I’m penning this short note from a couple thousand feet in the air, somewhere above the Midwest USA. A few hours ago, I boarded my flight to Austin and noticed there was already a man in my window seat. I pointed at my boarding pass and without hesitation, he gave me a muffled sorry, a quick smile, and moved to the middle. As the boarding process continued, I quickly realized my friend in the middle seat didn’t speak any English, rather Spanish was his first language.
“De donde eres?” I asked, trying to rely on the early years of my life I dedicated to becoming conversational in Spanish.
His eyes lit up, “Honduras!”
For the next few hours, we conversed, speaking in a weird and almost inefficient mangle of limited English and Spanish. Despite the fact that there was an evident language barrier, I was able to understand his story. As the rest of cabin snores away on this red eye flight, I’m awake – overtaken by emotions and realizing that despite all of my identities that America tries to undermine (black, woman, the unique intersectionality of being both, immigrant, etc), there are privileges that I still have.
My friend was on his flight to freedom after spending the past couple of months in an unfortunate introduction to “the land of the free”. He woke up this morning not knowing that today would be the day he would be granted asylum, given some “new” clothes, and a one way ticket to a city he’d never been. Back home, he worked in media and as a graphic designer. When he found out I was Nigerian, he exclaimed about dancing to P Square and all the other African artists in dancehalls. We were kindred spirits, one in the same, yet our realities were very different. It was a happy day for him. There are details to his story that are keeping me awake, and that moved me enough to remind you, that despite where you may find yourself – in some ways, you too have privilege.
I hope you live your life listening to the stories of others, of experiences and paths you may never walk, that you chose empathy over dismissal, and that you find power in your opportunities to empower others.