Ibrahin Mena

I sat down with Ibrahin and we talked about life in Venezuela, his experience with racism there, and in Europe, when he was traveling. We compared that to his experience with racism here in the United States, talked about his experience with the police in Missoula, Montana and he shares his message of love with us.

Transcript : Interview and Ibrahin's story “What’s Wrong with my Skin?”

welcome to the tell something podcast
i’m mark moss thanks for joining me as i
take you behind the scenes
at tell us something to meet the
storytellers behind the stories
thank you to our title sponsor the good
food store
today i sit on the deck socially distant
from ibrahim mena
ibrahim is from caracas venezuela he
holds a bachelor’s degree in education
and a master’s degree in journalism he
has more than 10 years experience
teaching at the primary secondary and
university levels
he was honored as teacher of the year in
caracas in 2014.
ibrahim lived in malta europe for a year
and a half
and traveled to missoula in 2016 to
teach at missoula international school
he loves dancing riding and traveling
ibrahim shared his story at
telesomething on march 18
2019 to a sold out crowd at the wilma
in missoula montana the theme was
stranger in a strange land
when i sat down with ibrahim we talked
about life in venezuela
his experience with racism there and in
europe when he was traveling
we compared that to his experience with
racism here in the united states
and talked about his experience with the
police in missoula montana
and finally he shares his message of
love with us
when i came here exactly well i used to
visit europe and i
already saw how was
it yeah when i was in
spain i remember one time i was with my
suitcase and someone
is came to meet out to me that go back
to your country
um beside that i saw uh
things that happened but noah’s in the
ua the u.s
is this is a real real problem here is
is is is
you can compare with what is going on
yeah anywhere else yeah anywhere else
and i didn’t know about that until i
that and because people don’t talk very
much about that
well at the beginning i just noticed
that people here talk a lot
about being white being black being it’s
it’s just
part of their daily conversation
something that i didn’t hear
anywhere else not even in euro no even
people talking about being
what kind of scholar for me was very
shocking when i
uh was when i was filling in
paperwork i always had to talk about my
race my because it’s not in that
good care before to me anywhere
also something very difficult for me to
because i in venezuela had been called
the entire life
negro or negrito anything
it’s normal they can call you negro and
i don’t get offended about that because
there is not a racial connotation about
but here they made me choose between
latin and african-american and i don’t i
get lost because i don’t know what to
pick a young african-american because i
was born in america
and i am a person of color but i also
i’m latin is and it’s something
how the should i define myself here
yeah exactly it’s weird yeah yeah
so yeah when i first experienced
the races in here very strong was
that guy that stopped the car and
started screaming and shouting that i
was a black rack and
i don’t even remember what else he was
he was definitely i think he was
someone that was out of his mind
he wasn’t a normal person i mean he was
probably on drugs or something
he wasn’t normal i got scared because i
said people here is allowed to have guns
and as this is a
very peaceful place
missoulian had no idea how blessed
you are i came from a country that you
cannot be
like you can relax yourself never you
have to be always looking around because
super dangerous but i never felt a
particular target but here i have
discovered that i
am part of a very
very small minority and a very
particular target
because i am living in a city where
everybody is white
and yes i am black and also
it started making me like
the feeling i got rid of when i left
it came back uh here in missoula once i
realized i noticed that this happened
yeah because i mean i don’t feel
always worried as i was in venezuela but
still don’t feel any more as safer as i
used to think i was uh walking around
the street here because
yeah definitely i feel safer when i am
with someone now
but yes definitely this experience has
brought that
stress to me i always had that feeling
sometimes when i hike
i feel if something happens most of the
also when i when i see a police
car it really made me nervous all the
despite off i had to say that
always when i had met a police in
missoula the police here had been super
all the time i had i had been pulled
over three times two or twice
well you know the first time
when i went over i didn’t have a
driver lice and from here i have my
driver license
from venezuela was my like
my first month here and
i it was so confusing for me i didn’t
know what to do when
the yellow error
because we don’t have that in venezuela
a yellow error that is
flashing it means nothing for me
you mean for the light in the traffic
light there were a yellow arrow so i had
to close and i had no idea
so i weighed the first time and it
didn’t get green
it was always yellow and i didn’t know
what to do
so i crossed
but then the police was behind me and i
thought they were stopping me
and they but they they didn’t do
anything they didn’t even
gave me a warning they were just nice
they were
asking me why i was diving
and i after i explained everything they
they just let me
go yes they actually made me
the dropped the the the
alcohol test and i didn’t i wasn’t
they made me stand up and because it was
halloween night but i didn’t drink
anything it was and i
they checked my eyes a lot and i said i
used contact
lenses it was i was cold they were
i don’t know i didn’t feel they were a
rook to me and anything yeah yeah
and the next time they stop me uh
yes in a in a in a bridge
coming from the school i passed five
miles over the sp
and i am someone that is always caring
about fp
and that happened and they immediately
stopped me but
uh nothing happened they told me and
uh yes next time don’t do that
they didn’t give me any fine for that
and the other time they just told me is
because the light
of my car went off and
he just notified me the he didn’t even
get me anything
yeah i’ve had yeah all those things
happen as a white guy
and haven’t been pulled off no yeah i
i’ve had a burnt out headlight before
i’ve uh run a red light was right there
and they didn’t pull probably probably
exactly probably they exactly probably i
they’re like now thinking about what
they did to me that day that
made me do this and checking on my eyes
yeah probably they were
racist and i didn’t realize i didn’t
notice because in venezuela
this is a problem we are so missed
there is no way that uh i mean it
doesn’t happen
people here is so segregated white and
black and
it’s super segregated and it doesn’t
happen in venezuela
when you see in social media and some
people a lot of people
like defending what is not possible to
defend like people being really
just for the fact of being black and you
see a lot of people
uh defending what is uh
no defendable you say wow there is a lot
work that need to be done in this
country but
i also understand that they are they
have a lot of
anger inside because i don’t
i didn’t grow up and i don’t have that
anger in me
but when i read as the most i read i get
more angry
yeah and i try to control myself because
i believe
that the way uh me brian
the way us me as a person of color
that i can the contribution i can give
is through
love because i don’t i don’t find
another way to do
i’m a teacher
and this is the way i i i i believe and
i was
and i i had been really researching and
i said what
what i can do because i i believe that
these white people
for example in the us these kids are
with very little exposure and and
i wonder what can i do to make this this
country better
to make this place very for the next
what is in my hands and i identify a lot
that i can do
for the first time is being present
i was uh being present in this in this
as a role model but i had a different
mind because i grew up in a different
i i told them i’m a teacher and
right now i am working with white people
why kids
so what i can do well i have to work for
making these kids to be allies to be
a acceptance to be
open-minded and as a teacher i always
question what should i do what should i
do every day
so love yeah so i think being present
um giving love to the kid i teach
is my first contribution you know
i’m being a role model so uh they are
growing up
thinking that someone with my skin color
are able to be their teachers because
their parents
me to be their teacher so this is
another message
and every day i always
bring it up i always bring conversation
being racist about being a sexton
and in the classroom that conversation
has to happen every single day
i don’t rest in my mission or
making uh helping this kid to grow up as
a good person
and i bring it up so i have a lot of to
in this community and
i think that growing up in venezuela and
not in a place where i
uh like here also
taught me that i ca that people can be
a white black a different color i have
an excellent relationship friendship
and that’s also my contribution that
what i can
what i can do i remember that you asked
me about
what uh what would i say to people that
to be good better alley well i would say
that to be better alley
for if you ever find yourself in a
c in a situation that
you see someone that is being mistreated
because of their skin color
make sure that the person that is near
me 3d is safe and is good
instead of engaging in fights
that son is not productive i think this
is bringing us a lot of problems
when when i read what people said from
one side to another um
sometimes people trying to realize they
they engage in not productive
this week that became a fight um
trying to prove the other right and
that include is to insult
the person try to marry the person
feel that they don’t know what they are
talking about but
it doesn’t really seems to me that it’s
because it doesn’t really gain people to
the side we want i i want to stick with
the message of love
despite something is difficult when i
share my story one of the most powerful
i receive
a letter from someone that he explicit
that he’s in favor of wielding the wall
but he is also sorry about what happened
to me
and i think he said that
people that is here should be treated
with respect and
that he he preferred to have me as a
neighbor and i
i and i was thinking what if
if my my message was
another one if my reaction
to what happened to me
would have been totally different with
math and
probably i wouldn’t have that reaction
this kind of people because i think this
is becoming something like people
want it’s a social problem
that people is elevating uh
as a political problem and
yeah instead of focusing on the social
problem a lot of people are focusing
is they’ve trying to defend
a police party instead of defending the
the problem and yeah
hi let’s start
this telling you that i am super glad
very glad that i have survived
three years three winters in this
i am not going to talk about my first
in the snowball though my history began
in january 4 of the year
i was grocery shopping with
a friend of mine her name is ismara
her and i went to the grocery shopper
i told her
that i was going for another side of the
top and she went to another side of the
when i was looking at the shelf
suddenly i felt someone that was coming
as is natural i put myself out
letting that person pass but
that person didn’t pass
i wait he didn’t pass
i started thinking that he was trying to
provoke me
so i left and wait
for about a minute so that person passed
he didn’t pass he stayed exactly
in the part of the ale where i was
and i started looking at the shelf
so kneading to buy some sponge
i went back to the place where i was
and i started looking at the shelves
choosing the kind of sponge i wanted to
well that person
told me that those sponge
were good for me that i should use them
to take a shower and
use them as much as i can to take my
off i was speechless
a lot of things happened in my mind in
that moment
my mind was
super confused i felt vulnerable
i didn’t know what how to act
and i remember in that moment a very bad
experience happened to me
last spring when someone stopped his car
and he started shouting at me super mad
i was super scared because he told me
that i was a black rat
and i shouldn’t leave
having leader experience reading help me
because i learn
about races by news
by book by teachers but living
this kind of experience feels super
so i went immediately to
see where my friends mara was
i told her what happened she was
very sad at well she told me that she
was worried about herself because she’s
from venezuela as well
but she started coming
calming me down she told me you
are a great person and if that person
know you very well
she wouldn’t do that he wouldn’t do that
she started telling me beautiful thing
about how
the person i was and making me feel
i was so sensitive so i left
but still left here for a little bit and
continue grocerying shopping
i was thinking what should i do i have
to do something with this
this is not right i was
feeling mad at the entire situation
and super frustrating because
i didn’t know what to do like i have
literal knowledge about racism and i
also was
frustrated with my english at this point
i think you have realized that my
yeah need to improve a little bit so
i started thinking should i go there and
what’s going on what is wrong with my
skin i like that
or maybe having a conversation to drive
to understand that there are more things
we have in common that the one that we
have difference
i didn’t do anything i just
went to line up and after a while
someone passed with a few items in
her hand and i let her go
well she was super grateful
after a little while another old lady
came to me and she told er
she have a few items as well and i let
go she couldn’t be
more grateful really she started talking
to me
telling me that she really liked the
kind of person i was that she
was looking around if someone offered
that and she was so happy actually she
told the cashier
i was so nice and this is the kind of
person we need
here i wasn’t talkity
at all she asked me many questions but i
couldn’t answer
i was very quiet in that moment
but she doesn’t have any idea that she
brought me back
to the real people the majority of the
i know and i feel like people is here in
she brought me back to
that beautiful paradise i
taught when i first arrived here
because that’s like what i remember was
beautiful landscape a bunch of hippie
that smiled to me when i am walking in
the street
people that stopped me in the super
in the store and try to have beautiful
conversation with me
in the bar that’s the real people
i really
appreciate in missoula also
those that from the very beginning
support me when i arrived here people
from missoula international school
the best environment i have ever had
students my boss
parents a lot of them present in this
place now giving me support
well after paying ismara and i left
i started the car i started driving
but don’t remember anything else
but my friend is mara on my side
a deep silence
a big sight
maybe 100 thousands
of stairs coming out of my eyes
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by me
mark moss me brian
the way us me as a person of color
that i can the contribution i can give
is through
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I’m excited to bring you stories from the archives and a behind the scenes look at Tell Us Something. In this new series I’ll sit down with a storyteller every week, and we’ll talk about what they’ve been up to, go more in depth with their story and get to know them a little better. The first episode of this new series features Ibrahin Mena. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast so that you don’t miss any of the episodes and I look forward to you joining us for some good conversation. The first episode drops 7/21/2020
Stories of an American tourist’s encounter with the secret police in 1970s Iran, overcoming hate in the grocery store, An Eastern African girl’s first experience in America and an American tourist in Paris just trying to find some relief.