Telling our daughter why hate has arrived in our city


Pittsburgh residents on the eve of the victims of last month's shoot at the Tree of Life synagogue. (Jorge Santiago)

Around 10 October 27, I left my home in Squirrel Hill to go running. As I waited to cross Murray Avenue, a police car ran in the middle of the road. I thought it was weird, but I continued, passing dozens of Jewish families heading for the synagogue. Courses in the street to give them space. I saw a mother inviting a child to stop in the doorway and I smiled at him. Then I entered the park and disappeared in the reverie of my music and my race until, 20 minutes later, my husband called.

"He's an active shooter in the neighborhood," he said. "Do not go home, we do not have permission to leave."

I felt a terror that I had never experienced anywhere else in the world, even after living and traveling in Latin America, Africa and Asia, in places that would be labeled "dangerous" in the United States. The images flashed in rapid succession: the woman nodded to her. My husband and daughter are at our windows. The synagogues, the shuffling of people inside, the blood. I was at the bottom of the ravine in the wide open park. Where do I go too? I thought. Then I thought, Jorge will be next. A brown immigrant with an accent. I went around the park for another hour, blind to my body, in a blur.

Jorge called and said that they had captured the boy and that I could go back. On the way home, the streets seemed to belong to another city, to another country. "What's wrong with it?" My daughter asked me, and I said "Nothing." I did not mean to scare her.

It's strange to see the place where you live and what you take for granted suddenly in the spotlight, written for a national audience. On "All Things Considered", Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, who lives in Squirrel Hill, called it "the most diverse district in western Pennsylvania". On CNN, on NPR, in the New York Times, he was portrayed as a neighborhood with a strong Jewish identity and as a melting pot of cultures. This was the main reason we had chosen to live here. On our way there are Chinese families; Families of South Asia; a transgender woman and her partner; Orthodox Jewish families; our Mexican American family; and a white and African American interracial family. At the Blue Slide Playground, where my daughter plays, it is not uncommon to hear several languages, and have a passel of guys from different races, ethnic backgrounds and backgrounds waiting in line for the slide with a square of cardboard.

I realize that this sounds like a sign of virtue, a self-congratulation for diversity as a status symbol. I have seen how easily diversity can be handled as a hallmark of progressivism, along with organic substances and reusable stainless steel cups. I was guilty of this easy complacency. But I have also lived, as a wife of a Mexican immigrant and mother of an American Mexican daughter, how diversity can be a very real security measure. Com & # 39; is a key metric to know if my family is at risk. We no longer feel completely safe in exclusively white rural or suburban spaces. Relatives, some of whom have voted for our president, will tell us to be careful by driving through some areas of the Midwest. Diversity tells us that we are in a space where the difference is not likely to be associated with danger.

The great irony is that the diversity that makes us feel safe also puts us in a special position. It is not a small point that the white man who published racist tirades on far-right websites had to drive into our neighborhood to complete his attack. For him, diversity was a threat; he was so separated from him that he was expendable with an AR-15. This attitude of separateness infects not only the showy white supremacists, but all the people who are or believe they are isolated from hatred against others of different backgrounds, races and religions. When my husband and I stop at gas stations in the middle of nowhere, in Ohio, I take the gas. I go in. I fix the people around me: for whom did they vote? What will they think if my husband comes out, taking our daughter with her long black hair?

Thinking of the diversity of our neighborhood and the growing, hostile candor of many other American spaces, I decided to talk to my daughter about the shooting. My decision came not only because he saw that my husband and I were upset, or because half the neighborhood was barricaded. It has arrived because I believe that a true commitment to diversity means teaching my daughter that people like her father, or our Jewish neighbors, can be the target of violence and hatred. It means teaching her the difficult and painful lesson that this violence is not separate from us, that we have a responsibility to fight it as a community. This is a lesson that I think has learned my whole neighborhood in the wake of the filming of the Tree of Life. I saw in the signs of the people's windows, in the candlelight vigil where a local Muslim leader announced a Go Fund Me campaign for Jewish victims, in the protest in which 2,000 neighbors sang as the procession of the President, but in the smallest daily acts: the letter that our neighbor wrote said how grateful we were that we were his neighbors. The way people greet each other in parks and smile to hear us speak Spanish. The tenderness, deriving from the tragedy, which brings together a community to affirm the fact that we are all responsible for one another. This is what it means to live in a different neighborhood. I want my daughter to know it. I want her to feel obliged and to be obliged, kindly and lovingly, by that obligation in others.

She is only 4 years old, but she is big enough to hold her arm and observes: "Papi's skin is brown and my skin is brown, but Mum's skin is white!" He observed Central American mothers in our home, deeply traumatized by their separation from their children, and she listened when we explained that some people are afraid of immigrants. "How Papi?" He asked, and I said, "Come Papi." He listened as I explained, "This man killed these people with a gun," asking, "Why did he hate them?" in silence as I said, "Some people hate other people because they are different, which is why it's important to love everyone: people with different skin, who speak different languages ​​and who believe in things that are different from us."

He asked, "Will they shoot us?" To this I replied, in the way parents ignore monster fears, "No, honey" – all the while thinking I do not know.

I do not know, but I know: I want my daughter to grow up knowing diversity not just as a celebration, but as a central commitment for who we are as a family and for American society, an affirmation of how we are responsible. one another, as violence against one concerns us all. I want my daughter to understand that the differences between people are real and that for some people the difference is appalling. I want his generation to be able to face these fears in different ways, partly by mere proximity, partly for meaningful dialogue. This starts with me telling you about what happened in our neighborhood and why.

The violence that has come into my neighborhood will eventually come for all of us. That Saturday morning was terrible, disgusting, but the most surreal part was the echo of all the other mass shootings: every time we heard about the news, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Charleston, and already a new one in Thousand Oaks, and I thought for a minute, ugh, what a terrible thingand continued with our lives. The most surreal part was not how far from the norm it was, but the fact that this was, in effect, an American norm. This hatred, this terror, is deeply buried in the veins of our country and is not going away. If anything, it's getting worse. It is strengthened by our separateness, by the idea that violence occurs only to certain people, to different people, to different people.

A week after filming, we went to a birthday party in the neighborhood. We ate tikka masala, samosa, pizza and pies. The children ran into the back yard. I chatted in Spanish with a Peruvian couple whose daughter was new to my daughter's school. Later, there was a street fair on Murray Avenue, a way to celebrate the community in the face of so much sadness. We ate falafel and listened to a cover of Amy Winehouse from a high school band. There was a crudity in the air, the feeling that everyone was holding each other very carefully – all of us vulnerable, but all of us recently, boldly, fiercely together.

Sarah Menkedick is the author of "Homing instincts: first maternity on a farm in the Midwest"(Pantheon, 2017) His second book, on an" epidemic of anxiety in American motherhood, "is coming from the Pantheon. her husband, a photographer and his daughter in Pittsburgh.

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Other readings:

Another horrible shooting and an opportunity to teach your children your values

I want to protect my child from racism

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