This week has been hell for me. I know there are friends, family, colleagues and readers of mine that would or could make a case for why strong responses to this election cycle should be tempered, or why some should win and other should lose more gracefully. For me, this election got really, really personal. During these last two years of campaigning, voting and electing lots of divisive ugliness infected our society, and the racism, nationalism, misogyny, corruption, and dishonesty frightened a lot of people, me included.
You see, you may not know that I am married to a black man or that I am the mother of a biracial young woman. You may not know that I was a single mother on welfare at one point in my life so that I could get my education and make a better life for myself and my daughter. My past used to cause me to feel a lot of shame, but this election has taught me to shed my shame and embrace the things that made me who I am.
You may not know that one of my biggest heroes is a gay man whose profound knowledge and skillful art in saying hard things in ways that educators can hear them and then respond, changed my life as much as my career. I am not sure he will ever truly know how much I respect and even love him for the influence he has had in my life and work, but also for his approachability and cheerleading me on.
You may not know that I have a friend in Mexico who has been seeking to move to Texas for the last several years to provide a safer life for he and his family in the light of narcotraficantes ravaging his city. He is an educated professional, middle class man who is not a rapist or drug trafficker, but a son, husband and father who just wants a good life for his family. He found me on Skype and asked to help him practice his English and translate his resume to start the search for work in the U.S. He keeps me connected to what is happening in his country, but also gives me perspective about my own. I am so grateful for his friendship and for his willingness to teach me more about his language, culture and home.
You may not know that one of the most rewarding experiences of my career was working with Muslim students immediately after 9/11 when a Muslim student of mine asked me to sponsor the Muslim Students Association at the school I where I was teaching. You have no idea the impact that had on me and my world view. The students and their families embraced me to the point that some of those children asked me if I would ever consider converting to Islam. The idea that someone could be so connected to me, care about me so much that they were concerned for my eternal soul, or that they wanted to share their faith with me. What greater love? I still get tears in my eyes over that moment.
You may not know that two of the students who most deeply touched my heart are a Egyptian American hijabi woman and a Mexican American high school valedictorian and Stanford graduate who is the daughter of formerly undocumented parents. These two women are still today my friends, and I relish the posts and photos I see of them, their families, and their amazing works in this crazy world. I am so deeply proud to have been a part of their life and experiences. I hope I set a good example for them.
All of these experiences shape the woman and the educator I am today. They are the reasons for my politics and my passions. They are the source of my reaction to the election results, and nothing anyone can say to me can explain away my disappointments or fears. The issues at hand today, for me, have faces attached to them. They have names, families, joys and fears of their own. They are real, and they remind me that I have more work to do.
All of these things are just context, though. I am not really trying to be political in this post. My real agenda is to edify the body of world language educators out there and remind us all how much more important our jobs just became to our country and to our world.
Our country and our state governments have amazing ways to minimize our importance and the impact we have on education, but that is a lie. Being a Christian, one of the things I know from my faith is that the enemy seeks to diminish anything that would reveal or cause us to fulfill our life’s purpose. I think the reason behind the resistance we meet regarding world language education is tied to the incredible power of what it is that we do. If we can actually cause learners to see others in ways that eliminate hate, fear, disdain, prejudices and racism, then borders and divisions fade. If we can actually build the capacity in our learners to really communicate with others in new languages, we eradicate the excuses, misconceptions, stereotypes and lies believed about people and cultures other than our own. We make the people on the other side of the conversation human, people like us who want the same things for themselves as we want for ourselves.
This election has made what we do as world language educators more important than ever before.
It is not going to be easy, though. As we are all seeing in the news and on social media, even more ugliness and vitriol has risen to the surface and is done as if one person’s name justifies those actions or those words. No one on either side of this election can or should justify hate and division.
That’s why we are so important. Not only does our work matter more than ever, but we now are going to have to be more strategic, almost planning in stealth mode, to chip away at the polarization of viewpoints and world visions. I am already hearing from language teaching friends that they themselves are facing ramifications of things they say and do in their classrooms because their students or communities are reacting negatively to teaching a more open, inclusive view of languages and cultures. It is imperative that we support each other, share ideas, become even more creative about how to deliver instruction that combats hate and prejudices.
Now more than ever the gauntlet lies at our feet. How will we respond?
As for me, I am seeking out all the things I can to connect myself and involve myself with as much “other” as possible. I am going to volunteer more, learn more, seek out people other than myself. I want to expand my experiences and meet more people other than myself, serve, communicate, and more than anything set an example that this white Christian woman is not a threat to anyone, but is a great threat to hate and division. As much as this is personal to me, I want the experiences and the relationships to help me in my instruction. I want the stories I tell to be about real people as often as I can make them, and my agenda is to diminish and defy the myths portrayed about “others” presented by the media and by policy makers.
I hope today, to encourage you all to value what you do more than ever. I hope you will connect the importance of what you do with the times and the social and political climate we are in. I hope you will count me as an ally, a collaborator, and a support for you as we embark upon work that is so vital to our future.
As my fearless, gracious leader would said to me, BON COURAGE!
Happy Coaching! Let’s get to work!