Recently I was fortunate enough to reconnect with a friend while on a trip to Mexico. I was traveling by myself, and on the flight returning home, I was seated next to a mother and an eight or nine-year-old daughter. As the flight began to take off, the little girl laughed and talked with excitement about how she was going to watch Disney Channel on the plane. Before too long I realized that both the mother and daughter were bilingual as they spoke both English and Spanish during the flight.
When the pilot said we were landing I realized the girl who was giggling hours ago as we took off was now sobbing and hyperventilating in what appeared to be a panic attack. I tried to mind my own business and just assumed she was afraid of the plane to land. Because she was speaking both English and Spanish I couldn't fully understand what the issue was. Eventually, I decided these tears would've stopped by now had they been about landing.
I overheard the girl cry out to her mom that she didn't want to go back to school because she didn't want to be bullied. She knew that as the plane landed she would have to go back to everyday life and that included going to school. As I heard her sobs, and then heard why they were occurring my heart broke in two. I cannot imagine the heartbreak that mother was feeling for her daughter. The little girl said, "They make fun of me because I'm different". Presumably, they make fun of her because she's Mexican.
The plane landed, and I had to leave the plane, but that little girl's tears stuck with me. Her adamancy on not getting off that plane and her mother's pleas on how "This year will be different" was not lost on me.
I think that often we take for granted just the ability to be able to attend school because there are so many girls that aren't able to. But once we appreciate the fact that young girls in this country are able to go to school, we need to recognize that the children in these school systems can suffer too. As a white female, I have a level of privilege to where I've never experienced being bullied because of my ethnicity or race. I've never been the "different" person. I felt ashamed that I couldn't relate to what that little girl must've been feeling.
All I knew was that I was sorry. Sorry that this girl was growing up in a country where all the anger and hatred involved in politics was being passed down to the children. Sorry that she was going to school where children recognized their differences but instead of celebrating them, put them down. Most of all I was sorry that this little girl had no way of seeing how much better her life would get. She couldn't see in that moment that in 10 years she will be away from those cruel children and be looking at such a bright future.
I wanted to tell her that the very thing that makes her different will be the number one thing she flaunts. That once high school comes around those kids are going to need help with the language they laugh at you for speaking. That just because she is "different" than the other children, that difference is what will take her further.
I was ultimately left with an uneasy and sad feeling after that flight. As members of this society, I think it is so important we realize that children are sponges. When they see their parents display such anger and hatred towards one group of people their children replicate that behavior. This isn't a political statement because there's hatred on both sides, just in different forms. My point is that instead of constantly pointing out all the differences among us in a negative way, let's teach children empathy, and to look past the differences we first see. In the end, we are all human, so let's teach them that.