Tuesday, December 18, 2012

12/18/12 Minority Report

Today I went to Katrina's classroom's "Winter Potluck," to which all parents are invited. Katrina wasn't expecting me, so she was sitting at her table in the back of the room when I arrived and didn't see me at first.

(So sorry, no photos -- my "new" camera is on the blink, and I forgot my crummy "old" camera. I now wish I had taken something with my awful iPhone camera, because I know from family how comforting it is to see photos of happy 6-year-olds right now, in light of the horrendous tragic events in Connecticut this week.)

The moment I walked in the door, I was accosted by a kid: "Are you KATRINA'S MOM?!" I've never been to this classroom during the day, I'm not one of those super-volunteer-type of Moms who are well-known in the classroom, and I'd never seen the kid. "Yes I am!" I told him, "Where is she?"

As I made my way back to Katrina's table, I was accosted twice more by little people: "Hey, are you KATRINA'S Mom?!"

Katrina was delighted to see me, and we launched right into 1st-grade chatter, until her "Tiger Table" was called up to indulge in the fabulous spicy potluck.

Alone momentarily, another girl I hadn't seen yet saw me and said, "Oh, are you KATRINA's MOM?"

This time, I put the bright little thing on the spot and said, "Yes I am -- but tell me, how did you know?" The girl hesitated, looked around, and then said, "Well, you're the only other American here!"

Two other (Indian) Moms within earshot, and I, totally cracked up. It was all we could do to contain our laughter! We were all instant friends.

Indeed, looking around Katrina's classroom, it was striking. I was one the only other Mom there without a saree, or long thick black hair, lovely dark skin, an exotic accent, and knowledge of the wonderful flavorful food. There was one other Dad, but he was clearly Asian, and I heard him apologetically explain to another kid that he doesn't speak Mandarin (I think he was Vietnamese).

I've had years of experience with being a minority at this school, so it shouldn't faze me at all anymore, but it's still striking sometimes. Looking around the classroom, Katrina looks so, so different from her classmates. She's the whitest and the blondest -- and obviously her Mom stands out enough to invite curious questions from classmates.

It also seemed that none of her classmates knew she had two brothers, let alone at the same school. They were all verrrry impressed!

I so enjoyed chatting with the friendly kind Indian moms, especially about food.

Being a "minority" (and only in a good way) was on my mind because of this:

Last week, I attended a technical conference in San Mateo with a coworker. This particular coworker is unusual -- on first glance, one might assume he's African-American, but he's not American at all, he's just African. From Kenya, he has extremely dark skin, a heavy accent, quaint expressions -- and a deep resume. I've never known such a geek, such an enthusiast, so bright, so complete. He's really exciting to work with. Even though I'm not personally thrilled by application-level virtualization, he enthusiastically tolerates and inquires into my affinity for wireless -- and good-naturedly laughed at me for my routine airtime-sniffing-analysis at the hotel where the conference was (and sheesh, I hadn't even pulled out my prized spectrum analyzer).

Anyway, entering the room, he and I made quite the odd pair, especially from the same company. 99% of the attendees were white men, so here one company sends a black man and a woman. I wanted to ask him, "Do you ever feel like a minority?!" Not that he'd care or spend any time on it -- he didn't grow up a minority and doesn't seem to believe barriers exist for him, and really, he's so unbelievably capable, they don't.

I've been a minority in one way or another most of my life. I was raised in Brooklyn in a black (that's what we called it then) and Puerto-Rican neighborhood, and then have been a woman in the computer science/engineering world throughout my career, and now my children are one of a tiny handful of Caucasian-race children in their classrooms.

I do know that's not the same thing as being a "minority" all the time, but still, it's a constant reality. Not a bad one at all... but sometimes I wonder: what would it be like to be like most of the world and not be a minority?


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