Yesterday was Veterans Day and I was traveling to Long Beach, CA for the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Annual Conference where some of my friends and colleagues are veterans. I was reading their posts on Facebook about respecting our Veterans and I realized that respect extends as far as the other person’s perspective. In this last year, I have had my U.S. Veteran status challenged because I do not look like everyone else.
During a Memorial Day weekend family trip this year, my family and I went to a magic show at a children’s park in the Lake George Resort area. When the magician asked about veterans in his audience, I was the only one who raised a hand. He took one look at me and asked if I fought for our side or theirs. Who was he talking about? What choice does he give me but to assume he meant anyone but the Americans? Was he talking about my brown skin or my large frame? Since the magician was not a Lilliputian from Gulliver’s travels, he was casually remarking that my brown skin made me a foreigner.
Last month at my local Veterans Affairs medical facility, I entered a room for an orientation to behavioral health and the nurse leading the orientation stopped his presentation to ask me if I was a veteran. Let’s keep a couple facts in mind here. To receive care at any VA facility, you must be a veteran and they fully authenticate your eligibility. The room for the orientation was not a room I could have found accidentally. One of his colleagues led me to this room and said this is the room for you, veteran. At the end of that session, a veteran speaker came in to share his experience with mental health with us. At the end of his talk, he went around the room to ask everyone’s service. He skipped me. I guess I was invisible. He left the room for a minute and then came back. Somehow, he could see me this time to ask my branch of service.
The final straw came when I checked into my hotel room last night for the conference and asked about any related events for veterans. The front desk staff asked me if I was a family member or a friend of a veteran. I really wanted to scream because I had just handed him a credit card that had “Army” and the USAA logo embossed on it.
What the heck does it mean when the folks at the VA facility cannot even believe you are a veteran? How is a person supposed to react when she is constantly told she does not look like someone who could have been a United States service member? It’s frustrating. It’s maddening. I’m tired of it. It happened more in the last year than in the entire time that I’ve been a veteran. I want to scream it out: yes, brown girls can be veterans too. In fact, I did not get my U.S. citizenship until after I left the Army. For those of you who think immigrants cannot faithfully serve this nation, you are wrong. We do. Every day.
We brown girls can do many things. Those of you with the limited perspectives and the prejudices can either do something about your ignorance or you can get out of our way. Your ignorance will not stop us. It will not stop us from serving our country in any capacity, then or now.