Appreciation Day!

king-buffet

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really appreciate our town.

Today was High School Staff Appreciation Day. So the PTA moms and I headed over to the  high school with our covered dishes and laid out an amazing spread. I brought stuffed grape leaves and almond cake. There was black beans and rice, lo mein, barbecue ribs, spanakopita, vegetable curry, fried rice, and tons of pasta dishes. Salads, fruit, sandwiches, bagels, pizza, pupusas…we went crazy.

I don’t have to cook tonight–there was so much food.

And the moms were just as varied as the dishes: Indonesian, Japanese, Cuban, Lebanese, Italian, Puerto Rican, El Salvadoran, Guyanese, Jewish…

I can’t understand people who feel threatened by such richness and variety. Recently I read an article in the Atlantic that many who voted for our Orange Overlord really did so out of a sense of “cultural anxiety”.  They felt they were losing their America to foreigners.

Not only do I feel such people are losing out on one of the nicer things in life (new foods! new friends!), but I also know that there never was a time when the world was that pure and that stagnant. Humans have been moving around the planet ever since we walked upright. We marched north from our birthplace in Africa, spread to Asia, and crossed the land bridge into North America back in pre-historic days. We traveled and traded and mixed it up–sometimes for good reasons, like trade along the Silk Road, and sometimes for not good reasons (colonialism, slavery). But we were always migrating and immigrating.

So when, where, and for how long did white Christian America even really exist? I read that there are pockets in the Midwest where people feel they are the “true” Americans, but I put that in quotes because they only got there by displacing the Native Americans and riding railroads built by Chinese and free black men. Nevertheless, they believe they own America.

The Women’s March folks wanted moms to have “daring discussions” with people who believe differently from us in honor of Mother’s Day. I tried. I got into a discussion with a DJT voter about undocumented immigrants. He said anyone here “illegally” should get deported. I asked him whether something had happened to him that made him feel this way. He didn’t come up with anything. I told him I had a different point of view and explained how I felt compassion for people who have committed no other crime than trying to escape violence or poverty. He said, “They aren’t citizens and they should get out of my country.” I gave up, because there was no discussion. Just a whole lot of anger.

I am not going to worry about understanding people like that anymore. I don’t want to understand people who feel threatened by children brought here by parents who wanted a better life for them, papers or no. I don’t need to understand people who feel threatened by refugees fleeing war. People threatened by a diverse bunch of PTA moms feeding a diverse group of school staff a multicultural buffet are never going to make sense to me, if they can’t even explain why they feel that way. I am not ever going to change their minds, or even understand their minds, no matter how many “difficult discussions” we have.

Anyhow, it’s their loss. They’re hoping for the return of a fantasy world that never really existed, and they are very much on the wrong side of history–because humans travel, and fall in love, and mix it up. That’s what we’ve always done, still do, and always will do.

And I guarantee our multiculti feast was better than an all-white, all-Christian buffet any day.

 

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts on Columbus Day

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This morning we got up early because my son was marching in the Columbus Day parade in NYC with his high school band. The band is a source of great pride in our community, and it has won prizes in years past for performances in the parade.

My son, however, had mixed feelings. He loves playing in the band and a trip into the city with his friends is always exciting, but he doesn’t value the holiday. He identifies not only as Latino and Guatemalan, but also as an Indigenous person. His story is his to tell, so I won’t tell it all here, but I will say that the one picture we have of his birth mother shows her wearing the traditional traje of an indigenous group.

Yesterday he asked me what I thought the world would be like if Native People had colonized Europe instead of the other way around. We talked about the possibilities, alternate realities, and the “guns, germs, and steel” reasons for Europe overwhelming the indigenous Americans.

This morning he put on a tee-shirt with Mayan iconography under his band jacket, a necklace with his name in Mayan, and a bracelet he’d gotten at a powwow hosted by the Wampanoag People on Martha’s Vineyard. He loaded his phone with Native American music and dug through the laundry to find his earbuds (he always forgets them in some pants pocket). He chose to wear his nearly waist length hair down. Some of this may have been adolescent posing, but some of it may be personal armor. I handed him a Cliff Bar and made sure he’d brushed his teeth and hair and dropped him off at the high school where the parking lot was rapidly filling up with other teens who look a lot like him.

We ran into a neighbor on the train, and a few other parents from our town on the parade route and settled in to watch. Finally our kids came through, and they were awesome, and we were proud, and then after a quick trip to the Museum of Natural History we sat on the train forever, stalled because of track work after a derailment.

Back home I checked in with my son (who’d traveled back separately with the band on the bus). He was impressed by the protesters—we’d seem them too: Pro-Trump and Anti-Trump outside of Trump tower, a group dogging Governor Cuomo about Indian Point nuclear power plant, and a batch of college students chanting and holding signs that said, “Stop Celebrating Genocide.” My daughter asked what genocide was, and I said something like killing a whole group of people, ethnic, racial, or religious, or killing enough of them to damage their culture, and she said, “Yeah, I see their point.” My son said he thought all the protesters were interesting, but he noticed that most of the parade watchers weren’t really celebrating Columbus, or his “discovery” at all—it was more of a celebration of being Italian.

It was a tiring day, but all in all I felt lucky. Lucky we lived near enough to NYC that my son could participate in a parade that provided so much thought provoking conversation, and lucky that my kids were so perceptive, so smart, and so interested in the world around them.

Daily Prompt: Careful (talking to my kids about racism)

snowboard-663304_1280via Daily Prompt: Careful

I don’t usually use the daily prompts, in part because I don’t get the chance to visit my blog daily. When I have a few moments to write, I’m often working on my next book. But this prompt jibes with what’s on my mind right now.

Lately I’ve found myself advising my children to be careful when they make an assumption about someone else’s racism.

My son, who loves snowboarding, has been looking forward to joining the high school ski club since 6th grade. Finally, he’s old enough. At the first meeting, he noticed that most of the kids were white. He has radar for this: he’s always noticing the ratio of white to brown and whether it reflects the general population of the town, or school, or whatever. He came home pretty keyed up. According to him, a white girl had looked at him and said, “What are you doing here?”

I’ve gotten careful to not jump in with my take. Instead I said, “How did that make you feel?”

“Angry! I was so angry!” He talked about how he was gonna school her–she was gonna feel like a fool when she saw how awesome he was in the terrain park. (He’s been snowboarding since he was 5, and he is awesome.)

“That was so racist!” my son said.

I admitted it was pretty ignorant, and that it might have been racist. Or it might have been classist. Or maybe she assumed he wasn’t into snowboard or skiing because he wasn’t one of the preppy, jock kids. Maybe she just didn’t like him. We talked about how it is true that we don’t see a lot of Latinos on the mountains we go to, in part because there just isn’t a tradition of snow sports in Central and South America, so when people move north, skiing and snowboarding just isn’t on their radar. Maybe that was the reason that girl had made that ignorant comment.

I said I hoped comments like that didn’t keep kids out of the club who could otherwise enjoy doing something their family didn’t traditionally do.

I do wish people were more careful with their casual comments.

Yesterday, I took my daughter shopping for a new mattress at BJs. As we were leaving the store with it, a child asked her mom, “Where did she get the money for a new mattress?”

“That’s so racist!” my daughter said.

“Maybe not. Maybe that kid wants a mattress herself, and her mom just finished saying they couldn’t afford one. So maybe it was more about jealousy, or curiosity.”

I don’t want my kids to always be on the lookout for the racist comment. There are plenty, and they come all the time, in the weirdest places, in the weirdest ways. But I’ve learned it’s nicer to get through your day mostly ignoring the non-threatening ignorance. I could be cut by every stupid comment, or I can let it roll off, and think that it has more to do with that other person’s shortcomings than anything about me, and just get on with my day.

We were watching Zootopia on Netflix, and my kids were pointing out every moment that was about racism, or profiling, or awkward inter-racial relations. A sweet, fat, and probably gay tiger called a bunny “cute”, and she, rather uncomfortably, explained only a bunny can call another bunny “cute”, but other species should avoid that word.

The tiger was mortified and apologetic.

Maybe I am too much of an apologist for the people who say such stupid things, but really, I bet a lot of people, especially kids who haven’t learned any better yet, are like that tiger.