Tag: history

Overdue Replies

Kim Haynes Johnson wrote a slice that mentioned sending post cards to her grandchildren so that they know the pleasure of getting mail.  I told her I’d saved a bunch of cards from when I was little.  I also realized I probably never wrote back.

Dear Grandma,

Sorry I took 58 years to respond.   Thanks for the post card with that cool new ‘astrojet.’  I got three new matchbox cars for my birthday that year.  One was a Lincoln Continental. You could actually open the doors, the trunk, and the hood.  I played with it for another six years, but somewhere along the line I decided I wasn’t a car guy.  Maybe it was a good thing that Uncle Michael and his racing cars lived 1000 miles away.

Love,

Peter

 Dear Mom and Dad,

Thanks for the beautiful picture of Maroon Bells.  Maybe this card was what inspired me to climb all those Adirondack Mountains.  The swimming was coming along fine, except that I couldn’t float and I was still scared to jump off the diving board.  Don’t worry, by 1972 I could swim across the lake and jump off the tower.  I’m a late bloomer, like those flowers, you know.

Love,

Peter

Dear Grandma,

Thanks for the card with the pictures of the pelicans.  I remembered that rhyme because Mom always likes to recite it.   I’m jealous that you got to see pelicans every morning.  Here’s a fun fact, 11 years after you sent me this card, I got accepted to that college I was waiting to hear from the last time I saw you.  I became an English major just like you, but instead of becoming a journalist, just like you, I decided to become a teacher…who writes.

Love,

Peter

Dear Farfar,

Sorry it’s taken so long for me to write back. Thank you for the card from Belgrade.  I’m glad the FBI didn’t notice that it was a picture of Marx and Engels Square.  They might have confiscated it.  You might be interested to know that Belgrade is back to being the capital of Serbia now, not Yugoslavia.  I’ve never been to either place, but I’d love to see the “Grey Danube” some day.  There’s more fighting in Europe these days. It’s sad and infuriating. Here’s a bit of brighter news:  Your great granddaughter, Sarah, who you never got to meet, is studying to be a Physicians Assistant now.  She’s very proud every time she finds the name of her famous great grandfather in an article or textbook.  

Love,

Peter

Confronting our History of Hate

“My nine-year-old son asked me, ‘Mom, why are you doing this [organizing a rally to support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders]?’ My answer was simple. I told him, ‘I’m doing this for you.  It’s my job as a mother to protect you and your brother from physical and mental harm.’  I told him I didn’t want them and their generation to grow up the same way the people before them had.”

I was at a rally in the town where I teach, a town where our schools have a reputation as being some of the best in the state. That voice was the voice of the mom of one of my students.  Later, students from the town’s award-winning high school spoke.  What became clear through their stories of the slights, microaggressions, slurs and acts of bullying they had experienced was that those accolades and awards covered over some secrets that we need to address.  What good is a strong academic reputation if these same schools are a place where racial and ethnic ignorance reign? 

We have gaps in what we teach and discuss, and it leads to gaps in what our students understand.  Those gaps, of course, extend to us, the adults.  Connecticut’s Attorney General spoke at this event, too.  As an Asian-American, he said that over the past weeks he’d been asked repeatedly how he was doing, what he was thinking about the events in Atlanta.  He said he wasn’t sure how to respond at first, but the comment that pierced him most was when more than one person said, “I’m shocked that this could happen.  Aren’t you surprised?”  

No, William Tong was not surprised.  On the contrary, what shocked him was that some Americans had no knowledge of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that banned immigration from China to the U.S.  What shocked him was that some (most?) Americans had no memory or knowledge of the murder of Vincent Chin a full century later, in 1982.  It was a murder that got the brutal attackers probation and a $3000 fine. 

I listened to each speech, each testimonial, each call to action, and realized this:  it’s on me and my colleagues.  If we can’t combat this virus of hate that has infected and injured so many of our students, then we are not really an educational paragon.  We’re part of the system that permits and perpetuates racism.

Like my student’s mom said, “I don’t want this new generation of students to grow up the same way the people before them had.” 

We need to learn history, including (especially?) unpleasant history, so we don’t repeat it.