Windham County What brought you to Vermont?
I came here about 11-12 years ago mainly because my husband is from the New England area and this was after we had travelled to West Africa. We lived there four and a half years and we were trying to decide where it would be best to raise our 2 boys. My husband felt his growing up was very ideal, growing up in New England, and we wanted to have a community, a neighborhood, a sense of feeling that our kids would have a home. When we came back to the US we actually travelled to New Hampshire and Vermont and fell in love with the environment in Vermont. It's very rural here and communities are small so we decided on Brattleboro because of those main things.
The community is really wonderful; it has a lot of people who have travelled all over the world. The community itself is very supportive, there's a lot of art, a lot of music, a lot of sports activities, and so it has become a really great fit for us and our boys. Our oldest son is at the University of Vermont and he's very, very happy there but he travelled before ending up there. He went to Canada, Montreal, and Australia, but had a calling to want to be back to Vermont. Our youngest son is 18 and both of our sons have grown up in Brattleboro and really when they talk about Brattleboro they just have just a great sense of family and community and feeling like they truly are from Vermont and Brattleboro. As parents, we're just really happy about that because they have a really positive memory of growing up in Brattleboro.
What are some challenges you've faced as a parent with kids of color?
You know it's interesting, my husband is Caucasian, so at some level I don't think my kids have had issues because they think they pass (as white). They have experienced commentary about looking Asian and being Asian but I don't think those statements were coming from a place of harm; they came from a place of ignorance. It's mostly kidding because of stereotypes like, "Oh, you're Asian therefore you're good at math," that they have experienced. I don't necessarily feel like that was coming from a place of trying to ostracize them but more maybe just ignorant comments and I think they have felt comfortable responding to that saying, "I don't know why you think I'm Asian, I grew up here in Vermont. Culturally, I'm as American as you can get."
There are some added benefits at home, you know, in terms of our own culture, or the culture that I bring in to the home. The Asian diversity in Brattleboro is present but it doesn't quite stand out. The challenge is just sort of general ignorant commentary but often not from a place of wanting to be mean. The commentary can be mean because it's from ignorance but the intent isn't completely bad. I think they've managed it pretty well in terms of navigating that in the community.
What challenges have you faced in your workplace as a person of color?
Something positive in my workplace is I speak some French and when there's a Francophone person here in New Hampshire, or in Brattleboro where I used to work, they feel comfortable coming to me or they feel comfortable talking to me because I am not white. That part is really fun because I feel like that gives me an opportunity to really be involved in those communities, whether they're from West Africa because they're visiting professors at the School for International Training (SIT) or they're students there. The challenge is people making commentary out of ignorance like, "Your English is really good." Of course it's good; I grew up in California so it should be good! I used to get really frustrated with that when I first moved here people would see me and ask if I'm a student at SIT, because it brings in people from all over the world, and I have to tell people, "I live here, and I work here, and I'm part of your community". If I allow it to—being a person of color in a mostly white area—it can be surprising. For instance, I'll be at parties and I'll think, "Oh my gosh, I'm the only non-white person here." At the same time I feel like Vermont, in terms of at least my group of friends and the Brattleboro community, there is an influx of people who have travelled the world and once you start talking to people you see they've lived such amazing lives all over the world and that's really cool for such a small state and small population.
Do you think that diversity and inclusiveness in Vermont is growing?
I grew up in San Diego where the people were from Mexico and all different parts of Asia, not just Philippines, Vietnam, China. Then I worked in Washington, DC, where people were from all different areas like South America, not just Mexico, Central America, all different parts of Africa, and I just don't see Vermont necessarily becoming more and more diverse in that way. I have to say the diversity things I like in Vermont are not necessarily in terms of color, but there's the LGBT community, the transgender community, and socioeconomic differences within the white community that make it diverse. I think people of color who come to Vermont come in the same way I did. I wouldn't have thought of living in Vermont if it wasn't for my husband who grew up in the Northeast/New England area. I know some SIT students come here and fall in love with Vermont and end up staying here but I think it's tough and I think it's a challenge for Vermont as a state to attract people of color.
What would you say about Vermont to a person of color who was looking to move here?
It really is a wonderful place to raise kids. Brattleboro is small enough that you can really build your relationships with people and really feel like you're connected to a community. There's just so much to do in terms of hobbies, whether it's cycling, biking, hiking, running, swimming, rowing, as well as a lot of theater activities, art, and music right in Brattleboro. I think you have to come in to it knowing that it's not an amazingly diverse place. How you negotiate that and manage that will really depend on your understanding that there are just some people that are going to make comments. What's nice about Brattleboro and Vermont in general is that although there will always be racist people that will make just really awful comments, they are far and few between.
I think for the most part if people do make a commentary about color or speech it's coming from a place of ignorance and they are actually very welcome to the positive response from that. I've had my older patients in their 80s and 90s say things like, "Where did you learn English? Your English is so good," and things that really sort of put me off because I'd never hear that if I was in DC. However it's not coming from a place of wanting to put me down, the comments are because they've probably never lived outside of Vermont and they've never seen anybody like me. I guess for my experience I've never felt like my difference has necessarily been an object of wanting to put me down, it's always been sort of a curiosity. I think if you want to come here you kind of have to be comfortable with that and it's an opportunity to say, "Yeah, I do look different from you," and, "Not all Asian people are Chinese," and, "This is who I am, let's get to know each other."
I think that acknowledging differences make a small town a positive place because you can sort of educate people just through doing and acting and having relationships. When I talk to my girlfriends I ask them, "Do you ever think I'm a different color than you," and they say, "I don't even realize that you're a different color". My words of encouragement would be just understand that you're probably going to stand out but think about how are you going to manage that; how are you going to navigate that? You could either to kind of resent it or see it as an opportunity to really kind of expand people's viewpoints about people of color and I think that's the positive thing.
Here in Vermont people are open to that, for the most part. You'll always have people who have their biases, but I think for the most part people want to do the right thing. They want to be respectful and they may be respectful maybe in the wrong way, but at the same time they're still open to or opening up to relationships with people of color. For the most part I have had really positive experiences here and I think the times if I've had any negative experiences I've been able to navigate it in a way where I've had opportunities to make sure that things are clarified or I can at least somehow create a relationship so that they know that their assumptions are wrong.