By Rosa Conrad
I live in a community rich in culture. At the farmer’s market, you can hear different languages being spoken and smell distinct aromas from the variety of vendors selling their wares. As you make your way around the vendors, you see the different cultures. The food vendors selling their wares, tourists, shoppers all from different walks of life and different countries.
Many people living in this area come from Mexico, Oaxaca, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Samoa, Philippines, Thailand, Japan, China, and many other countries. To add to this plethora of culture, I see tourists coming to enjoy the evening at the Sunset Market adding their own language into the mix. I have heard French, German, Italian, and a host of other languages. This community is rich in culture, and it would seem that it also attracts foreign tourists to come out to our neck of the woods or in this case, the beach.
I have neighbors, friends, colleagues, co-workers, and people I encounter during my daily happenings with families originally from some of the countries I mentioned. Living in a bordering state, I experience a mixture of attitudes toward people who do not reflect the “American” ideal. I am a woman of color whose parents were originally from Mexico. I am labeled as Latina, Hispanic, Chicana, Mexican, and Pocha. They are labels that identify women with origins from anywhere south of the U.S. border; particularly the bordering states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
I hear these labels and I feel that they have created invisible borders, borders that divide people. We are set apart from each other, increasing a gap that has been intentionally placed and creating a divide that seeps into our blood. These labels point out the differences in each other instead of the commonalities of our humanity. Some may ignore them or not see that we are more alike than different. Yet when a woman like me walks down the street, people don’t see me. They see what they have been taught to see, a person of color, different from their own. Some may look at my gender, race, age, class, or language and may feel that I am different from them. All these things hold the invisible borders that have been put in place. But who am I? No one will know until they talk to me, and listen to my thoughts and ideas. Am I intelligent? Do I speak the same language as they do? Do I have similarities or differences? Does it matter? Would any of these labels applied, really describe who I am or are they used to assess my worth to them?
The truth is that it shouldn’t matter but wherever I go, the image on the outside will be the first thing they see. I may be approached or I may be shunned for it. Few may allow themselves to get to know me. Am I losing out on this or are they? Aren’t we both? Acceptance is not easy and we can’t deny that these differences impact our everyday lives. We are influenced by them and make decisions on these ideas. We cross streets because the person walking toward is not like us. Some might even feel threatened. Others may feel that a person who is different from them won’t or cannot relate to them.
We have rich cultures in this bordering state. I live in a city where you can experience unique cultures, taste a variety of delicious foods, and hear different language being spoken on a different street corner. In spite of all these wonderful opportunities to learn about the many groups of people from around the world, many reject them. Society continues to divide us by pointing out the differences in each culture. For so long now, it has given people who look different a reason to deny another’s culture because it is not like theirs. It continues to create labels that build borders and in this process, it denies the richness of our unique cultures. Instead we should embrace one another’s cultures, learn from them and we must remember that we share some commonalities and that is what should influence us so that we can respect the differences. And more importantly these labels need to be dropped and we need to see each other as people of one race: the human race. Perhaps then we will no longer have these invisible borders. Borderlands.