Saturday, February 7, 2009

My letter to Jinni

I joined in last year’s Philippine Postal Corporation National Letter-Writing Contest with the theme, “I am writing to tell the world why we need tolerance.” I think my entry arrived late, though. Here it goes:

112 Iznart Street
Iloilo City 5000
April 3, 2008

Dear Friends,

“Curly hair”, “dark skin,” and “long shaggy shawls” are three things that conjure up an almost perfect image of my dear friend, Jinni. She’s probably one of the few people I’ll never ever forget or lose contact with later on in life, because she’s, well, special. I say “special” because first of all, she’s what people would casually label as “black.” And she also happens to be Muslim.

What makes Jinni really special, however, is that by just being herself, she went through a lot of traumatic experiences during grade school, even up to now. People used to call her “Miss Charcoal,” and I once saw how a fellow classmate prevented her sister from making friends with Jinni – all because she’s supposedly “the perfect example of an aborigine with poor hygiene; plus, she isn’t Christian.” Needless to say, she almost always ends up being the butt of everyone’s jokes.

Sometimes, I wonder if all that people ever wanted Jinni to say was “Wait, I’m late for my next terrorist attack” or “I’m Muslim… and I’m violent” or “I rode a camel to help build our mosque this morning,” because isn’t that the way we stereotype people like her? And that’s all part of this intolerant world…hypocritical, narrow-minded, racist, chauvinistic, biased, bigoted…whatever you call it.

Don’t get me wrong here – I want tolerance; it’s a brilliant thing. But cynicism aside, it’s sad that the idea of tolerance no longer appeals to our present audience. I’m pertaining to the millions – no, billions – of people out there who are much more cultured, grounded, and practical in terms of dreams and ambitions. It has almost become a farfetched idea to think of a world where there is total mutual respect between every single breathing Homo sapiens sapiens – regardless of who you are or what you believe in.

Try asking some bloke out there about his stand on global tolerance and I can only think of two possible outcomes: Either you’ll think he’s crazy for being such a snobbish and pessimistic realist, or he’ll think you’re crazy for being an equally mindless and impractical dreamer. The thing is, thinking that tolerance will ever completely sweep this planet has become, for most, a Martian notion.

This shouldn’t be so.

Jinni taught me that.

First of all, we already have a global market. The Chinese, who comprise a fifth of the world’s population, have long been recognized for their contributions in the business sector. Depicted as hard-working, rich, and frugal, they have definitely gone a long way in promoting the economic development of China as well as of the respective nations where they currently reside.

Being Chinese myself, it certainly makes my blood boil whenever I hear someone imitate the supposed “Chinese way of speaking” – that “ching chong chang chi” hullabaloo with matching sarcastic inflections. Worse, there are those who remain what is termed in Chinese as “bai hua” (“anti-Chinese”). It strikes me that these people may have never come to realize the seamless integration of Chinese culture with the rest of the world – what with the Chinatowns, the merriment of the Spring and Moon Festivals, the scrumptious noodles and Peking duck, the majestic Great Wall, even the splurges and great buys in those miniature bargain stores.

The point is, blatantly poking fun at the way “white-skinned” or “slit-eyed” foreigners speak and dress is already intolerance. If we truly want progress, then we must learn to work well with Koreans, Arabs, Indians, Europeans, Africans, and all other nationalities, as well as respect their cultures and languages. My school now has around forty Korean students, and the number increases annually. Stereotypes never work. It is in encouraging tolerance that we hold the key to genuine globalization.

We don’t stop with racial and cultural diversity; we consider gender as well. Sure, homosexuality isn’t part of Christianity’s “The Creation,” but then, weren’t some of the greatest fashion trends and icons created and spawned by gay designers? Didn’t Sir Elton John write and sing some of the best songs ever known, or Cameron Mackintosh produce Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Cats, and several other hit musicals? We need not purge people like them; we need only respect, if not accept, them.

However cliché and old-fashioned it may sound, I believe the single most important reason for tolerance is: World Peace. Harmony among all peoples. It’s probably the most wonderful thing ever known to man, but it’s also the most difficult to achieve. Our lack of it has led to over thousands of soldiers dying amidst the carnage of a pointless war in the Middle East, hundreds of monks being persecuted in Burma last year, and journalists dropping dead like flies here in my homeland. Maybe if everyday were pageant day, where people support and applaud someone who thinks world peace is what we all need, then this world could be a brighter and more peaceful place to live in.

I don’t see myself as some sort of ambassador for goodwill in the future, much less a pro-tolerance activist. I’m not even sure if people out there would pay attention to the words of an idealistic youth. But that’s exactly what makes the youth different – we dream of better things. And this is my stand. This is my voice, saying: We need tolerance. Because we need a better future. Because people are being killed, degraded, scorned, and disrespected. And, most importantly, because millions of Jinnis out there continue to suffer in silence, waiting for that moment when the world would finally embrace them with open hearts and minds.

Your friend,

(Have I mentioned that I lost? Haha.)

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