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Guest Commentary

The outside world could use some of the cultural harmony at preschool


During these heady days of war and destruction both on people and the Earth, I sometimes take solace in visiting my daughter's preschool. It is a sheltered, comforting cove of little ones finding their way and discovering themselves. Many folks in Tucson are blessed by living in a progressive community, and Ruby's preschool is a reflection of that blessing.

On Thursdays, I join her in the morning to sing and clap with Mr. Bruce, "The Music Man." Bruce makes the rounds to several schools, and he's graced many social-justice fundraisers as well. Last week, he rocked us out to "Pack It In, Pack It Out." The class was hopping and shaking, and at the end, we parents raised our hands in the lit-lighter salute. Ah, these are good times, to be sure.

The flashes of colors and cultures dance and spark in the playground after snack time.

A little Korean girl and a little Mexican boy traded heated words over a coveted toy. Just a moment before, they were giggling together in the sandbox, but in an instant, they were as close to war as 3-year-olds get. Miss Sarah saw the storm clouds brewing, and she sat between them and encouraged them to use their "quiet" words to work it out. When I came to pick Ruby up, she was playing chase with one of her best friends: a bright and beautiful black girl who is wise beyond her years.

On Fridays, there is tortilla-making with Miss Elena. She is the mother of one of the students, and she is very eagerly anticipated. I was finally able to fit this special day into my schedule, and Ruby and I and the whole school waited for her arrival. "Miss Elena is here!" a chorus of little voices shouted, and sure enough, there she was, carrying an enormous straw basket. A line of bobbing heads followed her as she placed her basket of treasures down. Our wide eyes followed her hands as she gingerly placed each enticing ingredient and sparking stainless-steel tool in front of us and then warmed up the griddle.

Each child was given a chance to mix and prepare the dough. They rolled their own piece into a small ball and placed it on the tortilla maker.

Zip! The little tortilla was thrown on the griddle. This was my first time witnessing this process, but Miss Elena, the kids and the teachers were like old pros.

I admired and was struck by the efficiency and cooperation of the group. In the outside world--what will later be called by some of these children's parents the "real" world--this show of goodwill and patience is hard to come by. Maybe it was the tortillas. Maybe it was Miss Elena conversing in Spanish with teacher Miss Lupita, or maybe it was the kids of many cultures and backgrounds munching together happily, but something spoke to me that day.

As we sat there and satisfied our hunger with yummy treats we made together, a cultural war of politics was playing out nationally and locally. Mexican immigrants and their families affected by the ill-begotten trade policies of NAFTA are being targeted for harassment and punishment. Hundreds of thousands of protestors marched across the country so children like Ruby and her classmates can live together more civilly and fairly.

When I put on my white T-shirt yesterday and marched to Armory Park on Monday, April 10, I wondered where all my Anglo activist friends were. I saw a few, but for the most part, they were no-shows. I bumped into Steve Farley, who lamented that most of the lefty folks he e-mailed about the rally declined. "Not my issue," some e-mailed back. A couple of them even criticized his support for immigration reform. My husband, Daniel Patterson, observed that many environmentalists are weak on border issues.

This is a shame. Immigration is a human-rights issue. It is an environmental issue. It is a workers' issue. It is an issue that affects you and me, our neighbors and our families.

I believe that with each generation, we come closer to the cultural harmony and respect that I bask in every week at Ruby's school. Someday, her world and the real world will live as one.

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