Are You Human?
I remember reading a book while living in North Africa about an Anglican missionary in the Sudan. He wrote about how one day, while walking in the village, one of the children asked him, “Are you a white man, or are you human?” The boy assumed all white foreigners weren’t human, but this particular missionary had confused him because he knew their language and culture. I wrote in a prayer letter that month that I wanted to be “human” to the people of North Africa, not just a foreigner.
I’ve noticed that this is something really special about our students. Because of the way they look, the way they typically understand more of the culture, and the way so many of them speak the language, they can develop deep relationships very quickly with nationals.
Even after their first afternoon on campus, it was fun to see how easily they were already connecting with the Domincan students. They came back talking about how natural it was to befriend them. Some of them had already been nicknamed “Domincan” by different friends they had made. Listening to them share their experience on campus affirmed all the reasons we thought taking Latinos to the world was a good and powerful idea. They connect in ways that typically take other Anglos longer to do.
One of the staff was talking about how she’s never been confused for any nationality other than American. So many of our students could go to a lot of different places in world and blend in as a native. While this can be a liability at times, we’ve only seen it as a positive the countries we’ve gone with them. They can get to places of depth with nationals even in a month-long project like this one. What missionary doesn’t want to be able to achieve that as quickly as possible?
A Minority Among a Minority
It’s been interesting to watch the 3 non-Spanish speakers on our team too. Even though it is normal for most people on a summer project to not understand the language, because the majority of our team does, they have really been struggling with their lack of ability to speak Spanish. When we met the PSW summer project here, the majority of their team was talking about how they’ve been managing without any language skill. I was suddenly aware of the minority on our team that were feeling that struggle even more acutely. Without the team experiencing this challenge together, our 3 students have felt even more discouraged by it. After the first day on campus, they all expressed feelings of insecurity. They were wondering if the Lord was going to be able to use them without knowing Spanish well this summer. I was sad to hear them so disheartened, and I realized we hadn’t been very sensitive to that very normal cross-cultural experience for them.
While we have been really affirming of our students that do speak Spanish, we hadn’t set up the minority of students on our team to succeed in a lot of ways. What a major miss on our part, but we’ve only been here a few days. We talked as staff about taking those students to the English department of the university and helping them move through the culture stress of not knowing how to communicate in a foreign country. I hadn’t thought about that at all in light of the majority being fluent. Language is already a sensitive area for some Latinos as it is a way to be excluded by the community if you don’t speak Spanish well. You aren’t “Latino enough” if you don’t speak the language. Coming on a mission trip with predominately fluent Spanish speakers heightens this latent anxiety. I’m wanting us to be more aware of this as the project continues. Wish we had thought about it sooner.