In Budapest, there’s a whole network of Open Mics that happen every night of the week, into which I stumbled. Music, as it turns out, is more universal even than English. Musicians, music-lovers, visitors transfixed by the performance— the artists, to be sure, would play with or without an audience, entranced in the music. I was welcomed immediately by a community of improv and covers and encouraged to perform away my stage fright. Bodies kept time while musicians kept in key, patrons’ souls moved and the musicians felt the foot-tapping in the floorboards as life. We were all open, all lost and found in the music. My first week passed in Budapest by night as in a dream.
My cousin had scheduled to blow through town on his brief tour of Europe. I set out to meet him and his friend on the evening of their arrival, eager to show the Budapest I’d come to know. There was my cousin, standing in the streetlight in confident, green-haired glory, unapologetically himself. This was his first international adventure, but he stood handsome and demure as if he knew something of the world, as if he’d been traveling all his life. We wandered that first night through the streets that had embraced me over the previous week, in search of new things.
Green hair was enough to set our little trio apart. Throughout one short weekend, the reactions from passers-by ranged from benign to entertaining. People pointed and whispered, even complimented my cousin on his look. But in the evenings, the treatment turned sinister. On multiple occasions we had grown men, bulky and drunk, sidle up beside us and shove into my cousin’s shoulder. They stood postured for a fight. Each time that we were able to pass quickly into another crowd or establishment, it felt like we’d made some narrow escape.
My cousin’s experience of Budapest was a lesson for me in privilege. There are rose-colored glasses through which I tend to regard travel. I carry privilege beyond an American Passport. I’m “racially ambiguous” by appearance, which means that today, my looks don’t come across as threatening in most of the environments I’ve visited. I don’t sport any statement style additions. I’m reminded of the doors open to me, of the often unexpected and chance-based circumstances that have gotten me here, and of the limits appearances can put in place or break down. Traveling alone, I only have this one set of experiences and this one perspective, and I don’t always have to see things through someone else’s eyes— the insidious nature of privilege, unfortunately.
So I see you now in a new light, you the people travelling under appearances, by choice or by chance, that put you at greater risk to violence. And you whose appearances put you at risk in your own hometowns, I see you. I laud your bravery, and I hope that I can be an ally to you in some way. I hope that one day you too can travel carefree and welcomed in the same way that I can.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”