I’ve always had a heart for people from other cultures. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a culturally diverse area of St. Paul. Maybe it’s because I have many cultures represented in my family tree. It could even be that short stint I did as a banker on SCSU’s campus, working with students from all over the world. But, whatever the reason, God has placed a love for other cultures on my heart and, because of that, I am thrilled with the changes in our community.
When I first moved to St. Cloud back in the 80s, I missed the diversity of my hometown. I missed hearing other languages spoken and experiencing other cultures through their celebrations, food and clothing. But, times have changed and St. Cloud is now a rich, vibrant community with people from all over the world coming together.
I currently live in a large apartment complex in the area, and I am excited as I begin to see my neighborhood evolve into an area that looks much different than it did even five years ago. Now, as I drive home from work, I feel like I get to drive through another world. I see women sitting on the grass in their beautiful hijabs talking and laughing. I see children playing soccer on the tennis court (the net is long gone). I see men standing or talking. Sometimes, they even bring out their mats and pray outside on nice days.
But, my quandary is, despite my love for other cultures, I am an introvert, so, reaching out sometimes is hard – especially with language and cultural differences. But, I learned one thing early on—a smile translates into all languages. Holding the door open for someone with a load of groceries means the same to everyone. Wrapping your arms around yourself, shaking and saying “Brrrr” communicates that “Boy, it’s cold out today, isn’t it?” to all involved.[bctt tweet=” I learned one thing early on—a smile translates into all languages.”]
Luckily, some of my neighbors are much more outgoing than I am. One is a very sweet little girl who loves shoes. Whenever we would pass in the hallway, she would point to my feet and say the Somali word for shoes. Then I would point to her feet and say “shoes” in English and sometimes I’d get really crazy and say “sparkly shoes,” or “pretty shoes.” Her mother then began to talk to me about their family and their journey to St. Cloud. I was reminded, as I often am when I speak to others from around the world, how blessed we are to live our whole lives in America, and how grateful they are to be here. They have hopes and dreams just like us, but honestly, they have so many more obstacles then many of us ever will. They have seen things that would break our hearts and suffered atrocities that we can’t imagine. Yet, here they are… ready and willing to form a future for themselves and their families.
So, through this friendship with a family that I can sometimes hardly even talk to or understand, I have had my heart filled with even more passion to help others feel welcome and valued in our community. Recently, my dear sweet neighbors went out and bought my daughter and I beautiful hijabs to show that we are all part of one larger family. What can we do to make them know they are also a part of our family?
That’s the question I’m now asking myself. Do you need to ask it as well?