by María L. Trigos-Gilbert

Do you remember the movie “The Chamber,” with Michael Douglas? If I’m not mistaken, this movie was made during the 80’s. “The Chamber” is a hopeful movie where a group of judges meet to vindicate what the Justice System couldn’t accomplish. They take the law into their own hands, and start to clean up their city, most likely New York City, according to the movie.

To a certain extent—in real life—we would enjoy seeing some judges having secret meeting in order to do what the law has prevented them from doing. Judges feel repulsion and confusion (battling against their own beliefs) when they have to give a judgment that doesn’t match their own beliefs or ideals. This would make anyone feel like a constitutional puppet that hides behind the Justice System. Yet, do we really need a group of judges redoing what should have been done in the first place? Let’s think about it while we read this article.

Tolerance vs. Acceptance
What I’m about to say, may cost me quite a bit, at least according to what I used to believe. The United States has been called the Melting Pot, but I think that most of us, whether USA citizens or USA residents, have a problem with the term “Melting Pot.” This intrinsic problem may be the result of what we have been thinking and knowing. The USA’s races—skin colors and cultures—have been separated not only by the Invisible Empire, but also by the Invisible Fence. The USA has had slow progress in the acceptance humankind.

I’m a firm believer in changes, good changes. Of course, what I may consider a good change, may not be so for you, or someone else. If so, that’s fine. We have the right to be different. Anyway, back to the point — the Invisible Fence — In the USA we have confused tolerance with acceptance. Those two words, tolerance and acceptance, are not even related! Tolerance has to do with patience while acceptance has to do with receiving and agreeing (to different extents, but the bottom line is to agree at least until the involved parties find some common ground where they can deal with each other without resenting one another).

As funny as it may be, tolerance has been confused with open-mindedness. Actually open-mindedness has a lot more to do with acceptance than with tolerance. No wonder we have mistaken the two. For instance, I feel so ashamed to admit that in a multicultural meeting a week ago an American-Puerto Rican friend revealed to us how little tolerance and acceptance she has received in the state of Louisiana. For instance, some people have asked her to go back from where she came. Some other people have made her aware how different she may be for this area’s life style. Even in a hospital where she used to work they pointed out the coming rejection from the town’s people. Certainly these incidents have certainly made her feel unwelcome and, therefore, rejected.

If I’m not mistaken, and I’m quite sure I’m not, Puerto Rico is part of the USA. Puerto Ricans have double nationality, if such term may be used. Puerto Ricans are North Americans, or Americans whatever you prefer, as much as any North American in the entire USA. So, what’s the deal? Is Louisiana more American than any other state? Or is Louisiana trying to hold that Invisible Empire that started a long time ago in the state of Tennessee until it reached all the states of the USA? Nowadays, you won’t hear anyone talking about Apartheid or the Invisible Empire with much ease at least not in the South, though you and I may notice the Invisible Fence. This Invisible Fence is harsher than the Invisible Empire because it isn’t related to wrong doings in the open air, but unacceptable manners and intolerant standards.

This isn’t a problem where whites are against African-Americans or African-Americans against whites. This is no longer about African-Americans or Native-Americas, but about people from some other countries. It doesn’t matter if they are white, black, tan, or yellow—though if they are white, the whites may have less difficulty relating to them. Similarly, if they are black, the African-Americans may find relations less problematic.

Minority’s Statistics & Power
Now the truth is that even the African-American people feel an unexplainable repulsion toward the Latin Americans because of an amusing word, “statistics.” The statistics say that Latin Americans are surpassing the minority’s number and that’s the African-American numbers. Although almost everyone has reached some level of tolerance, very few have come to accept Latin Americans.

If someone leaves his or her native country, he or she is not necessarily looking for power, but for a better standard of living. In actuality few Latin Americans, or people from other non-Latin nations, including European immigrants or descendants, get to be in power. The very first reason is that to be in “power” in the USA, one has to be born wealthy or graduate from Harvard, Yale, or some other famous and prestigious university. This shouldn’t be debatable because a simple look into politics will give us the understood answer. The names in the USA’s politics seem to be the same: The son or daughter of a former president, governor, or senator.

I have always questioned inherited power or position, but this isn’t to say that some of them aren’t qualified. For example, the USA’s claim of Equal Opportunities involves too much bull to be swallowed at once. Watch out, I’m not only referring to immigrants or immigrants’ descendants in the USA, I’m also talking about people like you who have been born in the USA from “full” North American parents. Honey, if you don’t have one of the two, an impressive degree from a prestigious university or come from a wealthy family, your future is as dark as any foreigners’ ambition.

Yes, it’s true that some foreigners have made a lot of money in this country, but those have been few. The reason is not only their lack of education, nor their unimpressive finances, but may I be so bold to say that one of the considerable factors may be racism? Ouch! This question hurts more than you may think.

Information Age or Global Age, Which is it?
Mr. Bill Clinton, the president who is about to be history like the ones before, once said that we are in the Information Age. I have to say that this isn’t the Information Age, but the Global Age. All of us know that with just a click we know about everybody’s politics, economics, and cultures. That’s why the Information Age isn’t only about information, but about worldwide knowledge. Even more important than having information, is what we do with that information.

Too bad the government hasn’t gotten out of their well furnished chambers to face the Invisible Fence, in spite of the massive information that all of us have. We have so much information that we don’t even know what to do with it, or, at worst, where it begins or ends. It is shameful to be in the year 2000, and still have problematic people. Those people live in a world of self-pity, where the only ones that count are people who represent a faithful copy of their beliefs and social status.

Louisiana, Oh Louisiana
I have lived in Louisiana for a considerable time, and I have never felt compelled to write an article that deals with Louisiana’s lack of tolerance and acceptance toward people from different cultures and countries. I must say that I love Louisiana with all my heart! Because of this love I will fight, and may even get killed, but I won’t stand by while some undesirable people do undesirable actions against anyone. Yes, it may be true that in New Orleans people may be a lot more civilized and accept people from different backgrounds, but Louisiana isn’t only New Orleans. New Orleans has been named the City of Sin.

Now my questions to these Northerners from Louisiana are the following: Where is the sin? Are they sinning because they accept people from different countries? Or is it because they have too much fun? I can’t find them guilty without any real evidence.

Tolerance Isn’t Enough
I have a lot of friends in Louisiana, African-Americans, Caucasians, and people from all sorts of cultural backgrounds. My reasons are clear; I was reared up in a family where everyone counted! People mean a lot to my parents. Even when I did things different from what I was taught, my parents let me know about my irresponsible and undesirable behavior. Of course, I was reared up in a country where child abuse wasn’t a matter of consideration. There was no reason for me to complain because my parents had talked to me without beating around the bush. The government didn’t interfere, and it still doesn’t (at least not like they do in the USA).

When I lived in Spain, where my father is from, I was taught the very same principals my father had taught me. I was to do as well as possible and, at times, beyond expectation. I’m not saying that my parents are angels or better than that. I’m trying to help you picture how different things can be, and how much we in the USA are missing from the laws that are given to us and from the ones taken from us! For instance, if racism is unlawful, most Latin Americans feel uncomfortable suing anyone, or even going to court because someone may tell them “to go back from where they came.”

First of all, a lawsuit costs money, the magic word, and it takes too much time. Some Latin Americans need an interpreter because of the terminology and certainly the language barrier. The truth is it’s difficult to defend oneself in a foreign language. It can be frightening to anyone. If many North Americans, who have been born in the USA and reared up in the USA, have trouble filing a lawsuit because of racism, can you imagine a foreigner who is here to work and get a better life? Even people like me, who are quite acquainted with the law’s jargon, find it difficult, so I can’t see a person who has so much trouble with the English language filing a lawsuit because of prejudices.

Don’t take me wrong, I have met many, and I mean many, lovely people from Louisiana — whether from South Louisiana or North Louisiana. I haven’t encountered that many prejudiced people down here, but this isn’t to say that some people haven’t let me know about their unexplained disapproval of other races. The thing is that I love Louisiana, in spite of its problems. This is my third home, and it will be as long as I’m alive. Who knows how long I may be alive after this article gets published, this may be almost funny. First of all, I know how to defend myself, and this may be the reason why I haven’t met those undesirable people. I don’t take anyone’s trash without a fight. I don’t let myself get run over just because of someone’s unfounded “because.”

I don’t have to use bad words to get my thoughts across. I try to reason with whomever allows me. Otherwise, I don’t waste my time. I’d rather write an article and let the public decide. Yet the most important aspect is that I haven’t forgotten what I was taught. I treat people how I want to be treated. If I’m important, everyone and everything is important. If I don’t like a person, I must have a reason that doesn’t have to do with skin color, faith, or any kind of background. I don’t go around disliking people because they are different! Am I an angel? I don’t think so! If you talk to my husband, he will tell you that I’m not even close to such title or angelic position. Believe me, and believe him since he lives with me.

This isn’t to say that some cultures aren’t difficult to understand or even to love, but all of those cultures deserve at least some respect, even if it means giving them the benefit of the doubt. I must also clarify that some people from other countries have given bad testimonies. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone from any given culture or country has to pay. Human beings aren’t made in series. At the most, two people like twins may be born at the same time and from the same mother, but these two people are still individuals with separate minds. Therefore, twins aren’t made in series. They do have their own personality just like all of us.

One day a mother explained to me how it feels to have kids. She showed me one of her hands and asked me, “Do you see my hand?” I said, “You bet.” Then she asked me, “Are my fingers of equal size and all the same?” I said, “To be honest they are all yours, but some are bigger than others.” The mother said, “Exactly, I have three children. All of them are mine, but they aren’t the same just because they come from the same hand.” Since then, I have understood not only about family matters, but about people from different countries, as well. Generalization is a dangerous thing to do without any kind of consideration.

So, the USA’s Melting Pot hasn’t melted as much as it should have. We are guilty, some of us more than others, but in the end, guilty. If we tolerate without acceptance, it’s like giving a gift with some sort of reservation. Who would want to receive a gift when it hasn’t been given without love or at least some sort of tenderness? It isn’t too much to ask to feel and walk in someone else’s shoes. Whenever you travel abroad, think of the foreigners that live in your USA. If you feel that it must be quite hard to live in a foreign land, my dear friend, you are right!

The Results of Our Global Age
The USA has been one of the greatest countries on earth because of its discipline in its finances. Yet we aren’t numbers; we are people. People think, and because of that, people feel. It doesn’t matter how much technology we get if we forget its purpose. We save a lot of time with our e-mails and Net-Surfing since we don’t have to go to the library as we did in the past. Now let’s not forget that one thing the Internet has done for us is to let us know that we are not alone, perhaps unique, but never alone. That’s why this Global Age has increased our sensibility. We have become aware of other people’s existence.

We have chatted with people who are thousands of miles away from us just because of our powerful tools. Therefore, this isn’t the time for discrimination without reason. This is the time to be closer because whoever tries to separate us will be left alone, hiding in the backyard. We shouldn’t need a group of judges having secret meetings to resolve what the Law hasn’t been capable of doing. On the contrary, the Law should work without having to have a separate chamber.

If any information must be obtained, it is the fact that we are Global. Our culture, whether American or not, has been changing and will still be changing with our without our participation—though it would be nice if we participate with much enthusiasm. In the end, we benefit from knowledge, but knowledge alone isn’t sufficient. It has to be matched with some action, and this action says that America isn’t a decision to “love it or leave it,” because we can love it and still fix it.

I’m not by any means trying to preach about tolerance and acceptance. In the end, that’s our own decision. Even more, I don’t want to change your mind, but to state the facts. Some of these facts have a harsh nature. Previously I said that the truth or even lies aren’t easy to swallow.

Still, silence is worse and we must speak up and contribute to acceptance, even if it means a tiny drop in the bucket. From tiny drops, the bucket gets full. When it happens, we can say with much happiness that we have contributed to the outcome. In this case, the matter is to help. We are people, and people have the capacity to be civilized.

For those of you who are married to a foreigner, I must say that’s the best evidence of your conviction about people’s equality.

For those of you who aren’t married to a foreigner but have the right attitude toward foreigners, I must tell you that you are on the right track. Don’t give up, even if you have other friends that make fun of your interest about other cultures. They are the ones missing out on the happy blast. There used to be an old commercial that said, “Good taste comes from variety.” I love this saying because it is so true. Thanks for your fine attention. Have questions? E-mail me. Hateful e-mail? Send it by mule. I’ll get it sooner or LATER. Hey, I truly thank you for your attention.