Wednesday morning I felt a deep gloom settle in my heart when I knelt down in front of my son and gave him the results of the election. He’s only five, too young to understand what was at stake for our country, but my sweet son still felt a little bit sad because he could see how troubled I was. Throughout the day I saw post after post on Facebook about disbelieving and disheartened parents struggling to break the news to their children, particularly their older children. Don’t get me wrong; I was every bit as disbelieving and disheartened (shocked and appalled, really) as anyone else, but yesterday morning I decided to choose hope. Yes my country had done something I couldn’t fathom nor get behind, but she was still my country, and while part of me really wanted to I wasn’t going to turn my back on her. I was so tempted to wear black, but instead I put on my American flag tee shirt and American flag underwear (yup, I’ve got those!) and I tried to choose hope. I know that many other disappointed Americans tried to choose hope as well. I know that they are determined to channel their fear and anger into impassioned civic service, to fight the tide that may be to come. I saw that on Facebook too.
Well, I wore my American Flag apparel for a half of a day only because by Wednesday evening I had started to hear about the kids in schools. Our kids at our schools. By now I’m sure you’ve heard or read instances of elementary through high school kids being questioned and taunted, even harassed; being told that they’ll be deported now, and that good riddance, because they should go back to where they came from. Chilling accounts, really. Now I realize that these aren’t brand new sentiments, or even brand new ways of bullying in schools. I was born and raised in the U.S. yet during my childhood I had more than one kid tell me to “go back to where I came from.” At the time I didn’t even know what those kids meant, as I’m sure that many of our kids today don’t know what their peers mean. But this was thirty years ago, and one of the things for which I have been most thankful in my life is that my own children will not grow up having the same painful experiences that I had. Was I deluded? Are we really going back in time? I’m not saying that kids were not experiencing prejudice before Wednesday, because of course they were, and all over the country. But now there seem to be so many Americans, adults and children, who believe that their prejudices are sanctioned by the president elect and the Americans who supported him! For so many years so many Americans have worked tirelessly to move forward in our struggles to achieve tolerance and acceptance, and ultimately, true equality. Are we really going to start moving backwards now?
I don’t presume to know the answers to these questions, nor do I know how we’re going to protect our kids from whatever backlash ensues from our country’s new choice. But as a former teacher, I’ve always relied on education as my go-to method for improving the quality of my kids’ lives. I know that we’re all invested in educating our own kids, but maybe it’s time to try to educate the other kids living in our communities and attending school with our children. Most of us, actual teachers aside, probably can’t manage this without the risk of restraining orders. :) But maybe, just maybe, my two and five-year-old children aren’t too young to start becoming the voices of the next generation. If I can teach them to take pride and ownership over the American part of their identities, then maybe they’ll express this pride and ownership when challenged by their peers. If I can teach them that they belong here just as surely as anyone else in their class, then maybe they’ll assert their belonging when told to “go back to where they came from.” Yes my kids are Indian, and they find much value and joy in being Indian, but that doesn’t make them any less American than any other kid on the playground.
Many of you were born and raised in other countries, and many of your kids were as well. Many of you don’t consider yourselves American in the same way that I do. But if you have made this country your home, temporary or permanent, and you are raising your kids here, then you belong, and so do your children. This country was a nation of immigrants from the very beginning and only the highly ignorant and uneducated can claim that our diversity doesn’t make us great.
Lord knows that we’re never going to stop trying to protect our children, but let’s make sure that we’re empowering them too. Let’s work hard to teach them to protect themselves when we are not with them, and even when we are. Let’s give them the words, backed by the self-assurance, to shut down anyone who tries to bully them into believing that they don’t belong. And let’s band together, mamas, and share our triumphs and failures, because they’re going to need us and we’re going to need each other. This is my plan for right now. I hope you're on board! :)