As a Somali immigrant at a predominantly white and black high school, it hasn’t always been easy for me. I have always been criticized because of my clothing, accent, manners and values. But I didn’t really mind these things, and I eventually became used to them. What I do mind are the stereotypes that people have about immigrants.
Opinion: Immigrant or native-born: We are all equal • Published by ThreeSixty, re-published by permission.
In the fall of my senior year in my government class, we were discussing politics when my teacher asked a question that none of us was able to answer. After a couple of minutes of silence, a girl finally raised her hand. We all turned our attention to her. She was a tall, beautiful Somalian girl. She had an accent, but she slowly and clearly answered the question. The teacher was impressed and kept shaking his head in approval.
However, one boy in class wasn’t so thrilled about an immigrant from Somalia knowing more about American government than he did. He said that he didn’t hear a word that she said, and that maybe next time she should speak English. This made me turn my head sharply towards him. Something in me snapped. But I didn’t say anything in her defense; to this day I regret that.
This boy was saying that she wasn’t supposed to know anything about American government just because she was an immigrant. Moments like these really make me angry. People have this stereotype that immigrants can’t learn or that we are less than them just because we have an accent.
Another event that stays on my mind happened more than a year ago. Two of my co-workers had gotten into an argument. One was white and the other African American. When the African American girl wasn’t around, the white woman came up to me and started talking about the dispute that they just had.
“You know, you are not like her at all,” she said.
“Of course I am not like her. We are two different people,” I said.
The woman answered, “No, not like that. I meant you guys, Africans, are way better than African Americans.”
I just looked at her. When I asked her what she meant, she went on to explain that all the Africans that worked there did everything she asked without complaining, while the African Americans only did what they were required to do.
At that moment, I realized what she was talking about. Of course, the African Americans at my workplace do only what their job requires because they can read and they understand the culture. But not the immigrants who have just come from another country. They do everything you ask them because they are afraid of expressing their opinions and risking arguments. They know that they won’t be able to properly argue without being misunderstood.
People like my manager, who have small minds, seem to stereotype a lot without even thinking about how it might affect other people. I won’t sit here and say that I never stereotype, because God knows I do. But that’s something I am working on changing.
In my four years in America, I have learned a lot from my different circle of friends, mentors, co-workers and teachers. Many of my friends who are from different countries have taught me something: that we are all equal. Now, instead of being ashamed of my culture and my accent, I am proud of it and have learned to embrace it.
Abdishe Dorose graduated from South High School in Minneapolis last spring. She is now in college.