After graduating college, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I moved to New York City, where we lived on my cousin’s floor in a small apartment in Queens. It was very struggling Gen Xer, and glamourous or exciting only if you’ve never done it.
We stayed on that floor for three months, until we landed jobs and saved up enough money for a miniscule studio hovel in Manhattan. But for those dozen or so weeks that we lived in Queens, my wife had an experience unique to her life: She was the minority.
The situation put her liberal philosophy to the test. Would she be down with brown? Or would she reflexively clutch her purse whenever a Latino teenage boy walked by? Bear in mind that she grew up on a farm, where the nearest town was a rural enclave of eight hundred white Midwesterners. Now she was living in a city of eight million (that’s a population increase of 100,000% for you mathematicians out there), which was full of freaks and weirdos representing every race, creed, and whacked-out belief system in America.
I’m pleased to say that she came though the experience even more compassionate and understanding than she was before, and that was a high standard to begin with.
For the first time in her life, she knew what it was like to walk down the street and encounter nobody who looks like you. She mingled with people who spoke different languages, and she had to think about how others perceived her. These are perceptions that ethnic minorities have every day in America, but which are alien to most white people.
Perhaps everyone should have this experience at some time in his or her life. It certainly couldn’t hurt to understand where others are coming from, especially as this country gets more diverse (like it or not). It may even cut down on the tendency of some members of the majority to swagger about, and to refrain from wielding their strength in numbers like a cultural hammer or divine right.
To be fair, however, my wife’s sink-or-swim dunking into multiculturalism was not completely smooth. She never did understand why all the Latina women between the ages of fourteen and fifty-nine had to wear skin-tight pants that defined the concept of camel-toe.
Actually, I don’t understand it either. Maybe it’s a Queens thing.