Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Go home

 My home town, a typical New England small town.

I grew up in Reading, Massachusetts where the mores were known. Despite a French last name, I was a WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) something my mother reminded me of often.

The make up of the town had Irish hyphen, Italian hyphen and other nationality hyphen Americans mostly of second to X generations, but all Americans.

There was one Chinese family, a Belgian war bride and two blacks. Viv owned the gas station on the Reading-North Reading border and Celtic star Bill Russell who moved after being denied membership in one of the churches. He pointed out he was more welcomed at the White House than in Reading.

More people liked Ike than Stevenson but Kennedy became popular.

Newcomers were usually from nearby Woburn, Winchester, North Reading and were greeted by the Welcome Wagon lady with a basket of goodies, coupons to local merchants and information. Sometimes people would come from further away having been transferred by companies such as IBM and they were made welcome more or less as Americans.

My first experience as an immigrant was in Stuttgart, Germany as an Army bride. Our first landlord, who was an ex-army officer under Hitler, did not like Americans, complained of the smell of my cooking. We moved after we caught him searching our desk.

In our second flat and despite being part of the occupying forces, we made friends with the neighbors and were embraced with sorrow after Kennedy was shot by strangers.

My next experience was when I moved to Switzerland to a community far smaller than the one I grew up in. Despite my limited French, my landlord introduced me at village fêtes and invited me to dinner from time to time. As my French improved the progress was cheered.

When I moved to Geneva, which is 47-49% foreign, depending on the year, diversity was the norm. To have only one language in a company or at a gathering is a bit strange.

Where I've had an apartment in Argelès-sur-mer, France for 28 years the base is Catalan then French. Its position between the sea and the mountains, make it a destination for summer holidays and retirees from all over Europe. There are Arab families, usually accepted as "our Arabs" although not an ethnic group that is appreciated.

On my street of 30 houses there are nine nationalities.

Imagine, then, my surprise when at the post, a woman of 60+ looked at me and said in French "Go home to England."

"I'm Swiss," I said for I had taken that nationality 10 years before.

"Then go home to Switzerland."

Another woman, with a French accent, spoke to me in English and I responded in kind. She did not mention the other woman's comments.

The day the Brexit vote was announced, my husband at a golf club was told "bye-bye" by a Frenchman.

As a white woman of American origin it is good to be treated negatively by prejudiced people. It lets me feel for just a moment what a woman wearing a hijab might experience or a refuge fleeing unbelievable terror. The difference for me, is that it is rare and not the norm.

I can feel sorry for those that don't see the richness of diversity. I wish that those closed-minded people, those who are locked in their own little boxes, not unlike the board that denied Bill Russell a membership because of his pigmentation, would experience the same thing. Let them be the victim of hate for something that they have no control over.

I don't mind being disliked for something I do or say, I do mind being disliked for my nationality, my religion or the color of my skin.

Life is hard enough without irrational hate.

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