This refugee outreach course has been centered on interacting with those who you wouldn’t normally interact with, who are refugees in Roger’s Park. Many of the students in the course feel that they have been enlightened and touched by the families they have worked with, me included. One large proponent of this is to let go of prejudice and our pre-conceptions of people. Instead of focusing on refugees’ issues today I’d like to discuss something a little different, which is prejudice.
When I received my assignment to be with Katrina for a partner I thought at first to myself, “oh no a spoiled rich girl, and not only that but she’s a dancer!” This negative preconception that I had was unwarranted as I soon discovered that this girl who I had judged initially as being materialistic and snobbish is in actuality is a genuine, kind, mature, and intelligent person. I felt ashamed at my ignorance and prejudice.
I prided myself on being global minded, at having distanced myself from the Loyola community because I was so busy fighting for social justice off campus, working with minorities and the poor. I looked down on the upper-class white culture. This issue stemmed from elementary school when I felt different than everyone in my school. I am from a working class family who emigrated from developing nations.
When I was young I moved into a school system with many students whose families were doctors, lawyers, and rich businessmen. I felt alienated in a sense. Highschool is a segment of understanding the world. My preconception of dancers has not been positive, but I allowed this preconception I had in high-school to affect how I see things nowadays. I missed out on weekends hanging out with friends when I was in middle-school and high school because I was helping my family work at the restaurant. I resented this and this resentment carried itself into college. The irony is that I chose to go to a prestigious/ wealthy private Catholic school where I would be sure to continue feeling this way. I don’t mean to sound like I am feeling sorry for myself. I feel that my life has actually been blessed. I had a good childhood, I was never deprived of anything, and I was loved by my family.
I was so busy trying to distance myself from “rich white materialism”. I simplified people into certain socio-economic classes. I made assumptions and stereotyped. I thought I was being progressive in my thinking but in reality I was being just as ignorant as some of the people who I resented.
Katrina helped me break some of my own prejudices and for that I owe her a debt of gratitude. Her compassion and drive to help others was inspiring to me. She has forfeited hanging out with friends to be with the Damai family. She has challenged herself to eat foods that she would have never otherwise tried, and to be open to cultural experiences unlike anything she’s ever experienced. She even told me of her interest to study abroad in a civic ally engaging program in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am blown away by her. She’s made me realize my own prejudice. I am a bit ashamed of it. I was the snob not her. I am not so much different from her, or from anyone who I thought I was. I have many material possessions, I enjoy vacations, I have political and social freedom, I have a university education. If this refugee work has taught me anything it is to be open-minded to everyone and to not presume that they are one way or another. We all face struggles and cry, laugh, and love the same. We are all human and I thank Katrina for making me see this.