It Starts With MEek is a campaign that affects every student on and off campus. Behind each talk is an obstacle every human being faces at least once – racism, sexism, homophobia.
The first event I attended was led by Jennifer Stollman, who spoke about about how difference is good when building a healthy community. I was more than thrilled to hear about her talk of cultural difference, since I come from a mixed background.
Being from the Dominican Republic with an Italian mom and an American dad and ending up in Mississippi is not entirely easy. However, Stollman’s talk made me realize it is not supposed to be easy. Instead, it has to be challenging, and it’s an opportunity I am lucky to have.
What are we without culture? Without difference? These are questions I have never dared to ask myself until now. I realized that without diversity I am not myself. Diversity is what makes me, and I am what makes diversity.
Everybody on campus has difference in them. That can be in the way they talk, think, dress, and even eat. We are all different in different ways. Without it, as Stollman said, we become “bored, ill and depressed.” Imagine if everybody had the same ideas or thought the same? How boring would that be?
“Welcome to the world! Nobody is the same,” Stollman said proud and loud. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. “You interact with people different then you everyday,” she said.
I thought about these words for a long time. I came to the conclusion that we tend to not see this anymore because we have become such a selfish world where change scares us. We run away from people and things that don’t look, think and talk like us. We want everything to feel like home. Safe. Comfortable.
From my personal experience, nothing is going to feel like home, but that is OK. I can try as hard as I want to make Mississippi my home, but it is not. I, instead, adapt to it. I live it. I learn from it. And I promise, if you do this, you will survive, you will make it, and you will learn much more than you ever will in your home.
If it feels like home, you are doing it wrong.
The biggest challenge we face as a community is to listen. “How can we learn about difference if we do not listen?” Stollman asked.
If we do not listen to others about how they have lived, then we do not get to judge them.
I have been told,”You don’t have an accent,” or “You don’t look Dominican,” or even, “Are you sure you were born in the Dominican Republic?”
Listen to me. Don’t stereotype me. You listen to Spanish music. You eat Spanish food, but you don’t listen to me.
Stollman said: “Put yourselves in other people’s shoes, not your shoes on somebody else.”
We have to try to understand other people before they can understand us. Live their story, understand their thoughts, and most importantly, listen to them. If you do this, if you engage in other ways, then they will engage with you.
Stollman said that by sharing stories, people are “not trying to fix you, but share with you.” They are not trying to convert you to think the same way they do.
I am not trying to convert you to think the same way my culture taught me to. I just want to share with you. Don’t be afraid. It is not scary to realize that people live life differently from you. Stollman taught me that my culture, my difference, my language, is my power.