When I was in kindergarten (in one of my neighbor’s driveway turned into classroom, run by NFWC), one of my prized possession is a new box of crayola. 2 rows of 8 crayons, 16 different colors, in 1 box. I like it more than my scissors, ruler, pencil, and sharpener. Though I love my eraser very much too, because it smells like bubblegum (I wonder what kept me from chewing it). I used those crayons to color my art projects, my books, our wall, and everything that I think needs some color.
Then, when I started my residency training program in Internal Medicine in New Jersey, colors took on a different meaning. In our program are medical graduates from different countries of the world. I was privileged to work with people from Russia, Romania, Guyana, India, Israel, Greece, Burma, Nigeria, Vietnam, and of course Americans, and fellow Filipinos. We got along alright, once you learned to pronounce their names. Our group had a problem with one in particular, Hoia-nghia Nguyen, so he was unofficially given a new name, Bill Smith.
When I pursued my subspecialty training, we moved to Queens, New York. Not only are the resident doctors diverse, but the patient ethnicity became very diverse too. In fact the zip code 11373, where the hospital where I trained was located, was even featured in the National Geographic a few years ago, as the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the whole world. In one of the studies we conducted about tuberculosis in our hospital, we have counted more than 70 different ethnic background in our study population. We do have problem sometimes of understanding our patients, but we always find an interpreter who can assist us (now I feel for the veterinarians who has to interpret the “arfs” and “meows” of their patients), or we get by with gross sign language; besides pain and suffering is a universal language you can read in their faces even without them telling you in plain English.
When we moved to Manhattan where I further my training in another hospital, there was an instance, when my wife entered a store; it was dead of winter, so she was wearing a coat, muffler and a hat. The store clerk looked at her and tried to determine her ethnicity: “You don’t look Chinese, you don’t look Japanese, are you from Tibet?” (Tibet? Maybe its the hat she’s wearing.) My wife just smiled and proudly said, “I’m a Filipino”. Then the store clerk who was an American, greeted her “Keymustah kah?” (Who knows, he probably can greet in Chinese or Tibetan too.) Yes,we may be sometimes mistaken for another, but we never deny our origin.
Over the years I have learned to work, be friends, and live peacefully with people of different race, culture, and background. I may still sometimes gravitate with Filipino friends, but I have embraced the diversity, for I believe it is our differences and diversity that makes our world beautiful and more colorful. As the different colored crayons all in 1 box, but each color stays the same, in the same token, I have maintained my identity and proud to show my color – ako’y Pinoy (“di ako nahihiya kung ang ilong ko ay pango”).
Interesting comparison. 🙂 Not having had the privilege of working in a multi-cultural environment, I now see a bit better what it’s like.