I love our diverse city!
Growing up in my small Appalachian town, everyone looked the same. If we talked long enough, we found we were probably related. Not so in Houston, and especially not in my fifth grade elementary class. My class mirrors Houston. We have a large immigrant population from multiple countries. Reasons for being here are as varied as their home countries: health care, education, relocation from natural disasters, escape from war, religious persecution, etc.
As a Christian, I am called to love others who are not like me. This is vitally important since love, just like hate and racism, is contagious. Christians should be leaders in creating cultures of kindness and respect. I am challenged by verses like Exodus 22:21: "Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt." Remembering that God saw me as a foreigner until Jesus intervened and did for me what I could not do for myself softens my heart to newcomers around me.
As I reflect on how Jesus welcomed me as a new Christian, I attempt to welcome newcomers and generate empathy for them in my classroom.
After going over a tricky word problem I often ask, "Wouldn't this be hard if English weren't your first language?" Start of the year class mixers always include the question, "If someone was new to our school, what would be the three most important things for them to know on the first day?" Where is the bathroom and where is the nurse always top the list. On holidays or special days, the mixer question might be to explain the day to a visitor from another country. My goal is to keep the needs of the newcomer, the "other," constantly at the forefront.
As we treat each other with kindness and respect, understanding can happen. We learn that people who don't look like us or speak like us can have great ideas. They make great teammates at recess, and their parents bring awesome, interesting snacks for birthday treats. They cease to be immigrants and become classmates and friends.
One of our best moments last year occurred when we were studying the Great Potato Famine of 1847. We were discussing the tenement buildings, the hard choice of leaving your homeland, and the prejudice of a new place where you don't speak the language. One of my students raised their hands and thoughtfully asked, "Is it just as hard for immigrants today?" Before I could take a breath to answer, one of my immigrant students said quickly yet quietly, "Yes." For a full minute all the students were silent as they thought about the ramifications. Finally one student said to the speaker, "I'm sorry." She smiled as her hardships were seen.
I was reminded again, "I love our city!"