About this blog carnival: “The world I want for my children” is an effort to support The Joyful Heart Foundation, which was founded by Law & Order: SVU actress Mariska Hargitay to help victims of sexual assault mend their minds, bodies and spirits and reclaim their lives. Today, the foundation is at the forefront of an effort to end a disheartening backlog of tens of thousands of rape kits in labs across the country, a backlog that contributes to a rapist’s 80 percent chance of getting away with his crime. The backlog and its detrimental effects will be the topic of an SVU episode on September 29th.
In 2004, when Fred was born, Max and I made the decision that we would move to the States to raise Fred here. We were in Japan (of which Max is a native) and up until we became parents, we never had any definitive plans as to where we would settle or when.
But like my immigrant parents and my father’s immigrant parents before him, the future takes on a different urgency once you have children. I imagine that few Americans need to question which country in which to raise their children. Living in Asia with my American perspectives, I encouraged (okay, urged) Max to consider alternatives. Would Japan provide the opportunities that we want for Fred? Would our Japanese lifestyle allow us to have the family life that we want? Do Japanese values fit our values as a family and as individuals? There is so much that is truly wonderful about Japan, and in fact a number of my expat friends have chosen to raise their families there. In the end, the negatives (for us given our particular needs) outweighed the positives (and vice versa; the positives of America outweighed the negatives), and we chose to move to the U.S.
After nearly 10 years abroad I was looking forward to returning to my home country and being able to communicate fluently once again, but I didn’t come without trepidation. I remember those early feelings of not fitting in, of seeing myself as meek and overly deferential, only to realize later in Japan that I was simply being Asian. I had grown up in the 70s and 80s and was caught in the desegregration movement in the Boston Public Schools not that long after the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. I remember the occasional racial slurs and taunting and the feeling that I wasn’t American not because I didn’t feel it but because others wouldn’t see it. In the back of my mind, I knew that Fred could be who he is but I worried if he can also feel fully accepted.
My worries, over the next two years, would be gradually appeased as even Max acclimated to our new home with relative ease. There is a popular Japanese school here which Fred now attends in order to keep up the language and remain connected to his heritage. Our neighborhood, despite being in the south, has been called by some as a mini United Nations and the children play together without thinking twice. Fred’s school, one of the top in the southeast, is diverse in nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic class and ability. A sizeable number of children are international children adopted into American families. At least half of our couple friends are multicultural or biracial. Though these are examples of diversity in culture, the larger point I am trying to make is that there is no one “standard” – my son sees no mold in which he needs to fit, or to fit others. At least not yet.
It was an election year the year we moved, and one of Fred’s favorite first English words was “Obama” (perhaps because of the way it sounds). He began equating the American flag with Mr. Obama since he never saw a scene or photo of the presidential candidate without the flag behind him, and for a long time insisted that the stars and stripes were called “the Obama flag.” I remember one day asking him, at age 4, what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“I want to be president,” he said.
“President of a school, a company?” I asked.
Fred stretched his arms wide to show the scope of what he was talking about.
“No, I want to be president of the United States!”
Max and I were impressed, and this dream continued until he turned the tables on me.
“Why didn’t you become president, Mommy?”
I was floored by his innocence. Yes, why didn’t I become president of the United States, or a doctor, or a chef, or a librarian for that matter? I struggled to come up with the “right” answer. The truth is, as an immigrant Chinese girl in the 70s, it simply never occurred to me to become the president of anything.
“Uh…I guess because it’s too hard for me. It would just be too stressful. But that’s just me.”
“Okay, never mind. I don’t want to be president anymore.”
“Oh, just because I didn’t want to be president doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be.” How quickly my words impacted him. I really wanted him to go for it if that was what he wanted (even if it was just the flavor of his 4 year-old week).
“Nah. I don’t want to be president. I want to be a daddy.”
And that’s the world I want for my son. A color blind world where there are no limits, no messages whether overt or covert that tell him he can’t reach his potential or simply be who he is. A world that would provide him the space and the opportunity to grow into someone who will take his turn making the world a better one for the children who follow…as a president or a daddy or…both.