Recently my kids' elementary school partnered with the local middle school to host an event called the World Showcase. We are new to the school, but my understanding is that this is a huge event the schools do together every year. Under the tagline of, "One World, One Night", parents and community members from various countries set up tables with items and information, as well as offer various types of food. There were also performers from various countries, from Bollywood numbers to Asian drummers, all designed to bring people together. Many of those gathered spoke to the fact that events like these serve to educate all of us about each other, especially in a sometimes-hostile global environment.
I will admit that my family and I didn't attend, but that had more to do with scheduling conflicts than anything else. I have, however, heard more about it since the event, and that included many people telling me enthusiastically how well it went. The crowds were huge, the colors vibrant, and from what I've heard everyone had a good time.
One of the other things I have heard about, however, was what happened early in the night.
The tables for the event were organized geographically; Asian countries were in one area, North American countries in another, Middle Eastern nations were grouped together, etc. I personally think that made a lot of sense, and I'm sure was intended to not only put regions together but to also make countries easier to find. This meant that countries such as India and Pakistan were near each other, as well as China and Taiwan.
The parents from certain nations, there with their children at a school event, complained to the event organizers and asked that their tables be moved because they didn't want to be near other specific nationalities. Such as the examples above, this primarily had to do with wars and conflicts between the two nations- some of them current and others with a history of violence towards each other. These folks didn't even want their tables near each other at a school function.
As a few of us were discussing what happened several days later, one of the other parents said that it was absolutely unacceptable for the countries to be grouped that way and the event organizers should have known better. This was a man with a military background, trained in conflict negotiations, so I can understand the lens through which he is viewing this conversation, but this was a multicultural event for school age children, not a military summit. An elementary and middle school World Showcase is not a diplomatic setting, but he seemed to think that organizing an event celebrating global unity should take into account every warring nation out there, and the disastrous geopolitical ramifications of placing those two nations next to each other... in a middle school gym.
I'm going to let you go back and read that again, and I'm sorry if your brain explodes while wrapping your head around the geopolitical anything in that setting. That is just fucking nonsense.
Does that kind of intolerance have a place at an event like this? Is it okay to cater to them? My understand is that the people who complained were allowed to move to another location, and I'll admit that annoys me to no end. By doing so, we are allowing them to hate each other, knowing full well that not only their kids but all of our children are watching. If that is what we are teaching our kids at events like this, I'm honestly glad we didn't go.
To the people that complained about their neighbor, what do you say to not only your children but to the kids from the next table? If your kids are friends, what are they learning? Are you prepared for this conversation:
"Are you saying my Taiwanese friend is bad?"
"But you're saying her parents are bad. Why are they bad?"
Are you truly and honestly prepared for that? Will you be shocked when it happens, wondering where they got such an idea from? Who taught them that their friend is bad? I would imagine that if those parents had taken a moment to really think about what they were doing, it would have given them a moment of pause. We all see how biases and hatred gets passed down from generation to generation- it is in little moments like these.
What we have here is a lost opportunity, for the parents as much as the kids. By separating them we have taken away the chance for them to stand side by side and see how much they have in common, and get to do that in front of their children, even if that is just in a school gym. I'm not saying that we don't acknowledge the conflict or sweep it under the rug- I'm not saying that at all- but by embracing the opportunity to do something as simple as share native food with each other and realize that some of the spices are similar, we begin to see our "enemies" as humans and not geopolitical entities. Imagine what could happen if we started doing that more. Imagine if that was the example set for our children.
Will the World Showcase solve the problem of war? Absolutely not. That's as much patent nonsense as saying that war has a place there in the event in the first place. For some, it may require baby steps, basically saying, "I'm going to be here in my bubble, and you can be over there in your bubble. Now, I'm okay coming together so that our bubbles touch, but don't you dare pop that thing!" Yes, there's a bit of jest there, but something that simple might be a huge step for someone. Give them the opportunity to experience that.
May I remind all of us, the parents at the event as well as my readers, what happened the last time our nation segregated people because someone didn't like being close to a neighbor that was different from them. Is that something we want to do now, in 2016, with all of our children watching us and learning from it?
Let your bubbles touch. Don't teach your children your anger, and don't teach my children your hatred. At the end of the day we are all parents, raising children in the same town, in the same school, sharing our experiences.
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