However, most importantly I now have with myself a tool to understand the behavior Polish people have when they come into contact with people with uncommon physical features in this country and/or foreigners. In the same way, I am astonished to see such a high level of openness and tolerance towards us – something most Polish people I have met tries to deny. I call it a tool given that I can use it and also give it to other foreigners and people who feel physically very different from the average Polish person. Thus, I direct this text to them, the ones who should have the real responsibility – even if in some degree the locals should have it, too- of fostering integration and multicultural understanding, and of battling racial discrimination and racism wherever they are: we, “the darker guys,” the foreigners, the Others.
Accomplishing multicultural harmony in Poland is an option that, in reality, is just around the corner. What I cannot guarantee is the path to it to be the easiest one. Before getting to that corner it is much easier to trip over the sense of entitlement or the patronizing attitude many of us have in front of our hosts. If that does not stop us from advancing it is very likely that a deep well of misinterpretations generated by conformism, indifference and inactivity would. And this is because to accomplish multicultural harmony in Poland much more effort is required from our side than from anybody else’s. We need a broader global perspective, more cautious observation and assessment of social relations in Poland, a stronger critical position in front of prejudices and stereotypes, a more analytical cross-cultural comparative analysis, better understanding of the phenomena of racism and racial discrimination, certain academic bases, better understanding and classification of statistical information, empathy, and better use of terminologies. Do you have that? Travelling for hours during the band tours and observing the landscapes of this beautiful country, with which I once fell hopelessly in love, I could not but think about how much richer my general experience here has been becoming day after day – even when it is made out of pleasant and unpleasant experiences altogether. Today, once again travelling across different places in Poland in a van, I get back to those thoughts and I reproduce them in this text with the genuine love I have for this culture and its defects.
I am a Peruvian who naturally and evidently has roots in more than three continents. Yet, in the last five years in Warsaw I have not been denied contact with anybody or entrance to any club, pub, restaurant, shop and other private and public places, just because of my physical appearance. Not even police has ever stopped me and interrogated me just because of having something in common with the profile of a usual local criminal, with the exception of one isolated incident I had at the airport this year. In the contrary, it was enough for me to go out one night in Helsinki, Bremen or Barcelona, among many other European cities, to be asked for my passport and other documents, to be denied the entrance to almost all clubs, to be offended publicly and to be interrogated by the police, for “plastic and chromatic” reasons, something that back then I could not understand be it as a tourist or as a resident. How is that in the last five years in Warsaw this has not happened to me? Why, then, cities where the majority of “darker” immigrants live with a rather upsetting tension and an endless sense of alterity are considered more tolerant than most Polish cities?
This is a matter of patterning, of stigmatization, which plays with prejudices and stereotypes along a timeline. While in Poland to be a foreigner of very different features is something rather new, in the majority of countries with high levels of migration during the last 50 years that is something already patterned. Polish people do not stereotype less than others. They are only living a transition after their identity had been distorted in the last century. Then, their status quo is the one of a country in which an image could still be shaped and moderated, but where we cannot avoid the creation of patterns. Every human being and every society is able to unconsciously pattern someone else based on personal experiences and information collected in the past. In this way, stereotypes are formed. In the contrary, Poland still lives with prejudices, which with more contact with different groups of people will eventually become stereotypes. Then, the idea that Polish people will make about us depends on US.
In Warsaw I have heard that if I really want to experience intolerance I should come into contact with skinheads, football fans or small self-denominated “gangsters,” or that I should visit small towns. Well, during the band tours and on my own I have been through enough Polish towns as to understand the reasons for the existence of such impression. In effect, in first sight I have most of the time found either fear or curiosity. Yet, something that I have definitely not found is indifference. So, with the curiosity and the attention of many people the only thing left to solve is fear. How? Providing an atmosphere of confidence. Well, even if many think that arts are only an entertainment, playing a good concert, with much commitment to the audience, making it feel important and even looking for a personal contact with it, open doors. After every concert not many would take me as an exotic Peruvian any longer but as someone who does the same crazy things anyone else does. Similar methods of harmonization could be applied in the majority of contexts. If there are no results, then one should try over and over again. That is our function as foreigners. I cannot expect to be treated naturally from the first day by people that have never seen someone with my features before and that only have a preconception of someone like me taken from some roles in Hollywood films or due to scandalous news about countries they probably had never heard about. I cannot get offended just because someone does not know what Peru is, when in Peru not many people know what Poland is. I cannot confuse and consider racist actions the ones of a group of skinheads, football fans or pseudo-gangsters, given that most likely they are just a result of other problems, such as fanaticism, identity and/or self-esteem. We should not judge Polish people just because of actions performed by a small group of criminals. Taking these characters out of the picture and getting back to the main topic, there is no one more responsible of our integration than US.
Let us stop judging our hosts and let us put our hands on work. Only in this way we will finally be treated as Polish people and we will stop being the “Others”, without loosing a drop of our identity but only enriching it. Every time something affects me – from bureaucracy to the long cues in the supermarket- I realize how much Polish people and we are going through a very similar situation. Personally, I believe that one can fall in love with someone when accepting her/his defects and still be in love. That is what happens to me when it comes to Poland. So I ask myself once again what am I doing here: learning how to stop being the “Other.”