As an African American who’s spent the majority of my life in predominately white settings, I find most of my friendships are cross-cultural. While I’ve connected with several friends over life issues like singleness, hobbies like shopping, or shared career goals, I can only think of two or three current friendships where the mutual give-and-take includes honest discussions about race and culture. Sometimes that’s simply because the friendship is just a light one. Other times, I’m just not up for the risk of shaking things up by sharing my real thoughts.
Here are the stories of six women who’ve found ways to develop cross-cultural friendships that include such openness. Some took dramatic, intentional steps to find friends of another culture, while others discovered relationships as close as their neighborhood. All agree that these friendships enrich their lives, their faith journeys, and their worldview.
AMY AND GABRIELA:
Accept What Each Has to Offer
“Is Miss Gabi your maid?” the little girl asked Amy Calkin, gesturing toward Gabriela Cantu. Amy and Gabriela were teachers at a small Christian school in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. A young student and her mother had stopped by the apartment Amy and Gabriela shared not far from the campus.
The girl knew Gabriela, 41, was her school’s principal. So her question stunned the women into uncomfortable laughter.
“I was saddened because her question revealed how she thought white and Mexican people interacted,” says Amy, also 41. “She didn’t realize Gabriela and I might be friends.”
The two met in 1986 and bonded as first-year teachers. As their friendship grew, they hung out outside of work, taking road trips, working out together, and eventually becoming roommates.
Their friendship developed easily, they say, because each had previous cross-cultural friendships-Amy as an Army brat who moved often, and Gabriela during college.
As a result, their friendship is one that includes as many insights about faith and life as it does about race and culture. For Gabriela, Amy’s friendship provided an ongoing example of how to take risks.
“There’s a saying: ‘Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres,'” Gabriela says. “‘Tell me who you hang out with, and I’ll tell you who you are.’ Amy’s willingness to make this neighborhood hers has been an example to me of how God can use you even when you’re outside your comfort zone.”