Travel has a unique way of exposing us to new experiences, broadening our perspectives, and challenging our preconceptions. I was a 70+ year-old African American woman taking my first solo trip to Vietnam. Little did I know that a seemingly innocuous incident during my flight would offer profound insights into cultural pride.
As the plane landed at Ho Chi Minh City Airport and we prepared to disembark, I sat in the aisle seat, awaiting my turn to exit. I felt a light but deliberate rubbing sensation on my forearm. I glanced at the surrounding passengers, but they seemed occupied with their own tasks. Then my gaze met the eyes of a young girl, around five years old, standing slightly behind me with her mother. She was the source of the gentle touch.
Our eyes locked, and I saw a mixture of curiosity, playfulness, and a hint of uncertainty in the girl’s gaze. It was as if she was testing boundaries, wondering if the mocha color of my skin would rub off on her hand. Various thoughts raced through my mind in that split second: Should I ignore the incident altogether? Should I reprimand her? Or, could I turn this into a teachable moment?
It was a precarious situation. Although I realized her action could be misinterpreted or offensive, I also recognized an opportunity for a meaningful exchange—a chance to impart a positive message about cultural pride. I was the only Black person on a full plane in a foreign country where I didn’t know anyone or speak the language. Despite the uncertainties, I felt compelled to respond, guided by the belief that fostering understanding and acceptance begins with small acts of kindness and education.
Gathering my thoughts, I looked directly at the young girl and offered her a warm smile. Pointing to my arm, I gently explained to her in English, “My skin is brown. That’s a good thing.” Though her understanding of the words may have been limited, the intention behind my message was clear: I wanted her to see the beauty and significance of diverse skin tones.
To further reinforce my message, I reached into my purse and retrieved a piece of candy, a small token of goodwill and an opportunity for shared delight. As I handed it to her, her eyes lit up with anticipation, and she accepted it eagerly. Her beaming smile was a testament to the power of a simple act of kindness and understanding.
As the young girl and her family made their way toward the exit, I heard her mother express gratitude in a language unfamiliar to my ears. Though I didn’t comprehend her words, her appreciative tone was evident. In response, I acknowledged them with a warm smile, silently conveying my pleasure at being able to connect across cultures and promote cultural pride, even in the briefest of encounters.
Reflecting on this poignant exchange, I realized the profound lessons that emerged from this seemingly simple interaction…
First, it highlighted the universality of curiosity and the innocence of children, who possess an innate desire to understand the world around them. By responding with empathy, I was able to redirect that curiosity toward a positive and inclusive narrative.
Second, it served as a reminder that cultural pride transcends borders. I am a proud Black woman. Despite being a stranger in a foreign land, I seized the opportunity to celebrate my heritage and affirm the beauty of diversity. In doing so, I fostered a sense of pride not only within myself but also within the young girl, her family, and perhaps even those who witnessed our interaction.
Finally, this encounter underscored the importance of small acts of kindness in bridging cultural divides. By offering the young girl a piece of candy, I symbolically shared a part of my culture while embracing a shared moment of joy. These small gestures can have a profound impact—fostering understanding, respect, and harmony in a world that is too often divided.
My first solo trip to Vietnam gave me an unexpected opportunity to impart a powerful lesson on cultural pride. Despite the initial uncertainty, I chose to respond with kindness and education, using a gentle touch and simple words to foster understanding and appreciation. In doing so, I not only enriched the young girl’s perspective but also reaffirmed my own cultural pride.
This experience stands as a testament to the transformative power of embracing diversity and celebrating one’s heritage, regardless of the language barriers or unfamiliar surroundings we may encounter along the way.Leave a Comment