Away, away... Away from the humid, hot, sticky, muggy, unbearable Houston. Away so I can breathe. I finally claim dryness as a friend, as I re-adjust to the new climate. And speaking of a new climate - figuratively, of course- lately, I've been drinking a lot of boba tea. I love tapioca and so, I usually go out of my way to find teahouses to try their taro flavor beverages. I found this little place that one could easily overlook by classifying it either too shady or just unsafe. I went there anyways because something told me, I won't be disappointed; indeed I wasn't, but what I was going to get was more than just a delicious glass of boba tea: a lesson. Yep, a lesson I was hoping to receive ever since I arrived in America, a lesson of what being a minority means, and how it feels to be one.
Only a couple of customers scattered around a store no bigger than your living room, with two of the walls were covered back to back with books in Chinese. The menu was half in English, half in Chinese...so were most of the writings in the bathroom, hallways, newspapers, etc. And, without hesitation, I thought: "seems authentic enough". Within 15 minutes, the store was filled. The tables were completely occupied, even the chairs at the "bar" were taken. I looked around me and as I stood up to pick up my order, I realized that this time around, I was the minority. In fact for most of my stay at the teahouse, my husband and I were the only white people out of, let's say 30 customers. I got a weird feeling upon this realization. My hands and body started to shake, I couldn't stop my anxious response of playing with the hem of my pants. My eyes were profusely confused, moving right to left and left to right without being able to stop. I told my husband how I feel, what I experience and in turn, he replied: "That's how it feels to be a minority; think about it". So I did...and still am.
I can’t say I am a racist, even though from what I read, most of us hold some sort of stereotypes about the different races around us. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in a society where due to the lack of diversity, there was no racial discrimination, there were no differences, and in turn, I held no beliefs about other races or minorities: I just didn't know any! When I moved to America, I heard horror stories from some of my African American friends about their experience with discrimination, and I just couldn't believe it, grasp the concept, understand it. Now, when I say I couldn't believe it I don't mean I was in awe of how some treat others, I literally thought they were exaggerating, they were not being serious, I really did not believe them.
Well, do I believe them now? I felt on the spot: I know that if I will tell you that I was the tallest woman in the store you might think I am making use of some stereotypes holding that all Asians are short; I am not...I was the tallest woman in the room (granted I am about 5’10)...I felt uncomfortable, I didn't feel in my element at all and decided that this is how a Chinese person (or any other person from a different race for that matter) must feel when surrounded by white people. My husband asked me if I want to leave but I refused. I had to feel the feeling, I had to think the thoughts, sweat and shake because otherwise, I would have never known how “they” feel, think, physically react. Will I go back there? Yes! Aside from this small teahouse having a great tea, they also cook the best lo-mien I have ever had. And no, food is not the only reason that makes me want to return. I think we-people- have the tendency to easily and quickly forget unpleasant situations and feelings. In order to have had learned something about it and apply it in my counseling, I need to re-experience it, re-learn it, and keep myself in check with my multicultural bias. That's my plan of learning about issues of multiculturalism and diversity first hand: experiencing it.
Surely, multicultural issues is a required class for most master level counseling programs, but does that mean that after one class, we become omniscient about it? As an Easter-European immigrant of six years going to therapy, I learned that even well-versed counselors often forget about my cultural background, and what should be treated as a cultural trait, is seen as abnormal behavior. So here I am, learning and wanting to progress along with our current multicultural reality.
Diana C. Pitaru is a counselor-in-training, and a student at Walden University. Her theoretical interests are in Gestalt, Art, and Narrative therapy while focusing on multicultural issues and eating disorders.