The Minority Experience

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I am white. My husband is white and my kids are all white. Until four years ago that had no effect on our lives. And then we moved from the United States to Peru and became minorities. 

I expected to learn a lot from our move to Peru. I expected to learn about poverty and injustice. To learn Spanish and about the Peruvian culture. To learn to be more patient and forgiving. What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn from being part of the minority group.

There isn’t a day that I don’t think about the color of my skin and my children’s skin. It keeps me from leaving my house sometimes because I just can’t handlethe stares and comments. It causes my 5 year old daughter to cry after being called “gringa” (white girl) too many times to count. It makes my 13 year old hate riding the bus. It makes us the target of violence. While all of the neighborhood kids play freely outside, I constantly worry about my kids while they are outside of my home. My children’s safety is affected by the color of their skin. When my 10 year old asks to ride his bike to the mercado with his friends, fear is my first response.

And this fear doesn’t even have a history of slavery and ownership, lynchings and the KKK, oppression and injustice behind it. Or being an illegal immigrant, always living in fear of deportation. Or being labeled as dangerous and a possible threat to our government.

These are all things that non-white people in the United States have to deal with and I never did because of the color of my skin. Everywhere I went people assumed I was to be trusted and treated me as such. And I never would have realized what a privilege that is unless we had moved to Peru.

Ultimately it is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned as an ex-patriot. I have had a small taste of an experience that will stay with me forever. That has changed the way I think about race relations in the United States.

So, I am thankful for our experience as a minority. I have learned that white privilege is real. I have gained empathy for those whose skin color affects their daily life. I have learned to listen. My experience of the United States isn’t everyone’s experience, just as my experience of Peru isn’t everyone’s experience. And, perhaps most importantly to me, my kids have learned all of this as well. I hope this is a life lesson they will never forget. I pray that their experience as a minority translates into them being more compassionate and caring adults. That when they see racial injustice they will be moved to do something about it.

And I hope that we always remember to listen to and value the experience of the minority, wherever we live.

Do you live in a country where you are the minority? What has your experience been?

safety on the mission field

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A few weeks ago we were robbed. The men came while we were sleeping and stole our tv, computer, and some cash. Thankfully no one encountered them and we are all safe. We were most disappointed to lose some of the pictures on our computer because we hadn’t backed it up in 3 months, but overall we were very fortunate that not much was stolen. What really rattled us all, though, is the fact that strange men with malicious intentions were in our house while we were here.

We have been robbed a few times before. First, we had friends have their phones stolen while out and about. So being out in crowds started making my kids nervous. Then we had two incidents where we were robbed in our car (including a window being smashed). So the car immediately became an unsafe place. And now, with this robbery in our home, the one place left that was safe for my kids is no longer safe. And we are all feeling it.

Obviously my instinct as a mother is to protect and shield my kids from all things dangerous. Living in Peru, though, has taken away most of my ability to do that. We are vulnerable here, not only because we live in a developing country, but because of the color of our skin and the neighborhood that we have chosen to live in. We have a lot going against us in terms of safety and sometimes I wonder how we can put our kids in this situation.

We do what we can to make things more safe for them. We put non-breakable laminate on our car windows and we are getting bars on the windows of our house installed this week. But we can’t pretend that we’re safe. We can’t say to our kids, “I promise that you are safe.” They know the reality of our situation and, honesty, if they could choose, the majority of them would want to move back to the US.

One of our kids especially has PTSD symptoms and we wonder how much more he can take. When we take the bus he has to be on the inside seat away from everyone. When he’s in the car he has to sit in the middle seat away from the window. He makes us wake him up in the middle of the night so that he knows he hasn’t been kidnapped. Really anytime we are out in public he is visibly nervous. It is heartbreaking.

But we have chosen to stay where we are. My husband and I have weighed it all out, prayed about it, and we will stay. We love what we do, we have amazing housemates, and we’re just not done yet. Our kids are having a hard time (heck, we’re all having a hard time), but we haven’t hit the place yet where we feel it is too much for them. We would leave in a minute if we ever thought the damage to our kids was too high.

Plus there is much to love about where we live. To experience not only the culture of Peru, but also to live among the poor is powerful. My kids’ neighborhood friends consist of kids without bathrooms and running water. Living here, doing life among the poor, gives us life. It connects us with God in ways we have never known before. So, we continue our life here in Peru and do the best we can with what we have.

How do you handle the lack of safety on the mission field? Especially with kids?

Knowing When to Leave

In just a few short months, my husband and I have to make a decision that feels wildly impossible to make right now. We have to decide if we are leaving Peru. We still have a year and a half left on our contract, but the time is coming for us to give a verbal commitment of our intention to extend our contract or pack it up and return to the States when our contract ends.

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It’s a deadline and decision that is tearing me up inside. Both options hold hope and both hold sadness. I am already grieving the outcome. We can’t say yes to one without saying no to the other. And I don’t know how to walk away from Peru, but I also don’t know how we can do any longer than 5 years here. My love for Peru and our life here runs deep. We live in the barrio, on a street with no name, in one of the poorest areas of Lima. When I see my kids in the street playing soccer or running around with their neighborhood friends I know that we can’t leave here. When I go to the baby shower of one of the woman in our program I know that we can’t leave here. We have this beautiful, messy life that I wouldn’t change for anything.

Except. Except that I miss my other home. I miss the ease of words just rolling off my tongue whenever I want to communicate. I’m incredibly lonely. And every week it seems that there’s some emergency requiring time or money that we don’t have. We have lived in Peru for 3.5 years and most days we still feel like we’re barely making it. We’re treading water, waiting for a chance to stop fighting to just breathe.

But people tell us, over and over, that moving back to the US and trying to do life there after living abroad will be even harder. I catch glimpses of that when we go back and visit. We don’t fit in there anymore either. We’ve seen and experienced things that our friends there can’t understand. I will be lonely there in a completely different way. I’ll drive weird and call Coke “Coca-Cola” and make a fool of myself in my own culture.

When we moved to Peru it was with an intense conviction that we were doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing. I’ve never felt such peace about a decision. I don’t expect this next decision will bring me much peace. Staying means loneliness, lack of services for a child with learning disorders, marital stress, and more. Leaving means closing the chapter on the most amazing experience our family has ever had. It means saying good-bye to people we love so dearly with little hope of coming back. It means this culture, this country that my kids now identify with will be striped away from them.

So, how do you know when to leave? How do you make that decision? It feels like more weight than I can bear. We are still 1.5 years out from living through whatever decision we make and I’m filled with grief at the thought of experiencing either outcome. And I guess that’s where I land: knowing and accepting that it will be a season of grief whatever we decide. We will walk through it together, as we have done in every other season. And somehow we will make this decision.

If you have left the field, how did you know when to leave?

And if you’re still in the field, do you struggle with knowing when to leave?