Recently, I began wondering why I have always had an innate interest in cultures that are not my own, why I’ve been driven constantly to put myself out of my comfort zone, why I am forever bewildered and stupefied by those who are not like me. Furthermore, why do others not share my interest instead meeting other cultures with racism and xenophobia?
I hadn’t taken seriously the fact that I had grown up with many different cultures, but then I began realizing I had all kinds of culture sprinkled into my life, and I couldn’t imagine my upbringing without them. Perhaps the answer to xenophobia, the answer to prejudice, the answer to racism is subjecting children to other cultures to enrich their lives and broaden their perspectives early on. The friends I’ve had over the years have taught me to open my mind and stay interested in people I am different from rather then push the away.
My first best friend I met when I was six gave me a look into a different culture, and set up the tone for my friendships long into the future. Ryan Tachibana shared my first name, and was a first generation American. When I knew him, Ryan’s father still worked in Japan while his family lived in the states. The first time I met him as a child, he was incredibly kind to me as his son’s best friend. His mother introduced me to gyoza, Ryan introduced me to anime, and I was completely enthralled by the exotic far-away life of Ryan’s father.
Then, I moved when I was nine or so and wasn’t able to hang out with Ryan Tachibana as often as I’d liked. I moved to a new apartment, went to a new school, and was faced with the difficult task of making new friends in a place where I was the minority. My new elementary school was a Mexican-majority and for the first time I felt totally out of my comfort zone. I was shy and many of the boys were confident, outspoken, and were entrenched in a very different culture. I was one of two white kids in my class, but I didn’t mind. I enjoyed getting used to the differences in demeanor and interests. I made friends fairly easily despite my nervousness.
This is also where I met a friend whose name escapes me. I don’t remember much about him, but I do remember that he was Romanian. I was completely transfixed about the exotic nature of Romanian culture, his mother’s thick accent, and the strange food I was served at their dinner table. Yet again, I was thrilled by what was foreign to me. Even now I remember the cultural details but forget key components like his name.
But I moved again, a new home, a new school, and new friends. The school was also of a Mexican-majority, but this time there were more white kids in my classes. It provided an interesting mix. I met another boy who would be my best friend for years to come.
I met Abry Asmara when I was 12. He was half Mexican and half Indonesian. His father prayed five times daily to Muhammad on his prayer rug in the Islamic fashion, despite working long graveyard shifts every night as a nurse. His mother also worked as a nurse and was fiercely Catholic in her superstition, seriously afraid of apparitions, she held an immense hatred for her husband, and didn’t want Abry to ever move out of the house. We were friends so long, it got to the point when he should have, but never did leave. He grew up with both cultures, and both his parents cooked their culture’s food very well. I can’t count all the things I tried for the first time, menudo, pozole, tamales, you name it, we ate it. Depsite the variety of strange meats and sauces, I remain ignorant of the nomenclature of the vast majority of the Indonesian dishes I tried and loved.
My next best friend in the series was Leo Kawile, who I met when I was 14. His Filipino family fed my constantly, introducing me to lumpia and plenty of dishes in rich and spicy sauces. Other than that, they didn’t share their culture much with me, but I was always delighted to ask about the country’s affinity for Christmas or their dichotomous Southeast Asian relationship with homosexuality.
Then, there was my friend Zoe, who moved here from France when she was little. In 2015, we met up in Paris while my girlfriend and I were in France backpacking. Zoe and her girlfriend Bronwyn, who’s of Welsh heritage, were in Bordeaux (we didn’t go, I know we fucked up) visiting. We drank wine and ate eclairs along the Seine after having a perfect lunch of French bistro. We got drunk and laughed and had an evening it will be difficult for any of us to forget. My girlfriend, who’s Japanese and Korean, constantly asks her to pronounce things in French, we ask about the culture, the sentiment, and make fun of stereotypes until she purses her lips together in passivity and laughs with us.
But there isn’t any prejudice there, simply an affinity for another culture; we can look beyond the stereotypes and appreciate the differences without being offended, without thinking anybody is inferior, because we all have an interest in the variety of cultures we inherited and have learned about by having the privilege to have friends from around the world. If every kid got exposed to this kind of variety, it would be hard to imagine racism, xenophobia, and prejudice existing any longer.