It was midnight and I exited the car fuming mad, almost to the point of shaking, yelling swear words and fighting the urge to kick the tire. I slammed the door and our taxi sped away. Turning to my boyfriend, I said, “It’s just not fair! We are good, honest people! Why does this stuff happen to us?” But I already knew the answer to my question; it happened because we are white.
As an immigrant, you are always aware of how vulnerable you are to the intentions of your peers. On this night, our taxi driver took advantage of our language abilities and drove the wrong way. I knew exactly how to get home and I tried several times to tell him, “No, you’re going the wrong way,” but my language skills just weren’t good enough. He knew what I was saying, but he could pretend he didn’t and get away with it. After all, I’m just a foreigner, what do I know about the layout of our city?
Living in South Korea is a challenge and has taught me a great deal about what it’s like to be a visible minority. People stare at me, proposition me for sex, laugh at and humiliate me, and try to take advantage of me financially. Often I think about the treatment of Hispanics back at home in the United States, and I feel a great deal of sympathy for their plight.
In high school, the Mexican girls in my class were always either ignored or treated as if they were sluts. The boys were always thought of as thugs and druggies. Both were considered less intelligent. I’ll never forget one teacher who called my friend Jorge stupid when he asked a question in class. As adults, life gets even more unfair and complicated. People give Hispanics dirty looks, call them inappropriate names, consider the only fitting job for them to be fruit picking, and constantly harp on their ability to speak English as if the very fabric of America is being undone with each utterance of a Spanish word.
But the worst and most disheartening injustice aimed at minorities is recent legislation in several states to limit their rights and treat them as second class people. New legislation, particularly SB 1070 of Arizona, has in many states granted police officers the right to racially profile people, asking for identification and immigration papers on the spot whenever they feel “reasonably suspicious” that the person in question is an illegal immigrant. Additionally, they can arrest suspected illegal immigrants without a warrant. Is it not worrisome that suspicion alone is enough to justify the arrest of an individual? Are we living in a George Orwell novel? Thankfully, there are judges and prosecutors who care enough about equality and the constitution to put stays on this kind of legislation, but how long can they hold back the tide? It appears that America’s anti-immigration radicals are growing.
I sometimes say that I know what it’s like now to be an immigrant but I hardly know what it’s like to be one in America. I can guess about what life is like for Hispanics but truthfully, I don’t know. Even in largely homogeneous countries like Korea, white people are still considered “good” immigrants because we bring money, are educated and speak an internationally dominant language (even if we are taken advantage of from time to time). On the whole, we are treated well.
I’d like to believe in altruism and that equality is possible–and achievable!–but I’m losing hope when I read the news, watch TV, visit the mall and talk to my friends. It seems that more and more people are content to scapegoat immigrants for all of society’s problems these days, and too few people are standing up for their rights. I wish I could give everyone the gift of being a foreigner for a year of their life in a country where they are a noticeable minority. Would it change the way we treated each other? I believe it has for me.
When the taxi driver finally dropped us off, I lamented the doubled size of our fare. But the truth is, many immigrants have it worse than I do. I have no idea what it’s like to be facing a future of questions about my immigration status every time I get pulled over, or the possibility of homelessness if I can’t prove my status on rental applications. Life in America is not easier for Hispanics (and other visible minorities) than in their home countries. It’s hard to be judged on how you appear rather than on how you behave. My taxi fare may have been double, but paying a little extra money hardly compares to the injustices non-white immigrants face each day in the United States.