The Marginalized Loving and Protecting Those Who Differ from Us
My name is Walid. I go by Wes.
I immigrated to the United States from Lebanon when I was fourteen. I am forty-one now. On a recent trip to New York, a Nepali taxi driver asked me if I was ever discriminated against. I can honestly answer no, I do not feel discriminated against. Rather, I have been embraced by the people of this great nation. To every fellow American, I offer my heartfelt affection for welcoming me here.
But why don’t I go by my real name? Walid.
At my clinics, people call me Dr. W. Other people in my life call me Wes, and still others, simply W. My wife, my family, and a few close friends call me Walid.
Like many immigrants can attest, it becomes burdensome to be asked, “How do you say your name?” “How do you spell your name?” “Where are you from?” At first, I am happy to answer. But when this happens throughout each day, I start to feel a bit different—like I am not like everyone else, maybe not even normal. Of course, people ask with all sincerity and as a way to connect with me. It’s not with ill-intent, but the frequency of these questions keeps my differences present in my mind.
Over time, people who are aware of their differences may develop a fear of being stereotyped—lumped into a group and painted with a broad brush, oversimplified, and usually held in lower regard than others. Even though I have never had any inkling of being treated differently because of my ethnicity, it seems to be an inner-fear I have, a subtle guard to protect myself from harm.
Coming to the United States and being a part of this great experiment in freedom has been the biggest blessing of my life. Texas is my home. I have lived twice as long here than I have in my country of birth. I truly feel I am a part of this amazing nation. From the first day I arrived, I felt at home, and I still do. However, I also know what it means to feel different.
When I came to the US as a teenager, we lived in Mobile, Alabama. I came directly from Beirut, Lebanon to Alabama! I loved the Deep South, and I loved Alabamians. They were so warm and friendly. Their southern drawl did not sound strange to me. It was my first introduction to spoken English. I was welcomed and embraced. I remember a young man in high school—with blonde hair and blue eyes—an outspoken, kind, fifteen year old who made a point to invite me to be his friend.
Feeling Out of Place
The language and jokes were a different matter. I could not speak English well, and the little English I knew was of the British flavor. When I finally got up the courage to ask a girl out, I said, “Can I telephone you?” She smiled and said, “Do you mean you want to hit me on the head with the telephone?” Funny! It makes me laugh now, but then, I just smiled at her because I did not know what else to say. I didn’t have a come back. I felt out of awkward and out of place.
Even in Lebanon, there were ways I didn’t quite fit in. In a mostly Muslim Middle East, my family was Christian. We lived in a large Catholic community in Lebanon, in which my family was evangelical. Not only that, my dad was an elder at our church. I went to a Catholic school because it was the best school my parents could afford to send me to. One time all of us had to go to confession, as Catholics do. I must have been ten, and I did not have the courage to tell the nun I was not Catholic and that I did not want to participate in that spiritual discipline. Compliantly, I knelt before the priest in the confessional and confessed to some little mischief, then the priest asked me to recite some prayers. I never told my parents.
Now, I am an American doctor in Texas. As an entrepreneur, I own medical clinics and other businesses. I know how to lead people and look out for them. I also know how to stand up for myself. I know how to respond with respect for myself and for others. But there is a part of me who longs to be accepted, who notices my own differences at times. I believe this voice speaks to all of us to varying extents. Being so different, to the point you believe you are strange, is not an easy thing to contend with, even when you are welcomed with open arms. Even as you mature.
I hope these reflections of my experiences inspire others to feel normal, even when they feel different. Not judged. Not strange. Not forced to do something they don’t want to do, or believe in. Not ridiculed. Not marginalized as “less than.” I also hope my experiences lend me an extra measure of empathy and a place in the small majority, where I may offer grace and love to someone who feels like a minority. I want to intentionally show others the same warmth and welcoming that was offered to me on my journey.
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