195. Civics

The debates about when and how to reopen schools rage on. I no longer join the virtual school board meetings because the things I hear from “reopen no matter what” parents are so distressing. No one is saying anything new either, judging from the screeds and home videos being disseminated on local Facebook pages. It is sounding very much like schools are the new plantations, and teachers need to show up and look happy, and stop shirking. Even though I deeply sympathize with parents whose work lives are compromised in every way by having to stay home with their kids, I cannot be around such talk, and I very much hope that the teachers in this district are not having to listen to it. My ability to feel a part of our community, already low prior to this past year, is now entirely dissipated, and I shall be relieved when R graduates in June.

It’s also been horrifying to see people say stuff like “Let whoever wants to stay home stay home. Smaller class sizes will benefit my kid.” They’re saying the quiet part out loud…

Sometimes we don’t see the forest for the trees. I wonder why we cannot write temporary changes to the law–stuff like allowing children ages 10-ish and up (who are able to abide by certain parental markers of responsibility and independence) to stay home alone, for example, for the duration of the shortened virtual school day. This law could be rescinded after schools reopen fully. But I know that won’t happen for a multitude of reasons. (Tongue in cheek: we could have the town vigilantes sign into class sessions to make sure kids are safe, lol). I am only musing here, no need to scold. And I have a kid who will never be able to be left alone, so I know there are exceptions.

It’s just that looking only at the trees is why our only real hope has ever been mass vaccination. And we still have people in our town refusing to get it because Fake Science. So those of us who are not backing the push to reopen are being told that we are the problem, dividing the ranks as we are. Well, too bad. Divisive our family continues to be, and will be until either the teachers or R are vaccinated too. If he doesn’t return to the building at all, I deeply DGAF. Alive is better. And yes, I know that younger kids have differing needs, so you do you. Virtual graduation would be a relief to me after seeing how cheaply our lives are valued.

Anyway, I was looking at the stats sent out by the district, and was not surprised to see that Asian students are staying home at the highest rates.

One: A lot of this is white collar privilege. Lots of Asian parents have jobs that allow them to work from home. An already very academic-leaning home environment that prioritizes studying. Being able to step into teaching roles and help with schoolwork if we have to. Of course, not all Asians.

Two: Some of this is the flip side. Not having any extended family support to step up and do parenting tasks should one or both parents get Covid. A great many of us are first generation immigrants; the network just isn’t there. This is true for my family, and A is very challenging to look after, so there would pretty much be no one. For this reason, we push back on every sort of pressure to send A back to in-person. My husband and I are almost there with being fully vaccinated, so no caving into the urge for normalcy just yet. We haven’t struggled through a whole year just to give up now. We are mulling over return options for A, but nothing will happen till at least two weeks after our second vaccine doses.

Three: I totally understand if there are any East Asians who might be worried about sending their kids back right now, given they don’t know if there will be any targeted bullying. The racist rhetoric about the virus is still in the air, and, just like for so many South Asians and Arabs after 9/11, it is a factor in where people go and whom they trust.

I kind of wonder if this is the first time mainstream folks have had to actively contend with the value we minorities place on ourselves. For all that many towns like to praise themselves for diversity, diversity has usually meant marginalized people showing up to majority-comfortable settings. Well, people like me, who have grown up practically on top of the Equator, and taking disease prevention seriously–we don’t play. A lot of us have also grown up in colonial or postcolonial societies, and we have either

A) been part of newly independent governments’ efforts to inculcate a deep commitment to civic consciousness. This kind of group think is designed to kick in for things like civil unrest, pandemics, and natural disasters. We may come from countries with other problems, but this? This we can do. So when we see people who are arguing mostly for their nuclear families, we get it, but a great many of us will not be joining you.

Or

B) been raised in places that are politically chaotic, so we know that no one is coming to save us, and we have no clout to sway the public discourse. The best we can do is follow the data and wait for people around us to finish saying their piece.

I come from category A, in case you were curious. And in my experience, the best way to survive the periods of waiting and uncertainty is to be community minded and stay organized. Everyone follows the protocols, including prioritizing the most vulnerable, and a temporary state of calm is possible because no one is getting preferential treatment, and there is daily data to show what is working and what isn’t.

Looking at R and his cohorts, I am heartened by the coping strategies they have devised. It hasn’t been the best way to be a senior, but what can you do. Even if the pandemic recedes this year, as we are all hoping, I will not soon forget the beautiful ways they have found to forge community in absentia.

Radha.

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