On a personal sabbatical in Costa Rica, a delightful series of events lead me to cross paths with an old American expatriate. He worked for years in banking with a competitor of my employer, and we appeared to share some common experiences. Speaking little Spanish himself, the span of our conversation made it clear that he rarely had the company of fellow native English-speakers.
My compatriot was advanced in age, and I was tasked with keeping him company while I waited for a friend — his stepson. And though we shared language and line of work, it became uncomfortably clear that he held beliefs conflicting bitterly with my own. Much though I tried to maintain social grace, the introduction of our rift was abrupt:
“So, you live in Minneapolis?” The compatriot confirmed.
I smiled and nodded.
“It’s very dangerous there, I read – you’ve got a lot of Muslims. Didn’t you even send one to Congress?”
The garish absurdity of the statement left me stumped. Because we have a Muslim population, Minneapolis is dangerous? Even if the metro did reflect higher rates of crime (which it doesn’t), assuming the cause to be a religious constituent is foolhardy. And yet, despite an immediate surge of contentions, I chose to grumble in feeble reply that I’d never felt unsafe.
I would love to vilify the aged expat for his bigotry, but the fact is that I came up short. To provoke change, to empower and organize, we must have more uncomfortable conversations. The probability that I could have changed the expat’s mind is negligible, but my belief in religious freedom, my knowledge of Countering Violent Extremism programs in the metro, and my insights as a local gave me a platform to speak. With respect but animation, I will not surrender to feeble grumbling again.
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