This is Part II following Catherine Zhao’s Part I – “ABOUT FRIENDSHIP” posted Jan. 2021
There are people you meet that change your life. There are people you meet that change your perspective. There are people that do both.
Catherine Xiaolin Zhao is one of those people.
I met Catherine in the late summer of 2016. I was fresh out of college and living in NYC. I was full of excitement and fear. I grew up in the Midwest in the United States and hadn’t traveled very much. I felt so overwhelmed by NYC, but I was in awe of it as well. As a kid who once lived in a house that was surrounded by cornfields, I was amazed at the amount of people, places, and cultures in the “concrete jungle.” I was eating alone on the back patio area of Webster Apartment, a wonderful place in midtown Manhattan that provides safe and affordable housing for female professionals, when we met. As an introvert, I remember wanting to quietly eat when along came a chatty and friendly person who ended up becoming one of my best friends. She asked me questions about Oklahoma, and I asked her questions about China.
When I was in elementary school and living in the above mentioned farming community, my family briefly thought we might be relocating to China for my father’s job. I was beyond thrilled. This was right before the Internet started slowly becoming a part of our daily life, so I had to grab the “C” labeled encyclopedia to read up on China. Sadly, we didn’t end up moving there, but my passive yet strong curiosity about China remained. I ended up growing up mostly in Oklahoma.
Catherine knew about the famous musical Oklahoma. Meanwhile, I didn’t understand what Chinese New Year’s really was, and wrongly thought sushi was a popular dish there. Afterwards, I remember calling my mom to tell her that I had made a new friend from China. Over the next few months, Catherine and I, along with some other women, played the role of “tourist” in the Big Apple. Those few months are filled with some of my favorite life experiences. I grew a lot as a person. Being around so many women from so many different countries gave me a different perspective on how America is perceived, in both positive and negative ways, abroad. It made me think more critically about America’s healthcare and college education system. It was such an eye-opening experience in so many ways.
One of the darkest and most surprising moments for me happened on a city bus. Catherine, our mutual friend from Germany, and I were on our way back to our apartment after a fun and adventurous day. Mere seconds after finding our seats, an older woman grew visibly upset that she was having to sit near Catherine. She angrily muttered something as she moved to a different seat on the bus. I was shocked. I couldn’t tell if Catherine had noticed or not. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what to say. Was this gross and uncalled for interaction a common experience for my friend? Then I got mad at myself for my own naivety towards the situation. One of my greatest hopes for our present day and future world is that the hearts and minds of hateful individuals begin to soften and open. That they begin to embrace,respect, and love other people and cultures.
Tragic and horrible events continue to teach me the injustices and hate that the Asian community continues to face on a daily basis in the United States and abroad. My sweet, hilarious, and brilliant friend is so much more than a statistic, but every time I hear of violence or racism towards Asians, I think of her. I think of her family. I think of her heart that is so full of love and joy.
May all hearts be more like hers.
Shaynee Sherwood lives in Kansas City, Kansas where she teaches at a private school that specializes in helping students with learning differences. As someone who is dyslexic herself, Shaynee is a strong advocate for the neurodivergent community. In her free time, Shaynee enjoys writing, yoga, and learning more about herself and the world.