You’re Not Welcome Here

I am a motorcycle enthusiast, much to the worry of my husband and kids at times. About two years ago, I went on a ride with my ‘gang,’ the Hell’s Kittens. Our name pretty much encapsulates the irreverence we hold for ourselves. It was an obscenely early morning ride, 6:00 am, to a breakfast spot in Western Massachusetts, a great nature preserve/park, then back home. A full day out.

Hell’s Kittens

Despite the ungodly hour, the ride out was beautiful, brisk, but not cold. With virtually empty roads, we could really enjoy the ride and not be as concerned with traffic. Being a motorcyclist, you learn very early on to constantly be on heightened alert. I can’t count the number of times people have pulled out in front of me because they just didn’t see me. So, empty roads are a bonus on any ride.

Our merry band of kittens roared into the parking lot behind the diner that we stopped at for breakfast. We crammed ourselves into the little dive while the local denizens scrutinized us with eyebrows raised, not sure how to react. They eventually deduced we were harmless and ignored us. 

The homemade hash was delicious; the banter was friendly and fun with lots of loud laughing. Such a great time. This is, for me, what riding is all about—the companionship, the open and scenic road, and the shared thrill of operating these powerful machines.

Little did I know at the time that the ride back, which should have continued the happy memory, would be marred.

Moving Along

Riding back, we made a pitstop so our ride leader, Tony, could get some drone footage of a very quaint 100-year-old stone church with a giant American flag draped on it. Our small group of six pulled in for a break. By chance, this stop already had a gathering of motorcyclists, probably more than 20 riders. 

As Tony went off to play with his toy, my fellow riders Paul and Rod walked around to admire bikes. As they were perusing and making their way toward a table of individuals, one of them, a larger white male, announced, “We’re very far-right over here.”

Paul’s reaction was, “Uhm, okay, so, moving along…” 

He was taken off-guard and didn’t really know how to react. He told me what happened and expressed his surprise. He mentioned how he kept thinking, ‘What does that mean? Why would he say that?’ My response was simple: “It means that Rod and our group are not welcome here.” He just stared at me incredulously.

Poster for Diversity

Michael Aki poses on his motorcycle

Our group includes Paul, a bear of a man with a full beard, and a Sicilian, but pale-skinned with red hair. Rod, on the other hand, is a very tall, slim black man. 

The rest of our group is a poster for diversity. There’s Gus, hailing from Greek immigrant parents, with long hair that could earn him the label of “hippie.” Tony, our ride leader, a short Southern Vietnamese guy, also hailing from immigrants, who never outgrew being a kid. Corey, a large black man who is a rapper and musical director for a nonprofit group that teaches kids music in Boston. He also hails from an immigrant family from Cape Verde. And to round out the group, myself, also short, a half-Chinese, half-Caucasian mutt. My father’s grandfather literally Shanghai’d from China to work in the Plantation fields of Hawai’i. Throw in the fact that four out of the six of us also happen to be gay and had the “far-right” gentlemen known that, he probably would have imploded on the spot.

Did this individual and the table he sat at represent all that gathered there? Don’t know. Regardless, his statement resulted in throwing up an invisible wall. A wall that effectively said, “You are not welcome here and we are not open to engaging with you.” For many of us in the group who have experienced bigotry and racism to varying degrees, that wall also came with an added threat level that put us on edge and made us retreat away from the larger group.

With Tony done taking his footage, we all got back on our bikes and headed home. The encounter with the ‘far-right’ table of individuals was discussed, but most of us shrugged our shoulders. We’ve dealt with worse. But this memory pops up again, reminding me of the division we still seem to have in our country.

We Welcome

A drawing of diverse human figures approaching an open door

Working in the educational space, I have seen the effects this division has had on the content that is being asked to be produced. 

I am very fortunate enough to work with a small company whose core values are humanistic and driven by compassion and acceptance: We Care, We Support, We Lead, We Welcome, We Strive.

In particular, ‘We Welcome’ applies here. Per CSA’s value: We believe that everyone, regardless of background or ability, should have an opportunity to thrive. We foster a welcoming atmosphere with every interaction. Our goal is to make everyone feel at home, no matter who or where they are.

Research has shown time and time again how much more we accomplish when we embrace diversification. Conflicts will always exist due to different personalities, beliefs, etc., but letting those conflicts tear us apart or block us from moving forward is counter-productive on so many levels. Am I overly idealistic? Perhaps, but what’s wrong with that?

Thinking back to that eventful ride, I am reminded of how important it is to live and perpetuate that key ‘We Welcome’ value internally within CSA and externally toward clients, vendors, freelancers, and society in general. 

I will continue to be idealistic and enjoy the open road with my Hell’s Kittens whenever I can. I will continue to welcome as many people into my life as I can in hopes that perhaps one day, our shared humanity will be greater than misguided divisions between us all.