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During the recent presidential election, I observed with dismay the counting of the electoral votes. As I tried to deal with the night’s stress, I resorted to intense cooking (at least for my own standards), as well as observing reactions on social media. Many of my friends on both sides of the border were concerned with the fostering of a hateful environment based on open prejudice, intolerance and bigotry.
As I dealt with my feelings and emotions the best I could, one of my kids was concerned about my reaction, and how I should be much more upset with the election’s outcome and what might transpire in the future. I tried to reassure both of my kids that in the end, somehow, sometime, everything was going to be fine because our human horizon, as broken as it is, exists within a Divine horizon.
I must confess that I was also a little surprised with my own reaction. Later I realized that perhaps my equanimity was based on previous experiences. Of course I was mindful of the importance of this election regarding gender issues, but I have to admit that due to my dual citizenship this was not the first time that I had voted for a woman for president.
I have to admit, too, that for some people, it felt like the end of the world due to fears of a rise in intolerant, inhuman attitudes and behaviors. I have already experienced some of that, too. In the 1980s, I went on a solidarity journey to the countryside of El Salvador in the middle of their civil war. In 2010, my Christian delegation was constantly followed by the police in Egypt’s countryside, and I was told to be very careful while speaking at a Christian women’s leadership conference due to governmental observers that might be hiding in the crowd (speakers from similar Christian events had been taken to prison). Of course, I have also experienced the constant fear produced by the increase of violence in northern Mexico during the last decade.
Among the many post election fears, one especially caught my attention: the one of families raising bicultural kids. This group involves different categories: families where at least one of the parents is an immigrant; families formed by interracial parents; families who have adopted children from a different race or country than their own; families that have lived in the United States for generations but have kept the traditions of their original culture/country, and thus are raising kids with diverse cultural expressions. These families share a common fear related to how an increased racism may negatively affect their kids’ development and potential.
By no means do I consider myself an expert on this topic. However, I can claim some experience as an immigrant mother who has raised two wonderful children who so far, and thanks to God, seem to be doing fine. Here are some things to consider for those who find themselves in these categories, as well as those who support these blended families.
It is very important to create a good sense of awareness in bicultural kids. The sooner they realize that they are different because they have a different experience, the better. This realization includes the acknowledgement that they live in between spaces. Mexican-American theologian Virgilio Elizondo expressed his pain of not being fully accepted as a Mexican or an American, and how eventually he found a gift in knowing and embracing the two cultures, and serving as a bridge between the two parent cultures. Predominant systems may use this duality as a way to disempower someone. However, to counterattack this disempowerment, I have always taught my kids that it is a gift, and actually much fun, to know two cultures, two languages, and two ways of life. Here it is very important, too, to expose bicultural kids as much as possible to the original, foreign culture, so that they may develop a good cultural self-esteem. At a certain point we attended two San Antonio, Texas, churches: One Anglo, progressive church, on Sunday morning in order to gain knowledge of gender issues, and one Hispanic on Sunday evening, in order to learn about cultural issues. If it is safe and feasible, take these kids to their country of origin to experience directly the culture and way of life.
The Bible is a great resource for raising empowered bicultural kids. Genesis 1:26-27 highlights how all human beings are created in God’s image. Even though predominant systems may overtly or covertly suggest that some people are the “other” who may be perceived as inferior or deficient, God does not see us in that way. Humans’ dignity and worth are based on the fact that God created us in God’s image, all equal, but at the same time diverse. Furthermore, the Bible highlights that we were carefully made by God (Psalm 139:13-18). The Bible narrates, too, the divine mission of people who lived in between cultures, such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Esther and Paul.
Racism and its evils are not pleasant topics; nonetheless they must be discussed as soon as possible. Racist dynamics are an attempt to have power over the “other” that is different in order to weaken and control him/her. They may be present in different ways. My daughter has experienced some racism from Latinos/as in this country due to her fair skin and blue eyes. Unfortunately, often she is told that she does not belong among the Latino/a population due to her complexion, even though she was born in Mexico, has dual citizenship, and is fluent in Spanish. Learning to recognize, name and confront these racist dynamics is truly empowering for bicultural kids.
It is also important to provide bicultural kids with safe spaces where they can express their fears, anguish and struggles. By doing this, they can verbalize their feelings/emotions and will be able to process and manage them better.
I believe that parents are the major generators of self-esteem in a child. The same applies to authority figures, such as pastors, youth leaders and teachers. Let us use every opportunity to bless these kids with words of affirmation, empowerment and inclusion. At the end, the goal is to make them feel comfortable with whom they are, and help them to develop a good self-esteem.
I am writing this column 20 days after the presidential election, and unfortunately there has been an increase in racist incidents in the U.S. Thus I feel that this topic is more relevant than ever. At the same time, I am mindful, too, that I am writing at the beginning of the Advent season during the week of hope. As we acknowledge the evils of racism and other “isms,” we, as Christians, must continue hoping that love, justice and peace will eventually prevail. I keep repeating to myself, as I told my kids during the election night, that the human horizon with all of its chaos exists within the Divine horizon. As Christians, we are called to move the human horizon as close as we can to align it with the Divine horizon. It is a challenging task, but with God’s help, we must do whatever is in our hands to make this a reality in our circles of influence and beyond.