The cruise I was on last week sailed out of Puerto Rico. I’ve visited Puerto Rico on cruises before. I’ve walked the streets of Old San Juan and toured the fort. This time I got a schooled by The Universe in a most interesting lesson.
Americans are an arrogant lot. And as ‘woke’ as you might think you are, you are not. Trust me here. I like to believe myself fairly open to all humans. I believe we orginate from the same place so any differences in culture or appearance are superficial at best. We are Human first.
This cruise pointed out the root of my “Ugly American” in a way I am still coming to terms with. Because once you see a something in yourself — you have to reorganize your world view and integrate it.
My cruise sailed out of a Spanish speaking territory. And while Puerto Rico is an American held territory, it is not English/American by culture. Puerto Rico is it’s own unique entity. For the week I was aboard ship — people every where around me spoke Spanish including cruise staff as their first or only language. Because the guests on this cruise were predominately Spanish speaking and as an English only speaking guest — I was a minority.
Every announcement on the ship began with the Spanish version and then was repeated in English. English was the translation — not the primary language. The cruise was tailored to Hispanic culture. The meals offered on board reflecting Latin favorites I hadn’t seen offered on my previous cruise experiences. The music was a mix of Latin and Caribbean flavors in rotation.
I felt fortunate to have a dual cultural immersion experience. The best of two worlds right there for me to absorb.
On the Islands — I was on Island time — don’t worry be happy mode. And back on the ship — I would listen to the sounds of Latin music and tones of conversations in any number of Hispanic voices. Words never understood, but emotions conveyed none the less.
I felt my ‘otherness’ and embraced it. I knew this was my lesson. For as much as I wanted to believe in humanity and a common starting point, the reality is our world had separated us into factions. Us/Them. Woman/Man. Disabled/Abled. White/Brown/Black/Red/Yellow. Old/Young. Witch/Christian/Muslim/Jew. Pick one — pick more than one. I haven’t even hit on the political ‘otherness’.
However the truth is this — we don’t have to keep the lines drawn. Once we see them. We can reach across to ‘others’. Many times last week — many people — many kind people — reached across to me, in my ‘otherness’, and made me feel welcome. Not alone. Not ‘other’.
And they did it by smiling at me.
Just a smile. The most universal and welcoming gesture in the entire human race. A smile. Every where I went. A smile. And I knew — I wasn’t ‘other’ any more. That’s all it took for me to know I was among friends.