It’s official. I am out of the closet. Out in the open.
I am an Other.
Otherness has been with me the better part of my life.
In the first stage, my childhood, you had to question me to eventually discover that I was an Other. Later on in adulthood all I had to do was open my mouth to point myself out. You knew I was an Other from just listening to me. Now you only have to look at me. I am an Other at first sight.
My Otherness started when my family joined the flow of refugees from East Germany back in 1960. The German Democratic Republic was leaking 1500 people a day at the heights of the exodus. A grand total of 2.5 million left looking for a better, freer life. We were in that westward press of people just nine months ahead of the wall. The wall that abruptly ended the flow.
My parents and I settled in the Black Forest of southern Germany. I quickly learned the “Baden” dialect and assimilated into the group of local children. At home it was a different story. My father felt strongly about his Prussian heritage which he surmised as far superior. He made sure we all knew it too. My mother had no such notions. She however was a strong believer in the division of class. We were NOT Working Class. Oh no. We were an educated family, what with both my parents being teachers. Though I was allowed to play with whom I choose, she did not mingle with the mothers of my friends. They were after all just housewives of working class men. Not surprisingly my parents had few friends.
For me the mind set of home meant that I never quite felt I belonged.
As a child I did not notice if there was any resentment by the locals to the huge influx of northerners. The snippets I gleaned from my parents’ conversations did not imply a strong resentment. But I do remember one incident crystal clear to this day. Thanks to an inconsiderate baker woman in the first town where we were housed in a refugee warehouse: A school gym subdivided into living cubicles with office type dividers that only reached past your head, and allowed you to see everybody’s feet. One cubicle per family.
While my father was completing endless formalities my mother and I went walk-about. I must have gotten hungry and my mother took me to a bakery to buy me a bread roll. She thought that the price for a roll would be the same, East or West Germany. Just different pennies. Well… that baker woman let us know in no uncertain terms that we were wrong! Not just wrong, but offendingly wrong. We were wrong about the price. Wrong for expecting to be able to buy something with our measly change. Wrong about having come to that town. Wrong for not having stayed were we belonged. Just plain wrong!
I was only seven, not a very perceptive age when it comes to other peoples’ feelings. Like my mother’s mortification at being cut down in front of all the other customers to a lousy beggar. But I got that.
So that was the first Otherness.
Maybe never having been at home, really at home, after leaving Berlin it was easy to take the next step. Leaving Germany altogether.
I took up the hippy life. Flowing clothes, lots of embroidery and all. World travel? Of course. Being an Other? Mandatory.
Somewhat unplanned I ended up in the USA. I had just planned to transit. But then….
In the States I tried Main-Stream. Husband, house, dog, two cars. Upwards mobile. It did not suit me. Nor did it suit my husband. We took to dabbling in the main-stream to earn a living but otherwise eked out an existence along the edges.
My German accent was my undoing whenever I tried to blend in. One sentence out of my mouth, and I was labeled. The German. With it came all the preconceptions. They came in handy though as jobs go. Somehow being German prequalifies you as a highly accurate and expedient worker. Ok then.
I was asked once if we eat with knife and fork in Germany. Did we have tomatoes. Did I know Hitler. But let’s not go there …
It was not just the way I was viewed. More importantly It was the way I viewed myself. I never could muster the enthusiasm for being gung-ho American. The “my country, right or wrong” thing never sat well with me. I like to keep the option of thinking for myself open. Of course, there are plenty US citizens who are not all charmed by their own country either, and have plenty to say about how it could be improved. But they may say so. I may not. Because I am an Other.
Again, not being particularly at home in the US I moved on. Belize. The final frontier. Mine anyways.
And it’s official now: Being White I fall squarely in with the East Indians, Chinese and Mid Easterners. I’m in the 10% minority labeled, you guessed it, “Other”.
I am an Other. By sight.