Thursday, April 7, 2011

Being a Minority PCV

I know I write a lot about race, but....eh. This is my blog.

So, the important thing to note here is that whatever I say, I am going to leave things out. I have no idea what it is like to be an older Volunteer or a male Volunteer or a blonde Volunteer. All I got is me...so this is my perspective.

The other day, I was reading a blog and a couple phrases jumped out at me. Now, I went through a mirage of emotions while contemplating how best to address what was being said. This is my best attempt:

First, being a minority PCV is not easy-peezy. As a young Black-White-American Indian woman, I wear my minority status on my sleeve. Of course, for others, it is possible to head back to the closet or "blend in", but for me, my hair is a dead give-away. This does not mean I think it is harder to be a racial minority PCV, I just think it is different. I mean, the difference between being male and female in some PC countries is vastly different. I'll never know what it is like to be a male PCV here and no male PCV will ever understand what it is like to be me.

This does not mean I do not empathize, but I understand the limits of my empathy.

For me, I feel like I stand out like a ringworm rash. Some days just plain suck. Even when words are not meant to be racial epithets, they still hurt. Ignorance and curiosity can get annoying. Always having to defend my "Americanness" wears away at my soul; and being asked to speak for my race can dampen even my brightest day.

The most frustrating part is that these things happen as often in situations with Host Country Nationals (HCNs) as they do with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, staff and my fellow Americans back in the US. It still catches me off guard, the small small perctenage of racial minority PCVs (17%) currently serving. I often feel like I am out on an island. Nobody gets what it is like to be me and I don't get what it is like to be them. As much as I enjoy the cross-cultural learning that is the essense of Peace Corps, I often get frustrated at other PCVs for their inability to understand where I am coming from.

I mean, that is also my fault. I expected to join Peace Corps and hang out with a bunch of hippies for 2 years. This definitely is not the case. PCVs come from all walks of life. Some PCVs have never even left their time zone, let alone be exposed to institutionalized racism or have any idea how race issues are at the core of many problems in the US. Seeing me and listening to me complain about words hurled at me by HCN or the intensive inquisitiveness about my skin color/hair/heritage simply does not compute for some PCVs.

I feel like I should stop ranting here and conclude. My point is this:

Being a PCV is hard. Being a minority PCV is challenging. Being one of the only minority Americans in an international US volunteer service organization is too complex for words.