"Mom, why are you so... Different?" is a question I've heard three times so far. When children are very little, they don't think of the differences, they just know you are you, and that's all that matters to them. But as they grow, they start discovering that humans are diverse and come in different colors and they are all amazing. There's so many good things other cultures can teach us, so many great things we can learn.
The first time I was asked this question, I had to think before I could come up with an answer. We lived in a place where the color of my skin, the accent in my voice, and the way I reacted to things were seen as different indeed. How could I explain to a five year old that there are so many wonderful different cultures in the world, when everyone seemed to be the same?
Everyone, that is- except me. Don't get me wrong, people were friendly and warm, but distant. My culture was spoken about as something remote and weird that they sometimes got to experience, from a distance, and in small snippets. I always got the message that it was all too much. Too loud. Too spicy. Too messy. I wanted my children to understand that these differences in culture, flavors, accents- make life worth living. But how to say that to a five year old? So we moved, to a more diverse space, and went on a quest to fill her life with wonderful people that would show her this.
The second time around, I was more prepared. I told her about the different food our friends prepared and that she liked, and where they came from. I told her how her favorite person in the world came from a country in a big continent far away. Told her how we all have different colors and how everyone is their own kind of beautiful. But she surprised me by telling me that she didn't want to be different. That's when I realized that diversity, even at a young age, is very important. They need to see people of all ages, sexual orientations, religions, colors and cultures. To learn to appreciate your own differences, you need to learn to love the differences in others. It's normal to want to fit in, to blend and disappear in a multitude of faces. But we don't have that privilege, and that's not a bad thing. She loves being different now, and takes pride in how much we resemble each other. But that was not an easy conversation for me. It never is.
Yesterday I heard that question for the third time. This child wanted reassurance that her fair skin and blue eyes don't mean she's not mine. I had to show her how her sisters all have traits she shares, and how she's a lot like me in a lot of ways. There is beauty in diversity, even within multiracial families. She asked to take a picture with me, and pulled off her mask at the last minute, flashing a big smile at the camera. "We smile the same", she said. And ran off.
We smile the same. No matter what or who you are, or identify as- we smile the same. I don't think I would be able to say it better than she did.
There's so many things we all bring to the table, differences that makes us who we are. Our language and cultures might be different. We might not eat the same things, think the same way, speak with the same accents, love the same or worship the same exact way. The beauty of it is, that in the end- we all smile the same.
Let's show our children that.
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