As protests sweep across the US, Americans living in Lithuania say being overseas does not make the issue any less personal.
#Voices – a project by LRT English looking at important, controversial, or overlooked topics from the perspective of Lithuanian diaspora or expats in the country.
“I think we are in a moment in history in which people have been pushed to the brink not only because of violence, but also because of the mishandling of the [coronavirus] pandemic, which has disproportionately affected the black community.”
“There’s a lot of anger, frustration and a huge need for reform, for wide sweeping action.”
“We’re also seeing a tremendous amount of violence at the protests, where peaceful protesters are being attacked by the police that has been essentially militarised.”
“Members of the press and also of the international press are being attacked. All of this violates the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.”
While Candace’s family and friends are protesting in the US, she does everything she can to support them from far away.
“My brother is an independent photographer. He’s now out on the front lines. He’s risking his life. He has two small children at home but he’s photographing the protests. […] A lot of friends of mine in New York City are protesting as well. It’s something that I feel very sensitive about because these are people that I love.”
“I myself haven’t been living in the United States for the past 10 years. When you see terrible things happening in your home country, there is the initial feeling of impotence because you’re unable to react, to participate.”
“What I can do is to protest here [in Lithuania]. I try to be active despite not living in the US, and it’s something that I do in solidarity but also for myself. It’s part of my own healing process.”
Candace believes that racism is not only an American issue and explains why everyone should care about it.
“The violations of civil rights of brown and black Americans are violations of human rights and that’s international. All communities need to stand together with the black American community in the United States because it is a human rights issue.”
“This is something Lithuanians should also be concerned about. They themselves experience prejudice, there’s a lot of ignorance about Lithuania, the former Eastern Bloc.”
“So if in your life you experienced being persecuted because of your national identity, your ethnicity, your gender, your sexual orientation, then this is your fight too.”
“I’ve been following the protests in the US very closely because I’m from a predominantly minority community in Bronx, New York. Most of the people I grew up with, my friends, and my loved ones are black or Hispanic.”
“I’ve seen racism first hand. Even though I myself don’t have black skin, that’s the community I feel closest to, so it’s an important issue for me.”
“Although, I’m thousands of miles away, I don’t want to be silent now because the media storm around this issue has made it a global issue. It’s important to speak up about it.”
Feeling that he needs to act, Matthew became one of the initiators of the march for Black Lives Matter in Vilnius, where he lives now.
“At first, I was just reaching out to my friends, who have been touched by it [the protests], and just showing how much I support them. But the more this went on, the more I realised that this really hasn’t been enough.”
“I want to show that the world hears them, that they are not fighting alone anymore, that the world is on their side.”
Ramirez says he does not agree with vandalism and looting that have been taking place as part of the recent protests.
“I see videos from small businesses owned by minorities that are being destroyed and looted and these are the people who are supposed to be on the side of the protesters.”
“When you look at the ghettos of America, minorities are treated like animals there. When you do things like this you only further promote this view.”
“When you want to change something, you don’t tell people why they’re wrong, you tell them why you’re right. By instigating violence, you’re only proving their point further.”
“There is a lot of racism even within my community in that area,” says Budrevičienė who is from the southern US state of Arkansas.
“It’s really hit home to me. People I’m really close to posted a lot about [racism] and most of them have been on the opposite side of how I personally feel about the issue. So it’s been a really emotional couple of days for me.”
Budrevičienė says being a privileged white American made her feel angry about racism.
“A few years ago, when we were having kids, I came across this statistic that said black women, especially in the US, are two to six times more likely to die in a hospital from negligence compared to white women.”
“It really stuck with me. To know that I had the privilege of not worrying about somebody not caring properly for me because of my skin colour. it really bothered me.”
“But I’m thankful to see that the world is finally realising that [black Americans] are not treated fairly. It makes me feel good to see that people are finally starting to understand that there is still a lot of racism throughout the US.”
“I’ve seen many of my friends, black and white folks, show up at the protests. Afterwards, their social media feeds were full of material teaching others about what’s wrong. The protests are empowering people to share more.”
Living in Lithuania, where she has created a family, does not stop Budrevičienė from standing up and educating her children about racism.
“I took my whole family to the [American] Embassy, where we placed flowers and candles in front of the memorial [in support of Black Lives Matter] that they have there. We made a huge day with our kids because we want them to understand the importance of what we are standing up for.”
Other #Voices installments: – Brexit: Brits in Lithuania feel like ‘carpet is pulled under their feet’ – Expats in Lithuania faced with Kafkaesque shuffles in Migration Department corridors – Iranian in Lithuania: ‘people are tired of this daily pressure’