A regular Thursday morning in Chicago. My normal routine — walk to work and pop into the Dunkin Donuts across the street to get my usual (large coffee, skim milk only). Walking leisurely to work with a smile on my face. One of my “resolutions” is to smile at strangers. With coffee on my mind, I hear a husky voice say, “Go back to your land and pay for what you’ve done.” Huh? Did he say that to me? I see a middle aged man with a black beanie, navy overcoat, gray pants and sneakers turn around. He gives me a grim smile. I stop dead in my tracks. It sinks in that yes indeed that was addressed to me. I stand in disbelief, but make the conscious decision to let this man walk way ahead of me. I continue my walk to Dunkin, and I am literally shaking my head.
I know this is not an unusual scenario. That’s what makes me sad and a bit angry. Why is this a common one? My parents are from India. I was born and raised in Illinois. I have never encountered a person that has said something so ignorant to MY face. I know of friends and family that have and I always feel really irate when I hear such stories. After I got my coffee and sat down at my desk at work, I couldn’t get the man’s face and words out of my head.
Two hours later I went to speak to a colleague of mine. I replayed the scenario for her and all of a sudden my eyes became watery and tears were rolling down my face. Why am I emotional about this? Why is this getting to me? This is not about it happening to me, however, it’s much more than that. It’s what this represents that has me so emotional. It is the beginning of 2016 and I firmly believe that with all rhetoric about banning immigrants or telling them to go home — it’s perpetuating this cycle. We live in a world right now that is not open and inclusive. This incident in the grand scheme of things is so minuscule and pales in comparison to the injustices others face. I am lucky some would say that this is my first encounter. Many deal with this on a daily basis and even more troublesome, they fear for their lives. It’s not okay.
The only way to break this cycle is to not engage with more hate. My 17 year old niece, Zara Singh, said it best, “It amazes me how people fight out of fear…Instead of fighting with fear, you fought back with the greatest power of all: love. God bless you and the man who said that to you. May he find love in his life.” We all need to practice more love and acceptance. We co-exist — it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or where your ancestors came from. We are one in the same. I was shaken up, but I’ll let it go. I want to see changes in this world, so I’ll continue to do my part with a smile on my face.