I’ve said how uncomfortable I am with the word “activist,” and I still am. Nevertheless, I still do activist-like activities, wherever the chance arises. But, naturally being more of a good cop than bad cop, my interactions with government in Utah are pretty much limited to Salt Lake. I hate to say it, but the rest of the state and the state as a whole have governments that don’t generally want to hear the concerns of our families, and good cops can’t do much when no one wants to talk. Thank goodness for bad cops!
And that brings me to one of my favorite friends again: the friend I mentioned a couple posts ago. I can’t say enough good things about her.
She was invited to a state Department of Education summit on the concerns of ethnic minorities in the Utah school system. And there are many concerns here that need to be addressed. Knowing the state, though, would not hear from gay and lesbian parents or parents of gays and lesbians in such an influential forum, she asked if I would like to come and give my input. I, of course, said yes. The organizers said I could come only as an observer, not on the panel making the decisions. I don’t blame them (they were constrained by the “ethnic minority” designation from the state and had filled their panels). I was happy for any inclusion.
Now, as luck would have it, we had a bad snowstorm yesterday morning and about a quarter of the participants stayed home. The organizers ended up letting me take an absent person’s place in the Asian panel. I was greatly honored to be, as the others dubbed me, an "honorary Asian" for the day. Everyone in my group was very nice and receptive.
I was able to get some of my concerns and ideas heard about curtailing harassment for our children and gay children. My friend and I were able to get a proposal in for how it may become official policy for teachers and administrators to have a structured means by which they can learn the makeup, and cultural, linguistic, and religious nature of each student’s family. We also made suggestion about improving teacher understanding on such issues. That way, they’ll know why the Muslim girl shouldn’t be hugged by a male teacher, or why the refugee kid’s parents aren’t reading your letters. Or, for our children, why on, say, Mother’s Day they should make something for their Grandmothers, and on Father’s Day they make two macaroni portraits. We also proposed ways to get parents to interact with each other, as a significant problem for many minority kids is the bias of their friend’s parents. I know I’ve found nothing breaks walls and stereotypes better than face to face interaction.
On top of all that, I was able to help a bit on the issues of many other groups, by my experiences advocating for other minorities. The main issues brought up were, sadly, the old issues: large class size, bigotry/low expectations, discouragement of parental involvement, lack of accounting for cultural differences, and, the cliché in these parts, parents who’ll get in the way of their kids befriending someone outside of their religion.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of great teachers, parents, and administrators out there willing to help make this state’s educational system into what it should be for all students. I’m sure the trajectory is right, even if the speed is frustrating at times.
I’m just thankful to have been snuck in :-), and to have our families seen as extant in Utah's school system, let alone heard. I’m very thankful for people like my friend, the facilitators of this event, and all those many ethnic minorities there who welcomed me in and listened to our concerns when they could have more easily stuck to their own work and given agenda. I know, from past experience with some of the same people, at least one guy was upset to see me there, thinking the ethnicity movements should leave us behind. But most, I've found, will push for us. It takes a good soul to use some of their newfound political currency and acceptance by the mainstream to reach back and help pull another group up to parity. If you’ve ever done that for anyone, thank you.