Part 3 of my Ccd mama story(what’s a Ccd mama) by Diane Miller
“Living & loving in blended community” is our family mission statement. Given that, school was a huge decision for us. It is for many families living in inner cities because there are many varying school scenarios. In Chicago, we have neighborhood, magnate, charter & private school options. However, you do need resources to have a choice beyond your neighborhood school. You have to navigate applications & scholarship procedures, or have financial income to pay tuition, and arrange transportation to even get to school if it is outside of your home neighborhood. That means many poor families have no choices if they do not live at an income level to navigate this scenario.
Our choice was a dual-immersion Spanish-English magnate public school in our neighborhood. We loved the idea of walking to school and wanted to be in a blended public school community. However, one of the first moms I met at school told me, flat out, “You white people come to this school thinking you are going to save the brown people. Well, what you don’t know is that the brown people don’t need to be saved.” I was blind-sided by her in-my-face statement. Did I look like I was coming to save anyone? I was overwhelmed just showing up at school. The rapid-fire Spanish, that many of the moms spoke, and the multiple cultural & geographical Spanish heritages had my head spinning. We had Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Spain-rooted Spaniards and both Central & South American families. I did not know how to relate to so many different cultural groups. I had to ask a lot of questions & listen a lot to figure things out. And, even doing that, my white posture was not always well received. As a feeler & deep thinker, I had to ponder what that mom said to me and take a serious look at my motives.
So, why did we want to be part of this blended school community as white people who could have chosen another school? Well, both my husband Jeff & I highly value character, community & creative development on an equal level with academics. We did not want to attend a school that mainly marketed test scores & academic achievement. Giving our daughter the gift of being bilingual and learning how to live along side different ethnicities seemed like a good thing in our browning America. And what better way for us as a family to learn about our growing Latino population than living life with them in our school community?
Well, it has been 12 years & we’ve learned a lot. First, being real, it creates tension to blend communities, as many of us spend a majority of life living in homogenous community. I had spent most of my life living in white dominant community. That effected the way I presented myself and my expectations of others in community. As well, Jeff & I knew we were highly educated & had good jobs; however, we still thought of ourselves as simply middle class. We were naive to how much privilege we truly had till we were immersed in our blended school. Second, our grade schools had 60% of students living at or below the poverty level. I honestly didn’t know so many children come to school hungry, unrested & desiring someone to care or discipline them. They do… and teachers are on the front lines of fighting poverty and providing loving care! Last, I also expected children to be respectful and understanding. For the most part, all of the kids were until 2nd grade. That’s when school testing begins, moms often go back to work & children become their own caretakers. Many children then had no one to help with homework, walk them to school or the bus, and give them needed everyday kid discipline. To provide basic food & shelter for their family, both parents had to work. Which created an incredible decline in morale & a high increase of disciple challenges for teachers. Quite simply, children need to be parented and lack of jobs near home forced parents to commute long hours and/or work multiple jobs to make ends. That left no time or emotional margin for extra caretaking or helping kids beyond basics.
So, our grade school years taught me a lot about the reality of under-resourced families. I walked to & from school with many moms who did not have enough food to feed their children each night, yet they were always happy, gracious & willing to participate in working toward the betterment of our entire school community. We all celebrated life together at many fiestas and hoped together for our children to prosper. I learned about my privilege & how to begin to unpack my backpack of whiteness that I now owned. But, my biggest lesson: I have come to realize that the mom who was in my face was somewhat right. I don’t need to save the brown people in my community, for they are saving me. From the depths of self-centeredness & chasing the ever-raising bar of American dream consumerism. I have learned far more from them than they have from me. And, I am very grateful… for the joy of blended cultural & socio-economic community as our valued true prosperity!