The day after I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand in the fall of 2005, I walked down the street, taking in the different people, food and stores. In the distance I could hear what I thought was a sporting event or a parade - lots of people yelling. I noticed as I walked along that this place had an abundance of something - coffee shops. I made a mental note to reward myself with a coffee later. But for now, I had somewhere to be.
I stood outside an office that would help me get my first job in New Zealand, waiting patiently for it to open. Next to me was a guy, about my age, who seemed to be waiting as well. I began chatting to him and picked up on a German accent. As we talked, I asked where he was from. He named a town in Germany I didn't know and I tried to pronounce it. In the distance, I could hear the parade coming closer as it grew louder. The German guy asked where I was from, and right as I was about to answer, my words stopped like a lump in my throat as I realized what the yelling was about.
"Down with Bush! Down with America!!! We don't want your war!"
It wasn't a parade, it was a protest.
After the protest began moving away from us, I turned back to whom I hoped was my new friend from Germany, took a deep breath and said "I'm from Texas."
He seemed a bit awkward and unsure of what to say to me next. Fortunately, the office opened soon after that and saved our little buffet of awkwardness.
I didn't see him again.
In that moment, when the crowd of people shouted "down with America," I had a mixture of emotions; as you might imagine. Self preservation was definitely up there, and I wanted to find a corner and hide. But there was also pride for my country and the need to defend the actions of it. However, at the same time, I didn't agree with the decision to go to war from one powerful man.
I think back on that moment often. And I wonder if there are other people in the world who have been in a similar situation. Perhaps something happened that was beyond their control - something based on the decisions of a group of powerful people. And perhaps their nationality was blamed. Perhaps they were blamed.
The funny thing about bigotry is it can happen anywhere to anyone. It can be based on any nationality, sexual preference age or belief. It isn't exclusive. But the more people who understand what it's like, the broader our perspective as humans becomes.