Every human being is a product of his or her experiences, social instructions, interactions, and perspectives. The phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" is quite true and it is especially the case in my country of origin, Venezuela. I grew up in a location where race and social class was not much of an issue because we were all largely the same. I have experienced racial discrimination and inclusivity since I came to the United States and that has also shaped who I am. My biography would not be complete without a proper audit of all the social factors which made me who I am.
The world has experienced social stratification ever since humans began accumulating possessions. Sociology states that there will always be those who have the edge over other humans either because of their talent, upbringing, or connections (Read, 2016). These people manage to amass wealth and power and create social classes. At the moment, there are very few countries without some type of social classification. Unfortunately, it is the case in both Venezuela and the United States. However, for me, the most significant class differences are visible in the United States.
Back at home, I used to live in a neighborhood where everyone was in the same social class. Of course, there were those with a little more money, but we were all the same. I did not think I was special or inferior in any way because my whole life was spent with people who had the same experiences as I did. I did know that there was a class of elite Venezuelans who lived a different life but I never met them. Therefore, my experiences back in my home country can be said to have been egalitarian because that is all I knew.
Coming to the US was a serious culture shock especially when I experienced the way people treat those who are not as wealthy as they are. For instance, there are many who despise people who are so poor that they need government assistance. I had to go on welfare for a while, and the humiliation was intense. The general population calls these people lazy and accuse them of being ticks who suck the government dry. Sometimes the lack of empathy made me cry. It is quite sad that class differences have led to a degradation of our shared humanity.
To understand the intersection of races and ethnicities, one needs to look at history and how the situation has developed up to this point. In Venezuela, the history of the Spanish Inquisition and colonization is still quite painful, but the clash of races does not exist in the way it does in the US. Almost everyone is mixed-race in one way or another. The United States is diverse, but there are still serious tensions between the races with many cultures remaining distinct. The two environments are quite different, and I learned how different they were when I moved here.
I have to say that I did not experience much racial or ethnic discrimination while I was in Venezuela. As I have said, almost all of us were of the same color and ethnicity was not much of a divergent factor. I learned to speak to everyone as my equal quite early, and the environment made it almost impossible to discriminate actively against any group. My experiences in Venezuela shielded me from the very divisive and corrosive effects of racism and ethnic conflict. I grew up largely color-blind when it came to race but that all changed when I came to the United States.
The first thing I noticed upon coming to the US was that my ethnicity and race would always be a factor in life. From the onset, I had to own the fact that I was Hispanic because it was emblazoned on every form and identity document I carried. People on the streets used racial epithets when they thought they could get away with it. In fact, I had a harrowing experience where a client called my colleague "nigger" because the client's paperwork was not right. I realized that race and ethnicity are significant factors in American society.
Gender and Sexual Orientation
Sociology tells us that human communities since time immemorial have always been afraid and apprehensive about anything different and that can be said about sexual orientation. We are brought up in a world which recognizes the binary split between gender and sex (Dunbar, 2014). We are socialized to see our gender as completely removed from our options of sexual exploration. In fact, many countries today have laws which make being gay illegal and punishable by criminal sanctions. We are still in a world where being away from the sexual mainstream means that one gets discriminated against all the time.
Being gay in Venezuela was an extreme challenge for me. Hispanics, including those in my home country, have what is called machismo. The characteristic describes the Hispanic tendency to view manhood as something to be displayed. Manhood should also involve the sexual domination of women (Clattenburg, 2018). Therefore, in Venezuela, I was not a man according to my community. There was a chip in my manhood because I was gay. I faced discrimination at all points in my life including employment. It was a social environment which drove me almost to depression because it forced me to hate myself.
When I came to the US, I found that the situation was different, but it depended on where one was. The good thing is that country has already made gay marriage legal, and there are no laws against being gay. Additionally, the American society has evolved quite a lot, and most people see gays and lesbians as part of society. I have seen how acceptance looks like and I can say that I am mostly happy. It is quite interesting that I face more discrimination for my race than I face for my sexuality. I can now be openly gay, and the American society is indeed making me feel better about myself.
Gender is also an essential point because it determines how one views family and the roles the different sexes have to play. I was raised by a single mother who decided from early on that she would not subject her children to the presence of another man. I saw how strong she was as she raised my sisters and me with no help from any man. My mother is the one who convinced me that gender discrimination is nonsense: I realized that women are just as strong as men.
That said, there were some suggestions that living with two sisters somehow contributed to my gayness. An uncle of mine once said that growing up with women made me a "sissy." It was one of the most insulting things I have ever heard, but I understood where he came from. Our culture still believes that all homes need a strong male presence. Most also believe that gayness is something that can be learned or unlearned. I now know that I would have been gay whether I lived with women or not. The environment in the United States has made me love myself more.
As a Hispanic, it is quite difficult to discuss anything today without mentioning politics and the toxicity that now exists in the country. When I came here in 2010, there was some animosity towards immigrants. The politics of immigration was loud from the Tea Party, but most Americans were still restrained in their pronouncements. The entry of Donald Trump changed everything. He made it okay for foreigners to be abused and insulted. I have faced more racial insults in the last year than I faced in the period before 2016. The country has been poisoned, and the poison is seeping into previously tolerant communities. I now walk around with fear in my heart. It is so sad that politics has gotten to this stage.
Sociology shows that the leaders who have been guilty of the worst excesses in history prey on people's fears and amplify their hate towards a specific group (Wates, 2014). Hugo Chavez and his protege Nicholas Maduro convinced a significant part of the population that anyone who opposed the leadership was an enemy of the country. Maduro continues to stoke dangerous divisions. In fact, Maduro these days spends hours on television telling the people who to hate. It is so unfortunate that almost the same thing is happening in the US. Many have been convinced that their problems begin and end with immigrants. They are not alive to the damage the leader is causing, and that is extremely sad.
The only solution, for America and the world, is to have a leader who shows us how strong we are together: not one who divides us. We need someone who will stand up and say that the human race is one and it needs to work together. That said, I have noticed something in the country: there seems to be a backlash happening. I am getting more calls from Democrat politicians, and many of my friends have gotten politically active. There are also more women seeking election, especially in Pennsylvania. I have also noticed that gay people are not afraid of the political limelight anymore. Maybe the politics of division and hate will have a positive effect after all.
Society has been quite harsh on me first because of my sexual orientation and then because of my ethnicity. Societies evolve, and they go through periods of enlightenment and the US is ripe for a period of introspection. My native Venezuela might have its imperfections, but I never faced class or racial discrimination there. However, I did face social isolation because I was gay. My family upbringing has made me appreciate women and minorities in a way many people do not. I am fearful but still filled with hope, and it is all thanks to the societies in which I have lived and continue to live.
Clatterbaugh, K. (2018). Contemporary perspectives on masculinity: Men, women, and politics in modern society. Routledge.
Dunbar, R. I. M. (2014). Mind the gap: or why humans aren't just great apes. In Lucy to language: The benchmark papers(pp. 3-18). Oxford University Press.
Read, D. W. (2016). How culture makes us human: primate social evolution and the formation of human societies. Routledge.
Wates, N. (2014). The Community Planning Handbook: How people can shape their cities, towns & villages in any part of the world. Routledge.
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