Celebrating Differences

A couple weeks ago, a bunch of parents and teachers accompanied my daughter’s entire elementary school to Camp Seymour north of Olympia. As Transportation Coordinator (a job title more impressive-sounding than the actual task) I was driving my minivan full of gear for my cabin–six boys and two adults. The Sienna’s a big vehicle, so there was plenty of room for another parent. A dad I’d met once before, T.L., needed a ride, so it worked out great. I’m always up for company, and I’m definitely keen to utilize the HOV lanes. (These days, Seattle traffic seems so bad that the presence of either rain or sun seems to be sufficient reason to slow it all down.)

I didn’t know much about T.L., other than he had a first-grade daughter at the school and both of them are soft-spoken. He needed to return his Honda to his house, 20 minutes away. After the full school buses took off, I followed him home and then we got underway.

T.L. is younger than me, thin and tall, and is probably more handsome (I’ve stopped asking my wife about such comparisons). As a software developer, he makes a hell-of-a-lot more than I ever will, and he seems happy with work. [So there, in the span of two sentences, we’ve covered the bulk of how men hold themselves up to other men on paper.] Because I’m a modern man with no ego left (or any to begin with) I can plainly say I’m not jealous. And such comparisons are stupid, anyway.

Another World

T.L. and his wife (whom I briefly met after the trip) are from Pakistan, which is like another world to many of us. Before the drive, I knew embarrassingly little about his home country. Hot. Populous. Split from India not long after India’s independence from Britain. Predominantly Muslim. Lots of political turmoil. Islamabad rules with an iron fist. There’s a slew of lawyers in Lahore (T.L.’s home city) pushing for reforms (they’ve been in the news), stuff like that.

So, naturally, we spent the bulk of driving time comparing his home country to his new one of five years, the United States. For one, they speak Urdu as the official language, but Urdu is one of dozens of different languages spoken in different provinces. T.L. wouldn’t be able to communicate at all with people from a mountainous region (the Himalayas, capped by K2) in the north. Also, it’s bloody hot. In Lahore, summertime heat will push the thermometer to 49 degrees Celsius, which equates to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. He observed that widening use of air conditioning (in affluent areas) is a bit of a problem. Pakistanis are becoming “spoiled” and losing their tolerance for extreme heat.

Naturally, there are other problems of the first-world and third-world variety, but what strikes me is how similar he and I are. Obviously, we’re both English-speaking men who are concerned about our children’s futures. Questions linger about the environment, politics, policy, the disparity between rich and poor, the availability of jobs–all of it matters. But hope, for most any parent, flows in one direction.

Working for the Future

Without picking his brain, I can safely assume the biggest reason T.L. came to the U.S. (after earning a master’s degree in Germany) is the same reason my Persian “family” left Iran, which is the same reason my potato-farming ancestors got on a western-bound steamship several generations ago. This is, of course, the Land of Opportunity. Here, our children (especially our daughters) have the chance to grow into doctors, physicists, propulsion engineers, soccer coaches, teachers, or whatever else they want. The best way to foster such possibilities and dreams is to offer a world of diversity and inclusion and ideas. The more options on the table–wherever they come from–the wider range of directions to consider. Maybe T.L.’s daughter grows to become a veterinarian or a flight manager for Space X. Maybe my third-grader goes on to be a farmer in Uganda. It’s all open to them. That’s what makes this country so great, and that’s why so many people want to come here.

Backlash

As I was writing this blog, there was a xenophobic act of violence on a train in Portland. Two men who believed in equality or diversity–or at least weren’t going to watch women be hurt–died while stopping a crazed assailant (a white male) from doing what angry men like him so often do. It obviously wasn’t the first attack of this kind, and it won’t be the last. Across the globe, there are daily news accounts of people who turn angrily on their neighbor, the new person in town, worshipers of a different faith. What seems most important is for the rest of us to not give in to irrational fears or ridiculous notions of have versus have not–to not give up hope for an egalitarian future. We have the strongest say in what kind of world we want.

That, in my book, may be the most American ideal of all.

 

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