Immigration and your kids

May 1, 2006

Living in California, the huge news today is the rallies, marches, protests and walkouts over immigration reform.

Up and down the state, people are skipping work, keeping their kids home from school, marching with thousands and boycotting all purchases to make a statement about the role that immigrants play in keeping our economy humming.

My daughter is only 15 months old, much too young to grasp what’s going on. But I’ve been wondering: how do progressive parents capitalize on teachable moments like this? Are your kids asking questions about the protests and the walkouts? Are they asking you what “illegal aliens” or “immigrants” are? What, if anything, are you saying to them?

I am the daughter of immigrants. My daughter is half white, and because of her appearance and last name, will likely never encounter racial discrimination in her life. One of the main reasons I still use my maiden name profesionally is because I want to honor my family’s immigrant roots.

This newspaper reporter can tell you that even in 2006, a last name ending in “-ez” continues to prompt anonymous hate mail and nasty phone messages. That’s reality, and I wouldn’t want to shield my daughter from it. It’s an awkward dichotomy: immigrants strive to move up economically, and just a couple of generations later, their descendants are often far removed from the economic disparities and social injustices they fought so valiantly.

How do we teach our kids about their roots? How do we ensure their appreciation of the sacrifices made by those who came before them?