It's a first world problem...

Today I was home feeling a little under the weather. I think about half of my illness issue is emotional, since I have been "fighting" with Javad's doctors for six weeks to try to figure out what's going on with him, but I digress. While home under the weather, I felt the need to avoid doing anything so I frantically searched the Internet for Season 3 of The Walking Dead. This was a definite problem, since I couldn't seem to get myself organized. I finally found it on freetv, but once I got to episode 5 (I think), I couldn't get it to play the entire way through. I watched the first 15 minutes of this episode 3 times, feeling frustrated that I couldn't get it to work. I finally had to take a step back and really assess what I was obsessing over...a TV show and had to shame myself a bit. Really, a TV show? This is where I was spending my energy. Definitely a first world problem.

Yesterday I went to Starbucks during lunch to get some tea (don't even get me started!) and as I was walking in two of my newcomers began rapidly talking, pointing to three girls who were standing nearby and then pointing to the third girl in their group. The three other girls told me that they were trying to be nice and girl #3 of my newcomers thought they were being mean. I knelt down and spoke to her quietly, "Do you understand what they were saying to you?" "No", "It's ok to say "I don't understand." (She scowled and looked down) "They were trying to tell you that your scarf is beautiful and they like it" (I am running my fingers over her hijab and showing her up close, indicating it is pretty.) "You should tell them thank you." She stood up, shoved the book onto the shelf, and said thank you so that it was barely audible and hurried. I explained to the girls that she was learning and it is scary when you don't understand the language and people talk to you. They nodded in understanding, but I thought, "This is definitely not a first world problem."

I think about my students and how they are trying to navigate a world they don't understand. They watch YouTube and can sing any popular song that is on the radio, even though they do not understand the words. These students go to classes with students that speak a language they are just learning and we talk very fast. Imagine living in another country and having to navigate without knowledge of the language. I can't imagine. It would be scary. I would think that people were being mean to me too!

I have been doing a lot of soul searching since starting to write this blog, really taking a good look at my life. I know that I am lucky. I live in a home, I drive a nice car, most of my children are healthy, I have a job, and I don't have to generally worry about my safety. If I lived in another country, Javad may not have been allowed to live. The fight we fight for his health would have been futile. He would have been on hospice from the beginning and we would have had to let him go. I am lucky. Lucky that I get to snuggle and kiss this sweet boy every day.

Sadly, in our country, we have families that are facing third world problems. There is an uneven distribution of health care, jobs that come with a living wage, housing. There are students I teach who are sharing apartments occupied by multiple families, parents working two or three jobs, children with a lack of health care. We offer the free and reduced lunch program at our school, but yet there are families that do not apply because they are afraid the government will come and then they will be deported. These children often go through their day hungry. Families come in to the school and the parents don't speak the language. We recently enrolled a boy whose sister in Canada is our educational contact. Canada...think about that. She's the closest relative that can help us. It's mind blowing. Children move from place to place at the end of the month when they don't have enough rent. One day they just quit coming to school and may (or may not) enroll somewhere nearby. Their lives are in a constant state of upheaval.

I know, in my heart, that moving to the US is often a vast upgrade for my students, and yet, they are still struggling with basic needs. No children, regardless of their citizenship, should go hungry or without health care. Ironically these children are the ones that work the hardest and have the greatest yearning for knowledge. Maybe they truly see the other side and know that education, something that may have been a scarcity in their country of origin, is their ticket to a better life. These are families that are making sacrifices for their children.

What is our responsibility to children of all nationalities? We are said to be the melting pot, which means that all kinds come together and form something even more amazing than we could have done alone. These children are our future. They can conquer racism, inequality, and hunger. They can improve our world. We have to be strong and willing to let our country really reflect all their nationalities that it represents. This isn't about everyone becoming "Americanized," but rather America becoming humanized. Our first world problems are nothing. They are minor inconveniences that affect those whose privilege outweighs everything else. If we are to truly make a difference, we must be willing to see the third world problems that are around us and not turning a blind eye. Making our nation strong means that everyone's needs are accounted for. This includes those who have immigrated, those with disabilities, those of color, the poor, the disenfranchised. Let's make it so we are not blinded by our first world problems that we can't see all problems. Even better, let's commit to fixing them. Then we will truly be free.


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