‘For The First Time In My Life, I Was A Minority’
What Immigrating To America Taught Me About Race Relations
On May 6th, 2003, I arrived in the United States for the first time as a missionary for my church. My 23-hour flight from Accra, Ghana landed at LAX around noon, and I was plunged right into the heart of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. It was my first time on a plane and my first experience outside of Ghana. I had turned 19 earlier that year and had completed my freshman year of college. I expected to experience some culture shock but did not know exactly how it would manifest.
I was greeted at the airport by the husband-and-wife patrons of the California Los Angeles mission, along with another young, white man, who was much taller and larger than I was but who was only a year or so older. I soon learned he was from Clinton, Utah. He had been assigned to be my trainer and was tasked with helping me acclimate to my new circumstances. As I picked up my bags at baggage claim, the monumental change in my surroundings began to set it.
In my 19 years growing up in Ghana, the idea of race was never a major point of contemplation or topic of discussion. Because of my parent’s line of work and responsibilities, I had limited interactions with people from various parts of the world, including tourists, church leaders, exchange students, and philanthropists, many of whom were white. However, I never viewed those interactions in the context of racial identity. All I wished for at the time was to have an opportunity to visit and possibly move to America someday.
Now here I was in Los Angeles, my dreams having finally been realized, trying to make sense of the dizzying feeling that ran through my entire body. Everything looked and felt different, including what I thought was the unbearably cold 64-degree weather.
Amid my sensory overload, one thing was inescapable: For the first time in my life, I was a minority – not just in terms of race, but also in language, culture, and anything else one could imagine – and that was scary.
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