Appreciating random acts of kindness

Cal in Color

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My mom and I have always used public transportation to get around town. Living in Oakland since 1990, by now my mom knew AC Transit, BART and the Bay Area like the back of her hand. You’d always catch me and my momma on BART or the bus, and if our destination was close enough, we’d even walk. So, it was natural that we’d use BART to go to my doctor’s appointment in the morning. While we were waiting for our train to arrive, my mom saw an Asian woman looking around, clearly confused as to where she was. She was frantically looking back and forth from her notebook to her phone to the BART map. She had her suitcase next to her and her purse hanging over her shoulder. My mom doesn’t know much English, so having a long conversation with someone is a lot of work for her.

When my mom approached the woman, she asked, “Where you going?” The woman stared at my mom with a smile on her face, searching my mom’s face, then shook her head. My mom looked back at me and said, “No habla Inglés.” My mom and I realized that this would make it difficult to communicate with the woman, but we were determined to help her anyway.

The woman pointed at her phone, “I need get here.” My mom leaned over to look at her screen. “You are on Fruitvale, here,” my mom informed her, pointing at Fruitvale station on her map. The woman once again pointed at San Francisco International Airport on the map. “You need get on the Richmond train and get off on MacArthur.” The woman looked at her blankly. “Here.” My mom told the woman that the Richmond train was arriving and said, “Let’s get on this one.” The woman smiled at us as we got on the train. 

When we arrived at MacArthur, my mom and I got off with the woman. “You get on San Francisco train,” my mom pointed. “I wait here with you.” The woman smiled again, expressing genuine gratitude. When the train arrived, my mom told her to get on and look for signs for SFO because she needed to get off at the airport. The woman eagerly listened to my mom, gave her a hug and left on the train. Although we only had 15 minutes to get to the doctor, my mom couldn’t resist offering any help that she could give, while I was more concerned as to how we were going to be on time for my appointment. At that moment, I don’t remember thinking much about what my mom did that morning because my mom did this for people pretty often, but now that I’m older, I realize how meaningful these small acts of love are. 

As Mexican immigrants, my parents stressed the importance of kindness and treating strangers with respect. They taught me that everyone is facing their own adversities and that we should be mindful of that.They taught me to always be a helping hand, even when I’m not asked to be one; they’d tell me to always “make myself useful.” When I was younger, I’d watch my parents help strangers in public whether it was by answering their questions about directions, carrying something for them, helping them on the bus or getting up for older people to sit down. I’d ask my dad why they were so helpful, and he’d respond by telling me that we’re all in the struggle together and that we need to help each other to stay afloat. He’d stress the importance of community through acts of kindness.

Growing up, my mom and dad raised me with these acts of love. They showed me that random acts of kindness can mean so much to people, that we must do good things with no intention of getting anything in return. Later on, I realized that I had the privilege of growing up in a household that practiced love on a daily basis, and I had often taken that for granted. 

I also try to practice random acts of kindness every day because I’ve realized that not everyone has grown up with these random acts of kindness in their lives. Random, small acts are now a routine: giving a compliment here and there to make someone smile, standing up for people who are being put down or ignored, helping someone out in class or helping a confused stranger get to their destination on BART again.

Being in our own head all the time can often make us forget that other people are in their own heads as well. Although it may seem cliche, we also need to remind ourselves that the world doesn’t revolve around us and that people are going through a bunch of different things. Growing up with random acts of kindness as a part of a daily routine instilled me with compassion and encouraged me to continue practicing them. I can only hope that my random acts of kindness can touch someone’s heart and make them realize the importance of random acts of love as well. Love is something that we often forget comes in multiple forms, not only romantically. Love is something that can be shown to strangers who you don’t necessarily love, but showing people love regardless and doing small acts of kindness can touch their hearts in a big way and can create a big impact on their lives and mindsets.

Genesis Alejo writes the Friday column on being a first-generation student. Contact her at [email protected].