Contributor: Jorge Rojas Ortega
Country: Costa Rica
STUDYING: Political Science
Silc Fall 2014 | Academic Spring Semester 2015
My perception of the United States and its people has definitely changed since I got involved in the University of Arkansas community. In this sense, my views have changed concerning two main aspects: the “rich America” and the discrimination against immigrants. Moreover, dear readers, I would like you to know that I will be very glad if I change your perspective simultaneously as you read this brief article.
First and foremost, as almost everyone knows, the U.S. is really a developed country -economically speaking- because it has one of the largest economies in the world. In regard to this, one generally associates America with luxury material possessions and rich people, among other stereotypes. However, now that I am living here, I have learned that not everything is like in the movies for a lot of people (fun, money, well-being, and the like). For instance, there are many who must survive with difficulties in their day-to-day lives, such as homelessness, unemployment, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and so forth.
No worries! Let’s talk good news! It turns out that many local organizations, in conjunction with the non-profit “The Pack Shack,” brought nutritious ingredients to the Arkansas Union in order for us to pack them and help fight hunger in Northwest Arkansas. The idea was to pack 17,000 meals and give them to our neighbors in need. While having conversations with the organizers, faculty members, and fellow students, I learned that 27% of children in Northwest Arkansas are at risk of going to bed hungry tonight. Additionally, this experience taught me that through generosity and volunteering we can promote a problem-solving community, and combat poverty in the most vulnerable parts of the world, regardless if it comes to a developing or developed country. On this occasion the best part of helping others was receiving the satisfaction that many more will go to bed with food in their stomachs, without sadness, and with more energy to face their next day.
Secondly, the other viewpoint that has undergone a considerable change is the one regarding American discrimination against foreigners. I used to think that discrimination against Latinos and other ethnicities was very common in America, especially in the South. Nevertheless, now that I live here, I am finding that this is not completely true. Fortunately, American society is learning about immigration and inclusivity little by little. The more we educate ourselves about the importance of learning from diversity, the more we welcome people regardless of their origin.
Finally, I would like to say that I was very lucky to be in the U.S. to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, because two friends of mine invited me to go to their houses for such traditions. I had the opportunity to visit the town of Hope in Southern Arkansas and Dallas, Texas. Contrary to what I used to believe, Southerners are known for their hospitality, friendliness, and their interest in learning about diversity. For example, my friends’ families hosted me with a great desire to share cultures and values. Living, eating, shopping, playing board games, and laughing with them made me feel at home and not simply a stranger. In addition, I felt welcomed at the beginning of April when I had Easter lunch at the Fenderson’s, a very open-hearted family that lives in Fayetteville, very close to the campus.
To conclude, I would say that our perspectives of what surrounds us changes frequently, and we see the realities around us differently every day depending on what we want to see. In my case, in particular, I have overcome my fears of change, and now I see the United States and its people with very different eyes. Also, as I have said, the UofA has helped me to recognize the importance of diversity, sense of community, and inclusivity toward those who want to have a better life. No matter if we are abroad or at home, we should always seek changes in order for everybody to have the basics to be happy, and not like in the movies, in which only some are portrayed with a smile in their faces.