Photo courtesy: International students of Pittsburg State University, at the Homecoming Parade.

Breaking Down the Walls

Breaking down walls and stereotypes. Valquiria Vita from Brazil studying at Pittsburg State University in Kansas shares how much she has learned by being immersed in a diverse community.

For almost three years, the universe gave me one of the best experiences of my life. An experience abroad that has changed my way of seeing the world, accepting people as they are and really understanding different points of view.

I lived in a small town in the United States, Pittsburg, Kansas, which is known for receiving an impressive amount of international students in college. Not only were we accepted, as we were lovingly integrated into the community. All the foreigners went through a week of orientation that included dinners generously prepared by the residents of the city. This orientation was led by an American with Filipino roots.

During those dinners, it was possible to talk with the Americans who were welcoming us, with the new students who were Chinese, Russians, Arabs, Syrians, Koreans, Paraguayans, Africans. White, black, Christians, Muslims, really, at that moment, these differences were not even noticed. And I remember to this day the gratitude that I felt for having the chance of seeing experiences so different from mine, who had spent 25 years living in Caxias do Sul, Brazil. That was all that mattered. The richness of that diversity.

Holi Festival, traditional celebration of colours, organized by Indian students.
Holi Festival, traditional celebration of colours, organized by Indian students.

An American publisher with a French lastname hired me to write for the newspaper. Other Brazilians, Indians, French, Koreans had been hired in the same newspaper. My American family invited me to Thanksgiving, when a group of friends from Saudi Arabia also joined us – who returned the favour by making Kapsa, a traditional dish of rice, at a dinner where everyone sat together on the floor and ate with their hands. With the Arabs, I also created a research project with women to understand how they felt about not being able to drive in their country, while there, in the United States, they freely circulated with their cars. They all agreed to answer my questions – with each answer, making me understand that there is no right culture and wrong culture, there are only different cultures.

The extremely active international community of Pittsburg promoted events to break up some stereotypes: the Arabs said that no, they do not cut off the arms of the people who steal; The Chinese said they do not eat dogs; and the Brazilians explained that they do not live with monkeys in the streets and houses. All these ideas really existed for many people. And little by little, we, international students, as they, Americans, were breaking down small walls that we had built over the years, when we did not really know other cultures.

In the United States, I and many others were immigrants. Back in my hometown, in Brazil, I noticed a flood of Haitian and Senegalese immigrants who came here in search of jobs. Which reminded me that my maternal great-grandparents were Italians, paternal, Swiss. All, therefore, immigrants who came here to work.

International Student Association of Pitt State (I am the girl standing up, along with the boys in the back).
International Student Association of Pitt State (I am the girl standing up, along with the boys in the back).

Impossible not feel a great sadness to see what is happening today. Not only because of a leader who wants to build walls and banish the entry of some countries, but (and this is perhaps the saddest) because this kind of action encourages other thoughts, it makes a lot of people think: ‘That makes sense. We have to isolate ourselves. It would be better if each stays in their country. Safer ‘. No…

A country or a city that sees immigrants as threats – to jobs, to safety, to health – goes against globalization, goes against progress, goes against the beautiful evolution of things. And it shows that its leaders did not understand that the secret is not in strengthening only what stays within those walls. But in opening the doors and letting the real wealth come in.

Submitted by Valquiria Vita-Brazil

Pittsburg State University 

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