This past week my son started preschool. He was overly excited about his first day. He couldn’t wait to start, but I on the other hand, was a complete wreck. All the typical anxious thoughts ran through my head. Will he like it? I hope he eats his snack. Who will help him when he needs to use the bathroom? Later when I picked him up I asked him how was school. He smiled big and replied, “Just right.” I was completely relieved. I let go for a moment, but deep down I knew this was only the beginning.
Schools are a place of contradictions. Like any parent, I know that when my son goes to school he will learn wonderful new things about himself and the world that are beautiful, but in this same place he will experience how ugly and unkind the world can be. My son is still young, but the day will arrive when he comes home from school and he’s upset because someone on the playground made a racist remark by pulling back their eyes and calling him a “chink” or maybe a more subtle comment like being asked where he’s from implying that he’s a foreigner or “the other. “
Later when my son reaches high school, he’ll notice that in history class there is little mention of any Asian people, how they contributed to America, who they are, and why they are living here. I can’t help but wonder whose voices will be amplified? Whose narrative will be omitted? Will my son have the opportunity to learn about how during the 19th century the Chinese came to America because of the California Gold Rush and became the first immigrant laborers who built the Transcontinental Railroad yet faced extreme discrimination and was later banned from immigrating to the United States? Perhaps when he studies WWII his textbook dedicates a small paragraph to explain how Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps, or will that be completely deleted? And finally, I wonder if the only Korean person he will ever learn about is the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and the negative images portrayed about him in the media. How does this racial invisibility in school impact his perceptions about himself? How will it shape his worldview?
I’d like to think of my son as a strong and resilient person who will be able to easily navigate any microaggression he encounters and be unscathed. But the truth is that when these experiences happen, it will be confusing and hurtful. I want to be able to protect him from these painful experiences but I know that it’s simply impossible. Instead, I can give him the support and confidence he needs to feel proud of who he is and who he wants to become. In the meantime, I am hopeful that his “just right” days are infinitely possible.