Stereotypes Hide A Complex World

Since he swept through the polls on Super Tuesday, Donald Trump has been on track to win the Republican nomination. The fact that he has received so much support is concerning because it proves that U.S. citizens hold similar racial prejudices. As a foreign exchange student from Japan, this both surprises and concerns me. Stereotypes are frightening because they breed unnecessary fear and hostility with rhetoric that is largely untrue.

When I came to the United States, I brought a lot of stereotypes with me. I imagined that the typical American ate supersized burgers from McDonald’s, suffered from obesity, dressed casually and was extremely friendly.

These stereotypes proved untrue at Georgetown. Georgetown students are so much more fit and athletic than I expected them to be, and I have not seen a single McDonald’s in the vicinity of campus. Some students come to class after their internships dressed in fancy business attire. Making friends here was more difficult than I thought it would be, though; perhaps not everyone was as friendly as I had expected. During my first months here, I constantly studied everything about American culture, from businesses to the behavior of Georgetown students.

I also believed in certain negative stereotypes and harbored prejudices when I came to the United States. For one, I pictured Republicans as militaristic, racist, conservative and generally bad people. However, I changed my view over the winter break when I stayed in the Amish and Mennanite community of Shipshewana, Ind. Many of the people I met on the trip were Republicans. One woman told me she disliked immigrants because she fears they are changing the American culture. She complained that the first-generation Spanish-speaking immigrants speak little English; she did not see the difficulty of learning a new language as an adult.
She was obviously prejudiced and ascribed to untrue stereotypes, but her concern showed how she cares about her country, community, culture and religious faith. She did not embody the image of the religious Republican I previously held.

Likewise, the interactions I have had at Georgetown have humanized my image of people who support or serve in the military. The Japanese Constitution contains a peace article that renounces war and allows Japan to possess military forces only for self-defense. Given Japan’s legacy of war, I did not have a good image of those who participate in the military. By attending talks about veterans and meeting with student military officers, I realized many members of the armed forces are kind-hearted, intelligent and strong people.

Over spring break, I visited Cuba with other exchange students. My friends and I became close with the Cuban family who owned the apartment we rented. The daughter played the violin and performed an Indian dance for us and we danced to Cuban pop music together. At the end of the night, we were smiling and laughing, and I had made a best friend.

Our cultures, backgrounds and lifestyles are very different. They are Cubans, who speak Spanish and live in a country with a socialist political system, while I am an Asian who lives in a democratic capitalist society and speaks Japanese and English. But by interacting and sharing cultural experiences, I learned they are good people and appreciated our differences.

Throughout the year, I have met many people of different races, backgrounds, cultures, political ideologies and religions. But I realized all of them are trying to make the best of their lives and care for their families, friends and countries in their own ways. Such interactions with people from diverse backgrounds have eliminated many of my negative stereotypes while allowing me to humanize and empathize with the opinions of others who are quite different from myself.

Election season is a time for everyone to reflect on the differences between themselves and others and realize it is okay to hold different political or religious views. We must acknowledge that we need diversity. Interacting with those who are different from us is crucial to being open-minded and combating harmful prejudices.
I hope Georgetown, and the United States as a whole will remain diverse and that our international and interracial friendships will prosper. This will create a culture of peace.

Rihoko Nikaya is a junior in the College. She is an exchange student from Waseda University.

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