Understanding Our Differences

Tanya - Roswell, Georgia
Entered on July 3, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

A wailing honk sounded as a bus precariously rushed past, its driver intent on delivering his passengers. Road lines were insignificant as long as he kept his schedule. No one minded anyway, as this bustling way of life was apparently familiar to the residents of Tangiers, Morocco. Three streams of cars crowded into the space meant for two, and bicyclists clutching squawking chickens weaved in and out, apparently oblivious to the dangers of vehicular transportation.

Such was my first impression of this North African city: a haphazard vitality that could scarcely be contained within such narrow streets. I was enthralled by the sights, sounds, and smells of this unfamiliar environment, and as I breathed in the air of a new continent, I trembled.

I was swiftly herded along with my group. We, a battalion of visitors armed with cameras and European money, marched into the uncharted territory, led by our general of a tourist guide. As we turned into a small side path and passed by women making baskets and beating dust from sheets, he cautioned us against ambushes by peddlers. The persistence of the vendors embarrassed me, and I fought the urge to roll my eyes at the constant harassment. But my mother gently reminded me that they were merely trying to make a living, like car salespeople, except more desperate and perhaps more honest.

That day, I ate couscous and drank mint tea; I smelled saffron; I touched intricate, handwoven rugs. I witnessed a deformed man selling postcards, children playing between market stalls, a snake charmer snake-charming, three musicians playing a gimbiri and maracas.

Life-changing events do not necessarily have to be as major as, say, winning the lottery — even small moments can be profound and rewarding. The change is subtle, and it takes maturity to finally fully grasp a particular experience. I learned far more from my day in Tangiers than I would from being numerically lucky.

I learned that humanity can be at once beautiful and ugly, tragic and brilliant, foreign and universal. Yes, who I came in contact with that day were Moroccans, but more importantly, they were people.

As a Vietnamese-American girl living in the Southeast and attending predominantly Caucasian schools, I have always thought of myself as different from my peers – indeed, I have been treated differently many times because of my race. But I realize that each individual comes from distinct circumstances that uniquely define him/her. I believe that every person from every background deserves to be respected without prejudice.

Whether it be during my travels across the world or right in my home state of Georgia, I encounter people of diverse backgrounds every day. I live without taking things from my heritage for granted or making assumptions about others. I, like everyone, am inextricably linked to my cultural history, and I strive to understand mine as well as others’. Understanding leads to tolerance; tolerance leads to peace.