It was a long weekend of driving. The Oregon Coast was beautiful and tranquil but now it was time to head home to reality.
Although the coast was a comfortable 65 degrees, we were brought back to the 90 degree heat, sitting in traffic in a car with no air conditioning. The open windows allowed the breeze in though it was scarce. I leaned my seat back and closed my eyes, heat exhaustion kicking in.
Peter and I have grown fond of the popular song “Despacito.” Other than its pure catchiness, it draws a bridge between our cultures. He’s white, I’m half Mexican and Filipino. In the same way food and traditions have helped me introduce him to my cultures, music has as well. Even though by the time he discovered Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber’s track I had grown a bit tired of it, I still put it on because I liked listening to it with him.
So as we baked in the heat, Peter started playing it. I heard the opening riff and Biebs’ voice fill the speakers. It continued on as I drifted to sleep.
Suddenly I hear an unfamiliar voice yell out at me, “WAKE UP!”
My eyes shot open and I saw a white truck with California plates to our left, a white man looking out the window laughing. His friend in the back seat just stared.
By the time I could process what just happened, traffic had moved and they’d driven ahead. Peter and I both muttered frustrations but let it pass. I pushed my seat back up and stared out the window, my heart pounding from being startled and from trying to figure out why this man chose to do that.
Was it because he was bored from sitting in a car all day? Was he drunk? Or was it the fact that I was beside my white boyfriend sleeping as Despacito played in the car?
If you’ve never been the victim of racism you might think I’m overreacting. Maybe you think I’M the racist one for even thinking this. You might think I’m being a stereotypical sensitive POC.
Trust me, I’ve wondered it myself.
For the next fifteen minutes my eyes darted between the windshield and the side mirror, excruciatingly aware of where that white truck was. Whenever it drew near, Peter sped up or slowed down to avoid them. He kept our hands intertwined between us.
Traffic finally began to let up and we started moving quicker up i-5. But we soon approached the white truck again. The same man saw us coming and he started wrangling himself out the window. As his torso hung out, we passed them. His friend in the back was laughing as foam gathered around the passenger’s mouth as he tried to spit at us, the wind blowing it across his face instead.
As someone who was born with brown skin, I can tell you that it’s a completely different world to grow up in. There are worries and thoughts and assumptions that enter my mind that if you weren’t born brown, would never cross your mind.
I turned my face away from Peter trying not to let any tears fall. I wanted to cry because it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to think that because I have darker skin, I deserve to be harassed and disrespected. I was angry that someone felt so compelled to go out of his way and taunt us. But I swallowed them down because that man and his friends were not worth my tears.
I love that I was born into two cultures that have taught me the value of family, hard work, respect, and loyalty.
They’re rich in life and love and I’m grateful for the world I get to be a part of, even if others choose not to understand or embrace it.
For anyone who is upset when you see racist attacks in the news or racist comments you read on Facebook or hear at work, speak up. Have conversations. Learn. Be open minded. Above all else, love each other.