People Don’t Belong in Boxes

People Don't Belong in Boxes

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my cousin’s living room in Toronto, Canada watching an Arab-American’s standup comedy show on Netflix (shout-out to Maz Jobrani). There was a Christmas tree in the corner of the room that had been up for at least two years, and we had just came back from the Caribana parade, which is part of an annual festival celebrating Caribbean/West Indian culture.

And this is why people don’t belong in boxes.

I love Canada – Toronto, specifically. It’s a beautifully diverse city in a pristine country. The people don’t take themselves too seriously, and I always feel at home while I’m there. I’ve been visiting since I was a kid because I have a ton of family in and around Toronto, and because the summers are less brutal than they are in Texas. But this was the first time I’d been there since Trump became president and Trudeau became prime minister.

By the way, I tweeted to Justin Trudeau before I got there, but he didn’t respond.

“Sup, @JustinTrudeau? I’ll be up there in a bit, if you wanna grab dinner or something! #americanintoronto”

Looking back, maybe I should have jazzed up the tweet a little bit, given him a reason to meet me. “I’m a writer with no political clout or pull, but I would love to discuss the plight of the indigenous people with you. I just watched The Revenant and I have a lot of ideas.” Or maybe, “I, too, am a kayaking enthusiast.”

*Note: I’ve never kayaked, but it looks like fun. I just need someone with rowing arms to take me. [Hint, hint.]

Eh, it wouldn’t have made a difference, anyway. While I was there, he was actually in Vancouver – clear on the other side of the country. Damnit. He adorably made headlines for falling out of a kayak and kissing a bride (not his). In the meantime, my president made headlines for tweeting that he was not, in fact, on vacation in New Jersey.

“Meetings and calls!”

He sounded like me in high school trying to prove to my parents that I was actually studying and definitely not torrenting.

What always interests me about Canadians is how enthralled they are with the US – specifically, our politics. It’s hard to gauge, as an American, how much the rest of the world knows or cares about what’s going on with us. I think I actually underestimate this – I never want to presume that my problems or priorities are anyone else’s.

I’m not completely naïve, though…I know that we’re a major world player and people keep up with us. What happens in this country affects people around the globe. But they’re not just paying attention to our politics. They know about our sports, our celebs – even our eclipses (Kidding, I know that one’s a big deal). Once I realized how far-reaching this all was, I felt kind of bad.

Personally, I’m not the most well-traveled, but I do try to stay fairly informed about the world. Still, I find myself falling short. I mean, I only just found out that Australians have their own version of football. And it’s insane.

I also didn’t know that magpies attack people for no reason. Seriously, everything down there can and will kill you. #PSA

I was discussing all of this with an Australian friend of mine and he tried to make me feel better about it. He explained it to me this way. He said the US is like Brad Pitt. We all know who he is, what he’s up to, where he’s going, who he’s dating, and who doesn’t want to work with him. We know what projects are in his pipeline and whether or not he got the accolades he deserved for a job well done.

But Brad Pitt doesn’t know anything about me. News about me isn’t inundating his Facebook feed. And I shouldn’t feel bad about that.

I realize, though, that part of the reason why people are so caught up in America is because so many people are American. Not just the people on US soil – the people who are hoping to one day come and live here. The people who have family members and close friends who have moved here. The people overseas who are fighting for our country.

America is the world living within 50 states. We’re an international hub – some cities more than others. I’m grateful to live in one of the most diverse cities in the nation.

I frequent a Starbucks in Houston and every time I come here, I literally meet someone worth mentioning. A friend of mine told me I’m “a magnet for good stories” (Sup, Cody?), but I suppose for a writer, there are worse things in the world to be.

For example, one guy went out of his way to tell me that he had an Indian fiancée who looked kind of like me. He also let me know that I was well put-together and high-maintenance. Nice. Another guy told me I looked like the kind of girl to knee a guy in the face – and like it. That was interesting. Oh, and I learned from a stranger that I’m actually a Leo and not a Scorpio.

All that aside, though, this Starbucks is located at an interesting intersection in Houston. It’s in a hoppin’ part of town where people from all over the world seem to convene. Tonight, there’s a group of deaf friends having a very animated conversation over in the corner. I’m sitting next to a rowdy game of chess that seems to have finally drawn to a close. The post-game analysis is commencing – I think the guy with the cornrows won. Earlier, I was approached by a 23-year old guy who thought I was much younger than I actually am.

But I also met my first refugee.

This guy had been sitting next to me for a while. He seemed a bit older than me and he was applying for “entry-level” jobs on his laptop (I promise, I wasn’t droppin’ no eaves, Mr. Gandalf, sir). He seemed like a typical white American dude, until he took a phone call and started speaking in Arabic.

Still, nothing unusual about that. Just a passing misjudgment on my part.

He got off the phone and sat up looking at me. He was ready for a chat, so I took my headphones out of my ears and smiled.

He explained to me that he had just moved to this country 8 months ago as a refugee from Iraq. His family was still dispersed between Iraq and Jordan, and he only had a few friends here. In Iraq, he was an electrical engineer. Here, he works in a hotel.

His struggle is one that I have never known and it’s nothing I can relate to, but his story is certainly not uncommon. But even though his life path has re-routed itself in unimaginable directions, he was still thankful to be here. He didn’t complain about anything – he simply stated his current situation and asked my advice for his next step forward.

And now, he is a part of the American story.

The people who try to tear our country apart will say that he is not. They’ll say that he doesn’t belong here and that he’s more risk than asset. They’ll say that Americans don’t look or sound like him.

But Americans don’t belong in boxes. We’re a nation of square pegs looking for square holes. We’re a bunch of immigrants who dreamed the impossible dream – that we could found a nation of misfits and it would thrive. We’re a global experiment that’s still being poked, prodded, nurtured, and treated.

We all contribute to the story of America. Each generation shapes the world the next generation will enter into.

We are alchemists – and more than ever, we have a job to do.

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