a volunteer position in American Samoa, I had blindly assumed the “American” title would make my transition easier. It’s basically America, right? It’s America, but just on an island thousands of miles away?

Well, as the kids say here, jokes. That idea was squashed the moment I stepped onto the plane taking off from Honolulu. The initial realization wasn’t mind-blowing, but a year later, I can now say otherwise.

This first time as a minority has changed me. My perspective on life, the human rights I care so dearly about, has evolved. No longer can I consider myself completely ignorant of life in an oppressive, degrading environment.

No, I could never begin to comprehend the realities of racial, socioeconomic, or any other minorities. Those people who don’t just “try on” a minority garb and take it off in a year’s time. But what I do want from this is an open dialogue. A raw, honest discussion of my own first time as a minority and the injustice we’ve settled with for basic respect.

as a white person.

I’m not even going to garnish myself as a Caucasian. That’s white people pretending they’re special. My first time as a minority reminded me, if I had somehow forgotten, how ridiculous it is to sugarcoat the social divisions we so often perpetuate.

In virtually every facet of life, there’s an opportunity to be intentional or ignorant. The latter option is much easier because all you do is follow the tide. But you can clearly see what the result of such a choice is.

That show I’ve never watched based off the Stephen King novel, Under the Dome? It might as well take place in American Samoa. When you’re here, everything else is, figuratively and literally, very far away. You feel so far away from global affairs, you almost forget that a whole world exists outside this bubble.

stay on the outside.

The worst problem of them all is most of the people who live here don’t know any differently. This is their home, their culture, their people. Everyone else who isn’t a Pacific Islander is an outsider, and you’re treated accordingly. In the most subtle cues and the most obvious gestures, you constantly remember that you’re second-class. You don’t belong. The small but ever-present Asian population who lives here, my heart goes out to you.

I, the palagi, even when I may try to immerse myself in the community and show kindness to anyone I meet, the effort will be in vain. I will never fit in. That doesn’t break my heart, but it does mean that I regularly get the stink-eye, get talked down to like a toddler, and alternate between feeling like a ghost or an alien anomaly.

This first time as a minority, someone clearly outed from the pack, has challenged me every day. I’m not only trying to teach to an ESL classroom, but I’m also already at a disadvantage as a respected authority figure and human being.

as a woman.

During my orientation, we volunteers were warned of how the American Samoan dating scene goes. Men dominate, and women submit. Unless you want trouble, don’t try to romantically mingle.

Even if you’re not looking for a life partner, my first time as a minority unexpectedly included blatant misogyny. Again, South Dakota didn’t prepare me for consistent catcalling, or male elementary students snickering behind my back. One time a fifth-grade boy, as I walked by, pretended to hump me like a dog. Condoning behavior like this, especially beginning at a young age, needs to stop.

The mere fact I choose to wear pants has staff talking about me. Or when I go outside on weekends wearing shorts or a sleeveless top. Until now, even when traveling in metropolitan America and Europe, I had never felt noticeably uncomfortable walking past a young man. I honestly never had a reason to doubt, to wonder how disgusted I could become.

So, pair my palagi-status with my femininity, and I’m not only a lower-class person, but I’m also a strange object for the male species to ponder over. The bottom of the totem pole. This first time as a minority reminded me that the developed world as come far in gender equality, However, there’s a long way to go.

first time as a minority: only an iota.

I had always thought myself as aware and open-minded, but my first time as a minority solidifies a truth we all share: we have more to learn. We have empathy and compassion to spread. Messages of a multicultural, extremely diverse society that must reach every corner of the globe. Even on this far-off bubble of an island, people need to respect and appreciate one another.

My students don’t know why the n-word is wrong. Or the r-word. Or that Native Americans even exist. The civil rights movement, let alone slavery, was never mentioned in class until I came along. These kids don’t know the basics of other cultures or minorities because the people see no reason to teach them otherwise. Rather than saying, “It’s a big world out there!” the mentality I’ve encountered is, “The only world that matters is us.”

This palagi lady isn’t about to change the norms on her lonesome. What I do want is constant education, regardless of geography, of who we are, this patchwork hodgepodge of Homo sapien origins. This might be my first time as a minority, but since the dawn of time, people don’t know a life not stained with the “minority card.”

a minor step forward.

The injustice we face cannot fit into a blog post, nor should anyone try. And we shouldn’t try to be “colorblind” and assume we’re “all in this together.” The truth is, we each have a unique story to share. Any time as a minority shouldn’t feel degrading. In fact, we should celebrate all these unique perspectives we bring to the table, the plethora of knowledge and experiences.

The point isn’t to erase the fact we’re different. Instead, it’s to erase the inequality and disparity that has made the term “minority” an excuse for hate, or an explanation for life’s problems. It only took me my first time as a minority to realize that.

And we cannot all hop on planes and go live in secluded islands for a year. Some of us always exist without ever feeling and being treated like a minority. The very least we can do is encourage change and leaving people feeling more loved than how you found them.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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30th May 2019 at 9:43 am

I lived in West Africa for two years in college, and a lot of your post resonates with my experience there. Thanks for sharing!

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