February 11, 2015 - Ram (an update)
One of the first, and surprisingly to me, one of the very few ‘hater’ comments I’ve read about this project came early last year. A local radio station had posted a story about The Stranger Project on their Facebook wall. It had come from a local television newscast. One of the radio station's listeners claimed that my project would likely go nowhere, and that there was no way I’d ever maintain contact with anyone (with a few select profanities thrown in for punctuation). It said more about that person than it did about this project. As I said, it was one of the very few negative comments I’ve read.
I’ve kept in touch with probably about fifty (rough guess) of the strangers I met last year. Some have become good friends, some check in via Facebook, and many others I see while I’m walking about town. I had decided at the start of this year I’d like to include an occasional update about some of the people I’ve met through this project.
I first met Ram back on Day 145 (May 25th) last year. (Fact Check - see link below.) I often see him around and we wave and say hello. He’s usually coming from, or heading to the gym when I see him. On occasion we’ll stop and have a quick chat. Ram recently retired, telling me that the company he worked for had closed down. Retirement came a little earlier than planned.
I asked Ram what he was doing with the extra time.
“I’m able to get out more, and walk around. I’m still going to the gym. I’ve been spending some time fixing my up my place, as well. Doing some painting and decorating,” he said.
"It’s an adjustment, but I’m doing okay.”
He was born in Malaysia and had grown up in Kuala Lumpur, moving to Canada when he was seventeen years old. When Ram and I had spoken that first time, he told me about experiencing racism not long after arriving here, and that he hadn't encountered that before. Someone had suggested he start going to the gym, gain some weight and people would stop bothering him. It worked to a certain extent, but he still heard people talking abut him while on the bus, he could see people staring, that kind of thing.
Ram’s son is coming home today after spending six months in Montreal.
“He told me that he witnessed his first experience of racial prejudice,” Ram said. We had spoken about racism the last time I bumped into him.
My stepfather is black and has been my mother’s best friend since I was four years old. They’ve been married for almost forty-six years. My stepfather got pulled over while driving a few months ago, for no apparent reason. He was asked for his identification, yelled at by the police officer and then told to drive carefully. I told Ram about how infuriating it is. Knowing what an incredible human being my stepfather is, and at seventy-three years old, he’s still dealing with this bullshit.
“Yeah. I’m going to talk to my son about it,” said Ram, regarding his son’s experience. We talked about the importance of his son not internalizing what he feels, and to be able to talk about things, so that he doesn’t hold it personally. Here we are, decades later, and it still needs to be a conversation.
Fortunately, I had a solid role model that helped me to understand that there are ways to turn negatives into positive. I was taught to respect people, to know when to speak out, and to have a sense of awareness about others. Ram’s son has had the same influence.
Tonight, Ram will sit and have a conversation with his son about racism, and his firsthand experience with it. His son is nineteen; the same age Ram was when he first experienced racism. #notastranger
Fact Check - Day 145 - Ram - http://on.fb.me/1zwqzuH