I admit. Prior to this year's election cycle, I was never really a politics buff. I rarely paid attention to domestic nor international issues. I sort of knew what was going on - at least, as much as the daily talk shows would give me. I never took an active role. Never picked up The New York Times to answer my questions. And, I never really engaged in any political activity. Sure, I voted. But, admittedly, I voted just down my party line and never paid much attention to the issues.
However, like most Americans, this time around was different. For me, as a woman of color, as a mom to biracial children, as the head of a cancer family, and as a person who works with underprivileged students, this election was different. I was obsessed with all things politics. CNN and NPR replaced reality shows (my guilty pleasure). Political documentaries - both Republican and Democrat - replaced comedies and action movies. Autobiographies of political candidates replaced mindless, romantic cheesy short stories.
Growing up, my parents never really talked politics. As immigrants, I think they were more concerned with the day-to-day living as opposed to larger government issues. They voted Republican, I know that. I recall the names of the Republican candidates for whom they voted, but we never really talked about why. When friends came over, they talked longingly of the Philippines and of Filipino politics. I knew more about President Aquino (both of them) than I knew of any American President. As a kid in the 1980s, I regularly wore my bright yellow "People Power" shirt. But, U.S. politics -- not so much. I kept up with Title IX stuff in college, had a basic understanding of legal ramifications of affirmative action in the Michigan case -- all things that affected my life as a college student. However, larger issues didn't get much attention from me.
Becoming a mother thrusted me into the importance of engaging in politics. Selfishly, I wanted to make our country a better place for my own children. However, soon after my daughter was diagnosed with cancer and we were faced with dire health care coverage challenges, I woke up to the fact that the issues that make our country a better place for my own children are the issues that have left others silenced. Painfully, I opened my eyes to the ways in which health care (or, rather, lack of) can destroy families.
From my friends, I saw how the war was tearing some of their families apart as men and women were called to serve our country again and again. I witnessed how the ongoing war was keeping mothers and fathers from their children, and how husbands and wives were growing further apart. In my own neighborhood, I saw how predatory lending has destroyed families, property, futures, hopes, and dreams. I see close friends drowning in credit card debt because of unemployment and high percentage rates. Each morning, I drive by the homeless parents and children who just can't make ends meet. I hear the pain in my friends' voices who have family members in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. "My children" are no longer just my own. Motherhood has forced me to see politics as a social justice.
While my responsibility as a citizen drove my voting interest in the past, my responsibility as a mother has driven my voting in the present. I want my children to see that I take my right and responsiblity very seriously. Because we have family and friends living in places where voting is not a right, I need my children to see the importance of actively partcipating in the process. Even in our own country, we stand on the shoulders of those who did not have the right to vote, and that is why it is a right I take seriously.
This particular election gave me some of the most important teaching moments as a parent. One of the most important lessons we discussed in our home is respect. Respect. During the campaign period, the outwardly displayed and displaced hatred and attacking of character, race, religion, position, ethnicity, and ideas during this election was just horrifying. I was appalled at the imagery people chose to use to ignite terror and fear. I was saddened to see attack of character when people should have been attacking issues. Yet, it provided a basis for my husband and me to talk with our children about respect for people. It was an opportunity to teach our children that a) not every one has to agree, but b) everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. At the same time, we also teach our children to stand up for what they believe in - no matter who is going to criticize you or judge you. We teach them that, while we must sometimes compromise agreeing to disagree, no one should compromise their humanity, their dignity, nor the dignity of others in this world.
Just after the election, I wrote on my Facebook status that I was "proud to be an American." I received lots of "likes" and "comments" that supported my status. And, I found plenty of my friends who wrote that "it is a sad day for the U.S." Fine, I respect that. Yet, a comment by a Friend started a 35+ comment thread on my own page. This Friend challenged that I should have always been proud to be an American. We then went back and forth about how I haven't always been proud of our how country, as a whole, treated people both in our history and in our present. But, regardless of our very different views, this Friend and I still treated one another with respect. It is possible. You can disagree and still commit to treating others with dignity.
My children are now 6 years old, 3 years old, and 6 months old. And, unlike some, our children aren't just repeating the political views of my husband and me. We've been very aware of asking them their opinions and requiring them to provide reasons for why they think what they think/ feel what they feel. We challenge them on their assumptions. We push them to think of the person vs the problem. We ask them about intent vs effect.
It's not too early. It's not too early to teach children respect, dignity, and appreciation of diverse viewpoints. It has taken the birth of my children -- my role as a Mommy -- to open my eyes to politics, and my hope is that they will continue a life of social responsibility and justice in their own.