She took a moment before speaking. Tears brimmed her eyes.
In a room filled with people from different ethnic backgrounds, genders, and generations, my friend shared what it felt like to be a Latina in America and a Latina in our organization.
Tears flushed her face as she recounted her journey as a missionary and the disheartening challenges she faced developing her funding, not because the money wasn’t available, but because of her encounter with beliefs some people held about Hispanic and Latino people. The closed-minded beliefs often led to closed doors.
She faced prejudices against her community and culture. The bias made her feel not fully American.
That feeling of not belonging and being perceived as an intruder penetrated her heart. Rejection hit her soul and affected my friend’s self-esteem.
Her vivid words opened my eyes. As an African American, I’m well informed of the struggles and triumphs of my people in the story that is America. But how informed am I about the stories of others? God began to speak to me. I needed to understand their joys and pains, and be open to embracing and valuing their stories as strongly as I do my own.
Following that experience, I realized that tunnel vision for my journey keeps me from seeing the journeys of other people. When this happens, I want to move beyond what I know because, if I choose to stay in my journey, I will limit myself relationally and culturally. I’ll also miss out on what God desires to do in my life through relationships with others.
Lamenting Develops Empathy
Lamenting is powerful. It allows people to express deep grief, disappointment or regret over loss and hardship. It has the ability to bring me into stories beyond my experience by creating compassion, empathy and awareness of others’ history and current realities. Lamenting brings us face to face with other humans.
Relationships Foster Cultural Exchanges
Relationships invite me to see life from someone else’s experience. A friendship can move an intangible concept – race, culture, socio-economic reality – concretely into life. My friendship with my Latina friend covers a decade. But I never understood her story the way I did that February afternoon. We both are ethnic minorities and women, two powerful points of connection. Her vulnerability connected our stories. And a commonality of pain ushered me toward learning more about her journey.
How I’m Getting Over Myself
Books help me understand others’ experience. My 2017 reading list includes:
- Being Latino in Christ by Orlando Crespo
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
- Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
- Being White by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp
- The Next Evangelicalism by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah
- Evicted by Matthew Desmond
- White Awake by Daniel Hill
I want to understand other cultures and develop cultural empathy as a messenger of the gospel. I realize now that stepping into another person’s culture doesn’t diminish my own. Actually, it enhances it. I can learn about and embrace the experiences of others while valuing their cultures, too.
My journey as an African American is one crayon in the Crayola box of ethnicity that is God’s created in the world. My journey to greater self-awareness invites me to consider:
- Am I seeing the other colors in this box the way I see my own?
- How can I begin to see these colors and the cultures they represent more deliberately?
Do you find yourself in a similar place? Reflect on how you see culture – your own, and the cultures of others. Look for areas to consciously develop as a learner. Ask God to show you how to strengthen a friendship by learning more about your friend’s story. And help them learn more about yours.
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