Kristie O’Brien

Black Panther is Undocumented

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Kristie O'Brien

Minneapolis, MN

I’m a small town, Midwestern, white girl of German, Irish, American Indian, French, English …etc? heritage. American. I moved to St. Paul/Minneapolis when I was 18, craving to broaden my understanding of both Minnesota and the world by forming bonds with all different kinds of Minnesotans. I had friends who were West African immigrants & refugees; Mexican-American friends from California; white friends from the suburbs; and many undocumented Mexican friends as well.

I recognized that “American” identity was a much more complicated concept for my “bi-cultural” friends of color, and a “hot” subject for all. I learned white people are quick to get angry in conversations about racism and white privilege, denying that “standard American culture” is white middle-class. I questioned my own ease of loving diversity and my state; do I deny that my own obliviousness of my white privilege allows me to feel this way? My love of learning about other places and desire to become bilingual compelled me to travel and live in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.

Although I loved living in other countries, I also became increasingly aware of feeling like “an other,” and lived the emotional and reflective journey through the stages of acculturation, getting “stuck” along the way. I saw these places were not as diverse as my city. I also struggled to remember that even if my light skin and eyes caused me to be treated differently, I was still in a place of privilege, with my ability to live, travel, study, and work where ever I pleased in the world. One day, it struck me when I was raising my baby girl in Puerto Rico, “My daughter is Puerto Rican, but I never will be Puerto Rican.”

I felt home sick for my land, and for Minneapolis in particular. One the thing I missed most was being immersed in diverse American society, being able to visit my favorite, diverse, parts of town. I missed AMERICANS, and AMERICANS are of many colors, styles of dress, ethnicities, languages, countries & socio-economic classes. Now living in Minneapolis again, my passion and work is making MN a place where everyone successfully acculturates. This means everyone can identify 100% with their home culture, and 100% with their additional culture(s) (American.)

As a Somali colleague of mine tells his young Somali students struggling with their American identities, “You need a number to play on the basketball team. You’re trying to play on the team without a number.” His reference meaning, “You’re trying to be American without being Somali first. Being a successful American means being a successful Somali too.” Let’s start by telling our government to change our laws to reflect who we really are.

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