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?

Moving Abroad with Older Kids: Where’s the Road Map?

We welcome my “neighbor” Sarah Goodfellow, who lives in Peru (I am in Bolivia), as our contributor today. I am so very excited that there are now two regular writers from South America on the team for A Life Overseas. Yeah! Learn more about Sarah on the Writers Page. Even if you do not have older kids yourself it is most likely you know someone who does. This piece will give you a look at some of the things families live out when they make a cross cultural move. Please add your thoughts in the comment section below. Thanks!    – Angie Washington

Sarah Goodfellow

When we moved to Peru over 3 years ago, our kids ranged in age from 2 to 9 years old. We only knew one other family that lived abroad with older kids, so we had no instruction guide for how to do this with older kids. We were clueless. We knew it would be hard for them to leave the only home they had really ever known, their school and neighborhood friends, their soccer teams and Brownie troop. We just didn’t know how hard it would really be and that, over 3 years later, it would still be hard.

Our youngest knows Peru as home. There was no transition period for her when we moved because she had all that she needed at the time- her mom and dad. For her older sister, Riley, almost everything changed with one plane flight. She arrived in a new country and was thrown into a new school where everyone spoke a new language. She went from doing life with friends she had known for 5 years to spending her days with kids that she couldn’t even communicate with. That first year was rough to say the least.

What I didn’t expect was how hard I would take it all as the parent. We had prayed and talked through everything about our move and decided that putting our kids into a Peruvian school was important to us. We just didn’t realize what we were asking of our kids. The day I rode in a taxi and dropped my 5 year old off for his first day of kindergarten in a language he didn’t understand at all about broke my heart. This wasn’t the kindergarten experience that I had dreamed of for him.

Watching Riley navigate 4th grade and fitting in and feeling awkward and being the only one in her class with a different culture, language, and skin color almost made us throw in the towel on the whole living abroad thing. She changed that first year. She went from being loving and kind to being angry and rude. We knew it was because she was in so much pain and we knew we had caused it by making her move. Riley had a very strong faith before we moved, but that also changed. She questioned how a God that loved her would take away everything she loved and make her live in such a hard place. She wondered if the point of being a Christ follower was to be miserable.

Oh, how my husband and I questioned ourselves that year. What were we doing to our children? There was no joy in serving the Lord. Only lots and lots of pain. It’s one thing to choose for yourself to follow God into the hard places, but to choose to put your kids in the hard places? That’s a heavy burden to carry.

Thankfully we are now further down the road and finally in a place where we can say that it was worth it. I can give you the practical reasons:

  • our kids are fluent Spanish speakers
  • they appreciate and know Peruvian culture
  • they are more confident in themselves

But, more importantly, we have grown closer as a family and each of us has grown in our faith. Riley’s doubts were valid and real. And in the end she chose to trust, rather than turn away. We all did and continue to each day. Living abroad can make even the most faithful adult doubt in a loving God. Asking a child to deal with the intricacies, contradictions, and alienation of overseas life almost seems cruel. Some days I still worry that it is. But we continue to trust that God has not only called us here, but also our kids.

Do you have older kids in the field? What have you done to help them with the transition and difficulties of living abroad?

Or were you the older kid who had to move overseas? What advice do you have for us parents?

Sarah Goodfellow, NGO worker in Lima, Peru

 blog: But Now To Life the Life       NGO: Krochet Kids Intl