A Point of View © 1996
The Where We Come From Importance
By Paul V. Montesino, Ph.D., MBA, ICCP.
Recently, Lady Susan Hussey, a woman who was close to the recently defunct Queen Elizabeth II, the term Lady refers to those appointed Dame by the British monarch, got her feet deep in public relations “mud” when she offended a colored guest of the crown by asking insensitive questions about where she was from. After the incident, the Dame resigned and apologized for her lack of manners.
This situation could be called unique if it weren’t for the fact that it comes after Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and wife of Prince Harry, claimed in a well-publicized interview that a member of the royal household raised concerns about what color of skin her son Archie would have before he was born.
But my article is not about British manners. Racial insensitivity is universal, its source having no skin color, language, or color-specific characteristics. It still has not registered to many that we cannot choose where we are going to be born, perhaps being limited to where we are going to be buried when we die.
The Europeans who arrived at our shores in the early nineteen hundreds encountered many signs who read “No so-and-so nationals needs to apply” when they tried to obtain employment in many places owned by other nationals. There seems to be something wrong with places of origin we don’t like or trust.
In the nineteen seventies, I obtained a Bachelor of Science degree with Honors from a local University that will remain confidential, because my story is about one individual, not one institution. Part of the Honors program consisted of attending a luncheon sponsored by the Honor Society and receiving a diploma.
I took the time off from work to attend the luncheon and was given another honor: sitting next to the President of the Society. In the middle of my conversation with the gentleman, he intimated that he had detected a slight accent in my voice. Having noticed that this man was lying when he described my accent as “slight,” I prepared for what I knew could follow:
“And where are you from?”, he said patronizingly.
“Oh, I came from Cuba several years ago,” I responded.
“Cuba uh?”, he said, now with a worried expression on his face. And added, “I live in Dorchester, and there are Cubans there who are on welfare. That’s not good for the rest of us or the economy.” I could see that America was in danger from this fellow’s point of view.
I was also in shock. I had no idea how many individuals of Cuban origin lived in his neighborhood or how many of them were on Welfare. What intrigued me the most was that he would know.
The fellow didn’t wait for any response to his socioeconomic theories and added:
“And where do you work?”
At the time I had already reached a vice presidential position with a Boston bank, but I didn’t want to give this fellow the opportunity of comparing me, a known bank officer, with others he presumed were on the public payroll for reasons no one knew.
“Oh, I am not working right now. I am on Welfare. That’s a good deal.” I responded casually.
My host looked at me without uttering a word. He looked around and rising from his seat, announced:
“Forgive me a moment, I think I must go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back.”
I don’t know how long it took for him to go to the bathroom, but by the time he returned I had left the luncheon and was on my way to my office. That would be the only time I would ever assist in a lunch ceremony with that Honor outfit.
It also taught me a lesson. The next time anyone I met asked me where I was from, I would always answer without hesitation: “Oh, I am from planet earth.” You’d be surprised how many different reactions it gets.
And that’s my Point of View Today. So long.