Being an immigrant in the United States, many times I feel that we are always going to be second-class citizens here. There will always be discrimination, whether it be deliberate or not.
It does not matter how successful we get in our field of endeavor. It does not matter how high the level of our education is. It does not matter how fluent we speak the English language, albeit with a different accent. It does not matter how we dress-up. It does not even matter if we are already naturalized citizens of the US or not. We will still be viewed as “lowly” immigrants. And its hard to break away from the stereotypes of being one.
This brings me to the story of my friend and former classmate, as narrated by his daughter, during his and his wife’s birthday celebration. Their daughter is in college now.
Several years ago, my classmate, while he was in Las Vegas to attend a physicians’ conference, went to a car show. Besides Medicine, his knowledge in other fields of science is remarkable. You can ask him anything under the sun and he has an idea about it. That’s why we nicknamed him Einstein back in our college days. He is also well-versed in car talk and is a true auto enthusiast.
While he was in the auto show, he was looking at all the beautiful and exotic cars on display and was happily engaged in discussion with the car representatives. With my friend was her daughter who was 7 or 8 years old at that time. Perhaps a car show was the only “safe” show he can bring his little girl to, compared to the other shows Las Vegas is famous for.
The daughter got bored and tired, according to her account, and so it happened that she leaned on one of the expensive cars at the show, that his father has a certain interest in. The car was a gorgeous red Ferrari. The car representative then told my friend to please tell her daughter to get her hands off the car.
It may be that it was a gentle reminder or a small request by the car representative. But to my friend, it sounds like a snub, a slight, and a downright slap on the face.
Do you think I am not a real customer and has no interest in buying this car? Do you think I am not deserving to see or touch this car? Do you think, just because I’m an immigrant, I have no capability of buying this car? Well, my friend did not retort that way, but according to the daughter, that’s what he should have said. Instead, he just took it in stride.
It’s not that we are ‘social climbers,’ or that we are forgetting where we came from. It’s not that we are denying our humble beginnings, for just like me, my friend also used to ride the bus and jeepneys when we were in college, back in the Philippines. What we only asked for, is give us the respect we deserve.
As my friend’s daughter recounted the story, she said that that day, his father made this resolution: that this child, this very child that has a snotty nose and slimy hands, will one day own, and ride on this very car that she was not even allowed to touch.
Several weeks later, a beautiful red car was delivered, and rolled in into the garage of my friend’s house. When the daughter saw the car, she asked his father: “Dad, is this the car?” The car that she was forbidden to lean on.
My friend then proudly said, “Yes, my beloved daughter, this is the car.”