Inspired by writer Chimamanda Adichie’s talk on The Danger of a Single Story, some of my students from Univesidad Nacional, Costa Rica wrote about their experiences of the single story trap.
We’ve posted about this inspiring talk before on PocketCultures, but here it is again.
The reactions from Costa Rica
When I heard the speech of Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story, I felt ashamed because as she said when I heard about Africans I think about black people, very thin, starving and with AIDS. The funny thing: that was my single story.
I think that she gave us a very good lesson about single stories. Also when she talked about Mexicans in front of Americans probably some of them also felt ashamed because they criticize them very much, not only Mexicans but also Latin-American people.
María José Rodríguez
When some people from the U.S. come here, they are shocked of the way we live: some of them believe that we, in Costa Rica, live in some kind of forest, and that we don’t have electricity or T.V. Some others think Costa Rica is an island, or that we don’t know what a cell phone, or even a T.V. is. This happens because sometimes Costa Rica is shown as a place of only animals and trees, and I think that is a stereotype.
When I was working in a place called “Hacienda Pozo Azul” located in Sarapiquí, which is a touristic place, I thought it was only for people from the United States or Europe; but never for Nicaraguans. Once, I was working and a woman approach toward to me; she had white skin, blue eyes and was very elegant. I never thought she was Nicaraguan because she was not as I had in my mind. For me, these people had to have dark skin and were very poor, maybe that’s because in my neighborhood they were like that. That day, this girl went to my workplace, I was almost “in love with her”; actually I was in awe because of her beauty.
After some minutes, I started talking to her and realized she was very nice. Since I saw her I thought she had a lot of money because she paid the most expensive food and so on. The shocking part of my single story was when I asked her: “Where do you come from?” and she told me: “I come from Nicaragua”, obviously I thought she was playing a joke on me, because for me she was not a typical Nicaraguan. Finally it was true; she came from Nicaragua. At that moment I was ashamed, but that day she broke a stereotype I had about Nicaraguan people. I learned the lesson; now my point of view of these people has changed. Now, I try not to be like that anymore.
I am a young person who does not like to talk too much about my life because I know some people are going to criticize my way of thinking. I like to listen to Rock / Punk Music and my favorite group is Simple Plan. One day, I cut my hair as an emo and as you know, an emo is ‘‘someone’’ who hates his or her life and he or she just ‘‘wants to die”.
When my mother saw my new hairstyle, she told me: ‘‘Are you crazy?, Why do you want to die?’’ I began to laugh and I told her: ‘‘Are you kidding me?’’ I do not want to die, I love my life. My mother said: “But you cut your hair as a nemo”. I asked her: “Mom, ‘‘What is a nemo?’’ and her answer was: ”A nemo is a person who likes to commit suicide”. I could not believe it, I was so angry because she was criticizing a style without knowing even a little bit about it. I told her: “First of all, that style is named emo not nemo and second, how do you know that I am an emo or that I am going to kill myself? Just because of my hair? It is stupid, isn’t it?”
At that moment, she did not say anything and minutes later, she apologized to me. She felt embarrassed but I know she did it because she was a person who made a mistake and nobody is perfect. Everything is related to stereotypes and that is why I do not like to criticize something if I do not know the origin of it.
My story is related to one of my best friends. Just because she is not like her sisters; she does not like to wear a dress, a mini skirt, or listen to reggaetton music, that makes her the “black sheep” of the family. Her parents don’t see how nice, intelligent, and capable she is, they are her parents but insist that maybe she could be a lesbian because she has lesbian friends, they stereotyped her because she listens to Emo genre music (but she laughs and smiles so much that is impossible for her to even think about cutting herself with a Gillette), they do not let her wear black clothes related with a known character named Jack or any Metal band because that represents the devil and will make her a bad person. The funny thing is that she, another friend and I are truly best friends, and we two are what her parents hate the most. Isn’t that ironic?
To finish with this writing, I remember when I was in fourth grade and had to move far away from Coronado to Alajuela because of my father’s job. The strongest memory I have about the school I attended for the six longest and worst months of my life, is when some kids were throwing rocks to my best friend at the time and me; just because she wore glasses and was named Nairobi, and I was too short to be accepted as “normal”. That really taught me that the human can be cruel when ignoring what is the value of another one. That is why we must change the world by being truly tolerant, understanding and open minded, to learn from our mistakes, to learn from others’ mistakes and break vicious circles that have endured from generation to generation. We should try to be in someone else’s shoes to get to feel what they suffer, to understand how and who they are, and why they do what they do. Respect, comprehension, values, love, education, and a positive attitude are weapons that will help us to recognize and feel the different landscapes that a story can give us.
A week ago I was watching TV, and I saw this program from Argentina. In the program, they were asking some people about: “How do you call people from…?” And I was amazed when they asked: “How do you call people from Costa Rica?” and the answer was, “Puerto Ricans.” I just could not believe it. And the thing is that when I was in the States, the same thing happened to me more than once. They would say to me: “From which part of Mexico are you from?” or “Do you like living in an island?” I did not get angry, I just felt like I had to teach them a little about Costa Rica. And it was kind of fun, when I looked their faces turning red with embarrassment, even though it was not my intention. Well the thing is that many people around the world still believe that Costa Rica is the same as Puerto Rico, or Mexico. However, if we get offended or angry, and do not explain that we are different, people will still believe that they are right and will not bother on learning the difference. We have to share and let them know that we exist.
Some years ago, I had a sad experience that I will never forget. When I was in high school, I had a group of friends, and once we went to my house to watch an important soccer game on T.V. We were laughing and talking, but suddenly a friend told a joke about Nicaraguan people; the joke was cruel and mean, but it was so funny that everybody laughed, I did too. When I looked around, I saw that one of my friends was really serious, so I asked her why she was like that, and she told me she was Nicaraguan. I never imagined that because she was really white, blond, and blue eyed. I felt sad and embarrassed and I told her I was so sorry. That day I learned that not everybody from Nicaragua has dark hair, eyes and skin.
When I was a child, I went to visit a friend of my mom who had AIDS. I remember that day as if it were today, I saw a man who was in bed, his body was covered in bruises and he looked very tired. After this experience, I started to believe in the stereotype that all people with AIDS were people who could not move from their beds. Some years ago, I went to a place where people with AIDS live and I shared some days with them. After some time, I realized that I was wrong; they are normal people, they can move, laugh, jump, cry, smile, etc. In conclusion, I felt very sorry for myself because I was very wrong and even stupid for believing in something just because I once saw a person who had AIDS in a bed.
About the authorNuria