By Jared Stanger
I was born, and spent the first decade of my life, in Southern California. My family moved around quite a bit back then, but the first house that we lived in that I still retain quite a bit of memory of was the house we had when I was about 4 to 6 years old.
It was the house with the olive tree that never seemed to grow olives in the front yard. It was the house where I learned to stay away from bees. It was the house where I learned to ride a bike. It was the house where a guy living around the corner owned a Delorean. It was the house where I nearly died from a ruptured appendix. It was the house where I found my first best friend.
This is that house.
More accurately, this is the street where that house was. We lived in the #2 house from the right corner. I’ve marked three other houses on the street that were really important to me.
The first house on the block belonged to my friend Alex. I don’t know if Alex was wealthy, or just wealthy relative to the rest of us, but I remember Alex’s dad drove a Porsche, Alex always had the newest, coolest Transformer toys, and, although my 5 year old brain didn’t recognize it at the time, Alex and his sister would come home from school in the uniforms of a private, Catholic School.
The seventh house on the block belonged to my friends Kim and Lee. Kim and Lee were brothers; Kim the older, and Lee the younger (and my age), if I’m remembering correctly. I don’t know for sure which Asian country Kim and Lee’s parents came from, but my adult self approximates that they were Korean. What I do remember is their house is where I was first introduced to the custom of taking my shoes off inside the home. But, most importantly, Kim and Lee had the coolest tree house in their back yard. The tree house enabled us, in our short little 5 year old bodies, to reach the fruit from the nearby apricot tree.
The third house on the block belonged to my friend Bobby. My best friend. Bobby had an older sister and an older brother, and his family was Mexican-American. From Bobby I remember my first experience with a pinata at a birthday party, but also learning about guilt when I refused to share some candy I had, and Bobby pointed out that the boy who lived in the house before me would have shared. Which was also a lesson about sharing.
I loved those years in that house with those friends.
Korean, Mexican, Agnostic Caucasian, Roman Catholic. We were different enough that my kindergarten brain recognized it. But we were the same enough that we didn’t care. I didn’t care.
I still don’t care.
In 4th grade, my first big crush, was this girl named Alicia Garcia. Though her name clearly indicates she was some kind of Latin American, my only concern was that she was really lovely. I totally did the little boy thing of being outwardly mean to her. I don’t remember specifically pulling her hair, but that was essentially the sentiment of the things I did.
In 5th grade, after moving to Washington, I met a girl who had been born in Guam and fell pretty hard for her. She was exotic-looking…not quite Latin, not quite Asian, not quite Pac Islander. At the time I really didn’t have a clue where Guam was. Years later, when I was working in radio promotions, I would run into her at a bikini contest my station was involved in. Still stunningly beautiful.
In 6th grade my best friend was a Korean guy named Cheol that used to let me steal bags full of gummy bears from his parents’ pantry. That was also, basically, my first introduction to Costco.
In junior high, my best friend became a guy named Alan who I met in my Honors English/Social Studies block. Alan’s dad was African-American and his mom was Japanese. Alan was a really great guy. I wish I hadn’t lost contact with him over the years.
Somewhere in the transition between junior high and high school, I became really close with a guy named Aaron. Aaron was Caucasian and pretty devoutly Christian. Aaron was one of the first people I knew to get his driver’s license. I remember driving around town in the summer, Aaron forcibly making me listen to Alan Jackson songs on repeat. I don’t listen to country music.
Then, in high school, all of my memories shift from school itself, to the fast food restaurant I worked at, and specifically all the friends I had, and made, while working there. That restaurant was where I was when I fell in love for the first time. Hell, it was, for me, an honest-to-goodness case of “love at first sight”.
She was deeply religious, went to a Christian private school…I was a heathen, borderline atheist at that point…in hindsight, we had next to nothing in common. But we became best friends, nonetheless.
Again, through the second decade of my life, all the people I cared about, we had pretty significant differences, but I honestly never cared. They were always secondary to the bigger picture of: “I like being around you more than I like digging in about our differences.”
If I ran into any of these people today, I would welcome them with open arms and love finding out who they became and how they got there.
That’s how I feel about most people most of the time. I don’t know if it’s the journalist in me, or what, but I’m compulsively curious about a person’s backstory. From the notary that recently came to my house to officiate my re-fi, to my neighbor across the street that I think might be Muslim…I can’t help but want to know their stories.
And there’s something beautiful about when you’re willing to ask and they’re willing to answer.
The people I’ve always struggled to relate to in life are those that seem aggressively close-minded and/or arrogantly ignorant.
This is why I don’t understand much of what is going on in our country these days. I don’t understand the levels of fear and hate and intolerance pointed at people because of the superficialities of race and religion and orientation. I. DON’T. GET. IT.
Not only do I not get it from a humanitarian viewpoint…I don’t get it from a practical application. Like, if you’re for measures being taken against Mexico/Mexicans; are you philosophically able to go to a Mexican restaurant? If you can’t empathize with BLM, do you HAVE to also take a hard pass on hip hop music and pretty much all professional sports?? If you’re Islamaphobic, do you make sure the gas station you fill up at isn’t supplied by, and financially supporting, Muslim-based countries? How does a racist ever travel anywhere, or do they?
If you’ve built up intolerances to any of these groups, if you believe the stereotypes, how do you then function day-to-day in a world where these other cultures are routinely contributing and improving it? How do you function when/where it isn’t really by/for/about and revolving around YOU? It really becomes a question, to me, that if you’ve decided you hate the players…aren’t you also forced to hate the game? And eventually you’ll hate all games. How does that ever leave you enjoying life??
I think of this sketch from Key n Peele that has one specific route to point out a larger “type” of mentality (NSFW):
This growing faction of white Americans that act so persecuted, with no self awareness to realize that any real persecution they’re suffering is not the action, but the reaction to them being assholes.
So what do we do? I don’t know. The character in the sketch became self aware. He calls himself the asshole. I don’t know how to communicate with people lacking this truly important basic self awareness. My first hope is for a miraculous movement en masse of them to be willing to be willing. But it’s like waiting for a junkie to hit rock bottom before they can admit that they have a problem.
My younger brother, probably the most worldly person in my family, is a total foodie, and in his attempt to share various foods and international cuisines with myself or our mom (both she and I tend to be new-food apprehensive); came up with this term: the “no thank you bite”. Which is to say, try at least one bite of it before deciding, “no, thank you…not for me”.
It’s sort of profound in its simplicity. And positives come from it. Eventually one of those “no thank you bites” turns into actually enjoying a new food, a new culture. I can remember with distinct clarity finding Vietnamese food for the first time as a result of my brother’s gentle prompting. But I was willing to be willing to try.
Having the self awareness that I’m apprehensive to trying new cuisine led me to deciding whether or not I liked that about myself. Recognizing that I didn’t gave me motivation to change. Motivation to change allows you to look for new doors you can open…and, trust me, from personal experience opening a door feels so much better than building up a wall.