I've spent the last several months talking honestly with and educating my kids about our American history and this debacle of an election. I need them to understand the bigger picture and not just the immediacy of this circus. It's so difficult with kids to know what to share, how much and when, but I feel that it is so important that we are open and honest with them. They are the future after all.
We've read books and watched documentaries. We've watched debates and had dinner table discussions. We recently visited Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center and the Smithsonian American History Museum. We will finish this part of the ongoing conversation by going together on Election Day to vote. I've done my best to present many parts of our complicated history - not just the pretty ones.
We talked about the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War and the Constitution, but then we also addressed the complexity of the subsequent infighting between the newly formed states. We saw the real Star-Spangled Banner on display and we talked about the inspiration behind our national anthem. We then also discussed the complexity of our growing country and how at that very same time that our anthem was written, our nation supported human slavery and drove the Native Americans west. We learned about the horror of the Civil War and how slavery was abolished, but then it led to the reconstruction and segregation that's bitter ripples are still felt today.
We talked about late 19th century immigration and how it mirrors, almost exactly, the conversation that is happening about immigration today. We talked about how my grandmother's family immigrated from Slovakia in the late 19th century at a time when Slovaks, Polish and Jewish people were being treated in this country in much the same way we are treating Mexican, Syrian and Muslim immigrants today. Grandma and her family were considered dirty, stupid and less than human. She didn't ever teach my mom how to speak Slovak. She was ashamed and wanted to forget that part of herself and her history to assimilate into American culture. Now that piece of our family's history is lost.
We stood in a room full of hundreds of school children and teachers of all different colors, shapes, sizes, ethnicities and backgrounds and we looked at a terrifying display on racism that included a full Ku Klux Klan costume. We talked about segregation and it's roots in the post Civil War reconstruction period. We talked openly about racism in all forms. I explained, to my kids' horror, how my own grandfather was born in poverty in the south and became a KKK member. I only knew this fact fairly recently and it was just as shocking for me as it was for them. Then we talked about how my parents consciously chose to break the cycle of hatred and raised their family to be inclusive, kind and open-minded. We talked about my mom's pride that she once had the honor of shaking Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s hand.
We talked about all of the family that fought for our freedom in almost every war: Revolutionary, Civil, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq. We talked about their bravery and sacrifices, what it means to be patriotic and why wars happen in the first place.
We talked about women not being able to vote through most of our history and how my grandma, at age 20, finally won that right. We talked about the significance of leaders in this country who are minorities, or females and how 100 years ago neither of those things was even a possibility. We talked about how there are still people in this country that are fighting for basic, human rights. In 2016.
We talked about right and wrong and fear and hurt. We discussed how these things can lead to atrocities in the name of religion or being right or feeling safe.
We talked about freedom of speech and freedom of religion and the messy, beautiful, fragile, complicated democracy that we live in. We talked about about how we still haven't gotten it quite right, but that we must keep trying because this grand American experiment is so unique and special and so different than anything that has come before it.
We looked at recurring themes and the predictable cycle of our history. We talked about the bumpy, rocky, predictable spiral that occurs again and again when we lose sight of where we came from and we forget how atrocities evolved in the first place.
As this conversation has gone on, I have seen their little hearts break at the complexity of it, but I have also seen the light in their eyes as they came to an understanding of something so much bigger than their individual wants and needs. I could see hope and the desire to make a positive difference as they grow up.
It has been difficult, moving and humbling, but ultimately and most importantly... HOPEFUL.
Our life in this country is a constant, never ending struggle. In the midst of that, we MUST know our history. We must know where we have come from. We must use our voices. We are creating history anew every day with every decision we make. So please, please talk to your kids. Educate yourself. Know your history. Have a voice. Vote. Be a part of making things better... because you can. You can, which is so much more than so many people in this world have.
Use your mind, heart and creativity to move us forward. Work together. Seek to understand. Talk to each other. Reach out to people that are different than you. Treat each other with common, human decency. We are all much more alike than you might think. Include each other in your thoughts, in your conversations and in your lives.
Because you can.
Happy Election Day everyone.
© 2016 Krysta Bernhardt. All Rights Reserved.