When my niece was a little girl, she and her grandmother took the bus downtown for an appointment.
I’ve heard the story so many times over the years, but in a nutshell, it goes something like this: My niece, who apparently was just learning the difference between girls and boys, waited until the bus was silent to point at a man standing in the aisle to say excitedly, “Look Nana, it’s a man!” The seconds that followed have always been described to me by my mother-in-law as, “I wanted a hole to open up and swallow me right then and there.”
Now while there are probably a few things that happened before and after, the gist of the story was that my niece saw someone different than herself out in the world and how cute it was for her to be so innocently and happily surprised by it.
While I was born in the Bay Area, one of the most culturally diverse places in the country, I was raised in a very, very rural community in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills. Now I don’t want to make a sweeping generalization, but really there wasn’t much diversity at all. It might not have been obvious to me at the time, but now that I look back at my grade school class photos there just wasn’t a whole lot of differences in the way we looked. In high school that changed a bit, but I didn’t really get a feel for how colorful the world was until I went to college.
It was there the world really began to show itself. I met people from countries I’d studied about in books but never been to, and later I even traveled to some of these countries where I learned about their culture first-hand. During those four crazy, complicated, fun, and sometimes heartbreaking years, I was able to see and experience the world as it was meant to be.
One of the many reasons I love living in San Francisco is because of its diversity. Politics aside – ‘cause let’s face it, it does get a bad rap for being a city that’s all about politics – I’m lucky to live in a place that openly celebrates people from all walks of life and teaches us how to embrace, not exacerbate them.
I will admit I’d never wanted nor planned to raise a family in the city. I’d always dreamed of living in one, but when the time came for having children, I’d move to the suburbs and call it a day. I couldn’t fathom living somewhere that wouldn’t give my children a childhood like mine: Riding horses, fishing in the dark, river swimming, running barefoot in the meadow, county fairs, jumping frogs, and a town so small their families were as much a part of mine as my own.
There are so many wonderful experiences I had as a child that I never wanted to prevent my children from having, and surely living in a city would do just that.
But it hasn’t. Not at all. And boy, was I wrong to have thought it would.
I ultimately decided to raise my family in a city so that my son not only had access to a world I didn’t, but so he could have the best of both worlds. I want to give him the ability to experience everything I experienced as a child… and more. I will make sure everything good about growing up in a rural town is as much a part of his DNA as the city is. Alongside fishing, he will experience lunch in the city on a weekday. In addition to riding horses, he will know how to take public transportation downtown. Alongside knowing about his heritage, he will know about others because among the better parts of what living in a culturally diverse city like San Francisco will expose him to, will be the understanding that the world is full of wonderful people of all shapes, sizes and creeds, with cultures and traditions as rich as his own.
Now, I’m not saying a child has to live in a city to understand how diverse it is. I know you can expose your children to diversity no matter where they are raised. LOTS of people who don’t live in cities raise well-educated, diverse, understanding, capable children. But for me, giving my son access to the best parts of a rural upbringing and a city one is what I want for him. I don’t want him to realize how diverse the world really is for the first time as a college co-ed, but from the beginning.
The other day my son pointed to a little girl at the park and waved “Hi Kai Lan!” She was adorable, but I couldn’t help but have one of those “God, I wish a hole would open up and swallow me” moments as my son mistakenly referred to the little girl as the bicultural, Chinese-American main character from Nickelodeon’s show, Ni Hao, Kai-Lan. But then something wonderful happened. It wasn’t until I watched as her mom looked at her daughter to go off and play in the sand with my son and then come and chat with me, that I realized I’m doing for him exactly as I had wanted.
Maybe I am asking too much. Sometimes it seems as if despite how diverse the world is, we still can’t seem to put our differences aside long enough for it to matter and this annoys me. No, it angers me, and I am sure there are other parents that feel the same.
We should give our children the chance to meet and play with others that aren’t like them and understand from the beginning that we aren’t all the same and that’s a-ok. Who wants to look in the mirror all day?
Wondering if all parents, rural or city, tried to raise their children to be a little less colorblind then maybe the rest of the world could be too? What a wonderful world that would be…wouldn’t it?