By, Daniela Garvue
Diversity at my school growing up consisted of a Happy Holidays song slipped into the end of the Christmas pageant. But every year since I can remember my mom brought me to the International Food Festival, held at the small Nebraskan university where she worked. It was the first place I ever saw a hijab, a sushi roll, a sari, or spiced couscous. We filed into the gymnasium, past long buffets of food served by international representatives from dozens of countries. I watched exchange students chat in strange languages, probably about homework and boyfriends, though it seemed more exotic at the time.
While we ate, dancers from each country took the stage. I loved looking at all the costumes, especially the flowing carnation-like skirts of the Mexican dancers. At some point I drew the connection between those graceful women in the colorful skirts and the “dirty Mexicans” my classmates sometimes talked about. Some of the boys in the grades above me used the word “towelhead” after 9/11, but the bright headscarves I saw at the Food Festival didn’t look like towels. You see, thanks to my mom I had a narrative of the outside world that was very different from the fearful narrative I heard at school.
Pride Week is coming up, and it got me thinking about the Food Festival again. Until I moved to Seattle I only knew about Pride in theory. In practice, the gay kid who got beat up in high school kept his head down in college, so Pride was not the first word that came to mind. But in the spring, Seattle’s streets turned colorful to celebrate people as they were, for their differences and their beauty. We tend to focus on the leather outfits and protest signs. However I was most struck by the loving couples holding hands, dads with kids on their shoulders and teenagers shaking off their usual sullenness for a day of smiles and rainbows. Last year there was even a drag queen dressed up for story time. The theme? Baby animals.
Parents and educators have the immense privilege of revealing the whole world to children. We lift the veil a little at a time, and who can say what is going to stand out? What will frighten or entice them about this big planet? The one thing that I do know is that kids are going to build a narrative one way or another. The best we can do is to guide them gently, and let the world speak for itself.