As a kid, I had the good fortune of being able to travel a lot. My dad worked in the industry and getting to see Argentina often (where my dad is from) and visit a host of other amazing places, was all part of growing up. Between travel and growing up in a bilingual immersion school gave me the privilege of being fluent in both English and Spanish from an early age. Language and travel were my gateways to heritage, culture, and the ethos our family lived by.
It also was proof to me that it’s not only OK but also cool to be one of the many permutations of people this world has to offer.
On one of our trips to Mexico, when I was 12 or so, I got into the habit of playing in the soccer game that happened every day at 2pm. I’d show up, like clockwork.
I remember planning my whole day around making sure I’d be there for the start of that game.
Most of the people playing were older than me, so when I showed up, not much was expected in regards to my output. There’d be jokes told, nothing nasty, but it was clear that I was the outsider. To their credit, I was included, but not really incorporated… until I scored a goal.
Questions about whether or not “el gringo” could play were put to rest.
In the instance I remember most vividly, some new guys had shown up and were making the same jokes (in Spanish) that I had heard over the past week, but this time I replied (in Spanish), “I understand everything you’re saying and I can play pretty well.”
“Entiendo todo lo que estan diciendo y puedo jugar bastante bien.”
I scored a goal soon thereafter and followed up, “Didn’t I tell you?”
“No te dije?”
In my mind, this was just an instance of people assuming things about me based on how I looked. It was an experience that obviously didn’t tap into prejudice the way being black in America would, for instance, but it did prove to me that basing our judgments on things like skin color or hair type was insane.
It’s always been clear to me that it’s not what you are that matters, but who you are.
We all want a chance to earn it. Let’s make sure we give that to each other.