VIETABROADER.ORG | Most international students in the U.S. want to visit as many big cities as possible. But I believe those places are just the fanciful surface of America. I want to see the other side of this country, where poor workers live, where houses are in poor condition, and where crime rate is among the highest.
That’s why I asked my friend, Isaiah, if we could go to his neighborhood, because I knew this was one-of-a-lifetime chance to get out of my comfort zone. Thanks to him, I and two other Chinese friends, Jacky and Wode, took a train to one of American most dangerous areas AT MIDNIGHT. (Isaiah, you were right to call us “crazy Asian madafakas“) Before we went there, Professor Isaiah gave us a 10-minute course called Acting 101: How to Walk, Talk and Act like Real Gangsters, so that thieves wouldn’t lay a hand on us.
As the train got nearer to “the hood”, the scenes started to change. Skyscrapers were replaced by small houses in poor condition. Almost all stores and restaurants were closed. The surrounded landscape was getting darker and darker. Isaiah said only black people were around the area; no white people ever dared to be here at this hour (except the police) and we might be the only Asians to have ever been here. He started to make us wonder if this was a right decision.
After getting out of the train, our worry escalated when the first sound we heard came from the horn of a police car. While walking, I saw a guy standing still for a long time at the corner of the street. Who else did that at midnight other than a drug dealer? He started to stare at me, so I immediately avoided his eye contact. After passing the first threat, we encountered a group of 3, 4 black guys standing around a car. Based on what I remembered from Hollywood movies, they seemed to be a group of gangsters. “No eye contact,” I thought to myself, “look at them and you’ll get shot“. But it was too late. One of those guys walked in front of us, and then…
“Hey champ,” he called Isaiah, “what’s up, bro?” Oh, so he was Isaiah’s friend. The atmosphere was getting less stressful. We introduced ourselves, and then we all went to a night club to play billiards.
From the moment I entered the club, my perspectives on this area and on its residents changed completely. These people were not as dangerous as I thought; on the contrary, they were among the friendliest people I had ever met. We met an old man who treated us like his own grandchildren, a stranger who gave us a lot of quarters to play billiards, and the club owner who welcomed us warmly, gave us free chicken wings and repeatedly told us to come back even though we didn’t buy anything from her. Was this the danger they all talked about?
Next morning, when we checked out of the hotel, the porters were friendly to us as usual. Their friendliness, however, was much different to the friendliness of the people we met last night. The porters were friendly because they were paid and trained to do so. On the other hand, those people we met were friendly for no reason at all. Maybe it was because just through the first meeting, they considered us part of their family.
At first, I was proud of getting in and out of “the hood” without being robbed or harmed. But now, I am proud because I have met fantastic new friends. Most importantly, they helped strengthen my belief that any kinds of discrimination are unreasonable. Black or white, rich or poor, Asian or American, we can always be friends.
Nguyễn Chí Hiếu hiện là sinh viên năm thứ 2 (Niên khóa 2017) tại Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA). Chí Hiếu từng tham gia với VietAbroader ở vai trò Trưởng nhóm Thảo luận (Discussion leader) cho phòng Chia sẻ Kinh nghiệm Nộp đơn tại Hội thảo Du học VietAbroader 2013 tại Hà Nội.
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