I think it’s safe to say there’s no place in the world like Utah County.
Having lived in Utah for seven years now, being different doesn’t faze me much anymore. And I am different, very different.
As I pick up a Jamba Juice in the morning, scramble to find parking and hurry to my first class of the day, I am constantly reminded that I am indeed very far from home.
Home for me is Philadelphia, Pa., though I claim the East Coast in general because of my love for the entire area, one of my reasons being all the diversity in that area. I don’t stick out like a sore thumb.
I am a “brown” person. Yes, I just referred to myself as brown, strange as that may seem. Brown is what I use to refer to anyone who isn’t white. We come in all different colors, we speak myriad languages and we are parts of very different cultures.
UVU’s international student population continues to grow and add dimension to our hallways, but I still often feel like the odd man out as I navigate my way through campus.
Feeling different than everyone else has little to do with the on-campus demographic. I feel different because people treat me differently.
I have never before encountered so many assumptions about me or my life until moving to Utah. The funny thing is that I don’t mind people asking me questions. I’m more open to asking genuine questions about my background, rather than people assuming things about me and asking questions based on those assumptions.
When I first moved to the area and moved into my very first apartment, I had a very eye-opening encounter. It was the first night that we were all gathered in our living room as roommates. There were four of us: one from Lehi, one from Payson, the other from Taylorsville and me.
Here’s a quick recap of one of my first conversations with my roommates my freshman year:
Roommates: Where are you from?
Me: I’m from Philadelphia.
Roommates: Oh, are you from, like, West Philadelphia like on the “Fresh Prince”?
Me: No, I’m from a different area…
Roommates: Is it dangerous there? Like are there drive bys and gangs and stuff like that?
Me: Um, no. I’ve never even heard a gun shot in my life.
And it just went on from there. I would love to say that that was the only time I had that conversation. It wasn’t.
I remember the night they all found out I spoke Spanish. It was like they had just found out that I was a fugitive. Maybe not quite so extreme, but they were surprised enough that I really did think I told them the impossible. Which led to the whole, “I’m not black, I’m half Spanish and half Nigerian, and I was born and lived in Spain” conversation. I quickly learned that these conversations were going to be a part of my life living in this area.
I’ve never identified myself as black, and I’ve never had to before. I do realize that half of me is African, but my Spanish side is the side I know. I speak the language, I’ve lived there and I still celebrate some of the customs from the country.
In one of my classes my sophomore year, we were discussing different cultures and races and how they respond to certain situations differently. We proceeded to talk about African-Americans, and my professor, in front of the whole class, asked me if I, as an African-American, would agree. I had to tell her that I honestly wouldn’t know because I was actually originally from Spain. It was a pretty uncomfortable situation, but I felt awkward for her, mostly.
Even if I did identify myself as black, not all black people are African-Americans. There is a difference.
I don’t write this as a bitter diatribe about Utah County and my woes of not fitting in. I am simply writing this to make people aware of the dangers of assumptions and encourage the embracing of people that are different from us.
Assuming only does one thing, and you know how that saying goes.
Vanessa Perkins is a student at UVU and the Managing Editor for the UVU Review. Follow her @nessarose7