Sunday Reflections: My Fellow Americans, You’re Breaking My Heart
He was different because he was a Muslim, but not in the ways that you think.
You see, he knew you hated him and although he was just a teenage boy, he knew the rules were different for him. So he made straight As, he worked more teen volunteer hours than any teen had ever worked in the history of teen volunteering, he dressed impeccably, he said yes ma’am and yes sir. Because he knew that one slip of the tongue, one moment of being a regular teenager, and you would say see, I told you so.
For three years I worked at a Texas library branch that had a large population of Muslim teens. I had just moved to the state and had worked in several predominantly white communities before moving. This is what I discovered: teenagers are teenagers. They just want to listen to their music of choice, wear what they want to wear, read what they want to read, and they are occasionally stubborn and sassy. They’re all just . . . teenagers, really.
I work once again at a small, predominantly white and rural library in the Midwest, but I am better for having worked in that library. I was introduced to new cultural traditions, I heard amazing family stories, and I learned that what I always thought was true is in fact true: we’re all just people living our lives.
Another branch of that library had a large Latinx population. I would visit it occasionally. The number one complaint that these teens had was how everyone assumed that they were in America illegally and spoke Spanish. Most of them were second, third, and multiple generation Americans, had never been to America, and didn’t know a lick of Spanish. They were so afraid of our (American) prejudice that many of them rejected their rich cultural and family heritage just to try and be accepted. The truth is, as long as they wore brown skin they knew that whatever they did would never be enough.
I am a child of divorce. I am a very, very white child of divorce. But both of my parents are remarried and they are remarried to amazing individuals with a rich Mexican ancestry, though they themselves are all multi-generational Americans. I have thought about them often after November 8th. I am well aware that although many say what they hate is illegal immigration, that when they look at someone who doesn’t look like them they just assume they are illegal immigrants. I have feared for my family’s safety – though not my own because I have the privilege of being white and Christian – since the election. This weekend has proven that those fears are not unfounded.
One of my favorite and closest family members identifies as GLBTQA+. This family member lives in a renewed sense of fear, fear that someone will deny them a job or housing or healthcare – deny them life – because of who they love. I tell this family member often that I love them, because I do.
I do have some personal fears, because I am a woman from a conservative Christian background and I am all too familiar with what rights many conservatives think I should and shouldn’t have, what my role in this world should be. I know how the incoming administration seeks to defund programs that seek to understand and prevent domestic violence at the same time that Russia – who apparently now has great influence on our country – voted overwhelmingly to decriminalize domestic violence. As the mother to daughters, I am not without my own fears.
But mostly what I have is a broken heart. Because I believe in Democracy. I believe in human and civil rights. I believe that all people were created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I care about my teens. The Muslim ones who had to try so hard to be perfect so that you would not hate them. The Latinx ones who hate that you assume they are illegal immigrants. The GLBTQA+ ones who know that you want to shock them into being straight. The female ones who just want to be able to walk down the street without being grabbed by strangers. The poor ones who just want to have a meal that fills their bellies and the chance at a decent education so they can get a job that helps them no longer be starving.
These are my teens. All of them. And I fear the world we are creating for them.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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