When I came to the US, the least I was expecting is to see such a diverse population. It is true that I knew how this country was formed mainly by immigrants, but I honestly and with a tremendous ignorance I believed that the US looks exactly like movies and series. Mainly Caucasians, few African-Americans and maybe Asians in Chinatown, Russian and Italians in their mafia neighborhood that I was not planning to hangout in or meet with, the Indians are very few working in IT and Cabs and the Latinos are maybe still in the borders but not too many. And guess what, buildings are high, New York, New York style.

When I first came, I figured out that well, DC is NOT New York, Not San Fran, Not LA … where most American movies are filmed. I was walking the streets with a hope to see high buildings with glass fronts, no not even a single one. It’s after a week that I discover Virginia precisely Rosslyn, “DC saved by the gang”.

In the first day too, I go to Chinatown and what I eat is: Mexican food. I am walking there with a very tall “typical” white-blue eyes American man as I believed typical would be, but most of people around us were black. For me the foreigner, I was confused. I knew later that talking about race in the US and especially DC is not a very comfortable easy topic.

But you know what? I want to talk about it, because despite the fact that this country has faced many challenges in regards with race, ethnicities and racism and also advanced a lot even if not in an easy way, to the point that everyone is now careful about the wording they use, to say either Black American or African American; This country and more specifically DC still has ethnic or racial groups who live separately not by choice but maybe by exclusion and who one of the few spaces they might share is the bus and not even all the lines.

Except comedians who crack jokes about races in their late night stand-up comedy shows in few bars in Arlington, few people talk about this split within the DC community, it’s almost a politically incorrect and something that no one dares to bring up. The whites avoid it to the point that I once met a white American who would whisper “African American” and my black friends though are more comfortable to say “black dude” and “white people” and make jokes about how white are different. I was a bit confused again, and coming also from Africa I wasn’t sure if saying African-American meant anything about Africa or more about the skin color.

I honestly avoided talking about this topic as much as I could. I tried to not say the word black to not bring up any sensitivity but then realized that there is incompatibility between what people avoid to say and the reality that these 2 communities are quite distinct and rarely mixing. There are bars for white and bars for black, parties and activities too, jobs and even universities. But still people prefer to not use words and don’t mind to make the difference in anything else. But maybe this is just an assumption.

Where are Latinos and Asians in all this? Asians are rare in DC, I barely see them. Discreet, not too loud, mostly are in Virginia.

Well, Latinos here in DC on the other hand are a big community and they mind their business and have their own world, restaurants, stores, neighborhoods, they work a lot that I am not even sure if they have limit working hours, some of them have lived for more than 15 years here but still have a think English accent and that’s something very important that tells a lot about how diverse is this town and how you can manage to live in this country even if you don’t master English or speak the same accent. Actually most of DC services are presented both in English and Spanish.

In fact language is probably not a specific thing for Latinos but for most immigrants, everyone has a chance to have a life in this country despite their level of English. Everyone can find their community and practice their beliefs and cultural activities freely. That’s what the whole federal system seems to be about, protecting individuality, so technically you can be whoever you want to be as long as you respect the law and the constitution.

One thing about this city: It’s a small town, almost everyone knows everyone else, sooner or later.

One thing about this country: Despite ANYTHING, They are ALL Americans, and I am just an outsider.

God Bless America.

Safa H.

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