Three decades ago when we first arrived in Illinois, I was a rather naive child from Hawaii where Asians were pretty much the majority of the population...at least they were in Waipahu, the sugar plantation where I grew up.
My mother was aghast that we would be moving to Chicago, the land of Al Capone and other terrible gangsters and scary people. I told her there was nothing to worry about and that we'd be returning to Hawaii in a couple of years. However, when the first person I saw driving through the south side of Chicago was a man in an overcoat carrying a violin case, I was a bit surprised...
We rented a three bedroom apartment from an old German landlord, Mr. Schaefer who was a widower. He actually gave me drills to make sure I didn't open the door unless I was absolutely sure I knew who was on the other side. Very loving and protective, he would share German dishes with us and the biggest bottle of German beer we'd ever seen. He told us he didn't want anyone to know he was German. He wanted them to think he was Swedish. We thought that was pretty funny.
I was pretty oblivious to the ugly side of prejudice. I knew of it but didn't feel it... yet.
And then we moved north to Skokie-Evanston. We bought in winter and didn't know much except that we loved the beauty of the neighborhood. When we moved in, we were told that our little subdivision was called "An island of Gentiles in the Sea of Jeruselem." We learned that there had been some sort of covenant that prohibited selling to minorities. Being an American of Japanese descent, I was quite uneasy.
However, from across the street came an elderly couple who welcomed us with open arms. The Mullaneys. They treated our children like their grandchildren and took us under their protective wing. Another older couple who spoke of the "covenants" also treated us like family. Other younger neighbors became wonderful new lifelong friends. And the prejudice? Oh, we saw IT every so often, but it was far outweighed by so many other incredibly beautiful people we met everywhere in the Midwest.
Prejudice is always there, in one form or another. Being human, I don't think we can avoid it. The important thing, I believe, is to question it when you feel it. When I first had an Asian child walk into my classroom, I thought he might be well behaved. Well, I learned quickly that it certainly wasn't always the case. Children are just children, no matter where they come from.
Now, after 32 years of living in the Midwest and traveling around the world we have discovered that truly, people are people, no matter where they come from and in one way or the other, for good or bad, we are all prejudiced.